I got up early Saturday morning, showered, and went to look for food.
The first food I passed on my drive was the coconut man. The coconut man was slicing off the tops of cocounut, and emptying the water into a several gallon jug for a lady. When he was done filling the jug, he hacked the coconuts open, scooped out the soft, gooey, white meat, and plopped it into a plastic bag for her. For me, he filled a plastic bottle with coconut water and (over)charged me 10EC. I was hungry though, and excited to be able to take it with me, so I paid and was on my way. (In contrast, the coconut guys in St. Kitts just give you the coconut to drink from, so you can't really recap it , and it doesn't fit in the cup holder in the car.) I drove through town, looking for the first place that was open and looked like it had food (other than a supermarket, or ironically, a “superette”). Because it was around 7ish, the town was just waking up, and I didn't really see anything open. I did see a lot of closed Chinese restaurants though.
Because I didn't really have a plan, I just kept driving. I ended up driving through the Antiguan countryside, which has some nice views, all the way to the south side of the island by where Nelson's Dockyard is.
I drove around Shirley's Heights, from which I had a great view of the port below. I guess that's why the British littered it with forts. In the early morning, none of the visitor's centers are open and none of the booths that say “pay here” are manned, so I got to see the outside of everything for free. They had a few markers up by the various ruins that indicated what I was looking at, but maybe it would have been cooler to have a guide telling me the history beyond what was on the placards. The area was also marked with trailheads, and I bet the trails would have been fun to hike with somebody. One of the cool natural things to see is what I'm going to call an “Aparagus tree,” due to my botanical ignorance. This tree is like nothing I've ever seen before in my life, but it wasn't rare in this area. It is tall, thin, and green, reminding me of an asparagus spear. It has no branches anywhere except the top. At the top, there is a plume of bright flowers. If anybody reading this knows what they're called, please let me know.
I was still looking for food, and I figured that Nelson's Dockyard must have food as it is a touristy area, so I tried to find it. In the process, I drove through a few neighborhoods, some of which had livestock running loose. At one point, I was stopped in a road as there was a chicken crossing the road (ha ha). The chicken ran right into my stopped vehicle, and then kept on going. I must have had a terrified look on my face as a lady nearby reassured me that I didn't do anything wrong, the chicken ran into me and it was ok.
Eventually, I got tired of driving around an unsigned area, so I stopped to ask a lady waiting for a bus for directions. She gave be brief directions, but then said that she was trying to go that way for work and that she'd just show me. Now, I am not somebody who picks up hitchhikers or random strangers. However, she was obviously waiting for a bus to work and I was going in that direction. I had initiated the conversation with her, so it's not like she planned anything. I took the risk and drove her to her work, which was where I was going anyway. On the way, she was very friendly. She told me about the area, the island, and things to do. She made an excellent tour guide.
By the time I dropped her off, it was POURING rain. I parked at the yacht marina and waded through the parking lot to a restaurant called Bar-B's cafe. I almost fell down the steps several time due to the slipperiness of everything. When I finally got settled, I noticed that the place was decorated very brightly, which I really liked. The service wasn't quite so bright though. I had decided on black pineapple pancakes, because that was the most local thing on the menu, but the waitress said they weren't doing pancakes today. I asked for a local beverage, and they didn't have anything. I asked finally got the only thing on the menu I could order, which turned out to be some sort of spinach tomato eggs benedict. Considering that I'm not a fan of eggs, I was a bit unhappy about the choice, but I was also overly hungry and not in the mood to go out into the downpour and try someplace else. As I waited for my food, my ears were regaled with plenty of Aussie and British accents. Sailing week was just ending and a lot of the other people in the restaurant were very obviously here for that. A lot of the tables had ordered alcoholic beverages. I'm not sure if those facts are related or not. Eventually, I got my eggs. I wanted to be upset at them, but they actually were perfectly cooked with just the right amount of runniness, although I had to assemble the “sandwich” part myself. When I was done, the waitress was still taking forever to get me my bill, so I just went up to the front and asked to pay. I had spent more than enough time there are breakfast and wanted to get on with my day. I paid, and was on my way.
