Two weeks ago today I was expecting to spend a quiet weekend with my wife then go to work Monday…until I got a call 12 days ago from the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Board asking me if I wanted to experience Antigua as an agent: 5 resorts in 7 days with many excursions that would provide an extensive look at this beautiful island and its people. Well, yeah!
We arrived on a seamless and comfortable flight with Westjet (quick check-in at Toronto Pearson and more leg room and friendlier staff than other airlines I’ve used) and after a rather lengthy queue through immigration (3 flights arrived within a half hour!) we were on our way through the winding roads of the Antiguan countryside…first stop, a meal at a local ‘home restaurant’. We were welcomed in typical friendly Antiguan style, all smiles! It was Seafood Saturday as our host Roxanne prepared the meals in the house while we sat at a table in the yard to the sounds of roosters and the protective barking of Roxanne’s sweet little dog Irie, drinking delicious homemade bottles of fresh juice: fresh tamarind, beet and carrot, cucumber and ginger, or lemonade. When the food arrived in white styrofoam containers (Roxanne runs a local catering company as well) the taste more than made up for presentation. Everyone raved about their meal, from fresh caught steamed or fried fish with local veggies in a fish broth to conch and cockle stew to chicken or vegetarian pasta. We learned about the many trees in the area: the guinep with seeds to suck the pulp from to the bitter gooseberry, used to make jams. It turned out that Roxanne is a local favourite, especially on Saturday (she has her own Facebook page) but we were her first international customers…what an honour!
We loaded the van for the adventurous journey to our resort, The Verandah, a quaint and beautiful hillside property overlooking the bay. We were greeted with a rum punch, cold towel and the ubiquitous Antiguan smiles all around (in addition I found a large plate of fruit in the fridge in my room!)…service at its best! While the resort is older, the large rooms are more like cottages with lots of room for families and couples alike. While some more signage on property denoting locations of amenities would be appreciated, the handy map given at check-in aided immensely. It was Italian night in the restaurant and the eggplant parmesan in particular was a standout. Everyone gathered around the pool for the evening entertainment, a band playing all the hits with a soca/reggae twist while the hard-working bartenders kept up providing delicious drinks (like my new favourite, the Antiguan Smile: rum, creme de banane and pineapple juice) with lots of patrons dancing.
All in all, a great first day…tomorrow my first snorkel of the trip and a tour of the island culminating in the Sunday night tradition of the Shirley Heights sunrise party.