30 October 2010

Part the last: Saying goodbye to Anguilla

Monday, day of departure.

Having packed most of my stuff the night before, I’m free the morning of departure to walk the sands of Shoal Bay East one more time.  Again, I’m the only person on the beach, but this time my head is distracted by our imminent departure.  Last days like this are always hard because I feel stuck in limbo and my mind is too distracted even to read; there’s the obvious feeling of yes, I’m sad to be leaving Anguilla.  But then there are the more mundane thoughts, too, such as weighing the pros of taking one last swim in that gorgeous water against the cons of having to travel home with damp clothing in my suitcase and knowing damn well that the clothes will mildew in my bag by the time I finally get around to unpacking the bags.  It’s times like these that I wish skinny dipping weren’t frowned upon, as it would be the perfect solution. 
Again with the crowds!
 After taking a few last photos, I head back to the room for coffee and breakfast, making just enough noise to rouse DH and DG without making it seem like I was trying to wake them.  After a light repast, the three of trudge out to the beach one more time, this time slowly, deliberately.  My husband and I know each other well enough to realize that we’re trying to take it all in, one last time.  Trying to memorize every sight, scent, and sound, trying to make it all count. 

Eventually we have to acknowledge that our time is up, so after changing into our traveling clothes, I head to reception to check out while DH and DH load the car.  Leaving Ku, we make a few detours to toss out our leftover food along the roadside.  We left a few things in the fridge in case our housekeeper wanted some extra coffee, bottled water, eggs, or jam but the remaining food we deboned and otherwise made animal friendly –I made sure that the black & white cat got our leftover chicken livers from SandBar. 
DG reading at the Cafe at Veya
Cafe at Veya
 We elected to go straight to the airport to check in and then make for the Café at Veya for a leisurely lunch.  We were the first to arrive, so after placing our orders, we made ourselves at home while the cook was still readying herself for the day.  Luckily for us, Veya had recently adopted a kitten from AARF, and he kept us entertained while waiting for our panini and salad.  The little guy was adorable and funny and quite vocal, and, at least momentarily, he distracted us from our Leaving Anguilla Blues. 

The food itself was quite good.  DH enjoyed the spinach salad and DG and I enjoyed our panini, but we especially loved the freshly prepared Johnny cakes and the iced tea, which was sweetened with a simple syrup and flavored with fresh lime & orange juices and a hint of ginger.  In fact, the only drawback that we could find about the Café at Veya was the very still air.  A ceiling fan would have done wonders, but I’m not sure how you could install one on a pergola.  In fact, we felt so hot and sticky after lunch that clearly our only option was to return to Kel’s for some more ice cream before heading back to the airport!
We each drank a pitcher of this marvelous iced tea!
After our ice cream detour, we still had ample time before returning to the airport so we did a little driving around so that DG could see just a little bit more of Anguilla.  We drove toward Crocus Bay and stopped to make a few pictures.  Then we doubled back toward town to photograph the Wallblake House and the Catholic church next door.  Eventually we ran out of ways to procrastinate, however, and made our way back to the airport.
I'm not sure how Nurse Boy manages his car wash, but I like his sign!

You know-- for all of your deep sea fishing and infant needs!
Travel home was uneventful.  Why is it that bad weather and cancellations only happen at the beginning of a vacation and never at the end?  We would have gladly stayed in Anguilla one more night—or more!  Alas, it was not to be.  Dreaded Island Fever is as strong as ever, so with the advent of another New England winter, planning my next trip is the only thing that ensures I make it to spring without going mad. 

A few parting thoughts:

I started traveling to the Caribbean with the man who became my DH in 2011, not quite ten years ago, and now that we’ve tried Anguilla, it’s the first island that makes me want to forsake all others.  I doubt we will.  Forsake all others, that is.  We’ll flirt with them here and there, and like many relationships, the flirting will enhance our feelings for Anguilla and make us appreciate it all the more.  But while I’m happy to have found a place that feels like home, I sometimes worry about all of the other, new experiences I’m missing out on because I keep being drawn back to Anguilla.

