We knew we were getting close – we could smell it. Still miles from the island, the smells of flowers were drifting out across the ocean. After 25 days and 8 hours we arrived in English Harbour, Antigua. White sand beaches, palm trees, rum and Rastafarians. A tropical paradise…
… for some. Yes it ticked some of the boxes, but our overall impression was not that brilliant.
We arrived boxing day, in the evening, so immigration was closed. This meant that we weren’t allowed to go to shore. With no supplies left on the boat, we risked the short dinghy ride and found the closest beer. It was cold, and it was GOOD! We sat on deck listening to music from on top of the hill at Shirley Heights, quoted as ‘a Caribbean institution’, on a Sunday evening. The next morning Captain Morgan rowed to shore with our passports, cleared immigration and all was good… until he told us that he wanted to leave the next day. In order for him to leave, we had to sign off the boat. To do that, we had to book an onward journey out of the country. This was tough, because none of the 5 of us knew where we wanted to go. Decisions had to be made. Sam and Roger chose Jamaica, Curly, Dasha and Tina chose Dominica. We found ourselves cheap accommodation at Marsh Village. It worked out to just under $8 each per night, when the ‘Hostel’ was charging $70 for a couple. The next morning we went to immigration to sign off the boat. The woman working there was nothing short of horribly nasty. So rude. She wouldn’t accept just our flights, even though that’s what she had requested the day before. Now we had to also provide bank statements and accommodation receipts. After a couple of hours we returned with all the documents, which she didn’t even bother to look at. It was farewell to Captain Morgan and farewell to our little home of the last month. Looking at the small boat docked next to all of the other yachts it was hard to believe that we had actually just crossed the Atlantic in it.
Chocolate came and picked us up and took us to our new home for a week, a simple bungalow with a nice view over Falmouth Harbour. Our welcoming gift was some fresh picked coconuts – nice juice and delicious, soft flesh. The sunsets we enjoyed from our balcony whilst sipping on a cold rum were really pleasant, the sun resting just beside the bay. The thing about English Harbour (Falmouth included) is that it is not really much of a town, just a harbour that has been renovated to keep the sailors coming there. There are restaurants, souvenir shops and a few bars and cafes, but it doesn’t have much of an atmosphere. We went for a hike from English Harbour, around the point and coast, over the hill and arrived at our little beach at the back of Falmouth Harbour.
This was by far the best way to view the area. It was a really pleasant short hike, despite the drizzle. We had a good night out at the Rasta Shack. There were some dreadlocks, some smoking and reggae music, but it was still lacking some feeling.
Now I say that it was not our favourite island, but we didn’t really explore that much. We did get a hire car one day and go for a bit of a tour. If you’re planning on doing the same, get a 4WD, it was painfully (especially for Roger with his perhaps broken ribs) slow in our little car. We made it to Devil’s Bridge, which is an awesome rocky coastline with waves smashing in from the Atlantic, where nature has created a rock bridge which only the insane would dare cross, with a major risk to health and well being swirling below. I’ll never forget that crazy crab.
We also visited half moon bay. This was very nice. It had tropical coloured water with some small waves for body surfing – a nice and fairly rare combination. We walked around the point to the next bay, much the same, without the waves, but with a hotel complex for the ‘millionaires’ as we were told by security, who would not let us leave through the private carpark to get back to our car – jerks. We drove past the Sir Vivian Richards stadium and that was our day. Generally the island does not have the lush, vibrant, alive feeling that I associate with tropical. On one other day Sam and I went to St Johns, the capital city. It was nothing special – touristy shops and restaurants by the harbour front where the cruise ships dock, blending into a more local atmosphere as you get further away from it. We had a beer at a very local outdoor bar. Nobody spoke to us. It was not that exciting.
So the people. What about the people? Well, to be honest, some people were nice, some very average and some (dare I say many?) were downright rude. Well I guess that’s just life in general. They were certainly very lazy. People described a 5 minute walk in St Johns as “pretty far”. When we told people we were going to walk up to Shirley Heights, about a 30-40 min walk, they thought we were crazy for ‘hiking’ that far. So for New Years Eve, after a few mohito’s and more at home, we headed up to Shirley Heights for the big party and to watch the fireworks from all directions. I would have preferred to be watching Curtly Ambrose and Richie Richardson playing in their band, but it was on the other side of the island. After about half an hour we managed to hitch a lift in the back of a ute, for the remaining 500 metres. When we got there, at about 23.46, there was no one! It was pretty funny. We couldn’t have picked a quieter spot to celebrate new years on the whole island. For the ‘count down’ there may have been about 20 people. We saw fire works, that were very average, along with a bushfire down the cliffs, inaccessible to anyone who may have cared, which would probably be a grand total of zero. We got a ride back down to English Harbour, where there was a band playing on stage and hundreds of people all being drunk and excited. It was an ok finish to the evening.
We spent some time at a nearby beach. It was average. We spent way too much time at the Mad Mongoose (oh yeah, I saw a mongoose!), arranging our future travels. It’s extremely frustrating in the Caribbean. You are only allowed in to a country if you have a return ticket or an onward journey booked. I don’t know what happens if you try to take your return journey into a country with no further travels booked. Seems to be a totally pointless system. Also, there are almost no ferry services between any of the islands. It’s crazy. The islands are so close, it could all be made so simple! So before leaving Antigua to Dominica, we had to have an onward journey out of Dominica… or at least convince the airline that we did.
The rest of pictures are here.