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ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA: THE CARIBBEAN SISTERS
 
(2022 - Winter Issue)

Writer: DARCY RHYNO



The morning dawns softly over Valley Church Beach, Antigua. I awake at Wild Lotus Glamping in my cosy bell tent to the hush of waves and chattering of birds. After a night on the beach, sleeping in an antique brass bed as if beneath the stars, I pop outside for a quick dip in the warm sea, then a rinse in my personal, outdoor shower. 

Next to my bell tent, five more rest like giant octopi on the sand in Antigua’s only glamping experience. At the far end of the beach, I can see Sheer Rocks, named one of' the Caribbean’s best restaurants in 2018 and 2020. Last night, seated at a cliff-edge table overlooking the moonlit sea, I enjoyed one of the finest dining experiences of my life, savouring local roasted pork with buttery anise squash and tempura onions. 

As my appetite stirs with those edible memories, co-owner Chloe Johnston appears like clockwork with a breakfast for champions. There’s Antiguan black pineapple and mango, croissants, passion fruit from the vine behind my tent, and a pot of tea.

When I tell her how unusually refreshed I feel after a night sleeping on the beach, she says, “Yes, it’s difficult to describe, but everybody can relate to nature and feeling small with the ocean around you. Ecotherapy is the effect of nature on wellness, and we’re in the perfect environment for it.”

WILD ISLANDS

Perfect indeed. With 365 beaches, Antiguans like to say they have a beach for every day of the year. Local fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood and meats make for an exceptionally tasty and healthy cuisine while national parks and reserves make for outdoor adventure.

On a guided tour to Wallings Nature Reserve, I emerge from a forest trail onto an open mountaintop with ocean views. Volunteers are digging clumps of lemongrass from the rich, volcanic soil and planting fruit trees in their place. Here, that tasty herb is an invasive species. I pull up a clump and sprinkle some cayenne powder around a sapling, which works as an insecticide.

In the days that follow, I walk among giant tortoise, swim with stingrays and watch from the bow of a catamaran as flying fish leap from the sea. But the highlight of my encounters with the country’s wildlife comes on a daytrip to the smaller sister island, Barbuda, reached by ferry or plane. Unlike Antigua, which boasts a mountainous landscape of ancient volcanoes and limestone rock, reef-fringed Barbuda is a flat coral isle that teems with wildlife.

BARBUDA DAY TRIP

From the tiny airport, my tour group is taxied to a pier where we meet Clarence Nibbs. His aluminum skiff named Double Impact whips us across Codrington Lagoon National Park to a thicket of mangroves. Arm’s-length away, magnificent frigatebirds feed their fuzzy chicks. During mating season, the males puff out their red throats like a balloon. At 2,500 nesting pairs, this is the largest colony in the western hemisphere.

Whisking us off again, Nibbs eases in behind what must be the world’s most beautiful beach. This 13-kilometre empty strand separating Codrington Lagoon from the ocean is called Pink Sand Beach for a reason. Tiny shell fragments wash in and out with the small waves, tinting this endless strand in shades of pink.

The late Princess Diana fell in love with Barbuda’s pink beaches, vacationing here on this isolated island away from paparazzi several times with her children, Prince William and Harry. On July 1, 2011—on what would have been her 50th birthday—Barbuda renamed the white sand beach in front of the new Nobu restaurant, Princess Diana Beach. Peering over the pink sand framed by the turquoise Caribbean—its waters as warm as the 28-degree air—I understand her attraction to the beauty and serenity of this island.

Somehow, Nibbs convinces us to turn away and board his skiff. Back on the island, we’re driven to Uncle Roddy’s, a beach bar and grill on the opposite side of the island where they serve Caribbean-infused cuisine and drinks. Bartender Roland Kovacs, who moved here from London three years ago, tells me, “We try to bring international, high-level cocktail ingredients to the Caribbean.” I order his Barbuda Passion cocktail made with Bombay Sapphire gin and Italian Aperitivo to go with the conch fritters.

Uncle Roddy’s has me hungry for more local cuisine, so I take the Eat ’n Lime Food Tour in the capital of Saint John’s with Khadijah Nurse. At just 20 years old, the Guyanese-born already has three years of experience as a food guide. She starts us at The Island B-Hive—one of six stops—with shrimp fritters and garlic sriracha mayo dipping sauce.

Next on the walking tour, we mix our own rum punches at Quin Farara’s, a rum merchant founded in 1924. We experiment with citrus slices, fresh mint leaves, nutmeg and bitters. Nurse interprets the history of distilling in Antigua as we work.

At Brownie’s Bakery, we sample “bun and cheese,” a warm white bread bun with butter and melted cheese. It’s a traditional late night and early morning favourite. The tour ends at a vegan street food stand called One Stone Ital Shack, known for its Rastafari cuisine or “ital.” Their motto is “ital is vital for survival.” I drop some house-made hot sauce on a spinach ball, a kind of croquette.

MOUNTAINTOP SUNSET

Before departing Antigua, I squeeze in some shopping at Nelson’s Dockyard—a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site named for the famous British admiral, Horatio Nelson—in English Harbour. The best view of the dockyard is from Shirley Heights Lookout, a former military post. I head there for the Sunday sunset party to find a lively steel drum band, dancing, barbeque and beer.

Looking out over the Antiguan landscape below with sailboats moored in the shelter of mountain-framed bays, I understand why celebrities such as Eric Clapton, Oprah Winfrey and Giorgio Armani built getaways here and why Antiguans are so rooted to this place. As the sun sinks behind the mountains, I toast the culture, cuisine and wild spaces of the Caribbean’s sister islands.

Antiguan Dialect Sampler

Me a go a bayside today – I’m going to the beach

Cool out – sitting around doing nothing

Tack down – well dressed

Whine up yourself – to dance

Chop-up – vegetable stew of pumpkin, spinach, eggplant and onion

You garret – you’re Antiguan, now

— from Antiguan Dialect by Elaine Murphy

Travel Planner

For more travel information on Antigua and Barbuda see visitantiguabarbuda.com

 
 
 
 
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