Grenada/Anguilla trip, June 2009
****WARNING: VERY LONG REPORT*********
Travel Day 1
Spent night at the Doubletree Hotel in Windsor Locks, CT. Morning American flight on time but crowded since the Miami flight was cancelled. With an extremely long layover in SJU we opted to leave the aeropuerto and head to Pamela’s Restaurant at the Guesthouse Numero Uno in Condado. Taxi ride was about 10 minutes, $17 + tip for the two of us and our bags.
Lunch was a pleasant and unhurried affair. The beach is wide and as it was a Saturday there was a pretty good crowd forming. Couples and families alike, with lots of dogs. Perfect for people watching. Lunch was delicious but expensive: two Medallas, one mojitos, one fizzy water, two appetizers, one salad, and one cappuccino came to $90. A 15% gratuity was already included and marked plainly on both the menus and the bill.
The organic salad was great—mixed greens, manchego, red bell pepper, red onion, slivers of mango, and a mango/balsamic vinaigrette, lightly dressed. Oysters on the halfshell, served with a wonderful frozen cherry-melon concoction for sweetness, plus the usual lemon, horseradish, and red sauce. Jerk chicken satay—big enough to be a meal in themselves. Unfortunately I forgot to specify no cilantro as a garnish, so there was a cilantro coulis on the plate. I could wipe most of it off, though.
So we ate, read, chatted, and enjoyed the view. There were half a dozen kiteboarders. Some close to shore, some perilously far at sea, or at least so it seemed to me. It was very windy—you could see a haze of sand hovering about the beach. Passing showers just shy of being intense enough to drive us inside.
We left Pamela’s around 3:00 to head back to the airport. Slight lines to get through security, then a wait at the gate. American Eagle flights now board at the other end of the terminal—Gate 16 instead of Gate 1. Barry bought a bottle of vodka so we’d have something to sip when we arrived. Flight to Grenada also on time. Landed a few minutes early. Breezed through immigration , got our bags, then breezed through customs. We didn’t get any forms back, which is a little unusual. Grabbed a taxi and made our way to Turtleback. We arrived around 8:45pm, early enough so that Sharon and Anthon didn’t have the gate unlocked yet, so I called softly out to them through the gate and Sharon came right away.
We settled in for the evening with our feet soaking in the pool, vodkas and Ting in hand. Finished book 1: Making Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin.
Grenada Day 1
Woke to overcast skies and finally got out of bed around 9:00 am after dozing lazily on & off for about three hours. Sunrise comes with a vengeance, all at once, around 6:00. We padded about the apartment, made coffee, and went outside with our books. I took a swim and alternated between sun and shelter during the brief showers. Car from Y&R was delivered around 10:00, but instead of leaving to get groceries right away we settled back into our books. Made toast, drank more coffee, went swimming again. Finally got dressed to have lunch and started off toward La Belle Creole. Felt we were a little underdressed for Blue Horizons/La Belle Creole, so we doubled back and made our way toward the Lagoon to try Tropicana. On the way we saw dense black smoke on the horizon but I assumed it was bush burning. We found out later that the older stadium (not the new one for the Cricked World Cup) had caught fire. Lunch was very good and very leisurely. Felt very local. I had stewed pork, Bubba had oyster chicken for EC $30 each, accompanied by the usual provision plus a green salad. I had ting, he had iced tea with a small pitcher of sugar syrup to sweeten it. Lots of rain while we ate. Traffic noise sometimes impeded conversation, but we brought our books to read. Lunch came to EC $80, including tax & extra tip. 10% gratuity was included but I added more to it.
We drove around a bit to orient myself to driving on the left and to see if we could easily find BB’s Crab Shack where we’d like to go for dinner one night. I always prefer to find things by day first and then find our way back by night.
Finished my second book of the trip, Jonathan Tropper’s Here’s Where I Leave You. At first it felt a little light, a little wah-wah. One of those books about how hard it is to be an upper middle class white man, you know? . But it was casual, honest, funny, and with some actual insight into human nature.
Went back to the villa to try to connect to the internet, but still no luck. We’re reading a full signal from the air-port. We’ve tried turning the thing off & on, restarting the computer, but nothing is working. I even took the cable and tried it directly in my laptop, to no avail.
Now we’re kicking back with cocktails and trying to figure out where and when we’ll go for dinner tonight. We have a few things in the pantry & fridge now from grocery shopping. It’s Sunday night, so our options are limited. And without a phone book and without an internet connection it’s going to be hit-or-miss driving around to find someplace that’s open tonight. Today at lunch we were the only patrons for the first hour we were there. The island’s tourist economy is way down, even for the off season.
We decided on La Belle Creole, the restaurant at Blue Horizons, for dinner since we bypassed it for lunch earlier. We were one of only two tables tonight. Food was excellent and a pretty good value. Two soups, two appetizers, one dessert, one coffee, three cocktails came to EC $151. Barry had the cold christophene soup served in a vichyssoise style and I had the hot cream of tannia soup. Then we moved on to the sugar cane shrimp and the callaloo soufflé. For dessert we shared soursop ice cream. I had the coffee (decaf) and he had the Grand Marnier to end the meal. 10% gratuity was already included and we added some more for the very good service we received.
NB: We learned from our server tonight that it was not, in fact, the stadium that burned today but a private home behind the stadium. Burned entirely to the ground but at least nobody was injured.
Now I’m in bed, about halfway through J. M. Coetzee’s Slow Man, which I believed was published as Elizabeth Costello abroad. I’m not sure if I like it yet or night, but it does have my interest piqued.
Grenada Day 2
This was a mostly lazy day for us. Breakfast by the pool, then dressed and into St. George’s. Parked by the Carenage so we wouldn’t have to negotiate one way streets downtown. Walked toward the market, stopped in Tikal to do a little shopping for Emmie. At the market it’s a maze of people and I want to buy a little bit from everybody. But I don’t want to buy spices or spice necklaces. We want lime, mangoes, cucumbers. We end up with two packages of nutmeg, too, because I cannot say no to Therese. So only four sellers are appeased—I feel tremendously guilty. There’s a cruise ship in town but I don’t see many people who look like cruisers in the marketplace.
