A Short, But Oh So Sweet, Return To Staniel Cay (Exumas, Bahamas)

I am not a spontaneous person.  Not at all.  I am a planner.  And unless one happens upon a cancellation while stalking Staniel Cay Yacht Club’s website, this works in my favor when booking a trip to this semi-remote island jewel. And in November of 2016, I did just that…reserved a cottage for November 2017.  But in late January, we were in desperate need of a warm weather getaway.  So I hopped on http://www.stanielcay.com and was able to snag a 4 night stay in late February.  And I noticed that the reservation I released was snapped up almost immediately.

This last minute stuff was new territory for me, but kind of exciting.  And since we had already visited SCYC twice before, there wasn’t much research to be done. While I wasn’t able to secure the cottage I really wanted (and had booked for November), Sugar Apple, I was happy with 2 story Ocean Blue overlooking the docks.  The only disappointment was that we wouldn’t get a 17′ Whaler but rather the 13 footer.  On a flat calm day, the small boat is lots of fun but when it gets rough, as it did on the 2nd day of our visit, the bigger boat is a huge benefit.  But that was a small price to pay for a Bahamian escape in the middle of winter.

And had I been able to book Sugar Apple, we would have missed out on meeting a wonderful couple who was able to grab it at around the same time we were scouring the net for a cancellation.  It was so great to meet another couple who we instantly connected with.   Many fond memories were made and we have already discussed plans to visit one another and to vacation together in the future.  Travel friends are the best friends!

We hopped on a 6 am flight out of BWI on an unusually warm February Friday, chatted with the most charming seatmate we have ever had (retired pilot) and charted our course on the interactive seat back screens. We made a connection in Atlanta, poured a bloody mary, watched a movie, then stared out the window in anticipation of turquoise waters below.

Once we landed in Nassau, we learned that we would be the only 2 people on the Flamingo flight to Staniel Cay.  Sweet.  Our own private charter.  We were told we could leave early once they rounded up the pilot.  But alas, we were now working on island time, so instead of departing 1.5 hours early, it only ended up being about 15 minutes. But that’s better than being late!  I grabbed two bottles of wine from duty free.  Should have gotten more.  And I should have picked up a bottle of rum.  Wine was only $11 a bottle.  At the Yacht Club store it’s $49.  Rum was about $18 duty free and $30 at the store.

I sat up front with the pilot, Vincent, and he even let me steer the plane.  No matter how many times I fly over the stunning Exuma chain, it always takes my breath away.  The ribbons of blue water and swirls of white sand are a sight like no other. And we had spectacular weather for flying.  In the past, we have flown through storms and past water spouts…always an adventure.

Rather than wait on our golf cart escort to the Club, we opted to walk from the airstrip, our luggage rumbling behind us on the hilly gravel road.

We knew some changes and upgrades awaited us since our last visit 2.5 years ago.  The first was the new check-in cottage.  Very nice.  But no one was there so as we walked around toward the water, one of the employees just told us to drop our stuff in the cottage as it was all ready.

We donned our swim suits and cover-ups and headed over to check-in and place our dinner order then to the deck for lunch.  We should have done the reverse as the wait for lunch was quite long, but no matter, we grabbed a Kalik and Sands Pink Radler from the bar and soaked in the atmosphere.  I don’t drink beer so the Sands Pink was an awesome find.  Like a grapefruit crush in a bottle.  The lobster salad was divine with big chunks of spiny lobster.  Then Mark got a case of Kalik for the room and to take on the boat.

We decided to take a spin in one of the kayaks since it was too late to take the Whaler out, and then get cleaned up for dinner.  There are now 2 dinner seatings..6:30 and 8:30 vs one at 7:00 PM.  Since we had a late lunch we opted for the late seating.  We watched the sunset from our deck then took a walk to check out the yachts.  In a matter of 15 minutes, my brand new bracelet slipped off my wrist and is now probably adorning the fin of a nurse shark.

While waiting for dinner, we had another cocktail at the bar.  SCYC has the coolest bar.  And it is the hub of the yacht club. While trying to figure out if they still rang a dinner bell, I noticed a couple standing near us and decided to ask them. It was their first night as well and we got to talking, and hit it off.  We made plans to meet in the bar afterward since we already had assigned tables, but by 10 PM we were done for so we called it a night. But not before Christina, one of the owners, came by to give us a hug.  She had recognized us even without our daughter Ellie’s bright blonde head.

