Anguilla – Don’t Judge an Island by its (scrubby) Interior

Another amazing Anguillan adventure in the books. Though our 11 year old is a seasoned Caribbean traveler, this was her first visit to our personal panacea.  And this time we were fortunate enough to fly right into AXA, thereby avoiding St. Martin and the expensive and lengthy customs/cab/ferry/customs process.  And what a treat it was.  I will never travel through SXM again if I can help it.  Though the zoo we bypassed there was unfortunately experienced in San Juan since we opted to spend one day/night due to a flight time change which could have potentially caused us to miss our flight.  Unfortunately this did happen to a nice couple we met on our flight, and they were forced to spend an unexpected night there.  But I won’t start this report with our experiences in and impression of San Juan as it certainly does not deserve top billing.  More on that at the end.

It was awesome to see the views of our favorite white, palm tree lined beaches and bays from such a low altitude.  Now if you were not looking out the window until right before landing, you might only catch a glimpse of a flat landscape with salt ponds, dirt roads, scrubby trees and half-finished homes. And you might think…this is not an attractive island.  But what it lacks in interior beauty, it makes up for with friendly faces, phenomenal restaurants, breathtaking beaches and gin clear waters.   As our wheels touched down, we could feel the stress drain from our bodies.  We were finally in our happy place.  Our rental (a compact Nissan March) from Andy’s was waiting for us outside of Wallblake airport and within 15 minutes of landing, our toes were in the sand.

Shoal Bay Villas was just wonderful.  So glad we chose to stay there.  Located on the best stretch of Shoal Bay East, the units have wonderful views of swaying palm trees, sand and Caribbean sea.  We stayed on the second floor in 1B and it was perfect.  Décor is bright and beachy and the rooms always smelled fresh and clean. Though when we weren’t sleeping, we basically lived on the balcony.  My only (minor) gripes are that there are no outlets in the bathroom and no washer/dryer on site.

As soon as we dumped our stuff and donned our swimsuits, we headed down the beach to Gwen’s Reggae Grill for Sunday Fun Day.  The Scratch Band we’d heard so much about was finishing their last song before a break –  but they never came back. Instead a young French fellow filled in.  Mark had his first of many Caribs that week, Ellie had her first of many Tings, and I tried one of Gwen’s famous rum punches.  Delicious.  And strong.  It was after 4 by the time we finished eating (burgers and curried chicken sandwiches), so we decided to check out Elodia’s.  Loved the steel drum band here and I almost wished we had gone there instead of Gwen’s.

Once back on our beach, we started meeting our neighbors.  Everyone was so friendly.  SBV is really like a little community.  Much more laid back feel than Meads Bay where we have stayed previously.  Mark isn’t so good with remembering names so he referred to everyone by where they lived.  Shout out to Bronx, Boston, Cincinnati, Ft. Worth, Wichita, Watertown, and Italy!  We especially miss Bob & Linda and Peggy & Bill!

Since we had eaten so late and had no provisions due to the fact that we chose beach over grocery shopping after we landed, we decided to venture back out and stock up for the week (gotta love a store where Absolut is cheaper than Smirnoff).  Tropical Distributors was closed so we made a one-stop shop at Best Buy.   We enjoyed cheese, crackers, hummus, and wine on the beach while watching the sunset, and Ellie swim.  Perfect.  Our routine each night after dinner was to sit on the balcony and take a walk along the beach. And despite the arsenal of high concentrate Deet products I brought to ward off any potential run ins with Zika, we never remembered to use them!

Monday dawned bright and clear, and we were up by 6:30 as would be the case all week.  As we enjoyed our coffee on the balcony, we heard the lovely yet faint sound of music drifting by on the breeze…turns out it was our New York friend practicing his saxophone (as he did each morning) at the far end of the beach.

We strolled over to the end of Shoal where Gwen’s used to be – the point of sand just past Elodia’s is my favorite – and then down to the other end to check on Zemi Beach Club.  Beautiful property but the beach at that end is nothing compared to our lovely stretch.

