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Antigua Apr 30 - May 6, 2005   4 slideshows
Overview: We split our 6 nights on Antigua (pronounced An-tee-ga) evenly between small English Harbour on the south-southeast coast and the Jolly Beach resort area for a friend's wedding, which of course is why Antigua was one of the chosen islands in the first place. Their tourist bureau touts "365 beaches - one for every day of the year" which, despite the obvious exaggeration, we would agree that the beaches are plentiful and beautiful. Naturally, given the British colonial influence, driving is on the left-hand side.
While the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (EC$) is the official currency, many tourist-oriented activities (hotels, car rentals) quote in US dollars, hence the mix of currencies in the mentioned prices. I try to include taxes and tips/service charges when mentioning prices.

Underlying map is from Turquoise Net
Airport Arrival: After not seeing each other for almost 8 weeks, Susan and I arrived in Antigua on a Saturday afternoon on different flights about 10 minutes apart; she from Toronto, I from Phoenix via an overnight stop in Charlotte NC. The humidity hits you full blast stepping off the plane. In fact, a good half dozen jumbo jets from various countries (notably the U.K.) arrived within about a 30 minute span. This made for a crowded immigration hall and a lot of baggage! Despite touching down before Susan's plane and my passing quickly through immigration, my plane's baggage actually came out after Susan's plane's baggage. In fact it took a full 2 hours from touchdown until retrieving my luggage!
Car rental: We discovered Alamo, our pre-booked rental car company, had no presence at the airport, but I inquired at another car rental desk and as luck would have it, I picked the one company that had been delegated the task of renting us a car. And the original rate would was honoured. The first Suzuki jeep was horribly squeaky - we weren't convinced we would make it beyond the airport grounds - so we immediately exchanged it for another one (still a little squeaky, but much less so). Shortly after leaving the airport we decided to do a quick 180 and return to pick up our inter-island air-passes from LIAT, the Caribbean Airline, but they could not process them on the spot and we were instructed to go to the airline office in the capital town, St John's.

