Despite numerous trips to Antigua, I hadn’t ever ventured to Antigua’s sister island Barbuda which lies 30 miles off the North coast however this was about to change and Anne and Keith needed little persuasion to join me.
There are four ways to get to Barbuda (or five if you include windsurfing which Keith’s brother Arthur used to do). Helicopter, small plane, a large comfortable motor cruiser and the oddly shaped Barbuda Express catamaran. We were trying desperately to avoid the last option especially after my experience on the Monserrat ferry last year when I wanted to die it was so rough.
The 90 minute crossing was rough indeed and there were some casualties but my eyes stuck firmly to the horizon and the three of us survived with nothing more than sweaty palms and the feeling that we’d been inside a washing machine on a gentle spin cycle.
Barbuda has just 1700 people spread over 62 square miles making it two thirds the size of Antigua. There is no crime on the island as everyone knows one another, and there is one primary school and one secondary school. Their biggest export is sand and they send two large dredgers pulled by tugs around the Caribbean every week. The highest peak is a mere 125ft above sea level and the flat topography is apparent as soon as you step off the ferry.
We had no idea where we were going when we got there. My only inkling of a plan was that I wanted to see the frigate bird colony which is the number one highlight on the island. Apparently it is the second largest frigate bird colony in the world, second only to the Galápagos Islands. Wow I hear you gasp. I know, impressive for such a small place. More frigate birds than people and I’m a sucker for a record (or nearly a record). My excitement though was short lived as the visual spectacle was less than I had imagined. I was hoping to find myself in the middle of thousands of birds with beautiful plumage only to find the frigate bird is simply a seagull on a larger scale.
Our boatman was Aldrin and we picked him up in the taxi we were travelling in at a construction site en-route. Natalia, who was in the front passenger seat and also on our boat seemed to be orchestrating everything even though we just thought she was another passenger on the Barbuda Express. Later she was our taxi driver. I guess multi-tasking is big in Barbuda. Natalia had lived all her life in Barbuda and her father, John ran the Barbuda tour which we weren’t technically on, however we seemed to cover the highlights before being dropped off at Pink Sand beach for a splendid lunch cooked by Jamaican Alando who was also on the Barbuda Express.
My favourite encounter of the day was with Byron from Barbuda who used to live in the Bronx and ran what he would probably describe as a restaurant at the Frigate Bird boat dock. A lovely laid back chap of 55 who I would choose as my Barbudan best friend if I lived there. He told me the story of how his grandfather, a fisherman went out one morning from Martinique and then Mount Pelee erupted killing all 30,000 people on the island (except one prisoner and another chap) so he and his brother (I guess another fisherman but he may have had other employment) went to Guadeloupe instead of returning to Martinique. It was dubbed the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century and it happened to be on my birthday, May 8th which I’ve just found out from Wikipedia and now I’m spooked and think Byron and I met for a reason.
We got back for the return ferry trip early, primarily to choose the best seats which the boat crew reliably informed us were at the back. We watched as various locals boarded with some peculiar cargo. One guy had a sack full of giant crabs which we only realised because the bag was alive. The journey back was much better and we reflected on a fabulous day but we won’t be rushing back.