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Trip Report Trip report: Grenada and Anguilla, June 2010

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June 2010 Grenada & Anguilla

Travel Day 1:

Travel on American nonstop Hartford to San Juan—totally full flight, unfortunately with a high proportion of screaming and otherwise badly behaved children (at what point did it become acceptable to watch portable DVD players with no headphones?). With the ridiculous layover that comes with the Grenada transfers, for the last few trips we’ve opted to leave the airport for a leisurely lunch at Pamela’s Restaurant, part of Numero Uno Guesthouse. This year we opted to save a bit on taxi fare by staying a little closer to the airport and chose to give our custom to the Ocean Bar & Grill at the Ritz Carlton instead. I had called ahead a few days before our departure to see if it was possible as a non-guest to spend a few hours there enjoying a long luncheon and I was assured that we would be very welcomed, indeed. In fact, we were. Now, resorts are not our first choice for accommodations, and even if they were, the Ritz would in all likelihood be beyond our means for a two-weeklong vacation (not to mention that it’s all a little too, well, corporate). But if the San Juan location is representative of the chain, after our afternoon there, I can totally see why people are devoted to the brand. No staff member, from the concierge to the hostess to the busboys, could do enough for us. To a person, they were pleasant, congenial, and professional. Before being seated, we mentioned that we would be hanging out for about 3 hours and that we would be happy, therefore, not to take the first row of tables closest to the sand and the view. Nonsense, they said! We were the first to arrive for lunch and therefore must have our pick of tables. So we settled in with our books and backpacks to enjoy the view and the ambience.

Sonny was our server and she was delightful, checking in with us just often enough that we could add another beverage to our tab, but not so often that it felt pushy or that she was rushing us. Really, she had an uncanny sense of timing. We ordered an appetizer of chips & salsa to share, the kosher foot long hot dog (DH), the Puerto Rican Cobb salad (me), an ice cream, one iced tea, one Medalla (the local light beer), one Diet Coke, and two lattes. With the exception of the Medalla, which was a whopping $6 (really? for a local beer?!), everything else was priced slightly less than I would have expected for such an upmarket location. Our total before tip came to $72. (For comparison purposes, our meal at Pamela’s the year before for a comparable number of drinks and amount of food, came to $91. It just so happened that the mini notepad I was using for this trip had last year’s trip tallies still in it.)

We took a taxi back to the airport a little after 3:00 (fare is $10 each way, plus $1 per suitcase) and hunkered down in the terminal to bide our time for another few hours. Between reading and people-watching, the time actually went pretty quickly. We boarded the American Eagle flight (all but two seats were filled) around 6:00 for an on-time departure with our noses still buried in our books, so even the two hour flight went by quickly. DH was absorbed in the new behemoth Vietnam novel called Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes while I was involved with Julia Glass’s forthcoming novel called The Widower’s Tale. I had started Paul Harding’s Tinkers that morning, and while the beauty of the language really struck me, the story itself did not, so I put it down until I could devote more attention to it.

Once we landed, it took very little time to make it through immigration, grab our checked luggage, and then maneuver through customs. Outside Jude, a friend of our hosts, was waiting to drive us to our villa, the charming and ever-so-reasonably-priced Turtleback Pavilion. Low season rates here are always a good value, but because of the economy, the owners were offering 30% off the rack rates this summer. (www.spiceislevillas.com or www.reefviewgrenada.com) Our fourth visit to Grenada and our third stay at that villa (on one of our trips we traveled with friends and stayed at the larger, sister villa of Tradewinds, found at the same websites above), so clearly we’re devoted fans. Almost 16 hours exactly from the time we left for the airport that morning we tumbled into bed, filled with that odd combination of exhaustion and exhilaration that so often accompanies travel days.

Grenada Day 1

It might be a gigantic pain in the ass to have such a long travel day, and I ain’t sayin’ that I wouldn’t rather get to Grenada in a more timely manner, but boy howdy—there is a real and certain reward for landing on the island well past sunset, and that is waking up to its sunlit splendor first thing in the morning.

Our hosts, Anthon and Sharon Antoine, had done some light provisioning for us ahead of our arrival, so after the usual exclamations over the beauty of our surroundings and our great good fortune to be there, we immediately set about making coffee before heading out to the pool. One of the best things about Turtleback is the number of nooks tucked around the villa for reading & relaxing, so there’s always an option to be social or solitary, in the sun or in the shade. Between the main level and the rooftop lounge there are two pairs of padded Adirondack chairs, two padded sets of chaises longues, three sets of tables & chairs for dining, two rocking chairs, and a set of the most amazing padded swings whose backs can adjust up or down like a chaise longue. It’s truly a limer’s paradise!

A bit more about the villa: it’s an open plan studio with a king-size bed, a compact but complete kitchen, and a full-size day bed all sharing the living space with a compact bathroom off to the side. French doors on three sides can be thrown wide open, but the best part of the villa is the outdoor living space. There’s a swimming pool big enough to actually swim in, surrounded by mature foliage, plus the rooftop deck with wet bar, which has lovely views over the bay and out to the Atlantic. For a couple traveling without friends or children, I don’t believe there’s any better value for that level of comfort and style on the entire island.

Shawn, from Y&R car rentals, showed up shortly after 9:00 to drop off our two-door Toyota with four-wheel drive and get our paperwork taken care of. Since we were just sitting down for breakfast when he arrived, we invited him to join us. After the rental was squared away, we decided to put off our grocery shopping for a couple of hours and just relax around the villa instead. If we had known that our first day would be our only day of sunshine on Grenada, no doubt we would have enjoyed it even more.

At noon we cleaned ourselves up and headed to our favorite decadent place for lunch on Grenada—Spice Island Beach Resort. If we were resort people, this is exactly the kind of place we would be drawn to—gracious, open-aired, and unmistakably islandy. As always, the service was charming and the food was excellent, but this year we noticed two differences: the dearth of guests and the slightly increased menu prices. One local salad, one lamb roti appetizer, one smoked salmon sandwich, one order of ice cream, two Tings and one frozen fruit punch took our total to EC $166, including tax and service charge. Now I understand that that translates to less money than we’d spent on lunch at the Ritz the previous day, but it still felt higher than usual, particularly for the small portions served.

After lingering for a while over our books, we left Spice Island to head over for some grocery shopping at the IGA in Spiceland Mall. It’s a tad more expensive than the Food Fair closer to St. George’s, but we have always found the selection to be greater here. A brief pause to buy some mangos from a guy under a tree in the parking lot and then we headed back “home,” where we spent the day in a circuit of swimming, sunning, and relaxing on those marvelous swings.

Dinner found us at Charcoal’s, a new BBQ restaurant in Lanse Aux Epines, just down the road from our villa. It’s clean and casual and fun, not to mention reasonably priced. DH selected the grilled lambi platter while I opted for the babyback rib platter, each accompanied by our choice of 2 sides. One beer, one rum punch, and one order of ice cream brought our total to EC $101, or about $38 in US. They also offer take out, which seemed to be a popular choice the night we were there.

Another early night back to the villa for more reading and then bedtime—I finished Myla Goldberg’s forthcoming book, The False Friend.

Grenada Day 2

We awake to rain and a swarm of mosquitoes outside. Oh, dear! We spend the morning and early afternoon at the villa, swimming and reading. Breakfast is fresh fruit & toast, lunch is peanut butter & bacon sandwiches. There’s more rain than sun and in the afternoon we decide to drive out to explore the neighborhoods of L’Anse Aux Epines. Although it’s highly unlikely we would at this point stay anyplace besides one of the Antoines’ properties, it was fun to see in person the various villas from the Spice Isle Villas website.