Manoah, which is next door to SBV, is actually very pretty and less obtrusive that I was expecting.  It doesn’t open until the fall but the bar and restaurant are open.  As is the pool…for a fee.

After exploring, swimming and lounging, we headed over to Meads Bay for lunch at Blanchard’s Beach Shack.

We explained to Ellie as we drove the length of the island that the half-finished homes are not a sign of poverty, but rather responsibility.  As we were told by a local during our first visit in 2004, Anguillans do not borrow money.  If they do not have enough to finish their home, they stop the building process until they get more money rather than going into debt.

Meads was magnificent on this day.  Flat as glass and in her full glory.

After some Mahi BLTs and Jerk Shrimp Street Tacos (yum) we played around in the water for a bit then walked down to Frangipani for a little shopping in Petals.  I got my  AXA Tervis and Ellie got a nice Anguilla shirt.  I really love Frangipani.  We stayed there in 2004.  Then in 2013, we stayed at Turtle’s Nest.  The outside of the buildings were shabby then and they are even more run down looking now.  Such a shame because the rest of the property is nice.   A little exterior maintenance would go a long way.  We considered staying at TN again this time, but I’m so glad we went with SBV.

Then we walked up to Malliouhana to check out the views.

By this time we were parched and in need of another dip and some frozen cocktails.  The frozen mojito is so refreshing, as is the margarita. And Ellie had her second frozen beverage of the day.  I love that when she placed her order she would say “I would a like a pina colada (or strawberry daiquiri) please, without the alcohol.”

Then it was back to Shoal for some sand, sea, and just to be…

Dinner this night was at SandBar.  It was Mark’s birthday so his official celebration dinner at Jacala would have to wait since they were closed.  We really enjoyed this tapas restaurant.  And saw a wonderful sunset.  Since we arrived during happy hour, the signature SandBar drinks were only $5.  I was expecting a rum punch, but received a beautiful, swirly, frozen cocktail.  The food here definitely lives up to Anguilla’s high standards.  We sampled Spicy Edamame, Mahi Bites (kid-pleaser too), Tuna Poki, and Mahi Diavolo.  A lovely evening.

Tuesday was a mixed bag of weather with clouds, sun and showers.  Mark did some early morning reading on the beach in the light rain under an umbrella.  Then we headed over to Rendezvous after our morning ritual of coffee and breakfast on the balcony.

The water on this side of the island was rough all week so we made our way to the far end past Rendezvous Bay Beach Hotel where it was more protected.  RBBH was a ghost town.  The whole place looked sparse and a bit run down (though I think they are still in the process of renovating).  However, I have heard that the inside of the units are great.

After hanging on the beach for a bit (the sun decided to shine during this time) we set off to try Bamboo Beer Box for lunch since Sunshine Shack was closed.  By the time we made it to Meads, everyone was hot, hungry and thirsty.   It looked closed so we asked a lone man sitting outside if they were open.  He said “It’s Tuesday so it should be open, but no one showed up so it’s closed today.”  Island time at its finest.  But I had a back-up plan.  The Ferryboat Inn.  We were the only ones in there but it was open, and the food and setting hit the spot.  We had the famous burger which was very good and the French onion soup.  Ellie proclaimed her hand-made salad to be the best she has ever had.  The only thing I didn’t like was that it had a view of the awful dolphin facility.  Ellie and I plotted to come back at night and set them all free.

The sun still shone during lunch but it rained on our way back to Shoal Bay then cleared up in time for the beach.  We always did our exploring in the morning then spent the afternoon on our beach.  From day one, Ellie always announced around lunchtime that she was ready to go home and swim at our beach.  I think she loved SBV the most.  We had decided to get up early one day to see the sunrise.  Based on the map, I proclaimed Savannah Bay to be our spot.  On our way back from lunch we decided to try to find it in the daylight.  It felt like we rode through the plains of Africa but we never found the right dirt path to the beach.  So we decided on Junk’s Hole.  Turned out Island Harbour would have been the best spot..and much closer and simpler to get to.

