The contrast between two versions of Antigua is profound. Falmouth on the southern coast is the resting ground for super yachts. As you come into the harbor they are nestled side by side, stern to like so many dominoes. Beautiful, shiny, mammoth. And here, not focused as much on the powerboat, but on the mega sailing yachts. Gorgeous J boats from the 40’s. Immaculate and gigantic.
A whole economy buzzing to keep them looking sharp. Lots of yachty types from England, France, Italy. All very well heeled, and used to being surrounded by luxury, and the finer things in llife. Living on the boats, or in the nice gated community up the hill with the view overlooking the bay. Expats running the restaurants and bars, most of the customers white, All quite clean, people nice, happy, living a good life all based on the tourist/boating community.
There are two ways to get to the other side of the island. Take a taxi for $25, or a local bus for about $1.50. Elia, Ed and I hopped onto a bus from Jolly Harbor into the biggest city, St. John. The sense of adventure starts with the bus itself, which is actually just a small red minivan, crammed with as many seats as could fit. Once all the available seats are full there are drop down benches that fill the isles. We are packed in with older ladies in uniforms heading home from work, kids in matching cloths getting out of school, sweaty t shirted men headed to town, all locals, we are the only white people there.
Through the gates of the marina, past the security corner, and into a different world. At home we dream of tiny houses on trailers as a pc correct, cute alternative to the sprawl. Here they are everywhere. Cute, run down little houses, many with the faded bright colors of the Caribbean, some past saving from the last hurricane. Concrete roads with cars stalled or stopped randomly. Kids playing cricket in red and yellow team shirts.The bus careens around with a toot of the horn for pedestrians or cars heading our way. An endless game of chicken, that our driver wasn’t about to lose.
Into the city. Fast moving, scurrying, humanity, and once again, we are the only white people to be seen. Fancy dressed women with towering hair buns of orange. Teens off the bus, out of school. A few rastas, some scary looking, sullen guys hovering by outdoor bars. Sidewalks crumbling, next to mini canals, for rainwater. Shops carrying whatever seemed to be on sale on the boat from China last week, with a srange assortment of plastic goods and bright shirts, kitchen supplies, and discount shampoos. Everyone moving quickly down the skinny streets, walking half on sidewalks, taking their chances with the next car coming through. No street signs, stop signs. People just know where to go, know the rules.
Dropped from the bus stop at the edge of town, to walk downtown where the cruise ships dock and it all tidies up. Yogurt shops, and a Burger King, in the same older buildings but with a new coat of paint. Some days up to 5 cruise ships in town at once we heard. No cruise ships in now so all the duty free shops are empty and cavernous.
St John an absolutely different world from the harbors with the pretty boats. Much poorer, and almost all black. People sweet, kind, helpful to us and to each other. Lovely cadence to their speech which was English and incredibly hard to understand, but with another version that they could switch to when they wanted to communicate with us.
And as I compare the two parts of the island I can’t help but wonder how it all seems to the local Antiguan who is providing the services that make it all happen. From my perspective it feels like the different tourist groups are hugely significant. Us cruising on Orion, anchoring out to save money, trying to do it on the cheap feels like another level than the guys on their Hylas 54, with their 450 gallon fuel tank and their 100 gallon an hour water maker. And then another level to the mega yachts with the crews running it all. Then there is the cruise ship traveler. I have categorized them according to my reality, my values. But to a local my guess would be that they look out and see Orion and see just another white guy with money.
Some places in the world I have felt very excluded by the local population. Here, not at all. The local people have been very friendly, warm, respectful, helpful. The super nice kid helping us with groceries telling us about his girlfriend that left him, and his daughter that he doesn’t get to see enough and about the time he spent in Los Angeles. The old man in the gas station smiling wide and taking about sailing in Penobscot Bay in Maine, and sharing stories of lobster pots, tides, and fog. I am from a different world, but they seem to be ok with that.
Probably these are the questions that come up in any tourist town, with the poor locals providing services to the wealthy transients. Here I guess it’s just that the chasm is so very very wide in places. Is it so wide that it is beyond comprehension? I know that I look at the mega yachts, and am blown away by the absurdity of them. I don’t feel like I want to own one. I’m happy in my life, my version of paradise. Perhaps that is how it is to be from here. Is that really what they are feeling inside? I don’t know how I’ll ever really know.