June 13, 2011

Antigua - Land Of Sea & Sun

My better half at Shirley's Heights

At the carnival

Me at Devil's Bridge

Nelson's Dockyard

Sir Viv Richard's Cricket Stadium

View of the Harbour from Shirley's Heights

View from Fort St.James

View from Shirley's heights

Sunset at Shirley's heights

Two years ago, if someone had asked me, if I’d ever heard of an island called Antigua, I’d never  for the life of me ever have been able to locate it on a map. But life works in mysterious ways. One and a half years later, here I am living in this traveler’s delight, enjoying work with pleasure and penning an article about this tropical paradise nestled in the Eastern Caribbean, called Antigua.  So, dear readers fasten your seat belts and let me take you on a fascinating ride into the land of sea and sun.
   Antigua & Barbuda forms part of the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles, separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean Sea.  Antigua is about two thirds the size of New York City. Its capital is St John’s. From the title, one would gather that it has several pristine beaches. I wonder if you’d be able to guess the number of beaches in this idyllic island.  30…60…90….180…hold your breath, Antigua boasts of a whopping 365 beaches, one for each day of the year. And to think that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all would be a definite misjudgment.  So the challenge posed to a visitor is not how to gain access to the best of them but simply how to locate the beach that suits one's taste. To name a few, along the Northwest coast we have the Dickenson Bay and and Runaway Bay for those wanting the resort beach experience.  Along the east coast is the Half Moon Bay, now a National Park and a good choice for a family outing.  As their tourism promotion campaign punchline goes, beaches are just the beginning. 
        For many of the tourists who mostly arrive on cruises, the first stop has to be St John’s Cathedral whose magnificent ornate towers dot the skyline of the capital city, St John’s.  The capital city has several shopping areas that boast of fine dining and shopping. Be sure to watch out for the beautiful handicrafts that make beautiful souvenirs. For those interested in the early history of the island, there is the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, housed in the colonial Court House. The museum displays both Arawak and colonial artifacts recovered from archaeological excavation expeditions on the islands.
       English Harbour, Antigua's graceful and evocative historic district, is focused on the fifteen square miles of Nelson's Dockyard National Park. The dockyard was built to provide a base for a squadron of British ships whose main function was to patrol West Indies maintaining Britain's sea power .The harbour served as the headquarters of the fleet of the Leeward Islands during the eighteenth century. Though abandoned in the nineteenth century, it has now been restored, and is the only Georgian dockyard in the world. To get a sneak peak into life aboard the ships in those days, one can visit the museum housed in the same vicinity.
       Further above the harbour, is my favourite spot - Shirley Heights, where one can view the partially-restored fortifications of the harbour's colonial observation post. On a weekend, we go for a long drive and watch the breathtakingly beautiful sunset and restful waters from Shirley heights.  If lucky to be visiting on a day when the skies are clear, we get a panoramic view of Guadeloupe Island to the south and the island of Montserrat with its still active volcano to south west. Shirley Heights Lookout is home to the 'biggest and best' party on the island every Sunday for the last 25 years with the famous steel band or reggae playing at different times. Fort James is another destination that affords a breathtaking view of the surrounding harbor.
       Another one my favourites is Devil's Bridge. Not for the faint hearted! Just kidding, Devil’s bridge was called so because a lot of slaves from the neighboring estates use to go there and throw themselves overboard. That was an area of mass suicide, so people use to say it had to be the handiwork of the devil. The waters around Devil's Bridge are always rough and anyone who falls over the bridge is said to never have come out alive. So says the exciting legend.  Actually, this is an example of sea water erosion. It is a natural arch carved by the sea from soft and hard limestone ledges of the Antigua formation, a geological division of the flat north-eastern part of Antigua. A bridge was created when a soft part of the limestone was eroded away by the action of the Atlantic breakers over countless centuries.
          What makes Antigua unique is that apart from sightseeing and shopping, it offers tourists myriad options for activities for all age groups.  On land one can revel in hiking, golfing, biking and birdwatching while the more adventurous can go ziplining in the rainforest tour. The sea will beckon you as you enjoy parasailing, surfing, kayaking, deep sea fishing, diving and snorkeling. I must mention here the enchanting 'Stingray City' which, fringed and protected by its own reef makes possible an actual swim with the stingrays. The unbeatable scenery and pristine coral reef encircling the area enhance this amazing experience, second to none in the world. Antigua sailing week is home to the world’s top five regattas and is the premier sailing destination in the Caribbean.  For the high flyers, there are chartered helicopter tours too.
      How can I forget the Antiguan Carnival? Beginning in the last week of July to first week of August, it is a commemoration of abolition of slavery in 1834. Ten days of music, dance and revellery, it is the best time to visit as you can join in the spontaneous fun that surrounds you. Each of the troupes will be setting up Mas Camp – a base where beautiful, colourful , intricate costumes are prepared and where the troupes start marching from on the first Saturday of Carnival – on their way to Carnival City to officially open Carnival. Carnival Culminates in a massive street party called J’ouvert (meaning day break) on the following first Monday in August. The dancing literally goes on all night and stops mid morning. . It is a blend of steel pan music, calypso and jam bands playing the hottest music on demand! An indefinable party atmosphere envelops the city as all age groups shed inhibition and come out to frolic and have a good time. In every sense of the word, it is a riot of colours.
     My description of Antigua will be incomplete if I fail to mention the icing on the cake in Antigua. It is the warmth and friendliness of the people which is the soul of this tropical paradise. Gentle and fun loving, they’re always around to help with a smile.
                                      A wonderful saying goes, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever”.  This suits Antigua perfectly. Unscathed by the scourge of industrialization and pollution, her timeless beauty serves to soothe and heal. She will touch your soul and make you want to come back again and again…..Truly, the Land of Sea and Sun!