Wednesday, December 14, 2011: St George, Antigua
Coming into our next port of call, St. George, Antigua, we were surprised to be joined by two other ships, making this one of our busiest port stops on this cruise! We booked today with a local guide in the hopes of getting away to the places a little bit off of the beaten path and within a half hour of leaving the ship, we were in our private van making our way around the island.
Our first stop was, interestingly enough, to the new hospital on the island, not because anyone needed medical attention, but because it sits at the top of a tall hill and affords a sweeping view of the capital city of St. George, the port, and the surrounding area. It was a little bit odd seeing a number of patients, nurses, and doctors walking around the outside of the place along with dozens of tourist taxis bringing visitors through…
From here, we worked our way through the interior of the island and towards English Harbour and Docklands National Park. This location is an amazing sheltered harbour, known worldwide for its protection of ships during rough weather and hurricanes, as well as its historical mark on the area. We arrived and were able to take a guided tour with a local young woman as she shared stories of the history of shipping in Antigua and how the buildings on this site were saved, maintained, and modernized to support tourism in the area.
Though not a key component of our guide’s talk, the first thing that immediately struck us was the number and size of the sailboats and yachts that were anchored here. These were not small fishing boats or waterski weekend watercraft… These were huge vessels with staff, crew, and luxurious accommodations. One yacht opened a hatch and there sat two jet skis, while others sported on-deck dining tables for 16 as it seemed at least twice that many could sleep in comfortable staterooms on board.
It seemed that English Harbour is now a popular bay for repair, maintenance, and upkeep of vessels and the day we were there was one of a lot of activity as folks brought supplies, new crew members were being introduced to the teams, and minor maintenance and cleanup proceeded. We walked around the site for about 30 minutes, explored a small museum on site and as the skies being to open up and dump everywhere, we headed back to our private taxi to head to our next stop, Shirley Heights and the visitors center.
As the rain continued to fall, we wound our way up the hills above the harbour, and a short time later, we arrived to a viewpoint and complex where a really interesting video and lightshow presentation was made for visitors describing the island, its history, and its people. It was well done, and upon exiting, the rain had died down a bit and allowed us a short visit outside to see the harbour from above. As the skies were still gray and the rain was still very much a heavy drizzle, the visibility wasn’t exceptional, so we returned to the car and continued to our next stop of Shirley Heights.
It’s true that the weather changes here from minute to minute and upon reaching Shirley Heights we were watching the gray skies retreat to be dominated by blue. The views of the Docklands were even more impressive from above and we enjoyed some time here along with some wonderful snacks of fried plantains, courtesy of Sue!
Our next stop was to the far eastern edge of the island, beyond the town of Willikies, and to the area known as Devil’s Bridge. Here, the waves have worn away a section of rock to the point where a single thick layer is now suspended over the crashing waves below. We were treated to an exceptional water show here as the waves were intense today. As the strong waves rolled into these tight crevices, the pressure builds up and then blows through the openings at the surface of the rocks much like a blowhole. In this case, it soaked the surrounding areas with sea water and got more than a few people walking in the area drenched.
We enjoyed some time here watching the waves, walking along the water’s edge and dodging some pretty intense water sprays (check out the photos!). Before long, we returned to the van and headed towards our final stop of the day, Long Bay Beach, just a few minutes drive away. Here, we enjoyed about a half hour at the white sand beach, munching on some Antiguan Black Pineapple (thanks again, Sue!) and watching the waves. We each took a turn putting our feet in the warm Caribbean water and spent a few minutes at the souvenir stalls (converted beach bungalows) in a wide variety of colors on the shoreline.
It was nearly time to return back to the ship, so we made our way back into St. George and were dropped off in downtown to finish up with some final shopping and then to make our way back to the ship. It was a very enjoyable day in Antigua, viewing the amazing Docklands, up close and from afar, as well as seeing Devil’s Bridge and Long Bay Beach…
Next up on the itinerary is the joint Dutch and French island of St. Maarten/St. Martin!