On the walk back to the car a man falls in step with my husband. His name is Herman and he claims he’s the go-to guy of St. George’s. Maybe he is. He offers us a taxi. We say no, thanks, because we have our own car. He offers to drive with us up north to Sauteurs to show us around. We say no, thanks, we prefer to make our own way—it’s part of the fun to stop and talk to folks along the way and ask directions. As we pass the statue on the carenage commemorating the Bianca C, he then asks us if we know what it is. I say, yes, sir. It’s a statue of thanks to the people of Grenada for rescuing the people aboard a boat that eventually sank. Undaunted, he keeps pace with us as we continue to our car. As we reach it, he asks for a little money—enough to buy himself a cold drink. It’s a small enough request and we’re happy enough to acquiesce. But it’s the first time I’ve felt uncomfortable about a transaction in our travels to Grenada and I think the reasons are a little complicated. Do we look like an easy mark, that a guy can ask us for money just because he walked along with us and was friendly? Or are times really that hard, that a guy is desperate enough to just ask for money when all of his other offers to earn money from us are rebuffed? Am I reading the situation completely incorrectly? Are there rules of etiquette at play that I’m completely ignorant of? In joining Herman in conversation, did we unknowingly enter into some social contract? It seems to me that it would be unspeakably rude to rebuff his approach, but perhaps to Herman it was unspeakably rude of us not to tip him after our walk together. I really have no idea. With a distinct feeling of ambivalence we made our way to the grocery store and from there back to the villa for lunch.
Reading, swimming, and relaxing. It’s amazing how tired an afternoon of this can make me feel. We had cocktails and cheese & crackers around 5:00 and made plans to go to the Beach House for dinner at 7:00. After two previous meals out where we were one of only two tables filled it was a relief to arrive at the Beach House to see a few other parties already seated. By the time we left it looked like they had a pretty full house. The ambience was light & breezy with jalousied windows and white curtains billowing in the soft night air. Still no lambi on the menu, much to my husband’s disappointment. I tell him that we may have to wait until we’re at Boots’ place to get any.
Anyway, dinner was very pleasant. We began with a Caesar salad (DH) and mixed greens & herb salad (me). Barry had the escargots, prepared with garlic, Pernod, mushrooms, and spinach. I had the Thai Teepee – three skewers with beef in a slightly spicy peanut sauce. Both very good. We then shared the rum cake a la mode. A rum punch, two martinis, a cappuccino, and a shot of Old Grog brought the meal to EC $210, including tax and tip.
In other news, Anthon tried to figure out our problem connecting to the internet. The air port is giving off a strong signal and I’ve tried every configuration that I know (admittedly it’s not much) but nothing is working. Now the phone in our room has gone dead. Minor frustrations.
I did finish off the Coetzee book and start & finish two others: How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life by Mameve Medwed and Jane Eyre’s Daughter by Elizabeth Newark.
Grenada Day 3:
We made our way to La Sagesse this morning after having breakfast at the villa. We simply love that place—its seclusion, lushness, its dogs, its waves, its horizon. The staff there is always warm & friendly and the food and rum punches are good. We rented two beach chairs for the day for EC$20 and lunch at the restaurant. One hamburger, one fish burger, two soft drinks, one rum punch and one smoothie came to about EC $120, including tax and tip.
It looked like the hotel had about 5 rooms occupied and there was one other couple besides us who were visiting for the day. The one drawback to this visit was the bug activity. Luckily we had packed our Badger Bug Balm in the beach bag, so after the first couple of nibbles we sprang into action and were thereafter just fine. But woe betide the people there who didn’t have any bug repellant!
That night we dined at Red Crab to make it easy on the driver (me!) after a couple of harrowing close calls on the way back from La Sagesse. I was constantly reminded of a newspaper article I’d read two years when last in Grenada that was lamenting the “vehicular audacity” of its younger drivers. Vehicular audacity, indeed! We always give the Red Crab a try when we’re on the island, partly because of its convenience to our villa and partly because it continues to get raves from other people, and this was the first time where the experience wasn’t disappointing. We shared several appetizers between us: dozen snails, lambi cocktail, shrimp crepe, and a green salad. Meringue Nest (meringue, fruit, ice cream, and a fruity coulis) and three cocktails rounded out our meal.
Today I started and finished Brian Morton’s novel, Starting Out in the Evening.
Grenada Day Four:
We cooked a big breakfast at “home” this morning—coffee, two kinds of juice, fruit, toast, eggs, and bacon. After a leisurely cleanup and dip in the pool we packed our bag and drove down to the Spice Island Craft Centre to do a spot of shopping. We tried to spread our custom around to as many booths as possible—two sarongs, one t shirt, some spices, a necklace, and a bottle of vanilla. From there we made our way to Morne Rouge where we rented two beach chairs for EC$25 and claimed a spot with lots of shade under a huge sea grape tree. It was a pretty quiet beach, very calm, gorgeous water and white sand. It may now be my second favorite beach on the island and one of my favorites in the Caribbean.
We stayed there until about 4:30 and then headed back to the villa to freshen up and change for dinner. Because the sky looked so clear I wanted to head over to Grand Anse to catch the sunset before going for dinner. We pulled into the little park next to the Allamanda to catch the last few minutes before sundown.
Ahh, the piece de resistance: Boots! We’d put off having dinner here because we wanted to end our last two evening meals with a bang. The 5-course prix fixe has increased to EC$75 but is still a wonderful value. The lovely Ruby greeted us and remembered us from our previous visits and welcomed us back to dine. We started with callaloo soup, followed by a sea egg roll, then a green salad. I ordered the stewed chicken that was fantastic, but the grilled lambi that DH ordered was simply out of this world. It was grilled whole like a steak and then brushed in a sauce that was similar to a BBQ sauce. It was as tender as sea scallop and it gave me food envy. Best lambi either of us has ever eaten, hand to God. Dessert was nutmeg ice cream, sweet potato pudding, and a little pineapple.
At dinner there was one other couple from the US staying at La Luna, coincidentally folks I had chatted with on the Fodor’s Caribbean forum before their visit. They seemed to be having a good time on their first visit to Grenada.
I love Boots’ Cuisine. It’s a wonderful experience from start to finish. I don’t think any visit of ours will ever be complete without a visit there, and I would go so far to say that I don’t thing any traveler’s visit to Grenada would be complete without a visit there. With the exception of Fish Friday, all of our best food memories are from Boots—both of the food itself and of our conversations with the owners.
