Little Compass RoseCaribbean Compass   December 2003

Out of the Way in Barbuda

by Betty Karl

While everyone was talking about spending months in Martinique and stocking up with French wines, we were planning on going to Barbuda. Yeah, I know, not many people go there - it's really out of the way. And it's not known for wines and cheese and shopping. As a matter of fact, we've found many people don't know much about the island at all.
The land actually reminds me of the Bahamas, low-lying, beautiful beaches, clear water and lots of reefs. That's really what the island is known for, the gorgeous 12-mile stretch of fine sand with its pinkish tinge. Some people say there are 16 miles of beach, but we didn't get technical - the beach goes on forever.

It's quiet: the island, the radio and the anchorage. It's VERY quiet: great for relaxing and contemplating, and hiking and snorkeling. There are no crowded anchorages with boats anchoring close enough to be rafted up. There aren't radio calls every few minutes and no cruisers' nets! No jetskis sounding like giant mosquitoes and no dinghies zooming past at full throttle. Isn't this what cruising is supposed to be like?

So, for all of you in the popular, crowded ports in the Eastern Caribbean, enjoy your neighbors. And stay there for months at a time. Don't come to Barbuda, the quiet would ring in your ears and you'd probably have withdrawal pains. Besides, we don't want the secret of this wonderful little island to get out - then boats would populate the anchorages and spoil the unspoiled wilderness. It takes a certain type of cruiser to truly appreciate this island. Most visitors we met there never went into town and only stayed a couple of days.

The trip to town is a major project. It took about at least an hour to get to the beach, drag the dinghy across the sandbar and navigate across the lagoon. The chop was high, with the wind throwing waves onto us, but I learned from the first trip and for the second, I wore a foulie jacket and sat on a cushion on the dinghy floor so I didn't get half as wet and salty as I did the previous day.
We visited the artist, Claire Frank, a British woman who owns the ArtCafé in town.  Her unique art work is for sale and internet access is available. She enjoys talking to visitors and offers tours to different sights on the island. We learned quite a bit about life on the island from her, since she's lived there for over 10 years.
The land ownership issue is very interesting: as long as you were born on the island, you can pick out a piece of land and claim it as your own.  Doesn't matter about the size - you can pick out some farming land or just enough for a house and yard. You just fence it in and start developing. When you build your house, you do whatever you can with what money you have. Since there are no mortgages, you build or add on as money becomes available. If you decide you want a new house, you find a new piece of land and abandon the old one, since the land still belongs to the island.
We were there in early summer and had wonderful weather. The deep blue sky had puffy white clouds that were tinged at the bottom with blue from the reflection of the sea. Those days were great for snorkeling and we saw all sorts of sea life, including sharks and spotted eagle rays complete with remoras. Sea turtles kept popping to the surface of the anchorage to check us out. In the mornings, we would see tracks on the beach where the turtles came up to lay eggs during the night.

We took our bikes to the eastern side of the island to see caves that had been formed centuries ago when the area was under water: some were double decker caves. One included a hole in the top and we could climb out onto the top of the cliff so that we could overlook the western beach of the island and the beautiful reefs fringing the entire area. We could see why this island has caused so many shipwrecks in the past. Just a few weeks before we arrived, a local supply boat somehow became disoriented coming from Antigua and ended up on the reef. No one was seriously injured, but the cargo was lost.

The locals are very friendly and after one or two visits to town, they greet you like an old friend. There were a couple of grocery stores: one was quite well stocked, although good bread is hard to come by. The local bar allowed us to keep our bikes inside for the night so we didn't have to cart them home and bring them back the next day. They also serve a nice lunch for a reasonable price. They were testing their sound system for a weekend party, so we were treated with 1970s disco tunes during our lunch.

After about three weeks, we decided it was getting closer to hurricane season and we should be moving south. We reluctantly pulled the anchor one morning and headed back to Antigua. Barbuda faded into the horizon when we were about six miles out. We have put this island on our short list of favorites and I'm sure we'll be back to visit one day.

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