Pickpockets, Machetes, and Me
How an eventful week in Antigua helped me overcome my fear of the unfamiliar
“Am I going to die here? How does healthcare even work in Antigua? Why am I shaking so badly? I should take a shower.”
The thoughts were racing through my mind as I stood on the balcony of my new wife and I’s room at Keyonna Beach Resort. Our second floor room gave us a great view of the ocean. I could see we’d have a great view for the duration of our honeymoon, but I couldn't admire it. I was scared.
Our trip to Antigua was the first time I’d ever left the contiguous United States, and I was a nervous wreck. To make matters worse, when we first arrived in our room after checking in (and drinking the first of many fabulously strong Rum Punches), I saw a bottle of mosquito spray. Since everything I read on the Internet said to apply mosquito spray liberally while on the island, I sprayed it all over myself. Then, I looked at the label a bit closer. It was bug spray—Antigua’s version of RAID—not to be sprayed on people. The label said I should call a doctor and flush the affected area with water.
“My doctor is in the U.S. and the affected area is my entire body. Am I going to die here? How does healthcare even work in Antigua? Why am I shaking so badly? I should take a shower.”
After showering, my nerves, nervous system and mind were on overdrive. I did not sleep well that night.
On our first full day in Antigua, after walking down the beach (with my head on a swivel for potential assailants), my wife and I decided to go to the market in St. John’s, the capital and largest city in Antigua. While we walked around the shops, I kept my hand on my back-right pocket, where I kept my wallet; I was sure someone was going to try to pickpocket me. As the day went on, the citizens seemed more concerned with their own affairs, and I became less guarded.
On our way back to the bus stop, we stopped in a nearby fruit market to buy a fresh mango. It was a warm, busy day outside, but inside the red-roofed market, it was cool and quiet. Besides the shopkeepers, it seemed my wife and I were the only people in the market. As we looked over the selection, I felt a pat on my right buttock, right where my wallet is stored in my back pocket.
I dropped the fruit I was examining and felt for my wallet. Still there, thank God. I whipped my head around and locked eyes with a man briskly walking away from me. “Sorry,” he said. It took a few moments to process what happened. Not only had I just been the target of a terrible pickpocket attempt, but the perpetrator apologized to me!
I told my wife what had just happened, and we hopped on the first bus out of St. John’s. I held my wallet tightly. If I were a hermit crab, I’d have been back in my shell.
That night I laid in bed wide awake, thinking and worrying. “What if he’d actually gotten my wallet? What would’ve I done? What could’ve I done? What should’ve I done?
I did not sleep well that night.
After breakfast the next morning, I took a shower while my wife walked on the beach. When I joined her, she informed me she met a man offering jet-ski rentals, and she wanted me to talk with him. I wasn't happy with her for talking to a “strange” man, and I was even more unhappy that she was making me talk to him!
I met the man, named Wiggi, on the beach. He seemed friendly enough, and once I found out he knew the manager of our hotel I was put at ease a bit. We made arrangements to rent a jet-ski at 5 pm. Then he offered to bring us some weed, and my feelings of ease went back out of the window. I politely declined, but I was so taken aback that I mistakenly refused his follow-up offer of fresh coconut water, thinking it to be some sort of slang for an illegal drug.
Later, at about 4:50 pm, we found Wiggi on a nearby beach, using a machete to open coconuts for vacationers. He spotted us and walked over. He explained that he doesn't actually own the jet-skis we were going to ride — he finds customers and then schedules the appointment with the guys who own the jet-skis. The owners operate on the opposite of the island, and give him a cut of the rental fee when he finds them business.
At 5:10 pm, we were still waiting for our jet-ski, and Wiggi was getting irritated. “This is why I want to set up my own rental shop on this side of the island, so I don’t have to rely on these guys!” I assured him it was okay, but he was incensed. “They’re making me look bad!”
Forty more minutes pass - plenty of time for Wiggi to get more embarrassed and more angry. He called the rental company, and they insisted the jet-ski was headed our way. My wife grew tired of waiting and was hungry. When she gets hungry, she can get nauseous. She headed to the hotel to eat dinner, and I accompanied her.
Of course, as soon as our dinner rolls were served, we heard the droning sound of the jet-ski motor in the distance. Great. I asked my wife if she can break away from dinner to ride the jet-skis, but she says she can’t - she’s too nauseous. She wants me to tell Wiggi to reschedule the appointment. “He’s already pissed off and he’s holding a machete! You want me to piss off an already angry man wielding a machete?”