For dinner we chose Red Crab, for convenience as much as anything. Because it’s in our villa’s neighborhood, we always give it a try on each trip and each time we’ve come away with varying levels of disappointment. Not this time, though. At last it lives up to its reputation for us! I opted for the mahi mahi, prepared with a garlic sauce and served up with provision. DH chose two appetizers—the French onion soup and a dozen snails. All three were really quite good, along with the rum punches. Our meal came to EC $160, which included tax but not a service charge. (NB: Though the restaurants on Grenada might not compare to the ones on Anguilla, the prices don’t compare, either. If this had been Anguilla, the tab would have been at least US $160.)

Went “home” after dinner to see if we could go up to the rooftop deck and play some Bananagrams, but alas, with all the rain the mozzies were unbearable despite the breeze, ceiling fans, and our insect repellant. We retired indoors instead and read. I woke up this morning with the preposterous fear that I would run out of books so I grabbed one from the villa to read that day instead. It was You Are the One by Vestal McIntyre, a collection of short stories. I’d never heard of him. It was readable enough but nothing to really blow my skirt up, as DH rather irreverently says.

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    Continued...

    Grenada Day 3

    Socked in. By storms, that is. All. Day. Long. It rained so hard all day that we couldn’t even read outside because the wind was driving the rain all over, even in the middle of the rooftop pavilion—our pages just kept getting too wet. And our internet access wasn’t working, either. We ate brunch in the villa and then got a little stir crazy, so we hopped into the car for a drive. We drove all over LAE and then got a hankering to see the SGU campus, so we drove over to True Blue to explore there, too. Then we stopped at the Spiceland Mall to see if we could purchase a couple of umbrellas, but as it was Sunday, everything was closed. Undaunted, we kept driving and thought we’d see if the vendors market was open on Grand Anse. Two stalls were open, so we chatted with the proprietress while we poked around, eventually settling on a sarong, some hot sauce, and some vanilla to take back home with us.

    Back to the villa again where DH wanted to get back to his book, but I was still feeling restless and decided to go for a walk instead. Man, there are some KILLER hills in LAE! I got soaked through, of course, but there was something fun about seeing the neighborhood on foot and making friends with the dogs along the way. They all seem to come on strong with full bravado but then melt into full-body wiggles with their tails going ninety-to-nothing the moment you stop and greet them cheerfully.

    For dinner we called in a take-out order at La Boulangerie for one pizza and one order of Boscaiola pasta, similar to a Bolognese but with mushrooms added. Our least expensive meal yet at EC $50, or around US $20. Between the rain and bugs, we ate indoors and turned the TV on for the first time, vegging out on the daybed and enjoying the good food.

    This is only our second vacation where rain has had a tremendous impact on us, so we’re pretty lucky. But it was our first time on Grenada with so much rain and it became clear that Turtleback Villa, while wonderful in so many ways, is not particularly well-suited for long periods indoors—there’s no table inside for eating meals or setting up a board/card game. And because there are no screens on the French doors, we couldn’t throw them wide open because of the awful mosquitos, so whenever we stayed indoors, we inevitably had to run the a/c. We tried playing Bananagrams on the bed, but every time our weight shifted, so did our playing tiles, so we gave up on that, too. (There is a low coffee table by the daybed, but my husband is of an age where he simply cannot lean over that far in comfort for any length of time, so that table wouldn’t work for us, but it might for other folks.)

    Today I read the first book in a wonderful new mystery series – The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall.

    Grenada Day 4

    Like previous days, this day started out with rain, but this time it was a torrential downpour. Undaunted, we ate breakfast, packed a bag, and headed north with our map. The rain was crazy heavy and there were several moments where we thought about just turning around—the runoff on the road was substantial and every time we plowed through the standing water, it blinded us for a split second until the wipers cleared it. But then we lucked up by getting behind a large dump truck that was traveling very slowly. We stuck behind it through the worse of the storm. Cars behind us were clearly frustrated with our slow speed, but we were relieved to follow the tortoise instead of trying to keep pace with the hare. Past La Sagesse the weather finally let up to a light rain, so we spent the next hour and change just enjoying the drive.

    Our destination for the day was Belmont Estate and we arrived there approximately two hours after leaving the villa. After getting out and stretching a bit, we made our way to the visitors’ center where we met Kelly, the young man giving tours that day (only EC $10 per person, plus tip). He was both energetic and well spoken and we enjoyed learning the history of the plantation and getting the full scoop on the way the cacao is harvested, fermented, dried and processed—all by hand! I was even invited to “walk to beans,” a task traditionally allocated to women, to get a feel for it. The tour concluded with our watching a short video of how the Grenada Chocolate Company then processes the chocolate nibs into their fine chocolate whilst Kelly prepared some cocoa tea and chocolate samples for us. Yum--I’d bought cocoa balls at the market during previous vacations, but making cocoa tea at home never tastes as good! For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it’s a treat. Chocolate, ground cinnamon, and ground bay leaves are mixed to form balls, which are then boiled in water and then sweetened with a lot of sugar.

    Belmont Estate used to supply Lindt and other European chocolatiers with their chocolate, but now it all stays on island, going to the Grenada Chocolate Factory. Because of its small size, the factory doesn’t give tours any longer, but it was quite fascinating to see the process even on video.

    Belmont also has recently imported goats and is now the source of most of the goat cheese served in local restaurants on the island. They’re hoping to increase the production of the goat cheese in order to sell it to individuals and stores. We bid adieu to Kelly to walk around a bit on our own before lunch, so we wandered through the gardens, visited the land tortoises and parrots, and made snapshots for about a quarter of an hour.

    Lunch was a combination of full service and buffet. Joan, our waitress, took our orders for drinks, appetizers (pumpkin soup for me, fish chowder for DH), and dessert (bergamot ice cream for DH, mango mousse for me) while our main course was a large buffet table filled with a variety of both local dishes and more standard American fare—green salad, potato & papaya salad, green bananas, rice & peas, pepper pot, fish, chicken, and breadfruit pie. It was my first time to try pepper pot, whose flavor I really liked. The food was all perfectly good but not particularly outstanding—hard to achieve ‘outstanding’ on a buffet, after all. But we enjoyed the experience immensely, not least because of Joan’s pleasant mien and the lovely breeze. Two prix-fixe meals, plus one bottled water, one coffee, and two fresh cane juices, came to around EC $120, including tax and additional service charge.

    After lingering there for a while, we continued our journey north to Sauteurs, our mouths rather continually agape from the stunning views of the lush mountains and gorges. We had intended to follow the signs all the way to Carib’s Leap but the road was blocked off with police signs in town. Changing gears, we followed the road out to Bathway Beach instead, which was a wild swathe of sand etched with breakers. Apparently along this windward coast the island loses up to 7 feet per year from erosion, at least according to the tourist literature left in our villa. We got out to make some photos and enjoy the salty tang of the air and the rare kiss of sunshine on our faces. Then back in the car following the road to River Antoine distillery (“get thee to a rummery,” my husband commanded as we drove by). By this time, school was getting out for the day, so driving again slowed down as we navigated through seas of small, uniformed children, each more adorable than the last.

    It was, we decided, a wonderful day, a perfect way to celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary. Wanting to continue the celebration with a nice meal, we chose the Beach House, remembering it as having a very nice ambience. Dinner was not quite as successful as we had hoped, however. Part of it was simply the wet weather and the resulting increase of bug activity. The restaurant has some attractive sconces, one on the wall above each table, and while in the past they’ve never attracted insects to the point of being bothersome, that night it was distracting and unpleasant.

    I also had a misunderstanding with our waiter (or perhaps it was between our waiter and the kitchen), which resulted in a very odd first course, indeed. I originally ordered the summer salad, comprising mixed greens, fresh goat cheese candied pecans, apple slices, and a mango vinaigrette. Upon being told that the kitchen was out of mixed greens but that I could have a Caesar salad instead, I asked if I could have the romaine lettuce used in the Caesar salad, but prepared like the summer salad. “Of course,” was my response. Well, what I got was a Caesar salad, complete with anchovies(!) and parmesan cheese, but with the apples and candied pecans from the summer salad. It wasn’t exactly dreadful—it was more bizarre than anything else—but I couldn’t really bring myself to finish it.

