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Trip Report - Adventures and Misadventures in Paradise by Kyla2016

Trip Report - Adventures and Misadventures in Paradise by Kyla2016

The following trip report is reposted in its entirety with permission from the author, TripAdvisor user “Myheartsonthebeach”, who is also known on Wordpress as "Kyla2016". This is a delightful travel story, which beautifully weaves the past (their Anguilla honeymoon twenty years ago!) with the present (as they introduce their children to paradise). And their family will be returning to Anguilla soon; bookmark Kyla's blog (https://kyla2016.wordpress.com) for real time updates. Enjoy!

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Part 1A: Paradise Lost

Have you ever loved someone passionately, and passionately wanted everyone in your life to love that person too? Yet that first introduction left your friends and family with that same sense of bewilderment you felt the first time you viewed a Cy Twombly, or saw Tree of Life?

Like, say, the time you brought your boyfriend, who you eventually married, to dinner at your parents’ for the first time? And this beloved of yours had a slight shy streak that masked his keen sense of humor, and dressed in baggy clothes that concealed his drop-dead gorgeous body and prompted your parents to question not only if he was gainfully employed but perhaps even if he lived in his car?

This was not the case of introducing my now-husband to my parents. They adored him from the start, as do most people. It was, however, the case of introducing Anguilla to my children.

I first met Anguilla twenty years ago. We were on our honeymoon, and I fell madly, deeply in love.

It was not, however, love at first sight.

We knew very little about Anguilla when we chose it for our honeymoon. This was in the pre-internet Dark Ages, so we had little information to go on. A friend had an aunt who had a villa there, and since it was the “off season,” she graciously offered it to us as a gift from her nephew. We could hardly pass up such generosity.

So after a fantastic, beautiful, and exhausting wedding, most of which we did ourselves, we flew off to spend nine days of complete relaxation on a lush, tropical island in the Caribbean.

Missoula, Montana to Salt Lake City, Salt Lake City to Atlanta, Atlanta to San Juan. Overnight in San Juan. Then up early for the final leg to Anguilla, a brief but hair-raising flight in a prop plane the size of a bathtub. Thirty-two hours of travel later, we finally were minutes from the tropical paradise that awaited us! So close to talcum beaches and coladas under palm trees! Excitedly, I pressed my nose to the window to see what lay below.

Imagine my surprise when our plane began its descent into AXA. Where were the palm trees? For that matter, where were ANY trees? Were those GOATS on the runway?

Now, I’m a Montana girl. I’m no softy, I don’t need pampering, and I’m certainly not afraid of livestock. But I had just spent every spare waking minute for the last five months putting together a wedding for 200 people. Tearing down buildings in my parent’s backyard, painting any buildings that remained, planting gardens, sewing bridesmaids’ dresses, planning menus, shopping for menus, cooking large chunks of said menus. I was exhausted. I wanted a lovely honeymoon. Deserved a lovely honeymoon! Deserved a pina colada under a palm tree on a talcum beach!

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The beat-up Toyota Corolla with the faux fur zebra print seat covers that served as the taxi to our villa did little to assuage my worries. There were fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror. Fuzzy dice. And the roads! I had studied the highway map ahead of time to get the lay of the land, but these were no highways. The best of them were barely paved roads With trash on the side of them. Where exactly were we??Things began to brighten a bit when we arrived at the villa at Seafeathers. It had a Caribbean vibe that began to crack my spoiled brat ego. And then the aunt was there in the doorway to greet us, warmly and enthusiastically. Luckily she couldn’t hear my inner voice that had been chastising me the last hour for choosing this place over Hawaii. “Come out to the veranda and see the view!”

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Well, the view was amazing, overlooking the Caribbean and St. Maarten. And the villa was gorgeous, all high ceilings and tile floors and lots and lots of enormous windows that looked out over that amazing view. Things were definitely looking up.The aunt took us back to the “town” and got us hooked up with a jeep, then turned us loose on the island with a list of restaurants and advice to check out Uncle Ernie’s, the world famous fish chowder at the Barrel Stay, and the lobster at Scilly Cay (but to watch out for the rum punches). And just like that, the honeymoon I had been dreaming of began, and I began to fall in love.

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The deal was sealed with my first glimpse of Shoal Bay East, when we did indeed check out Uncle Ernie’s, and where we returned many, many times. No pina colada, but plenty of rum punches and Heinekens (for a buck each!).

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We spent the next eight days exploring the island in our jeep, top down.We had dinner at the Barrel Stay, and tried the fish chowder. We could see why it was world famous. We spent every morning in serious deliberation, planning our day. Which beach to go to? Where to eat? Should we check out some deserted spot, or go watch the boat races again?

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We also spent countless hours just exploring the “roads” of Anguilla, some of which were barely tracks in the dirt, and most of which seemed to deposit us at Roy’s in it’s old location on Crocus Bay. We got to know Roberta, their resident parrot, quite well.

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We did go to Scilly Cay, stood on the dock and waved to be picked up, then got pickled on Heinekens and rum punches while waiting for our lobster lunches. When they finally arrived, those lobsters were huge, and accompanied by a pile of pasta salad the size of Rhode Island. It was more even than I can eat. And I can eat.

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We decided one day to take a day trip to St. Maarten. We couldn’t wait to get back to Anguilla.

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The days passed all too quickly on this scrubby little island, and before we knew it, and long before we were ready, it was time to leave. Those final moments at the airport, having one last rum punch in the airport bar, were seriously sad ones. This was a beautiful place, and these were beautiful people who truly loved their home, and wanted you to love it too. We had fallen deeply, deeply in love with Anguilla. And Lord only knew when we could come back.

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Fast-forward through the years. We bought a house, had a baby boy. Sold the house, moved to Ohio. Found out we were pregnant with twins. Bought a house. Began to remodel house, piece by piece. Had two baby girls. Continued to remodel house. Launched a business. Raised kids. Continued to remodel house. Continued to raise kids.

We would take an occasional trip to the North Carolina beach with my husband’s family. It was nice, but it was no Anguilla.

Eventually our business took over all our time in the summer, and the kids started school. Trips became few and far between, and had to be squished into Spring Break. Which has it’s limitations.

We tried Destin, Florida one year. The water in the pictures looked so blue, the sand so white. We drove excitedly for fourteen hours to reach our beach vacation.

The sand was indeed white. And the weather was so cold, you could easily have imagined all the sand to be snow. The kids jumped in the water anyway. They emerged five minutes later with blue skin and purple lips.

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Destin, FL. No, that is not snow.

The next year we tried Chicago. The weather was fabulous–eighty six degrees! We soaked up lots of culture and ate fabulous food. But it was not relaxing, and we returned exhausted, with very sore feet.

The next year we tried New Orleans. The weather was not fabulous, but we made it work anyway. We soaked up lots of culture and ate fabulous food. We listened to great music everywhere we went. I fell in love with New Orleans too, I confess. But it was not relaxing. My children, who were by now teenagers, were troopers. Still, one day they asked, “Is there a beach near here?” There wasn’t. Plenty of swamps, but no sandy beaches. We returned home pounds heavier, lives enriched, exhausted, and with very sore feet.

“Can we just take a beach vacation sometime?” they asked.

I understood their desire. Believe me, I did. But let’s be realistic: the options within driving distance from Ohio are limited. And the weather during a mid-March Spring Break can be unpredictable, even if you travel as far south as Fort Myers. A beach vacation? We had tried that before.

