by Erin Carey
As we approached the island from the south, the land was so flat that the only thing alerting us to its existence was a strange mirage-like reflection in the sky. The passage had been comfortable, if not a little bumpy, due to the relatively shallow waters between the two islands. Entering a pass between a shallow nine-foot bank and the shore, we were nervous about our approach. With our seven-foot draft putting the keel a little too close to the sandy bottom, we crept our way along the natural channel marked on the chart and described in Chris Doyle’s Cruising Guide to the Leeward islands, Southern Edition. With my husband on the bow and the sun high in the sky, we followed the 11-mile beach, hugging the shoreline, to the anchorage of Lower Bay. The water was the most stunning we had witnessed in our 15 months in the Caribbean, the color so vibrant it deserves a name of its own. Barbuda Blue is what I have coined it, a color I will never forget.
Barbuda is an island 30 miles north of Antigua; they form one nation. Although they are often referred to as the “Twin Islands” it took only moments in Barbuda to figure that the two couldn’t be more dissimilar. Dropping anchor just south of the storm-destroyed hotel that still graces its shore, ours was one of only a handful of boats spaced hundreds of yards apart. With no other sign of civilization, my husband, our three young sons and I dinghied to the beach to explore the great expanse of powdery white sand that lay before us. Despite its length, the beach was narrow, and we looked over the brackish waters of the lagoon that lay behind the spit of sand. In the distance was the island’s only settlement, the town of Codrington; almost destroyed by Hurricane Irma in 2017, it is still rebuilding to this day.
If a visit to Barbuda is on your radar, then a tour with one of the island's local guides is an experience you can’t miss. George Geoffrey is the owner of a boat called Garden of Eden and offers guided tours to see the frigate birds in their natural environment. George took pride in explaining that this colony, home to some 20,000 birds, is bigger than any other in the world, including that in the Galapagos Islands.
George also spoke of his childhood, roaming free around the island, at one with nature. He spoke of Hurricane Irma, a bad memory most residents have tried to suppress; the experience of having the roof torn from above his head still haunts him. He spoke of the land itself, which all Barbudans traditionally own in common, the same land he fears will one day be exploited and developed the way so many other natural beauties have been. His love for his island home was obvious; I could see it in his eyes. George is a man in his sixties who has been exploring the island his whole life, and as his boat motored effortlessly through the shallows of the lagoon, it was clear he knew the place like the back of his wrinkled hand.
En route to the bird colony, we paid a visit to a relatively new addition to the area, a 20-foot shipping container, now entwined within the mangroves that had merely kept on growing around it. The enormous metal vessel had flown three miles through the air during Irma, an indication of the hurricane’s ferocity that George said was like nothing he had ever experienced before. It was a stark reminder of the power of Mother Nature.
As we approached the birds, the smell was pungent and offensive, yet it was quickly forgotten as we passed not three feet away from a baby frigate bird, its beady eyes inquisitive, yet unperturbed by our presence. The nesting birds’ feathers ruffled in the warm breeze, and the clicking of their long, hooked beaks filled the air. An adult male, with an inflated red balloon-like pouch extending from his neck, was attempting to attract a mate and we watched in awe as the red appendage the size of a human head swayed in the breeze. With a wingspan of over two metres, the birds could be seen circling above, dipping and diving, fishing in the shallow waters around us. Frigate birds are known for their menacing ways, and we watched as one stole a fish from a booby, the smaller bird so frightened that he practically handed his catch to the frigate on a plate.
A visit to the village of Codrington was next on the agenda, and the wrath it had suffered was evident. The town was in bad shape; Irma had left her mark. Piles of rubble lined the streets and tents were now permanent fixtures. The people, however, were friendly and optimistic, and children ran freely, smiles covering their faces, laughter filling the air. Donkeys and dogs roamed the streets side by side and teenagers scooted by on bicycles. A quick walk around the town saw us find a supermarket and bar, but don’t come to Barbuda expecting services and supplies. Come for the natural beauty! Come for the wild horses running along rose-colored beaches and mangrove forests abundant with life. Come for the Barbuda blue waters teeming with fish and the deer roaming freely through the scrub. Come with full tanks of water and a well-provisioned boat and stay until you are no longer able.
As I thanked George for his tour, I proclaimed my experience to be a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. George was quick to reply, “But why does this have to be a once in a lifetime experience? Why not visit us again and again?” I thought of his words as we raised our anchor; the shadow of our yacht reflected on the water. Leaving Barbuda was harder than I expected, and barely before we’d drifted away I longed for the solitude and escape it provided. With the fate of Barbuda’s future unknown, and with this blue isle perhaps some of the most sought-after real estate in the world, don’t leave your visit until it’s too late.
And don’t just visit once — have this once in a lifetime experience again and again!
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