This March for my Spring Break, my girlfriend and I decided to take a relaxing vacation in the Caribbean. We knew we wanted all-inclusive, but relatively cheap, and we were able to do a 3.5star resort for four nights- five days for around $900 each. So that was perfect. We spent the first few days doing the typical beach and tanning, our most exciting point was probably kayaking in the ocean, and so we decided to do a really great day going into the capital town of St. Johns and then go for an hour long helicopter ride over to Montserrat. Here is the story of those few hours in St. Johns.
We were told by the hotel to take the “bus” in. That it would take about thirty or so minutes to get in, and cost only a few dollars. So we walked out of the resort gates and towards the corner that we were told to wait at. As we made our way we saw a local man standing next to a van. We got closer and he said, “are you looking for a bus.” We replied “yes” and kept walking, our instincts to not talk to strange men asking you to get into their vans building up. As we walked by him he said “I am the bus.” We turned around, and saw him pointing to the side of the van. Sure enough, this little six seater van, circa early 90’s, was our bus in Antigua. We piled in, were joined a few minutes later by a couple other tourists from our resort, and then at a few stops down by an Antiguan headed to work.
We drove through the beautiful landscape on the pothole filled road. We passed schools, grocery stores, small restaurants and jerk chicken stands. It was obviously poor, but Antigua is so interesting because it has such a small population of about 70,000, yet they are so proud of their culture and their identity as West Indians but the uniqueness of Antigua. I found this attitude pleasant, as it works perfectly with my ideology of primarily being human and respecting all cultures and all people, but having pride in the culture of your country, language, city, and family too.
As we pulled into the transportation center (three rows of buses in essentially a parking lot) we saw a couple markets that interested us, and so we walked towards them. We had a very specific idea of what we wanted in our heads. Aria wanted some paintings, she always fills her rooms with photo frames and paintings from all of our travels. I was look for a CD by El-A-Kru, an Antiguan artists that the people at the resort had told me about. I do Caribbean Soca and Dancehall dancing, and at a late-night party I showed the moves, and dances that relate to specific songs to them, and they thought it was fun to see a white boy dance like that and being able to whine his hips, so they told me all about the music of Antigua that I had to buy. Before then I listened mainly to Jamaican and Trinidadian music, so I was excited to get something new.
The first couple of markets really only sold the typical touristy things made in large bulk, and so we skipped them and asked where we could find the paintings for Aria. Funnily enough, they pointed us to the “spot for the cruise ship people” which was only a couple of blocks a way. We made it there and immediately befriended a painter who then showed us all of her works. The one she was currently making was beautiful, but we went for a black and silver one of a man on a canoe in the shore and a really colorful one of a traditional banana harvest. We then asked her where we could find an El-A-Kru CD. She was shocked that I even knew the name, but pointed me to a music store.
This first music store was on top of a strip of small stores and to get there I had to walk around the stores and up stairs and down a long, abandoned corridor. Once in there I walked in on two old Rastafarians smoking some Marijuana. They said that they unfortunately did not have any El-A-Kru but tried to find another good Antigua performer for me. After a few minutes of searching, I left, told them I may come back, and headed to the next CD store that they pointed me to. When I got there, I realized that it was just a small general store with about fifty CDs. I asked if any were El-A-Kru, and again after the initial shock of a white boy being familiar with the local band I got told that they had just sold their last one the day before. Thinking that there was nowhere else to go Aria and I walked towards another small market where she thought she saw a bikini that she wanted.
As she was looking around, I stood still looking aimlessly around. The town of St. Johns is really beautiful, small and old buildings, with lots of smiling people, all doing their work, constantly stopping to talk to people they recognize, which granted in such a small town (only 30,000 people) that is almost everyone. There is a constant sea breeze that reduces the high temperature and a steady smell of fresh produce and chicken. As I was staring off into the distance of a dirt road that led to the sea, a young woman, probably twenty-seven or so, dressed in bright pink, and a nice plump, tried to sell me whatever it was she was holding. I said no, that I wasn’t interested, but then she pointed to her big stand of many different handcrafts. I told here that I was sorry but all I wanted was an El-A-Kru CD, and nobody seemed to have one. I was expecting the look of shock, but this time I saw nothing but determination.
She grabbed my hand, turned to Aria and told her I would be right back, and led me right into the store I had just walked out of, the shop clerk told her, just like he had me, that they had no more El-A-Kru. After the first defeat her determination only grew, she grabbed my hand tighter and led me into a hair saloon down the street, they again turned us down. Now she was mad, she needed to find me this CD, we walked down two or three streets stopping every twenty seconds to ask a friend or acquaintance of hers where we can find the CD. Finally one woman said something to her in the typical Antiguan patois, with that, my arm got squeezed and I was led at an awesome speed into a dark alley, up some stairs, into a door that said “doctor’s office” and then through a maze of hallways and finally into a room with two skinny men and one buxom woman. On the walls were hundreds of DVD covers. My guide asked for El-A-Kru, and the man asked which Carnival Season, I asked for whichever was the most recent and soon he popped two CDs into his computer, and began making me a copy. When I turned around the woman was gone. I told the men that I would be back, and went to go get Aria and try to find this wonderful woman. I got Aria and told her we had to go get my CD, she was a little hesitant at the first alley, and even more so at the “doctor’s office” sign, but I got into her into my room and paid $10 USD for my CD.
We walked through the maze of doors, stairwells, and hallways and out into the alley and onto the street. When I passed by the woman’s market again she was not there, but as I turned around back to the transportation center I saw her running out of a clothing store with another CD in her hand. She jogged up to me and said, “here take this, it is Taxic, I like them better than El-A-Kru.” I thanked her, gave her a hug, and asked how much I owed her. She looked at me like I was crazy and said she had to get back to her shop. Coming from New York, this kind of hospitality was so great to experience, and I wish that I could have repayed her somehow, by maybe my smile did enough for her.
A few more fun things happened the next hour or so in St. Johns but I will save it for later posts as this one is already too long.
The Young Global Citizen Take:
Antigua is such an interesting place, it has clear outside influence from the developed world, as well as neighboring islands, but Antiguans keep a pride in the little differences that make them Antiguan. The minor little changes in dance moves, slight variations in their patois, and their happy attitudes all contribute the the experience on this little island. If we would not have gone into ST. Johns I would have left knowing Antigua was beautiful for it’s beaches and food. But going into the town showed me that truly everywhere is special, and everyone can make me smile in a different way.