Antigua and Barbuda – Mount Obama

Mount Obama – 1374ft

Eric and Matthew Gilbertson

Date: March 26, 2012 (Eric), March 29, 2012 (Matthew)

Eric’s Ascent – March 26, 2012

On the summit

On the summit

I’m here to report that anyone who *thinks* they’ve completed a full presidential traverse is most likely missing out on one critical mountain – Mount Obama. Nope, you won’t find this one on any white mountains maps – it’s actually way down in the tiny Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda, and is indeed named after President Barak Obama.

I set out on March 26 to complete the final mountain of my first official presidential traverse. Matthew and I had completed four Caribbean country highpoints in the last four days, but had to part ways for this one so I could get back to Boston a little earlier. He would come back to tag Mt Obama several days later.

Mount Obama presents probably the biggest logistical difficulty of all the Eastern Caribbean highpoints, not because of any technical difficulty but because of a certain barbed-wire fence surrounding the summit. The official summit is owned by a cell-phone company, which you must contact to get permission to pass by the fence. But the difficulty is getting that permission.

Matthew and I had spent countless hours online researching trip reports from Mt Obama and emailing people to see how they got access to the top, but with no luck. (There were only a few people we found that had actually made it inside the fenced area). Finally, I’d had a breakthrough after contacting a tourism officer in the newly established Mt Obama National Park. She said she could arrange for the summit to be opened for us at a specific time, but we would need a guide, at a price of 100USD.

“I’d rather just sneak over the fence at night then pay for a guide,” Matthew told me. I agreed and continued negotiating with the tourism lady. Finally, the very day I was planning to fly out of Boston (and be completely away from email), she agreed to have the summit gate opened for us at noon March 26 (for me) and noon March 30 (for Matthew), and we would not be required to have a guide. I quickly accepted, and hoped she would relay the message to the security people as promised. It was unclear how long the gate would be open, so I absolutely had to get there by noon to be sure.

I left Barbados on the 8:20am flight Monday morning, expecting to land in Antigua at 9:45am and to have just enough time to summit by noon. However, flights aren’t always operated as by-the-book in the Caribbean as back in the US. LIAT airlines decided to add a 30-minute stop in St. Lucia to the middle of my supposedly direct flight to Antigua. I guess they had to pick up a few more passengers, though there was nothing I could do about it.

I landed in Antigua at 10:15am and this time I had learned my lesson on the most efficient way to clear customs: even if you’re planning to camp out (like I was), you should always make up a legitimate address for the hotel you’re supposedly staying at on the immigration form. They’ll never actually check that you have a reservation, and this prevents any unnecessary questions from the immigration officer.

I picked a legitimate hotel in Antigua (Eva Way in Seatons), which I had no intention of staying at, and wrote that on the immigration form. This time voila! Instead of the extra half-hour of hassle Matthew and I had gotten at the St Vincent customs for not producing a hotel address, this time I was whisked through with no questions!

I immediately found the rental agency and picked up a 4-door sedan. I was almost relieved to see Antiguans drove on the left side of the road – at this point I was almost more comfortable driving on the left than on the right.

I was 11am by the time I hit the road, and the chances were slim that I would make it to the summit by noon. Driving was definitely more difficult without Matthew navigating, but I managed to follow signs to St John’s, and then more signs to Bolans, which I knew was in the right direction. My trailhead was in Christian Valley, and when I saw a “Christian Valley Agriculture Center” sign just outside of Bolans I immediately pulled off. The road was dirt, but it headed in the right direction so I took it.

I had to swerve around a few enormous water-filled potholes and drive over a few rough rocky sections, but by 11:45am I reached a gate with a sign reading “Mt Obama National Park.” This was the right spot! And I hadn’t even made a single wrong turn!

I quickly hopped out of the car, stuffed some food and water in my pack, and took off. I passed through the gate and saw a huge rock with a “Mt Obama” plaque mounted on it. I’d seen pictures of this rock online, so knew I was definitely on the right route.

The trail cut into the woods behind this sign, starting out as an old dirt road but gradually thinning into a narrow trail. The trail looked like it had been created pretty recently, and I suspect it was cut when the national park was made back in 2010. This forest was much dryer than those of the other Caribbean islands I’d hiked on, and definitely didn’t feel like a jungle. I could have been out for a hike in the hills near my house in Kentucky for all I knew.

