30 June 2012

A Photographic Tour of Barnes Bay

Totally unrelated photo, but who doesn't like to see Buddha raising the roof?
That's right, the moment you've ALL been waiting for has finally arrived.  And if you've not been waiting for it, perhaps you shouldn't admit that in public.  I love Barnes Bay, and though it's not the prettiest of Anguilla's beaches, I love the character of this stretch of sand.  At no point does the architecture really overwhelm the setting (not like Turtles Nest on Meads Bay, for example), and it tends to be pretty quiet, which is exactly how we like our beaches. From (more-or-less) east to west along the beach (or for the directionally challenged, that's left-to-right when your back is to the ocean. Good thing this is not Hawai'i because you're never supposed to turn your back to the ocean there. But I digress.). For an added challenge, see if you can guess which one of these places cost more per night than what I'm paying per week:

 Here is the last of the Viceroy villas--I only took a picture of one of them, but by all means, please visualize several of these in a row.  They are all, I believe, 4 bedrooms. A lot of people don't like the Viceroy's architecture, but I think it's attractive, albeit in a stark and hurricane-withstanding way. 

Next is my own little home-away-from home.  There are six units at Caribella, one on each floor of the three buildings, offering two bedrooms apiece.

Now we have Mango's, one of the premier restaurants on Anguilla.  They're especially great if you're in the mood for seafood, carrot puree, apple tart, or raspberry sorbet. The second photograph shows the erosion that has occurred just in the last week or so.

The Limin' Beach House.  That's a pretty casual name for a 5-bedroom luxury beach villa. Interesting architecture on this one.  Usually the concrete vaults on top are open (well, glassed-in) but they have these new things covering them up. One presumes they are for hurricane season. Or perhaps just to cut down on the a/c bill.

Seen from water line

Peeking through the seagrapes
This is perhaps the most overlooked villa on Barnes Bay, both literally and figuratively, because it sits in the shadow of those seagrapes and the huge villas on either side of it.  It's Villa Ella, and the bottom floor is available to rent.  It's one of the best beachfront values on Anguilla, in my opinion. 

Next up is the once-mighty Cerulean.  Somebody bought it a little over a year ago and it was gorgeous.  Then they proceeded to do some restorative demolition and recreate something that looks surprisingly similar to the original.  I don't know how long before it will become inhabitable again. 

Arbron Villas are beloved by a fellow TA poster and owned by a different branch of the same family who own Caribella (I think that's right). There are four buildings (two behind the ones shown in the front), and they offer various configurations of 2, 3, or 4 bedrooms, depending on how many floors you stay on.  There's also a pool, which Caribella doesn't have.

The last villa that can be safely said to be on the beach (as opposed to on the cliffs) is one of my two favorite villas on the entire island: Les Alize. (Not sure why they make the article plural and the noun singular, but hey--that's their call, not mine.) I love the mix of Bali and southwestern influence.  And that daybed--I could get a lot of reading done there every day, I feel sure.  What's more, it sits directly above my favorite swimming cove on the island, with stairs that lead down to the sand. I also love that it looks so natural sitting up there amidst the palms, not standing out in stark contrast to announce its importance presence.

That concludes our Barnes Bay tour for the day.  Please tune in next time for more Anguilla adventures, or perhaps an actual book review. 

Barnes Bay is extremely crowded, as you can see.

28 June 2012

No Crayfish Left Behind: Part Deux

Okay, we wake up with less than a week left on the island, which creates in us a sense of urgency to do more, see more.  With that in mind, we breakfast early at Geraud's (where I forsake the usual pastries for a very tasty granola with yogurt and an iced latte) and are on Meads Bay by 9:00 in the morning.  We park by the empty Malliouhana (sad) and set up our chairs under the large almond tree at the eastern end of the beach.  It's pretty quiet there--a few locals walk up for a swim, and a couple from Carimar snorkel our way, but that's about it.  After getting to a stopping place in my reading, I clamber up on the rocks by Malliouhana, only to be flabbergasted by the tiny, perfect cove on the other side.

Beautiful Meads Bay, eastern edge
I try to figure out a way for us to get down there (or more precisely, to get back up from there, with the last concrete step poking out rebar in all directions, about 3.5 feet above the water) that doesn't involve either rock climbing or swimming the whole way 'round, but it's a no-go.  So instead I just admired that tiny piece of beach perfection and took lots of photos from the rocky outcrop.

