St. John’s, Antigua

We woke up at 7.10am to the usual euphoric feeling of being on holiday in the amazing sunny Caribbean on the good ship Braemar.  Looking out of our portholes, we saw that we were just coming into the port of St. John’s, Antigua, where we’ve visited twice before; on the Arcadia in 2005 and last year on the Adonia.  It was great to be back in this historic island.

Last time we were here there were three other ships in port, all gigantic behemoths with thousands of passengers.  We were surpised to see that today, only one other ship, from the German AIDA cruise line, was in port.  This is probably due to the fact that this is more or less the end of the Caribbean cruising season, and most of the ships had made their way back over the Atlantic ocean, which we would be doing ourselves in a few days’ time.

After our breakfast we went along to the Neptune Lounge to check in for today’s excursion, which was called “Spectacular Antigua” and would take us on a tour of the island.  Once again we were on bus #1 and this time our guide was called Grace and our driver was called Natty.  Grace was plump and ebulliant and kept testing our knowledge of Antigua as if we were children in the classroom.  🙂

We passed fields that formerly held crops of sugarcane; Antigua’s early fortunes were made largely from this crop.  It doesn’t rain very often in Antigua, and in fact the island’s name comes from anti agua, which means ‘no water’.

Grace explained some of the history of Antigua, starting with the arrival of the Arawak Indians, the ferocious Caribs (from which the name ‘cannibal’ is derived) and eventually the British.  She also described the slave trades, where the slaves were brought over on boats from Africa to work on the sugar plantations.  She also went on to tell us about the decline of the sugar industry (due to the drop in price of sugarcane) and how Antigua’s main income now comes from tourism.

On the way we passed small villages; each of the houses had a large water tank outside as Grace explained how it was important to store fresh water due to the island’s lack of rain.  Like a lot of the Caribbean there are frequent brief showers, but not enough for the earth to become soaked.  Some of the houses looked quite substantial, with porches, balconies and garages, and I thought how I could quite easily come and live here.  🙂

Our bus climbed its steady way up the winding narrow roads, and we stopped for a photo opportunity.  Up high it was very windy, although warm, and a few spots of rain main their presence felt; I was glad I’d brought my cagoule.

We made our way to Shirley Heights, named after former governor of the island, Sir Thomas Shirley.  Grace pointed out an island owned by guitarist Eric Clapton, and explained how he was very philanthropic towards Antigua, and had invested much of his time and money to the benefit of the island.  The view was fantastic and we could see many little boats and yachts bobbing gently on the waves far below.

Our next stop took us to the Antigua culture centre, where we went into a building to watch a video/interactive presentation on the history of Antigua.  The presentation was interesting in that it used all four walls of the large room to project the images and video, and lit up the waxwork figures and models.  We sat on swivel stools so we could turn round and follow the presentation; it was very good.  We realised we’d visited here before, in 2005.

Off we went again to our final stop – the famous Nelson’s Dockyard.  This was an old Royal Naval base from the 18th century and still had a lot of the original building, as well as its cannon-flanked walls on the shoreline.  We were each given a voucher so we could enjoy a rum punch (!) in the nearby cool bar.  🙂

Inside the bar there was a TV on the wall showing – you’ve guess it – the cricket. A few people, both British and local, were gathered around watching.  The rum punch was cold and quite strong, and we enjoyed it so much we bought another one.  The purchased ones were larger than the freebies, however, and we took them back onto the bus with us.

We toyed with the idea of spending the afternoon at the cricket watching the West Indies v England, and Grace said that if sufficient people were interested, we could negotiate with our bus driver Natty who would take us to the ground and back.  No-one apart from us seemed too bothered, so we reluctantly decided to give the cricket a miss for today.  It did look as though England would win, however.  🙂

When the bus returned to the Heritage Quay around lunchtime, we decided to go and get some postcards and write them out whilst enjoying a cold beer.  We went to the same little open air bar we’d visited last year, and enjoyed a couple of bottles of Wadadli beer.  It was just so pleasant sitting there, listening to reggae music and watching the cricket on TV screens around the walls.  Cold, dull and rainy Blighty seemed another world away.  🙂

Back on board we had a bite of lunch and sat up on deck for a while in the sunshine.  It’s amazing how quickly the time passes when you aren’t actually doing anything, and soon it was time to start getting showered and changed and ready for dinner.

The meal was delicious as usual, and we passed the time pleasantly with Jackie and Kathleen before  making our way to the Neptune Lounge to stake our claims for a seat with a good vantage point.  The Neptune Lounge is not really very well designed as a show lounge; the seats are arranged in a shallow horse-shoe shape and there are pillars which restrict some viewpoints; also, people wanting to get to some of the seats behind have to move the heavy chairs (and people!) out of the way to be able to climb over to the seats at the back.

The entertainer tonight was a comedy magician called John Lenahan.  He was quite good I suppose, although we have seen better.  It passed a mildly amusing hour though, and we enjoyed another couple of cold drinks during the show.  🙂

Then it was just the usual; along to the Coral Club for the quiz (we didn’t win!), enjoy the music by the resident band The Revolverlites and people-watch.  Often this can be entertainment in itself; one couple we had noticed used to sit on stools at the bar (or rather, the man sat while the woman stood in between his legs).  There they would kiss and canoodle as if they were teenagers and no-one else was around; in fact they were probably in their late 70s and it was all quite yucky.  😉

At 11.00pm we felt the increased vibrations through the floor which told us that the Braemar had weighed anchor and was on her way once again.  Shortly afterwards we returned to our cabin and settled down after a pretty full and interesting day.  Tomorrow we were due to dock in St. Kitts.

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