* AGM XXXI
* The World - A Truckshunter Geography
Read and learn!
...will take place at 1100 tomorrow, Thursday 16 February, at the Newcastle Art Centre. We’ve never been there before and it’s a venue worth seeing in its own right.
It’s just round the corner from Central Station; there’s a map in posting 337.
Be there or be nowhere. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.
THE WORLD - A TRUCKSHUNTER GEOGRAPHY
ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA
As I write, it is deepest, darkest February. It’s cold and damp outside, the nights haven’t quite drawn out as far as we would all like and most of the trees in garden and woodland are still naked and shivering. It’s the middle of winter and hedgehogs - with admirable good sense - are still slumbering, dreaming of sunshine and apples.
There couldn’t be a better time of the year for us to escape the coughs, colds and sneezes of an English February and betake ourselves - courtesy of our world tour - to the next, rather exotic, port of call.
We’re off to the Caribbean.
The Gulf of Mexico, bounded to the north by the USA, to the south by Guyana and Venezuela and to the east my central America - Mexico, Panama and the rest. But they will have to wait their turn on our truckshunter tour.
Look instead at the vast expanse of the Gulf itself, dominated by the two big, bossy islands of Cuba and Hispaniola. Scattered across the sea to their east and south are the myriad islands of the Caribbean West Indies. Amongst them, where the Leeward Islands turn south like stepping stones towards Jamaica and Trinidad, lie our next hosts: the twin islands that make up the independent Commonwealth State of Antigua and Barbuda, whose colourful and happy flag you see flying above.
At only 441sq km, this is the smallest country we have visited so far - smaller even than tiny Andorra. Taken together, Antigua and Barbuda are still smaller than, say, Bedfordshire - although they could give Rutland a run for its money.
In fact, only a dozen or so member states of the UN are smaller. And, as we stroll in the February sunshine along any one of its reputed 365 palm-fringed beaches, we can take comfort and reassurance from the fact that even bright little places like this have their part to play in the world.
French and Spanish settlers were the first Europeans to arrive here, in the wake of Christopher Columbus. It was the Spanish who named the islands: Antigua (say ‘ant-eagre’) is Spanish for ‘antique’ and Barbuda means ‘bearded’ - the native Arawak tribesmen, who’d been here for a thousand years, wore beards and, for some reason, this surprised the Spanish. They were just as surprised on Barbados, which means the same thing.
The Spanish didn’t stay long, though. They disliked the Arawaks and thought the islands were too difficult to exploit. Their departure left the way open for the British, who established a colony here in 1677, a status it maintained until as recently as 1981, when it gained its independence and joined the Commonwealth.
The Queen is its Head of State, which must seem quite odd to many of its inhabitants. As if to prove the point, Antigua and Barbuda has two National Anthems. God Save the Queen is used only on specifically royal occasions; the one you’ll hear most often is Fair Antigua, We Salute Thee.
As usual, I’ve included the lyrics here. But, just for a change, I’ve also added a link to YouTube so you can actually hear the tune and sing along if you want to. And why not?
Fair Antigua and Barbuda
We thy sons and daughters stand,
Strong and firm in peace or danger
To safeguard our native land.
We commit ourselves to building
A true nation brave and free.
Ever striving ever seeking
Dwell in love and unity.
Raise the standard! Raise it boldly!
Answer now to duty's call
To the service of thy country,
Sparing nothing, giving all;
Gird your loins and join the battle
'Gainst fear, hate and poverty,
Each endeavouring, all achieving,
Live in peace where man is free.
God of nations, let Thy blessings
Fall upon this land of ours;
Rain and sunshine ever sending,
Fill her fields with crops and flowers;
We her children do implore Thee,
Give us strength, faith, loyalty,
Never failing, all enduring
To defend her liberty.
Just click on the link, or cut and paste it into your browser - then give it everything you’ve got. Specially the bit about girding your loins.
At just 87,000, this little nation is out-populated by Hartlepool. But, as we’ve found out already several times, even ‘insignificant‘ micro-organisms like Antigua and Barbuda have claims to fame on the world stage.
Who would have guessed, for example, that Antigua and Barbuda has the highest female-to-male ratio on Earth; 55.6% of the population is female - a questionable recommendation as far as I am concerned.
Or that one of its strongest characteristics is its collective addiction to internet gambling - puzzling, perhaps, given that island paradises like this have so much to tempt natives and visitors alike outside.
The Cathedral at St John'sThere’s the capital city, for a start. St John’s isn’t very big - unsurprisingly - but it is dominated by its wonderful cathedral, a rare example of florid British colonial architecture.
English HarbourOr we could visit English Harbour, a carefully preserved colonial remnant and one of the biggest attractions on Antigua. To get there, we could take the road known as Fig Tree Drive, said to be one of the prettiest roads in the Caribbean. Here is how one TripAdvisor visitor described it…
'It might be long way round, but it's the prettier route to take to get to English Harbour. There are banana plantations and mango trees, amongst the rainforest. There is also a small art gallery, and some locals usually have a stand set up selling local produce, bananas and pineapples. worth the drive.'
With all those beaches, palms and mangos, you’d expect to have enough to do already - but you’d be wrong. Although there are only three inhabited islands - including tiny Redonda (area - 1 sq mile, population - 11) - there are over 60 others to try out, including ones with names like Cinnamon, Exchange, Henry, Johnson, Kid, Lobster, Nanny, Rat and Wicked Will.
If that doesn’t appeal, you could climb Antigua’s highest ‘mountain’, Boggy Peak. It wouldn’t take long, though. It’s only about 400m high.
An Antiguan 'black pineapple'So….relax after your hard day’s exploring and sunbathing, listen to the steel pan bands playing some local zouk music and sample the islands’ special delights: duckanoo (a dessert made of cornmeal, coconut, spices and raw brown sugar) and black pineapple (longer and thinner than the regular kind). Afterwards, ‘fire a grog’ (partake of some locally-brewed rum).
DuckanooAnd, as you gaze out across the fine pink beaches and over the lapping shore, you might want to bear in mind two other comforting facts about this latest of our destinations.
Firstly, almost all of Barbuda’s population of 1,100 share 6 or so surnames and can trace their ancestry to a small group of slaves brought there in the 1600s. (Slavery was abolished here in 1834.)
And secondly - just feel the ‘Britishness’ of it. The Governor-General (the Queen’s representative) is called Dame Louise Agnetha Lake-Tack and the Prime Minister is Baldwin Winston Spencer - three British Prime Ministerial names in one!
Dame Louise Agnetha Lake-Tack and...
...Baldwin Winston Spencer------------------------------------
Antiguan and Barbudan websites end in .ag and the dialling code is 001268 - just in case you want to look for a hotel or something.
See you there…..
My thanks as usual to the truckshunters who fed me so much information about this fascinating little country. Next time, we’re back amongst the big fish again - in Argentina.
Get to work!
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