West Indies Antigua/Barbados Tour Diary - 2009
Wednesday 11th February
After a strong coffee, Katherine and I loaded up the car and headed up to Gatwick. I couldn’t help having a slightly smug feeling inside knowing this was the beginning of the tour and that we would soon be heading off to warmer climes, leaving the bitter weather and troubled economy behind us.
Several of the group had travelled down the day before and booked hotels near to the airport, so I wasn’t anticipating anyone struggling to make it (unlike the group travelling the week before).
Like clockwork, the group gathered at Café Nero for a quick introduction (and another coffee) before checking in and stocking up on currency, books and those last minute essentials. It was noted one or two had slipped straight into holiday mode and made it swiftly to the bar. Impressive stuff at 6.40am!
The Virgin Atlantic flight was trouble-free, apart from Mary who almost choked on her cheese and ham bap, and Kevin who decided to wear his coffee over his smart attire. A soft landing eight hours later found us all in high spirits at V.C. Bird International Airport, Antigua. A bit of fun prevailed at the luggage collection where the ‘Yorkshire lads’ were the last men standing, as Ian Beeston was eagerly awaiting his luggage that, unbeknown to him, had already passed and been taken off the conveyor.
Everybody checked into the Jolly Beach Hotel and got issued with their all-inclusive wrist bands. The credit crunch was officially over for the next ten days!
Our welcome ‘dinner’ was organised for that evening but it had already been a long day. We sat down to eat at Boccoli’s restaurant, but our numbers seemed to catch the staff off guard. The meal was intended for our group members to get to know each other a little, and this certainly happened, meal or no meal! Fortunately, the waiter had a keen eye for when a drink needed topping up and before any food was served, conversation was flowing quite freely. Despite the late service, we all had a good laugh. A tip of the cap to Carl Sutton who was the last man standing at the bar.
Thursday 12th February
We strolled up to the area of the beach where the England vs West Indies legends had been played a couple of months earlier during the Stanford 20-20 tournament.
Outstanding performances from Kevin Mansell, the Pethys (all-rounder!), Patch and Carl…..oh and the man on the sun lounger, not involved in the game at all, who took a rather nonchalant catch at square leg.
We set off for Shirley Heights at 4pm and stopped off on the way to visit Nelson’s Dock in English Harbour to soak up some of the island’s history. It was extremely peaceful and the view of the yachts moored up in the harbour was idyllic. We found a bar with a great view and cold beer and relaxed for a while before Matthew and Patch had a thumb war (Patch – big, 40-year old prison warden from London against Matthew - small, nine-year old school boy from Devon). There’s a lesson in there somewhere, Matthew!
We then set off up the steep and winding road to the top of Shirley Heights and we couldn’t have asked for better conditions. The sky was blue and clear and there was little wind. The steel band played Bob Marley classics in the background as we all sipped our rum punch and watched the sunset behind English Harbour. A memorable experience for everyone…
We returned to the Jolly Beach and made acquaintances with the Howzat Travel Full Monty tour group. These seasoned travellers had already become accustomed to the all-inclusive life style in Jamaica and soon the ‘Three Mustget Beers’ Tony, Harry and Andrew had Heather doing the initiation to become a fourth member of their team. Heather took an early exit when things started to get messy. A wise decision in hindsight!
Friday 13th February
After breakfast, we collected our group of patriotic cricket fans and headed to the Sir Vivian Richards stadium with much optimism and excitement.
The security at the gate had already created an unnecessary queue, but we’re British, and waited patiently to shuffle through. Getting into the stadium in good time was to prove a valuable part of today’s experience! We settled into our seats and the atmosphere was less than impressive. The electronic scoreboard had crashed and the seats felt very distant from the pitch. It was clear to see that the ground had been neglected and the outfield looked, in parts, like a badly kept allotment. We witnessed only 14 minutes and 1.4 overs of play, which made this second Test the shortest in history! Much confusion followed about where the game would be played, but we got our group back to the resort in quick time for some much needed refreshments. It emerged the new 3rd Test match would be held at the home of Antiguan cricket - the Antigua Recreation Ground.
