The tiniest places in the world become huge when you are there.
Antigua today, Saint Thomas yesterday, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico the night before. Tiny islands, a few miles long by a few miles across, specks on the map. Each island so different from the others.
San Juan feels loose and open and there’s a sense of life spilling into the streets. The lanes are so narrow, and the sidewalks too, the two and three storey homes jammed right up to the street and to each other, their doorways and living spaces open to the street. But it feels soft and easy anyway.
St. Thomas is a maze of tight, steep green hills, The highlight here was being driven across the island and back, vistas of the valleys and bays opening wide at every turn. The island carries an energy that belies its size. I was in awe, but like the country boy in the big city, wondered if it would be possible for me to live in such a place.
Antigua feels a bit like the accordion of St. Thomas stretched out. The hills are less densely packed; they roll more gently. And ditto for the pace and the mood. Not so striking as St. Thomas, but I feel I could live here.
In some ways, it’s such a superficial way of seeing a place, stepping onto an island at 8am, then off again by 4:30. One could easily find distraction enough among the dockside tourist lures and never venture beyond them. But it’s an easy matter to hire a driver/tour guide who will carry you all about the island for a few dollars, show you to a nice beach, answer questions about the culture, history, economy.
And, for the rest of my life – I’ve realized since tasting so many Caribbean islands over the last few years – whenever I come across a mention of Antigua in the news, a travel piece, novel or song, this very real place will come to mind. That I’ve tasted the air and water, and the local patois, rubbed the currency, licked the grilled chicken juice from my fingers – it will all matter in some way. Eight hours isn’t nearly long enough even to begin knowing a place, but it’s plenty long enough to know that a place exists, and to place it in the world, and for that place to occupy a place in ones consciousness.