Friday, January 16, 2009

Fig Tree Drive is Bananas

[Kyle]Our next day (and only full day to explore), we got up early for a drive around the south and west coasts via Fig Tree Road. Immediately, we discovered the other problem with Antigua’s road system (besides the holes) – no good signage. Our mileage suffered terribly because we had to drive every stretch of road three times.

We’d be looking for some particular place, realize that we’d somehow passed it, then turn around and pass it again before finally finding the place through the process of elimination. In most places there were no signs whatsoever.

Our first order of business was to top up the fuel tank. I navigated as Maryanne spent half an hour doubling back on ourselves looking for a gas station that was marked on our map. Once we were sure that we had to be in the right place but saw no gas station, Maryanne had a look at the map and it turns out that the Texaco symbol I was having her chase down was actually the symbol for a police station. Gas stations were marked by little gas pumps! Well, that’s just weird.

[Maryanne]I had to give Kyle a quick lesson in understanding that the key to the map just might be useful!!! Kyle was directing us to the little star with a P in it, rather than the fuel pump graphic, an easy mistake (he insists).

[Kyle]That solved, we got to a gas station just in time (a Texaco, ironically) and started our trip down Fig Tree Drive.

Fig Tree Drive itself is billed as a beautiful drive through the heart of Antigua’s rain forest. To be honest, to us it actually looked pretty much like any other road, ruts and all. There were a few banana trees (Antiguans call them figs), but otherwise nothing that stood out. [Maryanne] We stopped at a street vendor stall to purchase a Black Pineapple for Kyle to sample (and to ask directions). Fig tree drive is also the home to the Rain Forest Canopy tour - a series of zip lines over various "rain forest" gorges; we chose not to stop due to both time and cost, but it looked fun.

Wallings Dam has a host of trees, including this thorny species! but the trails and buildings are pretty overgrown - including the old well here

[Kyle]Along the way, trough trial and error we were able to locate the tiny road to Wallings Reservoir for a stop. The Reservoir is small but deep and on the dam side has a few park benches, a swing and a gazebo amidst some impressive trees, including a few that don’t want to be climbed. The place seemed to be used only by locals. Neither our map nor any of our guidebooks mention it. Maryanne found it on line. We had a hike up one of the more promising looking trails but turned around after a while when we realized it looked like it would require the whole day to complete.

Or next stop was the Summit of Obama Peak (the controversial new name for the old Boggy peak - the highest point in Antigua). We got about a third of the way up on a very bad and narrow road. After about 20 minutes of hitting our heads on the ceiling because of the bumps, we came upon a sign that said the road was the private property of Cable and Wireless. Why couldn’t they have put that at the beginning of the road where it would be useful?

Antigua - West Coast Beaches

Alrighty, then. Next stop: The Beach. We followed the coast road past too many gorgeous beaches to count. Antigua is amoeba shaped. There are two or three coves per mile with lovely white sand, palm trees and turquoise water. We eventually stopped at Darkwood Beach, which several sources assured us was the prettiest one. I’m not so sure about that, but it was very pretty. We stopped and swam/snorkeled in the surf for a while before continuing on. One hilarious thing that we saw was a woman going down the beach on a Segway with big beach tires. She was the guide for a company that offered guided Segway tours. Why you need a guide to see a beach you can walk the entire length of on foot in five minutes, I have no idea. That’s not the funny part. The funny part was that just like in a car, she was texting the whole time and wasn’t paying any attention at all to where she was going.

Our next stop was Jolly Harbour, where we hoped to have a look around and buy some stuff for the boat at Budget Marine. As soon as we got there, we got a bad vibe. Jolly Harbour is less of a town than a gated tourist compound. There was a sign near the guard gate at the entrance saying that condos were available for between $900,000 and $3.5 Million – US! Maryanne’s first comment once inside was that it looked like Florida – no Caribbean feel whatsoever. I was surprised not to see a guy in a mouse outfit. We had intended to have a drink at the famous Dog Watch Tavern but as soon as we realized that it reminded us of a bar at an Applebee’s, we kept walkin’.

