The British colonised the island in 1632. They first grew tobacco and indigo but later switched to cane that was to provide the islands' wealth for two centuries.
The slaves were emancipated in 1834 but the land still belonged to the same plantation masters so the living conditions of the freed African labour were no better if not worse than before. The first labour union was formed only in 1939.
Antigua was administered as part of the Leeward Islands until 1959. It attained associated status with internal self government in 1967 and became an independent member of the British Commonwealth in 1981.
The sugar cane has almost disappeared and farming has shifted to fruit, vegetables, cotton and livestock. Offshore banking and light manufacturing have been introduced but tourism now provides 43 % of the GNP. Antigua received 228 000 visitors and rated 1.48 on the Tourist Saturation Index in 1998.
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I flew in from St Kitts at about noon. Antigua is a hub and there is a lot of air traffic from the USA, Canada and Europe here.
The taxi drivers at the airport asked 10 $US to take me into St John's. It did not feel right so I hitchhiked without any difficulty. (I paid the going rate of 5 $US when I left Antigua for Guadeloupe a week later.)
I stayed at the Palm View Guest House where I had a large room with bathroom for only 15 $US. , It was a friendly place with only half a dozen rooms, usually full. Shared kitchen facilities and this large veranda provided the opportunity to socialise and share experiences with other budget travellers. I definitely recommend it.
Antigua is also a favourite cruise ship port of call. I must have seen a dozen different ones during the week I was there.
Managing a herd of a thousand passengers who all want to see everything at the same time requires precise logistics and more importantly, superb psychological manipulation. The experts first break up the mob into small groups led by a flag carrying leader such as the one shown here. Then they provide fleets of mini vans and orchestrate their dispersion precisely to avoid crowding and confusion between groups. The real experts do all this without the tourists being aware that they are being herded.
The sail boat looked very much like the Jolly Roger fun boat I once boarded for an afternoon's dancing and drinking in Barbados some 23 years ago. Actually, it was a copy.
The cruise ship docking facilities, Heritage Quay and Redcliffe Quay provide specialised shopping malls that relieve some of the tourist pressure of downtown Antigua.
St Johns is a colourful town as islanders have no inhibitions about using vivid colours.
Of course, there is also an open market that is worth visiting.
I don't think I would like to live in a house this colour.
This is a little better, but it's still too much for me.
English Harbour, about 15 kms away on the south shore of the island, also relieves some of the tourist pressure on St John's as cruise ship passengers are bussed here directly in convoys of mini vans to visit Nelson's Dockyard.
English Harbour is very popular with the sailing set. It's worth a visit just to see the luxury boats.
This first class marina has everything that could be needed to cruise the Caribbean from nuts and bolts to champagne and foie gras.
The dockyard was used by the British Navy during most of the 18th century for the maintenance and supply of its warships.
Captain Horatio Nelson served here for three years as Temporary Commander of the Leeward Islands (1784 - 1787), long before the battle of Trafalgar that made him famous (1805).
This small building near the dockyard entrance now houses a restaurant and bar given the lofty name of "Admiral's Bar".
Nelson ran the dockyards from this building that is now a museum called the Admiral's House.
This building, that used to be the officer's quarters, now houses fancy shops and boutiques.
Nelson's Dockyard is now an exclusive marina used mostly by European boats.
This building once was the pay office. Now it shelters a few more shops.
The seaman's galley has appropriately become a restaurant.
The whole dockyard area had been transformed into a stage where ghosts of the past and the crews of a few privileged sailboats entertained audiences replaced every half hour when the fleet of mini vans would bring in a new group of tourists.
A couple of days later I took the ferry for a day-trip to Montserrat and then flew on to Guadeloupe.