Sad faces on American Eagle
Car rental – We rented from Ronnie Bryan again, and I was a little surprised at our interactions.  Hubert was a real help and a tribute to Ronnie in his efforts to communicate with us while we were in San Juan to see if we could get alternative transport to Anguilla.  Merlyn, the woman who was supposed to take care of the paperwork, was a different case, however.  Part of our lack of communication was, I’m sure, not having a working phone in our rooms.  But the ladies at Ku were good about calling Merlyn and leaving her voicemail about where we would be and at what times, so that she could bring the paperwork to us.  Still, we never heard from her.  It was only the day before we left that she came by with the paperwork, but she didn’t have a total for me and seemed surprised when I asked for one.  I was reluctant to sign a credit card receipt with no total attached to it, but I let it pass.  Once we got home, I had an email from Merlyn letting me know that my debit card hadn’t been charged yet because they were having trouble running it through.  And then she proceeded to list the full debit card number AND expiration date in a completely insecure email, just to see if she wrote down my number correctly.  I was appalled!  I wrote her back immediately to let her know that it was unprofessional and inappropriate to put a customer’s sensitive information like that in an email, but that she should call me with any future questions about my card.

East side vs west side – I think I discovered on this trip that I prefer visiting Shoal Bay East rather than staying there.  My husband was just the opposite, however.  He’d set up shop at Ku for every future trip if he had his druthers.  I also think that we still need to explore the east side quite a bit more since we didn’t do much on this short trip—we wanted “sure things” with our granddaughter and thus took her only to places that were known quantities for us, so we were mainly traipsing to the west side.  I may or may not stay at Ku in the future.  If the price were right and if it were off season, I’d consider it.  But despite its superior location, I feel that there are too many other, better options in the same price range.  However, one thing that I was dreading before the trip turned out to be merely a trifle, and that’s the driving back to Shoal Bay East every evening after dinner.  True, it meant I never had more than 1-2 cocktails or glasses of wine, but to be honest, I rarely drink more than that with dinner, even if I’m not driving. 
A particularly shell-y section of SBE
A last word on Ku – Because we paid up front for our travel package for four nights (which got broken down to $188/night in the package) but only actually stayed there for three nights, I inquired whether Ku would be willing to make sure we received full value for what we paid.  I would never expect or ask for a full refund on the unused portion of our stay, but I suggested that they might give me a credit or voucher for future use—either a future one night stay, or a credit to use in their restaurant or boutique.  This seemed reasonable to me at the time and still seems reasonable.  However, the answer was an emphatic and resounding “no” – not even a partial credit. 

 I may take the matter up with American Airlines Vacations, who was the booking agent for this trip.  But I may just let the matter rest.  And it’s for that reason, if for no other, that I wouldn’t want to return to Ku.  Not only did we NOT have a restaurant & bar on site that was promised, and on top of that, they didn’t even follow through with their offer of preparing a limited breakfast to be delivered to our rooms; not only was the phone out of service, but our internet, too—on top of that, the management did not seem at all interested in making sure we had a pleasant experience despite all of the issues, and they made it abundantly clear that they would not budge on giving us even partial credit.  And so despite the fine location and the reasonable rate, I simply cannot bear the thought of giving my hard-earned money to an establishment that clearly places very little value on customer satisfaction –all the more criminal for being a part of the so-called hospitality industry.  I run a small business at home and if we displayed such a callous disregard to our customers, we’d soon have very few. 

But, oh, Anguilla.  How I do miss you!

18 October 2010

It's a small, small world!

Photo credit: B. Moser

Sunday, 10/10/10

Our second, yet last, full day in Anguilla.  How is that possible?  At the same time that my blood slows down to beat time with the island’s pulse, Time itself seems to speed up, mocking us all. 

In keeping with tradition at home, my husband whips up a big Sunday morning breakfast that is intended to carry us through the day until dinner-we’ve got eggs, bacon, fruit, toast, and kielbasa.  Our energy that carried us through two long, stressful days of travel and that kept us going once we hit Anguilla, is finally lagging, so we give in to it.  We declare Sunday a stay-at-home day, so instead of packing a beach bag, we simply roll out the door with towels in hand to lay claim to some prime beachfront real estate.
This was shot on a crowded Sunday.  Believe me, there
are hordes of people just out of view.

Santa Claus on vacation

My new best friend
 Waves, sand, surf, bird cries, and…kitty cats?  There’s a black and white tomcat who lives at SBE who decided I was his new best friend.  How did he know I was such a soft touch and would soon amble back to the room to fetch the leftover bacon for him?  I admit it—I’m a total sucker for cats.  I’m an animal lover in general and dogs (including my own big, sweet lug of a girl, Roxie) make my heart melt, but cats are the creatures who have bewitched my soul.  Perhaps I was a Bast-worshipping Egyptian in a former life. 
DH and me, after our cutthroat Bananagrams game

Our lovely DG at Madeariman's
Around 1:00, though still full from breakfast, we start craving some frozen refreshment so we amble over to Madeariman once more.  Lucy (short for Luciana) greets us with a friendly hug since we were just there two days ago for lunch.  Two rounds of Ting take us through one game of Bananagrams, but then it’s time to roll out the big guns: Pina colada (DG), passion fruit colada (moi) and banana colada (DH).  It’s about that time that I hear DG’s stomach from across the table.  Despite her protests that she wasn’t that hungry, she managed to put away a large fish burger, a mound of cole slaw, and French fries (okay, she had some help with the fries).  And a Diet Coke to wash it all down, of course!  But she wasn’t hungry.   Not at all. 
You're lookin' at the world record shortest cherry stem
tied into a knot, courtesy of DH's mouth.