We spent the afternoon wasting away on the beach and floating in the sea.  We chatted some more with our new friends as we did every afternoon and got some island history from the famous Reggie, who appears much younger than his years.  He attributes this to the fact that he walks and swims the length of Shoal Bay daily in addition to beach yoga.  We got a grand history lesson about Anguilla, Shoal Bay and the origin of Zemi.  Such a nice man.

Dinner this evening was at Artisan Pizza.  We had originally intended to eat at the restaurant but decided to take it back and enjoy on the balcony with some wine.  I was used to Corner Bar Pizza where one pie will feed you for two days. But this was authentic Neapolitan pizza cooked in a brick oven brought over from Italy.  After we ordered, we decided to run over to Anchor Mini Golf to get Ellie some ice cream for dessert.  Before we could even get to the car, an employee ran out and told us not to leave because the pizza was done.  90 seconds in a  900 degree oven.  Then off to get ice cream, which we were denied.  It’s on order we were told.  Pizza was delicious, but thin.  We could have each eaten a whole one.  No matter, we still had snacks in the fridge and Madeariman had ice cream.

Alarm was set for 4:45 AM as Wednesday was sunrise day.  It was hard to tell whether the clouds would get in the way but we went for it anyway.  Clouds did get in the way and Junk’s Hole wasn’t the ideal spot, but no matter, we were up and ready to start the day.  Unfortunately nothing was open for breakfast for another 2 hours.  Supermarket bagels to the rescue.

This morning’s adventure was Little Bay.  Since the rope to climb down was no longer there, we could either take kayaks or have Calvin take us over in his boat.  We chose Calvin.  It was 9 AM and we sat under his tree to wait for his arrival.  Then it was a quick boat ride over.  We had the place to ourselves for a while.  We snorkeled and explored around the rocks.  And Mark decided to climb up the cliff anyway.  With no rope.  I was sweating it, but he made it.  Then  we swam out to the rock to jump off it.  It’s a lot higher than it looks once you climb up there!  Poor Ellie wanted to do it so badly but couldn’t hoist herself up.

Then we headed home to enjoy lunch at Tropical Sunset.  Lovely view.  And great food.  We had lobster sandwiches and conch ceviche.  They even made Ellie some chicken fries which were top notch…not your average chicken tenders.  They make good rum punch here too..though a different flavor from Gwen’s and not as strong.

Then back to our beach to laze away the afternoon.  Beach, drink, swim, repeat.  But then the cruise ships (aka catamarans from St. Martin showed up).  They definitely made our beach a bit more crowded, but it made us smile to hear them exclaim how they didn’t have beaches like this on SXM!

By late afternoon some folks asked if we would mind if they used the SBV chairs for a little while as it was their last day on island and they wanted to spend a little more time on Shoal.  Mark offered them a beer and we got to talking.  Turns out they were friends with the Governor and were staying at her home.  One of the ladies was from England and had met her there years ago.  The other was from DC (small world) and her cousin used to own Woody’s, and now Cruz Bay Landing, on St. John (another of our favorite island destinations).

Tonight’s dinner was at Jacala. Our mouths had been watering with anticipation all week.  We knew exactly what we were going to order.  The delightful Jacques himself greeted us and showed us to our table.  He treated Ellie like royalty and she responded like the refined young lady that we are trying to raise. We started with a delicious bottle of chilled red wine and a homemade assortment of bread, olive oil, and a variety of spices with which to season the oil.   And a shot of chilled asparagus soup.

Mark ordered the divine steak tartar (and frites), which was prepared table-side, to his specific spiciness preference, by Jacques.  I had the calamari risotto which was to die for.  And Ellie chose the lobster salad with exotic fruits in a vanilla dressing.  Outstanding.  Then for dessert Ellie had the fresh fruit sorbet and Mark and I had the sampler which included crème brulee, a pot de chocolat, sorbet, lemon cake and espresso. As always, we left with full bellies and smiles on our faces.

