For breakfast, I made little sandwiches with the bread, brie, and black pineapple. They were surprisingly good. The pineapple tasted the same as regular pineapple. Today promised to be another rainy day, so I wanted to get an early start to it and hit as much as possible before the rain sets in. As I left the house, roosters were crowing, so I knew it was early. I started at Devil's Bridge. The road to Devil's Bridge reminds me more of the roads on the peninsula in St. Kitts. They are gravelly, when they're paved at all. They're full of potholes, which after rain means little ponds for the car to splash through. The width of the road varies. It's the kind of drive best left to more rugged vehicles, but one that I've done in crappy old cars plenty of times. I got to the point where the sign said “Devil's Bridge” and walked around a bit. I had sneakers in my car, and it probably would have been smart to put them on instead of hiking around in my flip flops. The terrain was rocky, but the rock was all eaten away in places by water, so the ground resembled swiss cheese or a moonscape more than land. Many of those little holes were filled with water, and a lot of them had tiny shells of some sort of sea creature growing all over them. I hiked around the pitted landscape, careful not to slip, enjoying the tranquility and nice views. I wasn't exactly sure what I was looking at. I knew that the bridge was supposed to be some stone that was unsupported over the water, but I had looked all around and not seen it. I took a quick dip in the ocean at the cute little beach by the outcropping. The water is so incredibly clear here! From around there, I thought I saw the Devil's Bridge. I climbed up and over some other rocks, and sure enough, I saw it. There's an arch over water, but my view wasn't great. I didn't see any other place to get a better view, so I took my pictures (which weren't that great) and moved on. The next stop was Stingray City. Ironically, there are tiny ruins that are difficult to find on the tourist map, but Stingray City, one of the big sights isn't on the map at all. Fortunately, there are pretty good signs marking the way there.I arrived there just in time to be the third person on the first tour of the morning. The guides gave us a brief introduction. They explained how to do “The Stingray Shuffle” so that we don't accidentally step on stingrays that are under the sand, feeding. The stingrays are all tame and accustomed to people, so we won't be startling them just by being there, and there is a limit to what they can do with their tails. As such, the guides report that in 8 years, nobody has been stung.
They put us on a boat and took us out by Guiana and Great Bird islands. They have a floating dock to tie the boat to. Despite being so far out to sea, the water is extremely shallow. Once we got into the stingray area, they came right up to us and nuzzled against us, much like cats do. We were able to pet them and hold them. Everywhere, we were surrounded by giant stingrays. It was very cool. (Pictures will be posted soon.) After a while, we got to snorkel the area. One of the guys on the tour didn't seem to get the concept that you're supposed to stay off the ground when you snorkel, and he was kicking up a lot of the seabed. The water was very calm and salty, so it actually took very little effort to stay afloat, if you actually tried. The reef wasn't that great as reefs go. It seemed a bit black and dead, without the bright colors I'm used to. We did see some big conch shells and even played a bit with a crab of some sort. Eventually, it was time to go back. I thought that they gave us enough time to see what there was to see, so I was ok with going back. The guides on the trip were funny though. They asked if I had a boyfriend. It's times like these when I hate how honest I am. One guy wants to come visit me in St. Kitts. The other wants to be my “one and only” and be with me forever. It makes me miss the “good old days” when I had 8 months between statements like that, not just a few weeks. I'm guessing that either that's a cultural thing and how all guys hit on all girls down here, or that they've been told fairy tales of US citizens picking up Caribbean spouses and whisking them off to the states, where you know the streets are paved with gold. Either way, I'm not marrying them. Back at the Stingray City land base, we got an opportunity to have some fruit punch and look at the animals they kept. They had some macaws (who will always be "Squeaker Birds" in my mind), some other birds, some lizards, some monkeys, and a turtle. The turtle was very photogenic. He saw my camera and came straight up to it. He was trying desperately to get out of the cage and come play with me, which was very cute, but also sad because he couldn't get out.
Last night, the ladies I met had told me that Half Moon Bay was the prettiest beach on the island, so that's where I went next. I think they were right. The bay is shaped like a crescent moon (hence the name) and is surrounded by cliffs and hills so that it seems very secluded. The water is very calm and crystal clear. The sand is some of the softest sand I've ever felt in my life. This would be the perfect place to throw a beach chair half in the water, grab a book, and read all day long with the waves providing a gentle, soothing backdrop. Surprisingly, there weren't many people there. If my goal was to relax, I would have spent all day there. It may be one of the most tranquil beaches in the world.
But, I can only relax so long before I want some more adventure. Plus, I was really enjoying the whole “roadtrip vibe.” I was able to pick up radio stations that were playing US pop, old slow jamz, reggae, and Carribean dancehall music. (There were also some religious channels and some talk channels, but those aren't for me.) As what stations I could get depended on where I was on the island, I kept switching between the stations, and got a great mix for driving.
