Antigua

From Sun to Snow

Cobble Beach

January 19, 2015

Saturday night we savoured Caribbean Seafood Chowder, marlin on a bed of puréed pumpkin with white beans and finished with a molten lava cake.  We took our PIC coil with us to the outdoor lounge where an Antiguan was playing the keyboard and singing old romantic songs, many of which I did not recognize. We trained our British friends well as they joined us with their PIC coil. Every little PIC helps! Once again we were among the last to head off to bed. Even the musician packed up before us. It must be the British influence keeping us up so late!

View while sipping piña colada

View while sipping piña colada

Sunday morning was our last “hourrah” on the beach. We walked back and forth studying shells and collecting coloured polished shards of glass to give to another guest who is going put her glass collection on her kitchen window sill as a reminder of her warm vacation. We snorkelled for an hour and fit in an extra swim before packing our bags and having our last piña colada before lunch. Yes, we were able to have a good lunch before taking a taxi van to the airport. We did not have to worry about being hungry on our non-food flight.

We arrived at the airport two hours ahead of schedule and spent the first hour moving through the line for emigration and customs check. I heard an official with a walkie talkie saying, “Well, if everything is ready, let’s load them up.” And they did! We left Antigua an hour early.

Four and a half hours later we were landing in rainy dark Toronto. I was surprised there was no snow! In spite of the mild temperature of -2C, I felt cold after two weeks of 25C+. Happily brother JIm was quick to pick us up with my down jacket in hand.

Lynn had a delicious meal waiting for us: fish amandine, carrots, broccoli and rice. We could not decide between Stephanie’s two birthday cakes; so, we had both: Black Forest cake and rum cake.

Brilynn returned our car to us and greeted us with big hugs. Always a pleasure! Brilynn is keeping Kishu in Toronto. Our house is very quiet without Kishu, but she seems to be quietly content at Brilynn’s.

Home gain

Home again

Toronto received a skiff of snow overnight and the temperature dropped and continued to do so as we headed north for home. Nevertheless the sun was shining, but the snow had not accumulated much until after Orangeville. At home we have two feet of snow. There must have been a thaw followed by new snow as we were skiing on a crusty slippery layer after unpacking at Cobble Beach.

Skiing before sunset

Skiing before sunset

It’s -11C now and even though I am wearing three layers, two of them, wool, and I had Brian’s warming spaghetti with lamb meatballs, I am cold.

Octopus’s Garden

Frolicking with fish

Frolicking with fish

Antigua

January 17, 2015

We headed into the sea early to benefit from the sun along the south cliff. We did not see an octopus but his coral garden was stunning, so many different kinds and colours. No photo does it justice. Purple feather fans and yellow ones with tiny white “flowers” waving from the tips of the fan. Stubby green fingers; long elegant green, yellow or purple fingers. Large brain coral a metre wide. Beige, white, yellow or blue coral intermingled in masses much like the spreading patches of thyme in my garden. Black Sea urchins, some showing bright red centres peaked out from under rock ledges. One eighteen inch long fish, eight inches deep had a jagged fin the length of his back and blended in so well that I wasn’t sure I was looking at a fish until he darted away under me.

We were in the water and were loath to leave but our bodies were chilling even though we had swimming T-shirts on. A hot shower felt good. It is still 25C. This morning felt muggy as there was little breeze but the wind just picked up and it is raining. The rain will probably end within half an hour but if not, we will just have to swim anyway!

People tell us we should go on a tour of the island, but as we are only here a few days we are taking advantage of sea and beach walking before returning to skiing.

Coral garden

Coral garden

Hold onto that hat!

Hold onto that hat!

Our palapa awaits

Our palapa awaits

Lizard or gecko?

Lizard outside our room

Snorkelling and Hiking

Antigua

Bananaquit

Bananaquit

January 15, 2015

Very good food here. In the evening the restaurant has sittings for a la carte dining. We took the earliest at six-thirty. The seven and seven-thirty sittings are quickly signed up for and gone at breakfast. Thursday’s are a little different as there is a manager’s cocktail before dinner; so, the first sitting is at 7PM. We have signed up for that one.

Last night I had shrimp pasta as an appetizer and Brian had deep fried mozzarella sticks. We both had lamb with vegetables then Brian had amaretto ice cream and I had cherry cheesecake. All good, all,the right sized portions.

This morning our omelette chef was from Guyana. She is going to visit her cousin in Toronto this year. Everyone is very friendly, staff and guests alike. All of the guests we have talked with are from the UK. An eight hour flight for them.

January 16, 2015

I didn’t get around to finishing yesterday’s blog…too busy.

We snorkelled at both ends of the beach where we saw plenty of colourful fish. There were deep trenches at the south end of the beach. Because we were in the shade of the cliff, the colours were less pronounced. At the north end there were more flat rock hiding places, many covered in moss and seaweed. It is there that I discovered a large fist-sized octopus well camouflaged in green plant material but he kept stretching and curling his tentacles. I kept looking above water to get Brian’s attention but he continued to swim away from me leaving bread crumbs and schools of fish behind for me to admire. Brian always tells me I should not go far from him or too close to the rocks, but apparently that advice is only for me. Brian was disappointed he did not see the octopus.