We decide to walk off some of our indulgences at Madeariman, so we nab some more sunscreen and cover-ups to walk up the beach to Gwen’s to check out the state of the erosion.  We also bring along a small kite, hoping we can launch it into the air for some photo-ops.  Unfortunately, we didn’t realize when we grabbed the kite that the kite string had detached, so we didn’t have anything to fly it with.  Undeterred, DG tried to improvise.  We paused in the shade by Serenity to sit for a spell, where the rhythm of the waves mesmerized us.  Then headed back to Ku to catch the last rays of sun for the afternoon. 
Triple self-portrait at Upper Shoal Bay

Palm grove in front of Gwen's.  Another one bites the dust, sadly.
Just tryin' to get our freak flag flyin'
Jacala interior. 

For once, a decent photo of me.  Jacala.
Dinner that night was at Jacala.  DH and I had eaten there for lunch in June and were so impressed that we wanted to return for dinner.  Unfortunately for me, the grilled watermelon & goat cheese salad wasn’t available, and I have to say, the owner/host was a little off-putting and more than a little condescending when taking our order.  When the food arrived, it mostly made up for it though: Cucumber soup with a tomato sorbet – excellent. Grilled veggie & feta terrine with greens – excellent.  Fettuccine with basil & tomatoes – excellent. Ceviche of conch – very good.  Conch chowder – very good.  Mint panna cotta with papaya marmalade – excellent.  And last, but not least, mango sorbet – very good. 

After we were seated, I jokingly turned to my husband and said, “What do you want to bet that we’ll see somebody here tonight whom we know well enough to speak to?”  After defining the terms as “someone whom we know by name and who in turn recognizes us at least by sight”, he was eager to bet against me.  Silly man.  Doesn’t he know better by now?  It wasn’t Junior or his wife, neither Carrie nor her husband, but halfway through our meal, young Alexis (the young woman in the San Juan airport who fought to get us all to St. Maarten) walked in with her beau.  We stopped to chat with them after our meal, but before their food arrived (did I mention that service was VERY slow?), where they told us that they finally arrived in Anguilla the night before.  Having overslept and missed the American Eagle flight to St Maarten, they caught a LIAT flight to Anguilla via Antigua.  They loved what little they had seen of the island and were raving about Viceroy in particular (you didn’t really think they were staying anywhere else, did you?). 

DH still owes me $10.  Guess that's appropriate for 10/10/10.

Escaping the heat on our porch with my new best friend

Sunset at Ku

17 October 2010

Bill Bryson, Bill Bryson, Bill Bryson, Bill Bryson!

Bill Bryson's latest work, piled high!
I don't think I've mentioned recently just how much I love my job.  Or my sales reps.  Because right now I'm bursting with love for bofe 'em.

Bill Bryson, Bill Bryson, Bill Bryson, Bill Bryson.
The man himself
 You might have guessed, but I just got to meet Bill Bryson.  There has been exactly one other author I have been this excited to meet, and he happened to write the best book I've read in the last decade (Abraham Verghese, Cutting for Stone.  Read it, y'all!), and I definitely went all fan-girl on him the two times our paths crossed.  But Bill Bryson is in a different category all together.  For starters, he's one of the few authors of whom I can say I've read all of his or her published works (And I mean an actual body of work, smartass.  John Kennedy Toole and other one-hit wonders most emphatically do not count), and I'm such a Bryson-completist that I include his reference books, too.  Yup, read every word.

I have also listened to many of his published works, and because he is the reader of his audio books, I've listened to him for hundreds of hours.  His voice is as familiar to me as my own brother's.  He's like a friend whose humor has seen me through the years, both the high times and the rough patches.  I bought In a Sunburned Country, A Walk in the Woods, and Neither Here Nor There on tape.  I listened to all of them so many times that the tape wore through in several places.  Then I replaced them with CD versions and kept on listening.