That’s when the Anguilla Idea began to formulate.

2014 loomed as a milestone year for us. My husband was facing one of those major birthdays, and we would be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. What if we could celebrate these milestones with a return to Anguilla?

I began to research. And immediately realized what a cockeyed dream this was. There was no way we could afford even to sleep in Anguilla, unless we camped on a beach. Not only did having children change our accommodation needs, but we appeared to have one too many children, throwing us into the three-room category. And we could barely afford one.

Then, somewhere in my search, I discovered Anguilla-Beaches.com, Nori Evoy’s invaluable resource on Anguilla travel, and in it hope for someone traveling on a budget.

The Anguilla Idea became Anguilla Reality 2014. A Trip of a Lifetime.

Part 1B: Um… We’re Here

We are in a movie, the set of which is the top deck of a boat rushing toward Anguilla, wind streaming through our hair, the sea a wash of every shade of blue. Except it is not a movie, and this really is us in the flesh, March of 2014, on the ferry from St Martin to Anguilla. Neither the weather nor the airlines, which are obviously in league with one another, have succeeded in keeping us from our destination. I am supposed to be filling out customs forms, but that’s a lot to ask of a girl who’s about to be reunited with one of the great loves of her life.

The island becomes more defined as we get closer, and I can start to make out features. Is that Cap Jaluca to the west? It’s been so long, I can’t remember where everything is. Will it have changed much?

My family is looking eagerly, happily toward shore. I think they are just excited that they may get to enjoy a relaxing vacation for a change. We could walk from one end of the island to the other, just for old time’s sake, I suggested. My family suspected I was only half joking. Just ask them sometime about the Touris’ 2012 Chicago Lakefront Death March.

We draw closer and closer to the island, the water turning from a deep navy blue to royal to a warm turquoise. Then suddenly, and finally, we arrive at shore; the ferry operators are securing the boat to the dock, porters are piling up luggage, and we gather our miscellaneous belongings and step with shaky sea legs onto the dock at Blowing Point.

After snapping that obligatory photo of the kids in front of the “Welcome to Anguilla” sign, we step inside to get the customs thing over with and get on with our vacation.

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Perhaps that’s when the tiny knots start to gather in my stomach. What I remember from our previous trip was an island of warm, friendly people, a notion only reinforced by everything I had read in recent months. But the face behind the customs desk is anything but warm, especially since I seem to have messed up the forms. Instead, that face is brisk and unsmiling, as are those of the policeman outside and of the taxi drivers waiting for riders. I try to shake it off; everything will be fine once we get to the hotel and get our toes in the sand.

My children, meanwhile, are surveying the scene with increasingly skeptical eyes, and look on dubiously as an ancient minivan with tinny-sounding doors pulls up to drive us to paradise. The looks become even more skeptical as they take in the scenery on the road leading out of Blowing Point: the cinderblock buildings, the rusted tin roofs, trash littering the sides of the road and scrub covering the land. Tropical paradise? Looks more like the ghetto on the east side of our town.

Do I detect the taxi driver doing a double take when we tell him our destination of Sandy Ground? I am now growing slightly anxious. I have reserved a duplex in a hotel there, and while I am in no way expecting luxury, I am also just praying it’s not a complete bust. The reviews of it are solid, but you never know. My husband is hosting a bit of anxiety himself, as our most recent emails reconfirming our arrival had not been answered. Island time, I assure him. No worries.

Our driver pulls us up to the front of the hotel, and it’s true, it’s certainly not a luxury resort. But good things await beyond those walls, I am certain.

A woman with the air of proprietress greets us at the entrance. “Hello. How many rooms do you wish?”

“We are the Tourises,” I say, noting that it sounds much like “tourists”. Still. “We have reservations for the duplex for the next week.”

I am so excited. This woman and I are going to be good friends, I know. Lifelong friends, when I succeed in moving to this island for good.

“Ah, yes, the duplex.” The proprietress shifts on her feet, looks out across the street where the beach awaits us. “Yes, well… the people in the duplex decided to stay a few extra days. What could I do? Kick them out?”

There is a long silence as my husband, the proprietress, the taxi driver and I all shift from foot to foot, like members of a boy band. There’s a slight ringing in my ears, and I’m suddenly very, very hot.

“One moment,” says the proprietress, who then disappears into the hotel. She reemerges a minute later with keys in hand and hops in a pickup truck. We gather we are to follow in the taxi. I’m avoiding eye contact with my husband at this point, while smiling in what I hope is an encouraging manner to my children. Island time. No worries.

Down the main road of Sandy Ground we drive. Out of the town, past the barge pier, beyond the salt pond. We turn onto a dirt road, which we follow until at last we come to a padlocked double gate with a “No Trespassing” sign, where we turn right onto a long driveway, pass a dilapidated tennis court and pavilion, and stop finally in front of a white, two-story villa.

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We hesitantly step out of the taxi, then follow the proprietress to the padlocked gate of a front door. She unlocks it and leads us inside. “How many rooms you need?”

“I don’t know,” I say. The place seems huge. “We might be fine with two.” My mind is racing. How much is this all going to cost? I have vague recollections of an email months ago mentioning a villa maybe twice the price of the duplex.

My husband gives voice to my trepidation. “How much is this place a night?” he asks.

“We talk about that later,” she says, and hands him the keys.

We wrap up things with the taxi driver, who has been watching the proceedings with bemused interest. I can’t tell if the fee he charges us is normally so small, or if he just feels bad for the poor schmucks he has just deposited at land’s end.

The proprietress offers to return in a bit to drive us back to Sandy Ground for dinner. “Is it possible to walk down the beach from here to there?” we ask. “Yes, but it is rather far,” she says.

At this point I just need space to regroup. Well, that, and a stiff drink. We decide we will make our own way back, and decline her kind offer. “Very well,” she says, and with an offer of further help should we need it gets back in her truck and drives away.

We stand for a moment in stunned silence.

I can sense my children watching us for clues on how to proceed, and realize I must snap out of this sudden funk. This is our dream vacation, after all! I begin to explore the place.

It is by no means luxurious. But it’s not bad either. Something along the line of the beach houses we have rented in North Carolina. It is, however, in need of a thorough cleaning. Deep and thorough.

The sun, I suddenly notice, is starting to set, and I remember how quickly darkness falls here after the sun goes down. I hustle my family along before we find ourselves stranded in the dark.

We head down to the beach, which we find almost literally out our back door. A short walk takes us to the pier, which is surrounded by a tall wire fence. We contemplate how to get to the other side. Go around? Not convenient. We decide to try our luck going under it, and after crouching and scuttling, find ourselves on the other side, the beach of Sandy Ground stretched out before us.

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We have arrived on a Sunday. Our plans for dinner are undefined. This is so unlike me: I usually have that sort of thing mapped out long before we leave home. This is to be a different sort of vacation though, more “relaxed.” The plan loosely is to find some beach bbq, then head down to Elvis’ for his full moon party.

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However, there is no beach bbq to be found. Oops. We decide to head straight to Elvis’ and dive headlong into the “Lunasea” party.

But when we arrive at Elvis’ we find no party. Actually it looks more like the hungover remnants of LAST night’s party, with a decided lack of energy and people. A quick glance at the menu shows nothing we really feel like eating either, so after a quick drink we head back down the beach.