There were twenty inch long blue fish and many differently patterned yellow fish that sparkled in sunlight and were happy to nibble bits of bun.

A pair of bullfinches

A pair of bullfinches

Walking the beach we were surrounded by a flutter of butterflies, hundreds of small white ones with splashes of yellow on their wings. I was unable to capture this marvellous sight.

We hiked with medicine man, Vaughn, and his apprentice, Ashlin and two other couples for an hour and a half. We left the resort and walked through the abandoned Grand Royal Antiguan Resort, a huge resort that for the past seven years has hosted only invisible guests. Curiously the hotel is in good shape. Someone is maintaining it. There was a security guard at the gate, a man on reception, a new flat screen television playing in the lounge. Vaughn explained the many medicinal properties of various plants as we walked through and told of us the political decisions that had caused the closing of the resort. He asked us to imagine the throngs of people that we would have had to shimmy past in the hotel’s former glory. It is now under new ownership and it is expected to open again.

Brian and Vaughn

Brian and Vaughn

We walked the sand beach of Deep Bay where about ten large sailboats were moored and an equal number of brightly painted former souvenir cabins remained vacant.

image

We scrambled up the lava rock face of a steep hill to the top to the stone ruins of Fort Barrington. As we had no trekking poles, I think we merited mountain goat certificates but none were issued. The view from the top was stunning in all directions but particularly in the direction of Montserrat, the sailboats and the setting sun. Vaughn advised us to use our toes to climb and flat feet to descend. We heeded  his advice.

Vaughn gave many tributes to his grandmother for having taught him about plants. He was obviously very attached to her and missed her. Vaughn was a musician for seventeen years in New York City but came home to the island to lead guided walks which he has been doing joyfully and successfully for twelve years from four hotels, relying solely on tips.

We dined with Mike and Jill one of the two Brit couples who walked with us. A local playing a steel drum provided musical background. We kept one another well entertained with lots of laughs until 11 PM, well past our bedtime!

Antigua

Coconut Beach Resort
Antigua
January 14, 2015

It rained harder and more frequently last night than any other night on Montserrat. Perhaps we were being told to go away! Antigua appeared drier but we have already had a shower here. I guess it is that time of year. In both places, rainbows smile on us.

Thank you! See you Sunday!

Thank you! See you Sunday!

Susan prepared crepes for breakfast, perfect with brown sugar and lime juice. I had one last swim in the pool after yoga and a short walk, admiring flowers, trees and houses.

On our way to the airport, Bryan stopped at Runaway Ghaut so we could have a drink of spring water. According to local lore, if you drink from this spring you will be sure to return to Montserrat.

Three couples were signing in at the airport for departure to Antigua. It took each couple about fifteen minutes to check bags and pay departure taxes, a slow process but there was no place to rush to, no long corridors to walk to the waiting room beside the runway. Good-natured Captain Abe greeted us once again for our twenty minute flight. He said he was trying out a new plane. He had a pink stuffed flying pig for a copilot to ensure our safety. I felt as if I was getting a foot massage as the plane vibrated down the runway for takeoff.

There is a pretty good system in place at the Antigua airport for taxis. No one comes rushing to beg you to take his taxi. You go to the taxi dispatcher who tells you what your fee will be and calls the next taxi driver whose turn it is to take us to our destination.

The twenty minute taxi ride took us through the industrial side of St. John’s, downtown past the market then the docks where three huge cruise ships were moored then along the seashore to Coconut Beach Resort. We were warmly greeted by the young woman on reception with the words, “You are on time for lunch.” Delightful. This is a thirty-eight room resort with rooms on three levels, on a white sand beach that is five hundred metres long with no other resorts on the beach. We are on the ground floor less than forty metres from the sea. The buffet table was short but with very good food…fish, chicken and vegetarian lasagna. The dining room is open air. Little birds were flying in and out.

We have seen half a dozen birds since our arrival, most of them landing near or on the deck at our feet: purple necked brown doves, small finches and sparrow like birds.

Rainbow at Coconut Bay

Rainbow at Coconut Bay

I reclined in the oversized hammock with my book before walking the length off the beach and back, in and out of the water. The waves are milder here. We had a lovely swim in the 82 F green Caribbean. We will try snorkelling at both ends of the beach where the cliffs rise up and there are some rocks and coral in the water.

Brian's siesta

Brian’s siesta

Sadly we are back in civilization where people smoke. It only takes one smoker to bother me. I have to choose my outdoor seating carefully. In the bar area it was not possible to avoid the smoker. We brought our piña coladas back to our deck.

Our room is smaller than the Lions Den at the Taj and there is no clothes line to suspend our wet suits. There is a pool about the same size as at the Taj. So far I have seen no one in it. I am sure that when I do go, in it will overflow as it is filled to the brim. Of course the sea is so lovely, I may just stick with salt water swimming.

Celebrity Cruise Ship Summit is floating past our bedroom. That is one huge ship! Nine storeys of cabins! At least it is gliding by quietly.