I know what you’re all thinking: why on Earth do they go on holidays if it means nothing less than spending eleven days in a Turkish prison? Well it’s not all bad, the weather had been a consistent 29 degrees for the past number of days (when it wasn’t raining) and the price of rum more than made up for any discomfort. At least the rum helped me forget the welt pain, if only until the next morning when the brain pain kicked in. Besides, compared to some vacations we’d been on, it really was pretty swanky. We had hot water, electricity, access to grocery stores, and we hadn’t seen a single cockroach, just a giant spider, a couple snails, a small (and relatively cute) scorpion, and a moth the size of my hand.
Sunday morning was a special day because we were renting a car and were going to strike out on our own and see the whole Island, warts and all. We had Titi (pronounced ‘tee-tee’—get your minds out of the gutter) pick us up at our cottage and take us into English Harbour where we became the proud renters of a mustard yellow Daihatsu Terios, a small SUV with enough undercarriage space to ford the deep potholes, ravines, and rushing rivers that make up the road to our cottage. Titi said it’s the worst road on the Island, but I disagree, it’s likely the worst road in the Caribbean.
Titi gave us the keys but told us to come back on Monday to get the other mustard yellow Terios since it was just returned and hadn’t been washed. Our Terios, despite looking newer, had a large bulge in the front port tire sidewall and Titi warned us not to go too far.
“No problem.” I said, so we decided to walk around English Harbour, a quaint but ritzy seaside port with yachts so big they could have passed for cruise ships. We decided to sit in the Rusty Pelican (not to be confused with a Rusty Trombone) for a drink after the owner, an Italian dude from Montreal, stopped us on the street.
He told us about all the restaurants he owned on the Island and then started name-dropping, with friends including the Who’s Pete Townsend (who has a house in English Harbour) and Prince Albert of Monaco. This is roughly how he told the story:
“So I’m talking to this guy in a tattered shirt and cowboy hat who introduces himself as Al. He’s a nice guy, we chat for a while, and then he takes off. I tell my wife, who’s lookin’ a little star struck, that Al sure was a nice guy, and she says to me, ‘you’re an idiot, ya’ know that, that’s Prince Albert of Monaco.’ Hey, how was I supposed to know, he just said his name was Al.”
We sat down not sure if we were going to eat, but it didn’t matter, because once the jet set—I mean yacht set—rolled in, we stopped getting service. We paid our tab and had lunch at the Mad Mongoose, a clapboard shanty where the waiter was very attentive and the owner ran after us to thank us for eating there. Now that’s service.
Of course, by the time we returned to the cottage, the rain had come yet again, so we settled in for more cribbage, more drinks, and some crossword puzzles that we had yet to solve without looking at the answer key. Things were very quiet around Birds and Bees since Helen and Neil returned to England and Geoffrey and Janie (the owners) were on a two-day sailing junket; it was just Julia and I, four dogs and about a billion insects, watching over the place. I was getting smart, though, because I figured the no-see-ums were attacking me at night and that I had to sleep under the sheets to protect myself since no-see-ums are small enough to penetrate the mosquito net. (Mosquitos seemed to be getting in as well.)
As long as I kept myself covered I should be fine, but on Monday morning I looked like this (it’s the Caribbean so I used a plantain—new welts in yellow):
I hit rock bottom that morning; I didn’t want to stay at Bird and Bees (and Bugs) any longer, but nobody was around for us to tell we were leaving. I had barely slept that night and just wanted to be home… I would have taken the cold over this. By the time we were ready to explore, we saw Janie doing laundry and told her about my bug malaise.
“I’ll get into your place today and do a nice cleansing. Have you been using the spray?”
We had not thought about using the large can of Super Sure-Tox on the fridge to kill all those flying bugs before settling in to sleep. Perhaps this was the answer.
We headed back to Titi’s to exchange vehicles then drove to the infamous Nelson Dockyard, one of the top tourist sites on the Island. During the 1790s it was home to none other than Horatio Nelson, one of England’s greatest naval heroes. Before the Battle of Trafalgar, and his post-mortem infamy, he captained the British Navy in the Caribbean, from Antigua, which basically ensured valuable sugar and rum flowed to Britain instead of to anywhere else. He was a functionary, kind of like Scooter from the Muppet Show minus the green jacket (I think Horatio’s was blue).
Despite the importance of Nelson Dockyard for tourism in Antigua, there was really not much to do and it was expensive to get in: $8 U.S. for the privilege of being able to shop at tourist shops and eat at seamen-themed restaurants (men who work on the sea). We spent half of our time stuck in the Crab Hole grocery store, sweating, and waiting for another downpour to subside. After touring the mosquito-infested museum, we left and headed down the West coast to a beach called Valley Church Bay then had lunch at their ramshackle beach bar called The Nest. This was a pretty decent spot to park for a few hours and as the waves receded the beach shells clanked like tropical ‘Made in China’ wind chimes. For once the weather held and we were able to relax until we got in the car to drive back. We had waited too long and got caught in rush hour and, if driving was hectic in Ireland, it was downright ridiculous in Antigua. Not only was it on the left side but one had to learn the local “etiquette” for driving, which is “fuck etiquette and get out of my way.” Island time doesn’t exist on the roads and although it’s basically thirty minutes to get from one side of the Island to the other, many locals want to do it in ten. Did I mention the potholes, speed bumps, and the fact that everyone double parks to chat on the side of the road? Yeah, it’s complete chaos. By the time we got back to Birds and Bees I needed rum and indulge I did, finally finishing the second story, mistakes and all.