At this point I decide that some good, comforting pub food is what we need, something that reminds everyone of home for a smidgen. “Let’s try Ripples,” I suggest.

So it’s agreed, and we walk down the main road to Ripples. The full moon has risen, and I feel a surge of optimism.

That optimism fades quickly once we enter Ripples. While the restaurant is open, it is also dead quiet, and I am wondering if maybe they are closing soon. There are two other people in the restaurant, who, together with the person behind the bar, look at us blankly, and I like we are interrupting something. We tentatively ask for a seat.

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The menu at Ripples is our first introduction to Anguilla dining prices. We order two fish and chips and one coconut shrimp and grilled fillet of snapper dinners, as well as some calamari. None of it, while not bad, is particularly good, and the bill, which included a few drinks, is around $150, plus tax and tip. We leave with full bellies but rather empty spirits, and on that note decide to return to the “villa” and call it a day.

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And what a day this has been. Everybody is out of sorts, and I feel responsible. “Oh my,” I think. What have I gotten us into?

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Part 2: Paradise Found

Do you know how early the sun rises in Anguilla in March? Dang early. 6:15 early, in fact. And as the sun rises, so do my eyelids.

I oblige my eyelids, and rise along with them. After a quick brushing of the teeth, I sneak to the sliding door in the adjoining bedroom and slip outside. There’s a small landing, then a few stairs that lead to the ground below, a straggly lawn (although that’s normal for Anguilla) dotted with palm trees, beyond which lies the beach.

Except that dangling between me and the promise of beach is a massive spider web, and off to its side a spider the size of a small rodent.

I find a stick on the landing (guess the lack of a good housekeeping is a blessing in disguise). In a big sweep I strip away the web, then commence battle with the beast. It’s not a pretty or noble battle, punctuated by a heebie jeebie dance, but in the end I prevail. Safe passage granted to the beach.

It is stunningly beautiful.

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At the far west end I see what looks like a shipwreck. I start to walk in that direction, savoring the warm, powdery sand between my toes. To my left, set back from the shore a bit, lies a cluster of abandoned little cottages and the wreck of what looks like was once a beachfront restaurant. A ghost town! And that is indeed a shipwreck!

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I know I have promised to let my family sleep in all they want on this vacation, to not hustle them along on an agenda. But this is too good to keep all to myself!I return to the villa and rouse my daughter Lauren, and together we scuttle past the spider corpse and head back down to the beach.

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The magic of Anguilla starts to set in. The spotty night’s sleep on hard mattresses and unyielding pillows, the assault of the bass of the neighbor’s massive sound system, the knots of uncertainty and stress of the previous day, they all fade away with the crash of the waves and the salty breeze on our faces.

It’s not but five minutes before my other children, Aaron and Zoe, join us. I hug them good morning, then just watch as they absorb it all. It’s like watching them unwrap presents on Christmas morning.

We poke around the wrecked ship a while, but leave without penetrating beyond its hull on our shoeless feet, deciding it best not to start the vacation with a case of tetanus.

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We spend the bulk of the morning back at the beach in front of the villa, the kids getting their first taste of snorkeling. Unlike their mother, who had to be rescued on her honeymoon by her new husband when she ventured too far out on Shoal Bay East, they take to it with ease. The three of them frolic like a pod of dolphins, and together with my husband discover a constellation of starfish.

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I watch safely from shore.

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Hunger eventually sets in, so we head down the beach toward Sandy Ground. It’s not far at all, we realize in the light of day, and has the added bonus of yet another ship wreck, this one right before the pier. TWO shipwrecks on our beach. Boom!

Still craving the barbecue we were denied the previous night, we end up at Dad’s.

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Everybody orders chicken or ribs, but my eye is drawn to the steamed whole snapper with funghie. Fresh fish sounds delightful, and I love mushrooms in any form. Dad himself explains to me that it’s actually a sort of steamed dumpling, and that his cook is the famed cook from his neighbor Johnnos.

What comes out is a beautiful plate brimming with fish, vegetables, funghie, and a rich broth. Oh mama. One taste of that broth and I wanted to climb in that dish. I eat until I am beyond stuffed, devouring every last morsel of food on that plate.

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(Dad’s menu has since changed, and it appears that the snapper is no longer on the menu. And I suspect the cook has returned to Johnnos?)

After lunch my family rolls me back down the beach, under the pier, around the shipwreck (“that’s a mighty big rope,” my husband takes to saying each time we pass it), and up to the villa to digest the feast.

As Mark and I sit on the back terrace in duplicate food comas, we hear a key in the door. In walks a woman armed with cleaning supplies, who proceeds to CLEAN THE ENTIRE VILLA.

Things are definitely looking up.

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Dinners weren’t as a rule a priority on this trip (and as I have mentioned, that was very out of character for me: I have been known to herd my family across an entire city in search of the perfect po’ boy). However, dinner this first night turns out to be a gem. Alicia at Sandbar graciously seats us with a wonderful view of the setting sun.

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We order drinks and an array of tapas. Tuna poke, beer battered mahi bites, mahi fra diavolo, chicken satay, strip steak with chimichurri sauce, and two orders of SandBar fries. I do not get a chance to snap pictures of the food, choosing to grab what I could before it is devoured by the wolves.

Followed by three desserts. I don’t remember what they all were, because once I taste that mango cobbler nothing else matters.

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Darren and Alicia are absolutely delightful and the food delicious. A perfect cap on what is a decidedly better day than the previous one.

We duck back under the pier (“that’s a mighty big rope”), and as we are walking along the water’s edge, I notice that as everybody lifts their feet, their footsteps remain, glowing in the dark. Did I have one too many cocktails? But no, everyone else can see it too.

We walk on back to the villa, leaving a glowing trail in our wake.

Part 3: A Trip Down Memory Lane into a Whole New World

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6:15 a.m.  Bing! I’m awake.

Everyone else is still nestled deep in their dreams. I resist the urge to wake them, and decide instead to strike out on my own.

My explorations this morning take me far down to the eastern end of Sandy Ground, past even Elvis’. It’s not the prettiest beach on this end, I concede. Definitely more working class (although Lauren did pronounce it “the most beautiful beach ever” the previous day), and truly, that string of restaurants looks much better all lit up at night. Still, it has a certain charm of its own, even with the restaurants boarded up from the previous night.

I walk the beach all the way back toward the other end where the shipwreck lies. The ambience on this side of the pier is much better, for sure. In fact, it’s really quite beautiful. A young couple are enjoying the beach on the far end. I wonder if they are staying at a hotel on the hill above, maybe came down on a path I saw leading up into the trees. I make a note to check it out at a later time.

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Back at the villa I take survey. The structure sits on about an acre of land. Two units, one upstairs, one down. We are in the larger upstairs one.

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The villa from the back

It has a large back yard and an even larger front, a tennis court that’s seen better days, and a kidney-shaped pool whose contents I don’t trust but certainly is pretty to look at.

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The tennis court has seen better days

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A large tree in front with a swing,  lots of palm trees on both sides, and best of all a flamboyant tree just beyond the upstairs railing that seems to be the gathering pool for hummingbirds.

