BVIs with BFFs – Our Adventures on Virgin Gorda

A beautiful beachfront villa with friends on a new island to explore was just what the doctor ordered.  Beautiful Virgin Gorda seemed like the perfect choice for our 2017 summer vacation.

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But this story starts 2.5 weeks prior to our July 1st take-off. And not in a good way.

As I was starting to pull things out for the trip one night, I flipped through our passports to see whose was whose and paused to look at little Ellie’s photo from years ago.  I thought to myself how glad she will be to get an updated photo when it’s time to renew. Turns out that time was 2 months ago. Cue the panic mode. For some reason I thought she was good for another year. Major mom fail. And major planner fail. I plan and book everything so far ahead of time that I never thought I would be caught in this situation. So I set about stalking the appointment calendar at the DC Passport Agency, took a day off work, and Ellie and I went to take care of business in person. Cost more in time and money but it was done, and I knew it was a mistake I would never make again. It arrived with 5 days to spare. Phew.

But that wasn’t the end of our pre-travel woes. Our group of 14 (4 families) met at 6:30 AM on departure day at Philadelphia airport.

Since we had a little bit of time before take-off, some went to the bar for Bloody Mary’s. Those who did not learned that our boarding time would be slightly delayed since the crew had not yet arrived from Boston. No problem since we had 4 hours to kill in St. Thomas before catching the ferry to VG. Then departure time was bumped back an hour. Fine. A 3 hour buffer was plenty. So the boys continued drinking.

Every so often we would get another update with an even greater delay. We had a plane but no crew, and they wouldn’t be arriving now until 11 at a distant gate, then needed to get lunch and walk to our gate. The ladies fretted and the men drank…seemingly without a worry in the world. Did they not care that if we missed this ferry we would be stranded on crowded St. Thomas for the night as our pricey villa went unused while we paid for another room on St. Thomas?! And lost a day of vacation.

We had looked into chartering a private boat to take us over but the issue was with customs and no one would take us over if we didn’t land by a certain time. We called the ferry and asked if they could wait for us but they couldn’t promise anything and told us to call back when we landed. So we tracked that flight from Boston and hoped and prayed.

We finally took off after 12 PM for an almost 4 hour flight. You can do the math. Our plane would be landing as the ferry was departing. I was stressed out the entire flight. But the guys were feeling no pain after spending hours in Chickie’s and Pete’s. We landed shortly before 4, waited to get off the plane, then hustled to baggage claim (this is why we rarely check luggage anymore). I didn’t even pause to listen to the steel drum band that greeted us nor to take a complimentary rum shot, which is my favorite part of the arrival process.

I secured a cab for 14 while the others grabbed bags. We piled in and headed to Charlotte Amalie port with fingers crossed. Never have I been so happy to see a sight like I was to see that Speedy’s ferry still at the dock.

Finally I could relax. We sat up top with the wind in our hair and sea spray on our face…we were on our way.

That is one long ferry ride…1 hour and 45 minutes. We killed time by trying to name each beach on St. John and each BVI as we passed by.

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I loved Virgin Gorda as soon as we pulled up to the port in Spanish Town. To the left of the dock was a beach with local kids swimming and boulders lining the shore as the sun was sinking into the sky. After we cleared customs, a friendly man with a wide smile beckoned us…Wesley from Virgin Gorda Car Rental was waiting with our Suzuki Jimny. Paperwork was already filled out…all we had to do was sign, load up and then off to our villa.

The short ride to Mahoe Bay gave us a taste of what to expect in the coming week. Expansive views of ocean, sea, beaches and green mountains at every turn. This island reminds me of a cross between St. John and Anguilla. Two of my favorites, so how could I not love it as well.  With a population of less than 4,000 occupying a land mass measuring 8.5 square miles, the island never felt crowded, in fact we were often the only ones on a beach at any given time. (Devil’s Bay and the Baths notwithstanding). Virgin Gorda is the third largest British Virgin Island, nicknamed the Fat Virgin which is what the shape of the island looked like to Christopher Columbus.

