From July, 1991, through June, 1994, I lived in Antigua, West Indies, and worked at the Ramada Renaissance Royal Antiguan Resort – a resort owned by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda and managed by Ramada International, my employers during that time period. While relations between Ramada and the Antiguan Government often appeared strained, I loved the Caribbean and enjoyed most of my time on the island. I had the privilege of meeting the Right Honorable Dr. Vere C. Bird, Sr, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda not long after I arrived in Antigua since the Royal Antiguan Resort was his “baby,” and our grand ballroom was one of his favorite places to hold large meetings (or watch a teenage beauty pageant). Born in 1909, the Prime Minister was 82 years old when I met and escorted him up the F&B service elevator to the ballroom for the first time.
One of Antigua’s greatest features is the 365 beaches they advertise; one for every day of the year. While I never counted them, there appeared to be a practically unspoiled little beach around every bend and turn of the coast line; beaches quite often without a footprint in the sand. Another staff member and I purchased together a very small open boat – a boat about 15′ long, with a 10hp outboard motor. The hours that I spent fishing from that little boat and exploring the coastline were among my happiest times in Antigua. I also enjoyed “our” Saturday night poker games. A small group of us regularly gathered in a villa overlooking the resort on Saturday nights and played some pretty wild poker. It was not unusual for the “pot” to contain several hundred U.S. dollars. Our group usually included the resort controller; an aging veterinarian (both expatriates), the U.S. Charge d’Affaires, another man who allegedly owned all of the islands offshore oil rights, plus James (JB) Benjamin, liaison to the Prime Minister, and me! I also enjoyed meeting Barry Rubinson, owner of Jaws Restaurant – a fine eating and drinking establishment built into the side of a high hill overlooking the Ramada:
From right to left: Me, Barry Rubinson, Barry’s wife, and JB.
Photo was taken in Jaw’s Restaurant
This is the way the Resort looked when I arrived in 1991 (I shot the video in 1992, but nothing had changed much):
As regards the cow rails: In an effort to prevent cattle from invading and denuding all vegetation from private property, deep pits were dug at each property entrance; then heavy metal rods or rebar were inserted through lengths of cast iron pipe. The “rails” were then placed in rows over the open pit. The theory was that the pipe would “rattle and roll” over the inserted rod when an animal stepped on it, thus frightening the animal away. Unfortunately, the rails at the Royal Antiguan were not properly designed and the cows and donkeys either simply leaped over them (yes, a cow can leap) – or found another way to circumvent them. On the night that I first arrived at the Resort, and long after I had gone to bed, a big old cow wandered down to the pool where a few off-duty airline stewardesses were partying in the pool. I’m not sure why – or how – but the frightened cow ended up in the pool with the equally frightened ladies, and did her “business” right then and there. The ladies fled and someone summoned the Chief Engineer, a Bajan by the name of Tony. Tony managed to extricate the bovine by tugging on one of her ears and leading her up to the shallow end of the pool and up the steps onto the deck. When I went to breakfast the next morning, the pool was being drained. The animals pictured in the above video all came out of the valley on the other side of Jaw’s Restaurant. The walked up the road, often in single file, over the hill, and down our side; crossing through a security gate that was far too often left open. We were finally able to convince our gate-keepers to keep the gate closed, and only open it when a delivery vehicle approached the entrance and sounded its horn. It did not take the cows long to figure out how this system worked, and they could usually queue up behind a truck faster than a security guard could be located and sent to the gate Once the guard opened the gate, the cows rushed through it following behind the truck like a bunch of infantrymen following behind a tank! Although I think it was against the local law, farm animals were permitted to wander freely throughout Antigua when I lived there, and could only be stopped from doing so if the complaining property owner published a notice in the local paper giving the animal owner a 30-day notice that he or she was going to claim the animals for themselves (or something like that). The cows, donkeys, goats, pigs, and sheep were all smart enough to go home when it was time to be fed by their owner, or time to bed down for the night. This was apparently an acceptable practice. However, during the long summer dry season, the grass on the other side of the hill dried up. Since much of the Royal Antiguan’s land was irrigated (when we had water), we had the most attractive feeding site in the area – but the resort was owned by the Government, so the animals continued to roam at will while I was there!