    The kitchen was out of the first two items DH tried to order so he ordered a simple steak, medium rare. It came back well done and so full of gristle that it was pretty tough to cut. The side dishes were the saving grace, including the seasonal vegetables, the baked mashed potatoes, and the sautéed mushrooms, all done to perfection. I had more luck with my second dish of beef skewers served with a peanut sauce called the Thai Teepee—they were absolutely succulent and tender. Our dessert, a cloud of meringue, filled with lime curd, a passionfruit reduction, and cream, was perfectly balanced and very light. Three cocktails, plus tax and tip, brought our bill to EC $301.

    Were we overall disappointed? Perhaps a little. Our server could have saved us some disappointment up front by telling us what the kitchen had run out of, for example. And I am still shaking my head at that salad, but that was probably a miscommunication more than anything. There was no excuse for the awfulness of my husband’s steak, certainly, but we don’t really like to send things back, either, so we just sucked it up. We still had a pleasant evening because we thankfully still really enjoy each other’s company, but our good time was only intermittently connected to our food.

    Today I read a really good young adult novel called Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchette.

    -----------------------------

    I've not gathered up all of our photos to upload yet, but some photos are posted on my blog already, for anybody who is interested. http://asthecrowefliesandreads.blogspot.com

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    Hi, EJ,
    We've stayed at three properties on Grenada: Bel Air Plantation, the Antoine's Tradewinds property, and their latest venture, Beachcliff villa. (Tradewinds is our favorite.)

    At Tradewinds, which is above Turtleback, we never had any problems with flying bugs like mosquitos. It was always too windy for them to fly. But then we've traveled there in February and March -- do the winds die down during the summer? Just curious.

    On our first two Grenada visits, we hugely enjoyed our Beach House meals. The last time was a disappointment. One thing that was missing (in addition to a wonderful waiter) from the scene the last time was the lizards who used to hang out around the sconces. Seems like the lizards have been dispatched with, allowing insects to run amok. I'm sure some diners were squeamish about having small, completely still lizards to look at while dining -- a shame. I've eaten in a few high-end Hawaii restaurant where geckos were a fixture on the walls.

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    Hi, isle (love that user name!)--

    We'd stayed at both Turtleback and Tradewinds before and had no problem at all with the bugs in the past. I think just because of all the rain this time and a lack of strong breeze that the mosquitoes were at their worst.

    On the other hand, I've never seen the island look greener, so there's that!

    How was Beachcliff? That place looks really nice and if we travel with friends again, we'd like to stay there.

    emily

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    EJ,

    Beachcliff was quite nice. However, I like the pool area and the kitchen and bathrooms better at Tradewinds, but I'm sure others will rate them better. You don't get a view from the Beachcliff main pool, and we didn't use the lap pool very much, which I think probably has a view. The Beachcliff kitchen was rather dark, but I understand there's now better lighting -- we were there before everything was completely finished, so a lot of things might be better now.

    We didn't use the Beachcliff beach except to go explore. It was quite rocky at first, but then a crew of people came and raked up the rocks into piles, so it was sandy again, during the last days of our two-week stay.

    I've left a few books there over the years. Wonder if you've read any of them?

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    Grenada Day 5

    Woke to sunshine, so after a quick breakfast of toast & fruit, we hied ourselves over to Morne Rouge, one of our favorite beaches on the island. We rented two beach chairs from Bernard for only EC $10 each and spent a happy two hours alternating between swimming, walking the beach, and reading under the almond trees. We made the fortuitous decision to pack up our stuff and have lunch at Sur La Mer and had just arrived at the bar when the skies opened up once more.

    It rained rather heavily for nearly two hours, so we whiled away our time with a few speed rounds of Bananagrams and a spectacularly mediocre lunch. First of all, it was dark, hot, and stuffy inside the bar—the website for the Gem shows a light and airy dining room but we saw no evidence of it. The server was indifferent at best and the food itself was forgettable—I had a chicken roti and DH had the BLT. The rum punch was just this side of awful and the coffee was instant. We had lunched at Sur La Mer once before and had a similar experience, but after reading other reviews online and looking at its website again, we decided to give it another chance. Never again!

    By the time we made it back to our beach chairs we decided to just pack up and head back to the villa. While we were eating lunch, Bernard had very kindly folded up our towels and tucked them inside the folded chairs in an attempt to keep them as dry as possible for us. He told us that he’s having a hard time of it these days now that the new Kalinago hotel is open. He’s been renting out beach chairs on Morne Rouge for years now, but Kalinago is offering free chairs with the purchase of a drink from the bar. Folks, if you head to Grenada, please go to Morne Rouge and rent the yellow & white chairs from Bernard. They’re only EC $10 each for the entire day and Bernard will take care of you!

    Before heading back to the villa, we stopped at a few shops to see if they had any umbrellas for sale, but we couldn’t find any for love or money. Next time we’ll be sure to pack our own, as we could have done much more in the rain, such as tour the botanical gardens or the fort at St. George’s with a brolly in hand.

    But things could only look up for us that day because we had reservations with Boots for dinner. Boots and his wife Ruby operate a small restaurant out of their home not far from LAE, and I don’t think it is overstating it to say that they are one of the main reasons we keep returning to Grenada. They are kind and gracious, and I don’t know how they do it with all of their customers, but they remember us from year to year, which in turns makes us feel special. For EC $80 per person, they serve up a 5 course meal, and when we call to make reservations, we always try to make them for a night when Boots will be serving lambi. I’ve eaten lambi (or conch, as it’s known elsewhere in the Caribbean) on every island I’ve visited, but nobody, and I mean NOBODY serves it up like Boots does. He has a well guarded secret to make it so tender that you’d swear it couldn’t be lambi.

    For that night, Boots and Ruby started us of with a johnnycake and a spicy pumpkin soup, followed by a saltfish fritter, and a small salad. He always offers three choices for entrees, and beside the lambi that night, we could have chosen goat or fish stew. The lambi was done in a Creole style with onions & peppers and it was just out of this world. The entrée is always accompanied by a variety of provision, and that night we had plantain, breadfruit balls, and some root veggies. The papaya custard pie with rum raisin ice cream was the perfect end to a perfect meal.

    After dinner, the four of us sat around chatting about food and recipes and kitchen techniques until we were all yawning. We parted ways with hugs as we left because that’s just the way they are—so warm, so embracing.

    Grenada Day 6

    Yay—another sunny morning! So after breakfast at the villa we head back to Morne Rouge and rent some chairs from Bernard again and spend some hard hours reading, swimming, and napping. The rain clouds roll in around 1:00 pm this time, so we pack things up and head to lunch at Flamboyant’s beachside restaurant. It seems to be everything that Sur la Mer is not—bright, airy, cheery—and just feet from the water where we can hear the waves. Our server is young and in training from NEWLO, a program that trains young Grenadians with various sets of life skills, and she’s trying so hard to remember everything that the concentration shows on her face. It’s clear that she’s trying to make a good impression and we’re utterly charmed—in fact, she reminds us of one of our granddaughters back home. Anyway, for lunch DH had chicken & chips and I had the Greek salad. Two sodas, two iced teas (which were phenomenal!), and a shared ice cream brought our lunch to about US $35, plus tip. When the rain let up after lunch, we spent a little time walking that end of Grand Anse, which we had not visited before. Lunch at the Flamboyant will definitely be on our itinerary for future visits to Grenada—the good food and the great, casual atmosphere make for a good value, indeed.