The trail followed a dry stream bed, and then started switchbacking up more steeply. Noon had come and gone, and my GPS said I was still 0.25 miles line-of-sight from the summit. I figured everyone is so relaxed in the Caribbean, these security guards will probably be late anyways, right?

antigua2By 12:20pm I popped out on the access road to the top and knew I was safe: if the security guard started driving down I could just stop him. At 12:30pm I rounded the final turn in the road and saw the infamous fence with the “No Unauthorized Access” sign, and the gate was open! All the logistical planning had paid off after all! (For future reference, though, I did notice a large tree growing right next to the fence to the left of the gate that would provide very easy access over the barbed wire if one happened to find oneself locked out).

There was a large building with a blue jeep parked outside, and I assumed the security guard was inside the building (I never saw anyone though). I made my way up to a rock outcrop at the official summit and propped my camera up for a picture. Unfortunately my last battery had started reading low back in St Vincent, and I decided to not take any more pictures until this summit just to be sure. Luckily the summit photo worked, as well as one juggling picture and one other scenery shot, but then the battery died.

I put my GPS on the summit for 15 minutes to try to get an accurate elevation, and came back with about 1370ft. This was important, because Google Earth had indicated that an unnamed local maximum a mile south on the ridge was actually significantly taller than Mt Obama. With such uncertainty in the highest point in Antigua and Barbuda there was only one solution: climb both mountains.

antigua3With this GPS measurement saved I packed up my bag and started heading toward the other peak. Matthew had marked the exact location of the summit on the GPS in case a trail didn’t actually lead there. (This was our old GPS that didn’t have any overlayed satellite images or topo maps on it, so just showed my location coordinates on a blank background).

I followed the road back down to my previous trail, and then followed another trail south towards the other summit. The trail didn’t actually reach the summit, so I bushwacked up the ridge until I hit the waypoint marker. My GPS read only 1334ft here, and I couldn’t find any higher reading even after bushwacking a few hundred feet in either direction along the ridge. This was perplexing, because google maps is usually trustworthy but had definitely indicated this ridge was taller. Could it have been an issue with the GPS? I would have to wait until Matthew hiked here a few days later to confirm the elevations with our newer GPS model, but I was certain of one thing: I’d at least been to the highest point in Antigua and Barbuda, no matter which of the two points was actually taller.

Satisfied with my success I hiked back down, reaching the car by 2:30pm. I still had plenty of time to burn before my flight out the next morning, so decided to drive around till dark and then find a place in the woods to sleep.

I drove west through Bolans, hit the coast, drove through Falmouth and English Bay, and kept driving along the loop road not caring if I made any wrong turns, just trying to see the country. I stopped at one cool spot called “Devil’s Bridge”, with a natural rock bridge over the ocean. I eventually made it back to St John’s, and completed an entire circumnavigation of the island by 6pm. I knew the Christian Valley trailhead was in the woods, so I headed back there to sleep just as the sun was setting.

This time, however, I noticed a security guard in the little building near the gate where I had parked. This presented a dilemma – I wanted to just sleep in my car (I didn’t have a bug net so couldn’t really sleep outside), but I was worried I’d get in trouble with the security guard for trespassing. I figured I had two options: either sleep in the car and hope he didn’t even notice I was still in it, or go and ask him for permission. If I just slept in the car without talking to him, I’d probably be worrying all night that someone would come knocking on the door and kick me out. But if I talked to him, there was a good chance he’d tell me I couldn’t sleep there.

I debated back and forth for about half an hour, but finally decided to go talk to him. Caribbean people I’d met so far were all pretty easy-going, so maybe he’d be too? I went over and knocked on the door.

“Hi, is it okay if I just sleep in the car over there tonight? I have a real early flight tomorrow so probably won’t be here very long.” I asked as politely as I could.

“Oh yeah, no problem mon,” he replied in a thick Jamaican-sounding accent. “There’s another shift coming in at 10pm, but I’ll tell them you’re cool mon. Where are you from?”

“Thanks! I’m from the United States, and just came down here to climb Mt Obama today,” I started.

We talked for a while and he was a pretty friendly guy. He said he’d lived in New York for a few years, but had to come back to Antigua where the weather was warm and sunny all year round.

I went back to the car relieved that I’d made the right decision. It’s actually not that comfortable sleeping in a small car where you can’t really extend your legs, but I managed to get a few hours of sleep. I made it back to the airport with no problem and successfully caught my flight back to the states.

Five days, five countries, and five country highpoints made for a successful and action-packed break.

