Friday, December 18, 2009

Interesting question to us about our tours and my reply

On Thu, Dec 17, 2009 at 10:03 PM, !@!#@#@$$#$%$ wrote:

Hello,


My name is"""""""""""""and my husband and I will be travelling to Antigua from the $%^%$#%$%$. I have been reading your blog and I am very saddened by what it seems is happening to local tour companies there. My husband and I usually go on trips to places where we can try in some small way to support local businesses. We usually stay in smaller places, lodges and eco-resorts. We would like to book with your company precisely because it is smaller and seems to hire more local people. We are sorry we will not be there for one of the classic sailing tours, but have been getting information from Nell about dates and the other tours. (She is very helpful and answers e-mail very quickly.) We are going paddling on the 23rd and thus the 22nd and 24th are days available for us. I was going to book the Xtreme Tour, but I wish to ask about the trip to Stingray City. I am, however, a bit uncomfortable going to a place that seems to fence in rays? I am not wishing to be rude or presumptuous. Might you be able to tell me if they do any preservation work or are affiliated with any such group? The other option for us is the Eco-Tour, but we were reading on Tripadvisor that there is a one-two hour trip once on the boat to pick up people from other hotels. We will already be driving for nearly one hour in and back each way so we wonder if this review was accurate? Thanks for the specifics. It will help us choose tomorrow if you are able to e-mail back.
There are still many people who travel and look for companies like yours. There is a niche for smaller companies with better service and a focus on local development, I think. The information on your blog would be helpful on other sites such as antigua-nice, I think, where I also looked for info, or on Tripadvisor, if you could somehow manage this. I really wish you success in mobilizing locals and politians to act. Ultimately they would be helping, supporting and protecting Antiguans, I think.


Sincerely,
@#@#@!####$$!@ in Toronto

Hi there! Thanks so much for taking the time to email. Two very good questions, but the answers to them may still make it hard for you to decide. Here goes (Xtreme Tour): Stingray City originally used a fence to keep the rays in for several reasons. See here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/antiguan/237351819/in/photostream/


The main one was that it takes a few months for rays to be conditioned A.K.A "tamed" into feeding. They are just like Pavlov's dogs. If they even hear the boat engine they come around expecting food. The guys there fed these enclosed fish four or five times a day until they just were conditioned into expecting it. While this was going on there were several alleged attempts to sabotage the business by another operator close by. The cruise ship excursion industry (which i am happy not to be directly involved in up to now) is even worse than the hotel excursion industry. Anyway, they kept the fence there and ended up putting a security shack there. Each night one of the park's employees would sit in the shack keeping watch. Check the image here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/antiguan/237351703/ They then made a policy of only hiring people from the nearest village where all the fishermen in the area come from and everyone kept an eye out for it. Since then they have removed the shack and have also removed the fence. In the jellyfish season (summer time) moon jellyfish can now come into the area. That was another cool thing about the fence, but moon's are not that bad anyway. For now there is a swim line like you see at hotels which is just a line with floats on it to keep the swimmers contained within a perimeter. The rays are free to swim and go wherever they want, but always return at feeding time to get an easy meal.

A few other things to remember is that southern stingrays are fish which are not endangered or threatened at all unlike tuna for example (many of which will probably be extinct within the next 20 years). However in Antigua, people still eat rays and many are caught accidentally as by catch in nets. You can read more about that here in one of my blogs on netting and another on the North East Marine Management Area which is where many rays are killed (and also where stingray city is). Stingray City does quite a bit of community work including environmental cleanups other things like that. They are always willing to help me in any campaign or activist work that I suggest. They are also members of the Environmental Awareness Group. Anyway, if you need more info on any of this you can email me again.