    By late afternoon, I’m starting to feel not-so-well, so I have a nap in an attempt to ward off whatever is ailing me so that I can be refreshed for dinner at Aquarium. In fact, I feel worse after waking up, but we don’t want to cancel our reservations, as we really like this restaurant (and as I’m the only driver on the rental car, DH would go hungry if I didn’t make the effort to drive him somewhere for dinner). Well, in retrospect, it might have been better if we’d canceled. We arrive to obnoxiously loud dance music blasting through the speakers, which might have been appropriate during the day for the beach bar part of the restaurant, but which was hardly appealing for a nice night out. It was so loud that it completely obscured our ability to converse without shouting (my husband has a hearing disability), but my request for the volume to be lowered went unheeded. I suppose, viewed in the right light, that the music was actually a blessing to us because it kept us from wanting to linger over our meal. Our servers were perfunctory, not at all what we had come to expect from our previous meals at Aquarium, so they gave us no reason to linger, either. I’m happy to report that our food was excellent, starting with the amuse-bouche of seared tuna. My tummy was still feeling fragile, so I ordered the penne pesto made with local basil, and DH ordered a coconut shrimp dish with the most succulent shrimp I’ve ever tasted. The portions were ample and neither one of us finished our entrées, so we took them home to eat the next day. Two glasses of wine brought our total to US $66, plus tip. We remarked on our way back to the car that we made it out of there in just under 45 minutes, perhaps the fastest dinner ever taken at that restaurant!

    By the time we get home, I’m feeling very puny, as my father might say. I take the last two Advil and crawl into bed at 8:30, hoping that an early bedtime will lead to a full recovery by morning.

    TBC...

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    isle, this trip I read a book of short stories that was left behind in the villa. The title was You Are Not the One. Was it yours? Each year when I leave the Antoines', at least half a dozen books stay behind. Maybe you've read some of mine, too?

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    (EJ, now that I think of it, I can't remember exactly which books I read from the Grenada stockpile or contributed to it [there weren't that many available during my visits, but I read a few.] I left an Amy Tan novel and a Stephen King novel that got great reviews but I didn't like, plus several novels I consider to be good.]

    Enjoying your trip report. I wonder if your Grenada restaurant experiences are being colored by your recent trips to Anguilla, which I've read has the Caribbean's best food. Not to be misunderstood -- Grenada has wonderful food but restaurants can be inconsistent, which is not good when you're paying a lot of money for dinner. Alas, my red-haired, fair-skinned husband (who sees the dermatologist every four months) and I limit our trips to islands that are lush and offer easy shade. We love La Sagesse beach for that reason -- I think it's our favorite beach of all time.

    We have also gotten to know the guy who provides beach chairs there -- he remembers us from trip to trip.

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    isle, the Amy Tan book was still at Turtleback but I didn't pick it up. I, too, wondered if your dining experiences on Grenada were colored by our trips to Anguilla, because when we went to Grenada last year, we hadn't yet visited Anguilla. I think it's partly why we were disappointed with most of the restaurants on Grenada, but honestly, sometimes we just had bad food and/or experiences! Ah, well.

    Anyway, here's picking up with the Anguilla portion...

    Grenada Day 7

    Ugh—woe is I! I wake up feeling utterly miserable. What had started as what I presumed were normal menstrual cramps the day before turned into something far more severe this morning—we suspect that it’s something I’ve drunk or eaten. The pitiable thing is that it’s a beautiful day, but because I’m the only driver, DH is forced to stay home all day, too, while I alternately moan and nap. He is such a good sport, though, checking in on me every 30 minutes or so to make sure I don’t need anything. Shortly before lunchtime, I muster the strength to head out again to the IGA to buy some more Advil, and while we’re out, we pick up a few pastries from La Boulangerie, the only food that sounds remotely appealing to me, oddly enough.

    We get back home and I head back to bed while DH reassures me that he’s perfectly content to read by the pool all day and not to worry that I’m ruining his last day of Grenadian vacation. Meanwhile, I’m so woozy from sleep and discomfort that I cannot even concentrate on my book. You know something’s seriously wrong with me when I cannot read!

    I perked up a bit by the end of the afternoon, so we made plans to go watch the sunset on Grand Anse. We ended up at Coconut Beach, where I nursed a Ting and DH had a G&T. The sunset wasn’t spectacular, but it felt good getting out for a while. What the outing lacked in fiery spectacle, it made up for in people watching opportunities. So we lingered there until it was truly dark and then headed back to the villa for leftovers and to pack. With a 6:45 am flight, we had to get up early the next morning to finish packing, load the car, and hie ourselves to the airport. For the first time ever, I was not sad to leave Grenada behind and could only hope that the rest of the vacation was an improvement over the first half.


    Travel Day 2: Grenada to Anguilla

    Up at 5:00 am to be ready to leave for the airport at 5:30. We arrived in plenty of time to check in for our 6:55 flight with American Eagle and get through security, but we were glad we did because in addition to the usual screening and metal detector, every passenger was patted down & wanded, and every single piece of luggage (including handbags, briefcases, etc) was inspected by hand. So despite the small number of people ahead of us, it took a good 30 minutes just to clear security. I can’t imagine how backed up it gets when a big flight to the UK departs. The departure lounge at GND now has two more gift shops as well as an expanded duty-free shop for liquor & jewelry from our last trip, so there are a few good distractions for me—my tummy was still feeling quite crummy, though thankfully the severe cramps are less frequent. I fervently hope that soon after reaching Anguilla that I’ll feel better, because if there is ever an island where you want to be hungry for each meal, it’s Anguilla!

    Immigration & customs in San Juan went by lickety-split, and DH and I were looking forward to being greeted by our Anguilla Air Express rep to whisk us away for our next phase. We find the San Juan airport to be notorious in its lack of proper signage, especially once you leave the American terminal, so the thought of having an escort was a pleasant one. Unfortunately, there wasn’t one. So we wandered about, looking for the proper place to check in. We stopped to ask an airport employee but she hadn’t heard of the airline. We stopped at the information desk but he didn’t know, either. After reading so many kudos on various travel forums about this airline, we were beginning to get frustrated! We finally found our way to the various small and/or charter airlines and asked at the Cape Air counter where we can find Anguilla Air Express and he pointed out a man standing a few yards away and said, “that’s your pilot right over there.” Well. We walked over to him and introduced ourselves and he said, “Oh! You’re here already?” He had lost track of time and forgotten to meet us. Not a terrific first impression, I admit, but all negativity vanished when he continued, “we’re just waiting on two more passengers who should be here soon and then we can leave right away.” As in three hours ahead of schedule!

    The flight was a little bumpy and we had very little visibility with all of the cloud coverage—apparently it was not just Grenada that was socked in by bad weather. Still, we were so very happy once we landed in Anguilla! We had arranged ahead of time with Ronnie Bryan to have our rental car waiting for us at the airport, but since we landed almost three hours early, it wasn’t there yet. A local stopped what he was doing when he saw us circling the parking lot with our luggage and offered to let us use his cell phone to call Ronnie, who was very apologetic and promised to rush over right away. True to his word, less than ten minutes later he pulled up in our little Toyota Corolla and got us taken care of, but looking a little flustered. We assured him that it was all good and that if we had been thinking, we would have given him the courtesy of calling him from San Juan to let him know of our early arrival.

    When we pulled into Caribella, Vandra came out to greet us and give us our orientation. After the dearth of current online information about Caribella, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect, so we were pleasantly surprised to see how bright and airy it was inside. We had the entire top floor of the villa closest to Viceroy and it was very spacious. Unlike the dark photos shown on the Caribella website, the kitchen was done in white tiles and cabinetry and the white tiles continue throughout the living room and bedrooms. The living room furniture is fairly standard sturdy wicker whose cushions are covered in a bright tropical print and in the bedroom the king-size bed is done up in a soothing shade of blue. The bedroom has one set of sliding doors and the living room has two sets, and they all lead out to a deep balcony with expansive views over Barnes Bay.