Email me if you want my GPS track or the contact information for the Mt Obama National Park tourism person who can get you access to the fenced-in summit. Matthew later confirmed with the more-accurate GPS that Mt Obama is 1374ft tall, and the other unnamed point is only 1355ft tall.

Antigua and Barbuda – Mt Obama (419m) [Matthew]

Mount Obama – Highest Point in Antigua and Barbuda
Amanda Morris, Amanda’s Mom, Matthew Gilbertson

Author: Matthew

Our adventures page

antigua4“I just wanted to let you know that we’re cool with you guys being up here, but normally that gate isn’t open,” a worker for Antigua’s Cable & Wireless told us. “There’s all kinds of antennas up here: for airlines, for the government, for the cell phone network and so usually that gate is locked. That’s why there’s a big fence around everything.” He pointed down at the reinforced 10ft-tall barbed-wire fence and sturdy steel gate through which we had just entered.

“Yes, thanks so much for coming up here just to open the gate for us, sorry we’re a little late,” we replied. Me, Amanda and her mom breathed a huge sigh of relief. At last we were standing here on the summit of Mt Obama, the highest point in the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda. Compared with the other two other country high points we had climbed earlier that week, Dominica’s Morne Diablotins and Barbados’ Mt Hillaby, Mt Obama had been the biggest question mark. We’d read on SummitPost that since the summit area is fenced off, that in order to stand on the actual summit of Mt Obama you have to be “very lucky in that you need somebody from the crew working for the company Cable & Wireless” to open the gate for you.

Well luck had been with us because Eric had somehow managed to make contact with a Ms. Vashti Ramsey from the newly-created Mt Obama National Park which apparently manages the summit; said she’d have the gates open for us at whatever times we wanted. Things would be a little complicated because Eric was going to be in Antigua on a Tuesday while me, Amanda, and her mom would arrive on a Friday, so we were hopeful she could accommodate two days. “How about noon on both days?” we asked. “Hi the security will be there at both times and will open the gates for you,” she replied. Perfect! we thought.

But our confidence in Caribbean managerial processes had been eroded that week when LIAT Airlines lost my backpack in Grenada and offered almost zero help in trying to locate it. It appeared unlikely that I’d ever see my backpack again or even receive any compensation for it. So even though Ms. Ramsey had given us her word that the gate would be open, we didn’t have much confidence that our request would make it far enough down the chain of command to someone who actually had the keys to the gate. But lo and behold the gate was open. Thank you Mrs. Ramsey.

“What do you mean you mean you’re late? We didn’t open that gate for you,” the worker replied. “We came up here to do some work today. You guys are lucky that we were up here and the gate was open.”
“Wait,” I answered, “I emailed Vashti Ramsey and she said she’d have the gate open for us at noon today.” I looked down at my watch and it was 12:15pm. Me, Amanda, and her mom were still out of breath from hustling to try to get up here in time.
“Now I don’t know this Ms. Ramsey you’re speaking of,” he answered, “but we had some maintenance we needed to do up here today. But like I said, it’s no problem that you’re up here, mon.”
“Ok, thanks!” I answered.

Had we really been that incredibly lucky that they happened to be working up here at the exact time that we had planned to arrive? Had it really been a total coincidence? As we stood there admiring the commanding view of the entire island we tried to piece together what had happened…


Earlier that morning, Seatons Village:

We left the Ellen Bay Inn Hostel around 8am so we could be on the summit by noon. It’s not often that you have to make an appointment to climb a mountain, but we figured that if that’s the extent of the red tape then we could certainly handle it. At least they didn’t close the mountain altogether.

Two weeks earlier, Eric had stumbled across the Mount Obama National Park website, which provided a form to contact park administrators. We figured we’d first try to see if we could arrange a visit to the top “officially,” and if that didn’t work we’d find an “unofficial” way to get to the summit. On the website Eric made contact with Ms. Ramsey, a tourism officer. At first she offered a spot in a guided group at a price of $100pp but after a little pushback she said it’d be OK for us to hike up the 2-mile access road to the summit ourselves and the gate would be open for us at noon.

Three days earlier Eric had successfully summitted Mt Obama on his way back to the States to visit an oil rig in the Gulf and had reported that the gate was opened as promised and he had encountered no difficulties (read his trip report here). He had taken a scenic hiking trail to the summit from the north, but after a tough jungle hike earlier that week on Dominica, me, Amanda, and her mom decided we’d stick to hiking up the summit access road instead because we knew it’d be free of jungle roots, wet rock scrambling, and swamps.