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Front yard with tree swing

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Back yard, beyond which lies the beach. The flamboyant tree stands just to the left

It’s not a luxury villa, but it’s really not bad. With some minor repairs and a few updates, it could really be something. Which would drive up the price, of course. I’m not even going to tell you how much we ended up paying for it. You wouldn’t believe me anyway.

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Inside the villa

At nine o’clock the jeep we rented from Island Car Rentals  is delivered by a young woman whose name I don’t remember now but was absolutely lovely. It takes only a few minutes to fill out the necessary paperwork, but we enjoy chatting with her about the island and about the property behind the “No Trespassing” sign. She informs us that it used to be a beachfront resort named Mariners, but was decimated in a hurricane in 2009 and has sat abandoned ever since. Intriguing.

We have wheels now! We’re off to explore.

Well, not quite so quick. First it’s off to the grocery store for provisions, as all we have at present is a jar of peanut butter and some “biscuits.”

The Best Buy on Long Path Road is a vast improvement over the grocery store we visited in 1994, its aisles well stocked with many of things we use at home.

We need just a few things, mainly munchies, drinks, and some breakfast items. However, when I see the price tag of $16 dollars on a box of cereal, peanut butter and biscuits don’t sound half bad. Until I realize that’s Eastern Caribbean dollars. A bargain, in that case. Bait and switch.

Amusingly, gin is less expensive than milk. But not nearly as good on cereal.

We return to the villa with our loot, pack a cooler, and we’re off to explore.

We almost miss Le Bon Pain, set as it is so modestly off the road. The choices are rather limited, as we have arrived late in the morning. Still, we make off with chocolate croissants, almond croissants, cafe au laits and bottles of juice. As tempting as it is to tear into it all right there, we decide instead to have a picnic at Savannah Bay.

And let me tell you, that is some serious restraint, because it takes just about three days to get to Savannah Bay on that “road.” We congratulate ourselves for renting a jeep.

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Ahh, Savannah Bay, how I love you. Just the right amount of wild. And your palm trees are so charming, persevering in spite of the obvious abuse they take from all that wind. The perfect spot for a picnic breakfast.

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Well, except for all that wind. But we persevere right along with the trees.

The rest of the morning is filled with snorkeling down the beach and body surfing at its far end, where the waves become much larger. I watch from the beach, again. Hey, I am Fun Mom in all ways except when it comes to water. That’s my husband’s territory. Remember the near-drowning incident I mentioned?

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Great waves for body surfing at the far end

Fun Mom kicks back into gear once we (minus Mark, who has popped a beer back on the beach) head back toward Junks Hole. This is my territory. Which I quickly discover would be better traversed in shoes sturdier than the flip flops we are wearing. Note to self for next time. Still, we keep going, curious to see what lies around the next corner, then the next.

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Whelks?

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My phone camera does not do this justice

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We found the hidden Immunity Idol!

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A crab!

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He’s not shy!

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He’s….. dead

Back at the beach, I see that Nat is just opening up shop, and it’s so tempting to stay. But, alas! we are off to Shoal Bay East. So many beaches, so little time.

My heart flutters a bit as we start down that road to SBE. This was the beach that sealed the deal for me so many years ago. I can’t wait for my children to see it. Talk about the “most beautiful beach ever.”

Cars line the sides of the road. Definitely more crowded than I remember. A man directs us to park, and assures us there’s no need to pay. So far so good. But as soon as we step out of the car another man tells us he’ll set us up with chairs and an umbrella. Though I’m not keen on the hustling, the guy seems harmless enough, and for $10 a place to recline and some shade does sound nice.

But what is this? The man leads us into a thick forest of chairs and umbrellas. My first view of Shoal Bay East had been of a pristine paradise; my kids’ is more like Jersey Shore.

The man starts to set us up in the second row of chairs, but I’m having none of that. I make him move us down to the end of the row, where we can have an unobstructed view of the ocean, and we set up for the day.

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This is not how I remember SBE. Mark doesn’t mind the umbrella forrest. He’s at the beach.

The kids play around in the crystal water. I almost suggest they swim out to where Mark and I found the amazing snorkeling on our honeymoon, but then I recall my near-death experience and think better of it.

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For lunch we head Uncle Ernie’s, for old time’s sake. It is not how I remember it either. The Heinekens are now twice the price and half the size, and the people working the counter seem uninterested in serving us. Even worse, the burgers we order are dry and my fish sandwich fishy.

Not good, Uncle Earnie’s. Not good.

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One good thing that did come from this lunch? Our introduction to Ting, that nectar of the gods. Not familiar with Ting? It’s a grapefruit soda, but made with real grapefruit. There’s grapefruit pulp actually floating around the bottom of the bottle. We are instant fans.

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Emboldened by the Tings, we decide to abandon our umbrella and chairs and head to a less populated area of the beach. I don’t think we even came down this far on our last trip, as there was no need to, but it is stunning. I find myself falling in love again.

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The beach is sparsely populated down here. Much to the delight of my 15-year old son, one of those people  is a beautiful young woman sunbathing topless, apparently oblivious to the rules governing the matter. It’s possible my husband is enjoying the show too; personally I’m just in awe that anyone’s breasts could be so… buoyant.

We walk around the point, but don’t get very far. The beach completely disappears under water. Too bad, because I suspect that Gwen’s lies just on the other side.

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Lauren and Mark

As we walk back down the beach I notice what is probably a good snorkeling spot just out from the point, and am just about to point it out when Zoe points out a slew of little bubbles on her neck and on the skin between her fingers.

Poor thing. While Lauren and Aaron benefit from their father’s Greek blood, Zoe inherited my lighter complexion. Sure enough, sun poisoning. Who knew all the places you have to protect in such unrelenting sun?

Time to head back.

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After returning to the villa and showering off the day’s sand and salt, we grab a couple of chairs and a bottle of wine and  tote them back down to the beach. And make a fabulous discovery: we have what might be one of the best vantage points for viewing the sunset on the island, just steps from our back door.

And that evening we are treated to a magnificent sunset, one that just goes on and on.

Dinner that night is another trip down memory lane, this time at Roy’s, although it’s in its new location just steps from our villa. However, I’m almost too tired to eat. The kids and I just order some light fare, Caesar salads and French onion soup. Mark orders the fish and chips, and it is delightful. Lightly battered and full of flavor. I decide we need to come back Friday for happy hour.

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For now, though, we are all exhausted. It’s not yet even nine o’clock, but everybody is done for the day. We head back down the short stretch of beach to the villa.

(“that’s a mighty big rope”).

We crawl into bed a very tired troupe of travelers. Tomorrow it’s Meads Bay for the day; tonight we sleep.

Part 4: L’amore è nell’aria

(Love is in the Air)

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The view from our terrace; the flamboyant tree not quite in bloom

6:14. Bing!

I force myself back down. And manage to stay there at least twenty minutes before I give in.

Since we picked up coffee on our shopping trip, I can now enjoy a cup on our terrace to start the day. My intention is to write in the journal I have vowed to start, and maybe read a bit, but all I manage to do is stare at the hummingbirds in the flamboyant tree. And contemplate my chances of successfully procuring a coconut from the top of those trees.

I am excited about our trip to Meads today. Mark and I spent a lot of time watching boat races there on our honeymoon, enjoying its soft, white sands. It was one of our favorite beaches.