    First a nap, then shopping for provisions, then back home to watch the lightning show from our front row balcony seats. Off to B&D for some bbq chicken—two orders of chicken and two sides was only US $10. My tummy was still feeling pretty rumbly and grumbly, unfortunately. Early bed time.

    Anguilla Day 1

    Stormy Weather…it was pretty glorious waking up to another storm. Watching it from our balcony and feeling the mist blow on our faces is much more enjoyable in Anguilla than it was in Grenada. Our beachfront location provides an ever-changing panorama of cloud and shadow and color, and we watch it utterly mesmerized.

    We decide to break our fast at Straw Hat since we’re too late for getting any goodies at Geraud’s. I get the continental breakfast with a side of bacon and DH orders pancakes with a side of sausage. With two coffees and two orange juices, the total came to around US $35, plus additional tip. The setting was splendid and my pastries were particularly good.

    Deciding to explore Barnes Bay for the morning and afternoon, we head back home and set up the two umbrellas and chairs on the beach in front of our unit. The beach is just the way we like it – practically deserted! It’s still completely overcast, but after our week of rain in Grenada, we’re happy to have even that. There are some families staying at the Viceroy villas closest to us, but they’re all pretty quiet. One of the reasons I had held back when considering Caribella was the proximity to both Viceroy and Mango’s and being worried about noise, but those worries ended up being entirely unfounded, I’m happy to report.

    We spend some lazy hours on the beach and then back up on our balcony once the rain resumes. It doesn’t let up for quite a while, but right before sunset it clears up. We’re set to meet Ann Phelan, who’s staying at the Viceroy, for sunset cocktails. I have to admit, we were more than a bit prejudiced against the Viceroy before we even set foot there, but once we were on the property, we found many things to admire, in spite of ourselves. Ann was great—just as entertaining and warm as her online personality—and we enjoyed our time with her in the lounge. (NB: I ordered the grapefruit cocktail, which was supposed to be a grapefruit-infused rum with grapefruit juice. While it was certainly refreshing, it was actually utterly indistinguishable from a mojito, right down to the muddled mint at the bottom.)

    We made our dinner reservation for Mango’s, a place we really enjoyed in the past. DH ordered the lobster while I had the grilled snapper, and both of them were just outstanding. We shared an apple tart with vanilla ice cream, topped with a rich, dark caramel sauce that was absolutely mouth watering—once of those desserts that sounds so simple and where it’s fairly common to find a pretty good one, but rare to find a sublime one. Where the butter-to-flakiness ratio in the crust is just right and the apples have precisely the right texture and tartness and the ice cream has a higher concentration of real vanilla, and the caramel sauce is so rich and dark that it borders on a toffee sauce. Well, the apple tart at Mango’s is one of the sublime ones of this world. This place is my husband’s favorite place for dinner on the island and my favorite place for seafood.

    Dinner – Mango’s . lobster for dh, grilled snapper for me. excellent all around. Four glasses of wine. Apple tart with vanilla ice cream & a caramel sauce. Bill was US $????? I have no idea how, but the owner remembered us from last year (maybe because my husband looks like Santa Claus?). It’s definitely my husband’s favorite place for dinner on the island and one of my top two—I can agree that it’s my favorite for seafood, if not perhaps overall. It also has a very pleasant staff, and I don’t know how the owner did it, but he greeted us as return customers after we arrived (we gave no indication when making the reservation). My husband does look like Santa Claus, and there is a substantial age difference between us, so perhaps that is how. At any rate, it made us feel special and it contributed to the general feeling of good cheer. We both really enjoy Mango’s and it will always be on our must-do list for Anguilla.

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    Anguilla Day 2

    I wake up again feeling not-so-good. Curse and blast it! DH doesn’t want to go off and leave me on my own, so we hang around Caribella for most of the morning. Vandra comes in to clean but ends up visiting with us in the living room for a while. By late morning I feel a bit better and we head out to Crocus Bay and the beachbar at Davida. The setting was pleasant and the beach chairs were quite comfortable, but boy-oh-boy, that music was LOUD! And a little schizophrenic, as if the DJ didn’t quite have his act together. We’d get 30 seconds of one song, a minute of another, three minutes of complete silence, then abruptly start up again in the middle of another song. This went on for about an hour before it settled into a reasonable rhythm.

    For lunch we had one hamburger, one hot dog, iced tea, water, and a ginger ale, all of which were fine but nothing fabulous—certainly nothing that would make us return just for the food. We did end with the lime sorbet, though, which was so tart and refreshing that we were tempted to order a second helping. I can’t recall what our meal came to, but it was on the higher side, basically in line with Anguilla resort-y prices for the setting. We both really liked the setting at Davida but in the future we’d prefer to spend the day there when they don’t have music playing, or at least not a DJ. Live music might be better!

    We packed up at 2:30 because the music was too loud for conversation. We had no sooner reached our car then the bottom really fell out again and we had a complete downpour until we reached South Hill. We spent the rest of the day out on the balcony and walking the length of Barnes Bay in the light rain.

    I love Lucy’s! We enjoyed our dinner at Lucy’s so much last year that we knew it would be a repeat for us this time around. Lucy herself is such a feisty, delightful character that we would go there just to visit with her, but the food is also great, not to mention the value. That night we basically had dinner AND a show—with our al fresco table, we could see the play of lightning all over the sky and let me tell you, it was intense! For dinner DH ordered the fish special of a snapper filet topped with garlic shrimp and I had the grilled crayfish. Both came with Lucy’s special sweet potatoes and other provision. Everything was delicious, but we barely ate half of our meal, the portions were so large! The two entrees plus a couple of Jack Daniels for DH and a shared large bottle water brought our bill to around US $100, plus additional tip.

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    Anguilla Day 3

    I was craving some pastries so I drove off to find some, but alas, I didn’t have much luck. I went to Geraud’s first, forgetting that they’re closed on Mondays. Then I tried next door at Gee Wee, but they only had baguettes, so I bought one. Then I stopped at the new little bakery called Top of the Tray. She only had muffins in her glass case, so I bought a couple, along with some juice, and headed back to Caribella for breakfast.

    We spent the morning driving around here & there and eventually made our way to the little bookstore named Coral Reeef. Clearly the buyer there is quite discerning—I was impressed to see one of my favorite books of the year, The Singer’s Gun, by Emily St. John Mandel, among the fiction selections, as it’s from a small literary press called Unbridled. So while the selection is not large, it is very carefully chosen and I recommend readers on the island to stop by and support it when you can. We bought three Eastern Caribbean field guides to help us identify local flowers, birds, and fish. They also have a used paperback book swap, or you can buy a used book outright for only EC $5.

    From there we drove to Cove Bay to have lunch at Smokey’s, which was also a first for us. We picked the table with the most shade and sat down to enjoy our books and the view until the kitchen was open. I chose the vegetable pizza and DH had a hamburger. Both were good, but we agreed that we should have split one or the other because each of us only ate half of what we ordered. A Carib and a Ting, one mango sorbet and one t-shirt brought our total to US $60, plus additional tip. We really liked the laid back vibe at Smokey’s and the two servers were so friendly. We’ll definitely go again on our next trip but plan to spend the day there using their beach chairs & umbrellas.

    That afternoon we had appointments with Margaret for a massage and a reflexology treatment (www.massage.ai). Because of her age, she no longer travels with her heavy massage chair, so we went to her home in Forest Bay, and one of us read out on her porch whilst the other was receiving treatment. She was amazing! Two hours later, we felt like new people. We enjoyed it so much we booked her for a funky foot bath detox treatment the next day (more on that anon). She reduces her prices in June, so while we were expecting to pay $85 for the reflexology and $100 for the massage, it was only $55 and $75, respectively.

