30 November 2016

An Unconventional Sunday on Anguilla

View from the upper level of Villa Ella
Sunday turned out to be a lazy day all around for us.  We slept a little later than usual, and after a morning stroll on the beach, we decided to have wine & cheese for breakfast.  We’d bought quite a bit of snacks at Best Buy a few days ago, including two bottles of wine, and were a little afraid that, given our roster of dinner reservations, some might otherwise be wasted.  So, taking one for the team, we had a boozy breakfast. Really, since we added a splash of passionfruit juice to the sauvignon blanc, it was really more like sangria, or better yet, a tropical and non-fizzy mimosa, which is a totally reasonable breakfast beverage.

Same view as above, but zoomed in
The day before I requested, and had been granted, permission to have our morning coffee and evening cocktails upstairs on the upper level of Villa Ella. The mosquitos were just so terrible that it was impossible for us to enjoy sitting outside on the lower level, which is the level we were renting, and since the owner was away, she graciously agreed that we could carry our beverages upstairs and bookend our days that way.

Michael had gotten a bit sunburned the day before -- seeing the sun for the first time and being on Shoal Bay East made us a tad careless -- so we decided to be shade seekers for the rest of the morning. After breakfast we read under our umbrella on our beach until the sun crept over the sea grapes, then moved indoors to pack a bag for the afternoon.

We had decided upon Jacala for our lunch that day. I love this place, but I tend to prefer it for lunch over dinner. The location is so pretty right there on Meads Bay that it’s a shame to not see it in full sunlight. We found out after the fact that we were lucky to walk in without a reservation, since it was his first Sunday that Jacala was open for lunch for the season. But we got one of the last two tables available and counted ourselves fortunate. Jacques came over to welcome Michael, and welcome me back, to the restaurant.  I tried gamely to respond in French but I didn’t get very far.

I knew from the start that I wanted crayfish, and while Michael had technically tasted crayfish as a component in other dishes on the island, I wanted him to see it as the star of its own dish. We split a crayfish platter, which was the perfect amount of food when combined with the cucumber soup and the conch ceviche. That soup is one of my favorite soups on the planet -- so simple, but the spicy tomato sorbet elevates the cucumber in a sublime way.

The conch ceviche was beautiful and delicious. We shared both appetizers as equally as possible before delving into the grilled crayfish, which I forgot entirely to photograph. Between the beautiful setting and the incredible food, we were enjoying ourselves immensely. Because they forgot to bring me my glass of rosé until the crayfish had been almost entirely devoured, they comped me a second glass, so we lingered a bit longer than we otherwise would have. But that simply gave us enough time to know that we wanted to dessert, so it was a win-win.

I had had the rum baba once before, after seeing Frank from Savannah Gallery write about it on his blog. With this dessert, you can have your cake and drink it, too.  It was just as delicious as I remembered, with a delicate cake surrounding a scoop of banana sorbet, sitting in a sweet rum sauce.

Ocean Echo’s Rumzie
After lunch, we had planned to stop in at Ocean Echo so that we could see Andrea once again and to hear Omalie 360 play in the afternoon.  We got there close to 3:00 and stayed for about an hour, sipping our rum punches and enjoying the music.  It was too loud to chat, so we didn’t get to talk with Andrea as much as we usually do, but it was a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon. Ocean Echo’s famous drink is called the Rumzie, which was too sweet for me on its own, but I asked Andrea for more lime juice and it made it delicious. Michael liked it jussssst fine as ordered.

We left there to head home to Barnes Bay. There wasn’t much of a sunset that day, but we enjoyed our sundowners anyway. Around 7:00 we drove back down to Sandy Ground to give Criss Conch Shack another try, but nobody was around.  You can’t say we didn’t give them a fair shake, but we were both disappointed not to be able to try a new local place.

We contemplated going back to Elvis’s again, but Michael was torn between that and trying someplace new. Since we had had a very high end lunch, we wanted something more on the casual side, so we drove back to the west end to Picante to eat dinner without breaking the bank. We had a couple of passionfruit margaritas at the bar while waiting for a table to become available, which gave us time to deliberate over the menu.  Michael settled on the chili-crusted spicy tuna tacos while I went with the Picante tacos, and we were both extremely pleased with our selections.  The lighting wasn’t very good, but here’s the only photo that turned out clearly enough:

We were both pretty full by the time we finished our meals, but I have a terrible sweet tooth and Michael was hankering for something sweet, too, so we ordered a frozen lemon-lime pudding to share, accompanied by a lime-chili salt.  Well, it was delicious.  The salt absolutely made it a cut above, and we were both glad we’d ordered it.  With heavy bellies we drove back home where we were wowed by the clarity of the night sky.  Stars were everywhere and with the lack of light pollution we saw so much more than we ever get to see at home. Just gorgeous.

