Postcards from Antigua Part 1

I knew nothing about the island of Antigua other than the fact that it was in the Caribbean and that was good enough for me.

My girlfriend and I were trying to book a last-second vacation to celebrate New Year’s and were running into all sorts of problems; nearly all flights to tropical destinations were full and so were many of the resorts. So, my girlfriend decided to exercise her American Airline Platinum status and challenge one of their travel agents to come up with something. The response back was Antigua and without knowing much of anything other than it’s location we decided to snatch it up.

It was a wise choice.

Antigua sits within the Leeward Island chain in the Eastern Caribbean not so far from Montserrat. It’s a small island, just 14 miles long and 108 square miles in size that boasts an incredible 365 beaches. Yep, one for every day of the year.

The beaches were what brought us here and they were well worth the long journey from Los Angeles. Nearly every bit of coastline that we saw during our week on the island was blessed with white sandy beaches and magnificent blue waters. Throw in some coconut trees, light offshore breezes and 80 degree temperatures and you’ve got all the ingredients for paradise. The only slight downer was the daily cloudbursts. Without fail, the rain would appear almost out of nowhere, pour down torrentially, and then disappear just as quickly. These temperamental outbursts lasted no more than five minutes and in no time at all, the sun was back at full strength nicely bronzing our bodies.

I’m sorry to report that sunbathing was pretty much all that we did on our vacation. Frankly, outside of water sports, there is not a whole lot more to do on the island. There is some hiking and bird watching, and the historical area of English Harbour to explore–home to the Royal Navy in the late 18th century–but not much else.

Antigua, as you can tell from the English Harbour reference above, was part of the British Empire. Most of the people who live here today are descendants of the slaves who worked the sugar plantations for their British usurpers. The British influence is still strongly seen throughout the island, from afternoon tea to the grand cricket pitch next to the airport. This also means that the majority of tourists visiting the island have come from England just as their ancestors had done–on a direct flight from London. If I had to take a guess, I would venture that 95% of the tourists we saw on our vacation were British.

The island their forefathers ruled is a true gem indeed. All the clichés about paradise probably originated from this speck of land floating in the heart of the Caribbean. It is blissful, beautiful, and jaw-dropping. The colors in the accompanying photographs have not been altered. That is a shade of blue found only in nature and only in such special places as the Caribbean.

All is not wonderful in paradise, however. Despite a marvelous time, I have two little complaints. The first is that gambling is legal on the island. While this isn’t a bad thing, I felt it was a bit tragic to leave behind the magnificent outdoors and all its glory to sit in a smoke-filled room with garish lights and dinging slot machines. To step inside was to visit a small corner of Hell. That being said, my girlfriend won $100 in 15 minutes of playing blackjack. We pocketed the money and never returned.

As I sit writing this I suffer from the second and last disappointment about the island: a pair of feet riddled with bites that still itch horribly after more than a week. This is the work of the dreaded no-see-ums. These tiny flies, 1-4 mm long, are worse than mosquitoes because, like their name suggests, you can’t really see them. You just wake up in the morning itching from their numerous bites. It’s a different type of itch than a mosquito bite and scratching it provides so much relief it’s almost orgasmic.

The no-see-ums certainly suck, but not enough to prevent me from returning again to Antigua in the future–which I really look forward to doing. This is a great island and I hope you’ll learn this yourself in the next four days as I continue to post about this wondrous slice of heaven.

Tomorrow: St Johns