One afternoon, when I returned to my villa after work, I discovered a strange heron-like bird standing very still, close to the edge of the walkway. What follows is pictured in the the next video, and you will quickly see why I first called the heron “Antigua’s Crab-Eating Bird!” I did eventually discover that the bird was a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax violaceus); that they eat land crabs and other crustaceans, and that they range from the Galapagos Islands to southern Illinois. I must apologize for the shaky video; the wind was blowing so hard I could barely stand up, let alone steady the old video camera I was using. Like all of the videos that appear here, I originally filmed everything on an old Video camera; then recently copied the VHS tapes to a computer; created film clips from the tapes – then created the videos shown here. The heron first staked out the entrance to a crab burrow or tunnel; then waited patiently for the crab to appear and begin foraging for food. Once the crab had moved so far way from its burrow it could no longer beat a hasty retreat, the heron quickly stepped between the crab and the burrow entrance. Then it seized the crab by one frantically waving claw and shook it so hard the claw broke off and the crab fell back to the ground. The bird then walked circles around the land crab until it became so confused it stopped waving its one remaining claw and became perfectly still. The heron then attacked again hitting the crab so hard with its iron-like bill that the crab bounced up and down. Next it seized the 2nd claw that was being aimlessly waved about, and broke it off rendering the crab defenseless. Over the next couple of hours, the heron proceeded to dismember, destroy, and devour that rather large land crab, swallowing everything from tiny morsels of crab meat to big chunks of crab, shell and all Those crabs are so tough that it has been reported that, when run over by a vehicle, they have even caused a flat tire! In any case, if I had filmed this event continuously from beginning to end, the resulting video would have been at least two hours long. The heron stopped often, and remained motionless for minutes at a time; During these periods of inactivity I stopped filming; however, I couldn’t always guess correctly when the bird would resume eating the crab (IE., some rather jerky breaks between shots). At one point, the heron seized the crab and ran down the hill to a small culvert; I don’t know whether it did this because it thought I might want to share it’s dinner, or because it was so windy (although the wind did not seem to bother the bird). ENJOY:
Although this post is not intended to be a travelogue for Antigua and Barbuda, I made a side trip one day to a place on the island called Shirley Heights; and I thought the scenery was awesome enough to include it in this article. I had to drive through downtown St. John’s, and around the harbour, to get to the road that led to Fort Shirley. The world’s largest cruise ship (in 1992) – Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines “Monarch of the Seas” was in port that day.
As I drove “up the hill” toward Shirley Heights, the wind was blowing even harder than it was the day that I photographed Antigua’s Crab-Eating Bird, but the video should be self-explanatory. (This video is like a patch-work quilt, and you will obviously note some dates and times that are rather screwy since I pieced the video clips together to form this story):
If you would like to know more about Antigua and Barbuda, I encourage you to read “Caribbean Time Bomb: The United States’ Complicity in the Corruption of Antigua” by Robert Coram.
I only managed to get to Barbuda once during my three years in Antigua. A small group of us sailed there aboard a lovely 32′ sloop, and spent an afternoon exploring the island from a small boat. The highlights of our trip included a visit to a very large Nature Preserve where Frigatebirds were nesting, and a walk along a portion of Barbuda’s magnificent sandy beach, which I have been told is 26 miles long! The Frigatebirds were fascinating as they circled over their babies who were nesting in the mangroves; fat, fluffy, baby Frigatebirds squawking loudly for the Ballyhoo that their parents were carrying. Unfortunately, I cannot locate a video of that trip (it has been a little over 16 years since I left the West Indies). I do hope my viewers enjoy this post as much as I enjoyed the memories I recalled while making it! Editors notes: Shortly after I left Antigua in 1994 the Government of Antigua and Barbuda parted company with Ramada International, and the resort no longer carries the Ramada name, and Vere Bird has been replaced as Prime Minister (twice). I have also noted that the clips I have pieced together to form slide shows are a bit out of focus (a bit “fuzzy”), and I will attempt to redo and replace them as animated videos in the near future. Thank you for your patience and understanding)! Antigua is pronounced “An-tee-ga” by the locals.
NOTICE: The Ramada Royal Antiguan Resort is now the Grand Royal Antiguan Beach Resort
This blog has been updated on October 1, 2015