Today I drove to Arlington, MA, with my devoted and long-suffering husband to meet Bill Bryson, who was signing books at the New England Independent Booksellers Association (NEIBA) office in Arlington, MA.  One of my sales reps from Random House, Ann Kingman, arranged for Bryson to sign books for her accounts.  So I got to take the day off work and go for a Sunday drive on a beautiful day with my favorite person in the world to meet one of my favorite writers in the world.  The phrase "walking on sunshine" comes to mind. 

Bryson was in the region promoting his new book, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, which I've already blogged about twice.  You can read the posts here and here.  It's marvelous and funny and erudite and everything else that I like about his writing. 

May I confess something?  Before I moved from Mississippi to New England to live with the man who became my husband, I wrote up an extensive pro and con list.  My husband knows that one of the "cons" was that I would no longer be able to watch episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as they aired because he didn't have access to the UPN network.  But what he doesn't know is that one of the "pros" is that I would be more likely to have the chance to meet Bill Bryson, who lived in New Hampshire at the time.  So you could say that Mr. Bryson is one of the reasons I moved to New England.  I'm just not revealing exactly what position he had on my "pro" list. 

Mr. Bryson was also kind enough to sign and inscribe my personal collection of his works, or at least those books still holding together without tape.  I thought it might be unseemly (though a compliment of the highest order) to bring him my copy of In a Sunburned Country that was in two pieces. Or my copy of A Walk in the Woods, which one of my dogs enjoyed as much as I did. 

Bill Bryson, Bill Bryson, Bill Bryson, Bill Bryson. 

L-R: The man I moved to New England for, the other
man I moved to New England for, and me.

16 October 2010

Too much of a good thing really can be wonderful

Saturday dawn.  I awake to our first full day on the island, alive with possibility.  First rule of order is to put water on for coffee, and after that I try to open our door as quietly as possible to step outside.  (Fortunately I was able to liberate myself without anybody else having to come to my aid!)

Stepping out onto the quiet, untouched sands of Shoal Bay East at that time of day is like a prayer.  The only footprints I see are the bird and lizard tracks in the sand from the night before.  Looking left, looking right, there’s not a soul on sight.  You’ll have to pardon me here, but it was a moment of pure joy and grace, and as a deeply seated agnostic, those are not words I bandy about frivolously.  But there is something magical, spiritual if you will, about those quiet moments where earth meets water and the sun glances off the waves with a certain slant of light; the beauty of it all is so much to take in that you nearly burst trying to contain it, so you can return to these moments in the future, when everything around you is cold and dark. 

The avenue of palms at Anguilla Great House
After making breakfast, we pack up a beach bag and head out to explore.  Our first stop is the Coral Reef bookstore, where we drop off a big bag of children’s books to donate to the Anguilla Book Fund.  Once again, the young woman working the counter looks at me blankly when I tell her what the books are for.  I fill her in on the details, after which she knocks on a hidden door that presumably leads into the home where the bookstore is housed.  When a man emerges from the hidden door, I explain again and this time he simply nods and takes the bag from me in silence.  I’m not sure what I was expecting—perhaps some sort of verbal communication, or at least a confirmation that I’m not randomly bringing coals to Newcastle, but toting coals there with a specific purpose.  Ahh, well. 

Our next stop is the Anguilla Great House to drop off a small thank you gift for Junior.  We apparently just miss him, but we got to chat with his brother Will and walk out to the beach to make some photos.  I’ve always loved the look of Anguilla Great House; if they had larger units with kitchen facilities, I’d stay there in a heartbeat.  Until then, I guess we’ll just visit.  Rendezvous Bay is gorgeous and a little wild looking that day. 
Rendezvous Bay, looking east

Rendezvous Bay, looking toward Cuisinart

DH and DG at Rendezvous Bay

Smokey’s is our destination for the rest of the day.  On our way from Blowing Point, we stop to pick up the first of three different groups of hitchhikers on the island, explaining to DG that while we’d never do that at home, we like to do it when in Anguilla.  This group of boys were heading towards South Hill for some soccer practice, and it was so hot we could hardly bear the thought of their walking in those temperatures, much less play ball! 

We’re the first to arrive at Smokey’s for lunch, but by the time we leave in the late afternoon, the joint will be jumpin’ with tourists and locals enjoying the live performance of the Musical Brothers.  Despite our breakfast back at Ku, we definitely feel a rumbly in our tumblies, as Pooh might say.  Two orders of ribs and a BBQ bacon cheeseburger and some Presidentes make a valiant effort to quiet the rumblies, but it takes a round of pina coladas to drive them away for good!  The ribs were marvelous, though I would have preferred them with less sauce.  DG enjoyed her burger but also thought there was a surfeit of sauce.