29 November 2016

Day 2: Electric Boogaloo

Saturday morning dawned gray & rainy. There had been another thunderstorm overnight and another power outage. After an early morning coffee followed by a walk on the beach, we went inside to make breakfast. Unfortunately, due to all of the recent wetness, the mosquitos were so terrible outside that our al fresco meal quickly had to move indoors. While it would have been more pleasant to eat outside on the porch, our breakfast was still delicious. 

We decided to go for a swim at home that morning before packing our bags up, but the water was pretty difficult to enter and it was so choppy that we didn’t stay in long -- the current kept us drifting towards the rock and we had to keep swimming back to the sandy area. Looking to the east, the sky seemed more clear, so we packed a beach bag and headed across the island. 

The bar at Tropical Sunset

Usually I’m an Elodia’s kind of girl, but we were trying to make the most of our Anguilla Card, so we landed at Tropical Sunset instead. We were the first to arrive for the day, and heading to Shoal Bay was a good decision, as we saw sun off and on all day. The sand in front of Tropical Sunset is as powder-soft as I’ve ever walked on, and the water was beautiful and calm. If Michael thought Rendezvous Bay was a pretty beach, his jaw dropped at the sight of Shoal Bay East in its glory. Because we’re so photosensitive, we asked for, and were granted, two chairs and two umbrellas. 

After a lovely morning of swimming and reading, we headed up to the restaurant for lunch. We ordered a lobster salad sandwich and grilled ribs for lunch and they were mediocre. After being spoiled by New England lobster salad sandwiches, Michael was disappointed at the tiny (really, basically minuscule) pieces of lobster and the small amount of lobster salad relative to the size of the roll. My ribs were decent but nothing out of the ordinary, but the portion was ample. At least my passionfruit daiquiri was delicious!

After lunch we lathered up with sunscreen and headed up the beach to walk off some of the food.  I had expected Shoal Bay to be busier on a Saturday in November, but Madeariman had recently burned down and Elodia’s turned out to be closed altogether. A few chairs were occupied at Hank’s and Shoal Bay Villas. 

We walked all the way down to the point past Elodia’s and I was astonished at the disappearance of the beach. It had been eroding away for years on Upper Shoal Bay, but there was no beach in that direction any longer. By the time we walked back to Tropical Sunset, we were hot and tired, so we packed up and headed back to the villa. 

Knowing that nothing feels quite as refreshing as one of Pam’s smoothies after a hot day on the beach, we stopped in at Sea Spray to say hello and to cool down. It was fun to catch up with her -- talking about dogs, AARF, politics, Saba, and the goings-on on the island. Alas, I have no photographs from that particular visit, but I made some pictures on a later visit, so more anon...

Not my image -- found on restaurant’s website
Dinner that night at Dolce Vita was special and I’d been looking forward to it for months -- ever since I bought my ticket. Abbi was as gracious and welcoming as ever, saving my “usual table” in the corner for us. I considered the menu a long time, debated trying several new dishes, and in the end, I went with my old favorites: arugula salad with pears & walnuts, followed by the smaller portion of gorgonzola gnocchi. Michael opted for the seafood pasta with crayfish, lobster, and other fruits de mer.

I knew exactly what to expect from my gnocchi, and yet I was still blown away. Michael declared his dish to be the best pasta he’d ever eaten and one of the best dishes he’d ever had in his life. So we polished off our food, along with our wine and cocktails, and enjoyed watching the small dogs running up and down the beach. We were both pretty full, but the evening was gorgeous and we didn’t want it to end, so we ordered up a Nutella cheesecake to share. 

It’s a beautiful dish, and the shaved coconut and coconut cream on the plate were delicious. It’s more like a light mousse than a cheesecake, and we could barely detect any Nutella, but that notwithstanding, it was sweet and not too heavy and a nice note to end on.  Well, that and the complimentary limoncello that they pour for guests at the end of the night. 

Finishing up at Dolce Vita was the perfect end to a nearly perfect day. We drove back to the west end and barely managed to read a chapter before succumbing to sleep. 

28 November 2016

First Day On the Island

Stormy morning on Barnes Bay
When I woke up on Friday morning after the big thunderstorm in the night, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but rain or shine, I knew it would be a good day.  I went outside to snap a few photos while Michael was still sleeping, but since we had decided the night before to drive to Geraud’s together (rather than my driving there to bring breakfast back to the villa), I couldn’t let him linger too long in bed!

Chairs, umbrella, and hammock for our private use
Geraud’s had moved to their new location since my last visit to the island and I was curious to see how it looked.  The new location provides more seating and shows off their pastries to greater effect, but there was something about the old location that I missed that I can’t quite put my finger on.  Oh, right -- it was the use of real plates & silverware, not styrofoam and plastic. The environment notwithstanding, the quality of the pastries and the coffee has not diminished, and it’s a little bit easier to pull back out onto the main road now, too, in the new location.

