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We’ve only visited this pretty island one time back in 1974 but we still have fond memories of it. Even getting to the Caribbean back then was fun and funny. While connecting from one Eastern Airlines flight to another in San Juan the agent took our ticket and we proceeded out onto the tarmac to board our 727 for Antigua. But there were five 727’s all lined up in a row and we had to go back inside and ask the agent WHICH ONE was heading to Antigua. Ah...the good ole days! Now the San Juan airport is ultra modern.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn which is now St. James Club on Mamora Bay. Very nice accommodations back then and I assume the same can be said for today.
Arrival came after darkness and we had a mid-evening dinner at the hotel. It’s always exciting to arrive on an island for the first time at night because you can’t wait to wake up the next morning and see how beautiful it is! Upon leaving the restaurant I asked a waiter if there was a place we could buy a bottle of rum for the room for our stay (we’re not big bar people). He said: “No problem. I can get it for you.” I asked how much and in his thick Caribbean accent he muttered: “Well...45 dollars U.S.” It was an ultra rip-off so there were no cocktails in the room that night. However the next morning while sunning on the beach four little kids approached. Our first thought was--oh no, here come the locals to pester us to death with their stuff. But that attitude soon changed. The kids were all girls between the ages of probably 7 and 12 and they were “armed” with the usual beads, carvings, baskets and so forth. We told them that we would buy some items on our last day and that they should look us up on that day. The oldest girl asked us if we needed any booze. I questioned her about being able to buy booze and she told me that she could do it. In fact it would be best if she did because tourists always got ripped off. I asked her how much a fifth of rum would be. She held up her hands to approximate the size of the bottle. When she had reached the appropriate size for a fifth I asked how much. Her reply: “2 dollars U.S.” Now Cindy and I figured that they’d just take off with the money but so what! Two bucks for an afternoon of peace on the beach would be worth it. But don’t you know they DID return with a fifth of Appleton’s rum (refined cheaply in Jamaica). We became very good buddies with those little girls and in fact when I was stupid and got a horrible sunburn complete with a blister about an inch long and a quarter inch high they came to my aid. They asked if we had a knife and we said NO. They asked if we had scissors and we did. Cindy fetched them from the room and the kids proceeded to run over to an aloe plant and cut a leaf off and slice it open. They rubbed the fresh aloe stuff on my burn and it helped greatly! Later on the trip we met their father. He was an illegal rum-runner (that’s probably why we got the rum so cheaply!) and a fisherman. He brought us a bucket of freshly boiled local lobsters and we gave him some things for his family--cologne, tooth paste, and stuff like that.
Like many Caribbean islands, Antigua is not a well to do place for many of the local people. The little girls told us that they had no fresh water at their house and in fact had to pilfer it from a government water pipe when nobody was around.
If you love beaches, Antigua is a great place. It is said that there are more than 365 different beaches, one for each day of the week!
One thing I'll always remember about that trip back in '74 was listening to Radio Antilles and learning that famous aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh had died. It seems like somebody important always dies while we're out of the country.
I can’t vouch for Antigua today but we enjoyed our trip back then very much. I “forgot” to shave on that trip and to this very day I sport the beard that got started on that trip back in 1974.
Currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar known locally as “EC.” Driving is on the left.
IMPORTANT: All Americans visiting Antigua now need a valid passport.