Una (not to be confused with Oona!) nee Gumbs
Looking out toward Cove Bay from Smokey's
Una, nee Gumbs, came out to chat with us between rounds, telling us her story of arriving in Anguilla and the many changes she’s seen to her island in the decades since her arrival.  After lunch, we headed out to the chairs & umbrellas that Mo had set up for us right as the music was gearing up.  We dozed and swam and dozed some more, pausing in our busy rotation to amble up to the bar to get more libations.  Mo mixes a mean rum punch, let me tell ya!  And he ain’t stingy with the float of rum he pours on top, either!

Just to shake things up a little bit, I took a walk up the beach towards the pier, and by the time I returned, DG had made a friend.  There was a little boy on the beach about the age of her younger brother, and they spend the better part of an hour playing together in the water.  His mama gave me permission to make photographs of them.  Apparently he was using the big stick to try to keep the big waves at bay, jousting them like a knight would.  It was very cute to watch them together. 

DG and me at West End Bay. Photo credit: B Moser

Sandpipers near a salt pond at West End Bay
When we left Smokey’s, instead of heading straight back to Ku, we headed west instead, all the way to West End Beach.  We got out at Indigo Reef and walked to the water’s edge and made some more photos so DG could see another side of Anguilla.  When the camera batteries died out, we headed back “home” to Ku clean up and do a  quick turnaround and head for Sandy Ground to watch sunset from Elvis’ Beach Bar.
Sunset at Sandy Ground
I’m still not used to the driving time coming from the east end, thus we pull into Elvis’ just in time to see the sun sink into the sea.  Conditions are fairly hazy on the horizon but we manage to snap a few shots while Elvis prepares our drinks: strawberry colada, mango colada, and beer & a bump.  Unfortunately, the mosquitos and sand fleas are so awful that DG heads to the car to wait for us while we finish our drinks. 
Various fruit-flavored coladas make for shiny, happy people!
Instead of heading straight to the SandBar for dinner, we make a brief detour to pick up some bug repellant, but we make it back to the restaurant in plenty of time to get a table before the place filled up (they don’t take reservations!).  While we’re deliberating over the menu, Carrie and Jerry from Veya show up, thus buoying up our choice for dinner – you know that when your favorite chef on the island chooses the same spot as you do for dinner, you’re in for something good!  They greeted us briefly, which gave us the chance to thank Carrie in person for such an amazing meal the night before. 
DH and DG at the SandBar
We were again famished, so we decide to order six tapas to share—in the spirit of trying as many items as possible, of course.  Here’s the roster: Cayenne carrots with honey and pinenuts—excellent.  Olive stuffed meatballs encrusted in parmesan—very good.  Spicy French fries—excellent. Beer battered fish – excellent. Red duck with savory pancakes and mango chutney—good, but a little dry.  Crispy fried chicken livers – these were actually quite soggy and thus quite disappointing.  In retrospect, we should have only ordered five dishes instead of six because we left quite a bit uneaten, and clearly that night the chicken livers were a dud.  Overall, though, we really enjoyed our time at SandBar and thought the food was quite good, and beyond that, an excellent value.  All of that food came to just US $62, not including tip.  In addition to the food, we wanted to make sure we sampled some of the items on offer at Whiskey’s Rum Bar, Whiskey being the eponymous pothound who has guarded Sandy Ground for several years and has gone to his great reward recently.  DH opted for a shot but I eagerly tried the Sea Cooler, which is as delightful a concoction as I’ve ever tasted: rum, mint, lime, and fresh cucumber juice.  With a nod to Jane Austen, I daresay it is even more refreshing than a turn about the room!
Setting crescent/new moon seen from Sandy Ground
Despite getting up from the table with uncomfortably full bellies, we felt like we were missing a certain something…dessert perhaps?  SandBar doesn’t serve desserts (more fools, they!), but our server suggested that we head up the road to the ice cream place in North Hill.  After all, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that even a person stuffed to the gills on tapas must be in want of some ice cream.  In the dark we drove right past Kel’s ice cream and candy shop and ended up down a dark and lonely road.  Since our gas gauge was running perilously low, it didn’t seem prudent to keep searching for ice cream in the dark, so we turned around, admitting defeat.  Wouldn’t you know it, but on the way back to the main road we passed Kel’s again, this time just barely registering it as we passed.  “Was that it?” I called from the driver’s seat.  “No, I think it said it was a dress shop,” was DG’s reply.  Like a good coonhound, though, my nose was a-twitch with the possibility of ice cream and I turned the car around yet again.  Bingo!  Turns out, we were both right.  You can gorge yourself on ice cream below stairs and try on wedding dresses and other formal gowns above stairs.  ‘Cause who wouldn’t want to do both in the same stop, right?  Disappointed that the dress shop part was closed for the day, we consoled ourselves with double-decker scoops in waffle cones.   Six scoops, three cones, came to US $10.  We were just putting the final licks to our fingers to erase all of the sticky evidence when we hear a familiar voice in the darkness.  Would you believe that it’s Junior and his wife, Caroline, going out for ice cream on their “date night?”  I’m not sure whose grins were larger, ours or theirs, but we passed several minutes there, chatting about our good fortune in running into him again.   It just got me thinking about the randomness of the universe – if we hadn’t gotten lost trying to find the ice cream, if we hadn’t stopped a second time to turn around and go back, if we hadn’t let several other customers ahead of us while we decided what we wanted, if we hadn’t decided to eat our ice cream outside on the porch instead of in the car on our way home, we wouldn’t have run into Junior and Caroline.

