Sunrise Over Jolly Harbor, December 28

IMG_2633The dawn breaks hard down here in Antigua, at about 6:30 a.m., Atlantic time.  This morning was the first time I was up early enough to see it.

Incidentally, having now been down here for a few days, I finally realize that that locals speak of An-tee-gah, rather than An-tig-wa, which was how I was pronouncing it.

The Scavenger Birds Of Cocobay

IMG_2342The yellow-bellied birds of Cocobay are hungry . . . always hungry.

When people leave their tables after a meal, a scout bird quickly flits down for a look.  If the plate looks promising — not a typical scenario, because the food here is excellent and clean plates are the rule — the word goes out on the bird grapevine.

IMG_2346Suddenly another bird appears, then another, then another.  Before you know it, there’s a storm of bright yellow birds nibbling at every plate, crumb, and ice cream bowl on the abandoned table, with wings beating furiously as they fly back and forth after retrieving a scrap and scarfing it down.  They eat as much as they can before a server comes over to clear the table and shoo them away.

With the sudden appearance of dozens of previously undetected birds, their rapid, decisive movements, and their creepy narrowing bird eyes as they turn their gaze at your inviting table, it’s a scene that might make someone like Alfred Hitchcock get an idea about making a movie about aggressive, flocking birds that have a newfound taste for a different kind of food item.

Our Front Porch Friend

IMG_2291Although Penny and Kasey aren’t with us on our trip to Antigua, we aren’t lacking in creature companions.  I’ve been bitten in about a zillion places by no-see-‘um bugs, pelicans fly by with regularity, and this little guy scampers past on the chairs and railings of our front porch.  With his bright eyes, alert posture, and quick movements, in fact, he reminds me of Kasey — without the morning barking.

Our Plunge Pool

IMG_2279We’re staying in a small cottage here in Antigua, with one large bedroom, a bathroom, and a big front porch with a hammock and a “plunge pool.”

What’s a plunge pool, you ask?  As far as I’m concerned, it’s a very positive development in the home design area.  You walk out your front door into the Caribbean sunshine and plop into your own tiny pool, where the water is cool and you enjoy a view that looks out over the turquoise water in the bay below.  This morning Kish and I lounged in the pool drinking our coffee, and worked up our appetites for breakfast.

Ice Tray Twist

When I stay in a waterfront vacation rental, I often feel as if I’ve stepped back a decade or two in time.  The appliances, for example, typically have been around for a while, and may not feature all of the most modern amenities.

Consider the refrigerator.  If you open the freezer, you aren’t likely to find an automatic ice-maker.  Instead, you’ll probably see a plastic ice-cube tray.  You’ll need to reacquaint yourself with the lost art of filling the ice tray with water — using the preferred “tilted tray downhill waterfall” method, of course — and develop the reflexes to give the tray just the right degree of twist to free the ice, without applying too much torque and causing the cubes to spring uncontrolled from the tray like escaped convicts and fall to the floor.

If you’re really lucky, the refrigerator will have a metal tray with a handle that needs to be pulled up to break the ice.  That was my favorite as a kid — with the metal fittings frost-covered and burning cold to the touch as you gripped the handle, and the loud cracking sound as the handle was lifted with a yank and the ice splintered into shards.

Appliances that remind you of your childhood, when your grandmother referred to “the icebox” and ice cubes were hand-made, make vacations a little sweeter.

VRBO Changes The World

Lately we have started to use a website called VRBO whenever we are thinking of taking a vacation and want to check out the rental properties at our destination.  If you are planning a holiday, or just want to do some dreaming, take a look at the VRBO website, click on a location or two, and see what your vacation dollar could obtain.

VRBO (short for Vacation Rentals By Owner) is one of those internet ideas — like eBay or Facebook — that is changing the world.  It is a mechanism for vacation rental property owners to list their properties and for soon-to-be travellers to find rental options.  The internet, through the VRBO website, serves as their giant meeting place.  VRBO is ridiculously easy to use:  click on the maps to indicate where you want to go, click on the listings for the properties at your destination, look at the pictures, and read the comments from prior renters.  And then, if it looks good, contact the owner and reach an agreement on date and price.  No need to rely on word of mouth.  No need to look through ads in the local newspaper.  No need to try to find a realtor who can tell you about rental properties.

VRBO puts lots of information at your fingertips and then gets out of the way to allow you to make your own judgments.  It is that access to information, and then the direct access to the property owner, that is the game-changer.  If, like us, there are times when you would like to stay in a non-touristy area so that you get a better sense of what the local culture is like, VRBO allows you to do it.  If you want to see whether renting is cheaper than a hotel room, VRBO allows you to do it.

It’s become part of our standard vacation planning routine.