NB: Lest you think that I’m heaping praise indiscriminately , in the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that as much as I love the food at Boots, the allure of the drinks is sadly lost on me. Neither the widely acclaimed Big Daddy Special nor the rum punch is my cup of tea.
Started but didn’t finish Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us. Good book but it reads at a discernibly slower pace than the fiction I’ve read so far.
Grenada Day Five:
Breakfast in the villa again, this time a light one in preparation for lunch out. So we had toast, coffee, and fruit and spend the morning swimming and reading at the villa. Around noon we moseyed down to Spice Island Beach Resort, which is quite possibly our favorite place to lunch on the island. We got there a little early so we sat at the bar to sip a couple of Tings until they were seating. I had a chicken dish served with rice & peas and DH had the octopus and squid salad. Mine was very good, his was marvelous. We shared some sorbet. Two Tings, a gin & tonic, a frozen fruit punch, plus tax & tip brought our total to about US $55.
We had originally planned to go back to Morne Rouge for the afternoon but decided that it wouldn’t be worth it to rent beach chairs for just two and a half hours. So we headed back to Turtleback instead. I swear, we usually get out and explore a LOT more than we did on this trip, but this time the siren call of the villa was just too strong for us to resist. We were acutely aware that this was our last day in Grenada, and despite having our time in Anguilla to look forward to, we were sad about leaving. Because of the awful schedule from American Eagle, 6 nights in Grenada is really only 5 days and in retrospect I should have just planned a longer stay there.
That night we gussied up a bit and headed to the Aquarium for dinner. Service was just lovely, the setting is beautiful, and the food was excellent. For only the second time on the island I ordered an entrée instead of 1-2 appetizers and it was delicious—mahi mahi prepared with garlic & butter and served with a variety of veggies. DH started with the crab claws and then moved to the seared tuna, both appetizers. We shared a wonderful brandied banana crepe for dessert. Three cocktails and one fizzy water brought the total to EC $191.
This trip we noticed that overall, ordering 1-2 appetizers per person is a more economical way to dine out, with the bonus of having just the right amount of food. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve strained to consume larger entrée portions in the past and came away from the table feeling bloated and heavy. Yeah, I know. You’d think it would be common sense not to overeat, but it’s a constant struggle, I’m afraid.
Started and nearly finished Beowulf on the Beach.
Travel Day 2: Grenada to Anguilla
We had to ask the villa owners for a wake up call because there is no alarm clock in the villa—unfortunately, because of the awful American Eagle timetable, this meant that Sharon had to wake up at 4:45 a.m. just so she could wake us up. But when your flight is at 6:45, what are you gonna do?
Our flight left Grenada on time, leaving us with about 3.5 hours in SJU to cool our heels. The food situation has only slightly improved with the addition of a Cinnabon. So we settled in to share a pecan roll and then alternately read or watched folks come & go in the terminal.
Our flight to Anguilla was delayed by over an hour, so we grabbed a personal pan pizza from Domino’s to share before the flight. Once we were in the air, minor disaster struck. An old man in the row across from us passed out and had to be administered oxygen immediately. Apparently he was diabetic and had very low blood sugar and the flight attendants made a panicked inquiry for a doctor or nurse on board, but eventually he came to. Fortunately he was recovered sufficiently to leave the airplane under his own steam by the time we landed.
We rented a car from Avis online and requested picking the car up at the airport, but when our confirmation came back by email there was no mention that we’d have to take a taxi to the car rental facility. So US $20 poorer (!), we struck out on our own in a new looking Hyundai. At the car rental place we were given a map that reminded us of our time on Vieques: in the upper corner it read, “Not to be used for navigational purposes.” Thus, between the map and the lack of street signs we took two wrong turns finding our way to Carimar. Still, it was fun getting the scenic tour of the island, and almost 12 hours exactly from the time we woke up that morning, we found ourselves at Carimar to check in.
The two LaVernes at check in couldn’t have been more warm or welcoming and soon we were settled into #603, an upper beachfront unit. It was open and airy and larger than it looked online. They considerately start you out with one large bottle water, two cans of Coca Cola, and a small bottle of rum. We couldn’t have been more pleased, especially knowing that our rooms were larger, closer to the beach, and about half the cost of those at the neighboring Malliouhana.
For dinner that night we made our way to B&D’s BBQ where we gorged ourselves on ribs, chicken, slaw, fries, and rice & peas. One beer, one water, and one Ting brought the total to US $24, not including tip. It was a real treat and one of our favorite ways to dine—food was being prepared at someone’s home, with a few tables & chairs set up around the food. Grab your beverages from the cooler, make small talk with the local folks who’ve come for takeaway, and bliss out to our first meal in Anguilla. We made a brief stop at Christine’s for a couple of provisions and even made it back to Carimar to watch our first Anguillian sunset. It was rather subdued but we were thrilled nonetheless to be able to watch it from our balcony with cocktails in hand.
I started and finished Vikas Swarup’s Q & A, which was made into the film the world knows as Slumdog Millionaire, which I quite enjoyed. Though the intricacies of the book’s plot were vastly different from the movie’s, I was happy to note that the spirit of the book was preserved in the film.
Anguilla Day 1
Despite our best intentions to arise early and walk the beach, we dozed until 8:30 am. Instead of nibbling on the provisions we bought the night before, we opted to walk up to Straw Hat at Frangipani to break our fast. Our first mistake was to walk along the road, which was hot and stifling with very little breeze, punctuated occasionally by the odors of decay and sewage (presumably coming from the saltpond, but I could be wrong). Ugh!
Straw Hat was cool and inviting, though, and we enjoyed our two Continental breakfasts (some of the best croissants I’ve ever eaten), with coffee, juice, and a side order of bacon and fruit. Breakfast came to US $30 and we lingered there until 9:45, just enjoying the view and the quiet of each other’s company.
We walked back to Carimar via the beach and claimed two chairs & umbrellas for the rest of the day. I must say that at first I was a little dismayed to see twenty chairs & umbrellas set up there—I think staff must put out one set for every guest—as we had just come from Grenada where the most crowded beach had half a dozen people on it. Also, it looked like guests here had no problem playing the “grab & go” game, where they put a towel down to claim the best chair locations early in the day, and may or may not return before sunset to actually use them. That’s one reason I really dislike resorts and I didn’t like the way things were beginning to pan out. After all, I had purposely chosen Anguilla as being a place where we could get away from it all, and Carimar as being an unprentious place on quiet Meads Bay (as opposed to Shoal Bay East) where we could live the dream, as least for a week.
