When Charles Spurgeon said that ‘It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness’, he should have been referring to the Antiguans.
Once a country where slaves toiled in the sugar plantations and the English militia attempted to keep the French at bay, Antigua in the West Indies is now a proud, laid-back and brightly colourful island that seems to simultaneously take forever to achieve something, yet give back time to enjoy the heady pleasures of living. Where else can you be on such a small rock of land, yet so surrounded by life?
Being in Antigua is delightfully, although sometimes frustratingly, slow paced. Long after the time when work was forced by the brutal ‘drivers’, work now seems to be done with an extraordinary sluggishness. But inject a loud soca rhythm and now there is the overwhelming urge to party.
The beaches receive heavy publicity. The fact that they are all public beaches and not owned by the sprawling hotel complexes around the coast seems deserving of this publicity: from the pink sands of Barbuda to the windswept Atlantic coasts of Antigua.
The historical sights around the island allow you to open the curtain on an era that actually brought a people here, that would eventually populate the island and make it their own. It could be Aftrica, but there are subtle differences that make it distinctly West Indian.
The incessant wind brings yachties from all over the world, with special emphasis on Sailing Week, the Classic Yacht Regatta and the Antigua Yacht show. For four months English Harbour is a bustling village with a party to suit everyone.
At night I lie in bed listening to the wind, the tree frogs and the crickets and it feels exotic. It is a country that seems to have an infinite number of problems yet a strong ‘don’t worry’ attitude and all of it surrounded by the most crystal-clear azure and turquoise warm water that begs you to dive in.
10 fun facts about Antigua:
1. The population of about 90,000 people is made up mostly of people of African descent that were brought to the island as slaves during the era of sugar cane plantations.
2. Antigua was under British rule from the mid 1600s until 1981, and is now a free nation in the British Commonwealth.
3. If you are lucky you can listen to a steel band accompanying the choir in church on Sunday. Alternatively, head to Shirley Heights on Sunday evening and listen to the steel band there.
4. Antiguans drive on the left side of the road (most of the time).
5. It takes about 40 minutes by car to drive from one side of the island to the other. (If you are following the map above, use only the red roads as the black roads are sometimes not there).
6. The currency is the Eastern Caribbean dollar or EC. A watermelon, 5 bananas, 3 cucumbers, and 2 knobs of ginger will set you back about 40 ECs (unless I was ripped off today by the street seller today).
7. Antigua is 4 hours from New York or 8 hours from London by plane.
8. There is a steady year round temperature between 27 – 30 degrees C (80 – 85 degrees F). Locals think it is too cold to swim in the winter but if you are visiting from a northern place I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised by the water temperatures all year.
9. Everyone speaks English, or a variation thereof.
10. 365 beaches – 1 for each day of the year (I am waiting for proof of this declaration, but there are lots).