Our home away from home was Caribbean Wind. A large beachfront villa with lush, tropical landscaping and perfect sunset views.  I was so thankful we had decided to get the house provisioned so we didn’t have to arrive and immediately hit the grocery store. Provisioning is a great idea in theory…but in reality, there were substitutions made, items missing, and items cancelled when they ran out of something. And almost everything was more expensive than the listed prices. It’s a sleepy island so I get it, but I think I prefer shopping myself and knowing what I am going to get and how much I will be paying for it.

After settling in, we made a quick dinner of grouper and veggies over rice. It was a perfect first night meal. The kids swam in the pool and the ocean, and then we all tossed a ball around the calm shallow water of Mahoe Bay by the light of the moon.

I made a conscious effort to relish the wonderful feeling that is the first night of vacation because I knew in the blink of an eye it would our last night. We listened to some tunes and poured some wine to round out the night then off to bed in anticipation of a fun day ahead.

Sunday dawned bright and clear, and as was the case most mornings, we were up with the sun. What a beautiful view we had from our balcony.  There was even a mango tree in view of our outdoor shower.

We decided to make this a villa gravity day after the long and trying travel day we had, and since we had everything we could want right in front of us. We checked out the house and grounds in the light of day, ate a leisurely breakfast, walked on the beach, swam, snorkeled and sunned.

The snorkeling was good at the reef to the far North end of Mahoe. Some in our group saw an octopus, school of squid and a sea turtle. In the late afternoon we spent some time limin’ in the rooftop hot tub which looked like a big wine barrel.

We also had a villa cat that we named Mr. Jingles. He sure ate well while we were there. And spent time a lot of time snoozing in the cushioned lounged chairs in the outdoor living area.

We cooked another meal at home…tuna this evening (I will say that all of the frozen fish from Buck’s Market was very good), watched the sunset, got makeovers from the girls, played cards, then hit the sack.

Monday was boat day. Our group had the use of a 39’ boat and captain (from Bradley Powerboats) for the day.  It was a lovely ride to Leverick Bay. I was hoping we could have gone to Anegada but with everything else that was already planned, there wouldn’t be time.

Our first stop was Trellis Bay, Tortola. When my friend told the captain this, he looked at us like we were crazy. Then she explained there was a cool Artisan shop she wanted to visit. Sadly, the item that I wanted..a large whale wall sculpture…was $14,000. I had to pass. Trellis is a funky, artsy little area with some cool sculptures and carvings on the beach. And a huge purple hammock that the kids enjoyed. But that’s about it. Not your typical tourist stop. But then again, we aren’t typical tourists.

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We had a quick pain killer at a little local bar then back to the boat to make our way to Marina Cay. After the obligatory photos in front of the iconic red phone booth, we headed over to Pusser’s.

Now we have a Pusser’s in Annapolis, MD but it never impressed me much. I much prefer the original BVI location. Marina Cay is very a pretty little island with only a dock, beach, store and restaurant. Everyone was hot and immediately jumped in the water off of the small beach. Pusser’s makes a good pain killer, but my favorite is the still the original at Soggy Dollar. We herded our group back to the boat in search of lunch.

We decided on Cooper Island as it was halfway between Marina Cay and the Willy T.

We got a great table at Cooper Island Beach Club and had a wonderful lunch. Awesome roti and conch fritters. Probably the best conch fritters I have ever had. And they pour some yummy cocktails.

Next up…jumping off the back of the Willy T floating boat bar/restaurant. The kids had a blast. As did some of the adults.

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Then our final stop of the day…snorkeling at the Indians. Nice, healthy coral and lots of fish.

We had mentioned to the captain that we had wanted to go to Saba Rock so he took us by before docking but with only 15 minutes to spare, and tired and cranky kids, we opted not to stop.

Back to the house for happy hour, sunset, dinner, games and bed. Most of our nights were spent this way.  It may sound boring to some but it was perfect for us.

