Monday, October 31, 2011

Oct 27th – Sweltering Antigua

Today we arrived in the holiday island of Antigua – you immediately knew this place was a lot more mainstream than St Barts, when we docked next to a huge Royal Caribbean ship that totally dwarfed us, we heard the thumping "holiday" music blasted out to greet us, and saw the massed ranks of pushy taxi drivers waiting to give us their identical definitive guide to the island.

We ignored their offers, and walked past the casino and duty free shops to get out into the real St John's, away from the sanitised and slightly soulless version on offer close to the ship. We headed to the produce market, which had something of a similar atmosphere to the markets we've visited in Africa earlier this year – not quite as frenetic in this laid back Caribbean idyll, but hot, sweaty, and slightly chaotic, with lots of unrecognisable tropical fruit and veg.

We then visited the National Museum, housed in the old Georgian courthouse – they didn't have much in the way of historic exhibits there, but it was laid out really well, and gave a good explanation of the island's history, from the Arawaks and Caribs, to its settlement by the Europeans, to the evils of the slave trade and the plantation system, onto independence and nationhood. An excellent place to get an overview of Antigua's past.

Our next stop, a visit to the Cathedral, was curtailed by building works which meant it was shut, so we just went on a general wander through the town's slightly dilapidated backstreets. This is an island with a bit of a split personality – there's the beautifully manicured tourist resorts for well off Westerners, and the more ramshackle reality for ordinary Antiguans, who must look on at the displays of wealth of their visitors, and wonder when the wealth will spread to them.

As we explored, we popped into a supermarket to see what was on offer, and I was shocked to see that a packet of my beloved Frosties (Frosted Flakes to Americans) cost over $50ECD - about $20USD. Unfortunately, this immediately means that I cannot live in Antigua, no matter how beautiful it is. It will now be my mission to do a Frosties index of everywhere I visit, to see how liveable a place is.