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After years of saving, B and I just returned from our honeymoon…after seven years of marriage! We were young when we tied the knot…cheap, poor kids 😉 …so we put off our dream trip until we could do it right. And that’s what we tried to do this past week, when we embarked on a trip to Antigua in the West Indies. Below is my brain-dump of our trip, both for our own memory-keeping and the benefit of eager family and friends. I thought it might be fun to recount the whole experience as a timeline (as there were plenty of ups and downs and little moments I want to remember), so away we go!

Map of AntiguaBecause a number of you asked, Antigua is on the right, east of Puerto Rico. It’s actually pronounced “Antigah”—the “u” is silent.

June 6, 2013

3:30 a.m. (Central Time Zone)
Oh, my. Why are we waking up now again? Oh yes. Because our flight leaves at 6 a.m. and we must put clean sheets on our bed for our house-sitter and then drive 40 minutes to the airport and check in. Thank goodness we packed the day before.

4:40 a.m.
We’re at the gate! Somehow airport security always feels stressful and anxiety-ridden. Now we wait.

5:40 a.m.
Shouldn’t we be boarding by now? Cue our first delay: “Ladies and gentlemen, flight blah-blah-blah to Miami is going to be slightly delayed while the ground crew works on a mechanical problem. Should be about 30 minutes.” Oh, okay. Thirty minutes is okay. We planned a two-hour layover in Miami before the only flight of the day to Antigua departs. We should be good.

6 a.m.
Delayed another 30 minutes.

6:30 a.m.
Another 30.

7 a.m.
A few more minutes.

8 a.m.
Okay, so maybe longer.

9:30 a.m.
“Paging A and B to the front desk please.” We gather our things and walk to the front, ominous music playing in our heads. This is the conversation that we have with the flight desk clerk.
“So, you guys are going to miss your connection to Antigua.”
Me: “What?”
Clerk: “Yeah…”
I look at B. He looks at me.
Me: “Are you sure? It leaves Miami at 11:50. Are you sure we can’t make it?”
Clerk: “Yep.”
I look at B again. The pain in my stomach is written on his face. Clerk: “And because there’s only one flight that leaves for Antigua each day, you’re not going to get there until tomorrow.”
This hits us in the gut. Our resort, which we booked on the recommendation from a friend and co-worker of mine, is pricy.
B: “$*!@. That’s not acceptable. Our resort is nonrefundable! We’ll miss an entire day of our honeymoon!”

For his part, the clerk is understanding, but what is he supposed to do?

Clerk: “Well, I can reroute you through to JFK and then to Miami. You’ll take a flight to JFK and arrive there tonight, then leave for Miami around 2 a.m.”
Me: “Where would we sleep?”
Clerk: “In the airport.”
Me: “In JFK?”
Clerk: “Yep.”
Me: “What’s the other option?”
Clerk: “You can wait and get on this flight to Miami whenever it’s ready, and we can put you in a hotel in Miami for tonight. You’ll leave for Antigua tomorrow.”
B: “So there is absolutely no way you can get us to Antigua today?”
Clerk: “No.”

We stand silently next to the desk, a line developing behind us of others who need to reroute themselves because of our broken plane, and look at one another.

Me: “I guess we’ll go to Miami.”

The clerk prints us a $25 voucher for lunch in the airport and $25 voucher for dinner, and a voucher for a hotel stay in Miami (they pick and book it for us). By this time, it is 11:20, and we know we’d never make our 11:50 departure. We are not going to Antigua today. We watch as the second flight to Miami boards while the rest of us from the first flight stand and wait.

Noon
We take our vouchers and shuffle over to Jim ‘N’ Nicks’ new location inside the airport. We both order the smoked turkey. It arrives limp and dejected. We aren’t even hungry. And they don’t give us cheese biscuits.

5 p.m.
We finally arrive in Miami. Tropical Storm Andrea is going strong. The hotel we’ve been put up in is about a five-minute drive from the airport and drab. Overhead, the sounds of passing airplanes are all-encompassing. We pull open the blinds and watch a 747 pass overhead, the rain beating down on us. This was not the view we thought we’d be getting.

Later that night…
Not wishing to pay for a taxi to take us to dinner or head out into the tropical storm, we eat dinner in the hotel restaurant instead of Yardbird, which I was hoping for when I heard we’d have a night in Miami. The food isn’t bad, all things considered. Later, the Miami Heat lose a game of the NBA Finals. The city continues to weep.

June 7, 2013

6 a.m. (Eastern Time Zone, 5 a.m. according to our bodies)
“We’re going to make it, we’re going to make it, we’re going to make it,” is the mantra we wake to. We pull open the dusty curtains and look out at downtown Miami post-Andrea.

7:15 a.m.
Back at the airport. We take a deep breath and make our way through Miami security.

11:45 a.m.
We’re boarding!

12 p.m.
I think this is going to happen! Part of me waits to be pulled off the plane by the Fates for some reason, barred access to the glorious beaches that await us.

2:50 p.m. (Atlantic Time Zone, 12:50 according to our bodies)
WE’RE HERE!!!!!