A young,but very athletic-looking man parked our jet-ski on the beach, and Wiggi frantically started waving his arm to get our attention. When he saw that I was the only person to get up from the dinner table, he immediately understood what was going on.
“C’mon mon, we had an appointment!”
My heart was beating out of my chest as I spoke. I don’t like confrontation, and I was about to start one with an unfamiliar Antiguan holding a machete. “Yeah, an appointment for 5:00 that we were ready for. It’s 6:00 and my wife is hungry. When’s she’s hungry, she gets nauseous. What am I supposed to do?”
Wiggi didn’t seem to care. “I don’t own these jet-skis! When these guys bring one, they expect to get paid, mon!”
“And when you make an appointment for 5:00, you expect a jet-ski at 5:00, right?”
“It’s here now! Ride it!”
“My wife is nauseous right now; we’re not getting on a jetski while she’s feeling sick. Can they wait until we’re done?”
“No, they have other appointments.”
“Well we’re not getting on that jet-ski tonight, I’m sorry.”
“It’s here and they have to get paid, mon!”
I came up with a plan to get rid of Wiggi and the jet-ski. “How much do you normally pay them?”
“Here,” I said, giving him $20. “They’ll get their money, and my wife and I can eat dinner.” As soon as he took the money, I started walking away quickly. When I sat down at our table, I could see Wiggi and the jet-ski operator were still in a heated conversation. Eventually they unhappily parted ways.
I tried to calm down after dinner, but I couldn't. My adrenaline was still pumping from the altercation, and even though the jet-ski operators got their money, I felt bad for reneging on the appointment with Wiggi. Following some after-dinner drinks, my wife and I walked to the adjoining beach where Wiggi was still hustling. We apologized for any trouble we caused him, and arranged for another appointment in the morning (after breakfast, of course). Wiggi was thrilled.
“Respect, mon!” he said as we shook hands as if we were old friends. “Respect” I responded, awkwardly. “Can you bring us some of that coconut water, too?”
As I laid in bed that night, I did so with a slight smile on my face. Hours after yelling at an angry Antiguan holding a machete, I was friends with him. Our friendship was as shallow as could be, but for the time-being, we were friends.
I slept well that night.
On our penultimate day in Antigua, my wife and I were laying in a cabana on our resort’s beach, getting ready to watch our last sunset on the island. I heard some footsteps behind us, so I peeked over the back of the bed and saw three men walking in our direction. One was holding a machete (“again?”) and another was holding a rope.
My mind raced as I tried to think of possible uses of those tools besides dealing death. I remembered Wiggi used a machete to open coconuts, but the men weren't carrying any. Then I realized they weren't walking toward us; they were headed to the tall coconut tree nearby our cabana.
My wife and I sheepishly peeked at the men surveying the tree. Suddenly, the most slender one in the group slung his rope around the tree and his wrists, and started shimmying up the tree!
“Is this legal?” I thought to myself. “Are all coconut trees on the island fair game?” My wife and I’s curiosity got the best of us, and we came out of the cabana and watched with the other two men. My wife took pictures and video as the agile man made his dangerous ascent look easy. He was quick, but cautious. When he reached the top of the tree, he shook the tree violently, and coconuts started falling from the tree.
One of the men saw us watching and brought us each a coconut from which to drink fresh coconut water, using his machete to open it for us. I said thanks and shook his hand, and my wife took a picture of him.
At the beginning of our trip, if I saw those men headed our way I probably would've grabbed my wife, ran to our room and locked the door. But instead we witnessed something really memorable and were rewarded for our trust with the fruit of the men’s labor (literally).
That night, it took me a while to fall asleep as I recalled all the fun and exciting things we had done on our trip, which was coming to an end the next afternoon. In our week in Antigua, we went on zipline and helicopter tours, and went shopping and snorkeling. While those were amazing experiences, I realized they likely wouldn’t be the most memorable parts of the trip.
What I would remember most fondly was precisely what I was the most scared of when we arrived: the people. I’d always remember the apologetic pickpocketer. I’d never forget Wiggi, the man I yelled at while he was holding a machete. I’d remember the strange men walking towards our cabana, holding a rope and machete with unclear intentions.
When I finally fell asleep that night, I slept well.
The next morning, my wife and I said goodbye to the beach, packed our bags, and left the resort. I shed more than a few tears; the first I’d spilled in quite some time.
I didn’t want to leave.