So yes, another day of hard living on Anguilla.  Another day of making friends.  Another day of unexpected joys.  I could definitely get used to this!
All three of us at Rendezvous Bay

15 October 2010

Part Two: A Day Late and Many Dollars Short

Finally on our way!

House seen as we're leaving Sint Maarten
Another early morning – up at 5:30 to be at the airport by 6:30.  We arrived in Old San Juan in the darkness and left it in the darkness, so unfortunately our granddaughter didn’t really get to see it.  We’re the first people to check in for the rescheduled flight to SXM.  In fact, they said the plane was “wide open.”  Um, yeah.  That’s because you wouldn’t confirm any of us yesterday.  There are about to be 40 more people trying to get on this flight.  When I ask whether the airport in SXM has opened back up, the TA told me that it had never closed.  Clearly American Airlines/Eagle needs to educate its staff better or teach them how to lie more effectively.  At that point we’re thrilled to be holding boarding passes, so we just smile and nod pleasantly, say thank you, and head through security. 

At the gate we simply bide our time, afraid to keep an eye on the monitors in case the flight status changes from On Time to Canceled. Junior Fleming finds us once again and we chat for a while, just what we need to take our minds off things.  He informs us that he has spoken with his friend at Fun Time and that the three of us have a spot on the shuttle once we arrive in SXM.  This is a relief, as I hadn’t done any research on the public or private ferries ahead of time and wasn’t really sure what to do.  He’s also made the same arrangements for a group of six other folks who are traveling to Anguilla for a wedding.  I tell you, that man is a goodwill ambassador for the island if I’ve ever seen one.  My husband’s blood pressure lowered considerably, and the people in the wedding party were just as thrilled as we were to have a champion in Junior.  (In fact, I started singing under my breath, “What a friend we have in Junior” but I was afraid he might think it was sacrilegious, so I kept that to myself.)

Luckily for all of us, the flight managed to leave on time and we landed at SXM to partly cloudy skies.  Junior corralled the ten of us together and called his buddy at FunTime to come pick us up, and before we know it, we’re waiting at the dock for the boat. About 45 minutes later, the Fun Time boat gets there, and after another 15 minutes to collect our passports and forms, we were on our way.  We are finally starting to believe that we really will get to Anguilla today.  Hooray! 

Leaving St. Maarten in the dust! Er, in our wake!

Trust me, the kid can sleep anywhere.

Finally, Anguilla!

Despite the grim prognostications we heard about the crossing during the higher seas, everything was just fine.  Once we left the enclosed pond on St. Maarten, it was about a 25 minute ride, and only as we pulled up to Blowing Point did the waves become uncomfortable.  Disembarking from the boat was a little bit of a challenge, as we had to time our leaps off the boat when the waves brought us closer to the dock.  Customs & immigration was a breeze and 30 minutes later, after meeting Junior’s wife and three boys and expressing our fervent thanks one last time, we’re bopping along on the road to Ku with a man who must be the slowest taxi driver on the island.  We had originally planned to pick up our rental car from Ronnie Bryan at the airport, but I called his assistant, Hubert, the day before from San Juan and told him that it was impossible to predict whether we’d arrive by plane or boat, and that it would be best if he just dropped off the car at Ku for us. 