Tuesday was 4th of July and though it’s obviously not celebrated on this island, we each donned an article of clothing which exhibited our American pride. After a typical morning at the villa…coffee, walk on the beach, breakfast…we all set off to Spring Bay. Everyone loved this beach with its boulder-lined lagoon. And for much of the day we were the only ones there. Kids and adults alike loved jumping off the huge rocks into the calm, clear waters below. We had planned to venture out for lunch but everyone was so happy here that the guys picked up sandwiches at the deli and we ate on the beach.

It was so relaxing just sitting in the lagoon while baby sergeant majors nibbled on our toes. But I didn’t sit for too long as there were many areas to explore and photos to be taken.

We met a couple at Spring Bay who live on the island and taught at the school. The gentleman (Mr. C) had a group of island children in tow. Summer camp – VG style.  We chatted with them a while and soaked up a little more Spring Bay sun before packing it in.

We spent the rest of the day and evening at villa. Since it was Independence Day…one of our group brought some big floating (bio-degradable) lanterns to release on the beach, so we all gathered at the water’s edge. This was a great idea, however it was too breezy and they would not get airborne. We aborted this plan so as not to set any gardens or villas on fire. Two families in our bunch stayed on for a second week on Tortola and since there was no wind that week they were able to make the lanterns float.

Wednesday our group split up…those who had had enough fun in the sun went to Leverick Bay to shop, then to Hog Heaven for lunch. We made our way to Savannah Bay for the day.

We secured a palapa in the sea grapes and did some swimming and snorkeling.

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Totally different type of beach than Spring Bay…more reminiscent of the beaches on Anguilla and Provo.

We also noticed a sign for a poisonous tree next to the path leading to the beach. If you stand under it after a rain, you will suffer terrible blisters. And if you ingest a berry, you may die. Needless to say…we kept our distance.  Except to take this photo.

After a while, Mr. C and his super fun summer camp group showed up. The East end of the beach has high sand dunes which the kids were sliding down on rafts. Sledding…island style.  Since our empty beach was getting more crowded (relatively speaking) we decided to pack up.

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We headed back to the villa in the afternoon to take advantage of an empty house. But not before stopping at the Savannah Bay overlook.

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We made lunch, cranked up the music and spent some time in the hot tub (which was actually just a warm, somewhat bubbly small pool) and admired the views.

Tonight we were excited to be heading to CocoMaya for dinner.

The setting was great and the food was delish. And our background music was that of Oren Hodge. But the items are pricey and portions are small. Even though we ordered a lot, I still left hungry.

Thursday we had the best of intentions to get out the door by 7:30 AM to make it to the Baths before the excursion boats let loose their herds. But coordinating 14 people (including a 2 year old) is no simple task.  So Mark cleaned the pool while we waited 😉

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We arrived much later than anticipated…right about the time I saw the swarms of yellow life vests swimming ashore.

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So it was a cozy affair inside the Baths but cool nonetheless.  And a sight I am glad our daughter could experience.

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We spent a little time at the beach after emerging from the boulders but it was too crowded for our liking so after Mark made his way back through (while waiting for 60 people to climb up that little wooden ladder) to look for Ellie’s missing sunglasses that we thought may still be at Devil’s Bay, we headed to Spring bay (no sunglasses to be found) for some more boulder jumping and lagoon limin’.

Then we made our back to The Top of the Baths for lunch.  I liked this restaurant a lot…nice setting, great views and a pool to occupy the kids. The food was very good..we had the jerk chicken. But they certainly pushed “island time” to the limit. Our food took forever and the kids were over it. Thank goodness for Shirley Temples and virgin pina coladas.

As everyone made their way back in the late afternoon…many peeled off to their respective rooms for a nap. I can’t nap at home and certainly can’t nap on vacation. I don’t like to waste any more precious vacay hours sleeping than I have to.

Photo creds to Kelly for the villa shots below.

This evening was supposed to be when we were taking family photos but it got pushed to the next night, so Kelly took a few shots of me to test the lighting since I was already showered and ready.  My own mini-photo shoot.  And who could ask for a better backdrop.