    We booked Straw Hat for dinner that night—what a fun place that is to dine! Unpretentious, nice location, and doing a great job of walking that fine line where a relaxed atmosphere meets upscale dining. It also consistently has the most congenial staff that we’ve met with on the island, which earns high marks from us. We began with a house salad (DH) and the warm tomato tart (me). The salad was good but nothing out of the ordinary, but mine was really quite excellent. DH moved on to the curried goat (outstandingly succulent) while I had the lobster & crayfish spring rolls (very good—and the appetizer portion was just right for me). For dessert we shared the banana bread pudding, which was also very good, particularly the rich caramel sauce topping. I had a glass of their trademark ‘ti punch, which was my favorite rum drink on the island this trip. (NB: I don’t know how Peter did it, either, but he recognized us as repeat customers, welcoming us back. It could have been a lucky guess, I suppose, but when I asked how he knew, he said, “Weren’t you here last year?” Just chalk it up to my Santa Claus companion, I suppose.)

    Anguilla Day 4

    I started my day with an early walk on the beach before my lazy bum of a husband got out of bed—unlike the previous days, I didn’t see another person on Barnes Bay, not even down in front of Viceroy. We went to Geraud’s around 9:00 to have breakfast—yummy pastries and good, strong coffee, which we lazily enjoyed over our books. Leaving there, we stopped at Irie Life to look at t-shirts but this time around I wasn’t as impressed. They had fewer cute shirts at higher prices than the Anguilla Pharmacy. Still, I don’t like entering a shop in the Caribbean without getting a likkle somet’ing, so I found one for wearing in the water (I had forgotten my snorkel shirt at home and had been kicking myself for that) that I could live with wearing on dry land once we got home.

    Our destination for most of the day was Shoal Bay East and we happily settled under the cabana at Elodia’s, our usual spot on the beach. I snorkeled for a while and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was better than I remembered. I spent about 45 minutes out there while DH read under the cabana, then we took a short walk.

    Upon our return, we were amused to watch a young American couple arrive and start posing for various pictures. Our amusement morphed into raised eyebrows when their poses started getting more and more provocative, though. (They were using their camera’s timer and in between shots the young woman would do a jiggly jog back to reset it.) After a while she removed her bikini top and the couple started making out in the surf and then in the water. While we were enjoying our lunch at Elodia’s, a police car pulled up and the officer walked out and spoke with the young couple, who packed up and left soon afterward. We’ve seen topless sunbathing at SBE before but we’d never seen anybody confront the offenders before—I suppose it could have been their behavior as much as her toplessness that compelled somebody to call in a complaint.

    Anyway, our lunch was good. DH was feeling none too well, so he just sipped ginger ale and Ting all day, but I had a BLT and two passion fruit daiquiris, plus a bottled water. Our tab for the day came to US $60, but that also included $25 for use of the cabana all day, so it was a very reasonable meal in a great location. Elodia’s is definitely my favorite place to spend the day on SBE.

    We left around 3:30 so that we could rush home to shower and then return to Margaret’s to get the detoxifying footbath. Basically, the foot tubs are filled with regular hot water and then sea salt is slowly added until it reaches a certain salinity. There’s a wand that emits a mild electric pulse to ionize the water (we couldn’t feel anything), and before long, the sweat glands on the bottoms of our feet start expelling our body’s toxins. I have no idea how real this process is, but it was fascinatingly disgusting to watch. Most of the toxins I released were from the liver and the joints (the different colors mean different locations), plus quite a bit of gas. I didn’t take a “before” picture of the clear water, but I did take a few “afters” just to show how amazingly gross it was. Ugh! My feet sure felt good afterwards, though. ☺

    We had originally planned to dine at the new Sand Bar in Sandy Ground after reading so many good reviews of it, but when we were at Smokey’s the day before, our server Felix brought out the menu from Koal Keel, where he works in the evenings, and suggested that we try that instead. Koal Keel, like Barrel Stay and Oliver’s, was on a long list of restaurants we eventually intend to try, so we postponed a visit to Sand Bay in lieu of a plantation dining experience.

    Well, we ended up feeling quite enchanted with the place, putting us in mind of some of our favorite meals dining on Nevis. I love the traditional West Indian architecture, and the antique pieces, soft muslin drapery and mood lighting all contrived to create what we agreed was the loveliest ambience we had experienced in all of our dining on Anguilla. Our food was a little hit-or-miss that night. We began with two Warden’s salads, which would have been quite good if they hadn’t been positively swimming in dressing. When I ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, our server asked if I wanted a red or white one. Thinking she had just misheard me, I repeated Sauvignon Blanc, but then she just repeated her question again. Ah, well! We also both had the Thai spring rolls as our main dish, as we intended to take full advantage of the dessert menu. The spring rolls were very good, but even though they were an appetizer portion, neither one of us could finish. (NB: I have no idea how people can put away a full three-course meal in a tropical climate. I admittedly look like I could put away that much food several times a day, but I’m afraid that most times I cannot consume even two small plates, much less an appetizer and an entrée portion.)

    The dessert course is definitely where Koal Keel was a shining beacon that night. I’m not a particularly big chocolate fan, usually tending toward desserts with a fruit theme instead, but that night I succumbed to the siren call of the chocolate lava cake, paired with a Grand Marnier-chocolate ice cream and accompanied by a heavenly raspberry reduction that was so piquant it made my mouth pucker. DH went for the simpler, but no less delicious, apple tart served in puff pastry and paired with vanilla bean ice cream and accompanied by a rich caramel sauce. Both were the best of their kind we’d ever had and we had a brief moment of mourning when we realized that we couldn’t finish either one. Dinner came to around US $130, plus additional tip, which included my glass of wine, two cocktails, and a bottle of water.

    After dinner our server offered to give us a tour of the grounds, which we were pleased to accept. The wine cellar is a beautiful thing, but DH was especially drawn to the rum shop where they offer tastings of a large selection of rums. All in all, we were exceedingly content with our evening at Koal Keel and it will definitely be on our favorites list for future visits.

    Anguilla Day 5

    Never having been to Gwen’s, we decided that we would spend the day on Upper Shoal Bay. It quickly eclipsed all other locations for DH, who mightily enjoyed reading his book among the palm trees. Though Elodia’s still holds the top spot in my heart, I certainly enjoyed it, and it’s hard to argue with the beauty of that spot, combined with the stiff breeze to ensure total comfort all day long. The food, grilled right there on the beach, had a simple freshness that hit the spot—we shared the chicken & rib combo platter between us and it ended up being the perfect amount of food. Although we’re both avid readers, there were long moments where our books lay forgotten, neglected in favor of just taking in the view. We stayed there until it was time for the ladies to close up shop at 4:00, at which point we decided to explore out near West End Bay. We had strongly considered staying at Indigo Reef before we booked Caribella, so I was curious to see its situation. The property is attractive and the beach was deserted but it didn’t look very inviting for swimming, at least not that day. I liked the way the villas had a cohesive look to them without looking too same-same. If Indigo Reef offers the same package rates next year that they did this year, I would certainly be open to staying there.

    We had two car mishaps today. On our way out to Shoal Bay, we stopped at the Education Department to donate a few children’s books, but as I was backing out of the parking lot, I backed over a sharp rock that punctured a front tire. What a way to put a damper on our spirits! I walked back to the Education Dept and explained the situation, asking if I could please borrow a telephone to contact Ronnie Bryan. I told him that I thought the tire was ruined but the rim still looked good, so he told us to just sit tight while he tracked someone down to get us set up with another tire (he was cycling when I called). Sure enough, about 15 minutes later a man shows up to put a new tire on and cart away the old one, and another 15 minutes after that, we were on our way again. We tipped the young man, but I swear, his demeanor was so agreeable, even enthusiastic, that it was as if he woke up that morning and decided that his greatest ambition was to help a tourist in need. I manage a small, locally-owned bookshop, and I’ve had to deal with all manners of complaints and customer situations, but I would be tremendously proud if my staff were as uniformly courteous in the face of difficult situations as Ronnie Bryan and his staff were to us that day. I cannot overly praise the efficiency and dedication to good service that they demonstrated to us.