We selected a coconut & a lemon danish, an almond croissant, and a cheese turnover for our repast and tucked into them with considerable gusto. The iced coffees were excellent, and we talked over our plan for the day at a leisurely pace, and then drove back to Villa Ella to pack a beach bag and head out for the day.

The Place on Rendezvous Bay became my favorite beach bar around the same time that Rendezvous Bay became my favorite beach. I fell in love with it for its gorgeous location, ample shade, good food at decent-for-Anguilla prices, and its wonderful staff, particularly Mo and Dave.  Unfortunately, those two no longer work there, but the current staff was genial and bid us choose whatever location we desired for the day.  They had been so recently re-opened that they didn’t have their beach umbrellas yet, so we selected a shady spot under the palm fronds, started a tab, and settled in to read, always keeping an eye to the sky, where the clouds were constantly in motion and threatening to rain.

Terribly crowded, these Anguilla beaches
We read, we walked the beach, we swam in that glorious, glorious water, and did a repeat of that throughout the morning.  While Michael had been on a Caribbean cruise before, this was his first time staying on a tropical island and the first time he’d stepped foot on a tropical beach. As a Yankee whose ocean swimming was in latitudes of Rhode Island and farther north, swimming on Anguilla was a revelation. If it weren’t for our sunburn-prone skin and a ridiculous tendency to prune, we could have stayed in that water for simply hours.

Our server came out around 12:30 to let us know that a large group would be arriving for lunch at 1:00 and to recommend that we put our food order in before that.  Happy to oblige, we shifted from our beach chairs to our lunch chairs and ordered the jerk chicken sandwich, a hamburger, and a couple of Tings to quench our thirst after such a hard morning. They brought out the wrong hamburger, but by that time we were so hungry that we decided to just keep it. My jerk sandwich wasn’t spicy at all, and the French fries were pretty pedestrian, but both sandwiches were good and filling, and at the right price. Meanwhile Michael continued his quest to try every rum punch on the island (verdict: a bit too sweet for me, just right for him).

It started sprinkling, and then raining in earnest, so we hastily moved our chaises longues under the shelter of the roof on the western side of the building and there we were content to continue reading for a while. One of the families who had been traveling with us on the public ferry drove up for a late lunch and we had fun chatting with them about their trip.

After a while, the sky cleared enough for us to take a walk, followed by one last swim and one last rum punch before packing everything up around 3:00. Once back at the villa, we went for our first swim on Barnes Bay.  Because of the rocks, getting in and out of the water here can be tricky, depending on the surf, but we managed to avoid getting banged up. Napping and getting ready for dinner took up the rest of our afternoon until sunset, when we had a good bit of color in the sky -- moreso the light reflecting on the clouds than from the sun itself.  If we had known then that it would be our last good sunset of the trip, we might have made even more photos.

We had been looking forward to trying a new-to-both-of-us spot for dinner that night -- Criss Conch Shack on Sandy Ground. Since their menu says that they’re open Friday-Saturday-Sunday at 6:30, and since I have some experience with island time, we showed up at 7:00, eager to sample some conch and other local delicacies. We parked across the street from the Pumphouse and carefully made our way in the dark towards the Conch Shack -- that part of Sandy Ground is not well lit AT ALL -- but they were still closed and nobody was around to ask about it.

Undeterred, we walked towards the lights at Elvis's to have a drink before giving it another go. Michael did the rum punch while I opted for the less-sweet planters punch, both of which we enjoyed. By 7:30, there was still no light on down by Criss Conch Shack and we were decidedly peckish, so we went with the item on the menu that featured something Michael wanted to eat while on the island -- the “goatchos” are a nachos platter for two, featuring slow-roasted goat. I’m not sure if it was a matter of how good the food was or a matter of how hungry we were, but we practically inhaled them.  We did, however, have just enough to share with a couple who walked up while we were eating to offer them a bit -- they had never had goat before and were very, very curious.

By that time, Michael had walked up the beach again to see if the other place had opened.  They were nearly ready, but by that time we were feeling more than sassified from our meal and not inclined to order more food, despite how much we were looking forward to it.  We had one more round of drinks at Elvis’s, and by the time we left, the Conch Shack was open for business...two and a half hours after their advertised open time. Were we disappointed not to try a new place? Sure. But we agreed that our time at Elvis’s was a great night -- we talked to everybody at the bar and still had plenty of quiet time for the two of us to chat. There were expats and locals and tourists all there, and of course Elvis is great for telling a story or two.

We hit the sack almost as soon as we got home, knowing that we’d have another full and wonderful day ahead of us tomorrow.