Since it was lobster season, I ate that every night for dinner. The 4 course meal is still wonderful…the soups are amazing, there is a different salad each night, a choice of entrée with sides and then dessert.  And of course fresh baked Bahamian bread, rolls or muffins to start.  A friend recently gave a perfect description of the Caribbean Spiny Lobster – fluffy.  Unlike the tougher Maine lobster.  We much prefer our lobster to be tender and fluffy!

The new dining room is very nice, and a has a great view of the water.  And it now has air conditioning. I didn’t need it at this time of year, and was thankful they opened the windows at breakfast, but it must be a treat in the summer. I do miss the charm of the old dining room though.  Part of it is still there if you want a casual dinner.  We were happy to see our old friends, TC, Rhonda, Felisha and David. 

The next morning dawned bright and clear and we were up early.  Mark made coffee and sat on the deck to read.  Each morning we would have a cup, watch the staff who lived on Black Point make their way over by boat, and see what fish was being filleted at the cleaning station.  We wanted to get to breakfast right at 8:00 AM so we could hit the water as early as possible.

Conditions were good this day but the wind was going to pick up by evening.  We enjoyed a full breakfast with coffee, OJ, fruit, French toast with sausage for me and an omelet with bacon for Mark while seated at a table overlooking the water.  Bliss.  We chatted with our new friends,  hoped to meet up at some point during the day, and planned to have dinner together that evening.

We loaded up our trusty, beat up boat with a beach umbrella, chairs, snorkel gear, beach bag, and cooler with our lunch & cocktails.  Our plan was to head North to Compass Cay while trying to locate the lighthouse we had somehow always missed, and a palm lined beach I had seen in photos.  Very easy task!  Both were right next to each other on Little Pipe Cay.  Though I did spot another beach that looked more like the one I was searching for when we took off on departure day.  Next time I will scout that one out as well.

Then we weaved our way through Pipe Creek, aka Sandbar Heaven.  We barely needed the chart at all this trip.  We had become very familiar with all of the cays from previous visits.  Though we didn’t plan to swim with the sharks at the marina this time, I still wanted to stop by quick and check them out.  There was a boat full of people there clamoring to pet and frolic with them so I didn’t stay long.

I really wanted to go back to Crescent Beach on the other side of the island.  A perfectly gorgeous long swath of curved white sand.  But it was a bit of a hike (Mark didn’t like my suggestion of taking the boat into the ocean to access it that way..though it was calm enough that we totally could have) and we only had three days, and there were plenty of other beaches to explore.

We hit Baby Conch Bay further North on Compass but didn’t find any conch.  Tides weren’t right. Then back to Pipe Creek to find a sand bar on which to enjoy a frosty beverage. Paradise. And we had it all to ourselves.

The we decided to make our way to Sandy Cay for lunch.  After seeing all of construction equipment on Twin Cay…a beach club is in the works…we decided against stopping there.  Shame because that’s where we found lots of star fish and sand dollars a few years ago.  Sadly we did not see one starfish this trip.  Or the last. Only in 2013 were we treated to the sight of big orange stars beneath the crystal clear waters. Perhaps we just did not hit the right spots.

On lovely Sandy Cay, a couple had set up camp on the perfect spot at the base of the emerging sand bar.  Since we are schooled in sand bar etiquette, we made sure to make our home base a respectable distance away and did not impede any views.  While enjoying our lunch with toes in the water and a$$ in the sand, we were entertained by the woman having a Sports Illustrated like photo shoot with her Go-Pro and large inflatable flamingo.

The recent hurricane definitely shifted the size, shape and location of a number of sand bars.  Sandy Cay having the most pronounced change.  Since the yacht club now had colorful new Tommy Bahama umbrellas, I wanted to re-create a photo I had taken using an old ratty one (for those who received the Christmas card from SCYC this past year, that was my sand bar/umbrella photo on the card).  But alas, when I went to put it up, I discovered we only had one pole.  So much for that.  We could have used the shade too.