Still, it’s hard to argue with the beauty that is Meads Bay—a long swathe of nearly-white sand with some of the most gorgeous turquoise water I’ve ever seen. The water gets surprisingly deep quite quickly and I was just floating about in the gentle surf when a nice sized yacht pulled up to anchor for the day. About a dozen or so preteen girls and a handful of adults came ashore and at first it was fun just to watch them—we imagined that some very lucky girl had had a birthday and was able to invite 11 other very lucky girls to celebrate with her on a yacht in Anguilla. My amused tolerance, however, was tried when the yacht began blasting music from its prodigious speakers so that the folks on shore wouldn’t be bereft of their techno-pop for a few hours. How tragic that would have been for them. I’m not sure if it was a case of just being oblivious (since they were, in fact, preteens) or unspeakably rude. Then things really started getting busy when they started water skiing and tube rides up and down the length of Meads Bay. Honestly, I must not have done enough research because I didn’t think motorized sports were allowed on this beach, or at least that close to shore. If we had been in St. Maarten or Aruba I wouldn’t have batted an eye, but I confess I was a little resentful with all of the hullabaloo. I’m probably coming across as a total grump-ass, and I realized it, too. So I tried to hunker down with my very good book and enjoy the day for what it was—a thing of beauty and relaxation. So what if I was unable to swim more than 10 meters off shore for fear of being run over by a water skier or the boat pulling her?
Around 3:30 we headed back to the room to clean up for an excursion into town to procure those items that we couldn’t get at Christine’s. we stopped at the open air market to buy produce and then went to three other stores to find some natural peanut butter (if it’s for sale anywhere on Anguilla, we sure missed it) and some gin that was neither Gordon’s, Bombay, nor swill. Heading back to Carimar we poked down a sideroad or two to explore a bit and then we settled in once more with our books and a cocktail before dinner.
LaVerne’s eyes lit up when we told her we were considering E’s Oven for dinner that night, and she enthusiastically made reservations for us. What can I say, other than it was fantastic? We had three appetizers, one entrée, and three cocktails. DH ordered the grilled shrimp with mango and then the coconut encrusted grouper, while I started with the vegetable napoleon and finished with the crayfish. The amuse-bouche was a tender morsel of just-seared grouper. We couldn’t have been more pleased with our meals and our server was so charming and funny. It was the perfect way to end our day.
Started and finished J. Maarten Troost’s The Sex Lives of the Cannibals, based on the recommendation of a book soulmate over on the Anguilla Trip Advisor forum. It was just wonderful and my only regret is that I didn’t also bring Troost’s second book on the trip. I love reading travelogues when I’m on vacation, and this one was very funny indeed. I liked him almost as much as I like Bill Bryson.
Anguilla Day Two
Blast and curses! That yacht is still anchored outside our door! I fervently hope today is its last day on Meads Bay.
I woke up early this morning, around 5:45 a.m., because I forgot to put on my sleep mask. So I got up and started reading a new book on the balcony—the utterly charming The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. At 9:00 a.m. as I write this I’m about ¾ of the way through it. I must stop for a light breakfast; otherwise I will surely run out of books before the trip is over, and that would certainly be a tragedy!
We spent the morning out on the beach and then moseyed down to Sandy Ground to have lunch at an internet café we had seen the day before. We’ve been having bad luck with our internet connections on this trip, as the high speed that was promised at Carimar has been so far unavailable during our stay. Since we’d promised to keep in touch with our family (who were also pet sitting), we figured we’d take our laptops to lunch to take advantage of free wi-fi. Roy’s is where we ended up, and while it was pleasant enough, I can’t say that I’d go out of my way to go there again. I wasn’t able to pick up Roy’s wi-fi for starters, which left me a little grumpy. But aside from that, the meal was very expensive for food that I’d call fine, at best. Two grilled chicken sandwiches with French fries, one rum punch, one bottled water, and one slice of Key lime pie came to just over US $60, including tax & tip! At half that price I would have been much more satisfied with the value. Still, the location was pleasant, there was a wonderful kitty who curled up on my lap while I read my book, and we enjoyed watching some guys down the beach get their boats ready for the next day’s big boat race around the island. The rum punch was awful. Syrupy sweet—to the point that I added several slices of squeezed lime to the glass and even so could hardly drink it.
On the return from lunch we decided to do a little more exploring to get our bearings. So we followed the road as far as it would go, first down a dirt road that ended up on private property (oops!) and then to Trattoria Tramonto, which looks very inviting. Then we followed the sign down to Mango’s restaurant and got out to look around. From there we could see the other side of the Viceroy construction site, and while it’s an eyesore no matter how you slice it, it looked marginally better from that angle. We made a few pictures of the beach—nobody on it, which is just the way we like our beaches. If there had been any shade we probably would have lingered. Instead we headed back to Carimar, picking up a couple of boys who were heading to Sandy Ground and giving them a ride as far as the turnoff for Oliver’s. What polite kids they were!
Debating between Straw Hat and Mango’s for the night, we decided upon the latter. Based on the menu that Carimar had, I had my mouth set on one particular entrée – the sesame snapper. Great was my disappointment when the chef informed me upon my inquiry that yes, it was made with cilantro, and no, the dish couldn’t be adjusted to be made without it. Feeling a bit churlish and that there would be no pleasing me, I ordered the simple grilled snapper, which turned out to be just wonderful. DH ordered the shrimp Provencal and declared it was among the best dishes he’s eaten in his 30+ years of traveling to the Caribbean. We finished off a simple but excellent apple tart a la mode. Two cocktails, a bottle of fizzy water, tax and tip came to US $140.
Finished reading the Guernsey book at lunch and found it deeply satisfying and then even struck up a conversation with another guest who had also just finished it. Started the forthcoming Richard Russo novel, That Old Cape Magic but didn’t get very far because of a mild tummy ache. Will probably really settle into it tomorrow.
