Thursday, May 4, 2017

Chillin’ Like Anguillans

The euphoria we felt after our arrival here did not lessen with the light of a new day.  We slept wonderfully well with a breeze and just a little bit of a roll now and then… The sun came up over the low island tree line… but it was soon swallowed up in clouds that brought a light rain to wash away yesterday’s salt spray.  

We waited until it began to clear before making our second attempt to clear into the country.  This time we were welcomed into the office where supposedly we would be seeing Immigration, Customs and the Port Authority.  Perhaps we did see all three, but they were different hats worn by one guy!  

I filled out two very brief forms… one for entry and the other for exit… paid $23 and that was it!  Seriously.  I marvelled at why this could not have been done yesterday in the two minutes it took… But hey, I’m happy.  We are free to roam!

We wandered aimlessly around the deserted street and backtracked to the beach.
Get it?

There is a salt pond just across the street

Lots of birds hang out on the salt flats

Somewhere there's someone cleaning a conch...

There was a fisherman cleaning conch and we stopped to talk to him for a while.  Joe.  From Dominica.  He’s been here in Anguilla for 20 years but still… all of this stories are about Dominica.  

He said he had about 200 conch taken from water about 90 ft deep.  They started at 7 this morning to get this many.  We saw evidence of his success in huge piles along the shores.


We watched as he deftly cut the spur and cleaned the conch ready for delivery to a little conch shack up the beach.  We never did see the place open so we missed getting to sample Joe’s conch. 
Elvis' from the beach

Anguillan fence

We continued along the white sand with the water lapping at our feet, completely happy.  This is the way we had imagined these Caribbean islands to be.  The vibe here is perfect.  

View from Customs & Immigration's porch

Our neighbour is having a bad day

The sun was up and there were no signs of rainclouds… now the water called to us… We stopped to arrange for tomorrow’s rental care before returning to the boat for lunch and a quick rest… then we addressed the long overdue chore of scraping barnacles off of our boat bottom.

It was really kind of fun.  The water was cool but with the current running along the hull, it was somewhat of a workout.  Good for us!  Bruce worked with the hookah down under and I scraped the sides as far as I could reach.  

After a shower and a short rest, we welcomed Sally and Jesse from Pyxis aboard for a chat which ended up at The Pumphouse for a luxurious dinner.  

The restaurant is built inside a building that once housed the pumping mechanisms for moving the salt from the pond out back to the boats waiting in the bay.  It has a lot of rustic character with large open windows and rough cement floors.  

Old Salt Mill equipment.  This building used to be part of the salt mining operation.

While we were having cocktails and waiting for our dinner to come, we were visited by several locals who peered at us from the large window near our table.  Some spoke, others just looked in and left.  This one man paused briefly then turned away to continue on… His pants were down around his upper thighs like you see in the States, but he had on no underwear.  His little black buttocks had two perfect circles of sand clinging to them!  I was the only one who saw this before he hiked up his britches to cover his sandy bum!  It was awesome!!!

I thought it was a salad with tuna... 
Dinner came and I was a bit dismayed to see my plate.  I ordered what I thought was going to be a salad with seared tuna on top… but I got this little tower of food.  The lighting in the restaurant all came from tiny candles on the tables… I couldn’t really see what I was eating.  I popped a piece of avocado into my mouth and then realised that it was actually a gob of wasabi!  

I surreptitiously spit it back onto my fork as I began to sweat.  The heat spread from my mouth like lightning as I searched for anything to douse the flame.  All I had to drink was my Rum Punch, which was more like a cross between an Amaretto Sour and a Mai Tai…  It hardly helped… but hardly was better than nothing.  

The Chef came to our table later to see how we liked everything and I told her about the Wasabi.  She laughed and said that she would instruct her servers to point out the wasabi on the plate to future patrons who order this dish.  It was all very delicious, even if I am a podunk who doesn’t know how to eat beautiful food!

The next day we rented a car from a nice guy at A&D Car Rental named Arnold.  He was very accommodating and we highly recommend him… He had cars with your choice of which side you wanted the wheel…  We chose the American side even though Anguillan’s drive on the left…  Fewer things for Bruce to have to think about while driving.  