I’m excited too about visiting Blanchard’s Beach Shack. I had read Melinda Blanchard’s book A Trip to the Beach during a bleak January stretch in Ohio, and felt her a kindred spirit. Like Melinda and Bob, my husband and I too run a specialty foods business, and of course I dream of starting s business in Anguilla someday, as they have so successfully accomplished. Also, I was stunned to find that their son and I had attended the same small college in Walla Walla, Washington. What are the odds of that?!

Of course, I am hoping to meet Melinda.

I wait patiently for my family to drag themselves out of their sundrenched dreams. My husband is the first to stir, and joins me on the terrace, coffee in hand.

“I think we should just stay here today,” he says, blindsiding me.

I stare at him incredulously. Is he not aware of the overabundance of beaches and the torturous lack of time?

“We can hang out on our beach, maybe stroll down to Sandy Ground later, and Zoe can get a break from the sun.”

“Of course,” I concur. “A wise idea.” All the while thinking what a cockeyed idea it is. But as the benevolent monarch, I must allow my subjects a modicum of say in governing matters, else I appear a dictator.

But it turns out this will be one of the best days, thanks to dinner that night.

We spend a leisurely day, dividing time between lounging on the beach and resting in the villa.

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I had read about an Italian restaurant on Sandy Ground that was supposed to quite good, so around midday I make my way over to Dolce Vita to see if we can get reservations for that night.

In spite of the glowing reviews I have read, I am slightly underwhelmed by the appearance of the place, and wonder what all the fuss could be.

And then I am greeted by Abbi.

It is like a magic wand is waved before my eyes, and suddenly the restaurant comes to life.

Abbi is the picture of charm and style, and although the reservation book is rather full, still manages to find room for our family of five. A magic wand, I am telling you.

I return to the villa, anticipating our upcoming dinner.

We are treated to another glorious sunset that evening, and toast it with a glass of wine on our beach.

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Then we’re off to dinner. Abbi, dressed in a fabulous paisley dress shirt with striped cuffs, greets us graciously, and leads us to a table in the center of a packed house.

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Would you believe this is the only picture I took that night? #livinginthemoment

The next few hours are a magical blur of food and wine.

The bread is delicious, but more importantly it is a vehicle to the extra virgin olive oil and the aged balsamic vinegar. Our waitress graciously brings us a second basket.

The gnocchi Gorgonzola we order as a starter is a plate of absolute heaven. We have experimented with making gnocchi ourselves, and thought it was quite decent. This is something else entirely.

The kids and I each order the seafood pasta for mains. It is a treasure trove of fresh shellfish and chunks of fish. But the true standout in our dinners is Mark’s lasagna. It makes me realize that every piece of lasagna I’ve had up to this point has been utter garbage. Instead of the heavy dish I am used to, this is as light as mousse.

The food is delicious, but what truly makes the place is Abbi, who glides about the room sprinkling the pixie dust of his personality, making each patron feel as if he or she is his personal guest. I vaguely remember dessert. I know there is a chocolate salami; I think there is some tiramisu? For sure there is limoncello, served by Abbi himself. It becomes a bit of a blur after that, which sadly signaled that it is time to go “home.”

What a lovely evening. As we walk back to the villa, we leave a trail of pixie dust of our own. Our footsteps glow in the sand once again; above us glows a moon that was full just three days ago.

We duck under the pier.

“That’s a mighty big rope.”

Part 5: Visiting an Old Friend & Making New Ones

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My eyes open slowly, one then the other.

7:05. How have I slept so late?

A glance out the window answers my question. It’s raining. Nothing substantial, just light and steady. Refreshing.

Coffee on the terrace, hummingbirds in the flamboyant tree. I give up trying to read and surrender to the moment. I read somewhere that this is what the aftermath of a stroke is like: no worries about the past, no stress about the future. Just right here, right now.

The family begins to stir around nine, but today, maybe thanks to the rain, I don’t feel the urgency to get moving. We enjoy a leisurely morning lounging around the villa. Even make two pots of coffee.

Eventually, the rain tapers off until it’s merely just cloudy with an occasional drop.

Time to head off to Meads Bay.

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We find the parking lot for Blanchard’s Beach Shack, which is already crowded despite the clouds. But the beach itself, which we find by following the well-maintained boardwalk through the lovely tropical landscaping, is not crowded at all. And while there  is a decent row of umbrellas, this arrangement is more of a grove rather than a forest.

We rent chairs and umbrellas for $6 (plus deposit) and set up base camp.

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This was my favorite beach when we visited last. The Malliouhana still stands proudly on the eastern cliff, just as it did in 1994. It’s closed now, but word is it is being renovated for reopening later this year. But now there is a rival kingdom –er, resort, the Viceroy, on the western cliff, a marble citadel, it seems. In between lies an abundance of hotels and restaurants, and no sign of any rusted out vehicles. It is still absolutely beautiful, but I am rather shocked by the changes.

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But time does march on, doesn’t it?Lunch at the Beach Shack is good. Tacos for the girls, a blackened mahi bowl for Mark, the MBLT for Aaron. I have the shrimp roll, which is not quite the lobster roll I am anticipating but still good.

The day is still rather overcast, and a few drops of rain still fall for a while, but eventually the clouds start to part and the sun comes out, gradually at first, then soon in full force. More people emerge on the beach.

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Look at all those people! We spend the day wandering the beach, meeting people, enjoying adult beverages. And of course “twirlers” for the kids. Sunbathe, rinse, rehydrate. Repeat.

The kids notice a set of “stairs” carved into the rock cliff below the Malliouhana. And what’s more enticing than a set of mystery stairs? I can’t help but feel we’re trespassing as we follow their siren call, but can’t seem to resist.

Our on the other side our curiosity is rewarded with a lovely little cove (and numerous other likeminded adventurers). I park myself on its little beach and watch as the kids plunge in its waters to snorkel.

They reemerge gushing over the marine life they found, and  beg me to join them.

Now, try as I might, snorkeling is just not my territory. I don’t care how many times I try it, I can’t comfortably plunge my face in the water and suck in a lungful of air. It defies logic.  For my kids it has become second nature in a matter of days; for me it will always be a delicate balance of consciously breathing through my mouth yet not thinking too much about what I’m doing. Inevitably I end up thinking about it. And then I get all messed up and panic.

Nonetheless, I decide to oblige the kids for a few minutes. I follow Aaron out to where the water is way, way over our heads. He points down, and at first I don’t see anything. But then I vaguely make out a cluster of spiky black rocks, and realize I am looking at sea urchins!

And then the magic slips, and I remember I am breathing through a tube, and in sets a mild panic.

I make it back to shore without sucking in too much water.

Not my territory.

I am good at walking the beach, though, so decide to exercise my strength by a walk all the way down to the Viceroy. Lots of people down here, by Anguilla standards.

On the way back an enormous white villa catches my eye. I fetch Mark, and we return to gaze at in awe. This was definitely not here last time.

As we marvel at its grandeur, a caretaker working in the gardens invites us inside.

We look around to make sure he means us and not some celebrity who snuck up from behind. No one. We shrug at each other, then bolt inside before he can discover we’re just a couple of ordinary tourists.

The villa is stunning, all whitewashed walls, travertine marble, chrome, and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Meads Bay. We calculate there are enough bathrooms for each member of our family to have two.

Mark and I are amazed by the house, of course. But we are even more amazed by the generosity of the caretaker in inviting us two schmucks in. That’s Anguilla for you.