We get to the hotel eventually.  The woman at reeception seemed mildly surprised to see us but she recovered quickly to give us a warm welcome.  We’re tired and wrinkled and hungry, and thus a bit dismayed when reception tells us that their restaurant isn’t open for the season yet.  And that Elodia’s, Uncle Ernie’s and Tropical Sunset are all closed that day, too.  “I think Maderiman’s is still serving lunch.  I’ll call them to tell them you’re on our way and to keep the kitchen open a bit longer.”  With those magic words, we trudge to our room, change into climate-appropriate wear.  Meanwhile, DG is emitting a non-stop stream of interjections: Wow!  Amazing!  Gorgeous!  She had been to Antigua in 2003 when DH and I got married, but those dim memories weren’t enough to prepare her for the beauty of Shoal Bay East.  Come to think of it, my own (considerably fresher) memories weren’t enough to prepare me for the beauty of Shoal Bay East!  If there’s a lovelier beach anywhere, I’ve yet to discover it. 
Ku master bedroom

Ku living room & kitchen

The hotel apparently upgraded us to a full-on ocean view unit from the garden view one that we booked.  We were in the one stand-alone unit in the middle of the property.   The only things separating us from the beach were low-lying clumps of seagrapes and other foliage.  Our unit seemed more spacious than others, but that could just be the layout.  Unlike the other units, ours ran parallel to the beach, so the balcony stretched the entire length of the room.  Our bedroom was huge, and instead of having a pull-out sofa, there was a rollaway bed in the living room that was pretty comfy, according to DG. 
View from our balcony, #127

Once we walked up to Madeariman’s and sat down, we could feel all of the stress and the weariness that comes with travel wash away from us with our first sips of Ting.  Two orders of chicken wings and a cheeseburger also contrived to soothe our hungry bodies and nourish our hungry souls.  Partway through our meal, a woman came up and said, “Hi, I’m Carrie.  I’m the chef at Veya.  My husband recognized you when you walked in and I wanted say I’m so glad you made it.”  I had registered out of the corner of my eye a large party to our left when we walked in but didn’t really notice them, the way I do at home.  I mean, we’re not going to see anyone we know in Anguilla, right?  But Carrie’s husband, Jerry, had apparently read my cry for help on the Trip Advisor forum the night before and welcomed us with congratulations on finally getting there.  It was a nice touch. 

That afternoon, after an hour of swimming and sunning on the beach, we dragged ourselves away to clean up and grab some groceries so that we’d have time to return, enjoy cocktail hour & sunset and have time to clean up before heading out again for dinner.  Our telephone and internet weren’t working in the room, so I had to ask reception to make a dinner reservation for us as well as to leave a message for our car rental folks (our own cell phones don’t work in Anguilla, but that will change before my next trip down there!).  We headed to Albert Lake’s and filled up our cart with snacks, booze, and breakfast foods and zipped back to Ku in time for one last dip in the ocean.  I’m not sure if it was the time of year or because of all of the rainy weather, but the water felt cooler this time than in the past. 

There was one restaurant I knew without a doubt we would visit on this trip, and that is Veya.  We wanted to introduce our granddaughter to a place we knew wouldn’t disappoint.  She’s a young woman with a fairly adventurous palate (at least by American teenage standards) and on this trip she sampled mafongo, ceviche, conch, octopus, lobster, johnnycakes, and oysters for the first time and ended up liking them all.  She grew up in a setting with a father and a grandfather who are good cooks themselves, but nothing could have prepared her for our meal together at Veya.  We each ordered for ourselves, but it may as well have been a communal meal for all of the sharing we did: conch fritters for the amuse bouche; grilled watermelon & poached shrimp and Vietnamese calamari for starters; grilled snapper with avocado & papaya, steak & lettuce wraps, and that night’s special, spinach risotto with poached lobster and crispy parsnips.  Plus of course the fresh johnnycakes, for which Veya is famous.  Every morsel was outstanding and the best of its kind that we’d tasted.  Two bottles of water, five cocktails, and the decadently rich & dense coconut cake rounded out our meal at around $230, plus additional gratuity. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Veya is the only Caribbean restaurant we’ve visited multiple times over the course of multiple vacations where the quality of both food and service are consistently superlative.  We have never encountered an off dish, much less an off night.  If there was one thing I could change, it would be simply that we had eaten there on a different night from our island arrival, as we were so tired by dessert that we were on the verge of dozing off at the table.  Alas, because of Veya’s schedule, it was our only night to try them out, and if it comes between dining sleepily at Veya or not dining there at all, I’ll take the former every time. 

A note or two about Ku: several people have asked me, either through emails, PMs, or through public forums, how we found our time at Ku.  I have to admit it was a pretty mixed bag.  DG loved it, of course.  And DH was thrilled with the location.  I liked it pretty well overall, and I think we received a good value for our money, but I doubt we’ll ever stay there again. 

