First of all – where is Antigua?
Antigua (An-tee-guh) is one in a pair of islands – Antigua & Barbuda. They’re governed together, they’re both ex-British islands, but Barbuda is tiny and basically just bush while Antigua has all the infrastructure and people.
Still, Antigua takes 6 hours to walk across, 1 hour to drive across, and (if you’re a really really good cyclist), about 6 hours to circumnavigate. It’s small.
So. Now that we know the basics:
Antigua is LUSH. Lush in all senses.
The island is overgrown with plump greenery; the people pump soca music as they down rum; the humid, hot air presses down your throat; everything, from the houses to the clothes, is colored electric. For about 3 days, I was just heat stoned. No energy, no words, too tired to eat, sleeping 12 hours a night easy. Because it’s freakishly HUMID. And disgustingly HOT. So much that you constantly need to shower because you’re always just sticky, but there’s also absolutely no point in showering because no matter what you do you’re always sticky.
People talk like a rocking boat – slowly, up and down. I love the accents here. I’m getting used to dialect, too, because Alisha translates for me constantly. Antiguans are a pretty international bunch. As I said before, it’s a tiny island, so there’s not much space to move. Consequently, if you want to experience not Antigua, you have to go abroad. Which might mean a nearby island (which are pretty diverse, especially considering all the colonization that went on here – you’ve got British, French, Spanish, Dutch, Danish influences all over the Caribbean), it might mean the US, it might mean Brazil or England or Africa. And whatnot.
I don’t stand out as much as I thought. There are white Antiguans. You know, maybe one white Antiguan for every few hundred black Antiguans, but still. Which brings me to stereotypes – the first few days I was here, I was thrown by white Antiguans speaking with an Antiguan accent (which is less heavy than a Jamaican accent, but to my ears it’s very similar). Because when I thought of someone speaking with a Caribbean accent, I thought of someone black. Stupid of me, because logically, if anyone is born in a country, they speak with that country’s accent. Still, though, hearing someone who looks like a white North American, then out they come with this heavy Antiguan dialect – it definitely rocked my perceptions.
Food here is real good. Lots of good bbq and seafood.
And, since Antigua is a former British island, everyone drives on the left side of the road.
A few more photos:
This is soca (soh-cuh) music.
Chipping is, basically, walking with a purpose.
This is wining.
Our troupe for mas (the big Carnival dancing celebration days) was Myst.
The drink of Antigua is RUM.
Just to get you in the mood, these are the songs we chipped, wined, and jammed to all week: Golden Cup, Belong to a Flag, Smile, On the Road, Socaholic. And this jumpy by Hard Knox, and jumpy (faster, the ones you, well, jump to) versions of the other songs, and mixes, and all that. These videos are all from the Soca Monarch concert we went to on Saturday. You might see me in the crowd (but you probably can’t).
So there were fêtes all weekend. Then on MONDAY, jouvert (joo-vay) started. All these floats followed a route through St. John’s, the capitol, and went on until, well, ever.
We went out at 2am in some t-shirts we’d shredded, joined a rockin’ float, and danced through the streets until we were too exhausted and/or drunk to stand up straight.
At some point during the morning pink baby powder was apparently thrown all over us dancers, but let’s be real: I still have no recollection of this happening. I wouldn’t have know at all had I not looked in the mirror at home and realized that my hair was pink. And my clothes. And my arms and legs and torso.
My hair’s still kinda pink, by the way. That stuff is hard to wash out.
So Alisha and I went back to her house at around 10am, slept off the rum & dancing, and went back out at noon to start it all over. This time we put on our troupe tanks and booty shorts. We met at our troupe’s HQ, hooked into the train (which consisted of a huge float with GIANT SPEAKERS, one or two drinks floats (where we filled our “water” bottles up with rum and cokes, and occasionally water), a bathroom float, and various other vehicles.
And then we proceeded to dance until it was well dark. At which point we went home (hitching a ride in a pickup – the man didn’t let us sit in the truck bed, because as he put it, “We don’ carry cargo, we be carryin’ passengers.”) and collapsed into bed, because we’d been dancing and drinking for near 20 hours.
AND THEN (mind you, all of the above was just Monday).
We woke up TUESDAY around 9am and put on our COSTUMES to play mas. Feathers, sparkles, skin everywhere.
This time, unlike Monday afternoon, all the troupes followed the same route, so all the Antiguans who weren’t playing mas stood along the sidewalks and cheered and took photos. And on Tuesday the judging happens, when all the troupes compete to be the BEST troupe, but even if they don’t win, they don’t care, because they’re drunk.
And once again, we headed out to chip down the road, wine, and drink our bodies into oblivion.
And once again, we staggered out of downtown St. Johns, flagged down a pickup to carry us home, and fell into bed. After some cold, luxurious showers.
Also, get this: I DIDN’T GET SUNBURNT. For dozens of hours I was outside in the Antiguan sun, but thanks to multiple applications of SPF 70 sunscreen, I AM NOT RED. Other than surviving Carnival, this may be my biggest accomplishment ever.