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The sun starts to take on that golden quality it gets in the late afternoon, and I think that if I’m going to meet Melinda Blanchard, it’s now or never.

Lunch is long over, and I’m not sure she will still be around, but head around to the back of the restaurant. I glance in the kitchen, and see her working with her crew.

How gracious she is to step out of the busy kitchen for a stranger. We chat for several minutes before she has to get back to its demands. What a perfectly lovely lady. Thank you, Melinda.

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The sun is getting low by the time we leave, and I know we need to hurry if we are going to catch the sunset on our beach. I’m hoping to pick up some BBQ from B&D’s, basically a popup in a roadside yard. But alas, when we find it, B&D are only just firing up the grills. Apparently on Thursdays, things don’t get  rolling until around 6. They invite us to come back for lunch on Saturday.We enjoy another great sunset on “our” beach, although this time we share with some friendly locals, a family with a darling little girl. The young father, a realtor on the island, strikes up a conversation. I realize how jaded I have become since moving from Montana, and how readily I am to assume ulterior motives from strangers. But this young man simply wants to tell us about his fishing boat anchored there a few years out, and to share some tips about the island, like the tours of the hydroponic gardens at the Cuisinart.

Friendly folks. Leaves you with a warm feeling, doesn’t it?

Dinner that night does not give us the same warm feeling, however. Deprived of BBQ at B&D’s, we head down the beach in hopes of finding some there. I seem to remember there being stands when we were here years ago, and since it’s Thursday, maybe we’ll find some tonight.

Maybe the stands were there last because it was Carnival. Tonight we find none. So after wandering a while, we decide to try Elvis’ again.

I really want to like this place. However, the food we order is just so-so. Later I can’t even remember what we ordered. That’s never a good sign. We hang around for a while, listening to possibly the worst DJ I have ever heard, hoping the magic will eventually kick in. It never does.

Had we gone to Picante that night, I later discover, we would have dined in the presence of Leonardo DiCaprio. And the Mexican would have been much better, I’m sure. If only we’d known, right?

We manage to jettison the kids after dinner, who are tired and desperately craving some wifi time. So after making sure they get safely home (“that’s a mighty big rope”), we hightail it to the Pumphouse.

Now this place is definitely rocking. The Musical Brothers hold stage, and people pack the bar, so many they spill out the doors onto the street. We join in the fray and order rum punches, then spend the next couple of hours dancing and people watching.

It’s late when we finally leave the bar, much later than I’ve been up this whole trip. We start to head back to the villa, but spy a crowd of people down the road by Ripples. We decide to check out what all the fuss is about.

A magical smell greets us as we approach. BBQ!

And finally, at last, I get the BBQ I’ve been craving, thanks to Kenny’s (?) BBQ stand. Jerk chicken, a leg. And hot damn! is it good.

Part 6: We Were Lost, But Now We’re… Lost

Friday. This vacation is going by altogether too fast.

Today is adventure day.

You know those movie scenes in which the background is still and the actors just move across the screen?

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Little Miss Sunshine

If I were to write a screenplay about this day, there would be a lot of these shots. A. Lot.

We head out mid-morning for Iguana Cave off Katouche Bay. The road there is easy enough to follow. Until it ends.

We stop in bewilderment in front of a group of villas at road’s end. A woman with shoulder length blond hair spots us from the front of the villas, and raises her arms in question.

“I think we’re lost,” I yell.

“You’re not lost,” she yells back. “You are found!” She comes to meet us at the jeep.

We explain we are trying to get to Katouche Bay, and she points to the rock sign that says “Katouche Bay” behind us, now as clear as day, and to the drive leading around the villas, which is not so clear. We thank her for her help, and get back on the “road.”

Which, once we round the corner, drops precipitously to a parking lot far, far below. I suppress the urge to jump out of the car, and instead mutter a hasty prayer for the brakes hold.

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Safely parked, we grab bottles of water, and strike out to find the path. I’ve read the directions several times on Nori’s website, and am pretty confident we can find it easily.

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At the far end of the bay we find a path leading up the hill. I recall that it’s supposed to be a bit steep in places, but will eventually level off. And it is steep, but I send these words back to my family in encouragement.

The path does not level off any time soon. And it is hot. And just as I think surely we will round a corner and see the “rain forest” where the path levels off, we round a switchback and come face-to-face with a wire fence.

Must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. So we turn around and hike back down until we come to what appears to be a fork in the trail. We take it, and continue onwards and upwards.

Another wire fence.

We find another fork, and this one is not so steep. Surely this must be it.

No wire fence, but the trail dead ends in a cliff overlooking the bay.

Reluctantly, we decide that the cave is just not in the cards. Actually, only some of us are reluctant; some (namely my husband) are all too glad to put this episode behind us and head to the beach.

Back on Katouche, a man with a boat I had noticed earlier asks if he can help us. No, I say, explaining we were trying to get the caves but can’t seem to find them.

“Oh,” he says, “the trail is right there.” And he points to a clearing in the trees back at the start of the beach, and a trailhead now clear as day. “Just go through there.”

This path is much nicer, flatter, cooler, easy. At least at first. Toward the end it points almost straight back up, and I wonder if we’ve once again gone off trail.

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Rainforest, then some very tall cacti

But just as I am starting to doubt, and the grunts behind me begin in earnest, we arrive at the entrance.

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Mark and Zoe are happy to just sit outside in the speckled shade. Which leaves Lauren, Aaron and I to explore the cave by ourselves.

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Some people are not so thrilled with our adventure

It’s pretty big inside, and cool. If you have a spirit for adventure, I strongly suggest you seek it out.

Just make sure you are on the right path.

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The hike down is much easier, and everyone is happy now. And eager to move on to the next adventure: Little Bay.

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Lauren is ready for some beach time

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When we were in childbirth classes for our son Aaron, our labor coach advised me that, when the time came, to utilize deep, cleansing breaths to help manage the pain, and to imagine myself in the most beautiful, peaceful spot on earth.

For me that spot was Little Bay, a place so beautiful you’d think it could only exist in your dreams. My husband and I had spent one of the best days of our honeymoon relaxing on its beach. So when I finally went into labor, I imagined myself floating in the serene waters of Little Bay, looking up at the cliffs.

We are excited as we make our way back out of Katouche Bay, looking forward to relaxing on the beach after all our exertions of the morning.  We follow the road back to the other side of Crocus Bay, looking for the turnoff to Little Bay. However, somehow we miss it, and find ourselves at what must be Limestone Bay. We turn back, driving more slowly this time as we search for the turnoff.

Again we miss it. Again we turn back. And again. Back and forth. Back and forth.

Finally we head to Crocus Bay,  hoping to find some help. A handful of kind people under a big tamarind tree give us a detailed description of where to park.

We head back out once again.

At last we find what has to be the spot where they told us to park. But I do not remember it like this at all. Plus, the trail leading down seems much steeper than I recall. How could my memory be so poor?

And then the clincher: Mark and I get to the cliff’s edge, where the rope is (we hadn’t remembered a rope being there before, nor really a need for one), and look down. And look at each other.

This is not the Little Bay from our honeymoon. We have never been here before.

Furthermore, the prospect of shimmying down that rope is daunting. Could we do it? Possibly. Could we get hurt doing so? Probably.

Just at that moment, Lauren, making her way down the trail in flip flops, trips and stumbles, nearly tumbling over the cliff.

