I touch down at a modern airport that began life as a dusty WWII airstrip. The sole immigration officer present carefully looks over my paperwork, but waves me through with a full toothed smile and a few words in a thick local island dialect – “ya mon – have a good time “!
It’s my introduction to Antiguan Creole – and after a third go-round I finally understand him.
British – Antigua ties
Until 1981 Antigua was a protectorate of the United Kingdom and among the final colonies to leave the shadow of an empire on which the sun never set. Sitting on top of a chain of islands stretching north to south and serving as the gateway into the New World, the British Royal Navy made it their Caribbean headquarters nearly three centuries ago.
Ties between Britain and Antigua have always been strong. Not only is English the official language and taught/spoken in schools, British influence is seen in place names, the national sport, and it’s the root for many Creole words.
I discover this in my driver George, who really should be a tour guide. While he shuttles me across an island about the size of Manhattan I dip into his encyclopedic knowledge for many things Antiguan – among them drinking good rum and left-side driving. However, these activities aren’t performed simultaneously in the mostly “drive on the right-side” cars here. That’s because the proximity to North America makes it the natural source for automobiles, plus an Antiguan tradition that nearly dictates imbibing cane-spirits in a Rum Bar.
First he explains that I’ll have no problem driving on the left because all roads have no more than two lanes. This makes oncoming traffic immediately seen with plenty of time to adjust. Still the exposure to a collision injury is quite unnerving for me in the passenger seat, to say the least. He goes on that while bars exist worldwide specializing in rum, quite possibly the most well-known “Rum Bar” is nearby.
“I tek you der”, he says melodically.
This time only two go-arounds and a few moments are needed before I achieve full comprehension.
Located in the residential outskirts of the capital city, Papa Zouk holds true to the concept of an establishment dedicated to serving all manner of rum. No gin, no ale – its a bar serving rum in all its incarnations. And even though the fish on the menu is outstanding, the owner, Bert Kirchner, doesn’t and won’t call it a restaurant.
I sit down with Bert over Ti’ Punch cocktails and talk about his latest discovery, Ron Centenario 25 Year Gran Reserva. Distilled in Costa Rica and given to him only weeks ago, Doctor Rum (a well-deserved nickname) gives it his blessing as the finest he’s tasted. His words carry much weight too – until a fire a year ago that destroyed the majority of his 200 bottle assortment of the best, his was considered the premier Rum Bar in the Leeward Islands. Friends and visitors alike contributed to build an even larger collection that has reaffirmed its spot as number 1.
At the terminal my driver intones a farewell Creole puzzler – “You gone to come back “!
By now I’ve learned the Creole well enough that I understand on the first go-round – he’s right, I’m most definitely going to come back.
When you go:
Written by: Steve Smith
Flag : Creative Commons 2.5 Generic
Driving Sign : Creative Commons 2.5 Generic
Papa Zouk photo : Bert Kirchner, all rights reserved
Carlisle Beach photo : Steve Smith, all rights reserved