Seriously, how gorgeous is this?

The aforementioned rocky (and by that I mean coral) outcrop

We stayed there until the sun started creeping around the fronds of the almond branches, which incidentally was just about the time our bellies started rumbling, so we went to Blanchards Beach Shack for lunch.

Tree graffiti
It was just as good as our previous dinner takeway, but a much hotter setting.  There's not what I would call a surfeit of breeze in that part of Meads Bay. Very hot, very calm air--thank goodness there's plenty of shade there! We ordered the fried shrimp (DH), the grilled mozarella, tomato, & pesto sandwich (me), a Ting, and a most refreshing virgin passionfruit daiquiri.

After lunch we opted for a change of scenery and went to Rendezvous Bay for the afternoon.  We loved the constant breeze off the water in front of the Anguilla Great House, so we plopped our chairs down in the shade under the palms and started a tab.  While reading our books, a rather foolish young med student decided it would be better to drive out onto the sand instead of backing his vehicle down the lane to a place where he could turn around: big mistake!  We lent what little help we could, but in the meantime our paths crossed with Peter from Straw Hat and we had a nice chat--I'm glad we ran into him, as we would have otherwise missed him at dinner that night during a rare evening off. 

Exterior of Straw Hat

View from our table

We just love Straw Hat--it's slightly less expensive than the other grandes dames of Anguilla dining, and the service is the most congenial, which is a winning combination.  After dropping off an armload of children's books, we had a table at the sand's edge and Armel took great care of us for the evening. Except, that is, when I asked her if they could make me a smaller portion of the crayfish.  I remembered how huge the plate was from previous experience and she assured me that it would be no problem.

Shameless minx! Does this look like a diminutive portion to you? Luckily I had just enough fortitude to polish off that delectable Anguillian shellfish (no crayfish left behind!), most of the plantains, and a slice of grilled eggplant. It was only through sheer gumption and cussedness that I could make any headway through dessert at all.  If those caramelized bananas had been any other dish, I'm not sure I could have conquered them, but they are one of two of my favorite desserts on this island.  Grilled bananas, caramelized to a crispness, with homemade vanilla ice cream and further caramel sauce.  I'm not sure it gets any better than that.  Two cocktails (including one of those wonderful signature Ti punches), one glass of wine, and one bottled water brought our meal to about $150, plus additional tip.  Again, the service charge was marked clearly on the bill to make it easy for their patrons.  Incidentally, DH loved his entree of the red curried prawns with coconut basmati rice, but I have no photographic proof of it.

Truly a thing of beauty, if not quite a joy forever.
Viceroy has added these lovely gaslights to their entrance since our last visit.

Book Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

I first heard of Rachel Joyce's debut novel a few months ago--folks on Goodreads were talking it up, and so was my Random House sales rep.  Then, earlier this month at BEA, it had earned one of the coveted spots on the Editors' Book Buzz panel, where I was lucky enough to snag a copy of it.  I had a hunch that it would make its way into my suitcase for vacation reading, and test-driving the first chapter proved that hunch correct. As it turns out, it provided me one of the most enjoyable vacation reads I've ever had!

Over breakfast one day, recently retired pub man Harold Fry receives a letter informing him that his old friend and colleague, Queenie Hennessey, is dying of cancer. He struggles to write a response, without knowing quite what to say, and he walks out of the house to post it at the closest letterbox.  The thing is, when he reaches it, he thinks he can come up with a better response, so he keeps walking to the next letterbox. Then the next one. Then the next one.  Once he recovers from his reverie, of what to write, he realizes he's walked out of the village. 

Stopping at a petrol station, a chance encounter with a young employee there convinces him that really, the best way to do this thing is to deliver the message to Queenie in person, no matter that Harold isn't a walker, he's not in very good shape or wearing appropriate shoes for the endeavor, that Queenie is over 500 miles away, or that Harold's wife, Maureen, might have something to say about his decision. Instead of turning homeward to retrieve suitable items for such a journey (oh, you know, things like maps, water, his mobile, and a sense of direction), he calls his wife from the station to announce his intentions and heads out in a direction that he hopes is northerly.