Game over. We leave and head to Barnes Bay for the rest of the afternoon. Beautiful, safe Barnes Bay, which ends up being my children’s favorite beach of the trip.

To this day I have no idea where that spot was that Mark and I had found. What I remember is that we were able to park just above the beach, and follow a trail down a 20 (?) foot embankment that was somewhat steep but manageable with a cooler, without the need for a rope. There was a cliff on the east end of the beach; I can’t seem to remember what the other end looked like. There were lots of lizards. And it was stunningly beautiful.

And, no, I did not just dream it up. Unless Mark dreamed the same dream.

***************

After the day’s adventures in the wilderness, we decide it’s time to rejoin civilization. So we break habit and toast the sunset with rum punches at Roy’s.

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Apparently the happy hour specials are in the bar only, or over at Roy’s other pavilion in the sand. We discover this after being seated in the main restaurant, but then move to a table in the bar.

I’m here to attest that Roy’s has some of the best fish and chips known to mankind. And what a steal on a Friday night. At $15 from 4-7, it’s an outright gift on the expensive little island of Anguilla.

What’s the cherry on top of a day like this? Dessert at Sandbar, of course. Another helping of that mango crisp, and some house-made lemon sorbet.

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And with that, we are exhausted. There’s probably live music nearby, but it’s back to the villa for us.

(“That’s a mighty big rope.”)

Part 7: You Want Beach? You Got Beach. And Barbeque. But No Dinner.

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Saturday morning, 6:13. Bing!

The epitome of First World problems? Waking up to realize there’s only TWO DAYS LEFT TO YOUR ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME VACATION. And you still have SO MUCH YET TO EXPLORE.

I savor my coffee with the hummingbirds and my flamboyant tree, wishing I could start every day this way.

But adventure calls my name. I strike out to explore a bit on my own, this time with shoes.

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This beach is truly underrated

Down the beach I head.  Mariners beckons like a setting out of a Nancy Drew book, so I poke around its abandoned villas for a few minutes. But soon the hairs on the back of neck start to prickle. Some Nancy Drew I’d make. Back to the “safety” of the beach for me.

On to the shipwreck. Not a whole lot happening there, but a lounge of lizards does give me the stink eye for interrupting their peace.

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Then I follow the “road” that leads up the hill behind the beach, which takes me to the Backstreet area. The view of the bay is stunning. I’m kind of regretting I didn’t drag everyone else along with me.

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Speaking of everyone else, the clock is ticking, and we need to get moving if we’re going to fit everything in today. My inner Julie McCoy kicks into gear, and I head back to get everyone up and moving.

The plan is to pick up pastries at Gerard’s to eat at Rendezvous. Easy enough, right?

Except we can’t find Gerard’s. Anywhere. According to the map, it should be right there, but our search takes us all over the map. Blowing Point, then the road leading east from there, then the road leading west.

This is becoming a theme, isn’t it?

We even stop to ask for directions, but no one seems to have any idea of what we’re talking about. Gerard’s? No idea.

Then, just as we abandon hope and turn back onto the road for a repeat visit to Sugar & Spice, there it is!

We find Rendezvous Bay much more easily.

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If you’re going to have a second start to the day, a cafe au lait and a pear Danish on Rendezvous Bay is a fine way to do it.

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This is a gorgeous beach, and would be a lovely place to spend the day. Especially when Garvey walks by pushing a wheelbarrow of supplies, greeting sunbathers with a cheerful “One love.”

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The Dune Preserve, from the beach

But we have so much more to do. So after walking the entire length of it from end to end (me), and lying on its sands (Mark), or frolicking in its waters (our three kids), it’s time to move on.

And witness a salt snowstorm.

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Saltdrifts off the salt pond

Next stop: a little exploring on the west end. Stunning rock features, but harrowing if you have teenagers who like to get a little too close to the edge.

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Lunchtime, and you know what we are going to have today? BBQ. From B&D’s.

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The air here smells so good I could eat it. But I opt for a combo platter instead. And two more for Mark and Aaron, and chicken platters for the girls. We grab drinks from the cooler and a seat under a tent, then work up a serious appetite while we wait.

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What comes out is a MOUNTAIN of food. Chicken, ribs, French fries, coleslaw, pasta salad, and rice and peas. And, just to lighten things up a bit, a green salad on the side.

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Combo platter

Who is going to help eat all this?

We need a comfortable place to rest our bellies after lunch, so we head to Smokey’s, rent chairs and an umbrella, then succumb to food comas.

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We rouse again once the Musical Brothers take the stage. And decide we have room for a drink. Or two. And a game of cornhole, at which I skunk my husband.

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The Musical Brothers will most likely not use this photo on their promotional material

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We while away the rest of the afternoon here with possibly half the rest of the people on island, and even some visiting from St Maarten for the day. This is the most people we’ve seen on one beach all trip.

Finally, when the sun sinks to the far western end of the sky, we head back to figure out our dinner plans.

By the time we make it back to the villa, however, it’s pretty clear that dinner out tonight would be in no one’s best interest. So if you are looking for pictures of crayfish or lobster, or a description of a pan-seared snapper with a coconut beurre blanc, you are going to have to dream about them, just like I did that night.

Chalk it up to too many gin and tonics, BBCs, margaritas and Heinekens to count.

Good thing no one is counting.

Directions from a comment by Kyla re: their exploration adventure, "We took the road toward West End Bay, but instead of turning left at the far end, we continued straight, past Indigo Reef. The “road” quickly becomes two tire tracks. Simply follow that until, well… you’re there. Not sure the landmark yucca plants are still there. But it’s beautiful. Kind of freeing yo be at Land’s End. Hope you make it there."

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Part 8: Please Don’t Stop the Music

Daylight dawns on our last full day on Anguilla, an island that boasts thirty-three beaches.

We have visited eight.

A mild panic engulfs me as I realize this is it: it’s now or never. I briefly consider a whirlwind Best of the Rest tour, hopping our way around the island sampling beaches. There are at least nine I want to visit.

In the end we settle for two.

First up: Captain’s Bay.

What? you ask. Not Shoal Bay West, playground for the rich and famous? Not chic Maundays, home to tony Cap Jaluca and voted by many one of the most beautiful beaches in the world?

As much as I would love to visit those beaches, Captain’s Bay offers a unique appeal to teenagers, with its crashing surf and craggy rocks for exploring. And I have found that when traveling with kids, what’s in their best interest is generally in the best interest of all.

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And what can I say? You can take the girl out of the wilderness, but you can’t take the wilderness out of the girl.

So after fortifying ourselves one last time with croissants from Le Bon Pain, enjoyed under the watchful eye of a proprietary rooster on the cafe’s patio, we strike out for our first destination.

Mark and I had discovered Captain’s on our honeymoon, and loved its remoteness and ruggedness. I must say, it hasn’t changed a bit. Including the dirt road there, so pitted with holes at times we worried we would bottom out.

With its powerful surf, it definitely is not a good beach for swimming. It is, however, a great beach for playing Bashimo.

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And for building sandcastles. Which, if you have been denied a beach vacation for a decade, you do at every opportunity.

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Another factor in choosing Captains Bay, and a heavy one at that, is its proximity to our lunch destination, On Da Rocks. Weekends they have a special of crayfish for $5. $5 crayfish? Heck, yeah! So after exhausting ourselves in the surf and building a sizable appetite, we head off to lunch.