Then over to Big Major Cay over to see the pigs.  Two days before our trip, 8-10 pigs had perished.  We learned that the cause of this was excessive sand ingestion. Though it’s likely that a combination of factors led to their demise including lack of fresh water and alcohol consumption (stupid tourists).  Since they have become such a hot attraction (the excursion boats from Nassau and George Town are getting out of hand), more people are throwing small pieces onto the beach for them to eat, and in the process, they end up eating more sand than food.  We have always fed them in the water which seems more logical to me.  Since the tourists are now their main food source and they no longer forage the interior of the island, their lives rest fully in the hands of humans. If you visit, please bring nutritious food and use the newly provided bins.  And definitely bring water.  After a dry winter, their natural water sources have dried up.

We did see a few big pigs that we recognized, but a number of them were (obviously and sadly) noticeably absent.  However, about 15-20 big piglets were brought over from Nassau and deposited on the island.  I hope they learn to adapt and that they fare well.  Their ears are all tagged so they can keep track of them.  I still like visiting the pigs, but it’s not the same anymore.

Next up, Sampson Cay Sand Bar.

Then over to Pirate Trap Beach to finish out the day. Or so we thought.  I wasn’t ready to go in after we left so we decided to check out a cove adjacent to the ocean that I had noticed from the plane and saw on the chart.  Always fun to explore new areas.

Once back at the cottage, we took to our seats on the balcony and watched the goings on at the marina.  Mark had found a perfectly shaped baby sand dollar for me but during the course of the day it had broken.  I learned the hard way to bring bubble wrap to transport them home but now I will start carrying it in my beach bag as well.

My poorly executed application of sunscreen on Mark became apparent when he went to shower.  Lots of zig zags from the spray, an errant white spot, a hand print, and lots of red.  He was starting to resemble my favorite dinner entrée. Before we headed out, Mac and Megan paddle boarded up to our cottage to let us know they had accidentally made their dinner reservations for 8:30 vs 6:30 and it was too late to add them on to our table, so we decided to hit the bar together for pre-dinner rum punches and to watch the sunset.

The next morning we all met up for breakfast and made a plan for the day.  But not before one of the resident kitties made herself at home in our cottage (that morning and each thereafter).  And she came back every night to see what scraps I had brought for her.

M & M followed us around and vice versa.  We had the best day!  The winds had kicked up but it wasn’t too bad. First stop was Pirate Beach but it was already occupied so we went to the adjacent beach.  There we listened to some tunes, the boys cracked their first Kalik of the day and we enjoyed just being there.

Then we climbed the cliff on the back side of Fowl cay to enjoy the views.

After that we made our way through Sampson Cay and over to Pipe Creek to stake claim on our favorite sand bar.

After lunch, two kite boarders pulled up…we had a blast watching them. They would do flips in the air and glide past within a couple feet of us.  They told us that you had to be at least 60 to enjoy this sport.  They were 65 and 73!

Then Mac and Meg took us to the backside of a neighboring cay where they had found conch shells the other day.  We grabbed a couple to take home with us.

Thunderball Grotto was our next stop, but since it was low tide, it was crowded.  That nixed the prospect of jumping through the hole unless landing on a snorkeler sounded appealing.  Mac spotted a lion fish, but we never saw the huge grouper that we had seen on both of our previous visits.

For our last stop of the day, we made our way over to Sandy Cay to relax in the lagoon as the sun started sinking.

After we cleaned up for dinner, we headed over to Sugar Apple to have a drink on our friends’ deck and watch the sun set.  Then we enjoyed another delicious lobster dinner.

Then out to the bar for rum punches and pain killers.  We played the ring toss game, chatted with the bartenders, other guests, and people from the yachts.  Such a fun night!  And Finnegan had arrived!  Gary, one of the Club employees even stayed to play the bongos after he finished work.  We closed the bar down that Monday night.

And still we woke early.  I wasn’t going to waste my precious vacation hours sleeping in. Today was windier than yesterday but that wasn’t going to stop us. Our boat buddies were joining us on our adventures again today, and I suggested that we go check out Leaf Cay which is across the way from SCYC.  I had seen an Island Hunters episode about Leaf Cay and wanted to check out the resort the new owners were building.  Well, after we made it across what seemed like the Pacific (it was a longer and rougher ride than anticipated) we pulled up to a nondescript, unimpressive island.  Then I recalled that there are 2-3 cays in Exuma called Leaf Cay.  We were obviously at the wrong one.  And it was apparent that someone else needs to be in charge of naming these islands.

The ride back was even worse.  Mark’s new visor blew off so we had to fish that out of the sea.  And we disagreed about the best way to make it across the open water.  A few choice words were shared between the Bickersons on this crossing.

