I'm going to do a total of three posts. The first two will be almost entirely text, and are geared toward those who want details of what we did on vacation. The final one will be mostly photo highlights, with links through to Flickr collections. We took nearly 1500 pictures so it's going to take a while to sort through everything and get them uploaded. Since I'm getting pestered for updates I figured I'd save myself some hassle and go ahead and do the writeups.
We made it back from vacation on Monday, August 25th, as scheduled. I add that last bit because some of you saw my Facebook updates and know that we had some travel issues. The plan was to fly from Charleston to Charlotte, then on to St. Martin. We would catch a ferry in St. Martin to go to Anguilla, where Francie would meet us. We would stay in Anguilla for four days, then fly to Antigua and continue to Montserrat for four days. We would return from Montserrat St. Martin via Antigua, then return from St. Martin to Charlotte and finally get home to Charleston. If you're confused, join the crowd. I was never sure where I was or where I was supposed to be. It was going to be a grueling number of flights in a short amount of time and there wasn't much room for error.
The flight from Charleston to Charlotte was delayed due to thunderstorms in Charlotte, but we had a long enough layover that it didn't matter. We made it to Charlotte, found our gate, and sat around for an hour or so. At about 11:30 we were told our flight from Charlotte to St. Martin was canceled. We already knew this was US Airways' only flight of the day from Charlotte to St. Martin so we fully expected to get stuck in Charlotte. We got on the phone and called US Airways and were told they couldn't get us anywhere else to connect to St. Martin, even on another carrier. Most of the flights leave earlier in the day so we'd get stuck somewhere else. We went ahead and re-booked for the same flight the next day, then spent two hours waiting in line so we could get a hotel voucher for a lovely Ramada Inn just off an Interstate and beside a mostly dead strip mall. If you want to know about the hotel, ask. I'm trying to block it out of my memory. The next day we flew out as scheduled and everything went fine.
Anguilla was a wonderful experience. Francie met us at the ferry terminal and showed us to our villa, then stayed for a while to help orient Myron and get us settled in. She had stopped at a market and picked up a few essentials. She was so thorough we didn't have to go to a store during our stay. We stayed at the Chinaberry in Cul de Sac, just above the ferry terminal. It is a lovely villa in a beautiful setting, conveniently located but still private. The most striking feature is the palm tree growing in the shower. Part of the wall is open and the top of the tree sticks outside.
Originally we had planned for three days in Anguilla, but lost a day on the front end. The first day was mostly spent traveling, and the following day (August 19th) was my birthday. I had told Myron and Francie I was game for anything and left it to them to plan whatever they wanted. Myron and I got up and went to Rendezvous Bay, which we could see from the deck at Chinaberry. It is a gorgeous beach with sugar-fine sand and brilliant blue water. We spent about two hours at the beach (long enough for me to get sunburned in the spots I missed with the sunscreen), then headed back to the villa to give Francie a call. She came by and we followed her to Cap Juluca, where we had lunch at George's.
As Francie's kids were unloading she gathered them together and introduced us to them. She said "This is Charles, today is his birthday. His friend is ..." and one of the twins added "Myron". Francie said she had told them who was coming but she didn't expect them to remember, but at least one of the kids was paying attention.
Cap Juluca was another stunning setting and the food was excellent. The kids played in the water while we talked, until Francie finally couldn't take it any more and had to jump in too. It was a fun and relaxing way to spend the day. We discussed what to do for dinner and Francie highly recommended Koal Keel, so we decided to go there. We left Cap Juluca and Francie led us on a brief tour around the island for about 45 minutes. We parted ways in The Valley (Anguilla's only town of any size) and headed back to our villa to get ready for dinner.
