Guana, April 2008. Fifth anniversary trip.

Old May 17th, 2008, 08:27 PM
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Guana, April 2008. Fifth anniversary trip.

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/w...r&linkid=link4
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Old May 18th, 2008, 06:02 AM
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OKay, here's the rest of it, as promised:

THE SHIRT OFF HIS BACK – I should really mention an incident that perfectly describes the new feeling of hospitality at Guana. Jason had organized a snorkel trip to Monkey Point for Thursday and I had neglected to pack my snorkel shirt for this trip. Since my DH wasn’t going on the snorkel trip, I was concerned about sun exposure and not being able to reapply sunscreen to my own back and shoulders (and of course not wanting to ask another guest to do it!). So I wandered into the giftshop after lunch to ask if they had any long-sleeved snorkel shirts for sale. Jason happened to be in the office at the time and said that no, they didn’t, they would take that under advisement for the future, and offered to let me use one of his own. Naturally I demurred, but later that afternoon my husband walked into FJ3 and announced to me that he had just found a long sleeve snorkel shirt lying around, begging to be used. After that, I gave in and used it. When I returned it back to the office and looked through the t-shirts and hats for sale to see which color I wanted to buy, what do you suppose I saw for sale? Guana imprinted snorkel shirts! Granted, they were short-sleeved. But Jason insisted on letting me borrow something I would have been happy enough to buy, simply because it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.

WEATHER – We were lucky to avoid the storm surges that had plagued the BVI until right before our arrival. I don’t think it rained the whole time we were there, not even at night, which in a way was disappointing, as we love falling asleep to the sound of rain, or getting a brief break from the sun during the day. The wind was up for the first couple of days, making snorkeling an exercise in futility, but also making this trip the coolest Caribbean vacation we’ve ever taken. There were moments when I was actually feeling chilled during the day and for the evenings I was happy to have a light scarf to wrap around my bare shoulders. It was beautiful and temperate and I don’t think there was a single moment that I found the sun to be too warm.

ODDS & ENDS – I never knew that I was the sort of person who could watch pelicans and boobies for hours, admiring the way they soar on the air currents, plunge unto the sea, the way the sea reflects a delicate shade of blue on their pale underbellies, the way they take off, pushing against the water’s surface with little kicks. I was utterly mesmerized. I can’t tell you how much time I frittered away in this pursuit. Or how many times I was startled out of my reverie when these large, prehistoric-looking birds plunged into the water just a foot or two away from where I was floating!

I really loved being back at Guana. Our first trip there, we were so lost in each other that we didn’t really appreciate the easy camaraderie that springs up among the guests who are willing to mingle. There wasn’t a single night that we couldn’t have dined by ourselves if we had wanted to, but to our surprise we found much enjoyment at the communal dining tables at the end of the day. Guana is small enough that there are never very many guests anyway, and my guess is the island was right around half capacity for most of our stay, but we came away knowing all of the guests by name and feeling a real sense of loss and regret when it came time for us to leave. Not just loss and regret at leaving this place of beauty, but of saying goodbye to the staff and guests, too.

They still do the charming farewell ceremony at Guana, where guests are given flowers to throw in the water as the boat takes them back to Beef Island. Legend has it that if the flower floats back to shore, the guest who throws it will also return to Guana one day. Naturally it’s orchestrated so the flower always floats back on the water currents!

Cap’n Big Shot took us all the way back to the airport, having time to share just a couple of quick stories before pulling up to the terminal, including learning his real name. (Not that we’ll ever tell!) My husband was actually close to tears the whole time, wanting to cancel our trip to Hawaii and return to Guana instead. Big Shot dropped us off with our bags and gave us hugs before sending us on our way. He must have seen my husband’s emotion, though, because a few minutes after standing in line he came back for one more round of hugs and to reassure us that he’ll be there whenever we do return. It was a very nice touch.

So, there and back again. The trip was all too short, as we knew it would be, and just a month after returning I find myself occasionally loading up www.guana.com just to see the beautiful photographs on the site to serve as reminders of what we’ve left behind. Our usual Caribbean vacations involve getting out & about every day, renting a car or taking public transportation, meeting people and making connections with them, and a vacation at Guana is about the polar opposite of that. One might expect it to feel sterile at worst or resorty at best, but one would be blissfully mistaken! It is a place we will return to, though perhaps not so often as we’d like. All of that privacy and fabulousness comes with a hefty pricetag, after all, and there are so many other places we’ve not explored yet. But if my hibiscus bloom can make it back to Guana, I sure can, too!