They unload us right on the jetway, and the warm Antiguan air hits us before we’ve made it to the door of the plane. We’re greeted by a one-man reggae band and a card table upon which sit Antiguan punch. Pictures are discouraged, signs read.

Antigua’s airport is miniscule and timid compared to the ostentatiousness of Miami. The customs room for arrivals shuffles two-thirds of people to the side of the room reserved for international visitors, and saves two thin lines for locals. The walls are painted bright colors, and it’s charming. The man checking our passports asks us how long we’ve been married—”two days, right? Am I right?”—as I had marked that we were there for our honeymoon. Forgetting this detail, I answer honestly and say seven years. He blanches, and says in a thick accent that my imagination identifies with the Caribbean, “Oh, man! I need a new job, man!” We laugh and move on, officially entering the country.

By now, B has beads of sweat rolling down his temples. The building we were in was not air-conditioned, and now we’re outside at the main entrance, amid the bluster of taxis and hotel shuttles. Organized chaos. The airport staff has this down to an art, and they quickly cart us over to the taxi station and assign us to a driver. We hop in, and away we go!

3:30 p.m.
Driving in any country other than your own is always an experience. First off, Antiguans drive on the left, which is an experience, as my American-minded driving makes me flinch automatically, thinking that we’re on the wrong side out of habit. Also, the roads in Antigua are filled with potholes. Rather than go around them, though, our driver either a) slows from 70 mph to a sudden crawl and then blasts off again once we’ve crossed the hole, or b) tears off the side of the road and goes around it. This makes the drive feel like something between a stop-and-start morning commute and an off-road race. The road is only two lanes wide, without a middle line, so when our driver wants to pass someone, she checks that no one is coming ahead of her, and then tears off in the other lane until she’s passed the person. Sometimes another car is coming, and this turns into a quick game of chicken.

Along the way, we pick up on the fact that honking in Antigua is a language of its own. In the States, you honk to give the audible middle finger. In Antigua, you honk to say hello, thanks, hey there!

We pass ruins, dilapidated homes, cottages in vibrant colors…

…and find ourselves wondering. Are these slums? They are very rundown. Or are these the good neighborhoods, and we don’t know how to place what we’re seeing within the larger framework of Antigua? We left with this unanswered.

4 p.m.
We finally arrive at the resort—Cocobay. We walk through the front entrance (there are no doors here!), and are greeted with this view as soon as we enter.

I don’t know who bought this real estate, but they were a genius. (Just as a note, I have Photoshopped none of these photos in this post. They are 100% unedited!)

Our cottage, #25, is a short walk to the right. It’s a small but comfortable one-room cottage with a bathroom and back deck that leads directly out to a private plunge pool.

There is a bottle of Champagne chilled and waiting, and soon, the manager sends over a bottle of rum. They are determined to make us happy after the struggle we went through getting here.

The purple doors of the bathroom open to the deck, so that all roads lead to this:

We set our bags down and stood there for a while, not saying much, just taking it all in. We pinch ourselves (literally). Then we put on our bathing suits and get in the pool!

To give you an idea of how deep it was, I’m 5-foot 1-inch and standing flat-footed here.

6 p.m.
The resort has made us a reservation for 6:30 p.m., so we get dressed and head toward the restaurant, doing some exploring along the way. The resort is all-inclusive, so our meals and drinks are included. Breakfast is served 7:30-9:30 a.m., lunch 12:30-2:30 p.m., and dinner from 6:30-9:30 p.m. For breakfast and lunch, you show up and serve yourself, buffet-style. For dinner, you make a reservation during a time slot. We didn’t bring our camera along with us for meals, but here’s a taste of what they served:

Breakfast: eggs, omelets, pancakes, fruit, bacon, sausage, juices, coffee, tea, cereal, yogurt, baked beans, tomato salad.
Lunch entrees: Traditional ginger-stewed chicken, bosa fish (never heard of it, but yum!), BBQ beef meatballs, burgers…and shark!
Lunch sides: black-eyed peas and rice, “green” rice with raisins and oysters, salad, tomato salad with chickpeas, and French fries.
Dinner: tilapia with white bean puree, roasted snapper with pumpkin sauce, baked chicken stuffed with bacon and goat cheese, beef tenderloin, lobster…

Funny thing about the shark. At lunch that day, another guest asked the cook preparing the shark at the buffet what kind it was. “I don’t know,” the cook answered. “Just whatever they caught today nearby.” The guest looked scared for a moment (possibly imagining a shark swimming outside the resort), and asked, “Oh…are there sharks here?” To which the cook answered, “Oh, no! This is a treat. It’s very rare to have a shark.”

Turns out, we love shark! I just wish we knew what kind it was.

June 8, 2013
We spent the next day between the beach and the pool.

…and exploring the resort.

More of the view from our room:

There are two infinity pools at the resort, one next to the restaurant, which is to the left here, behind the vegetation:

And one below this, which is next to a panini bar (which we ate at most days for lunch, because they were delicious):

This is out favorite, because it looks out right over the ocean below.