Again, I slipped all over the place getting down the stairs, but fortunately didn't fall. I forded the small river that was forming in the gutter between the road and the parking lot, and made it to my car. After quite some time, I got everything defogged and was slowly on my way. I passed the dive shop, and frowned as I wasn't going to be able to dive Antigua as I didn't leave enough time between flights to allow for it. I passed an art shop and a building marked “Chandlery,” so I decided to park and look at art, since that is an indoor activity.
The chandlery doesn't sell candles, wax anything, or fancy soap. It is a boat-themed hardware store, not what I expected. I moved on to the Jason Pickering photo store. I actually saw a sign for pottery, and thought it was this place, but it turns out that the pottery place is next door and was closed. Regardless, the lady running the photo studio was very nice and let me look at all of the photos while staying out of the rain. A bunch of the photos were very impressive. If they had been less expensive, I probably would have bought a print or two, but they were very overpriced in my opinion.
Eventually, the rain let up a bit and I made my way over to Nelson's Dockyard. Really, this would have been the place to get trapped in the height of the downpour. The dockyard consists of several historic buildings, each of which has been repurposed for a modern use. At the entrance is the souvenir stand area, with lots of ladies selling the same t-shirts, plastic souvenirs, and other generic items printed with something that refers to Antigua somewhere on them. Next, there is a passageway into the rest of the dockyard. One of the next buildings was another souvenir shop, but this one was full of carvings actually made in Antigua. They had some very nice mancala boards carved in the shape of turtles, a ton of carved fish, and a bunch of other tropical or nautical-themed pieces. Again, the art was nice, but way too expensive, in my opinion. One of the big buildings is the museum. It has a few artifacts on display and a bunch of descriptive blurbs about what life was like in the British navy during the days of the pirates and wars with the Spanish Armada. One of the funnier ones described the origin of “grog.”
Beer was a typical British navy ration, but it was less available in the Caribbean. So, rum became the ration. Except, the sailors were all getting very drunk off of the rum. One day, a man who wore grogram cloth, who was nicknamed “Grog,” decided to dilute the rum ration with water so that they men wouldn't be so drunk and disorderly after the meal. From then on, rum that was watered down was called “grog” after that guy.
Behind the museum is a bakery. It had a lot of pastries that I'd classify as British or Caribbean or some sort of fusion. I ended up getting a veggie patty, which I have to say, was much better and spicier than the one I previously had from Rituals in St. Kitts. I really enjoyed noshing on it as I walked around the rest of the complex. This would have been the place to grab breakfast, not the marina. Many of the historic buildings had been converted into various restaurants, and so there were a lot of choices.
In addition to the historic things to see, there were also a lot of boats (I assume that were there for sailing week) parked in the port. To service the boats, there were showers, and immigration building, and power hookups. Watching all of the sailors take care of their boats made me wish I had come for sailing week and participated.
By the time I was done exploring Nelson's Dockyard, the rain had let up enough that I decided to go down Fig Tree Drive. Fig Tree Drive is supposed to be one of the prettiest drives on the island. It actually doesn't have fig trees, but at one point the locals called bananas figs, and it does have banana trees. It has a bunch of other trees and is almost like a jungle, but I'm not a botanist and can't really say what kinds of trees it did have.
This drive is another reason to rent a car. The drive is very pretty, but it was nice to be able to stop in a few places. First, I stopped at the Fig Tree art studio. Again, it had gorgeous art, but was way out of range of my budget. Next, I passed the zip line center. I didn't stop because I'm a little bit over zip lines. The camp I went to as a kid and then worked at as a counselor had a zip line that we did about once per week, so they have lost their novelty with me. But, if you've never done a zip line, this would be a good place to try, I suppose. My last stop was at a pineapple stand. Some lady was selling Antiguan black pineapples by the side of the road. I'm not really sure why they're called black pineapples, as they don't appear any different from normal pineapples from the outside, or any different color-wise from the inside. In fact, they look just like mini pineapples. The only real difference between them and standard pineapples is that they have been bred so that the core is edible. You don't have to core them or slice around it, you can just eat the whole thing (minus the outside). At the end of Fig Tree Drive, you can keep on going to see all of the southwest beaches. Maybe it's because of the season or the rain, but nobody really appeared to be out at the beaches. I went in the water a little bit, but there really wasn't anything to do there, so I got back into the car and kept going up the road.