The car rental was very cheap, only $40 per day, plus $5 for insurance and then of course there’s the driver’s license.  I had heard that it is easier to just take a taxi tour of the island instead of going to the trouble of obtaining the temporary license…  

What bunk!  The license was $15 for three days and was simply a paper completed by Arnold when we picked up the car…  The taxi tour was going to be $65 for two people plus $10 for each additional person… for two or two and a half hours…  Rent the car!

Sally and Jesse from Pyxis, whom we met in St. Martin, shared our rental car.  It’s nice to split the cost and double the fun while we tour a new place.  I had no agenda whatsoever.  Normally I study for these things but not today… so we just took off driving.  There was little traffic and the roads were all very rural so Bruce didn’t have any trouble driving on the correct side.  

Regardless of its proximity,  Anguilla is really nothing like St. Martin, which has larger towns and people everywhere… Anguilla is the perfect Caribbean island…  Simple and rustic.  We love it here.  We drove around the loop on the main road with several spontaneous side trips…. one of which took us to Gwen’s Reggae Grill for lunch.

The road in was sand and we weren’t sure what to expect as we peaked a hill then tumbled down steeply to a stretch of pristine white sand beach below.  Gwen’s was just opening up and we were the first patrons of the day.  
Up and over the hill... thank goodness there actually IS a restaurant at the bottom...

Keith was preparing to play saxophone for our listening pleasure with a karaoke style backup system.  He was very chatty and we ordered a delicious fresh grilled lunch with a stunning view that was ours alone…

This was one of those days that we really appreciate the luxury of time that we enjoy.  We whiled away a couple of hours just talking and drinking in the beauty of this place… before loading back up and moving on.  

Searching for beaches, we popped out onto one hidden treasure after another.  Each one different from the others.  Some quiet little fishing villages and others kept pristine for resort tourists… 

Somehow I was in charge of navigation and I warn friends in all honesty this is not a good idea…  Not only have my land navigational skills been pushed out by my SEA navigational skills… gut Google Maps are notoriously inaccurate in these islands…  

We found ourselves suddenly flying (well, probably 20 mph but it seemed like we were flying) down dirt roads.  Well, not really roads, more like ATV paths through the tidal plains near the shore…  It became almost funny that I could fail so miserably at this…  Well, it LOOKED like a road on Google!!!  Luckily our friends were game so we laughed our way back to civilisation ( eventually).  I think we were all silently relieved…  
Ferry dock between St. Martin and Anguilla

We found a place with some sort of dock structure on the water with lots of people, kids mostly, running about.  We pulled over to investigate and found it to be a marine park.  Well, sort of.  They were just wrapping up a family day and people were leaving, but there were park employees at hand to answer questions.

At first we were only allowed to the end of the first dock but after speaking to the site veterinarian for some time, she asked us to follow her.  We walked out to the end of the structure with a huge dolphin keeping up with us as we went.  She would swim away and then race back to us, jumping and eyeing us… SO COOL!

The next person we met was the marine biologist for the park.  The two women answered our questions in a private tour as the other dolphin jumped and kept eyes on us… It was like they wanted our attention and were very curious about what we were doing… maybe we had a fish for them???  

I know that most people are completely against any type of marine park so please don’t send me hate mail.  It was a very low key place with dolphin who, although were not “in the wild”… seemed very well treated and happy.  The women truly believed that they were acting in the interest of the dolphin as they continued to study these intelligent animals, and we learned a lot from the discussion.  

What a surprise this was!  We didn’t’ even know it was here!  But the afternoon was waning so we began our loop back to The Valley, which is the main town Bruce wanted to make a stop at the Ace hardware and our friends suggested a grocery run.  We found both!

We stopped at a small local grocery and picked up a few things, then continued on to get a look at the west end of the island.  One more gorgeous beach stop, then backtrack to the larger Best Buy grocery.  It was a thing of beauty!  And prices weren’t bad at all… once we reminded ourselves that they were in EC and not USD…

We found a BIGGER grocery store!

I’m so glad we didn’t listen to the advice of others who recommended skipping an “expensive” car rental and just taking a taxi tour… We enjoyed an entire day at our leisure and saw the whole island with our “new - old friends”.  