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We find On Da Rocks easily, due in large part that it’s practically in the middle of the road in Island Harbour.

We settle into a booth, and order drinks in anticipation of the seafood feast we are about to undertake.

I’d like to fill this page with pictures of the mountains of crayfish we consume at this lunch, but I can’t. The waitress informs us that On Da Rocks has NO CRAYFISH.

What? No crayfish? This can’t be! We’ve been looking forward to this all week.

We debate our options. Order something else off the menu? But we’ve been here all week and have yet to have a single crayfish, and time is running out.

We decide to return to Uncle Ernie’s, where I’d seen crayfish being devoured earlier in the week.

So after watching a whale frolic in the waters of Island Harbour and finishing my piña colada, which is absolutely divine, we head out again, heeding the siren call of crayfish.

But alas! Uncle Ernie’s has no crayfish either. Or lobster. It’s a crustacean conspiracy!

Desperate for food by now, we step next door to Madeariman’s, where a lovely (and lively) waitress delivers menus and more piña coladas. There’s lobster pizza on the menu. We order that and, because we are famished, some calamari, escargot, and a margherita pizza for good measure.

I have no pictures of these, either. No time to snap any, as a feeding frenzy ensues as soon as food hits the table.

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Second beach destination for the day? Upper Shoal Bay East, and Gwen’s Reggae Shack. We succumb to food comas in the hammocks.

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This, I decide once settled, is the perfect spot to spend what’s left of our last day on the island. In fact, if I had one day left on Earth, this is where I might like to spend it. Hammocks, palm trees, and, a few minutes later, the Scratch Band.

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I finally finish the book I’ve been reading (thank you, Neil Gaiman, for my wonderful travel entertainment!), the girls build yet another sandcastle, Aaron unearths (or unseas) a conch, and Mark just relaxes with a Heineken. Heaven.

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But all things must end, and so too does our afternoon on the beach. We head back to the villa for one last sunset, and the anticipation of our last dinner on island: Tasty’s.

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**************

What Tasty’s lacks in name, it makes up for in charm and hospitality. Chef Dale greets us as we are seated, and talks a bit about the restaurant. You can tell he is passionate about what he does, and cares that each guest enjoys himself.

The girls each order coconut crusted snapper, Mark and I both order the tuna special, and Aaron orders the crayfish. Our dinners, if not spectacular,  are solidly good, and the pumpkin amuse bouchée is a delightful touch.

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Chef Dale’s tuna special

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Crayfish at last!

But the standout of the night is the seafood salad we order as a starter. I regret having to share it with anyone, let alone three teenagers that can eat faster than I can fork it onto my plate. Perfectly cooked shrimp, scallops, lobster and snapper in a light wine sauce, all on a bed of fresh lettuces. One of the best things I have ever tasted.

Too full for desert, we call it a night and return to the villa to pack.

But I’m not ready yet to concede the night, I realize.

The moon has waned by a week since our arrival, but it’s still bright enough to light the beach in a cool glow. I can hear reggae music down on Sandy Ground.

I duck under the pier. The music takes me back to Dad’s. I order a glass of Prosecco, and Mark soon joins me.

Together we enjoy the music and drinks and all those stars up in the sky. I concentrate with all my might to soak in every last morsel.

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Still, no matter how hard you plant your heels, vacation inevitably comes to an end, doesn’t it? And with a long day of travel ahead of us, we head back under the pier and back to the villa.

(“That’s a mighty big rope.”)

Part 9: And So It Ends

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Monday morning. Those words alone are sad.

One last cup of coffee on the terrace watching the hummingbirds, one last trip to “our” beach. I know I should just be grateful for our time here. And I am, immensely. But I am also deeply, incredibly sad. Far more so even than our departure from New Orleans, where I thought I’d left my heart.

I would love to spend the entire morning on this beach, as our flight doesn’t leave Philipsburg until 2:30. But the kids are curious to see a bit of Marigot. So instead we cram all our suitcases in the jeep with us, take a long last look at Pelicans, and depart for the ferry.

I can’t even look in the direction of St Martin. Instead I  stare glass-eyed as Anguilla grows smaller and smaller, until it is a mere line on the horizon.

Marigot is quaint, and the ferry clerks generously offer to keep our luggage safe while we peruse the town. I only briefly worry it’s a con. Look what Anguilla has done to me.

A friend of the girls had sung the praises of Sarafina’s, so our plan is to eat a late breakfast there. But Sarafina’s, it turns out, is closed Mondays. We find another patisserie farther down the street, and munch on almond croissants while looking around for the chickens.

We browse the open air market near the ferry terminal. Lots of trinkets, but they’re of no interest to us. They all say Sint Martin/St Maarten. No AXA.

Back on the other end we find a large, modern mall. It’s very glitzy, with some high end shops. All quite chic, but of no interest to us.

We walk back outside, hoping to see a goat.

We end up just catching a taxi to the airport, arriving hours early. Customs is only a small hassle; in the end they take pity on Zoe and Lauren and generously allow them to keep the bag of shells they’ve collected.

US Airways, on the other hand, makes us pay for our week of relaxation. Every single flight is delayed, starting with the one out of Philipsburg. We touch down in Columbus finally around one in the morning Tuesday.

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And wake in the morning to snow.

**************

Oh, Anguilla. For weeks you are all I can think of. I am like an obsessed lover, stalking all things Anguilla on Facebook and the Internet. I make a brilliant discovery on TripAdviser: the Anguilla forum, full of people who seem to love the island as much as I do.

Daily I miss the sound of the roosters crowing at dawn, of the surf lapping the shore. The aroma emanating from the scrub brush. The people just smiling.

How can a trip report end any way but in sadness? Especially a Trip of a Lifetime? We squeezed so much into those eight days, yet left so much untouched. Still so many beaches unvisited, so much music undiscovered. And definitely a lot of food uneaten. I’m talking to you, crayfish and lobster.

Tiki Girl takes the return harder, if that’s even possible. She sits on the windowsill unmoving. Her pal Penguin tries to encourage her, but she’s having none of it.

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My tan holds for about a week, then gradually begins to fade. Each time I shave my legs, another layer of vacation skin leaves me. Yet, the more the visible traces of Anguilla depart, the more its spirit seems to lodge under my skin. My body came back on that plane, but I left my heart on its beaches.

It is clear that one Trip of a Lifetime will never be enough.

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Epilogue

Every now and then I go on Google maps and hone in on the satelite view. I can see Pelicans and its tennis court and pool. I can almost see that mighty big rope.

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Shipwreck #2. You can almost see the mighty big rope

Sadly, Tiki Girl has not danced once since that day in March 2014. We plan to find a nice spot for her under a palm tree when we return in March 2016.

Hold on, Tiki Girl. Only forty-four days until we’re reunited with our hearts.

AnguillaTripReports.com note: Links to restaurants and businesses in this trip report are just for convenience for readers to find information; this site is not commercial and it does not use affiliate links. Trip report above reposted with permission, all photos and text are (c) Kyla2016.wordpress.com. 

Wednesday Web Wrap-up 3.9.16

Wednesday Web Wrap-up 3.9.16

Wednesday Web Wrap-Up 2.10.16

Wednesday Web Wrap-Up 2.10.16