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Trip Report Guana, April 2008. Fifth anniversary trip.

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Okay, here it is, y'all. Or at least most of it. I started it a little too late this evening to be able to finish it 'cause I'm tired. But it's the lion's share of the report, that's for sure.

Let me start by saying that our trip to Guana was a pretty last minute deal for us. Our big vacation this year was supposed to be two weeks in Hawaii for our fifth anniversary, but when we found out about complications concerning my work schedule and the company that was partially footing our bill, we realized there was a chance it wouldn’t work out, or at least not in the splurge-y way we wanted it to. So, it was back to the drawing board for a special anniversary trip. In my heart of hearts I wanted to return to Guana, where we had honeymooned in 2003, but with their rack rates piled on top of the ever-increasing airefare to Beef Island, I didn’t think we could swing it. Out of curiosity I checked out the frequent flyer availability with American, and with a little patience and flexibility I was shocked but pleased to discover two ideal itineraries for a five night trip in April, the beginning of Guana’s shoulder season. Then I turned to Luxury Link to bid on a five night Guana package. Nice coincidence, eh? While the package was not cheap, it was a good value, as it gave us 5 nights for the price of three, plus transport to and from Beef Island airport.

So, how does one improve on perfection? Or at the very least, how does one begin to make comparisons between one’s idealized perfect honeymoon vacation and the same place that one visits five years later? To paraphrase Jane Austen, in essentials, I believe Guana is very much what it ever was—a retreat from the real world, but a retreat that is as ecologically sensitive as possible, with essential creature comforts and very little pretension. The island generates its own electricity, purifies its own water, and grows much of its own produce in the lovingly tended organic gardens. Rock iguanas and roseate flamingos are just two of the more prominent endangered species that have been reintroduced to this nature preserve of an island. Really, I felt both privileged to be on Guana and oddly proud to have chosen it.

The main change, and a vast improvement over my last stay, is the new management on the island. Jason is the new general manager, and if there were ever a better person suited to his job, I’ve not seen the evidence of it. He is everything a GM should be: an affable, outgoing, and gracious host, a fantastic raconteur, utterly charming, efficient, unfailingly pleasant, discreet, and always at the ready to cater to, nay, anticipate, his guests’ whims. Our honeymoon trip to Guana was a completely different experience—the managers were too engrossed with their children’s visit to pay any attention to the guests. They were very standoffish and the rest of the staff seemed to follow their lead. Well, that last bit was true of this visit, too. Everyone from the kitchen crew to the waitstaff to the groundskeepers to the housekeeping staff seemed much friendlier and more outgoing than my memory tells me of my first trip. We very much enjoyed meeting, talking with, and joking around with Candia, Corinne, Yvonne, Lynford, Cap’nBigShot, Adrian, Christine, Teckla, and Adrian. Andrea was simply brilliant as the Beach House manager, quick to share travel tales, windsurfing instructions, or the recipe for a really excellent Guana colada. Shelley, the resident massage therapist, has magic hands—there’s no better way to describe her. Dr. Liao, the resident scientist and April, the assistant manager, were largely off the island during our stay.

ROOMS – We stayed in Fallen Jerusalem, a cottage high up on the ridge comprising three rooms. Our neighbors, S and A-M were in FJ1, the cottage on the website that has a covered patio with wrought iron columns. FJ2 was left empty to give all of us more privacy. Our room was spacious and airy with a king bed, writing desk, large bathroom & shower, and best of all, a private covered patio and sundeck overlooking the Atlantic, nearly full-on west, from where we watched some glorious sunsets. Comfortable, simply furnished, but no air conditioning. The strong ceiling fan, combined with the ocean breezes, kept the temperature from rising beyond our comfort level, though. When we honeymooned we stayed in Anegada 1, another cottage with three rooms, and while A1 had better breezes, we preferred our location in FJ3 for privacy and for the unimpeded ocean views.

FOOD – The food on this trip was even better than I remembered--fresh and capitalizing on local resources. Breakfast was a buffet every morning featuring a stunning array of fresh fruit, freshly baked croissants, white bread, wheat bread and chocolate chip muffins, cereals, yogurts, smoked salmon, and cheese. Fresh brewed coffee, our choice of juice, eggs any style and our choice of breakfast meats awaited us via table service, not to mention a daily breakfast special, such as omelets, Eggs Benedicts, banana pancakes, and French toast.

Lunch was an embarrassment of riches, with one or two main courses, such as chicken roti, spinach quiche, lamb, grilled snapper or fresh, rare tuna, and an abundance of salads: avocado & artichoke, shrimp & melon, curried cauliflower, mushroom & pepper, peas & peppers, green salad, corn & peaches, calamari & seaweed, fried plantains, and marinated avocado, to name as many as I can recall. Though some of them sounded a little strange to me (shrimp & melon?!) I’m so glad I tried them all. The shrimp & melon salad is definitely something to write home about, even if it does seem like an odd pairing. Lunch was also accompanied by complimentary red or white house wines and followed up with simple desserts, usually an ice cream and fruit combination.