We went to Budget Marine and found not only some items we wanted but also one of the least friendly sales people I’ve ever seen. When I went to hand one of them our cruising permit (so we wouldn’t be charged the tax since we were a yacht in transit), she wouldn’t even lean forward in her chair to take it from me. I had to stretch WAY over the counter to get it too her. When everything was totaled, the sum seemed wrong. It turned out the price on one item was different from what the sticker said. She said that the price had gone up and then just stared at us, apparently expecting us to just pay up. Maryanne just stared back and then kept staring until finally, with undisguised disgust, she voided out the sale and redid it with the lower price. HA!

From there we had intended to find a recommended hilltop viewpoint to watch the sunset, but we could not find the road. We kept asking locals, who were very friendly, but always gave us directions to a different road that passed behind the mountain we were trying to summit. Eventually, we gave up and decided to see what the behind the mountain road looked like. Our map indicated that it would be a shortcut back to English Harbour.

Shortcut home - was only short in distance, in places the road was a LOT worse than this

Shorter it may have been but it was not faster. The road kept getting narrower and narrower and boggier and boggier until eventually we ended up in low range four wheel drive, just trying not to get stuck. Most parts of the road were so bad that 3mph would have been a suicidal speed, if not for us then at least for the suspension and drive train. We were very glad we had rented a 4WD. Eventually, we did get spat out on the main road and made it back home. We were a little disappointed that the Jeep was not encased in mud after all that. All we had was muddy tires and some splatter behind the fenders.

The next day, I had to go to work. We got up early and went into St. Johns to see Heritage Quay and the Marketplace. There were two big cruise ships docked, though and the whole place was a little busy for us, so after buying a couple of nice fresh smoothies, we headed for the beach at Fort James.

On the way, Maryanne kept saying she knew the way because she had walked that way last time she came. I was amazed! Her description in an earlier post does not do justice to it. It was something like 8 or 10 miles to the beach from town and there isn’t any shade anywhere, just hot concrete ([Maryanne]Maybe 3 miles!!) Wow, she is a tough woman!

Anyway, we had a nice swim on the beach and used the “showers” (really just a pipe with a valve) to get cleaned up before changing into my uniform and taking the long way to the airport via the coast road. We stopped at this beach and that, keeping an eye on the time, stalling as much as we could before parting ways and sending me back to the freezing Northeast U.S. to work.

Russell's Restaurant from Fort James, and the beautiful Fort James Beach

[Maryanne]I was really keen to return and hopefully partake in the offerings of Russell's the restaurant just beside the fort that I didn't get to spend time in when I visited alone previously. Kyle was all keen and agreed it was a great setting, however, just our luck, they were closed (we were too early). We were able to take a peak and a walk inside and enjoy the views and imagine enjoying a great meal there!

On Fort James Beach however, we found a great food/bar shack, and enjoyed some delicious gray snapper fish cakes, while being thoroughly looked after by the owner. It was a perfect place to hang out and enjoy the sound of the surf, before we had to start Kyle on his commute to work. Ahh, Antigua. I'm glad we made the effort to enjoy the full range of sights - it really is a pretty cool place.

North Coast Beaches on route to the airport


SV-Footprint said...

FYI, our pictures DON'T reflect this, but there were plenty of beaches in Antigua associated with resorts, and full of sun beds, umbrellas, bars, and water sports. If this is your "thing", then you can certainly find it in Antigua. There are basic and top end luxury resorts - something for everyone I guess.

Anonymous said...

It is so enjoyable to read your posts and enjoy your photos. I know it takes time and electricity to upload all the photos, but to me and your other landlocked readers, they are like water to the parched throat. I love seeing the area through your eyes and your photos are sparkling, to say the least. I can read the sadness that you both felt at having to say goodbye again after such a brief time together. Now you'll be on to a new adventure soon and plenty to look forward to.
Turns out this week's news highlighted the skill of another good union airline pilot who landed his craft in the water of Hudson Bay, saving all lives. My heart always skips a beat or two when I hear of an airline crash--just can't help it--but I appreciate the training and skill of that pilot and thought how Kyle could have handled that situation just as well, with his seaplane rating and training. For today, airline pilots are being celebrated in well-deserved recognition. Take a bow, Kyle and thanks for getting everyone where they need to go safely. Every airline pilot gets 5 minutes of fame and fortune today.