West Indies Antigua/Barbados Tour Diary - 2009
Wednesday 11th February
A wake up call at 4.30am from two of our guests Carl and Keith got me off to an earlier start than scheduled on the alarm clock. They had made good time down from Derby on the coach and decided to let me know about it!
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 CafÃ© 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.
Through customs, we were greeted by our other Howzat Tour leader, Ian Kerr, and a rather large rain cloud which hurried everyone into the three mini-buses. I took the last bus with the Yorkshire lads, and half-way to the hotel, our driver starts looking concerned, looking out his window pointing to the front tyre. It was apparent that the tyre was flat and we pulled into a service station half-way to the resort. I was starting to think these Yorkshire lads were trouble! We spoke to the driver, who now had most of the garage out looking at the wheel, and asked him if we had time for a beer. Within 15 minutes of being in paradise we had broken down, ended up in a Chinese restaurant, drinking warm beer. Most people would think this was a bad thing, but we all drank patiently and were soon called to get back in the bus.
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
After a quick orientation meeting with our local agent, Gayle, it was decided that most of the group would venture up to Shirley Heights and English Harbour after a bit of beach cricket to get us in the mood for the first days play tomorrow.
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
Now, I've never been a big believer in superstition, but could Friday 13th really be that bad?
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
A few of the romantics took advantage of the day of leisure and went for a stroll along the beach front and dined at the restaurants on the resort. The others took their position at the bar.
Sunday 15th February
Despite it being a Sunday, we set off early in anticipation of chaos that would greet us at the old Recreation Ground. With relative ease, our group were waved through to the gate and after a little negotiation on which wristband you wanted, we all took our seats throughout the ground. The pitch was a hive of activity as the groundsmen did their utmost to ensure the game would go ahead. It was a far cry from the Sir Vivian Richard Stadium, but it boasted a lot more character and charm. The smell of rice, chicken and ribs filled the air, the old dilapidated church silhouetted the sky line and a lot more local support made for an exciting start. The game was given the go-ahead at 11am and we all relaxed knowing we would finally being able to watch some cricket.
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
The overnight discussions about the pitch quality were still the hot topic of debate on the way to the ARG - 'Would it break up? How long would it hold out??. England continued to dominate with Collingwood making a fine 113 and England finishing on 56-9. With just 13 overs left in the day, they allowed themselves the privilege of having a bowl at the West Indians. The day finished perfectly with Gayle literally giving away is wicket with a somewhat erratic shot leaving the home side on 55-1. There were no signs of anything changing on the wicket.
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
With England looking on top with runs on the board, we were hoping for the bowlers to have a good day in the field. Unfortunately, it took almost until lunch for the wickets to start to fall. Then at regular intervals England eventually bowled Windies out for 285. Rightly or wrongly, Strauss put England back out to bat for the final seven overs of the day, which saw England finish on 31-1.
Wednesday 18th February
With a few of the tour operators and supporters already flying onto Barbados, the ground was noticeably quieter today. England started slowly with the bat and runs seemed hard to come by. England eventually moved up a gear and with 45 overs left in the day, set the Windies 500 runs to win. At the close, the local side were 143-3 and the game set up to be an all time classic.
The cricket fanatics in the group ventured down to the ARG for the last morning's play, whilst the rest of us packed for Barbados and kept an eye on the cricket around the resort. Unfortunately, play was delayed by early rain and the Windies came out and batted solidly. Our group members returned from the cricket at 2pm to get the transfer to the airport at 3pm, missing what would turn out to be a dramatic finish!
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?
The comedy seemed to continue. The Pethy family were first to check-in to the Butterfly Beach Hotel. They all piled into the lift with their luggage. We watched the lift go up to the 5th floor. We watched it come back down again. The doors open, the Pethys are still in the same position waving and laughing. The doors close and up they go to the 5th floor again.
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
The first day of the now 4th Test at the Kensington Oval saw us all up nice and early for the 8.30 departure, we were shocked, but not surprised at the amount of traffic that lined the South West corner of Barbados! After some 1h15 minutes we had arrived at the ground and once passed security we were sat in place in anticipation of the days play.
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
Today was 'Bad Taste Day' at the cricket and I was delighted that everyone entered into the spirit of things. Shirts and dresses from both islands had been purchased in anticipation for today. Good efforts all round, but specifically Jim with his rasta head band and belt (then usual attire), Ian's t-shirt with a picture of himself (what was that doing in your luggage'), the Pethys' coordinated family effort, and John's particularly nasty colour and print. Heather Hope came a close second with what could only be described as a bright yellow shower curtain in tropical print with contrasting red donkey. There was one shirt in particular that took bad taste to another level though; a cautious purchase at Antigua airport found Kevin Mansell taking first prize! His gold shimmery number, with English noble men and women repeated around the garment was indeed a one in a million (and Kevin, we know you'll be sporting it when you get back home!). It was also Darin's 40th birthday, which saw him get a pass from Sharon to spend a rather lively day in the 'party stand' eating and drinking on an all inclusive basis'..I say no more.
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
The West Indies continued to prove that there was nothing in the pitch for the bowlers as the comfortably moved onto 398-5 at the close of play. The main highlight of the day was 'Gravy' and his pal Mayfield entertaining all with music and theatrical dancing.
After all the fun from last night, for most Saturday in Barbados was an early night.
Sunday 1st March
Feeling refreshed and filled with the fine Butterfly Beach breakfast, we were soon back at the Oval. Being honest, we shouldn't have bothered as the game was heading clearly for a draw. Sarwan got to his personal best 297, which was the only real highlight! The West Indies continued batting right up to 4.40pm, when they eventually declared on 749-9 leaving England a tricky three overs before the close. England scrapped through leaving the prospect of a draw or a West Indies win, the only options for the 5th and final day.
Monday 2nd March
The final day's cricket saw the game fizzle out into the inevitable draw. Again, it was Gravy and Mayfield who kept the spectators going in the Greenwich and Haynes Stand. Many of the group had decided to take today off to explore the island a bit more.
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
The final full day of leisure saw people either going into Bridgetown to pick up some presents for friends and family back home or alternatively, lazing by the pool.
Wednesday 4th March
The Virgin 'check in and chill' service meant we could relax and enjoy one last happy hour before putting back on our worry hats and heading back home to the cold. We all sat on the seaside deck looking out at the sea and reminisced about the past three weeks.
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.