Friday, February 22, 2013

Conquering Mount Obama!

Commander K. on the trail
Mount Obama (Boggy Peak), Antigua
What has roots as nobody sees,
Is taller than trees,
Up, up it goes,
And yet never grows?

Gollum's Riddle from The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein

Last week Commander Kelly had an opportunity to climb the highest peak on the island on Antigua -- Mount Obama (!  Mount Obama was formerly known as 'Boggy Peak' and is the highest point on the Island / Nation of Antigua.  The elevation is 1,314 feet or 402 meters, a mere pimple in the world of mountaineering.

Sugar Mill, Jumby Island, Antigua
The population of the island was 80,161 in 2011.  About 91 percent of Antiguans are of African descent.  Antigua formed part of the "Triangular Trade" of sugar, rum, slaves and manufactured goods that flowed between the West Indies, the American Colonies and Africa.  Sugar was the main export of Antigua from the 17th century until sugar production closed down in the 1980's, due to cheaper Asian competition.  For years the back-breaking labor of sugar cane production was furnished by slaves imported from Africa.  You can still find old sugar mills all over Antigua today (see photo above).

Shortly after Nelson's decisive victory at Trafalgar in 1805, the Royal Navy had unquestioned dominance of the high seas -- Britain truly ruled the waves.  In 1807 Britain abolished the slave trade and it was the power of the Royal Navy operating out of bases such as Antigua that was able to enforce this edict (see earlier posts, Horatio Nelson: Champion of Liberty 1/15/12, Nelson's Dockyard, Antigua 2/21/13).

Vorn on the trail
I hired an excellent local climbing guide, Vorn Johnstone.  Vorn was quite unimpressed with the name change of the mountain to Mount Obama.  I asked if there had been any increase in tourism since the name change which followed President Obama's election in 2009.  He laughed and replied, "No".

It is impossible to get lost on the track to the summit.  There is a badly paved road that leads all the way to the summit of Boggy Peak.  A four by four could make the trip quite easily.

Purists will be disappointed to learn that the summit is on private property owned by Cable and Wireless.  You will find communication towers, seismic monitoring equipment and a chain link fence at the summit of Mount Obama....

The top of Mount Obama
I am a slow climber and it took us about 2 1/2 hours to make the round trip journey to the summit and back.  Global warming believers will be heartened to note that there was not a trace of snow on the summit of Mount Obama!  Here is the view from the summit...

View from the Summit of Mount Obama
Antigua's primary industry is tourism.  Very little is produced in Antigua.  There is, for example, not even a local dairy on the island.  Antigua does have some modest agriculture and we saw banana and mango crops growing on the route to the top.

Local kid with lamb
On the way down we ran into some adorable native children who generously brought us a basket of local fruit.  The bananas and mangoes were delicious.  The Antiguans are a kind-hearted welcoming people.

On the way up and down Mount Obama, dear reader, you may be astonished to know that I felt compelled to reflect on the more positive aspects of President Obama!  Perhaps the easy ascent and tropical climate mellowed my curmudgeonly attitudes?  I may have "conquered" Mount Obama, but perhaps the mountain affected me as well; mountains have a way of doing that.

Commander Kelly subscribes to the un-original notion that American Presidents have a dual job description, one Symbolic and the other Substantive.  An American President must be a symbol of the nation's unity, celebrating our collective triumphs and mourning our losses.  Our President also has a Substantive role as the leader of the Executive branch of government.  This dual leadership role is explicitly clear in the UK where the Monarchy clearly handles the symbolism while the Prime Minister handles the substance of Executive decision-making.

Some US Presidents have been much better as symbolic leaders than substantive leaders and vice versa.  President Nixon, for example was a disaster as a symbolic leader, though he had significant substantive achievements (opening China, ending the draft,  clean air and water legislation, etc.).  JFK, on the other hand, was a symbolic superstar, but had too little time to achieve much of substance during his tragically truncated term of office.

It must be conceded by even his harshest critics that President Obama has been a symbolically successful President for the United States.  His election represented the closing of a long chapter of tortured race relations in North America.  His elevation to the highest office represented a history-making development that inspired hope among millions throughout the world.  A nation that was founded in large part by slave-owning plantation farmers from Virginia now has a black President.

Girl with lamb
President Obama is a good husband and father and these qualities should never be underestimated.  He can certainly be an inspirational speaker.  He is the twice-elected, legitimate President of the United States who was born in Hawaii.  He is unquestionably a role model for millions of people of all races.  He provided cathartic justice for a nation with the mission that targeted Osama Bin Laden.  He also makes beer in the White House which is either awesome...or a crass bid for the alcoholic vote to contrast with the tee-totalling Romney (!  I heartily acknowledge that he is an intelligent man of good will with whom I would be happy to drink a beer -- provided that he is paying!

Commander Kelly does not "hate" Obama by any means.  I have great respect for him and even more for the office which he holds.

It is on mere issues of Substance that I sometimes disagree with our 44th President (lack of leadership on Syria, Sequestration debacle, Presidential kill list, drone foreign policy, gun control demagoguery, spiralling national debt, etc.).  Commander Kelly must ask, "When the rhetoric of hope and change fade from the scene will Obama someday be re-named President Boggy Peak?"

After conquering Mount Obama, without use of oxygen, Commander Kelly naturally had to celebrate with a locally-made Antiguan product...Wadadli beer.  "Ale to the chief!"

Wadadli Beer
Special Thanks to Vorn Johnstone who can be reached at to book your own Antigua peak experience.  Thanks also to Altrec for the best climbing equipment (  Keep Exploring!

Vorn on the Summit

"Once you vote for Barack
You're Never Going Back"


Jak Severson said...

I have a sneaky suspicion that you wrote this immediately upon consumption of that local beer. Whatever they put in it made you almost sound like oneathem liberals.

Anonymous said...

Gee Chris, a slightly moderate and open tone on POTUS. Was it the air, reflection, or a significant amount of Wadadli?

Sounds like a hike I could do. Would be nice one day.

FYI - Matthew is helping get any medical supplies and we're donating some old laptops to a Syrian gentlemen we've met who brings them to Turkey to get to the refugee camps as their supplies are woefully short and the surgeons need laptops to see remote surgeries.

It is unfortunately many more nations in addition to the US that are not pressuring for this slaughter to end. Maybe now that he is a lame duck will Obama possibly put more pressure. Just wish McCain would stop the Benghazi nonsense and use his clout for this which is far more useful. Detracts from his focus on getting Syria liberated.

Commander Kelly said...

The refugee situation is putting a horrendous strain on neighboring countries such as Turkey and Jordan. Locals are having great difficulty in obtaining medical care, for example, because of the refugee demand. It is terrific that you are doing something personally to address the dire situation in Syria.

Michael Wellesley Wesley said...

Loved it. Are you sure the photo caption shouldn’t have been “Kid with Kid” ? Then again maybe I can’t sort out the sheep from the goats !

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