DREAMSCAPES Spring /2018
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DANCING IN THESTREETS OF ANTIGUA
 
(2018 - Spring Issue)

Writer: STEVE GILLICK



Rosie McMaster doesn’t mince words. As the owner of Susie’s Hot Sauce, headquartered in St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda, Rosie directs an icy stare toward us and cautions “I’m an Aries and I make hot sauce.”

And then she bursts into laughter as she talks about the passion that drives her toward the twin goals of quality and excellence. Rosie admits that on numerous occasions, she has exhaustedly fallen asleep, only to wake up in a bed full of hot sauces “See? I even sleep with hot sauce!”

The occasion of our visit to Antigua was Carnival, an ebullient celebration that takes place in mid-summer to commemorate the abolition of slavery on the island on August 1, 1834. And while we danced, marched, sang, smiled, laughed and photographed the events of Carnival, we also had the opportunity to explore the island and discover that the enduring passion that Rosie McMaster felt was typical everywhere we went. 

On arrival, Tenisha Sebastian of the V.C. Bird International Airport Authority mirrored the pride that Antiguans take in the new facility, stating, “This is where a vacation begins so we want to make it a welcoming, stress-free experience.” And right on cue, my driver and guide, Cleo Henry showed up for our 40-minute drive to Carlisle Bay on the west coast. 

GRACIOUS ACCOMMODATION

We passed through numerous small villages where home-based restaurants announced their menus on chalkboards. Goat water (a flavourful goat meat broth), pepper pot (a stew of pickled pig tail, snout, salted beef and poultry with vegetables) and bull foot soup (a stew of a cow’s foot, sweet potato, yams, carrots and barley) were all featured prominently, along with Wadadli, the local beer, which is the native Arawak name for Antigua.

Carlisle Bay, our home for the first two nights, is a luxury resort hotel with a laid-back atmosphere that Michael Eutrope, the current director of guest services described as “shabby chic.” Guests can casually relax while enjoying gentle ocean breezes from one of the oceanview suites or dine on asparagus with shrimp and grilled lobster at the Jetty Grill. 

Then we spent our last two days in one of the Cove Suites at Blue Waters on the northwest coast. This elegant five-star resort features sumptuous accommodation, attractive gardens and has a deserved reputation for excellent cuisine.

TIME FOR JUBILATION

But this was Carnival time and the opening event on our day of arrival, the Monarch Competition, showcased the Groovy and Jumpy competitions with upwards of 16,000 wildly enthusiastic fans cheering on the dynamic singers, dancers, acrobats and musicians.

On August 1, emancipation celebrations gathered steam with J’ouvert (daybreak) where, starting at 4:30 a.m., the narrow streets of St. John’s were packed with radiant floats from which giant speakers blared hypnotic, bouncy tunes, as team members and spectators gyrated through the city core.

Traditional J’ouvert breakfast dishes were served at street stalls: chapup (okra, spinach and eggplant), red herring (with onion, pepper, garlic and tomato sauce), salt fish, avocado and johnnycake (a tasty deep-fried bread).

In the afternoon at Monday Mas (short for masquerade), a procession of floats and jubilant followers paraded to the city limits. And then at the Parade of the Troupes and Groups on Tuesday, participants and floats were judged on their visual impact, design, costume and spirit. 

ISLAND DISCOVERIES

Outside of the Carnival activities, Antigua’s villages, beaches, natural attractions and historic sites add up to nothing short of visual serendipity, with something to discover around every bend in the road. We passed farms, plots and orchards of vegetables and sweet-smelling mango, guava and banana. Date palms, originally imported to feed the island’s camels (none exist today), provide both food and shade. A visit to Betty’s Hope, formerly one of the largest plantations on Antigua, showcases the importance of sugar cane but also tells the story of slavery and emancipation. 

The Devil’s Bridge on the east coast is both ominous and fascinating. Named for the place where slaves lost their lives trying to escape the island, this is a natural rock arch where the raging waters of the Atlantic Ocean shoot through blowholes, creating a dramatic spray.

To the south at English Harbour lies one of Britain’s main naval bases of the 18th and 19th centuries, and the site of Nelson’s Dockyard. The picturesque area houses historic buildings along with shops, restaurants, a hotel and marina. Spectacular views of the harbour can be seen from across the Bay at Shirley Heights, the venue of the ultra-popular Sunset and BBQ Dinner party that takes place every Sunday and features dinosaur-size portions of grilled ribs and chicken, savoured to the accompaniment of steel drum music and, of course, Susie’s Hot Sauce.

Antigua’s west coast includes many of the Island’s 365 dreamy beaches (one for every day of the year), as well as beach bars, restaurants and resorts. Winding picturesque roads treat visitors to grand vistas of the ocean as well as the fragrance and beauty of hibiscus, bougainvillea, frangipani and flamboyant. You can visit the donkey sanctuary, speed down multiple zip lines in the jungle, frolic in the ocean and take photos of birds, boats and fishermen.

Antigua provides an amazing getaway for travellers looking to connect with their holiday destination, whether it’s hot sauce, cool rhythms, calm beaches, wild waves, distinctive accommodation, fragrant flowers or delectable cuisine. It’s an island without comparison in the Caribbean.

Travel Planner

For more information on Antigua and its sister island, Barbuda, visit:

Antigua and Barbuda Tourism: visitantiguabarbuda.com    

Antigua Carnival: antiguacarnival.com

Antigua Rainforest Zipline Tours: antiguarainforest.com

Betty’s Hope: visitantiguabarbuda.com/travel-directory/bettys-hope

Blue Waters: bluewaters.net

Carlisle Bay: carlisle-bay.com

Devil’s Bridge: visitantiguabarbuda.com/travel-directory/devils-bridge

Nelson’s Dockyard: visitantiguabarbuda.com/travel-directory/nelsons-dockyard

Shirley Heights: shirleyheightslookout.com

 
 
 
 
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