The Anchorage You Might Have Missed: Parham

(This is a series I intend to write from time to time about anchorages and towns that have the smallest write ups in guides but that revealed to me some kind of magical experience.)

Parham is a town on the northern side of Antigua, far from the dramatic landscape of its southern coast and closer to things like the airport, the desalination plant, and marine salvage yards. To me, it was interesting and beautiful. Historically important because of its role as the town where the governor lived and as a trade hub for the island, it’s now a sleepy place where our 10 year old guidebook says you’re to arrive at the town dock and tie your dinghy there. We were going ashore for two things, one of which was important: ice. The other was rum.

But there was no apparent dock. Nothing’s marked as you approach what is now a local fisherman’s yard that appears to be organized by the town. A nice guy smoking a joint pointed us into a concrete wall where we could tie up, directing us around a few stern lines that otherwise would have wrapped around the propeller of the outboard in our dinghy. He didn’t have to help us… this isn’t some sort of a yacht club or something. He just noticed we were confused and did what he could do to help. I had a good feeling about this town.

We walked through the yard, which was as much about small vessel and small engine salvage as it was about fishing- stripped boats lay all around the yard and there was a shed full of outboards, a fortune in parts for use by the locals, I’m guessing. Other buildings around the yard were basically used as storage by the local fishermen and most people milling around were getting into vehicles and leaving. It was right at closing time.

The small store was where the guidebook promised, right outside the gates of that town dockyard and to the right. The turquoise building measured no more than about 15’ x 20’, but was stocked to the gills with canned goods. A household refrigerator was filled with plastic bags full of locally butchered meat. The freezer housed more of it. A chest freezer revealed no ice, but still more local meat. I was out of luck, even for the rum, but the young kid at the counter said I could maybe get ice across the street at the dockyard from the fishermen.

Back across the street.

At this point I felt a little out of place- I had seen all those people leaving the dockyard at the end of the workday. I thought we were well-taken care of by the locals we had run across, but we were definitely striking out. Then, someone called to us from one of the storage buildings.

“Hey hey!” called the stranger as a friendly hello.

“Hey there,” I said, “We were told we could maybe get some ice here.”

“Too late,” said the local gent who continued to use as few words as possible to express himself, not as though I can understand the beautiful song-like language these people speak in on this island, a more beautiful English than I could ever muster. “Here I show you.”

He walked us back toward the store, and I started to get nervous. Shit. And just when I got the feeling like I was walking in circles, he turns left and points down the road.

“See down there, the yellow house? She sell ice, nice lady, a teacher-lady. You go tell her you need ice and she sell it to you.”

I thanked him and started walking toward the residence about 1/10th of a mile down the street. I walked past mango trees with well-worn paths to them, old harbingers of what were nicely kept lawns at one point. I can tell because stone ruins of houses stand behind them, tattling on the money that skipped town for St John’s or some now-more-popular Antiguan town.

I reached the teacher-lady’s gate and didn’t know the custom. Was I to call through her open windows from the road or open the gate and let myself in so I could knock on her door. I opted for knocking over yelling, and she came to the door with a big smile on her face.

“I hope I’m in the right place,” I said. “A gentleman at the fishing yard said I could get ice here…” I let my voice trail off, expecting her to think I was crazy for knocking on her door and asking for something so random. What the hell was I thinking, asking for ice from this nice lady, bothering her at home?

“Oh yes of course. How much do you need?” she said.

“Uh… oh! Great! Well I don’t know,” I said, laughing. “I’m just glad you don’t think I’m some crazy person knocking on your door for something you might not have.”

She smiled and waved me around. I went through another gate to her side door where she handed me a bucket-shaped block of ice and asked for $5 EC. I thanked her, gladly handed over the money, and glowed all the way back to the dinghy with the block of ice in a big padded bag we had brought with us.

No dinghy dock? Big deal. No big signs telling you where to go to do your shopping? No apparent yachty presence or people greeting you with wide open arms (and hands, waiting for your money)? Perfect. Thanks, Parham, for showing me what’s so great about Antigua.

Her people.

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