Sunday, April 30, 2017


Up to this point, most of the islands we had visited had a more or less round or oval shape. Antigua, our next destination, is shaped more like a SPLAT!, like a blob of baby food thrown to the floor from a high chair. 
We docked in St. John's, circled above, and had two major destinations
marked by stars on the map: Stingray City and Nelson Dockyard.

Christopher Columbus named the island "Antigua" (Spanish for "ancient") in 1493, but the native people call it "Waladli," which means "our own." I find the difference in names a little sad. Clearly, once the Europeans arrived this island no longer belonged to the native people, at least not for long.

We rented a car so that we could drive around the island on our own. Right next to the car rental place was a field with dozens of large white birds in the grass and in the trees. They scattered as we approached, so this picture doesn't show how many there were:

Some kind of egret? Heron? We still aren't sure.

It was fun to see the boat from the car rental lot:

It was even more fun to see Auntie Edris. Whoever she is, she looks like someone I'd like to have met:

Our first destination, located on the eastern side of the island, was Stingray City, the #2 tour on the island according to TripAdvisor:

Our GPS took us down a road that dead-ended at the water. It didn't really look like the place to begin a tour. We had to turn around, get back to the main road, and try again.

Our second attempt turned out better:

We had to wait a while for our turn to take the tour to Stingray City, but we enjoyed the wildlife on the property:

In addition to some chickens and chicks . . . 

. . . there was a Lesser Antillean Iguana:

. . . a Sun Conure:

. . . Harley (a harlequin macaw) and Rocker (a blue macaw):

. . . and Sugar, a bare-eyed cockatoo from Indonesia:

And for the "it's-been-six-hours-since-I-last-ate-ice-cream" man, there was ice cream:

Finally, it was our turn for a tour. We hopped on a boat that held about 35 people, and we putt-putted out to a shallow shelf about ten minutes offshore. 

The water was only about four feet deep where we stopped, shallow enough to stand up. As soon as we got in the water, the stingrays started to arrive--about forty or fifty of them. I've never thought about whether or not fish are "friendly," but these definitely were. 

Our guides showed us how to "hold" them . . . 

. . . and then gave each of us a chance to do some stingray cuddling:

We learned that the females are substantially larger than the males, a nice change from the usual.

We also got the feed the stingrays by holding a large, squishy squid underwater. The stingray would swim over our hand and suck up the squid into its mouth, which is a hole on the underside of its body. Super cool.

When we weren't loving or petting or feeding the stingrays, there was also a bit of snorkeling to do in a nearby reef.  If you make it to Antigua, this is a must-do tour.

Our second stop on Antigua was Nelson's Dockyard, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was named after Admiral Horatio Nelson, who lived here from 1784 to 1787.

The dockyard is located in what is known as "English Harbour," a natural inlet that is one of the safest places in the Caribbean to be during a hurricane.
This is a photo of a photo on display at the Dockyard

We ate our lunch at a restaurant in the Copperl & Lumber Hotel:

Our table was on the back patio and had a lovely view of the bay:

Our lunch was pretty good--the equivalent of a Hawaiian poke bowl:

. . . and a variety of salads:

After lunch we strolled around the restored village:

I love this little desert garden:

This has to be the most bizarre cacti I've ever seen. I looks like a Mexican maraca, but not one I'd want to pick up by its red handle and shake:

We spent most of our time in the Dockyard Museum, built in 1855 to serve as the Naval Officer's and Clerk's House:

This is Atalanta, an original figurehead from a 19th-century merchant ship. She was found in the Dockyard during restoration. In Greek mythology, Atalanta is a virgin huntress who never marries:

As you would expect, there are some exhibits about Horatio Nelson in the museum, and his personal life sounds like a tabloid headliner.

In 1787, Nelson married  Fanny Nisbet, a woman from the Caribbean island of Nevis, and she moved to England with him. However, in 1793 Nelson began a liaison with a married woman in Italy, Emma Hamilton, who was his nurse in Naples after he was wounded in battle. Soon, Nelson cut off all ties with Fanny and began a very public affair with Emma that was tolerated by Emma's husband. Emma bore Nelson a daughter, whom they named Horatia (no pretending who the father was). Nelson moved in with Emma, her husband, and Emma's mother, an arrangement that made the 19th century equivalent of the The National Enquirer or Entertainment Tonight. Before Nelson died of his wounds suffered at the Battle of Trafalgar, he had his ponytail cut off and sent to Lady Hamilton. It is now in the British Maritime Museum.

Time to head back to St. John's and the cruise ship, but not before we stopped at the bakery.

In spite of its glamorous Stingray City Tour and its World Heritage Site Dockyards, Antigua appears to be one of the poorest of the Caribbean islands we visited. 

Or maybe it's just the most authentic. It's hard to tell.

A fairly deep drainage ditch running down the center of the road makes for an excellent parking spot, unless, of course, it is full of water:

In reading about Antigua, I was surprised to discover that the following celebrities have homes on the island: Oprah Winfrey, Eric Clapton, Richard Branson (bazillionaire founder of Virgin Atlantic), Timothy Dalton, Ken Follett, Robin Leach (Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous), Archibald MacLeish (poet), and Thomas Watson (founder, CEO of IBM), among others.  I'm pretty sure we didn't see any of their houses.  I'm curious about what draws them all here. Perhaps the relative seclusion as compared to other Caribbean Islands?