Along his journey, Harold finds support and succour in the unlikeliest of people, and before long his pilgrimage attracts nationwide attention and more than a few hangers-on.  As he learns to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what the terrain or the state of his poor, blistered appendages, he has plenty of time to meditate on his life, his marriage, his son, his friendship with Queenie, and how he's mostly made a muck of things. At home, Maureen undergoes similar bouts of introspection, and discovers, much to her surprise, that one by one, she has gradually revoked a lifetime of recriminations towards Harold.

This is a book that has so many funny things on the surface that it might be easy to miss the emotional depth and universal human insights that it provides.  While I definitely laughed out loud while reading of the hapless Harold's exploits, more than once was I moved to tears by the wave of humanity that Joyce readily taps into.  Most of the reviews I've read of this book compare it to Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, and while I can see that to a certain degree, I think the more appropriate comp is The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise, where the whimsy of that peculiar ensemble of characters is matched only by the poignancy the story ultimately delivers. I also love that it's a book whose main characters are all of retirement age: there seem so few really good books who feature that demographic that it always stands out when I encounter it.

To say more would spoil the sense of anticipation that I'd want any reader to have when embarking on this novel, so instead I'll just share a few passages that resonated with me as I read.  But please: do yourself a favor and find a copy of this book to read asap! 

"The kindness of the woman with food came back to him, and that of Martina. They had offered him comfort and shelter, even when he was afraid of taking them, and in accepting he had learned something new. It was as much of a gift to receive as it was to give, requiring as it did both courage and humility."

"He wished the man would honor the true meanings of words, instead of using them as ammunition."

"He wished no one had mentioned religion. He didn't object to other people believing in God, but it was like being in a place where everyone knew a set of rules and he didn't. After all, he had tried it once and found no relief. And now the two kind ladies were talking about Buddhists and world peace and he was nothing to do with those things. He was a retired man who had set out with a letter."

NB: This book is already published in the UK, and Random House publishes the US edition on 2 July 2012. I got a complimentary ARC of the book at BEA this year.

Perfection is Highly Underrated!

One of the original plantation buildings
I'm not sure how many more perfect days I can stand, but if some enterprising folks would like to underwrite such a project to find out, do let me know. 

Interior of Koal Keel "big house"
Today we called up Koal Keel to see if their bakery was open for breakfast, because some of our favorite memories from previous trips involved a breeze, a balcony, and their 18th century location.  There also might have been a book or two involved...So we selected a couple of pastries apiece, requested two cups of decaf coffee (alas, it turned out to be instant), and settled ourselves onto said balcony to watch the world go by for a while.

I can personally attest to the flaky, buttery perfection of the chocolate-almond croissant and the pineapple tart.  After about an hour, we asked if we could make dinner reservations for sometime that week, but we had already missed the opportunity: no longer open for dinner this summer.  I had emailed Koal Keel about two months ago asking if they had determined their closing date.  As of that time, they hadn't but they assured me that they would update their website to indicate it when it was decided.  As of yesterday, the website said nothing about it, so we were disappointed. Instead, we asked if we could walk around and make a few photos, and they agreed.  

The secluded balcony we had just to ourselves

Koal Keel's brick oven
After Koal Keel, we stopped at various places on the island until we found what I think must be the last box of a certain kind of feminine product on the island.  Perhaps it's due to the particular brand of conservatism on the island that they're not widely used locally, but it's hard to imagine not stocking them for the tourist & expat populations.  But enough of that detour onto the too-much-information superhighway--I'll just add that ladies of a certain age should plan ahead when visiting Anguilla. It's not that I love sharing such personal information, but if it helps somebody in the future, it's worth the mild embarrassment here.

We went back to Caribella and spend the bulk of the day at Barnes Bay.   The same dog from the day before was there and he was whining at us on our balcony, so I took down some fresh water for him to drink.  Uninterested in water, he immediately dropped into a play-bow and barked.  I think he was just feeling lonely and wanted somebody to frisk about with him, so I complied.  We chased each other at the surf line, but he didn't really want to go in the water much.  He also had the habit of taking my hand in my mouth -- a trait I'm used to with my own mastiffs at home who take our hand to lead us into the house-- but I reckon that might scare non-dog people off, thinking he was trying to bite them.  He really seemed quite gentle-mouthed, but it's the sort of thing that could turn ugly with an unfamiliar dog, so I tried to avoid putting my hands near his mouth. 

