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 with no “thank you,” no nothin’, directed toward us. 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.