Antigua: Snorkeling and Shirley Heights

We had a nice variety of breakfast items bought at yesterday’s public market in Saint John.

Coconut raspberry bread and fresh fruit grace our balcony table.
We found the coveted black pineapple which is unique to Antigua.
Not sure what this fruit is. I may have let it get a little too ripe. After removing the seeds and core, it had the texture and taste of sweet applesauce.
Little gray bird in our balcony tree is waiting for bread crumbs.

We packed up snorkeling gear and headed to Galleon Beach in English Harbor. We’re going to try snorkeling where the security guard suggested.

We walked down the beach, past the big rusty anchor and over to the other side.
At the end of the beach we followed a short trail through the trees.
The trail led to a small semi-shaded beach.

We were much closer to the reef and the snorkeling was pretty good here. This was my first attempt at underwater photography … just using my i-phone in a water proof case. There was a variety of colored fish but they’re hard to photograph — they move fast and I’m still fumbly with cell phone buttons under water in a case.

While snorkeling, a sport row boat with two women pulled up to our little beach. We chatted for awhile. It was the coach and nurse for the Swiss Trans-Atlantic rowing team. They were getting ready to welcome their team which would be finishing the 3,000 mile trek this afternoon.

The ladies were using an inflatable row boat. They said it folds up small and can be taken on an airplane.

The coach and nurse for the Swiss Trans-Atlantic rowing team getting ready to welcome and meet their team at the finish.

The app for following the Trans-Atlantic competition shows icons of all the boats and their locations. Click on your team’s boat icon and it provides their locations and other data. This lets the family and friends following each team, know when to show up in English Harbor for the grand finale.

The app shows the Swiss team, Ocean Spirit, approaching the finish.
Time to move on … we shook out the sand and packed our gear.
The trail back to the main beach area is full of flowers and greenery.
Had to stop and look at little red star-shaped flowers.
This tree and its strange fruit caught our attention.

A tree on our path had big white soft squishy-gel like fruit. Peggy looked it up and discovered that one of its names is “vomit fruit”. Glad we didn’t smell or touch it. There are over 100 names for this fruit but the scientific name is Morinda Citrifolia more commonly known as Noni and it is a fruit-bearing tree from the coffee family.

Further research showed it is widespread and that the fresh fruit is consumed across the globe. Supplements made from Noni are estimated to bring in millions of dollars annually. Not bad for a fruit that tastes like rotten cheese. Unripe is most tolerable and tastes spicy and grassy with hints of horseradish and Parmesan.

Morinda Citrifolia is also known as Noni, Indian mulberry, beach mulberry, cheese fruit, dog dumpling and starvation fruit.

The main reason people opt to eat this fruit is for its purported health benefits. All parts of the plant are used to treat ailments as diverse as toothaches, cancer, attention deficit disorder, bruises and addiction. The majority of the health claims are unproven. (Information taken from

Our beach route is filled with interesting floral and greenery combinations.
Lots of different types of palms.
If you get tired of the beach, you can cross the road and attend the Academy of Rum … an opportunity to create your own rum flavor.

We made a stop at the apartment to de-sand before heading out to Shirley Heights, a much touted Sunday evening event with music and barbecue as well as a great view, especially at sunset.

Home Sweet Home
You have to make friends with sand … it’s everywhere!

Shirley Heights

Shirley Heights is located high on a steep hilltop above Galleon beach where we were just snorkeling. It is a restored military lookout named after Sir Thomas Shirley, Governor of the Leeward Islands, who strengthened Antigua’s defenses in 1781.

The iconic view from Shirley Heights includes English Harbor and Falmouth Harbor along with a few beaches and Nelson’s Dockyard.

The view from Shirley Heights is spectacular.
The hills are alive with strenuous trails to Shirley Heights. We opted to drive.

We arrived early around 3:00 pm. Parking was easy. No lines at the bar or food-ticket line. We could easily walk around and enjoy the views. The music starts at 4:00.

Sheltered picnic area with a view …
… and large grass area with picnic tables and a great view.
The smell of grilling charcoal wafted through the air.
Several cooks worked the grills before the crowds arrive.
An extensive menu of barbecue items is posted near the grills.

We enjoyed the sounds of the Halcyon Steel Orchestra. This musical ‘family’ has been together for over 50 years and has performed all over the globe. They have an impressive list of awards and have won countless competitions. Their big steel drum sound provides a Caribbean party vibe that gets everyone dancing.

Halcyon Steel Orchestra, ‘When Steel Talks … Everybody Listens.’
Plenty of people selling percussion devices. I couldn’t resist and bought calabash shakers from my buddies Chevron and Kevon.

By 5:30, the place is packed shoulder-to-shoulder. Many gather at the point to watch and take photos of the sunset.

People crowd the corner of the Heights to view the sunset.

According to Visit Antigua and Barbuda tourism authority, if you watch closely for that split second as the sun sets behind the ocean, you may see at that moment a green jet of light that covers the horizon known as the Green Flash and is something that only the luckiest viewers and photographers have ever managed to capture on camera or in their memories.

The sun does not disappoint tonight.

Now it’s hard to maneuver around the crowd. Lines at the bars are ten deep with party-goers ordering trays of rum punch for their tables. There’s even longer lines for food tickets and the buffet where the portions are generous.

The Halcyon Steel Orchestra wrapped up about an hour after sunset. The next performers had a calypso sound … and the party goes on until the late hours.

Look out … steel drums coming through! Calypso-style music is up next.
And the party goes on!

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Jane is a resident of Browndale neighborhood in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

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