Monday, October 06, 2008

Vacation Writeup Part 2 - Antigua and Montserrat

It's been forever since I got back from vacation but people are still bugging me so I'll finish my vacation writeup. If you recall from my last installment, we were leaving Anguilla and visiting Montserrat. So what's this Antigua business?


The flight from Anguilla to Montserrat included a stopover in Antigua where we would switch planes. We thought there might be trouble when the plane that was to take us from Anguilla to Antigua was late arriving. We paced nervously and asked the gate agent what would happen in Antigua since that was the last flight to Montserrat for the day. She said she had called ahead and they were aware our plane was late and they would hold the plane to Montserrat. When we finally landed in Antigua with 15 minutes before our flight I saw a Carib Air plane with its props spinning, and I had a sinking feeling. I knew that was our plane, and I knew we were going to miss it. Myron was more upbeat and pointed out it was 15 minutes early. No flight in the Caribbean was ever early.

We finally made our way to the customs desk, told them our flight number, and the agent radioed the plane... which had already taken off. We were furious, but this was only the start of a very long and frustrating experience. The customs agent disappeared for nearly 45 minutes and the other agent at the desk very specifically ignored us, even when we asked her direct questions. When the other agent finally reappeared she said the airline would put us up at a hotel for the night and we would take the flight the next morning. We asked to take our luggage with us since 1) we didn't trust them not to steal us blind, 2) we pack our non-essential toiletries (i.e., toothpaste and deodorant) in our checked baggage and 3) we wanted to change clothes.

Three hours later we left the airport without our luggage, which they could not find. It was not on the ground in Antigua and they couldn't find it in Anguilla, either. We were assured it would be located, put on a ferry to St. Martin, and flown to Antigua to catch up with us the next morning. "Fat chance," we thought. They couldn't get our luggage from Anguilla to Antigua when we handed it to them, and now they were supposed to track it down, send it to another island, get it on a plane, and delivered to Antigua? And so we left by cab to our hotel, which was the City View in downtown St. John's. It was a horrible hotel that smelled like mold and cigarettes. The armed guard at the gate to the parking lot and another armed guard in the lobby didn't do much to make us feel safe.

The next day we went to the airport and I was stunned to see our luggage being put on the plane. We boarded the plane (a tiny prop plane with maybe 20 seats) and were rather amused when the pilot refused to start pre-flight checkoff until they got the passenger manifest straightened out. He had 13 people on the plane and only 8 names on the manifest. The flight to Montserrat was uneventful. Myron and I sat in the front seats behind the cockpit and could watch the instrumentation. It was a neat experience.


Our original plan was to spend four days in Montserrat. We were going to land in the evening of Day 1 and spend it getting our bearings, then spend Days 2 and 3 visiting properties and tracking down various people Myron had met online. That got compressed and we hit the ground running a day late. Sun, our gracious hostess at the Bunkum Beach Guest House, picked us up at the airport and took us to a grocery store then on to our villa. We spent a while chatting, then called a realtor and started the house hunting.

We saw a total of ELEVEN houses that day between about 11:00 AM and 5:30 PM, with a break for lunch. It was hectic and dizzying. I ended up taking a picture of the listing that had the property name before we entered just so I could keep the pictures separate. Most of the homes we saw were built in the 1970's through early 90's. The majority were built as vacation homes and the intent was only to be there a few weeks a year. With the volcano becoming active many had not been stayed in for several years, and nearly all were in dire need of repair and updating.

We paused at around 1:30 to have lunch at The Gourmet Garden, and funky shack of a restaurant run by Marete, a Dutch lady who had been on Montserrat for a few decades. Later that day while riding around we came upon Marete walking from her house back to the restaurant, and offered her a ride. Myron commented "We already had friends in Montserrat!"

That first night we had dinner with our realtor and a few of her friends at The Royal Palms. It was a Chinese buffet prepared by the only Chinese restaurant on the island and served by Sri Lankans who had paid for passage to the Bahamas but were thrown overboard off the coast of Montserrat. It was a fun night and the food was surprisingly good. Joining us at dinner were two more Americans, one from Phoenix and the other from Maine. It was interesting to get their take on things and both were extremely nice.

The second day we had three more properties to look at, bringing the total up to fourteen. We visited the first two, then took a break to go back to Bunkum to call Myron's online friends Bill and Tina, a couple from Texas who moved to Montserrat about two years ago with their teenaged daughter. They invited us over and we spent a long time talking to them before we had to go see the last house.

That night we went to Tina's, a popular local restaurant in Brades. Myron tried the ginger wine, which was better than either of us expected. While there a middle aged white woman and an elderly black man sat down for dinner. She was very loud in a New York or New Jersey sort of way, he was barely audible. After we finished dinner and were waiting for our check she called to us to join them. What followed was an extremely uncomfortable experience. We told her where we were looking for properties and she insisted we were stupid. Her friend said we had to follow our dreams, and our dream couldn't be anyone else's. The banshee was just getting wound up and didn't hear a word of this. We finally extricated ourselves and bid her a good evening as congenially as we could, when we actually wanted to kindly request that she sacrifice herself to the volcano.

Our final day in Montserrat we had arranged for a snorkeling trip with Scuba Montserrat. Another guest arrived at Bunkum the night before and we offered to let her tag along. She did, and we had a delightful day. Our snorkeling trip wasn't until noon so we called Bill and Tina, who offered to take us to the top Garibaldi Hill where we could look down into Plymouth and over Fox's Bay. It was spectacular and very interesting to hear Bill talk about what had happened just since they had been there.

The snorkeling trip was fun, but it was overcast and the seas had been rough so visibility wasn't that good. At least the overcast skies kept it from being too hot. We stopped at Rendezvous Bay for lunch and we were all excited to see the tracks from sea turtles, who had come ashore to lay their eggs.

We asked our guides where to go for dinner and they recommended Jumpin' Jack's, a restaurant which was run out of a couple's house (their restaurant was destroyed by the volcano). What we didn't know was we were supposed to call ahead, so when we arrived they were settled in for the evening. They very kindly offered to prepare dinner for us, which consisted of a tasty sauteed wahoo (a type of fish), fried plantains, and pigeon peas and rice. It was all good (if a little underseasoned) and very traditional local fare.

That night there was a tremendous thunderstorm that woke Myron up a few times. The next morning we woke to a thin layer of mud covering everything. The rainwater had run into fissures in the volcano and caused an explosion of ash. The ash continued after the rain finshed so it stuck to everything, leaving ashen mud everywhere. It was interesting to experience this and Myron was like a four year old with a new puppy. I was a little less enthusiastic.


The island vibe was very laid back and friendly, with an undercurrent of mild irritation. Everything takes a while on Montserrat, some things aren't available with any regularity, and the local politicians are corrupt in a way expected for any banana republic. Before we make any decision to move we would definitely spend more time there. And we didn't find any properties that thrilled both of us. Myron had one favorite, I had another, but either would have been a tremendous compromise. It's going to take something truly special to make us give up what we have in Charleston.

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