I drove to Betty's Hope, an old plantation. It's not open Sundays, but the gates were wide open, so I drove in to see what I could see. The house was closed, but there were placards identifying the other ruins (similar to what I saw at Shirley's Heights). I saw the mill and some of the other ruins, being careful to avoid the presents the sheep left. The buildings may not be used any more, but the grazing land certainly is.
Finally, I decided to head towards Jabberwock Beach, as that is where my friends from last night say is a good beach. As previously mentioned, I would pull over periodically to check my map. Whenever I did so, somebody would slow down for me and ask if I needed directions. The Antiguan friendliness was extreme.
Before I got to Jabberwock Beach, I got hungry and needed to use a restroom, so I pulled into the parking lot of a nearby restaurant called The Tides, where again, they were so friendly. It was also a very fancy restaurant. I was most certainly underdressed, but they were happy to let me in anyway. When I checked out the buffet they had for Sunday brunch, the chef even offered to make me something else if I couldn't find anything to eat at the buffet. He was so helpful with making plates for the old people. Some of this, I'm chalking up to it being a very fancy restaurant, but I also think a lot of it is the Antiguan friendliness. So why do I keep harping on the fanciness of the restaurant? First, it is immaculately clean, crisp, and well-decorated. It is clear that the people there pay great attention to detail, whether it's setting a place perfectly, or making sure all of the window shutters were open to exactly the same angle. I know that things like that don't matter so much, but it does attest to the fact that somebody there cares. Even the music playing subtly in the background was elegant and at just the right volume so that you could hear it, but that it faded into the background and didn't interfere with the sounds of conversation. The food itself was perfection as well. I wouldn't be surprised if you told me that the chef went to culinary school, picked up a few recipes, and practiced those recipes a thousand times until they each came out perfectly every time. The greek salad had just the right level of spice and just the right amount of fresh basil to feel refreshing. The salad had a perfect balsamic dressing that was just the right consistency, jut the right amount of creamy, just the right amount of tangy, and didn't come apart. The local delicacy, fried bread, was just the right amount of chewy, fluffy and moist on the inside. The cheesecake was melt-in your mouth perfection; and the apple pie had a crust that had the ideal flakiness. The only negative thing I can say about the food was that it was a bit uninspired. Most menu items could have come from a classic culinary school text book. The plantains and plantain fritters were the only thing that wouldn't have. Those were fabulous as well, and not greasy like plantains often are. So, while the inspiration was a bit lacking, the perfection was noticeably amazing. The food was worth the money I paid and then some, and brunch wasn't cheap.
On my way out, one of the ladies gave me directions to Jabberwock beach, where I hung out for a bit. There, the water is also incredibly clear. Because it's shallow and very calm, I felt more like I was in a baby pool than at a beach with sand and ocean The only indication I had that this wasn't pool water was that there were schools of tiny fish swimming all over the place, even in the super-shallow water I was walking in. I tried to get them to come right up to me and surround my legs by standing there for a while, but they kept a little bit of a distance (a foot or so). My cousin, Max, has a trick where he spits at the water, and fish come up to it because they think it's food. These fish just ran away from it. Oh well.
At this point, I headed back to the house, as I really needed to check out. I had lost track of time, so it was good that they didn't have anybody else coming in that day. The lady was very nice about telling me it was checkout time, even though I was a little late.
The plan was to head back to Jabberwock beach and read on the beach until it was time to go to the airport, because Jabberwock beach is right near the airport and if I got too involved in my book and lost track of time, I at least had a chance of still making my flight. I went to get gas for the car as well, because I wanted it to be full before the beach so that I wouldn't have to deal with it later. The station I went to was full-service, except between about midnight and 6am. The girl filled my tank, and I pulled money to pay, but then she topped it off. I tried to stop her, but she thought she was doing something nice for me. Ugh. I didn't want to pay for more gas than I needed. Being my cheap self, I decided that if I paid for the gas, I was going to use it. Besides, it will be at least a month before I get another chance to drive the open road, and there's a good chance there will be traffic when I do, so it won't be as good as this.
I drove around some more, past their power and desalinization plant, but eventually got tired and decided to go to Jabberwock beach and chill for a while. I napped in the car there, and when I woke it was raining. So much for reading on the beach. I headed to the airport a bit early, just because I was done and might as well read there as in a car in the rain.
The Antigua airport is a small airport, but it does have a restaurant (Big Banana) with free wifi on both sides of security. Like most international airports, it has duty-free shops as well. I was actually surprised that so small an airport had a jewelry store, a souvenir store, some clothing stores, and some other stuff. I guess I should have done my research, because I was also surprised by the exit tax they charged. It cost me 70 EC to get out of the country. Of course, they only took cash. While that wasn't a problem for me as I've gotten used to places like that, before I lived in the Caribbean, I most certainly would not have had the money to leave. Again, Liat boarded late. This time though, the plan was full as it was also going to St. Marten and Tortola. In contrast to my flight to Antigua, this one had standard legroom- which is to say that my knees were up against the seat in front of me the whole time. Because it is a small plane, even my backpack wouldn't fit in the overhead bin, so that had to go under the seat in front of me, further reducing my comfort. Good thing it was an 18-minute flight.