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Old May 18th, 2008, 07:28 AM
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Emily, thank you so much for posting your report. I so love reading about your travels. They make me feel like I am there as well. Guana sounds like a special place for us to put on the to go list. Did you feel that 5 nights was enough or could you have stayed longer?

I'm off to look at your photos now.

Cheers!
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Old May 18th, 2008, 08:14 AM
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Loved your report. We were there for a week in February and loved every minute! I don't have the patience to write such a comprehensive report myself, so thank you for yours! I'm in complete agreement with your assessment of the place, and I cannot wait to return. Thank you!
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Old May 18th, 2008, 08:17 AM
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Well you know me. I've never been ready to come home from a vacation, no matter how long or short it was. I definitely could have stayed longer if time and/or money would permit. However, staying more than two weeks would be testing my devotion to the place, I suspect!
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Old May 19th, 2008, 06:44 AM
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Hi ejcrowe,

Awesome report, just love your writing style!! Also enjoyed your pictures, Guana looks soooo beautiful and relaxing!!

Where to next in the Caribbean or are you still planning Hawaii? Thanks for posting!

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Old May 19th, 2008, 07:13 AM
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Thanks, Jayneann--I really appreciate it. (Your last name isn't Phillips, by any chance, is it?)

I see that you're planning a trip to Virgin Gorda for next year--my husband and I went there with our granddaughter last year and we loved it. We'd like to plan a trip back there just the two of us.

Yes, the Hawaii trip is back on again for us, so that's the only trip I've got in the works for now. We'll have to travel for the usual family stuff this year but other than the Big Island of Hawaii there will be more more vacations for us until next spring at the earliest. are you considering any trips besides the one to VG?
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Old May 19th, 2008, 09:47 AM
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Hi ejcrowe,

No, my last name isn't Phillips, it's Ferguson!

I'm very excited to be going to Virgin Gorda! Actually, I have you to thank! Originally, I was looking into Tortola, but the way you described VG in one of your reports convinced me VG would be the right choice for my husband and myself! So, thank you once again!!!

We don't have any definite travel plans after VG but one of our sons is planning on a college semester abroad in France in the Fall of 2009 or Spring 2010 (imagine, 2010 only 1.5 yrs away)so we're planning on visiting him and hopefully see a little more of Europe during that trip.

Also, two other sons live in Florida, and we visit them a few times a year, too.

This weekend we're flying to Michigan to my niece's graduation and to watch our son play baseball in a Midwest league. Should be a great weekend!

The Big Island is on my long list of "must see" places! Have you been to Hawaii before?
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Old May 19th, 2008, 02:45 PM
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I agree with Mymoosie. Your writing style also makes me feel like I'm right there. It all sounds so divine -- except for some of those dinner moments ;-)
Thanks for posting your pics too!
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Old May 19th, 2008, 04:13 PM
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Vivid and entertaining trip report as always. Thanks!
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Old May 20th, 2008, 06:29 AM
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Enjoyed your report and beautiful pics. Thanks for posting.
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Old May 21st, 2008, 05:07 AM
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Thank you, Emily, for your wonderful report. Always enjoyable. I wonder if there is a particular beach that sailors can pull to to maybe snorkel or check out the beach? Or is this a private island? Two weeks til our BVI sailing trip, all girls, we even have a young woman as a captain! Anxious to see what our itinerary will be!
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Old May 21st, 2008, 08:11 AM
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aaahhh...a wonderful trip, ejcrowe. So enjoyed your trip report and beautiful pictures. That view! I am so inspired, and Guana is On My List!!!

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Old May 21st, 2008, 06:34 PM
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Thanks again for your words of encouragement, everybody. I really appreciate it!

Jayneann, I had to ask about your last name because there's a writer named Jayneann Philips who lives near Boston. I thought there was a small chance you might be she. And no, I've never been to Hawaii before, so I'm really looking forward to it now as I do my research. TO be honest, I wasn't really enthusiastic about it for quite a while. If I want tropical locales and nice beaches, why not just go back to the Caribbean? But the university is flying my husband out there to give a couple of talks and he parlayed his fee into two tickets out there, so it was one of those offers I couldn't refuse.

mahobaygirl, Guana is a private island, it's quite true. But like all beaches in the BVI, White Bay Beach is public up to the high water line. There were some gorgeous sailboats and yachts anchored offshore while we were there and periodically folks would dinghy to shore and stay on the far end of the beach. So take advantage of it if you can! They say that Monkey Point is one of the best places left to snorkel in the BVI. The water was still pretty churned up there during my visit, but if you go, let me know how it was. I did see some huge tarpon while there!
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