Anguilla Day Three
I’d intended to get up early to get pastries from Geraud’s to take back to Carimar and eat on the balcony, but they’re not open on Mondays. (Plus with the national holiday their hours might have changed anyway.) We’d been told that the boat race would start around 9:00 at Sandy Ground and would be in front of Meads Bay about an hour after that, so we stayed close to watch it. Two hours came and went, so we just figured “island time” and stayed put. By 2:00 we were famished so we left the beach and went back to the room to fix a light lunch, and shortly after 3:00 the first sailboat rounded the point down by Viceroy. There were maybe a dozen boats racing, but the most entertaining part was watching the speedboats weave in and out of the course, filled with Anguillians who were cheering each sailor on. There was even what looked like a ferry boat that had been conscripted to carry a good portion of the island along for the race, complete with tent and booming sound system. All too soon the commotion died down as the sailboat bringing up the rear disappeared beyond Malliouhana’s point.
Dinner at Veya was excellent. The ambience was the most pleasant of any restaurant on Anguilla yet. It was also the first place where we both had a difficult time deciding what to order, as there were at least a half dozen different dishes that called out to us. They did offer a prix fixe for US $45 – mango & shrimp salad with pumpkin dressing, grilled snapper, and any dessert off the menu. That sounded great, but I thought it was too much food for me. So I opted again for two small plates: grilled watermelon with shrimp & basil & mint (outstanding! I never knew watermelon could taste savory!) and flank steak & avocado with lettuce wrap. DH started with the Thai calamari, which was delicious, and a snapper dish with mint, avocado, & tomato, which was very good, but perhaps just a little busy. The coconut cake for dessert was a complete surprise. We were expecting something light, two layered, and white. What we got was a small, dense, dark cake thick with rum and dates, with an amazing coconut-toffee sauce. It was just like a rich, toffee pudding but with the addition of coconut. Wonderful. Served with vanilla ice cream to cut the richness and sweetness. The cocktail menu was also very interesting, we thought. DH sampled a 12 year old rum from Guyana that was incredibly smooth: think of the smoothness of a Grey Goose vodka, but with the added dimension that comes from the darker liquors. I had a wonderful cocktail that mixed rum, ginger syrup, coconut water, and lots of lime juice, called a Lockrum. Anyway, the meal was my favorite on the island, though DH thinks that Mango’s has a slight edge.
Started O’Neill’s Netherland. Love the West Indian references and the mysterious cricket terminology!
Anguilla Day Three
Woke up early to get to Geraud’s Bakery by 6:30 am to get best selection of pastries. Brought them back to eat on the balcony where we saw a large storm go by and then a vivid rainbow. Packed up and headed to Shoal Bay East around 9:00. Chose Elodia’s to hunker down for a few hours, but nobody was there. A passerby said someone would be there around 10:00, but by 11:00 with still nobody there, we started to fret about our chair & umbrella usage. Eventually somebody came and we started a tab with her. Around 1:00 we broke away from our reading to have lunch. $10 hamburger and $8 hot dog, plus a couple of Presidentes. Good food, nice & casual, barefoot atmosphere. After lunch we walked up toward Madeiriman’s and were glad we weren’t staying at Ku because it looked so busy with chairs & umbrellas. I think we would consider Shoal Bay Villas in the future, though, if we didn’t want to return to our home on Meads Bay. Then we retraced our steps and walked toward Upper Shoal Bay and enjoyed the wilder waves and the wind. Very castaway feeling around that point.
After that we headed to Dune Preserve on Rendezvous Bay and got there around 3:00, but though there were lights on, we didn’t see a soul. According to the Carimar book they should have been open until 4:00, but perhaps they’ve added Tuesdays to the “closed” roster. Oh, well. Remembering that a few people on various travel forums had declared the rum punches at Ferryboat Inn to be the best on the island, we backtracked back to Blowing Point instead. We sat there for a while, drinks in hand, admiring the view across to St. Maarten. The rum punch was very, very good.
For dinner we selected Blanchards. Like most other Caribbean-philes, I’ve read A Trip to the Beach, which I really enjoyed upon first reading but with distance from it, I feel much ambivalence. Honestly, I think the tone in that book is just short of being patronizing to Anguillians. But I also knew I probably wouldn’t consider my first trip to Anguilla complete without eating at the place that brought the island so much notoriety (plus they were offering the US $45 prix fixe, too!). The atmosphere was truly lovely (once you get past the distractingly bad art hanging on the walls) and our table was pleasantly situated on the level closest to the beach. Service was gracious and attentive. For ambience, I’d have to rate it second after Veya, in fact. The food, however, I’d have to rate behind every other place we had dinner on the island. It wasn’t bad, by any means. It’s just that every place else was so much better in comparison, and when you take into account the price, I’d have to rate Blanchards overall at the bottom rung of our dinner experiences on both Grenada and Anguilla (except, perhaps, Roy’s). DH went with the prix fixe: spring rolls, Calypso chicken, and Key lime pie in a glass. All were good. I opted for two small plates – a salad and the samosas, which were both good – and the cracked coconut, which is their signature dessert. Again, good, but not special.
So what was noteworthy about the meal? The staff was very warm and accommodating, the garden atmosphere was cool & pleasant, and the rum list is, apparently, the most extensive in the world. We were much surprised to learn that there is a rum from Tennessee, my husband’s home state, on the menu. However, we were shocked and displeased to note that the same rum, El Dorado, aged 12 years from Guyana, that we ordered for US $10 at Veya was US $22 at Blanchards! I’ve read more than once that people think that the food is not as good when the Blanchards are not on island, and I can’t speak to that, but I do suspect that the restaurant is resting on its laurels a bit, and that compared to other places we’ve dined on Anguilla, the prices felt, well, extortionate. US $200 for one prix fixe meal, two appetizers, one dessert, bottled water, and three cocktails. However, and I can’t stress how much I loved this, Blanchards was the only restaurant that bans smoking. I never thought of myself as a cigarette Nazi before, but I may have to re-evaluate. If there’s one thing that can ruin a meal faster than anything for me, it’s having cigarette smoke waft in my direction while I’m trying to eat. Big, big kudos to Blanchards for taking the plunge and making the smoke free commitment.
Finished reading Netherland. Interesting for the most part.