Because the resort is all-inclusive, we can ask for whatever we want and take it back to our room with us, like this rum punch, which becomes our favorite.

June 9, 2013
We spend today much the same way as Saturday. No cell phones, no Internet, no TV. And we find it surprisingly easy to disconnect. We don’t have the urge to check e-mail every two minutes, to surf the Internet. The only thing B is curious about is how the US soccer team is doing (as it turns out, they play well when we’re in Antigua!). The staff at the resort is exceptionally friendly, and we feel like they are genuinely happy to be there.

4 p.m.
At 4, the resort has arranged for those who want to to head out onto an excursion to an area called Shirley Heights. Because we lost a day that we’d planned to use to explore the capital, St. John’s, we take this opportunity to see more of the island. On the way, our taxi driver points out the oldest church in Antigua, founded in 1802.

We pass through the rainforest and mountains…

…until we reach the top of a mountain, and the guard house of Shirley Heights.

…and the incredible view.

A steel drum band is already playing.

We listen to the music, take in the views…

…of Nelson’s Dockyard.

Listen to the band:

We tried some traditional barbecued jerk ribs and chicken, which were both great.

And listened to the band play from the best seat in the house: at the top of the guard house:

8 p.m.
The fun is over for us for the night, and our driver speeds us back down the mountain in pitch black. At one point, we almost hit a cow wandering down the side of the road, but miss it at the last second. The radio plays Celine Dion over and over. They love her here…

10 p.m.
After dinner (yes, we still ate when we got back to the resort! We were hungry!), we get back to our cottage, and B opens the door only to come to a complete halt. It seems that the resort has done another gesture to make things special for us…

B is so caught off guard that he doesn’t move for a full minute. “I thought for a second we were robbed,” he says. “I didn’t know what those things were.” Turns out they were LED candles, so no need to worry about fire. We leave the French doors open, the candles “on,” and fall asleep under the mosquito net, exhausted.

1:30 a.m.
I wake with a jolt as the French doors slam close with a gusto like no other. Something strange is going on. I stumble out of bed and turn off all the “candles,” then stumble over and make sure that the doors are okay. What was with that? I try to wake B, but he’s out.

June 10, 2013
6 a.m.
We wake with the sun here, no alarm clock needed. When we wander down to breakfast at 7:30, the staff is abuzz with the events of last night. Turns out, my stumbling around wasn’t because I was half-asleep trying to gather candles and fix the doors. It was because there was an earthquake last night! I ask the staff what the magnitude was, and am given a nonchalant smile. “Who knows? We’re all safe, so it’s cool!” (Turns out it was a 3.8.)

Throughout the day:
Beach, pool, beach, pool…

The view from one of the plunge pools.

…snorkel (free through the resort), and kayak (also free), which allows for us to see the resort from a whole new vantage point.

6:30 p.m.
Tonight is our last night at the resort, and B has arranged for us to have dinner on the beach at sunset. It’s been overcast all day, so sunset eludes us, but the light is still great.

(In the distance, you can see the restaurant on the hill.)

We’ve just received our appetizers (fried scallop with sweet-and-spicy ginger sauce, spiced shrimp over tomato relish) when the woman taking care of us comes over and says, “I think it’s going to rain.”

Rain it did. We had time to grab our plates and make a mad dash to the panini bar next to the pool when the bottom fell out of the sky, and it poured. We tried to make the best of it, and had the next course, spinach-and-sweet potato soup, at the bar.

By then, the man who runs the restaurant came out and found us (and by then, the next couple who was supposed to be having their private dinner on the beach after us) at the bar, attempting to figure out what to do. He promptly carried our table up from the beach and set it up under an umbrella next to the pool, and that’s where we finished our beach-side dinner.

June 11, 2013
8 a.m.
Today is our last day, so we spend the morning taking pictures of places we haven’t documented yet.

We walk as far down the beach as we can, and spot a horse waiting for someone to ride her.

We say goodbye to this pretty place, take a crazy taxi ride back to the airport, spend way too much on a lousy dinner in Miami’s airport, and arrive back home at midnight, June 12.

June 12, 2013
6 a.m.
Back to reality!

A note for those who might go:

-Air-conditioning is not a requirement in Antigua. All of our meals were eaten outside, without AC. Our resort does have AC in its cottages, but it’s not ultra-powered or anything. Dress accordingly. If you’re hot, get in the ocean. 😉
– Mosquitoes are universal. Pack some bug spray. And something to put on the bites. They’ll get you, no matter what.
– There’s no need to change your currency if you have US dollars. Antigua accepts US currency without issue.
– If you choose to rent a car and drive yourself, be aware that though there are (from what we hear) stop signs, we never saw one, and on every occasion that we traveled in a car, our driver rarely stopped. It got to the point that we started counting. On our drive to Shirley Heights (40 minutes), we “paused” once, at a three-way intersection. On our drive to the airport when leaving (30 minutes), we stopped maybe three times. On our drive to the resort when we arrived (35 minutes, different route), we never stopped. It is also recommended that foreigners not drive at night, as it gets very dark in Antigua, and the roads are windy.

See more images in the Flickr feed.

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