Although David and I were significantly younger than the primary demographic of guests on the ship, we still had quite a bit of fun meeting other people. There was a core group of people who participated in the same kind of shore excursion activities that we did. At our second port, Antigua, we met Skip and his dad Billy who was celebrating his 87th birthday. They had been on the sailing excursion with us the day previously, but they had ben on the Canadian boat. We met a polite and kind British couple from Cambridge. We had a small group of 12 people who participated in the 4×4 countryside safari, kayak and snorkel trip in Antigua. The company was good, the guide and drivers were fun, and so we had a great day.
First off, I love the island of Antigua. The islanders we met were friendly and the countryside was beautiful.
I really loved our guide who shared with us the history of the island. Like most other Caribbean islands, Antigua was settled by Europeans primarily to make money from large plantation farming that ended up mostly being sugarcane. Native populations were destroyed by Europeans early on and since indentured servants earned their freedom by paying off debts too quickly, Africans were brought over as slaves. As monoculture agriculture spread, some of the native beauty of the islands was lost. African slaves were eventually set free, but not given any land as compensation, indentured servants were brought in from the Far East, and sugarcane continued to drive the economy throughout the 19th century. Eventually, Antigua earned its independence from the British, and when the Antiguan government sold the sugar processing plant to another country, the sugar industry died in Antigua. Antigua also has the interesting sidenote of having been home to the famed British naval commander, Lord Nelson.
The countryside is now home to mostly small scale, subsistence level farming, as the only real industry in Antigua (and its sister island of Barbuda, which is even less populated) is tourism.
We rode up to an old reservoir in the hills that was built by slaves in the 18th century. It was one of the rainiest spots on the island so I like how lush and shady it was.
Our guide Carl pointed out some of the interesting fauna, like the Sandbox Tree, brought in by Europeans in part for its use as a disciplinary device for slaves. Just awful.
It would have been nice to spend some quiet time reading in the shade, maybe swinging on this swing, but with only a day on the island, we were off to the south coast to do some kayaking and snorkeling along the reef.
We rode down to the South Coast and ended up in a restored mangrove estuary where were going to kayak out to a beach that could only be reached by boat. Here is where I lament two things: 1. I did not bring a waterproof camera to take with me on the kayak. Before I spend more time in the islands, I will buy a waterproof camera so I could take more pictures. 2. David and I should never, ever, ever, for the sake of our marriage kayak together in the same boat again. We made the same mistake twice on this trip. The first trip through the mangroves should have been enough. I think our marriage couldn’t sustain another go on a kayak.
Nonetheless, when we got to the beach on the other side of the mangroves, it was lovely. David was only slightly annoyed at me. We then boarded a small motorboat to transport us to the reef about five hundred meters off the coast. This is actually the largest barrier reef in the Caribbean, and the views were beautiful.
The clarity of the water was so remarkable, we had the best visibility when snorkeling. It was absolutely perfect snorkeling.
It was hard to get out of the water. Unfortunately, we had to. As we drove around the South Coast on our way back to St. John, the capital, where our boat was docked, I spotted a dozen beaches that looked absolutely perfect. I think Antigua is a spot to which I could happily return for some perfect days of relaxation on a white-sanded beach.
We had some time before our ship left, so David and I walked around St. John some. I really liked the little town beyond the tourist shops by the cruise ship terminal. Some of the infrastructure was old and crumbling, but it felt like an authentic and real place, with beautiful colors and very nice people.
Since returning, I have learned that Delta has daily flights to Antigua from Atlanta during the high season, so I am thinking some long weekends in in Antigua might be in our future. At least, I hope so. That island was just about perfect!