Also, right before we left for dinner, security dropped off a package for us that had been left for us by a friend whose advice on various travel forums has always been indispensable. Though we’ve not yet met, HowardC has been extremely generous in his time answering my endless questions about Anguilla. He and his wife left for us a bottle of wine to enjoy as well as an out of print book that he thought I might like. Howard, thanks! You’re the best!
Anguilla Day 5
Got up and drove to Tasty’s this morning for breakfast and found it charming despite the heavy noise from the road. We both ordered the Grand Marnier French toast, plus some coffee, orange juice, and water. We lingered with our books during a brief rain shower before heading back to Carimar to pack a beach bag.
Trattoria Tramonto on Shoal Bay West was our destination for the day, since they offer complimentary beach chairs with the purchase of lunch. The beach there was much wilder looking than anyplace else we’d visited on the island and the water looked a little rough in spots. I walked the beach up & down and was amazed at how deserted it looked. I didn’t see a soul at Cove Castles, which, despite their many architectural accolades, have always looked a little strange to me. In the other direction, there was only one couple at Blue Waters.
We went up for lunch around 1:00 and were both taken with how cool the blue & white of the restaurant made us feel. I ordered a grilled chicken salad while DH opted for one of the specials, wild boar prosciutto over spinach, drizzled with truffle oil and topped with grated pecorino cheese. Mine was very good, but his was wonderful! We each had a cocktail and then shared a dessert. All of this, plus a bottled water and one iced tea brought the total to a whopping US $80. Yikes! But it was sooooo good, and it felt so damned pleasant to linger there, looking out over the water to St. Maarten, that we just shrugged it off. One of the many reasons we chose to stay at Carimar was for the good value it offered, thus enabling us to splurge on our meals out.
Finished P. G. Wodehouse’s Carry On, Jeeves. I’ve not read him since I was in high school, so it was a real treat to revisit him. This time, though I kept seeing Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in my head, which made the reading even better. Started and finished Christopher Nicholson’s The Elephant Keeper.
Dinner was at Straw Hat, and though we could have walked there, we opted to drive since we chose that night as our gussied-up night and I didn’t want to walk that distance in heels. What a marvelous experience! The staff here was more congenial than anyplace else we dined, full of warmth, good humour, anecdotes, and in general more interaction with the guests, which contributed to our declaring this experience overall our favorite dinner. From the ‘ti punch onward everything was just terrific. I ordered the crayfish, DH had the curried goat (boneless), and we shared the bananas Foster bread pudding. We also ran into the same honeymooning couple from Cap Juluca whom we saw at lunch earlier that day, so it was nice to exchange pleasantries with them again.
Anguilla Day 6
We got up with heavy hearts, knowing it was our last day on the island. The night before we had talked about setting up for the day at Rendezvous Bay since we hadn’t really seen it yet, but when it came down to it, neither of us felt much like stirring away from Carimar. So DH commenced to frying up some bacon & eggs for breakfast while I hied myself back to Christine’s to buy another baguette since the remnants of the one we bought earlier in the week had already molded. Lucky choice we made, as we would have missed the great hullabaloo on Meads Bay otherwise. While placidly dipping my spoon into a passionfruit to scoop out the last of its seeds, the downstairs neighbor shouted up to me, “Look—dolphin!” What we both thought was a dolphin at first turned out to be a hammerhead shark so close to shore that I was afraid it would beach itself permanently. A crowd gathered around while it was thrashing to get unmoored from the sand—two staff members had to hold back a couple of guests who got stupidly close to it. I watched it all from the balcony, so I was a little distance from it, but my best guess is that it was about 6 feet long, perhaps just a tad longer (somebody who saw it up close later estimated at more like 8 feet, so who knows?). Once it freed itself and got back into the water, it circled around a few times about 20 feet off shore before heading out to sea again. From my guess it had been chasing another fish and was so intent on catching it that it didn’t pay attention to the depth of the water and came aground. The other fish, a very narrow one, maybe 2.5-3 feet long, swam hurriedly away toward Frangipani, parallel to shore, only a couple of feet from the beach. After we lost sight of the big one, though, I saw a much smaller shark circling offshore—I couldn’t see what kind it was, but my neighbor who had gone down to the beach said that it was also a hammerhead.
What a commotion that shark caused! People were pouring onto the beach from the gardens and the office and possibly from the street outside, just to get a glimpse of it. It’s the first time I’ve seen a shark without an aquarium wall between us and it was just beautiful, glistening like pewter in the sunlight when it was stuck halfway in the sand. Still, I’m thankful that I wasn’t actually in the water with it! Someone from Malliouhana declared that in his 20 years of working there he had never seen a fish that big in that cove.
Not long after the shark left, another underwater shadow raced toward Carimar from down the beach. As it came closer it separated into 5, possibly 6, sting rays. They darted and circled in front of us for a while and then left. Later on we saw either two different rays or the same ray twice while walking along the beach. It seemed like an awful lot of exciting sea life for one day!
Two American couples arrived and set themselves up on the beach today. Unfortunately, they are so loud that they distracted me from my reading, so I packed up and am now back in the room. I can still hear them whoopin’ it up from where I sit inside (I’m not even on the balcony, for pity’s sake!), if you can believe it. They clearly have no idea how much their conversation is carrying on the wind. But at least one other couple left the beach in annoyance, too, so I’m not the only one who values the quiet.
Later that afternoon we drove over to Anguilla Great House so that we could have a drink and see more of Rendezvous Bay. The place was empty of guests but they were getting busy for a wedding to be held there the next day. We each had a couple of drinks (I don’t recommend the rum punch) and read our books and enjoyed the strong breeze coming off the water. I think the beach at AGH is a much nicer section than what we saw outside Dune Preserve the day they were closed, and in fact was nicer than the beach at Shoal Bay West. Despite the lukewarm reviews for food at AGH, we would definitely consider planting ourselves there for a day in the future.