For starters, we didn’t get everything that was promised.  Upon booking, we were told that the restaurant & bar were working; that we would have a telephone and internet access; and that we could have access to their minimart to charge items to the room.  None of this was available and/or working.  In fact, upon check-in, reception told us that in lieu of the restaurant, that someone would bring us a menu each day to order from and that breakfast would be delivered to our room each morning as long as our menus were received by midnight.  We were there for three nights and not once did a menu arrive for us to choose from. 

We were also told at check in that despite the minimart being closed to the public, that we could order some items that would be delivered to the room for us right away.  We promptly ordered three bottles of water.  One day later, we still hadn’t received them.  If we hadn’t opted to go grocery shopping right away, we would have been feeling seriously put out with Ku for not delivering on the services that were being offered for not delivering on the original services.  When I canceled our order for water the next day, reception gave me a blank look and was on the verge of telling me that I couldn’t cancel when I gently told her that, having waited exactly 23 hours for water that was never delivered, we went ahead and bought our own. 

Not having phone access in our room meant we couldn’t call Ronnie Bryan’s assistants to figure up a time to meet.  It meant not being able to call around and see who was open for dinner to make reservations.  Not having the internet meant not being able to access the forums for restaurant reviews & menus so that we could decide where we wanted to go for meals each day.  At one point I told the staff at Ku that I really needed to be able to check in at home with our house & pet sitter, so they arranged for me to take my laptop to an unoccupied unit, and they even gave me the remote to the unit’s a/c so that I could sit in comfort to read email. 

Twice in Anguilla we’ve stayed in a villa-style unit, where I expect my experience to be completely self-serve.  Once we stayed at Carimar, and the staff there were extremely helpful and pleasant.  It’s not that the staff at Ku were unpleasant or unhelpful, but it felt like they weren’t very empowered.  Every request we made was responded to with, “I’ll have to ask if we can do that.” Examples: requesting an extra pillowcase to use.  Or requesting if, when it rains, we can use one of the tables set up under the awning by the bar so that we could still stay outside rather than go back to our rooms.  Little things like that, where at any other place I’ve stayed the answer would have been “Of course. No Problem.”

Workers were tending to the pool every day while we were there.  The water started out looking very murky but it admittedly improved a good bit by the day we left.  We still weren’t interested in using it, though.  At night where the pool lights were shining, I could see dozens of tiny creatures (fish or insect, I couldn’t say) congregating around the lights.  If I had been thinking of going for a dip before that, seeing them changed my mind.  I grew up in the American south and I had a pool.  I know how hard it is to keep the chemicals balanced and the water healthy.  And Ku was working hard to get their pool in order;  it just wasn’t there quite yet.  All of the fresh water that got dumped in it from the storms changed the pH levels, and it definitely takes some tweaking to get things back to normal. 

We also had trouble with our doors.  The sliding glass door wouldn’t lock, and I guess that’s a good thing because our main door was so warped that more than once we either got stuck inside or outside.  Sometimes it took two people to open the door, one to turn the key and pull (or push) the doorknob, and another one to apply even pressure on the door both above and below the lock.  It was really like a comedy of errors.  The only other real complaint was the water pressure in the shower, which was awful.  Two evenings I came away with some crème rinse my hair that I just couldn’t get out.  If we’d had a bucket, I’d have asked my husband to pour it over my hair for me. 

So, you might well ask what was good about our stay?  For starters, location, location, location.  Shoal Bay East is phenomenally beautiful, and there were two mornings I got up for a walk when I was the only living soul on the beach in either direction.  Early October may be the only time of year when that beach fulfills my criteria of being uncrowded. 

Our unit was spacious and we never felt crowded having a third person there with us.  Our bedroom was huge, and though the cool blue tones were achieved through one too many coats of paint, it was very comfortable.  The bed and pillows were great and the air conditioning in each part of the unit worked quietly and efficiently.  The kitchen was stocked with the usual stuff (although lacking any wash towels or sponge, which made it hard to wash our dishes) but inconsistently.  We might have 4 plates but only 3 bowls.  Two coffee mugs and four wine glasses, etc.  We didn’t need more than we were provided, but it seemed odd to not have the same number of everything for a placesetting.  The refrigerator worked efficiently and had ice made for us within a couple of hours. 

I wish we had had the option of keeping our doors and windows open and the a/c off, but there are no screens anywhere in the units.  We would have gladly had the fresh air and listened to the sound of the waves, but it just didn’t work out for us.  Every time we propped the doors open, flies and mosquitoes would come in, which means we had to keep the a/c on every time we were indoors.  Not our favorite thing. 

My husband said he’d return in a heartbeat.  I’m a bit more circumspect on that point.  While I don’t regret staying at Ku for this trip, I’m not so enamored of it that I’d want to stay there again. 

Pool at Ku.