Once everyone was back out, we were treated to another spectacular sunset.

Friday morning – our last day of vacation. Depression was slowly setting in.  We had to make the most of this day.

Again, Mark, Ellie and I set off early on our own. While at Spring Bay the day before, we became privy to another beach to the North that could only be accessed by foot. This was our first stop. After wading through the water and weaving in and out of boulders, we made it to Little Trunk Bay.

Then a trail and more boulders and we had arrived at Valley Trunk Bay. What a beautiful stretch of beach. It was the perfect combination of sand, sea, boulders, palm trees, cacti, sea grapes and scenic views. This beach quickly joined the ranks of my favorite beaches which include Shoal Bay East (Anguilla), Salomon Bay (St. John), White Bay (Jost Van Dyke), and Crescent Beach (Compass Cay, Exuma).

Next we drove the length of the island to Leverick Bay while oohing and ahhhing along the way at the picturesque scenery. Even the concrete walls are covered with beautiful murals.

I also stopped along to way to take 5,000 photos at the famous overlook.

At Leverick we poked into a few shops to pick up souvenirs, then stopped by to check out the North Sound public works facility.

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Then off to Hog Heaven for some lunch and to take in the expansive views.  We only encountered a little traffic on the way…

We arrived just as some squalls were coming into view from the East. It was fascinating to watch the rain and clouds skim across the sea…and thankfully right past us.

Then back to blue skies and puffy white clouds.

My husband raved about the fried chicken and Dark & Stormy cocktail. And the service couldn’t have been better.

Before heading back to the villa to savor our last afternoon in the sun, I wanted to check out Mountain Trunk Bay and Nail Bay. The Nail Bay area is beautiful and lush and it looks like each of the little villas at the resort have great views. The beach itself is wide but the sand is the brownest that I saw on the island. I can appreciate the characteristics of volcanic islands, but I am a sucker for soft white sand. Which the island does offer as well. I loved the variety of the different types of beaches on Virgin Gorda.

A quick stop at the Mahoe Bay overlook…

Then an afternoon just to be. We had a quick  afternoon shower but that didn’t drive anyone out of the pool. Our weather had followed a typical summer Caribbean forecast. Mainly sunny skies, some passing clouds, only a couple of brief day time showers, and more significant rain overnight most nights.

Then the girls did a re-make of a photo I took at Island Stones villa on St. John 5 years earlier…a silly random pose (the girls were 6,7,7 & 5 in the first shot and 11, 12, 12 and 10 in the re-make).  Then we took a new one with the addition of little Sierra. Hopefully we will re-do that shot in a few years.

Then it was time for family photos. Kelly is a wonderful self-taught photographer and was going to take photos of everyone and get a group shot. Unfortunately this was the evening that the sky looked most threatening so it was a rushed affair.

Then she took few pictures of the girls on the beach while we waited to see if the weather was going to hold out.

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We thought the group photo wasn’t going to happen, but after sunset, the most beautiful sky appeared and we got our shot.

Dinner was a potluck of leftovers and cocktails. Then one last evening of togetherness in the outdoor living space.

I sure do miss this view.  Props to my daughter, Ellie, for taking this great shot.

We were up early on Saturday to gas up the rental car and wait for the ferry back to St. Thomas. The journey home was uneventful as I mentally prepared for re-entry.

The biggest disappointment of the trip was that we did not get to visit Necker Island to see the lemurs, tortoises and flamingos. We had tried for months to secure one of the very limited available tour dates with Gumption. But they had sold out prior to any of the openings ever making it to the website. I tried to find out if there was another avenue to book but communication with See It Clear Tours (the only operator who does this tour) was a bit challenging.

Next time I want to try more restaurants like The Treehouse and Saba Rock; I want to visit Anegada; and hopefully get a chance to see Necker. And while I loved Mahoe Bay, I would stay in the Spring Bay area next time for close proximity to the beaches we loved the most.

Until next time my British Virgin lover…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

 

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