Today we port in St John’s, Antigua, largest of the British Leeward Islands, where Lord Horatio Nelson headquartered for his forays into the Caribbean to do battle with the French and pirates in the late 18th century. Appropriately, the theme for the night is “Pirate Night”, with the highlight of the evening to be the Pirates Parade at 10:00 PM on the aft deck.
In the mean time, we have a beautiful sunny day to explore the island and soak up the sunshine. With a mostly sunny forecast and a temperature of 77 degrees F, it couldn’t be any better. I am excited about seeing this island, since I haven’t been here before, and it’s Deborah’s first landfall anywhere in the Caribbean. There’s something really special about being around for a “first” like this with Deborah. Her eyes light up and she gets excited in the way that a jaded traveler might not. It’s like having the experience for the first time myself all over again. For some unknown reason, Antigua was on one of Deb’s long time lists of places to see, and today we were going to be there.
We had planned a room service breakfast the night before, so we could be on deck for the sail in. Each day we ordered coffee and tea in our room and it was always delivered right on time. The breakfast we had only once, and it was terribly bland and boring compared to the offerings upstairs, so we didn’t do that again. On this morning, however, the small sweet rolls and coffee were just enough.
I love the morning arrivals, and we found our way to the 11th deck to watch the ship sail into the harbor, watching the landscape appear as we approached the dock. The island looked green and beautiful in the warm morning light and before long, the captain announced that the ship was cleared and we could go onshore.
I thought that Antigua was small and simple enough to explore on our own, without being tied to the timing of a group tour from the ship. Sometimes it makes things easier, but it really is a lot more fun to amble off the ship when we want to, and walk through town at our own pace, to see what we want and leave when we want. It worked perfectly for us this morning, as a sweet woman met us coming off the dock with offers of hair braiding. I know, I know, but it did sound like fun, and she really was a sweet lady. In a moment, she led us to her outdoor salon and had Deb in her chair. Deb has very curly hair and often wears hair bands, so the braids and beads looked perfect on her. I somehow got pulled into the fun, and while braids and beads looked rather stupid on me, I was still glad I did it.
Jenny, our braid lady, was originally from Montserrat, but was run off the island a few years ago when the volcanic eruptions caused 80 percent of the islands population to leave. I hadn’t realized that this famous volcanic island was so near to where we were traveling. Jenny’s story was fascinating, as she discussed her 11 aunts who had to leave Montserrat and their home forever. Living is expensive on Antigua, more so than it had been on Montserrat. Jenny laughed with us throughout the morning and her sweet warm nature was a delight. I was glad to pay to have my hair braided even if it looked a bit silly on me. It was great for swimming at least, and Deborah looked gorgeous. She might have to try to find a hair braider back in Portland!
After our little island culture experience, we ambled up the streets of the town, outside the slick confines of the port area, the town was a bit shabby, and felt very real. We found a shoe store where Deb bought a great pair of sandals cheaper than they would have been back in the US, and then perused the standard linen shop with all the embroidered tablecloths and runners, where we found a great runner for Deb. ( I have plenty of such linens from my previous Caribbean voyage, so didn’t need more). We talked to Jenny about getting around the island and she pointed out some of the tours offered up the street. We found one that looked good, and for 20 bucks each, joined 4 other folks in an enclosed van that promised a trip over the island and commentary on island history with some stops along the way.
The island is actually quite nondescript, not particularly scenic as Caribbean islands go in my opinion, but it was green and the air was spectacularly fresh. Our guide Nathanial offered stories of the history of the island as we wound through the streets and neighborhoods and traveled to the central part to St Barnabus Anglican Church, established more than 250 years ago and is the oldest church on Antigua. Continuing to the southern side of the island, we saw a lovely view of English Harbor and Eric Clapton’s big rehab house on the hill above the bay.
Once on the south side of the island we had a misty view of the island of Montserrat on the horizon. A low cloud obscured the top of the volcano, and it looked mystical and dangerous.The Soufrière Hills volcano on the island began erupting in 1995 after a long period of dormancy, and has been active ever since. It destroyed the capital city of Plymouth and more than half the island is completely uninhabitable now.
We had time to wander a bit on the beach before arriving back in St John’s and the ship. We were a bit worn out from the day, and we needed some cash after spending most of what we had, so needed to return to the ship. Once there, however, we found it too hard to get back off the ship and just decided to stay onboard and relax a bit before supper and another night of music an parties.
Pirate Night on the ship was great, with amazing, detailed pirate costumes paraded around the ship by a majority of the cruisers. People who have done this cruise in the past are known for bringing a complete extra suitcase of simply costumes, although it isn’t as easy any more with all the baggage restrictions on the airline.
Can you see the Jolly Roger flying on the aft deck as we sail away from Antigua?