A friend here told us the story of how his stepmom stopped in Antigua in the 1980s, on her way from Italy to Mexico. She finally completed the trip and arrived in Mexico…in 2005. Antigua certainly has a way of keeping you here. We arrived in November, planning to stay for a few weeks then explore some more of the Caribbean…four months later, we are finally leaving. Granted, our extended stay was due in large part to boat work, but it’s easy to imagine how one could end up staying here, unplanned, for twenty years. We did not see all of Antigua by any means and this is not a comprehensive guide to the island. These are simply the “special” quirks, the moments we loved the most–or those we will remember the longest!
- The Pursuit Race- My mother in law offered to hang out with Van on land while us crazy people partook in the annual New Year’s Eve pursuit race. Come on, we said. It’ll be a fun family outing, we said. You’ll be so bummed you missed it, we said. The only thing worse than puking into a tiny kids sand castle bucket has got to be doing it with an audience. Choppy confused seas had many of us sick. Even Rocky quickly let us know that his stomach is not the sturdy kind at sea. Van and Nonna would have loved to miss this particular family outing, but at least they have the story to tell!
- Green island- We sailed three hours to nearby Green Island for a weekend of swimming, snorkeling, hiking and skimboarding. The part we will never forget, however, is our near-medical-disaster involving balls. The human kind. Jonathan swung his legs around to hop out of the dinghy one day, and suddenly he seemed paralyzed and his eyes were looking at me, almost pleadingly, and yet he seemed incapable of speech. All I could think was that he was having a stroke or a heart attack, as he dropped into the shallow water onto his knees. His heart and brain were just fine, but his nether regions were sliced open. A freak accident had caught his skin between his swim shorts and the oar lock where our oars usually rest. They looked like they needed stitches, and quickly. Long story short, we avoided begging help from the doctor on a nearby boat and instead made do with butterfly stitches and super glue. Poor Jonathan had to sit out the water sports for a while, though, which was a little tough to do on a boat.
- Incanto, Ristorante Italiano- There were a couple of restaurants in English harbor accessible by dinghy, and one afternoon we pulled up to Incanto just in time to sit out a gorgeous Caribbean thunderstorm and watch a megayacht maneuver its way in. Two great spectator events all in one! The restaurant owners (we assumed) arrived when we did and the man hurried to get a high chair for Rocky while the woman cooed and tickled him. We sat down and watched the man disrobe into his tiny Italian swim trunks and hop off the dock. He proceeded to wade around and swim out front for about 20 minutes as more of the tables filled up with lunch customers, then he threw back on his tank top and walked around chatting with guests. The woman stopped by our table and began telling us the story of how she and her son owned and ran the place together. When after ten minutes there was still no mention of her husband, I eventually asked who the gentleman was. “Oh that’s my ex husband. He’s ALWAYS visiting me! But he leaves next week, back to Italy.” I’m still laughing thinking back on it now…those Italians!!
- Falmouth Harbour- Our first day on the boat in Antigua, marveling at the crystal clear waters beneath our boat, Jonathan and Van could not resist jumping in for a swim. I posted a picture of Van’s bare bum about to jump in. I immediately received a message from a sailing friend who spent a lot of time in Falmouth Harbour…warning me, through fits of laughter I’m sure, to NOT go swimming in that water! He even said that Pigeon Beach was icky at best. We ignored him, vaguely wondering why he would be so turned off by such beautiful clear water. A few days after, asking about the holding tank pump-out service, we got our answer: there WAS NO pump-out service. Meaning either every boat there was going outside the harbor to dump their tanks, or they were dumping them right there. I continued to swim at Pigeon Beach–along with most tourists, sailors and locals. But I’d be lying if I told you I never saw long pieces of toilet paper floating by.
- Land Rovers- Antigua is crawling with Land Rovers!! There is a junkyard/used car dealership that reworks and sells all old land rovers. My favorite is this truck below:
- Taxi mishaps- We had a fantastic taxi driver named JB, helped out by his cousin Qweely. They both drove slowly and safely. JB had seat belts which was a big bonus. We did get into one fender bender with Qweely, in front of a local bar and in the midst of a political parade. While we’ll never forget that, the taxi driver who really stood out was the one who had to brush cigarette ash off the seats as we got in (his friend had been smoking), blasted the boys’ ears with the equivalent of 50 years of rock concerts crammed into 3 seconds (his “friend” had also been listening to music), tried to charge us double then pulled a giant handle of rum from his center console and offered it around. Nope.
- Mosquito fogs- One of the only aspects of Antigua that I was happy to leave behind were the mosquito fogs. Guys in the back of trucks with toxic blasters would drive the entire 270 degrees around the harbor blasting this toxic smoke in the air. The easterly wind direction would always blow it all right out into the harbor. If we were lucky we’d see it coming a long ways off and race to batten down the hatches and hide in the boat.
- Fresh fruits and veggies!! Thanks in large part to the sizable Rastafarian community on Antigua, fresh fruits and veggies are abundantly available. As a vegan breastfeeding momma trying to get the most nutrients while an ocean away from Whole Foods stores, this was a huge plus. Fruit stands were easily found every few blocks, and there were many local farms. if the nearest market didn’t have fruit and veggies, you usually didn’t have to walk far to find a road-side stand overflowing with them.
- The little kid and Mama crew- The absolute best part of Antigua is the friendships we made. We loved it there and loved the people, big and small. There are so many young families who live here, whether year-round or seasonally and having a little kid crew for the boys- and mama crew for me- was priceless. The fact that we rolled into town two days before River’s birthday and managed to have a little party pulled together for his big day speaks volumes…it was very small and casual but to him it was perfect. By the following week I had them heading to the local preschool, “Little Learners.” There was just so much action around us all the time; it was possible to head off the boat with a gelato planned and end up enjoying an action-packed three hours, without going farther than 50 meters. Antigua was one island I could happily be deserted on for many years 😉