The east end of Long Bay
Around 5:00 we rousted ourselves from a reading reverie and made our way into the world.  And by that, I mean, we wanted to find Long Bay to see what it was all about. We drove up the road to Oliver's, but there was nobody around to ask if it was okay to park there and use the stairs.  So we walked down anyway, prepared to make apologies if we ran into anybody.  It was lovely and wild  and heavily eroded.

This looks like such a nice place to eat.
We then stopped at Blanchards Beach Shack to pick up a takeaway order for dinner that night. Well, I just have to say it: I think the Blanchards have struck gold with their newest enterprise. I'm not a fan of their fine dining restaurant--of all of the meals we've eaten in Anguilla, it was the most outrageously priced for merely mediocre food (I also wasn't impressed with the fact that the same rum at Veya was half the cost it was at Blanchards. Literally half the cost.)--but I am a big fan of the beach shack.  Bright colors, interesting menu, plenty of shade, friendly staff, good food, good prices, you name it. We ordered a couple of frozen yogurts to eat right there and took a Caesar salad with shrimp, some chicken fingers & a hotdog to go, which we at out on the balcony to watch the sunset.

The entrance from the parking lot

Part of the menu
Waiting for the fro-yo
DH's shirt fits right into the color scheme
Coconut fro-yo with chunks of mango & banana
Serene Meads Bay

27 June 2012

Into Every Life a Lickle Rain Must Fall

Barnes Bay
Finally, we awaken to the promise of rain!  There are few things my husband and I enjoy more than sitting out on the balcony, reading a book, feeling the rain mist against our faces, and watching the storm clouds roll out to sea. The island could clearly use it, but alas, it didn't last very long--less than 30 minutes--but as luck would have it, I read a new word in a book just as I was experiencing it, which was a nice bit of synchronicity. Petrichor: the word for the how the earth smells after a rainfall.

Thinking he might be hungry, I shared some leftover pork panini with him.

Don't you just love that ear?
Anyway, Monday was a day spent mostly at Barnes Bay.  We played with the friendly dog on the beach, went for a walk, swam in our little cove, and ate breakfast & lunch "at home." We left the grounds of Caribella just to run a few errands--to find an open petrol station and to find a particular, ahem, feminine product on the island.  I remember packing a box of 'em, but for whatever reason, they weren't in my suitcase when we unpacked.  Admittedly, they were in the bag with the notice from TSA saying they'd opened the bag, but it's hard to imagine why TSA would want to steal a box of OBs. Anyway, we went to two places and couldn't find any, and I was starting to feel a little panicky...after all, we'd just asked Vandra, our housekeeper, where we might go to buy some, and she hadn't even heard the generic word we use in the US for them. Uh, oh. I got cranky and demanded that we go home, and my husband obliged me.

Mango's by day, seen from the beaach

Mango's, seen at twilight from within the restaurant
We decided to stay close to home for the rest of the day, including dinner at Mango's that night.  We've always enjoyed our meals there, and we knew they'd be closed for the following two nights, so we jumped at our chance. They do such a great job with seafood that we never order anything else there.  I was debating taking a chance on the cilantro content in the sesame snapper, one of their signature dishes (I'd taken a chance once before and the foul herb was so minimal that I couldn't even taste it), but played it safe and ordered the shrimp Provencal instead.  DH ordered a terrific grouper, and we shared the grilled conch salad for an appetizer.

The grouper--those mashed carrots are great, too!

My yummy shrimp
So good!  And the waitstaff there remembered us from before.  I just wish I knew the names either of the women who were so warm to us. Anybody happen to know? I guess I'll just have to ask the next time we're there. We finished by sharing the apple tart with a rich caramel sauce and ice cream, which was good, but not quite as good as what was in my memory from last year. Two cocktails and a bottle of sparkling water brought our meal to $156, plus additional tip.  The service charge was clearly marked on the original bill, and the credit card portion that I signed had the word "extra" written in where the tip line goes--it would be so nice if every restaurant does that, to eliminate confusion. As soon as we walked out of the restaurant we heard Viceroy's obnoxiously loud music, which only served to inflame the foul mood I was in earlier that day.  Tarnation!  I went to sleep early, with the aid of earplugs, and it was still going at 11:30 when I woke up to get a glass of water. Not cool, Viceroy.  Decidedly not cool.

View from our table, looking toward Viceroy