Another famous (past) resident of Antigua is the author Jamaica Kincaid. She was born and grew up in St. John's, but currently teaches at Harvard during the school year and lives in Vermont during the summer.

Kincaid grew up in poverty--no electricity or running water in her home--and though she was clearly a gifted student, her mother pulled her out of school at age 16 to send her to work to help support her younger siblings. At age 17 she was sent to New York to work as a nanny, and at that point she broke ties with her family, not sending money home and not even giving them her address. She enrolled in evening classes at a community college (Yay for community colleges!) and spent a year at Franconia College (which has since closed). As far as I can tell, she never got even a BA.

However, her talent as a writer shown through and she spent 20 years writing for The New Yorker, no small thing for a Caribbean girl with minimal education. (And how did she get that teaching job at Harvard?) She published her first novel, Annie John, in 1985 at age 36.

1.  I decided to start my foray into Kincaid's writing by reading A Small Place, published in 1988, because it is her description of Antigua upon her return to the island after having been away for 20 years. Being unfamiliar with Kincaid's life, I was unprepared for the angry, bitter, and often sarcastic tone of the book. She doesn't have much good to say about her homeland. In particular, she tears into the tourists who see the natural beauty of the island without recognizing the enormous problems caused by colonialism, government corruption, and poverty.

It was an eye-opener, and I wonder how much of the "ugly tourist" I am myself. I thought the poverty of the people, for example, was part of the "authenticity" of the island. However, there are many critics who feel that Kincaid's criticisms, while based in truth, ignore the many positive aspects of the culture. In addition, it has been almost 30 years since Kincaid published A Small Place. Hopefully, Antigua has made progress since then.

Still, there is much food for thought. Here are a few quotes:

". . . the people in a small place cannot see themselves in a larger picture, they cannot see that they might be part part of a chain of something, anything."

"In Antigua, people speak of slavery as if it had been a pageant full of large ships sailing in blue water, the large ships filled up with human cargo--their ancestors; they got off, they were forced to work under conditions that were cruel and inhuman, they were beaten, they were murdered, they were sold, their children were taken from them and these separations lasted forever, there were many other bad things, and then suddenly the whole thing came to an end in something called emancipation."

". . . an institution that is often celebrated in Antigua is the Hotel Training School, a school that teaches Antiguans how to be good servants, how to be a good nobody, which is what a servant is."

"Antigua is beautiful. Antigua is too beautiful. Sometimes the beauty of it seems unreal. Sometimes the beauty of it seems as if it were stage sets for a play, for no real sunset could look like that; no real seawater could strike that many shades of blue at once; no real sky could be that shade of blue--another shade of blue, completely different from the shades of blue seen in the sea--and no real cloud could be that white and float just that way in that blue sky; no real day could be that sort of sunny and bright, making everything seem transparent and shallow; and no real night could be that sort of black, making everything seem thick and deep and bottomless.

"Again, Antigua is a small place, a small island. It is nine miles wide by twelve miles long. It was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493. Not too long after, it was settled by human rubbish from Europe, who used enslaved but noble and exalted human beings from Africa (all masters of every stripe are rubbish, and all slaves of every stripe are noble and exalted; there can be no question about this) to satisfy their desire for wealth and power, to feel better about their own miserable existence, so that they could be less lonely and empty--a European disease."

2.  My first Kincaid read was so provocative and intriguing that I decided to follow it up with a reading of her first novel, Annie John, a coming of age story about a young girl growing up in Antigua. Annie's life as an only child of her parents (although her father has children by other women) is quite idyllic. She is very smart and does well in school, and she is much loved and cared for by her parents. Life on her island is free and happy, just as it should be for a child. As Annie nears her teen years, however, both her attitudes and her parents' responses to her change, as is true for just about every pre-teen/teenager who ever lived, and Annie struggles to navigate the strange, unfamiliar territory she faces. The book ends [spoiler alert] with her leaving Antigua to attend nursing school in England and vowing never to return to her family.
I was struck by the similarities of the emotional life of Annie and that of most teens I've known, including myself. Kincaid captures the passage out of childhood well, and along the way paints a detailed picture of what life is like for children and young adults who live on the small isalnd of Antigua.


  1. Stingray City was amazing. Interacting with scary looking creatures with nasty tails was beyond cool. Antigua itself is so flat that I don't really feel like I saw anything, particularly outside St. Johns. We saw lots of lovely little houses along lovely small roads that seemed like little farm communities somewhere in the Midwest. St. John's did seem very poor. It is a place I would like to go to again and just drive, drive to see what is there. St. Kitts seemed much poorer to me, but St. Kitts also has tall mountains which gave it a real identity. It was fun to go to different islands and be able to compare and contrast.

  2. Stingray City was a bucket list item. So glad you found some books to go along with our adventure. I'm adding them to my list.