Then it was back home to take a take a beach walk and look at the stars.  But not before a quick pit-stop at Best Buy to replenish our supply of snacks.

Thursday morning meant that LeBon Pain was finally open.  We arrived in sunshine to a packed little shop, then while ordering our food, there was a massive downpour which lasted 10 minutes if that.  Then sunny skies again by the time we left.  We tried the chocolate croissant, almond croissant, ham & cheese quiche and cappuccino.  All delicious.  And cheap!

Today we were off to find the arch at Blolly Ham Bay.

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If you drive to furthest tip of the West End, you will find it.  There are many dirt paths once you get to the end of the road so easiest thing to look for once you pass the peach house is the yucca plants.  Then walk a little further and there it is.  While I was making sure it was the right place, Mark and Ellie drove a little further down and were able to find a path out to the arch.

Then we checked out Long Bay…by way of a multi-million dollar villa driveway (the gardeners gave us permission).  Nice wide beach but super windy so we didn’t stay long.  Then back over to Barnes Bay for a bit. Both Caribella and ArBron look like nice places to stay.

And then it was Noon and time for SunShine Shack.  What a fun place with a  great vibe. Great music selection too  –  mix of Bob Marley and other island tunes.  Love is my Religion was immediately added to my iPod. Food does take a while (as do all good things cooked on a smoker) so order as soon as you arrive if you want to eat vs. just chill.  The pineapple margarita was very refreshing.  And of course Ellie had her virgin pina colada.

Food was delicious.  We had the chicken platter with rice and beans, salad and cole slaw.  Chicken was very tender and perfectly seasoned with a tangy sauce.  Garvey is a great guy.  Very friendly and welcoming.  Ellie made our mark on the shack with a turquoise sharpie. And we bought a cool hat and sticker.

Back on Shoal Bay, a family with a  couple of young teen girls had arrived and they invited Ellie to make a sand turtle with them and then we didn’t see much of her after that.

We saw a beautiful sunset from our balcony before heading out to dinner.

We decided to stick close to home tonight and check out Falcon Nest in Island Harbour.  Quintessential toes in the sand beach bar dining with a view of the boats in the bay.  Ellie and I had the snapper and Mark went for the lobster.  It was a huge!  Only complaint here is that once a large group of locals arrived to celebrate a little girl’s kindergarten graduation, we were forgotten about.  This was the only instance of poor service we have ever received on the island.

Much to Ellie’s delight, we decided to spend all day Friday on beautiful Shoal Bay.   Plan was to pick up sandwiches from Le Bon Pain but we forgot that they closed at noon so Mark arrived to a dark bakery at 12:15.  Since he had insisted we buy makings for nachos at the grocery store and we hadn’t made them yet, that was lunch (along with half of Ellie’s fish from the night before).  Nachos taste best when eaten on the beach!  Ellie practiced her flips into the water off of Mark’s shoulders and played with her friends, we snorkeled, floated, collected shells, read and took power naps (well Mark did).  I brought two books…read one on the plane trip down and one on the plane trip home.  Despite the fact that I stuck a book in my beach bag every day, I could never concentrate on reading.  I am always too mesmerized by the stunning water.  And too busy taking pictures.

We decided to check out another new to us restaurant this evening – Sarjai’s.  We had driven by several times and knew the setting wasn’t much but the food reviews were enough for me.  This was authentic local Caribbean cuisine.  First up was a basket of hot johnny cakes.  Ellie devoured most of them. Then an order of calamari which was delicious and cooked to perfection (E declared it to be the best she has ever had).  I had the jerk chicken…unlike any jerk seasoning I have before…delicious.  Mark had the creole snapper and Ellie had mac and cheese.  The restaurant was pretty dead but the service was outstanding.

Saturday – sadly our last full day.  We had such a relaxing day Friday that we decided to let beach gravity take hold again and spent the day limin’. I had wanted to do the ocean horseback ride but with the choppy conditions on that side of the island we decided to save it for next time.  We never made it to play mini golf either.  So thankful that nature’s playground provided enough entertainment for our daughter that she didn’t require any man-made activities.  And while she saw the sign for the new floating water park and mentioned it once, it never came up again (thank goodness).