Dinner was a set 4 course menu offering a choice of two entrees that we had to select by 3:00 each day. Soup for starters, usually a local staple like pumpkin, but always with the option of having plain consommé instead, followed by a green salad. Some of the entrees on offer were Grouper, Mahi mahi, Snapper, Pork Tenderloin, Veal, Crab stuffed chicken, Tuna, and Duck Breast. Although all were good, the most successful were the simplest preparations like the fresh fish. Dessert varied each night, from cheesecake to mousse to parfait, or we could opt for the sorbet instead, whose flavors changed daily.

DRINK – Water, iced tea, lemonade, and fruit punch were complimentary all day long, and red & white house wines were included with lunch and dinner, but beyond that drinks were on the honor system, which was great. A refrigerator full of sodas, mixers, and beer was located at both the main house and the beach house, with tons of top shelf liquors ranging from Beefeater gin to Grey Goose vodka to Cointreau. When my husband’s favorite gin ran out in the afternoon, it was promptly replaced with a full bottle by cocktail time. Since there was no bartender to pay, drink prices were very reasonable, with a blender drink being the most expensive at US$6.50, if memory serves correctly.

DINING – Solo or as a group? That was the daily question. We opted to start the day on our own each morning, reading out on White Bay Terrace. Our mornings started early and we were usually the first or among the first at breakfast, so we had the privilege of first choice of seating. Lunches we opted to dine on our own when there was availability to do so and the other times we joined the group tables. Dinner we alternated according to Jason’s seating charts, dining by ourselves or with others, with one especially romantic dinner out on Sunset Terrace and some lively dinners at the group table. Two dinners were actually a little too lively, I’m afraid. We were twice seated next to J & L, a couple whose politics are quite divergent from ours. My husband and J got into some heated discussions, so L and I had to pointedly steer the conversation to safer waters more than once. A man employed by the Jareckis was also staying on the island while we were there, and the one meal we shared with him made me thankful that he wasn’t there every evening. He was pompous to many of the guests and extremely rude to the staff, not to mention pro-colonial to the nth degree—along the lines of “We have to be stewards, we can’t possibly expect these people to be able to govern themselves.” It was appalling. Generally, though, we quite enjoyed both the cocktail mingling and the group dinners. Most of the guests were very interesting and engaging, ranging from young babymooners M & M; the North Carolina family of B, C, and teenager W; Jason’s paramour N; S & T, a couple who have been coming to Guana for more years than they could count; plus the other folks I mentioned above.

ACTIVITIES – Our days were mostly lazy, spending long hours relaxing & reading on the beach, but I did go snorkeling a few times off of White Bay Beach and I went to Monkey Point on one of the snorkel trips that Jason arranged, but it was lackluster. Unfortunately, mere days before our arrival the weather had been awful—15 foot swells, destructive storm surges that washed hundreds upon hundreds of sea fans, sea cucumbers, and sea creatures upon the shore and left the reef covered in sand. Our main exercise was climbing up and down the hill that separates the cottages from the beach (rides are offered if you prefer not to walk), or strolling along the paths toward the sugar mill ruins and the organic gardens, or taking in the very easy hiking trails. Guana also offers sea kayaks, wind surfers, Hobie Cats, Sunfish, or just an old-fashioned foam raft if you want to get out on the water. L and S were two guests in particular who seemed to enjoy fishing for tarpon from the shore—those huge fish were coming in amazingly close to the beach.

We each indulged in a spa treatment at the open air facility set up just beyond the sea grass on White Bay Beach. Shelley gave me a phenomenal foot reflexology treatment, and when I started asking questions she described everything she was doing and which pressure points corresponded to which body parts. According to her I had a lot of toxins to release through my feet. Who knew? DH opted for a deep tissue massage in his back & shoulders and a more gentle touch on his hands, where he’s lately been suffering arthritis and carpal tunnel, and he was equally enthusiastic about Shelley’s treatment. I would very much have liked booking another treatment with her but she was full up for the rest of our trip.

On our third day there we discovered what we called the Secret Garden, the cultivated area where the yoga classes are supposedly held. There was a covered reclining swing, roughly the size of a king size bed, so every day after that we went down there after lunch and stayed until about 3:00, at which point we’d go back down to the beach. It was beyond tranquil in that spot, the quiet broken only once by two large rock iguanas who were fighting below us in the underbrush. After the fight broke up I was able to get some good shots of one of them.

Our only other activity of note was taking the Castaway Picnic, where they dropped us off at the deserted Bigelow Beach with two beach chairs, two umbrellas, and a picnic basket full of food to order. This was great fun, but unfortunately after an hour or so the wind died down enough for gnats to swarm around us. Happily they weren’t biting but it was a real nuisance and unlike last time, we were quite ready to leave by the time they came back to pick us up.

Here are some photos from my trip:

http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=1Abt2zhw3bsXjQ&emid=sharshar&linkid=link4

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