27 November 2016

Anguilla, Once More

As some of my readers know (“my readers” -- not that there are many of you left, so if you’re reading this, thank you), 2015 was a difficult year, personally speaking.  While 2016 held many improvements, blogging regularly was not one of them, so it’s a little difficult to break back into the game at this late state.  But after being two years absent from my favorite spot on earth, I returned to Anguilla earlier this month, and what’s more, I was traveling with my new beau, whom I wanted to fall in love with the island, too. So I’m hoping that my two loves combined might give me a little extra oomph to get back in the blogging game before 2016 expires.

And so I bought my ticket with frequent miles and in early November, we made the 12-hour journey from home to my home-away-from-home. For the first time ever, I made the transfer on the public ferry.  We took a taxi from the airport to Marigot, which was around $20, plus tip, and we bought our tickets on the public ferry.  We waited around about 25 minutes and before long, we headed out for Anguilla. There were about 30 of us on board, and with the rain falling, we relied on the many small rotating fans to make the journey more comfortable -- including the rickety one that creaked a scant inch or two over our heads and threatened to brain us with the crest & trough of every wave.
Waiting in Marigot for our departure
We arrived at immigration at Blowing Point and stood in line for a longer time than one would think for such a small point of entry, and even so, we saw at least one small private charter disembark after we arrived that had some of our fellow passengers from the MIA-SXM leg of the trip.  So take that for what it’s worth when you decide which way to get from SXM to AXA in terms of time and cost.

I had arranged with Ronnie Bryan to leave our car at Blowing Point for a small fee -- he rents a parking area less than one minute away from the ferry terminal exit, and he may be the only rental car guy on the island who can arrange a pick up point there. So we drove straight from Blowing Point to Villa Ella on Barnes Bay to let our vacation begin straight away. It was difficult to believe our good fortune getting to stay right on the beach like that. Barnes Bay has long been a favorite location of mine, but for this trip we wanted to find a place I hadn’t stayed before, and Villa Ella charmed me from the first time I saw it from the beach many years ago. I felt very lucky, indeed, to be able to call it home for the week.

We unpacked and hurriedly changed out of our cold-New-England-travel-clothes into something more beach appropriate to catch the last light of the day. It had been raining off and on since we arrived in Sint Maarten and there wasn’t much color or fanfare, but it was pretty special anyway -- marking my return to Anguilla after so long and sharing our first Anguillian sunset.

I was surprised to see a scattered bit of fiery color come through the storm clouds, but it felt fitting after our twelve hours of travel. The waves were crashing on Barnes Bay, there was significantly more exposed rock than I’d ever seen on that end of the beach and everything looked so different from my previous visits, yet I can’t begin to explain how thoroughly I felt at home there.  If you have ever loved a place like that, a place that is neither of your birth nor of your people, then you will know exactly what I mean.

The villa owner and manager had kindly provided some bottled water and soda in the refrigerator upon our arrival, so as we were quite hungry from our long day on the road, we settled in to share the last of our protein bars and drink the libation.  We’d debated the merits of leaving then to pick up some more provisions before dinner time, but we had an early reservation and were planning to go out for breakfast the next day, so we stayed at the villa to unpack and unwind before walking up the beach for our dinner at Mango’s.

You can see the size of the waves in the background photo here
Surprisingly we were not the first table to arrive, despite the fact that it was only 6:30.  It was wonderful to see Andrea again (whose table we of course requested!), and we chatted for a while about our families and the island. I started the meal with my traditional mango martini and Michael opted for one of their rum punches -- which turned out to be his first of many on this trip.  I somehow neglected to take any photographs of what we had, partly because I was so tired and partly because my phone was about to die.  We shared the cracked conch salad as a starter, and then I moved on to the sesame snapper while Michael chose the seafood pasta with lobster, snapper, and grouper in a spicy tomato sauce.  The seafood past was good, but the conch and the snapper were both delicious, and our first round of drinks went down with tolerable ease, so we ordered a second round.

Too tired and too full to stay for dessert, we headed back home up the beach, but not before checking in with Andrea to see what her schedule for the week was so that we could plan to run into her again. Mango’s accepts the Anguilla card, and Kim (one of the owners) was gracious enough to accept the digital version of it since our physical card hadn’t been delivered yet. She also kindly gave us two mini torches with the Mango’s insignia to light our way back to the villa without having to deplete my phone battery.

We stayed awake just long enough to put a plan together for the next day -- up for breakfast at Geraud’s, followed by a visit to The Place -- before succumbing to sleep.  The a/c in the master bedroom worked very well, but if the room had a ceiling fan and/or had been better ventilated for breezes, we might have chosen to open the windows to fall asleep to the sounds of the surf instead. As it was, we slept through most of the night until a ginormous thunderstorm rolled through around 4:00 am, knocking the power out but compensating for that loss with a heavy rain that was wonderful to listen to before falling asleep again.

Coming up next: our first day on the island, plus the agony of choosing which pastry to order for breakfast...