Today we were smart and Mark picked up croissants, breakfast sandwiches and lunch sandwiches at the same time so we didn’t have to leave the beach again.  Those sandwiches were delicious and huge.  Made on freshly baked French bread.  One sandwich will feed 4 people – for less than $8.00.  Best value on the island.  Note – this was the only dining establishment we encountered that is still cash only.

We ran into our friends from the plane for the third and last time, and exchanged stories from our week. And then it was 5’o clock somewhere…

Cheers!

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For dinner, we made our way back to Meads Bay and Blanchard’s Beach Shack.  I wanted to try one of their big bowls and eat under the twinkly lights.  Many people shy away from staying on Shoal Bay because it’s a bit of a drive to get to the West end where many of the restaurants are, but we don’t mind at all.  And it’s really not that long of a drive considering the island is only 16 miles long.

After a sangria and a jerk shrimp bowl, I was a satisfied camper.  While we were ordering, a man walked up and Mark suddenly says “Lowell!”  Low and behold, my memory-challenged husband recognized this Blanchard’s staff member made famous by the book “A Trip to the Beach”.  Lowell was as friendly and gracious as ever.  I was disappointed that we didn’t get to eat at Blanchard’s restaurant (or Veya) this trip, but we will definitely go back next time.  Ellie got another cool shirt, and Mark got a hat.

After dinner we got an ice cream sundae then walked down to Turtle’s Nest and up to the roof so we could show Ellie the view.  After we got home we did some more packing so we didn’t have to waste much precious beach time on it the next morning. Then we sat on the balcony and wondered how the week had flown by so fast.

Sunday morning we walked the length of Shoal Bay taking in its beauty and tranquility.

We enjoyed the beach until the last possible moment.

Mark and Ellie played in the water right up until the end.

After a quick shower, we made the less than 10 minute ride to the airport. We parked the car in the airport lot, left the keys inside and car unlocked as instructed (how great is that) then went in to wait for our flight, which we discovered was delayed by 30 minutes.  Darn it…I could have had more beach time!!  This made me even grumpier.  As we took off, we were treated to more great views of the island.  And before we knew it, we were back at SJU awaiting our flight home.

Ellie’s words as we departed still ring in my ears…

“The Edsalls are being taken out of their natural habitat.”

Truth.  We belong in the Caribbean.  Especially Anguilla.

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This last section is about San Juan for anyone interested.  And here is a link to my full  photo album:  https://www.flickr.com/gp/145000826@N05/5736dG

Oh San Juan, if I ever had any delusions about wanting to vacation here, I certainly don’t anymore.  I know there are lovely areas of Puerto Rico, but Isla Verde isn’t one of them.  When we switched flights and had the opportunity to stay in a new destination for 24 hours, I thought, why not?  I chose the El San Juan for two reasons 1.  close to the airport 2. it has an awesome pool on the beach.  When I booked, I knew some rooms were being renovated.  But never was I told that the entire hotel was under construction.  No matter, all I cared about was that pool with its sun beds, tiki huts, waterfalls and swim up bar.  What I got was a tarp printed with palm tree images covering a drained pool and lots of orange construction material.  So we were relegated to the second class pool along with the loud partying tourists.  Just swell.

After a mediocre lunch (where they overcharged us), we walked onto the beach.  It’s a nice enough beach I guess, if you don’t have anything to compare it to.  Sand was brownish, water rough, lounge chairs crammed together, beach vendors, and lots of high rises.  Mark commented that it reminded him of Ocean City.  15 minutes was enough for me.  We showered and decided to go for an early dinner.