OK. Info on Eco Tour concerns: The Eco Tour starts in Jolly Harbour at 9:15 am with the first pickup. You tour out through the huge marina and cruise out into Mosquito cove passing Pearns Point. Here you can usually see Montserrat and it's very active volcano as well as Redonda in the west. On clear days you will also see Nevis and on extra clear days you can see St. Kitts and Guadeloupe too. Anyway, you then cruise past the beautiful Five Islands Harbour, Pinchin Bay and then you see the unusual and very interesting Hawksbill Rock just outside the hotel with the same name. Of course one of their four beaches is the famous Nude Beach where you can find Captain JD and Captain Tony getting all over tans each week. (hahahahaha) We occasionally collect there guests here as well as some from Galley Bay. This is at about 9:25 am. Then we cruise out past the next point and past Galley Bay. We get a good view of the beautiful Deep Bay with it's old wreck (Andes 1905) just as we pass Georgio Armani's houses on the point there. From here we either go into St. Johns or directly to Dickenson Bay depending on our reservations. Sometimes we have direct Internet bookings from cruise ship passengers and will go into Deep Water Harbour to collect them. On those days we also occasionally collect guests from the Grand Pineapple Beach Hotel and from the St. James Club too. To get there we have to pass the interesting Fort Barrington which is now part of the national parks of Antigua and Barbuda. We get into St. Johns at 9:50 and are leave at 10 sharp. On the way out of St. Johns we stop and give a little history of the old Fort James which also served to protect the harbour. Great photos here! We pass Runaway Bay and get to Dickenson Bay at 10:15 where we collect the remainder of our guests (including Pineapple, Verandah and St. James Club guests if we didn't stop in St. Johns.) From here we depart in five to ten minutes and cruise up past Sisters island and then Blue Waters Hotel and the Boons Estate, up the coast towards Prickly Pear Island and the start of the North Sound (and marine management area). We pass the beautiful Jabbawock Beach and the Kitesurfing school on our way up to Shoal Point and then up to Long Island (Jumby Bay). We are now in the very protected North Sound. It's here that we anchor up serve drinks and speak about the history of the area and then about the ecology of Long Island and especially about the Jumby Bay Turtle Project. We arrive there at 11 am. If you come to St. Johns then you will have been on the boat for an hour and if you went to Dickenson you will have been on the boat for just over 30 minutes. All of it is excellent sight seeing and i would recommend paying the extra cab fare and going to Jolly Harbour for the start. This way you get an awesome tour of the west coast. Some people just want to snorkel and couldn't care less about history, ecology, or anything other than snorkeling. I understand that and understand why the trip up to the islands may be not that interesting. We have seen whales, dolphins, rays, endangered birds and all sorts of cool stuff along the way to the North Sound. I am eager to see what comes up every time i leave Jolly Harbour. The journey up the coast is beautiful to me, but as you can see from Trip Advisor, its not for everyone. By the way, after drinks and the history/ecology talks we then cruise past the fascinating Maiden ISland which R. Alan Stanford chase my eco tour from all those years ago. Here you can see his artificial barrier reef. Then it's over to the mangrove habitat of Guiana Island. Loads of interesting stuff to see and hear about here. We spend so much time there as kids fishing. Such a cool spot. After that we cruise up in between the little islands like Lobster, Exchange, Rabbit, Hells Gate and all the rest of them passing nesting birds (depending on the time of year) and wonderful picturesque vistas. This is one of my favorite places on earth and so beautiful! Check the map here: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3434/3291375692_d5d9d9ac47_o.jpg We are usually passing through these islands on our way to Great Bird Island at about noon. We arrive at 12:15 or so at Bird, have some more drinks and then get off the boat for the nature walk up to the top of the island. It's high enough so that you can see the entire area. Some of the best "holiday style" photos are taken there. I think Antiguanice is putting some up that a guest shot on the eco tour later today. Since your question was about the start of the tour, i will leave it there. You know about the rest of the tour and all the caving, snorkeling and other cool stuff done on eco tour. Hope you had time to read all of this. I think i am going to put it on my blog for today. Thanks for the inspiration!

eli

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Everyone reading this,
As some of you probably know, my husband Michael and I have been on Eli's tours about 25 times. We keep doing the tours because it is not boring. We always see something different, get close up views of other hotels we may want to stay at, the changing landscap of Antigua,etc.... The last tour we did was 11/26/09, the eco tour, and again were not bored at all and met some GREAT people from Maryland and California. The crew always finds new things to talk about also. What stood out this time were all the huge Moon jellyfish floating by at Jumby Bay. We have seen Moon jellys many times, but these things must have been 3 feet across, just beautiful. Also the "beach" that Stanford made by cutting down all the mangroves. That portion of his new beach as erroded about 30 feet, so sad to see, but it's a great eco lesson. Another really nice thing about the tours, the crew tend to remember you. You are treated like family on all of their tours, they make everyone feel special, the newbies and oldies! If anyone would like to ask me any questions about the tours, please feel free to email me clanced@yahoo.com
Thanks,
Donna Breen

Anonymous said...

Eli,nice to see that Alan is missing his "knighthood" !
Merry Christmas!

Tom said...

Eli,

Hi. This is Tom and Judy from Michigan. Read with interest your possible new excursion from PBR and Verandah, Will this be available this year 1st part of March?. Would like to do another of your tours if we can avoid the 180 dollars in cab fees.

Let me know

Thanks
Tom (A view of the bay is HALF your pay)