For dinner we debated between trying someplace new and returning to Veya, and Veya won out. It was a very pleasant evening, despite our melancholy for having to leave the next morning. DH ordered the conch carpaccio and I ordered the fish soup for starters after making sure that it didn’t have cilantro in it. The amuse-bouche was a conch fritter with a mango sauce, but when my husband asked about the Thai lemongrass soup that had been served earlier that week, they brought us out some of that, too, and were kind enough not to add the cilantro garnish to mine. It was excellent, spicy but well-balanced. Unfortunately, when my fish soup arrived, it did have cilantro in it. Or at least, I can attest that I tasted it in there. To make sure I even isolated a small green piece to taste on its own and sure enough, the unpleasantly familiar soapy-ammonia taste was very strong. However, the chef had personally assured me that there was no cilantro in it at all, that most of the green matter was, in fact, scallions, so who can say? I definitely know the difference between scallions and cilantro, as I love one and loathe the other. Could it have been my imagination? Possibly. Could the chef have been mistaken? Possibly. But it was an awkward situation when I sent the soup back and ordered a simple green salad instead. In fact, my embarrassment hung over me for the rest of the meal. God, if only I were part of the normal population who can embrace cilantro!
Anyway, as it turned out, halfway through the first course the owner came out to inform me that my second small plate, the Moroccan shrimp cigars, couldn’t be made without cilantro, so I ordered the steak lettuce wraps with avocado and pickled onion. It was just as good as it had been on our first night. DH took a chance on the vanilla cured duck and it was simply amazing. The vanilla was certainly a dominant flavor and the rest of the seasonings balanced it out to perfection so that it didn’t come across as sweet at all. We ordered two desserts this time: a chili chocolate cake with caramelized bananas and banana ice cream (yum!) and mango served three ways as a sorbet, a mousse, and then sliced in a minted ginger syrup (double yum!). Two cocktails and one bottled water brought the total to about US $150. Despite my discomfort re: the great cilantro debate in the fish soup, I felt that Veya was again the best meal I’d had on Anguilla, and by the time dessert was finished, even DH agreed that it was tops in his mind, too.
Travel Day 3
Though we actually enjoy periodic rain when on vacation, we perversely feel better when it rains on the day of our departure, and I’m pleased to say that Anguilla’s weather obliged us with an actual storm midmorning. We packed up, ate a late breakfast, spent a last few precious moments enjoying the views on Meads Bay, and checked out of Carimar around 11:45. We drove from there to Avis, and an employee there then drove us to the airport. After checking in we opted for lunch at the canteen in the airport, sharing a chef salad and a couple of Tings. A cricket match between West Indies and Sri Lanka was playing on television, much to my delight. I’ve never seen cricket being played, but Bill Bryson’s descriptions of it have always amused me, and after reading Netherland on vacation I had grown interested in knowing more about it.
Our flight was uneventful, as was making it through immigration & customs. However, we were low on cash for the taxi to the hotel and finding a working ATM proved to be much more difficult than it ought! About 45 minutes later we finally settled into a cab to El Convento, one of our favorite oases in the Caribbean. Whenever it’s feasible we try to spend our last night on vacation there. The hotel is lovely in its own right, as is Old San Juan in general, but spending a night there has the added benefit of easing us back into the faster pace of our lives back home.
Upon check-in we were informed that they had upgraded us to a presidential suite. I almost wasn’t sure if I had heard him right, so I asked him to repeat himself. With a grin he handed us the room key and confirmed that we were, indeed, upgraded to that level. The regular guest elevator was out of order, forcing us to use the service elevator instead, but honestly, we couldn’t care less since we were on our way up the Vanderbilt Suite. God, I love staying in a room with a name plaque. Don't you?
The room was spacious and lovely, with the bathroom alone being larger than most standard hotel rooms. We had a foyer, a huge bathroom, king size bed, a walk-in closet, and two balconies with views of San Juan Bay and the San Juan Cathedral. Rejoicing in our great good fortune, we paused to freshen up and check in with our families at home before heading out for the rooftop wine & cheese reception. This is one of the many reasons we love El Convento – it’s included in the room rates and it’s a very nice touch. They put out several different wines (I counted nine that night), cheeses, crackers & fruits, plus coffee & tea. They also have an honor bar if your tastes are more toward the liquor. So we fixed a couple of plates, grabbed a beverage, and scoped out a table on the patio to watch the sun go down.
Usually we go to Aquaviva for dinner in Old San Juan but we were pretty tired and not very hungry after the wine & cheese, and feeling gratefully inclined toward the hotel for our upgrade, we opted to eat at Picateo, the hotel’s tapas restaurant. Sharing small plates of Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, and some sautéed cuttlefish was just the ticket. A mojito, a glass of sangria, and a tres leches cake brought our total to around US $60. The food was good, our server was outrageously cute, and we were happy to be back in place where we could drink the good ol’ tap water.
Day in Old San Juan/Homeward Bound
Since our flight back home to Hartford wasn’t until early evening, we requested and were granted a late check out. We had an early breakfast at Café Nispero, the courtyard restaurant at El Convento and it was very good. I opted for the yogurt, granola & fruit crepes while DH had the Eggs Benedict. Two cappuccinos and a freshly squeezed orange juice brought our total to US $30. After breakfast we walked to the San Cristobal fort to explore. We had both been there before, but we wanted to see it again since all of the pictures that I had taken there two years earlier were lost when I lost my camera. It’s easy to forget how hot it is down there when you’re on the beach because the constant breezes keep things comfortable, but that’s not the case in Old San Juan. All of that concrete radiates heat upwards while the sun beats down from above, and we were both sweaty messes by the time we got there. At least I was wearing a long sleeve loose shirt over a light tank top, which kept the worst of the sun off my skin!
After our tour of the fort (which was offering free admission, btw) we walked back toward the cruise ship port to see a museum exhibit that had caught our eye—a huge banner on the side of the parking garage proclaimed that the Human Body exhibit was there now. We congratulated ourselves on the great good fortune catching it while we were in town, as we’d both heard about it and wanted to see it. Well, we walked around that parking garage. And around. And around. We found another couple looking for it, too, so we joined forces and just started asking random folks if they knew anything about it. As it turned out, the exhibit had been closed for quite some time, which disappointed us all.
We walked back to El Convento along the bay, which is a very pretty walk, offering respite here & there in the forms of shade trees, benches, and a large fountain that was spraying squealing children. We stopped to cuddle a couple of kitties in the square outside the hotel and then headed up to the room to shower. Then it was back downstairs for lunch at Nispero. It is so refreshing to sit there in the cool of the courtyard. We had our books with us, so we lingered over our hamburger, Cuban sandwich and two sangrias. Everything was very tasty and the total came to around US $40.
