More repairs and a bus trip to St Johns

SV Jenny
Alan Franklin/Lynne Gane
Sat 3 Jan 2015 18:39
Dear Family and Friends,

3rd January 2015

Our immediate storm repairs are complete, Alan has serviced the generator, and this was fine until this morning when unfortunately this is playing up again. We are giving Jenny a good polish as 6 months and an Atlantic crossing have passed since the last time. Nothing too strenuous though, an hour or too here and there between relaxing!

We have entertained and been entertained almost continuously which has been lovely, as pleasant as the rum punches are, I think we had better wave the white flag for a while!

No cultural immersion in Antiguan life is complete without a trip on the local bus, so yesterday I went into St John’s, the main town on the island. Buses are easy to spot, as the word is part of their registration. There are no official vehicles, colours or other markings, they are 20 something seater minibuses. Many bear the scars of collisions, they rattle and the interiors are tired. There are bus stops but you can stop a bus anywhere, just wave. Our bus started the 30 minute journey along the main roads, stopping suddenly and reversing up the side roads to pick up fares. I imagine the bus drivers work for themselves so every fare is important. To stop the bus, you shout at the driver, “the next bus stop, the cross roads, whatever” and pay as you leave. Once full the bus hurtles along the road, overtaking slower vehicles, but at least the gale coming in through the open windows is cooling! I was asked whether the buses had air conditioning by friends thinking of making the journey! The whole journey cost me about 90p, reaching the West bus station in St John’s.

The heat and hubbub of the nearby market and street stalls, fill the air, traffic crawls past you, shouts slip from Caribbean creole to English, in a sing song cadence, laughter is frequent. The streets have English sounding names, Nelson Street, Newgate Street, Church Street but also celebrate local heroes, Prince Klass, (a slave who led a rebellion to murder the plantation owners in 18th century,) and Vivian Richards Street. But if I were expecting a Colonial settlement St John’s could not have been more different. Most buildings are 20th Century concrete and corrugated iron constructions, there is little charm about them. Many shops are bazaars with something of anything so looking for a specific item can be tricky, amazingly I did find what I needed!

As a tourist destination, I suspect that a visit to St John’s would have been more genteel and appealing in the 18th and 19th century, todays town is unrefined and all too evidently in need of investment. My map showed a tourist office, so I headed there. The lady in the booth broke off her lunch, seemed surprised to be asked about the potential tourist sites of the town, had no leaflets or maps, but very amiably suggested I visit the cathedral and the museum. The cathedral on the brow of a low hill, was closed for repair, stone work and the termite damaged interior woodwork were being replaced. So a postcard of the lovely local mahogany interior had to suffice.

I had more luck in the museum, housed in the 18th Century courthouse. The social history of the early Arawak and Amerindian settlers from the Orinoco River in South American, plantation and slave life and their early independence (1981), is fascinating.

A monument to V. C. Bird their first president stands close to the bus station and of course the airport is also named after him. I can imagine the early optimism of independence must seem a long way away now, hearing reports of a new year address by the president of Antigua, warned of the largest deficit in the country’s history. On a local level marine services all report much less trade since the recession, everything is expensive and if you have the option you would probably have the work done elsewhere. Antiguan’s are trying to make a living, making things for tourists, providing services (and some lists are impressively long), touting their services, diving, boat polishers, clam sellers, fresh fish on the dock, taxis, stall vegetables and fruit.

Other Antiguan gems; a notice board said “can anyone tell me where this notice board has gone’!
I saw a slight wiry man of indeterminate middle age riding a donkey side saddle, curiously the raised leg controlled and steered the animal by a rope held in his toes.
All cash transactions are in both US and Eastern Caribbean Dollars, highly confusing and an opportunity for variable currency exchange rates, anything between 2.5 EC’s to US $ to 2.70 with about 4 EC$ to £.

All our best,

Lynne and Alan