Barbuda: the place where God goes on vacation
25 nautical miles north of Antigua lies, hidden below the horizon, the flat low island of Barbuda. Surrounded by coral reefs, the final resting place of many boats, the island was once considered the greatest peril to navigation in the Indes, its invisible sharp coral jaws ready to snatch another careless vessel. Even today Barbuda is not a popular cruising destination not only because of the reefs, but also because the island does not offer many weather-protected bays, and its location is off the main route most cruisers follow around these waters. All that makes it even more attractive to us, always in search of quiet unspoiled places, always lured by the off-the-beaten-path destinations.
We sail north, the wind coming from east, blowing with 16-20 knots, just beautiful. Only after four hours of sailing with about 7 to 8 knots on a beam reach we approach Barbuda. Usually in the Caribbean when we sail from one island to another, we can see our destination from many miles away, but Barbuda remains hidden and mysterious, right until we are just 5-6 miles from its shores, and even closer to it reefs. We sneak between the shallows and the breakers on the southwest side and drop anchor in crystal blue waters like the waters in the Bahamas in front of the longest most beautiful beach.
There are no people and no buildings for miles and miles, only one small hotel, yellow with red roof. Lighthouse Bay is a luxurious all-inclusive boutique resort with 1,000 dollar suits where extremely rich guests arrive by helicopter, but at this time of the year there are no guests, not even staff. We are alone.
The beach on the west coast of the island, 12 miles of pink fine sand, has no footsteps, only sea turtle tracks. This time of the year, this time of the month, sea turtles are laying eggs.
The first night we encounter a hawksbill turtle looking for a spot to lay her eggs. At first we see a black shadow in the water slowly approaching land. As she reaches the shore, the turtle lifts her head above the water and looks around before emerging, her wet dark shell shining in the silver moonlight. We freeze, squat, and watch in awe from a distance as the big creature makes its way up, painfully crawling in the sand. Up on the sandbank near a bush she stops for a while. Did she see us? Did we spook her? Or she simply didn’t like the spot and started heading back to sea? I can’t resist and snap a picture before she enters the water and disappears in the ocean even though I know it is not a good idea to flash the poor creatures in the dark. Forgive me mama-turtle. Hope you found the perfect spot to lay your eggs. May all your hundred babies hatch healthy, reach the sea safely and live to be a thousand-years-old.
The next day we jump in the kayak, all three of us, and start paddling in the shallows parallel to the shore for about a mile and a half to the north end of the beach.
The sea on this side of the island is completely still, like a lake, there are no swells, and the waves that reach the shore are tiny and gentle.
The sand is white and powdery peppered with pink miniature sea shells giving it its unusual pink hues specific and unique to this place.
We reach a spot where there is a strange art installation on the beach, a piece of driftwood adorned with all sorts of plastic garbage the sea has spewed ashore. It is the marker indicating a cut across to the mangrove maze.
The long 12-mile pink-sand narrow strip of a beach on the west lee side of Barbuda is separated from the island’s mainland by a shallow swampy area, Codrington Lagoon, where the water is dark-colored due to the mangroves and with higher salinity. The only way to access our pink beach from the main island is by small boat, and it is not a short ride. That is why there is no one here most of the time.
The remote mangroves on the northwest side of Barbuda where humans rarely venture provide habitat for the largest Magnificent Frigatebird breeding colony in the Caribbean, one of the biggest frigate bird sanctuaries in the world. With about 1700 nests, the site has been declared a national park.
The Magnificent Frigatebird also known as man o’war or man of war is long-winged, fork-tailed black bird of the tropical oceans. An agile silent flier he snatches fish off the surface of the ocean and pirates food from other birds.
Frigatebirds never land on water, and always take their food in flight. It spends days and nights on the wing, with an average ground speed of 10 km/h (6.2 mph), covering up to 223 km (139 mi) before landing. They alternately climb in thermals, to altitudes occasionally as high as 2,500 m (8,200 ft), and descend to near the sea surface.
To visit the frigatebird sanctuary you can hire a local guide with a small motor boat which costs 40 $US per person. Or, you can take your kayak along the beach, all the way to the north corner until you reach the driftwood decorated with ocean garbage, drag it across to the mangrove lagoon and paddle inside the bird sanctuary, exploring noiselessly its many small channels, inaccessible even to the guide with the motor boat because they are too shallow. This will save you some cash and you will be able to go much closer to the nesting grounds without disturbing the birds, and spend as much time in the colony as you wish for free, like we did.
We spent over an hour in the mangrove maze, surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of frigates nesting in the bush, hovering above us like dark kites, looking us suspiciously, telling us something important but alas incomprehensive to us. I wonder if they remember us. We surely remember them with so much affection.
By early afternoon we are back on the boat. After splashing in the warm crystal blue waters, a math lesson, and some rest, we decide to make a fire on the beach around sunset and celebrate the full moon tonight.
We love beach fires and fires in general, we think they are fascinating and have their own short lives, and it is always a great excitement building them, lighting them and watching them burn.
As we are eating fire-roasted potatoes and hamburgers, and sipping white wine, the full moon watching over us, turtles crawling out of the sea in the darkness down the beach, dark birds sleeping in the branches of the mangroves behind us, we are thinking how nice, how magical these two days, and nights, in Barbuda were. Days, and nights, like these we don’t want to end.Share