With Amanda at the wheel we first stopped by Shirley Heights for a nice view of the western half of the island, then headed to Falmouth Harbour to check out the huge yachts and sailboats. We watched as a couple of young dudes, who had just returned from a deep-sea fishing trip, butchered up about a dozen three-foot wahoos right there on the dock. They sold their fillets within minutes.

We continued west towards Mt Obama and turned onto an unsigned little gravel road that led to the summit. Luckily I had marked it on the GPS because it was pretty inconspicuous. I suppose we could have driven up higher, but rather than risk offending any Cable & Wireless officials, and in order to make it an actual hike, Amanda parked the car in the bushes underneath some banana trees where nobody could see it.

11am, the “trailhead”:

We started hiking up the road and noticed we were in the middle of a big fruit plantation. There were mangoes, bananas, and oranges all over the place but unfortunately they needed a few more weeks to ripen. I noticed a worker picking weeds and with a strong Caribbean accent she asked “you headed to Boggy Peak?”

“Yes,” we replied. Within the last few years the mountain’s name had been changed from Boggy Peak to Mt Obama, but we figured that not everyone had gotten the message yet. “Straight up that road, then turn left,” she said. We were glad to see that we were on the right track and that we weren’t the first ones to climb the mountain. Maybe that meant the gate would actually be open for us?

The road steepened and grew rougher and we knew we had made the right decision to proceed on foot. Pretty soon we passed a sign that said “PRIVATE ROAD NO ADMITTANCE TO UNAUTHORIZED PERSONS.” “Well then it’s a good thing that we’re authorized,” I said. We kept walking.

A little higher up we heard some vehicles struggling up the steep incline below us. Soon a white van carrying six people and marked with some official-looking logo zipped by, followed by a white truck. “All right, they must be the ones who are opening the gate for us,” we thought. At that point we were running a little late so we decided that I’d run ahead to the top to make sure they kept the gate open.

12:11pm, the summit:

I ran as fast as I could and struggled to keep my crocs from slipping off my feet. At 12:11pm I rounded the final corner and saw the open gate! They were waiting for us. I hustled into the summit compound, up the steps, and passed by a real official-looking dude with some worker-looking people behind him. I said hello and he nodded. With just that simple nod I relaxed because that meant it was OK for us to be here. A few steps later I was on the summit of Mt Obama, followed moments later by Amanda and her mom.

We saw two not-so-official looking worker dudes walking around at the summit and went over to talk to them. One was wearing a Yankees cap, the other wore a more traditional Caribbean hat. After a few minutes of discussion we came to the conclusion that we had just been incredibly lucky to hike to the summit at the moment they had to perform some routine maintenance, which required the opening of the gate.

From the top we could see almost the entire island of Antigua from Caribbean to Atlantic. (By the way, the preferred pronunciation is “an-TEE-ga and bar-BYU-da,” rather than “an-TEE-gwa and bar-BOO-da”). We posed for the traditional summit photos of 1) the three of us, 2) me holding Amanda, and 3) a panorama, and picked up a tiny rock.

After a little more tomfoolery the two not-so-official looking dudes came over to us and the Yankees fan said, as gently as possible, “Um, so we’re done with what we needed to do up here, so if you’re ready to go, we’d like to ask you to um, leave.”

“Ok, sure, that’s fine, we’ll head out now,” we said. At that point I noticed that they were the only two workers still up here. The official-looking dude and five others had already left in their van and it looked like these two guys had been stuck babysitting us. We thanked them for their patience and willingness to let us do so much fooling around.

On the way out the other guy showed me a guava bush near the summit but unfortunately the fruit wasn’t ripe yet. As they loaded up in their truck we asked him why it’s called “Mt Obama.” He turned around cleared his throat. This was the moment he had been waiting for. “To understand why,” he answered, “you’ll first need to understand the Antiguan culture.” And then he launched into a discussion about cultural responsibility and Antiguan politics and a few other topics that I can’t remember. I was just happy to have climbed the mountain and didn’t have the mental capacity to engage in a philosophical discussion so I just kept nodding my head. Fortunately Amanda and her mom understood what he was talking about so they politely let him keep going.

When his discourse was over, we thanked them both profusely and started walking back down the road. They locked up the gate and gave us a big wave as they sped by.