Koal Keel is in a covered outdoor space and has an interesting, eclectic menu. Most of the appetizers are very typically Caribbean, including pumpkin soup, conch fritters, and other seafood and tropical fruit dishes. Francie had raved about the menu being oriented toward native Anguillan food, and we were a little confused that nearly all the main courses were Indian. About a quarter were tandoori, another quarter were Indian curries, and several others were various Indian dishes we were familiar with. When I asked Francie about this the next day she said they had a new chef and the menu probably changed because of him. I selected seared scallops as a starter and crispy duck breast with maple syrup glaze for a main course. Both were excellent. When the desserts were presented, mine had a lit sparkler in the top and Happy Birthday written on the plate in chocolate.
The next day was another beautiful day in paradise. Francie had suggested we go to Shoal Bay, which was on Myron's list. We parked near a place named something like Elbonia, which made me laugh. [Myron corrected me, it's Elodia's.] We rented an umbrella and two beach chairs for $10 for the day. We would have paid twice that, so it was a relcome reprieve from other high prices we encountered in Anguilla.
The entire day was spent simply relaxing on the beach. We had lunch around 1:00 at Zazu or something like that. Grilled ribs and grilled chicken for $10 was the least expensive meal we had, and very good. Francie, Myron and I chatted while the kids played in the pool. We ended the day with some frozen rum smoothie concoction and went our separate ways; Francie and her brood back to her house and Myron and I back to Chinaberry to get cleaned up for our final dinner in Anguilla, at the Straw Hat.
I'm honestly not sure how Myron chose the Straw Hat, but it was an excellent choice. It is billed as Anguilla's only restaurant situated over the water. Three sides have large louvered shutters that cover the windows, giving a panoramic view of the water. We were there at night, but we could see St. Martin nearby and lots of boats. It was a romantic and spectacular setting. The food was what we were expecting from Koal Keel: very traditionally Caribbean. Myron started with a pumpkin soup; I had a delicious salad. For my main course I had a boneless goat curry, which was tasty but a little heavy on the allspice. Myron had grilled prawns, which were really good but a tad overcooked.
After dinner we joined Francie for her friend Hilary's going away party at The Ferryboat Inn. There we met Nicki and Clyde (they're just friends), who had visited Montserrat recently. Nicki was all about the dancing, so Myron talked to Clyde for a long time. Clyde painted a very bleak and desolate picture of life on the island. It was very different from what others who live there had told us, so we weren't sure what to make of his comments. The serious talk gave way to serious drinking and serious fun, and we ended up going from The Ferryboat Inn to Elvis' beach shack, a local hangout.
I'm not sure how long we were at Elvis', but it didn't matter. It was fun just standing around talking to locals. We met Rossie (aka Bush... that's not a reference to GW, but the kind of bush you think of in the islands), a local barber who also works in construction. He was interesting to talk to, to get his impression of what was happening in Anguilla and throughout the Caribbean. I only understood about half of what he said, but what I heard kept my attention. While we were there the police showed up. I have no idea what time it was, but it had to be pretty late/early. After several minutes Elvis left the bar and delivered drinks to the police car. Maybe they had a thirsty passenger who needed a tasty adult beverage.
And so our time in Anguilla wound down. The next day we had a flight at 2:40 PM, so we spent the morning packing and Francie came by to pick up the food we didn't eat and her cell phone. The twins were funny packing the cooler. One of the girls is very laid back, the other is very serious. The laid back one would hand things to the serious one, who had a very specific idea of where and how things should fit -- the laws of physics be damned!
We said our goodbyes, packed up our car, and headed for the Thrifty car rental near the airport to return our car. The lady there recommended Niko's, a nearby restaurant, for lunch and it was very good and the portions huge. I ordered the corn soup, which was more of a chowder, and was given about a quart of it. I also ordered the jerked chicken and it had the perfect combination of heat and sweet. Myron had a whole snapper in broth, which was also delicious.
We returned to Thrifty and were driven to the airport to await our flight... and the next travel debacle.
Coming up in Part 2 - Why I can't live in the Caribbean but ultimately will. Are some people are born bitchy? And the reality of living with a volcano.