    The other mishap occurred while we were driving back to Caribella. You know the traffic light where you turn off the main road to head to Blowing Point? I was stopped at a red light and just about to accelerate after it turned green when the car lurched, as if my foot had slipped off the gas pedal. Turns out that we were rear-ended, but thankfully it was a such a slow speed that there was no damage done to the bumper. The other driver was profusely apologetic when we both pulled over to inspect the car, but there wasn’t so much as a ding, much less a dent. Thankful that we escaped not one but two potentially disastrous car situations that day, DH and I were both secretly relieved that we had already planned to have dinner close to home that night and thus wouldn’t be on the road to tempt the Fates a third time with vehicular misfortune.

    We had missed Picante on our two trips last year and they were closed for vacation for the first part of this visit, but I knew this time around that I would prioritize dinner there no matter what. My long-suffering husband merely looked at me sidelong when I said we were doing Mexican, no discussion. The distance was such that we could have easily walked, but I’m not comfortable walking on the roads at night—not for issues of personal safety, but for lack of visibility. The place was packed (in fact, it was the only restaurant in our two week stay on both islands that was busy, turning over several tables during the course of our meal and even had people waiting for tables), and luckily our reservation landed us the last available table for two. We just loved the whole experience at Picante and it will likely become another must-do on future trips.

    The air was admittedly a little still compared to other locations on the island, but it was so lively and vibrant that our minds were soon diverted to more pleasant things. We ordered a half-pitcher of margaritas (US $26, that netted us about 2.5 glasses a piece), DH had the lime brick chicken (we saluted you, Howard, as he ate!) and I had the Picante tacos with beef (I only ate one of the two). We shared the frozen lemon-lime pudding for dessert that was reminiscent of a custardy Key Lime pie and declared it was an excellent way to end an excellent meal. We had a lot of fun observing a large party there to celebrate a little girl’s graduation (from kindergarten? Preschool? She was wearing a pink satin gown and tiny mortarboard), as the kids were dashing about outside, organizing themselves into teams for what looked like a long-jump competition. It sounds obtrusive, but it really wasn’t—they were energetic but not loud or disruptive and really quite adorable to watch.

    Anguilla Day 6

    Our last full day on the island always leaves us feeling a little melancholy, because no matter how much we’re enjoying ourselves, there’s the constant undercurrent of, “well, this is the last time we eat breakfast/ go to the PO/ visit with Vandra/ snorkel/ walk on the beach in Anguilla for another year.”

    Isn’t it the way it happens? We discover our new favorite spots for breakfast and lunch on our last day. For breakfast we drove over to Koal Keel’s Le Patisserie, where we sat at the single table on the balcony and lingered with our books over pastries and coffee. The elevated position on the balcony afforded us a wonderful breeze, the strong coffee reminded us very much of the chicory coffee served in New Orleans, and the fresh, flaky pastries were excellent. We remained there for nearly an hour, just soaking it all in, and marveling that the pastry chef’s shift begins at 1:00 am just so people like us can enjoy the fruits of their labor at the more leisurely hour of 8:00 am.

    We went back to spend the morning at Barnes Bay, and this time we were the only souls on the beach all morning. The surf was up a little bit more than it had been in previous days, with waves about 18-24”. We read and walked and read and swam and read some more before heading back to the room to clean up.

    By 1:00 pm we had pulled up to Jacala where we spent the next few hours, first dining and then lounging on Meads Bay. The atmosphere was really lovely, a cool white background with brightly colored, tasteful accents. We drank iced tea like it was going out of style, meanwhile ordering the chilled cucumber soup with spicy tomato sorbet (DH) and the grilled watermelon & chevre salad (me). The soup was excellent, very delicately flavored and refreshing on a hot day, but my dish was no less than a revelation. The heat from the grilled watermelon caused the chevre to melt, and topping it all was a chilled salad of arugula, dressed with a fine balsamic reduction. It was perfect—a perfect balance of flavors, temperatures and textures that was just out of this world (but I won’t forget that it was the chef at Veya who first served up grilled watermelon). My husband doesn’t even like goat cheese and he was even raving about my salad. For dessert we shared the mint panna cotta, which was topped with a papaya-mint marmalade and accompanied by two coconut macaroons, and it was also perfect. (As of this writing several days later, I can still taste the fresh mint, the lightness of the custard, and the unexpected savory dimension of the marmalade.) The whole experience was superlative.

    After lunch we gathered up our books to relax on the beach for a while. DH claimed the hammock while I reclined on one of their brightly colored canvas chairs that are structurally similar to bean bags. The day was bright, but between the palm trees and the open umbrellas, we had plenty of shade. Meads Bay was relatively busy, with lots of people walking or jogging along the waterline. Carimar, where we stayed for our first visit last year, had a couple dozen chairs & umbrellas set up, and though not every chair was occupied, it gave the effect of being crowded. (NB: In fact, when informed back in May by the staff that Carimar had about 2/3 occupancy for the week we were considering, we thought it would feel a bit too crowded for us. We really like Carimar and would return in the future, though.) By the time we left that afternoon, I had come to the startling conclusion that though Meads Bay is, in fact, stunningly pretty, it seems to lack the character of our favorite beaches on the island. I’m not sure I can put my finger on the whys and wherefores. Just lacking a certain je ne sais quoi, I suppose.

    Late afternoon we headed back to do most of our packing and then enjoy a last walk and swim at Barnes Bay. It was nice to bookend our last day the same way as our first day, and though I was physically feeling much better at this point, my heart was certainly heavy. Even the sunset was appropriately subdued. ☺

    We rallied ourselves for our final meal at Veya, which is hands-down our favorite place for dinner. We always choose it for our last evening meal on the island because anything else would invite comparison and come up lacking. This was our fourth visit over the course of three vacations, and Chef Carrie never ceases to impress with the consistency of the quality and her inventiveness. The atmosphere is a soothing, sophisticated one with the feeling of a treetop escape.

    After the hot johnnycakes (I LOVE those!) and the amuse-bouche of spicy pumpkin soup, I started with the Moroccan spiced shrimp cigars despite their cilantro content, partly because so many people have raved about them online, partly because I wanted to make the leap and trust the chef’s ability to balance flavors to perfection. I wasn’t at all disappointed. The cilantro was present, to be sure, but the other flavors were so intense that I honestly couldn’t detect it. DH started with the calamari and he also was quite sassified. For my main course, I had the appetizer of grilled watermelon (I guess it was just a grilled watermelon kind of day for me!) with poached shrimp, fresh mint, and candied pecans, and it was blissful. DH had the vanilla-cured duck breast accompanied by wilted spinach and au gratin potatoes. I really love the way the chef uses ingredients that seem counter-intuitive to me, like using vanilla and watermelon to a savory effect, but I also appreciate that nothing on the menu seems over-the-top—just the best, freshest ingredients served up in delightfully unexpected ways. Though we love the dense, rich coconut cake on the menu, it was simply too much after our meal, so we asked if we could just have a serving of the coconut-lime sorbet that they use as an accent on one of their other desserts and they were happy to comply. DH discovered a rum called Methusalen that just might supplant El Dorado as his favorite, and two shots of that, plus a rum punch and a glass of wine for me and a shared bottled water, brought our total to US $176, plus additional tip.

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    Your trip reports are always excellent. I can feel and heard the ocean. I can even taste the food although I have never had grilled watermelon. Thanks for the taste of rum punch. I know you love to read, but your trip reports are like mini books. Keep the reports coming. I will be looking forward to your next vacation.

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    Thanks, tch912. I appreciate your kind words. And if you ever get the chance to sample grilled watermelon, definitely go for it!



