Winter Getaway - Antigua

The beautiful beach in front of the Galley Bay Resort

Sandy and I used to do a lot of tropical trips, usually at least two every year. We've been to a lot of destinations in the Caribbean, on the west coast of Mexico and in the South Pacific. Then in 2006 we moved to Singapore. It's slightly over one degree north, about 85 miles from the equator. That definitely counts as living in the tropics! We no longer felt the need (or desire) to visit tropical places on vacation while we lived there. It would have been a bit of a busman's holiday.

Even when we moved back to the US, we concentrated on mountain trips instead of beach vacations. Besides hiking trips in the US, we made several trips to Europe that were primarily hiking trips: Southern Italy, the Pyrenees and two trips to the Alps. We did do one trip to St. Marten/St. Maarten a few years ago with Shannon and Mary Beth. It was ok but I wasn't too impressed with the island. At least I wasn't inspired enough to record it on Darth Dog. That was during my "black out" period after I came back from Singapore but before I started writing on Darth Dog regularly again, so the trip isn't recorded for posterity.

A nice surprise in our room when we arrived

Later we did a trip to Tahiti and Bora Bora which was spectacular. It should be on everyone's bucket list. It was in 2011 just before I went back to work at the U of I. In the five years that we have been back from Singapore that was it, so Sandy and I decided that it was time for a tropical vacation this year. We have been back for enough winters now that a trip to the Caribbean was sounding pretty good. Plus this March is our twentieth wedding anniversy. Even though we didn't hit the dates exactly it seemed like a good way to celebrate. Sandy did a lot of research and we settled on a trip to Antigua.

Boise had a fairly moderate winter this year. We didn't have the frigid temperatures that the Midwest and Northeast and even the South had this year. We didn't have much snow either. We were actually pretty lucky. Sandy and I were taking walks every weekend.

Then in early January an inversion moved in and stayed for the rest of the month. High temperatures were in the low to mid twenties every day and the valley was socked in with fog the entire time. It wasn't the bitter cold that other parts of the country had experienced this winter but it was a damp, chilly cold. And the gloom, day after day, after a while started to seem...well...gloomy. As the dates for our trip approached we were getting very anxious to head to the Caribbean for some warm weather and sun.

It wasn't possible to get from Boise to Antigua, or back, in a single day. On the way down we went through Salt Lake and then overnighted in Atlanta. Coming back we had to stay overnight in New York and then went through Salt Lake again. We were just hoping that we wouldn't have trouble with weather in Boise or Salt Lake. The fog from a bad inversion can close the airport in Boise for days.

Sandy enjoys the view from the main deck

We figured that once we made it to Atlanta we would be ok. But two days before our trip Atlanta was hit by an unusual snowstorm and the city was totally paralyzed. Considering that it was less than three inches of snow it seemed pretty wimpy compared to what Sandy and I were used to in Wisconsin while we were growing up. Wimpy or not though it looked like it could be a major headache for us. The scenes on the news of cars abandoned on the freeway looked like they were out of The Walking Dead. Fortunately the timing just worked out for us and things were cleared up by the time we reached Atlanta. The driver of the hotel shuttle told us that the day we arrived was the first day that things were back to normal. Whew! That was close. We didn't have any problems and were able to catch our flight to Antigua the next morning.

Sandy and I are pretty efficient packers when we travel. We had worked hard before we left and managed to fit all of our stuff into carryon luggage. That meant that as soon as we landed and were through immigration and customs (which was pretty fast in Antigua) we were out of the airport and looking for our shuttle. The ride to the resort only took twenty minutes. We set down our luggage at the front desk. We could relax now. We had made it.

Shopping street in St. John near the cruise ship dock

The check in process was slow - the hotel operated on island time after all, but with a warm breeze blowing and a rum punch in hand we didn't mind at all. We were on island time too. As soon as we got to our room (actually a hut) we found a pleasant surprise - a bottle of champagne on ice for our anniversary. But after our long flight with no food (airlines never seem to feed you anymore) we were ready for some snacks and then Happy Hour. We changed into shorts and headed for the bar.

The resort was very nice and we spent almost all of our time there. Although there were a lot of excursions offered: sailing trips, snorkeling trips, sightseeing trips, picnics and barbeques, etc. we pretty much stayed put for the whole week. The one exception was a trip into St. John's, the capitol and largest town on the island. We had driven through it on the way from the airport to the resort. While it hadn't looked very exciting, we knew that a lot of cruise ships docked there. We figured there would at least be some good tourist shopping near the cruise ship dock. I don't consider a trip worthwhile unless I get to buy some good tshirts and Sandy wanted to check out the jewelry stores.

Jewelry shopping - a good deal in the Caribbean

Early one morning we checked at the front desk about a ride into town. We found out that there was another couple waiting for a ride too. We agreed to share a taxi to cut down on the cost. The other couple, John and Betty from Toronto, were very nice and were happy to arrange for a pickup anytime that we wanted. They had been to town the day before to buy Cuban cigars. By mistake John had not gotten as many as he paid for so he was going back with the receipt to see what he could do. I proposed three hours until pickup but when I saw how small the shopping area was I agreed with everyone else that two and a half hours was probably sufficient. Our taxi driver, Spencer, assured us that he would return at the appointed time to take us back to the resort in time for lunch.

Lots of cruise ships stop at St. John's. Every day we would see two or three going in and out of the harbor. The main shopping district was one street about a quarter of a mile long starting at the cruise ship dock. There were jewelry stores, clothing stores, tshirt and souvenir stores, tour operators, and...not much else. Sandy headed for the very first jewelry store, Diamonds International, since she had seen one of their brochures at the resort. I was a good husband and waited patiently while she looked at jewelry...for about five minutes. Then I told her I would be back later and took off to look at tshirts. It turned out to be a good call on my part. Although she did check out one or two other jewelry stores quickly, she ended up spending about an hour an a half (and all of her money) in the first one.

I was very disappointed when it turned out that RastaPasta was not an Italian restaurant

I made good use of the time while Sandy was busy. I found a couple of nice tshirt stores, the best one being Pirahna Joe's. There was also a small market where local people had stalls with tshirts, hats and souvenirs. It was just a hundred feet away but the prices were half what they were on the main shopping street. By the end of two hours I had a couple of tshirts and a new cap. Sandy bought a really beautiful Tanzanite bracelet. The Caribbean seems to be a good place to buy jewelry, maybe it has something to do with taxes or something. Sandy has found some really nice pieces on trips to Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, New Providence (ok, that's not really the Caribbean but it's close) and now Antigua. Since the bracelet was too large for her wrist they removed a few stones and made them into a pendant. An extra bonus!

We had only used two hours so we took a short walk around town. Other than the small area next to the cruise ship dock, there wasn't much to see. I got excited when I saw a place called RastaPasta. Seemed like the perfect name for an Italian restaurant in the Caribbean but it turned out to be a clothing store. Bummer. We ended up at our rendevous spot fifteen minutes early. John and Betty were already waiting for us there. John said the people at the cigar store had been very apologetic about the mistake. He got the extra cigars that he was due so he was happy. Just as we got there, Spencer drove up. Fifteen minutes early? In the islands? What happened to island time? But we were glad he was there and piled in the taxi for the ride back. We got to the resort in plenty of time for lunch and Spencer got a nice tip so everything had a happy ending. That was about all we did in the way of major excursions. For the rest of our time on the island we were content to stay at the resort. I'll talk about that in another post.