Once we made it to protected waters, we rode by the pigs.  Busy again so we made it over to Pirate Beach which was thankfully deserted.  We hung out on this eclectic cruisers beach for a while then set off to find a sand bar on which to eat lunch.

We ended up on the far end of the huge Hattie Cay bar since the excursion boat had already let its herd loose on the section where I wanted to be.  And boy was it windy. We had lobster salad for lunch and the container had been tilted in the cooler so all of the mayo/lobster liquid had pooled into the lid so when I opened it, the wind whipped that lobster juice all over Mark who had the misfortune of sitting down wind of me.  He was covered in it.  Thankfully he just had to take a few steps to our giant water source to rinse off.

The ride back was going to be a slow one for us due to the rough conditions so M & M were going to stop along the way to do some spear fishing.  We made plans to meet back at Pirate Trap to do some shelling.  The ocean cut leading over to Staniel Cay was a sight.  Nothing but big rolling white caps. It was a hairy crossing but we made it without incident and plopped our butts on the sand to wait for our friends.  When a half hour passed with no sign of them, we figured they had happened upon a big school of fish or  nest of lobsters, or maybe they had just ditched us, so after collecting some shells, we headed back.  Mark was at peak crispiness so he went back to the room while I took a paddle board out.

Another SCYC update – the old Coral cottage has been torn down and in its place they are building a 2 story, 3 bedroom cottage which will now have a water view from upstairs. This cottage will come with a 23 foot boat but is not package plan eligible.  This will be a nice option for large families and groups. All new umbrellas at the pool too.

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A little while later, Megan stopped over to let us know that their boat had broken down and they had just gotten back.  That called for cocktails on the sun deck until it was time for dinner. We chose the 8:30 seating this night so as to stretch out our last day as long as possible.

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After our final dinner, we decided to close down the bar again.  Pitbull had been at the Club the day before while we were out boating, and someone told us he was supposed to be back that night so we kept an eye out but he never showed. No matter, we had another memorable evening then sadly made our way back to the cottage for our final sleep.

We woke to a gorgeous and less windy day (figures), I settled up our bar/gift shop tab with a  personal check, grabbed our to go breakfasts (the famous SCYC breakfast sandwiches), said goodbye to Mac and Megan who were headed to Black point for the remainder of their stay, and were whisked off to the airstrip.  It has even gotten a couple of upgrades 1) a partial fence so it isn’t quite as easy to wander onto the runway, and 2) a small office to check you in and weigh your luggage.

Before we knew it, wheels were up and our journey home had begun.  And my mind was already planning the next visit…

SCYC

A few things worth noting ~

Weather and conditions – a couple of people on the travel board tried to steer me away from February because of the potential for cool weather, rough waters and shorter daylight hours.  U.S. cold fronts do affect the Bahamas, mainly in the form of wind.  But regardless of wave heights and wind, you can always find a protected beach.  We have had rough waters and wind in the summer as well.  I found the air temperature in late February to be perfect.  Low 80s.  The water wasn’t as warm as I prefer, but it was definitely swimmable.  And when you take the boat out by 9:00 AM and are on the water all day, a 6:00-6:15 PM sunset is just fine.  I would definitely travel to Exumas in the winter months again.

Tips for Staniel Cay newbies:

*If you have flexibility with your travel dates, check the tide schedule before you book.  Ideal time for low tide is late morning to early afternoon. But anytime mid morning to mid afternoon works.

* Pack half as many clothes and twice as much sunscreen.  Though this time I packed too light and wished I had more sleeveless options.

*Bring bubble wrap to transport your sea treasures home.

*Pack Band-Aids and Neosporin.  We have not made it through a trip yet without someone cutting their foot on something. This time is was Mark and the prop. Last time it was me and a sharp shell.

*Purchase alcohol in Nassau.

Before I leave you with my Flickr album (for those who enjoy poring over island photos as much as I do), here are a couple photos of Mac’s catches from the day after we left.  Nothing worse than heading home when your friends get to stay!

Here are links to both my Facebook (more condensed) and Flickr albums.  Enjoy!

https://www.facebook.com/kristen.edsall/media_set?set=a.10212383274643154&type=3&pnref=story

https://www.flickr.com/photos/145000826@N05/albums

 

 

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…