Saturday 14th February
Sunday 15th February
The West Indies won the toss and put England in to bat, probably hoping for a repeat of Jamaica. Strauss and Cook settled in quickly and put on a superb days batting with the bowlers getting little to nothing out of the wicket all day. The score was 301-3 with Strauss making 169. Friday the 13th was well behind us and everyone went back to the resort very satisfied with the relocation.
Monday 16th February
We went back to the hotel in high spirits where, you guessed it, back to the bar for yet another night of all-inclusive antics.
Tuesday 17th February
Wednesday 18th February
Our flight from Antigua to Barbados took just short of an hour. We were joined by Geoffrey Boycott on the plane, who decided to adjust his hand luggage despite the cabin crew delivering the life saving safety information. Tut tut Geoffrey! Then the pilot announced, to everyone’s frustration, that England had ran out of time with just one wicket needed when bad light was called by the umpires and Windies left the pitch to end the game in a draw.Again we had a good flight, but we were all quite tired when we arrived in Barbados at 7pm. This may have been the reason why John and Kevin, unknowingly, went straight into the ladies washroom to freshen up?
Shortly after this incident, we heard there were a couple trapped on the balcony. Yes, it was our very own June and Alan. Obviously in too much of a rush to ‘check out the view’.
The Butterfly Beach put on a decent breakfast each morning, served on the seaside deck that could cure any hangover. It was a great way to start the day!
The group had a week to take in Barbados before the 4th test began. Several people took up the fishing trip, the island tour and the catamaran trip along the west coast.
Part of the group went to watch the England warm up game on Sunday and Monday against the local up-and-coming stars, and by all accounts the group enjoyed the cheap drink, lovely weather and being close up to the players.
The fishing trip with Jim, Keith D, Katherine, Patch, Carl and I saw an impressive haul of 11 decent-size fish. At one point, all five rods went making it a rather frantic but terribly amusing break in the rough seas. It quickly became apparent that the rocking boat, the smell of the diesel and freshly caught fish were too much for most of us, so with a decent catch on board we called it a day. Two Barracuda, five Wahoo and four Dolphin fish made up the day’s tally. We were quick to gloat to Ian Kerr as the Full Monty group had blanked the day before on the same trip.
Kevin, Raymond and Mary took the round the island tour excursion, witnessing the diversity of the island and the varied coast line.
Those who went on the catamaran trip enjoyed swimming with turtles off the west coast of the island and snorkelling over ship wrecks in Carlisle Bay.
Poor Keith Winter had to cancel his two excursions to visit the dentist to have a couple of teeth removed. I was pleased to see it hadn’t dampened his spirits and he was counting the days down before his antibiotics got exchanged for rum punch again!
Charlie’s Bar and the local Chinese restaurant proved to be a big hit with our group. The portions were frighteningly big so the ‘doggy bag’ provision meant some of our guests were eating Chinese for days. The local bar on the corner opposite Charlie’s blasted out reggae music and served beer and rum until the early hours for those who wished to sample the local way of drinking.
Thursday 26th February
England won the toss and elected to bat. The pitch looked flat offering nothing for the bowlers and it showed. England cruised to 301-3 with Strauss making another test hundred with a fine 142.
Friday 27th February
England continued to capitalise with the bat. With an hour remaining and England reaching 600 runs in a 153 overs, England declared and let the West Indies try and bat out the remainder of the day. Anderson took a wicket off Gayle and we were all hoping for more as the Barmy Army got louder and louder, but it wasn’t to be. The West Indies finished the day on 85-1 some 515 behind.
After the game, we met up with the other Howzat Travel groups at Oistins Fish Fry for another great night of good food, rum and dancing.
Saturday 28th February
After all the fun from last night, for most Saturday in Barbados was an early night.
Sunday 1st March
Monday 2nd March
In the evening, the group headed out in different directions, but for most, a stop off at St Lawrence Gap was on the agenda to catch up with friends old and new and take in the wide variety of restaurants on offer.
Tuesday 3rd March
Wednesday 4th March
The flight home to the UK was tiring with four hours of continuous turbulence taking hold of the plane almost immediately. We arrived at very cold Gatwick on time to see snow falling as we had left it three weeks previous.
We all had a most enjoyable trip with a group that gelled together and never failed to entertain. I’m sure we’ll be talking about some of the goings on for many years to come.
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