Thursday, January 20, 2022

Moths to a Flame - Part 9, Antigua


Saturday morning breaks as an absolutely beautiful day. The sun shines over the town of St Johns as we slowly approach the docks in the protected harbor. It is day six of our cruise and the weather is perfect. There are already two ships at the docks, one comfortably tied to our right, and another that appears to be floundering off to our left. The one to our left is the huge Italian MSC Seaview and her thrusters are churning up the harbor into a coffee-colored anomaly in the usually blue Caribbean Sea. Exactly the opposite from the pristine waters of St. Croix. I have watched her for at least ten minutes and she hasn’t moved more than a few feet.

The small island in the US Virgin Islands just a stones throw from St. Thomas is St John. It is not St Johns. St Johns is the city on the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, where we are. Those who read my stuff know now I’m a stickler for getting things straight because I don’t like people smiling while they think “This clown thinks he knows what he is talking about” while I make a fool of myself. I have heard the name of the island pronounced Antigwa and Antigah. I decide to ask the locals I meet onshore and ask how the natives say it. People may still smile at me but at least I know I lined up my ducks.

We tie up while the Seaview still hasn’t fully straightened out and wonder if her massive size has created a problem. That does not appear to be the case, though, as she eventually ties up alongside us in a comedy that could have been from Benny Hill. High up on the forward hull, a service door is open and the officers are yelling at the rope crew far below on the dock. There is confusion about which big, heavy line goes over which cleat, and the Italian crew, yelling as loudly as they can, with their heavy accents, only get shoulder shrugs from the confused dock crew far below. 

Finally, lines get switched to the crew’s satisfaction and all goes quiet in the man-made canyon between the huge ships. The Millennium is ready to discharge passengers by the time they finally get settled next door. Again, it is time for us to go to breakfast.

We exit the ship as painlessly as before, swiping our guest cards on the security station and watching our beautiful profile photos pop up on the security monitor. We stop to stare at the canyon created by the two giant ships before we amble through the de rigueur security station. As we get our bearings, we meet a woman we had met earlier in the elevator as we headed out. Nicely dressed in a blue, business-like pant suit, the woman who appeared to be about our age, complained endlessly during the short elevator ride about being charged by the pound for her luggage. I noticed she had everything with her, several carry-ons across her shoulders and towing a huge suitcase as she exited the elevator.

When we met her again, she was standing at the curb in a taxi-pick up area, staring up the street as a ship's officer stood quietly behind her, his hands behind his back as is common with European men. Ilse and I felt sorry for her as we expected she had to make an emergency trip home for some family reason or another. After we re-boarded later, we were told she had been thrown off the ship for using profane language toward one of the ship’s crew.

It is Antigah. Ahn-tee-gah, with the accent on the tee. We asked the security guards at the dock, and even though they stared at me like I had six heads, one of them finally laughed and said. “We call it Antigah, but we hear everything you can imagine. Have a good day.”

So, we did.

Once we left the dock area and stepped into the real world, reality reached out and slapped us awake. Christmas decorations have been surprisingly sparse in every port we’ve been to. It appears COVID has dampened enthusiasm everywhere. This is a busy town, but when I look back at the docks, I see why. There are two more cruise ships lining up behind the Millennium to dock. I strain to see where they are going to put them. There will be five cruise ships docked here at the same time. The locals are gearing up for the rush of tourists.

This may not be the forum to air my opinions about the lack of leadership in most third world countries, but in the thirty years we’ve been coming to the Caribbean islands, not much has changed. Most cities in the hurricane belt are just as crappy as they were the first time we were here. This is our first time time in Antigua, but St Johns is no exception. Within a block of the shopping zone, you can easily slip off the curb into a three foot deep hole with weeds growing out of it. There is no standard for anything here, especially safety, The sad part is they are no different than most other Caribbean port cities, although several towns, such as Nassau in the Bahamas, Willemstad in Curacao, and Oranjestad in Aruba would rate better than average. The average here is subpar by almost all American and European standards, so caution, extreme caution, has to be used when just strolling or walking, looking at the local sights. We dodged pipes sticking out of the road and sidewalks as well as pipes sticking out of walls at eye level. I’m sure the areas and resorts built especially for the tourist trade are designed to make foreigners feel at home, but if you decide to go au natural in the port towns, be forewarned. I tripped over a stub pipe sticking out of a sidewalk in Philipsburg, St Maarten, even though I was watching where I was walking! I missed falling hard on the pavement by mere fractions of an inch.

We decided to walk to St. Johns Cathedral, the Anglican church that dominates the town. In the hustle and bustle of street vendors and shops, we stopped and asked a local policemen who quite proudly gave us explicit directions to the church, although we were only three blocks away. The church is undergoing reconstruction so the main entrance had two-by-four timber laid across the steps to warn people to use a different entrance. Ilse and I wandered through the tombstones, looking at the dates that go back several hundred years before finally spending ten minutes in the church itself. In my opinion, visiting churches is an acquired taste, but this one’s history draws many visitors.

We wandered back through town using different streets, but decided it was time to kick-back on ship and enjoy another great lunch. The continuous beep-beep of the local traffic is again part of the atmosphere as everybody here seems to know everybody else, which is cool. Just mind numbing.

I take a photo of a sailing sloop, probably thirty-two feet long or so, with its broken mast forlornly drooped across the stern. It is swinging slowly around its mooring buoy. She’s several hundred yards in front of the newly arrived Azamara Quest, one of the newer, smaller, boutique class cruisers fast gaining popularity in the cruising world. The disabled sloop just in front of her belies the story of someone’s broken dreams, not just a broken mast. That would be a story of its own.

I glance up as an Airbus with its wheels down, flying just off the side of the ship, throttles back while I’m daydreaming about the sloop. Airliners coming from who-knows-where begin to approach the airport, their flight pattern parallels our dock. I count seven in a ten minute period as I sit with my gin and tonic, my feet propped up in absolute, decadent pleasure. Perhaps someday we’ll fly in to one of the islands, but for now, the Celebrity Millennium will do just fine.

Tonight turns out to be one of those memorable nights that go in scrapbooks. We finally had dinner with Dany and Seba of Supernova Duo.

It also was a full moon. A Caribbean cruise with a full moon should be on everyone’s bucket list.

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