The plane lifted off at 5:08AM that Sunday morning. With a foggy Houston thousands of feet below, and yearning for some breakfast and hot coffee, I knew it was to be an exciting day. I was en route to Antigua for two full weeks, leaving the exceedingly humdrum hamster wheel in the rearview mirror for awhile.
I arrived in Antigua later that afternoon without much ado, grabbed my bag, and headed out to get my rental car. I had never driven in a right-hand car before, much less on the left side of the road, but I’ve never been one to turn down an adventure so I went for it. A couple of awkward turns and some frustrated honking from locals, I made it safely to my AirBnB up on the north side of the island. It was a delightful little place with its own kitchen and A/C (admittedly a bit spoiled with this). I typically like to start a trip with a swim, a hot meal, and an ice cold local beer. So I ventured out to the nearest beach bar, grabbed some local fare and took in the absolutely marvelous sunset. While the waitress was preparing the bill, I reached for my wallet – it wasn’t there. I frantically turned out my backpack hoping the wallet was there. “Shit.” My only hope was that it was back at my room. The waitress was kind enough to allow me to leave my iPhone at the restaurant as a security deposit whilst I hurriedly sped back to the AirBnB. Still quite new to “English-style” driving, I somehow I found my way back in the dark, and behold! – the wallet was laying there cozily on the kitchen table. Whew! With the bill paid (and the waitress tipped) I returned to the apartment and slept a deep and comfortable sleep.
Hot coffee brewing, scrambled eggs on the stove, roosters crowing nearby, and the perfume of local flowers wafting through the open windows. Ahh. My first morning on Island Time. I’m not one to obsess over internet connectivity – especially when travelling – but with free WiFi at the apartment, something told me to check my bank accounts before heading out for the day. Another “Shit.” Apparently my debit card had been compromised before leaving Houston, and there were three $100 fraudulent charges posted to the account. Luckily, my credit card was untouched, and I had a small sum of cash in my pocket. I absolutely hate using my credit card in any circumstance, but for once I was thankful to have it. So with the bank account locked down, I grabbed my gear and headed to the dive shop in Jolly Harbor – about an hour’s drive through the island.
Alex will probably chastise me for scuba diving – “It’s for fat old white guys” I think he said, hahaha. But I do really enjoy it. So before the trip I booked three days worth of dives with a great little outfit called Indigo Divers Antigua. They hosted some excellent dives and were very professional. Turtles, sharks, eagle rays, and octopuses were just some of the charismatic fauna that crossed our path. One troublesome aspect of diving this area is the overabundance of lionfish. They were everywhere – I believe our divemaster killed at least one on every dive. If you’re not familiar with the problem, lionfish are an invasive species in the Atlantic. Aside from being covered with highly venomous spines, they have enormous broodstock, have no natural predators here, and eat just about anything that can fit in their mouths. The local fisheries and divers are trying to “teach” sharks and eels to eat them, but such innate behaviors really cannot be taught in a short span of time. I hear they’re good eating at least, so hopefully you’ll see them more and more on restaurant menus.
On Tuesday – the second day of diving – I went out in search of a decent lunch and some snorkeling. The sand around most of the island was very silty, so no near-shore snorkeling was to be had, but exploring new beaches is never a boring endeavor. Stomach growling after the dives, I happened into an airy little restaurant right on the sand. Before I sat down, I ordered a tall rum drink and took a few big gulps. When the waitress brought me the menu, my heart skipped a beat. The place was packed with guests – in retrospect probably all wealthy Europeans in port with their superyachts – so I presumed it was going to be typical Caribbean food. It was expensive to say the very least. I should’ve swallowed my pride and walked right out of there, but that rum drink and my gurgling belly encouraged me to say “f*ck it*. Seventy five U.S. dollars later, I had a mediocre ceviche appetizer and two very good rum drinks. When in Rome I guess.
So after my third amazing day of diving, I was intent on hiking one of Antigua’s mountains. Upon arrival back at the dock, I aimed to grab some lunch and hit the trails. I threw my gear in the car and when I went to lock it – SNAP – the ignition key snapped off in my hand. Yet another “Shit.” I cursed my awful luck for a few moments then immediately called the car rental company – which was on the polar opposite side of the island. I explained the situation, and in response the clerk said “Uhh, well mon this has never happened before, so I will talk to my manager and call you back.” Okay. I’m an easy going guy, especially with a cool view at hand. So I grabbed a couple of Carib beers at the Jolly Harbor Marina bar and chilled out for a while.
Hours went by. At the three hour mark, the guy showed up with another car as they only had one spare key for the RAV-4. So with that problem solved, I figured I still had enough daylight to go for a hike. And boy was I glad I did. I hiked up Signal Hill, which began with a very cool old ruin of a Victorian-era reservoir, and the view at the top was staggering. I couldn’t have asked for a more sweet conclusion to my pre-race portion of the trip. I was to meet with the boat the following day, and the hike allowed me some time to mentally prepare for the challenging days ahead.
It was definitely an interesting few days – driving through a bustling St. John’s, all my little mishaps, and once again getting acclimated to island life. I rested easy that last night, as I knew the best was yet to come.
Peace, Love, and Chicken Roti :)