When the US navy was kicked off the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, it left a Caribbean idyll. Now a new flight from London to San Juan means tourists can enjoy its solitary beauty
If you like this excerpt then you can buy the book containing this story here
The Straw Market, now in a permanent building again, was full of people looking for souvenirs of their visit. The main purchases appeared to be bags, t-shirts, and objets d’art such as carved statues and gaudy paintings. Some straw items are still sold such as hats and shopping bags, but now The Straw Market is a general market that sells souvenirs. It’s also a good place to shelter for a few minutes if there’s a tropical downpour.
Other sights worth visiting include Fort Charlotte – 15 minutes’ walk due west of the British Colonial Hilton hotel – with its guns pointing menacingly towards the cricket pitch and the cruise ship terminal. The entrance fee is 1 dollar and the information provided gives an accurate appraisal of the history of the fort. From the ramparts you can see the beach cabins on Arawak Cay, where everyone should eat at least one meal during their stay and try the gin and coconut milk combination called a ‘Sky Juice’.
Head east along Bay Street and then up Elizabeth Avenue to see Nassau’s most interesting sight. The Queen’s staircase is in a gorge that was hollowed out of the ground by 6,000 slaves using six-inch long chisels, just to provide a potential escape route for the governor in case of surprise attack. This is the story that the local guides will tell you at least; whether it’s true is another matter. It’s entertaining to listen to their stories and I did have to admit that in places the sides of the gorge do show marks similar to those made by chisels. 64 steps make up the staircase, one for each year of Queen Victoria’s reign.
If you like this piece you can buy a kindle version of the book Julian’s Journeys, which contains this story.
Next to the Inn is the most unusual sight in the dockyard – looking like a more orderly version of Stonehenge a dozen stone pillars are all that’s left of a boathouse that was used to repair the sails of ships. The boathouse was very tall, hence the need for the sturdy stone pillars, and the ships would sail into the dock the boathouse was built over. The boathouse had an upper floor where the sail repairers would be able to make repairs quickly and easily without having to climb up the mast on the open sea.
Not to be confused with the Admiral’s Inn is the Admiral’s House on the opposite side of the road. This house is a misnomer as no Admiral has ever been based here and certainly not Nelson as the place was built 50 years after his death at Trafalgar. This building is now the dockyard museum, a charming collection that covers Antigua’s sailing past and the history of the dockyard.
Further along are the Officer’s Quarters built over a large freshwater cistern. On the upper floor are some interesting souvenir shops and small businesses. By the turning circle are some restored capstans and this is where boats were hauled ashore so they could be careened.