“I think I’ve figured it out!” I said. “So remember how there were two vehicles that drove by while we were hiking up? Well, I bet the official-looking dude in the first vehicle was the only one who knew Ms. Ramsey. She told him that we’d be here at noon today. Now that guy must be pretty nice, but he can’t justify devoting an entire trip up here just to let in some tourists. So he invented the story that some maintenance needed to be performed up here at noon today. Now he couldn’t perform all that maintenance alone, so he brought his buddies with him. All eight of them. As soon as he saw us enter and gave me the nod, he knew that his work was finished and he could leave. He knew the other two guys would babysit us. So he was probably the one who knew we were going to climb the mountain today. What do you guys think?”

“It’s possible,” Amanda said, “that’s really nice of them to take time out of there day to open it up just for us. That worked out really well.”

On the way down we had one last little piece of business to attend to. Based on Google Earth elevation research it appeared that a nearby summit was actually 60ft taller than Mt Obama, as measured by hovering your cursor over the map and looking at the elevation. Could it really be that Mt Obama wasn’t actually the tallest mountain in Antigua? We had to find out.

On the other possible highpoint

On the other possible highpoint

Three days earlier, Eric had discovered with his GPS that the potential higher summit was in fact 35ft lower than Mt Obama. But just to be absolutely sure, we wanted to confirm that with our newer, more-accurate GPS. Eric said there was a nice trail and only some light bushwhacking so we decided to go for it. In about fifteen minutes we were thrashing through the grass on the summit-in-question and came to the conclusion that with an elevation of 1355ft, it was actually 19ft lower then Mt Obama’s 1374ft. Nineteen feet isn’t very much though.

Satisfied that at some point that day we had stood on Antigua’s highest point, we turned around and continued walking down the access road. On the way down we snuck a couple of oranges. We hopped back in the car and headed towards one of the more conventional tourist destinations in the country: the beach. Unfortunately most of the Atlantic-side Caribbean island beaches are closed to swimming due to strong rip currents so there aren’t many beaches with bodysurf-able waves. But it was still refreshing to jump in the warm Caribbean water.


Back at the hotel later on that night we had exquisite, authentic Antiguan lobster celebration feast; it was “authentic” because the hotel’s owner had actually caught the lobsters himself while snorkeling! We woke up the next morning, the last day of our successful and exciting Caribbean vacation, but I couldn’t push out of my mind a nagging feeling of regret. True, we had accomplished all of our goals on this trip: three country high points (six for me), swimming in the Caribbean, adventure, hiking, sleeping in a treehouse, and had even snuck in a little relaxation time. But I wasn’t completely satisfied, there was just one little thing missing, one thing that prevented me from feeling 100% fulfilled: a visit to the pirate ship.

When we had first pulled into Seatons Village the first evening we were met with a spectacular view of Ellen Bay. There were a few islands, covered in mangrove trees, and some picturesque palm trees on the beach but the thing that caught my eye most was the gigantic “pirate” ship that sat rusting away a few hundred yards offshore. Well, OK, it wasn’t exactly a pirate ship, but it’s in the Caribbean, so I’m going to call it a pirate ship – a ghost pirate ship, if you will. It looked like a giant fishing vessel that had been abandoned five years ago. The paint was peeling off and it was covered in rust. It wasn’t clear if it was resting on the bottom or still floating, but it was one massive ship. After a close look at the photos it looks like the ship was 180-200ft long. At that moment I decided that I needed to stand on that ship.

Here we were, on the last day of our vacation, and needed to drive back to the airport in a few hours. Time was running out. But as if he had read my mind, David (the owner of the hotel) said he’d take us down to the beach and we could paddle around in the kayaks. Perfect! I asked him about the pirate ship and he said it was still seaworthy, sitting in about 60ft of water and that the owner had abandoned it a few years ago but didn’t want it back.

antigua6“Would it be OK if I climbed on it?” I asked hopefully.
“Nobody will mind,” David answered, “but I don’t know why you’d want to do that.”

He brought us down to the water, showed us the boats, and bid us farewell. He had business to attend to. The three of us paddled around a little to get acquainted with the kayaks then of course we made a beeline towards the ship. It was a little creepy approaching such a large, abandoned boat, but there was nobody to tell us no. We headed for the little rickety wooden ladder hanging off the side and I tied my kayak to the bottom rung. As I climbed up the ladder I felt like a Somali pirate commandeering an innocent ship. Meanwhile Amanda and her mom paddled around, guarding the area.