Our intention upon arrival to Anguilla was to spend a couple of days, maybe a long weekend… We hadn’t counted on loving it so much!  With weather playing into the decision, we extended our visit, moving our departure date from Tuesday to Thursday… 

Sunday was a rain out with Bruce trying multiple times to get out the hookah and finish cleaning our boat bottom. He finally gave up after it began raining every time he got his equipment set up…  

Monday dawned bright and beautiful and before I was even out of bed, Bruce called me to come see our new neighbour!  We are anchored just off the commercial channel and a container ship was docking just off our starboard side.  

We watched in fascination as the huge boat stopped, slowly pivoted and dropped anchor to dock stern-to the commercial pier.  What a delight!

Dropping Anchor
Backing down to set the anchor

Well since we’re up… I convinced Bruce that a beach walk would do us good before he went to work on the boat again…  This time we explored the western half of our beach…

While waiting for Bruce to dispose of our trash in the bin behind Customs & Immigration, I entertained myself taking pictures of the delicate flowers growing on a very tall tree out front.  I noticed a man watching me and I jokingly asked him if he thought we tourists were a crazy bunch… taking pictures of trees!

He came over and told me all about the tree, which was a White Cedar.  He pulled a bursting seed pod off of the tree and showed it to me before scatting the seeds on the beach to be snatched up by the Turtle Doves in a flurry of excitement.  White Cedar and Turtle Doves… both “Officials” of Anguilla.  The kindness of this man and the pride he radiates for his country have done much to help Anguilla rise to the top of our list of favourite places…

We thanked him and continued on… there’s a large shipwreck down at the end of the beach that I wanted to check out… but with the entire stretch of perfect white beach all to ourselves, we took our time getting there.  
Something is burrowing beneath the sand...

For a while we were joined by Jojo.  His neighbour told us that he enjoyed tourist season and routinely walks with everyone who strolls his beach.  What a chill pup!  

Eventually we reached the shipwreck, delighted to find it fully accessible on the shore.  There was a certain stillness here.  We could still smell the fuel and everything in it was rust-colored… There is surely no EPA in Anguilla…

A rust-colorer conch shell!!

We spent some time exploring, wondering what happened and how long ago it was…  

There is a cliff that backs this end of the beach that exposes time.  I could poke around for hours looking for shells frozen intact.  This fascinates me!  

On our way back we paused to watch containers being efficiently unloaded from two ships…  

A local cleaning a couple of strange-looking fish…

And we checked out the free public facilities, restroom and showers right off the beach!  And they were super clean!  We love this place!

With the luxury of more time, we enjoyed the next few days, Bruce got the boat bottom done… We planned a beach picnic with Pyxis.

We returned to the shipwreck beach by dinghy this time.  Sally and Jesse pulled their dinghy up onto the sand while Bruce and I practiced our water landings.  Still a work in progress.  We were glad that we turned the bow out or it would have been swamped because we parked right where the waves were breaking…  Eventually we moved it out past the break and it rode much better.  

Sally and I spread the blue-jean-blanket my mother made for me out and served up the meal.  

After lunch we swam while the boys snorkelled over by the wreck.  We did a bit of beach-combing… What a sublime day!

The next day was a boat-project day.  Bruce finished the bottom and a few other small chores…  I washed our sheets and dried them in the strong wind and sunshine.  But when the chores were done we met Pyxis ashore for not one but TWO happy hours!  We began at Roy’s for a drink, then strolled on down to Elvis’ for Second Happy Hour and dinner to follow.  
Happy Hour #1

Roy’s was OK, but Elvis’ was the place to be!  The staff was super welcoming and we were looking for some Mexican Food!  Coming from Texas, we consider ourselves to be worthy critics of all-foods-Mexican… and perhaps Elvis should have stuck to local cuisine… but it was good and the drinks were great, and the view… what can we say?
License Plates nailed to the floors...???

Happy Hour #2

Eventually the time came for us to leave.  We spent the morning getting things ready then went ashore to clear out.  The people in Customs & Immigration here are so nice and welcoming… The process is made so easy…  Did I mention that we LOVE this place???

In the evening, Jesse came to fetch us to his boat (we had already secured the dinghy on the davits ready for a morning departure) and we enjoyed one last happy hour with Pyxis.  We look forward to seeing them down island some day soon…

Looking back over our time here in Anguilla I am thankful that we didn’t just decide to skip it and head on south.  It was nothing like we had imagined and it was everything that we love in a Caribbean island.  It was a place where we could slow down and get away from crowds and just “chill”…  like Anguillans. 

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