One thing that I noticed on my drive is that the road signs here are very British. At each intersection, they tell you what towns are in each direction, but not which way is north/south/east/west. The whole system is based on the premise that the driver knows all of the towns on the way to the final destination, which wasn't my case. I got to the point where I would pull over in front of each intersection sign so that other cars could pass as I pulled out the map and tried to figure out what way I wanted to go. Also, the roads in Antigua are much better paved than those in St. Kitts, with infinitely fewer potholes to swerve around. Also, with the exception of St. John, they are wider and have fewer cars parked half on the side. Overall, it made driving very enjoyable and not tiring.
When I got back into St. John's, I found myself passing a busy marketplace, so of course, I had to stop. The market has several parts. First, there was the outdoor part. There were tons of people selling all sorts of fruits and vegetables in street stands all around the buildings. The only place where there wasn't a slew of veggie vendors was in the little park out front of the market. Another part were the indoor food sections. There was a building for fish, a building for meats, and a building with more people selling more produce. I really didn't plan on cooking, but I did at least check for any strange veggies. I didn't see any- most of what they had were standard food s I could get anywhere. All of these areas were filled with locals buying whatever they were going to eat for the week.
Finally, there was a crafts market, aimed at the tourists. There were a bunch of stands that were selling the same souvenirs as you would get anywhere else, except these happened to say “Antigua” on them. At those stands , the most exciting/unique items were the off-tune souvenir tin pan drums. There were a few shops that actually contained crafts. I went into one shop, Earthly Instincts, because it had very pretty painted gourd bowls out front. The artist herself was in the shop, working on making some napkin rings. We chatted for a while about her and her art. When I marveled at some very uniquely-shaped wine glasses, she noted that she “likes shapes,” which of course made me crack up and tell her about my sister. She also sells some art by her friend who makes recycled things, which were gorgeous as well. I ended up getting a few things from her, including painted shell magnets. I was lucky to get some. Apparently somebody had come in recently, bought her out, and asked her to make a hundred more so that the person could take home presents for everybody. On the way back to my car, some random guy in some random house yelled after me. At first, I didn't realize he was yelling at me until he commented on the Redkins (because my bag has a big 'skins logo on the side). I'm not sure what association he has in his head between 'skins fans and pot, but basically, he stopped me to ask if I wanted to smoke with him. While I suppose it was nice of him to offer, I was definitely not interested and kept on my way. At least I got a chuckle out of it.
Next, I wandered around the cruise ship port. There wasn't a cruise ship in, so it was reasonably deserted, but there were still some shops open. A lot of the shops were the standard shops that you see at every cruise ship port- jewelry stores, stores selling the same crap made in China and printed with the name of whatever port it is sold in, fancy clothing stores. This port had a lot of that, but it also had a few shops selling somewhat more unique items. One sold rasta bracelets, hats, and other gear like what I've actually seen locals wearing. Another sold paintings done by a local artist. I got a deal on one and bought it as I really liked it. Another thing I noticed in the port was a pirate-looking ship called the Black Swan. It is owned by “Pirates of Antigua” and they do give rides on it, which I tried to pre-book, but the people were pretty non-responsive. Since the lady emailed me and said that there would be one Saturday night, I went to the office in person to try to get myself on it. I guess because it was off-season and they didn't have enough pre-bookings they weren't having a trip on Saturday after all. Oh well. I passed a vegan restaurant, SWHole, run by a rasta guy. I'm not a vegan, but the whole “natural foods” and “good for the planet and your body” things get me very excited. When I get a chance to support somebody who is trying to succeed at peacefully and open-mindedly encouraging others to be (in his opinion) better people, I can't pass it up. It had the ambiance somewhere between a beach bar and a euro yogurt shop, which I found interesting. There were a bunch of cafeteria-plate-style options to choose from. , I got some sort of pasta bake and rice with (for lack of a better term) stew. Also, I got local tamarind juice. All of the flavors were good. The stew had an interesting texture that you might have to be vegan to appreciate. The pasta bake was amazing! It almost tasted cheesy, but I know it wasn't cheese in there. Whatever it was, I was considering getting some to go so that I'd have breakfast tomorrow. The only thing that stopped me was that I didn't want to carry it around with me for the rest of the day. On my way out of the port area, I passed King's Casino. There was a sign on the door that said “no smoking,” which I'm not used to seeing at a casino, but was so excited to see that I went in. It was a small casino with a few tables and a lot of slots. I'm not really into betting, but it seemed ok enough.