I climbed over the top rung and was on board. It was truly a massive ship. I peeked down into the cargo holds which were probably 20ft deep but didn’t see any fish. As I stood on the ship I could see it rocking ever so slightly and noticed a long thick rope fastened to some mangrove trees on a nearby island. It was time for some exploration.

antigua7Obviously, my first mission was to check out the steering wheel. Did it actually look like one on a pirate ship? Indeed it did. There was even the cool little lever you could push forward to change the throttle. I tried pushing it from OFF to FULL SPEED but unfortunately the ship didn’t budge. I nosed around in the map room and found some interesting nautical charts of Central America, along with some instructions about how to pass through the Panama Canal. There was a huge spherical liquid-filled compass like the one on the Titanic. I peeked into the crews’ and captain’s quarters and was relieved not to find any skeletons.

Everything inside the ship was thrown around in complete disarray, as if the ship had been abandoned in a big hurry. But more likely, it had probably been looted over the years and there wasn’t anything valuable left inside, including the treasure chests. I climbed up a few flights of stairs to the top of the ship and relayed my findings to Amanda and her mom. Amanda said she was on her way up.

Soon there were two pirates on the ship. We were real pirates of the Caribbean. I gave her a tour of the bunk rooms, mess hall, kitchen, map room, command deck, and cargo holds. We peeked down into the engine room, but without headlamps it wasn’t too enticing to descend any deeper into the bowels of the ship. It could be where they kept the prisoners.

Content at last, we decided it was time to abandon ship and head back to America. We walked over to the dilapidated ladder that hung over the side. “Do you want to go first or do you want me to go first?” I asked Amanda.

“You can go first, so I can see where you step,” she answered. I climbed back over the side of the ship and slowly transferred my weight onto the top rung. It looked like this ladder had been there since the ship was abandoned. Years of sun and the elements had caused some of the wood to rot away and the ropes were becoming frayed. It didn’t look like would last much longer. But since I was able to climb up it, surely it’d hold up while I climbed down it, right?

I carefully lowered myself to the bottom rung and my feet brushed the water. I pulled my kayak over and gingerly eased myself into the seat. But as I picked my foot off the final rung I heard an unmistakable, agonizing pop. The three of us froze. I was safely in my kayak but I looked behind me in time to see left half of the ladder detach from the ship and drop into the water. “Uh-oh,” I said.

The three of us stared at the broken ladder for a moment, speechless. It was like we were in an Indiana Jones movie or something. The left support rope had broken. That ladder had faithfully supported my weight when I had climbed up and somehow, during the last millisecond that it bore my weight during my descent, it decided to break. The right half of the ladder still clung to the ship, but the ladder was now just a tangled mess of wood and frayed rope.

I looked up and saw and expression of terror on Amanda’s face. “Well, looks like you might have to jump off,” I said. The water was warm and we were so close to shore that she could have made the swim easily. In fact, she could probably have beaten me back to shore if she swam and I paddled. “Or you could climb down the rope at the front of the ship to the island,” I suggested.

After a moment of deliberation she decided that she’d try the ladder. It looked pretty risky. With only half a ladder left, that meant that the one remaining rope had to support her entirely. I was worried that if the rope broke as she descended the heavy ladder rungs could hit her head as she plunged into the water. Me and Amanda’s mom paddled out of the way so that in case Amanda did fall she’d have a comfortable fall into water instead of on top our kayaks. It was probably a 12-foot drop.

She took a deep breath and threw her left foot into the tangled remnants of the ladder. Then her right foot. Then she grabbed on. It held. As the rope creaked painfully in protest and the ladder rungs grated agonizingly against the steel hull of the ship Amanda descended as swiftly as possible. I fully expected the ladder to detach from the ship at any moment, sending Amanda and a bunch of wood and rope into the Atlantic. As Amanda neared the bottom I quickly brought my tandem kayak beneath her and she dropped in. “You did it!” I said.

“Whew!” She let out a vigorous sigh of relief.

Now it was time for Amanda’s mom to get in on the excitement so she dropped off the side of her kayak and started swimming back to shore. Amanda hopped in the empty boat and we escorted her mom back to dry land.

We drove back the airport an hour later, now fully content with our successful Caribbean vacation. From jungles to beaches, from left-side driving to bushwhacking, from mountaineering to buccaneering we had gotten a good taste of the Caribbean.

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