    Travel Day 3: Homeward Bound

    We arrived at the airport around 7:15 am for our 8:00 am flight because the Anguilla Air Express website boasts that you need to arrive at the airport only 30 minutes before departure. What they don’t say is that nobody will be there earlier than that to check you in. ☺ So we cooled our heels for a quarter of an hour until the crew showed up en masse. We had a full flight bound for San Juan with 7 passengers on board. The flight itself is more than a little cramped, but the premium ticket price earns its value once you hit the ground in San Juan. The pilots led us through the immigration line for diplomats; meanwhile another airline employee was unloading all of our baggage to meet us and whisk us through customs. Furthermore, the same young man stayed with us to coax his friend to let my husband and me check in early for our American flight to Hartford. We had nine hours until our departure, but they usually only allow airport check-in within four hours of departure, so this was a real boon.

    After tipping the young man, we took a taxi to the San Juan Beach & Water Club to have lunch and spend a few hours. The seven-minute ride was $10 each way, plus tip. While we’re definitely not the young, hip clientele that the boutique hotel seems to cater to, I would be hard-pressed to come up with a more pleasant and economical way to spend a layover. We arrived around 10:30 am and immediately went upstairs to the rooftop terrace to read for a couple of hours until their lunch service started. Twelve stories up, the terrace provides panoramic views of the beach as well as the city. We settled into an L-shaped padded banquette in the shade and made some headway in our books. Or at least I did. DH managed to doze. He somehow always seems to manage to doze. ☺ Periodically I would get up to stretch my legs and take in the view—it overlooked a very pretty stretch of popular beach, so there were all manner of activities to observe, such as kiteboarding, volleyball, bodysurfing, football, futbol, and parasailing, as well as the usual games the young and beautiful of our species play while trying to attract the attention of the opposite sex whilst simultaneously seeming aloof.

    For lunch we moseyed downstairs to the Tangerine restaurant where we sipped iced tea while waiting for our Cuban sandwich (DH) and trio of sliders (me). We were prepared for high prices and mediocre food, so we were pleasantly surprised with how delicious everything was for $13 each. The restaurant was air conditioned, but we preferred the open-air breezes of the rooftop, so after a while we headed back upstairs, choosing the opposite side of the shaded pavilion to stay out of the sun, which had the added benefit (for my husband, at least) of providing front row views of all of the incoming aircraft. I worked on this trip report while he took another (!) nap. At 3:30 we went back downstairs to have give the bar a little more of our custom in appreciation for our very agreeable interlude. We sipped excellent mojitos in the bar while watching part of the Ghana-Uruguay match for the World Cup. Shortly after 4:00 we headed back to the airport for our 6:45 flight home, which turned out to be delayed for two hours from all of the rain up and down the eastern seaboard.

    Some random thoughts:

    Although there was a good bit of rain on Anguilla, too, we seemed to enjoy our rainy time there more than we did on Grenada. Part of it was due to the heavy influx of mosquitoes in Grenada, where we could hardly sit outside at all without being swarmed.

    One bizarre incident happened on our penultimate night on the island that seems not in keeping with Anguilla. As we were pulling up to Caribella in the late afternoon, one of the fishermen who keeps his boat at Barnes Bay approached us and asked if we’d like to buy some lobster from him. Since we already had reservations at Picante and didn’t really want to cook dinner at home anyway, we just said no, thank you. He then explained that he really needed $25 to buy some oil for his boat but that he’d like to sell us some fish or lobster in exchange. We offered to just give him the money, figuring that if he had the chance, he’d probably pay us back anyway, this being Anguilla. Well, we had just stopped at an ATM and unfortunately it had given us a US $100 bill, but we had US $17-18 in smaller bills, plus EC $15, which we gave him. He asked for more, we explained we had no other small bills to give him, and he stormed off, muttering under his breath, but no “thank you,” no nothin’. We never saw him again.

    We really, really loved our location at Caribella. While I think their daily rates are a little high considering the facilities, the weekly rates for 2 people reflect a good value. While I am not blind to its physical defects, they were not the sorts of defects that interfered with our vacation in any way. Yes, there were some chips in the plaster; yes, the window treatments hang a little crookedly and are due for replacement; yes, the sliding doors sometimes were hard to slide open or shut; yes, the walls looked a little bare. But all of the essentials for a great vacation were there: a comfortable living space, a comfortable bed, good water pressure, a functional kitchen, good towels, a very high standard of housekeeping, a phenomenal view, and a secluded beachfront location. All of this for $1150 for the week, before taxes and service charges are added, which is a mighty good bargain for beachfront accommodations in Anguilla. And, I’d like to add, our neighbors just 25 feet to the east were paying $4500/night, according to the Viceroy website (yes, you did the math correctly—that’s $31,500 for the week) for the same beachfront. Granted, their accommodations are more posh to the nth degree, but I don’t believe it’s possible for them to have had a better time than we did, much less, 27x more fun, which is roughly how much more they paid for their posh accommodations.

    We were really glad we got to try some new restaurants that I’ve read about that were either closed or new since our last visit in October, such as Davida and Jacala, not to mention we finally got around to forum favorites Gwen’s, Koal Keel, Picante and Smokey’s on this trip. Revisiting old favorites was just as rewarding as we anticipated—sometimes I build up an experience in my memory so much that revisiting it inevitably leads to disappointment, but on this trip it wasn’t the case at all. It did mean, though, that we didn’t have time to revisit some places, such as Valley Bistro or Ferryboat Inn, which we really enjoyed on previous trips. Actually, we tried to do Ferryboat for a rum punch one afternoon, but we were told that the kitchen and bar had closed early and wouldn’t reopen for another hour, so we left.

    For the first time in our vacations together, DH and were ready to have part of our travels behind us. Grenada, usually our favorite island, just didn’t deliver the goods for us on this trip. Part of that was certainly the weather; we’ve had a rained-out vacation in the past on Nevis and Antigua that was still a ton of fun, but it was really difficult for us to keep our spirits up in Grenada. Another contributing factor was my getting really sick two days before we left and not markedly improving until the end of our first full day in Anguilla. We also discovered that our beloved Turtleback Villa is not well-suited for rainy day activities, at least not when the insects are so awful. Those mosquitoes and no-see-ums were intrepid, fighting off the breeze, the ceiling fans, burning coils, and both natural and DEET-based repellants (I don’t think this has so much to do with Turtleback in particular as the island in general during the window of our visit).

    The fact of the matter is that we are utterly smitten with Anguilla. Our first trip was last June, and then we returned with my mother that October, so this was actually our third trip to the island in 13 months. We also realized that when the first half of our vacation is so disappointing, even a week in Anguilla isn’t enough to make up for it. I suspect that next year we won’t even go through the motion of considering another island and will just spend our full time there; maybe then we’ll break it up and stay on each end of the island. It would be nice to explore the east end more than we have; it would also be really nice to return to Bayberry villa, which we loved. But after being beachfront this year, I’m pretty sure it will be hard not to have that same kind of access again. But there I go again—it’s just part of DIF to be planning next year’s getaway the moment we get home from this year’s!

    I should add that we were fortunate, indeed, to be able to make this trip at all. For most of 2010 it looked like it simply wouldn’t be in the budget for us to take a two week vacation, much less part of it in Anguilla. Although he teaches at Smith College as a supplement, my husband is an artist and 2009-2010 was a pretty lean sales time for his work. And my job as a bookseller doesn’t exactly pay for Caribbean vacations. But a new illustration contract came through in the spring (and with it the means for us to take two weeks off), combined with some seriously reduced accommodation rates, to make it all come together. The possibility of not vacationing this year was a wake-up call and I don’t think I’ll ever take for granted again the privilege of travel.

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    Another great report, Emily! So glad you finally got to try Picante! Sorry for the illness and weather woes though :9 But it sounds like you still had a good time..and you will be back!

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