Antigua and The Kindness of Strangers.
Which strikes me as a good title for a novel – if I ever write another one.
I recently had a brief holiday on the island of Antigua and this blog was destined to be a straightforward travel account – well, eulogy really , as the island is charming and beautiful, 365 beaches and all. It’s small, green and palmy with a couple of major roads – watch out for potholes the size of Cheddar Gorge – sea in strips of emerald and peacock – Caribbean caresses on one side, wild , Atlantic surf on the other – gorgeous Colonial houses, staggering rock star villas and divinely picturesque wooden stilt-chalets. The harbours are full of fuck-off gin palaces – Russian and other – we nearly went to a party on one , courtesy of a rummed-up crew member. Eric Clapton’s music was playing , so I excitedly decided it was Clapton’s yacht – he does have one there, as well as a gated palace which occupies an entire private point of the island . I wondered if he would would remember meeting me years ago at The Marquee – okay, I do have a vivid imagination – but I never found out as, in the end, the invitation was not forthcoming – man overboard?
Antiguans are incredible friendly, in the way one fondly imagines England to have been in the fifties , or the war, and will wish you a happy holiday if they just encounter you in the street , never mind in a bar ( see above) . The bustling towns and small, higgledy-piggeldy villages offer up every kind of architecture, signage, markets, bar life and food from posh Creole – Mahi mahi , lobster, snapper – to wayside stalls with fish burgers, jerk pork and chicken. There are lots of little shacks selling local juices, guava, ginger, coconut, tamarind, and delicious, home made ice cream – peanut was my favorite , rum and raison the boyfriend’s. Rum in general is big – the rum punch is to die for . Well, so I am told – I didn’t actually taste any , and this brings me to the Kindness of Strangers…
On day two , just as I was beginning to relax into the breezy heat, the clean white-sanded beaches, the flora and fauna ( humming birds poking in and out of glorious Oleander and Hibiscus) I was struck down with a violent medical emergency. A nosebleed. Yes I know that doesn’t sound traumatic , or even dangerous – but trust me, it was both. This bleed was a geyser spouting from my nostril with such force people were leaping out of the way. It started in the hire car we had just acquired – hope the insurance covers cleaning the blood-soaked upholstery – as we were negotiating the craters on the road to Admiral Nelson’s home at English Harbour. Ironic – as he’d be only too familiar with unstoppable bloody wounds. We drew up at the kerb and I got out of the car, only to spurt all over the road and several passers by. Instead of running away – as we might have done back home – they stayed, at a discreet distance, and offered advice, pointing out there was ( luckily!) a small community clinic nearby. One lad actually ran ahead of our car to direct us to it. The clinic was bare as a clinic could be , but had a kind nurse who found me gauze , rang up to get advice and eventually directed us on to the ABSAR Search and Rescue clinic at the English Harbour. There, a lovely medic tried to treat me – he was obviously horrified that his ruse of stuffing jumbo Tampax up my nose didn’t halt the gush – and called a Consultant colleague to get me admitted to a ear , nose and throat clinic . Long story short , ambulance with flashing light , wailing siren and oxygen supply arrived and I spent that night in the island’s only hospital, Mount StJohn, and the rest of the holiday in and out of it. Rum was forbidden. As was swimming, sunbathing, snorkling, water sporting, vigorous activity of any kind ( no air guitar , then, with or without Eric) and anything else you might want to do on a Caribbean island.
But – what kicked in was the famed kindness . I cannot describe how much better the lovely, gracious and unfailing concern of the people we met made me feel . I want to thank in particular, Nicola and the lovely Patsy, our Suntours reps – who really took onboard my plight and made many calls on our behalf sorting out our hotel and car situation. The staff at the pretty and welcoming Rex Halcyon Hotel were very helpful, upgrading us to a large , airy beach-front suite and letting us keep it as long as we needed. Roshanna at Dollar Car Rental was an absolute trooper ( considering she had a bloodied car, which was then totaled by a truck while we were parked at the Clinic) and let us keep our fun little jeep for an extra day at no charge. What kind people! And what a joy to realise the concept isn’t just a concept – it really does exist. I will never be cynical about human nature again . Or at least, not for the rest of the day.