Topographical map is from Skyviews

Click here for Antigua road maps from Skyviews
(note the links in the lower left corner of that page for more detailed maps).
English Harbour: Finding our hotel was a little tricky as the "city centre" roads were all blocked in the little town of English Harbour, due to the final night of revelry for the annual Sailing Week regatta. Our hotel overlooked the harbour, which not surprisingly was chock full of sailboats of all sizes. We met another guest at our hotel who crewed on the 60 foot Storm (which took 2nd place in its division); he filled us in on some interesting race trivia, such as there being no cash prizes (just trophies and bragging rights) and that the British owner of his yacht flew in just for the race and shipped the yacht around on a cargo vessel from racing location to racing location. Was it Sir Richard Branson, we wondered?
We stayed at the small B&B-like The Ocean Inn (6 rooms in the main house plus four little cottages) on a hill overlooking, yet within close walking distance, of the harbour. The B&B was simple, comfortable and air conditioned with its own balcony looking out over the pool and down to the harbour. We also had our own bathroom, a critical requirement of Susan! The only downside was an unusually large mosquito population due to recent heavy rains requiring a mosquito net at night and limiting our use of the balcony. We quickly learned the value of adequate mosquito protection and citronella candles, though the situation improved after a couple days of dry weather.
English Harbour is a national heritage site, comprised primarily of the historic Dockyards area, with restored 18th Century buildings (including a hotel), cobblestone streets and recreations of old-school boat repairing. Not to mention the end-of-Sailing-Week festivities!
On our last day in English Harbour, we enjoyed an extremely tasty fruit shake and panini for lunch at Cloggy's Cafe, which lies amidst a clutch of restaurants just outside the historic quarter.
Shirley Heights Jump Up: Every Sunday night there is a Jump Up (a Caribbean term for a street party/BBQ/dance) at Shirley Heights, an 18th Century fortification on a bluff overlooking English Harbour. We arrived just in time for sunset, though the party was already in full swing, including the band. Not surprisingly, after a tasty though basic BBQ dinner we ran into our wedding party friends who had trucked across the island by taxi. We had a couple of drinks and danced the night away to a live band in the courtyard with a view...
East Coast: We took a full day drive around the island in our rental car, mostly up the east coast. We revisited the lookout on the east coast on the road up to Shirley Heights, and then headed to the nearly deserted and glorious white sand beach of Half Moon Bay for a swim. This was Susan's favourite part of Antigua - like our own private beach - unsurpassed during the rest of our trip. Then on to Long Bay in the northeast corner of the island, which has numerous hotels on the beach and multiple dining options. We had a tasty lunch at the cute little Mama's Italian restaurant overlooking the beach, which had one of the fancier WCs around - its own little building with seashell motif and a window. Nearby, on the east coast, is a spectacular rocky coast including the Devil's Bridge, a natural rocky arch bridge under which the surf pounds.
Then we rushed across the island (less than 20 miles) to the capital town of St John's to pick up our electronic (huh?) airline tickets from the LIAT city office, arriving just about closing time due to the heavy post-cricket game traffic in town (that, and not knowing exactly where the office was :-) We had "bought" and pre-booked flights for the LIAT Explorer Pass which allows up to five inter-island flights within 30 days, ending back at the same starting island. Oddly, I was told over the phone a month in advance that I could simply pay and pick up the tickets in Antigua, without even giving a credit card to hold the seats! Which made we a little nervous as to whether or not we really would have the pre-booked seats when we got there (we did, though they had trouble finding the reservation for one of our flights). Since neither of us was flying home from Antigua, we simply booked the last leg on a flight to Antigua and "discarded" that ticket.
Not having a good map, we drove through the slums of St John's before hightailing back to English Harbour, where we ate a great tapas dinner at Trappa's, sharing a table and conversation with two local women (one a LIAT flight attendant, one an accountant at Scotiabank, a Canadian bank's local branch.
Jolly Beach: We drove at least an hour across the island, via Fig Tree Drive, to the west-southwest corner of the island. Conveniently, the car rental company was more than amenable to picking up the rental car at the hotel that day, saving us the time and hassle of dropping it off at one of their offices, a practice which can apply to pickup as well (and on other islands too).
Quite inconveniently, we discovered a few hours later that I had managed to forget a bag containing snorkel gear and swimsuits back in our room in English Harbour. Not just any bag. A bright red bag. Left on the floor in the middle of the room. Oops. Oddly enough, FedEx said they could not pick it up and deliver it locally (I find that difficult to believe, but what can you do), and a taxi ride would cost US$35 each way, not to mention a huge loss of time. We called Arlington, a taxi driver we had met (on foot) in English Harbour who gave us his card even though we said we had a rental car. We're glad he did -- he agreed to ferry the bag over to us for only US$20! His cell phone cut out during our call, and when I reached him again 2 hours later, he had already picked up the bag and was on his way. Now that's service!
The all-inclusive Jolly Beach Resort had lovely manicured grounds and a great pool with swim-up bar, but with 3-story cinderblock buildings and small cruise-cabin size rooms (the inexpensive ones), which while not cozy were more than adequate for a few nights' sleep, especially considering the excellent screens and the relaxing sound of the surf. We wouldn't normally have picked an all-inclusive resort, but as the wedding party and nuptials were here, it was a choice of convenience.
The beach itself was fabulous and the water was warm; we particularly enjoyed sailing the Hobie Cats (small catamarans), even in the light rain on our last morning before the onwards flight.
The Wedding: Indi and Alan's wedding ceremony was on our second day at the resort by the poolside gazebo overlooking the beach, just before sunset. The dinner and reception was in a lovely stand-alone beach-side building at the resort called the "Hammock House" where we were entertained by a steel drum band, delightfully wined and dined, and danced the night away. Not that we could keep up with Alan's 85 year old father who danced up a storm, including with one of the female bartenders.
Departure: The taxi ride to the airport was a little nerve wracking. Not due to traffic or scary roads, but rather the island time philosophy of the taxi driver. There was one other couple in the taxi, who were going into town ("on the way") but the taxi driver got stuck in horrible traffic downtown and seemed quite unconcerned that we had a flight to catch (we arrived less than 30 minutes before our turbo-prop flight). A brief moment of high stress after a wonderful week in Antigua and a great start to our "Caribbean Odyssey."
Next stop: Dominica.

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