Some random items:
First of all, I apologize to anybody who is offended by my mentioning prices here for our meals—I do it to be helpful for those who are planning their meals on a budget. You can look up restaurant menus online but they don’t always include prices, and I, for one, had sticker shock at least once on Anguilla. Most of our Anguilla meals tended to the high end—we didn’t want to skimp on anything for our first visit—but I’m already compiling a list of takeaways and local fare to integrate into our next visit.
The weather was amazing on our trip, with a few brief showers but nothing that required us to change our plans for anything. We even would have welcomed a bit more rain, as few things feel as decadent to us as sitting out on the porch listening to the rain, with a book in one hand and a rum punch in the other. Despite being much farther south, the villa’s elevation on Grenada kept us cooler than we felt in Anguilla. Anguilla is the only place in the Caribbean where I’ve gotten sunburned sitting all day in the shade (I had sunblock on, too, but I didn’t reapply it. Didn’t think I needed too since it was shaded).
I keep trying to figure out which we liked better: the privacy, space, and luxury of our villa on Grenada, complete with pool and beautiful outdoor living spaces; or the beachfront condo on Anguilla. Each has its pros and cons, and I suppose we’d have to spend a lot more money than what we usually spend to get the quality of the Grenadian villa on beachfront property in Anguilla. Probably 3-4 times as much money, in fact. While we could justify that once in a blue moon for a very special occasion, it’s not going to happen anytime soon, or on a regular basis for that matter.
I’m surprised at the lack of safe drinking water on Anguilla. There were signs in Carimar warning not to drink the tap water unless it was boiled for twenty minutes first. Every restaurant had bottled water and there was no real option for tap water. Because the island has been slow to jump on the recycling bandwagon (so far only glass can be recycled), I really hate having to buy another thing of bottled water every time we go out for a meal. Or want to make more ice cubes. Or whatever.
Living in New England where smoking is banned almost exclusively in public spaces, it was a rude awakening to share restaurants with smokers. Once in Grenada we actually asked to be moved because a party of four at the table next to us all lit up. Once in Anguilla I petitioned to be moved because of a group of six people was smoking out on the patio, but the proprietor instead moved the party downwind of everybody else in the restaurant, so that was just fine.
I can understand now why some people tend toward the obsessive when it comes to this island. I’ve fallen in love with it myself and my husband even casually asked me what airfare might run for us flying back here again, vs flying to SXM and ferrying over. This from a man who grumbled about leaving Grenada and in general does nothing to plan ahead for any vacation. It’s a wonderful place in so many ways, and though I would never give up my other favorite islands, I can see ourselves returning here time and again. I already feel invested in preserving its loveliness for the future, to the point that I’m dismayed over some of the developments I’ve heard rumors about from different folks. I want to scream “No!” to the casino plans, the Viceroy, and the planned 1,200 more rooms to be built in the next decade, as the local tourism rag proudly announces. I’m all for developing a place that will be beneficial to the folks who live there and the folks who visit there—but these kinds of plans seem a little, well, soulless. Why not make loans available to local entrepreneurs to open shops, restaurants, inns, and other services? In other words, why not devote the time and money to things that will sustain and benefit the local economy, keeping money in the pockets of Anguillians instead of the mega-multi-national corporations with dubious intentions? It’s the difference between looking at Canouan and Bequia, both in the Grenadines, both being developed in vastly different directions.
(And yes, I realize that this probably comes across as completely preposterous from me, a first time visitor, sticking her nose in where it doesn’t belong. But I make the same arguments for my own hometown, too. It’s balanced between two very different New England towns, one of which is rich with history and trying to preserve some individuality, another of which has sold its soul to the highest bidder and now appears as one endless strip mall after another, filled with big box stores. Clearly I want my town to be more like the former than the latter, and that has probably fed my newfound passion about keeping Anguilla more like Anguilla and less like St. Maarten.)
It’s interesting, though. Up until now, I’ve always favored the lusher, mountainous islands such as Grenada or Nevis or Bequia. They have that strong West Indian flavour that I love so much, but they’re islands that are a little difficult—difficult to get to, certainly. But there’s also an element of difficulty in transportation. I’m fairly accustomed by now to driving on the left side of the road when on vacation, but on these mountainous islands my heart always leaps up at least once at the combination of blind curves, the steep precipices, the lack of shoulders, lanes wide enough to accommodate only 1.5 vehicles, and large trucks that come barreling around the bend with no intention of slowing down or moving over.
Anguilla just isn’t like that. There are no blind curves that I saw. The roads are wide and with few exceptions very well maintained. Anguilla is just easier, all the way around. With the exception of the climate and the topography, Anguilla doesn’t feel much different from home; or rather, it doesn’t have that feeling of “otherness” that other islands like Grenada, Nevis, or St. Lucia have had for me. It’s an easy place to fall into the rhythms of. My mama always said that choosing what’s easy isn’t usually the right choice, but my mama clearly has never been to Anguilla. And it’s an easy choice I will be happy to make many times over.
Despite the three long travel days on this trip, it was about as perfect as we could hope for. Grenada and Anguilla are the perfect foils for each other and visiting them both on the same trip highlights exactly what we love about each one. I’d have to say that they are now our two favorite islands, and with Anguilla being that much easier for us to travel to, my bet is that’s where we’ll return just as soon as we have the time and money to get away again. This trip was the best one my husband and I have taken together for a variety of reasons, not least because our last year has been extremely stressful and this provided a sanity-saving getaway for us. I also set a personal record by reading 17 books in 15 days, which just goes to show how much we needed to relax. Usually we’re on the go at least half of our time in the Caribbean but this trip we completely gave in to the slower pace and let it embrace & soothe us. And that’s probably why, at the time of this writing in the SJU airport, waiting for our flight to carry us home, that I have tears in my eyes that our perfect trip has come to a close.
(NB: Most of the trip report is taken directly from the notes I made during the trip. I've done very little in terms of correcting grammar, so the writing is less polished than my usual offerings. But it was so long and I've got to jump headlong into work for the next 8 weeks, so I worried it would be now or never in terms of posting a TR. I'll post a link to photos just as soon as I get them uploaded and organized. Thanks for reading!)
Green flashes, good times, and Holy Hammerhead, Batman!
Grenada/Anguilla trip, June 2009
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