The night before we left, I watched the new show called Beach Bites on the Cooking Channel and they featured a dish from The Parrot Club in Old San Juan – plantain chip and braised beef nachos.   I wanted to try it.  My plan was to take the bus and luckily it pulled up right as we got to the bus stop.  Unfortunately they only took coins so we had to get off and get change.  At this point, since the next bus wasn’t for a half hour, we started walking down the main drag to another restaurant I had found on TripAdvisor.  Traffic and fast food chains were what we encountered.  Before we made it, another bus rode by so we hopped on.  This was a locals bus and we got a tour and taste of the non-tourist areas of San Juan.  Finally we made it to the city.  Now I do like it here.  Old painted buildings, cobblestone streets and historic forts.

The Parrot Club was a good call.  The nachos were very tasty but the steak and chorizo empanadas were even better.  And they made a mean mojito. Before heading back to the bus depot, we checked out Castillo San Cristobal.  Then it was off to bed with visions of a true paradise dancing our heads.

To those people who venture no further than the well-known, built-up island destinations like San Juan, Cancun, and Nassau…thank you, thank you, thank you.  That leaves places like Anguilla all the less crowded for us.

Until next time…

 

 

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23 thoughts on “Anguilla – Don’t Judge an Island by its (scrubby) Interior

  1. This was such a great report Kristin, loved all your pictures and your colorful clothes, your daughter is a beauty, just like you.
    Thanks for a great read.
    Ellen

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    1. Thanks for the Anguilla updates. I spent a year of my life there re-building the airport in 2004/2005. What a fantastic place, your great pictures brought a smile to my face as I remembered some of the locations. Perhaps someday I can take our 3 daughters for a visit to my old island home.

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  2. First off, GREAT photos. Loved your blog – don’t think I will ever tire of reading about AXA and visitors experiences there. This year will be visit #26. I simply had to do a “countdown” after reading this. Two months from today and will be there for 5 weeks. Very quiet time of the year there but part of why we like going in September. Next time be sure to treat yourselves to a day at Prickly Pear. They don’t disappoint. 👣🌴😎

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  3. Wonderful TR, Kristen. I”ve so enjoyed watching Ellie grow up through your trips to the Caribbean. I remember when we were both regulars on the Fodor’s forums.

    Loved your photos, loved your write up. You seem to love Anguilla as much as I do. Thanks so much for taking the time to put all of this together.

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  4. Thanks for a great trip report. My husband I “treated” Garvey to a rendition of “Love is My Religion” back around 2004 or so. Glad to hear he’s still there, and now maybe next year we’ll visit him again. Lovely photos, too.

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  5. Enjoyed reading your lovely trip report while eating lunch. You have a lovely family. We’ve been to Anguilla twice and love it there. I can completely relate to your comments about places like San Juan, Nassau etc. We usually spend a night in Nassau on the way back from the Bahama out islands and feel the same way…folks have no idea what they are missing out on. Happy travels!!

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  6. No never been to Staniel Cay. We are not confident handling a boat…like our feet firmly planted on the ground 🙂 so that’s stopping us from going there. I imagine it would be fantastic otherwise. Next trip coming up later this year is to Eleuthera (third time).

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  7. This was a fantastic report on Anguilla. My husband and I traveled there last year for a few days before heading over to St Martin. We wish we spent the entire time in Anguilla and never went to St M. Looking at your report makes me want to start planning a trip for this spring 🙂

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  8. What a GREAT trip report! We are making our first trip to Anguilla this August, during the Summer Festival, and I have been busy scouring the web looking for tips, reviews, maps, photos, etc., etc… lol. I am a crazy insane trip planner and I want this one to be special, as we are celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary 🙂 Many of your suggestions have made it into my spreadsheet (sigh) and certainly have given me many smiles as I see your sweet family enjoying such a great trip. Happy as one human can possibly be, I want this trip to be an amazing, relaxing, rejuvenating adventure. We have a saying at our house, “Never Boring!” and I have a sneaking suspicion that Anguilla will add one more great chapter to life story. Blessings!

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  9. Loved your Anguilla Blog. We are sailing their in May from St Maarteen and then on to BVI. We plan to spend a night or two at Anguilla. Curious about the large $8 sandwiches that feed 4. What local eatery and where? On the boat we are always on a budget 🙂

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