Also in that part of St. John is an old cathedral that is undergoing restoration. It's pretty enough from some angles, but from others it's downright spooky. From just the right place, you find yourself standing in a graveyard under the shadow of what what appears to be an abandoned and empty church, reading construction signs that say things like “danger” and “keep out.” I bet you could have a great ghost story party there at night.
By this point, I was a bit tired and ready for a nap. I headed back to my rental in Friar's hill, passing the same coconut guy that was there in the morning. He was still out there, although with a larger pile of cut up coconuts and a smaller pile of raw ones.
After my nap, I went to see the forts and bays on the north side of the island. Fort James is so out-of-the-way that I had to off-road a bit to get there. Also, I had to stop on a beach and ask a random guy for directions. In addition to pointing out the fort to me, he pointed out Nevis. From the fort (and the nearby beach) I got to see the side of Nevis that I'm not used to seeing. The fort itself is best classified as ruins. There is nothing there indicating that anybody ever takes care of it. In fact, there is a lot of graffiti and trash. However, because it is abandoned, you can literally drive right into the middle of the fort and park your car inside. The whole time I was there, I only saw one other person. The fort has a nice view, a bunch of cannons that you can play with, and a little wooden bridge. Because it was so rustic and untouched, I felt almost like an explorer or archeologist, finding some ruins off in the jungle. From there, I drove around by the Sandals resort and a little lake, then back into St. John. I wonder why there don't seem to be lake boats and lake things to do. I was looking for dinner, but not at some place shady. I found a Chinese restaurant on he north side of town that had parking out front and seemed to be nicer than some of the others. It was called New Thriving chinese Restaurant. After looking at the menu to make sure there was something I was interested, I sat down and waited. And I waited. I know the lady knew I was there because I had spoken with her about the menu and she showed me where to sit. I waited some more, taking notes and staring at the decorations. They had those classic shiny pictures up as well as Christmas decorations. A group of boys came in while I was waiting, and they were the only other patrons around. After about 10 minutes of waiting without her so much as asking what I wanted to drink, I gave up and left. Moral- don't go to that Chinese restaurant.
Again, I went on a quest for food. I almost went through the KFC drive through, just because earlier in the week I was desperately missing drive thrus as there aren't any on St. Kitts. Instead, I headed towards Friar's Hill as I remembered that there was a shopping center there and thought it might have some restaurant in it. Instead, I found the book store all lit up and still open. I own a kindle and had it with me, but nothing compares to the draw of a bookstore with real books in it. I went in to check it out. I did end up buying a cook book and a Roald Dahl book for adults. (I didn't even know he wrote things other than children's books.)
As it turns out, they were having a book reading and signing there that evening. Some lady (US accent, don't know her name) was there to promote her books of poetry. She read some to us, and it was pretty good, although not really my taste. At the book reading, I met a few Antiguans who were so very nice and friendly. We chatted about what there was to do on the island (one didn't know because she mostly works, reads, and sleeps), engineering (she wanted to become one, but the school system said the classes were full so she had to do business instead), and the weather (Antiguans don't like rain to the point where they stay at home in it and even close shops early due to it). We talked about life, traveling, and everything as if we were old friends and not people who had met a few minutes ago. The one even invited me to come along on her driving lesson tomorrow so I could see the island. I declined as I had already driven around a lot, but was very appreciative of the offer. This was just one of the many examples of Antiguan friendliness that I experienced. They also gave me advice on dinner- go to Epicurean, a nearby grocery store. The best way I can describe Epicurean is Wegmans-esque. It is HUGE. It seems to have everything- local stuff, US brands, lots of British and other international stuff. They had a full florist, bakery and deli. It was so clean and huge that I thought I was someplace else. There is nothing at all even somewhat like that in St. Kitts. It made me glad that the house I was staying at had a little kitchen. I grabbed brie (one of the foods I sorely miss), bread, and a British frozen dinner. The frozen dinner I ate that night. It was pretty bland and flavorless. Maybe I shouldn't have picked a British dinner. After dinner, I relaxed, read, and planned out some things to do tomorrow. Since nothing in any of the tourist guides has hours printed, I was just going to have to wing some things.