Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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Of all the islands in the Caribbean, Tobago is probably the furthest from my home so when I'd accumulated enough frequent flier miles to get a free Caribbean flight, it made some sense to visit the most distant destination which presumably carried the highest air fare. On my first full day in Tobago, I decided to visit the island's main town, Scarborough. It is situated on a hill overlooking the sea. There appeared to be few level areas in the old section of the town but there is a newer development right along the port area primarily for the tourist industry.. You can divide the town into two small areas: the old town on the hill , probably used for defense in the bygone days, and the more modern section in the revitalized port area. As yet Scarborough has not been sacrificed to tourism as other Caribbean towns have been. There are few tourist related shops with commercial properties dominating. In fact, most of the commercial activity seems geared to serving the needs of the local populace. Remember that Tobago is part of the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago with Port of Spain in Trinidad being the national capital. If you need to change money, Scarborough is the place to do it. The banks were giving about 10% better exchange than the hotels. The TT dollar was running about 6.1 to the US so my $200 exchange bought me abut $1200 in local currency. My advice is to change your money in the banks. I did not test to see if local stores would take American dollars, but I imagine their exchange rate would be even worse than the hotels. The port area has been revitalized some time in the recent past. There is a modern looking port facility and a relatively modern two story shopping complex across the street. This does have some of the traditional tourist vendors but also caters to the locals. I assume the port is visited by cruise ships, although I did not see any the day I was there. If you are planning to visit Tobago and want to check out the local urban scene, I'd advise allocating not more than 1.5 hours for your visit to Scarborough. GRAFTON BEACH RESORT I spent two days at the Grafton Beach Resort which is situated along with a number of properties on the northwest shore of the island. You get great sunset views from this section of the island. Most of the major properties are located along a 5 mile stretch of land at this point on the island. The Grafton Beach Resort is very well maintained and built on the hillside leading down to the beach. There is very little flat land next to the sea in Tobago. Most of the topography consists of hills rising right up from the water level. My section of the hotel had a little verandah and grassy area overlooking the sea. A more extensive complex of rooms with balconies was situated about 30 feet up the hill. The registration area, main pool and restaurants are situated in a flat area from which you can get a very nice view of the Caribbean sea. The pool has a swim up bar. There are two restaurants, one specializing in Mediterranean food and the other in sea food. It looked like the seafood restaurant was closed for the season. There is an fairly well appointed buffet breakfast each morning. Depending on your package, this may be included in the room rate. They also serve diner in the same location. I ate there one night and the bill ran to around $41 US including service and VAT. They tended to garnish the main course, (in this case, chicken) with a lot of vegetables -- some of the spicy variety. The room ( number 1119) while not spacious was adequate and like the rest of the property, very clean. One negative was the door leading to the next room. It provided little soundproofing and the TV from the adjacent room could easily be heard even at moderate volume. There were only a few choices on the cable TV set up. One interesting phenomena which I noticed was the significant temperature differences among the various levels of the property. Sitting on the beach, the heat was intense, but just a few feet higher at the snack bar level, there was a cooling breeze. This seem to be a repeated pattern throughout the resort. The entire staff seemed very friendly and would check back to make sure that things were all right if you requested anything. If you are looking for a clean property with a beach in Tobago then Grafton Beach Resort might be a good choice. LE GRAND COURLAN The Le Grand Courlan is situated right next to the Grafton Beach Resort -- or more specifically, I should say the Grafton Beach Resort is situated right next to the Le Grand Courlan. The Le Grand Courlan appears to be the premier Tobago property at present. The promos call it the most luxurious property on the island and one cab driver told be it was the island's best property. He is probably right. It is built on a hillside overlooking the Caribbean and there is a beach at the bottom of the hill. Unfortunately, the place was virtually deserted when I walked around it. In fact, it looked like a ghost town. Maybe they don't book people during certain parts of the year but the registration was open. Le Grand Courlan promotes itself as a resort and spa but not much was happening desk was functioning. It probably would be appropriate for someone who is interested in having a physically active vacation including spa treatments, working out in the gym etc. Couch potatoes, like me, might be smarter to stay at the Grafton Beach Resort next door. The entire property looked spotless and the pool area was beautiful although empty. If you are looking for a upscale Caribbean vacation pampering to your physical needs, you might consider this spot. While not extensive in space as Grand Lido, it looked like a nice place to spend a week. Prices are appropriate to the level of service and amenities which you might expect at a first class resort ( read high). (Ed Note: After I returned home, I received a notice Ean MacKay, the Hotel Manager, promoting a special room rate of $139 until 19 Dec. 97. You get the room, breakfast, Swedish massage and all taxes included. It's based on per person double occupancy. Contact 800-223- 6510 in the US. Based on what I saw of the property, this is a good deal.) SANCTUARY VILLA RESORT I'd met the Sanctuary Villa Resort's manager, Jacqueline Whitling, in Boston during one of the local CTO Chapter meetings last spring. She and her husband Derek are managing the construction and promotion of this extensive property. When completed, it will probably be one of the more interesting large resorts in the Caribbean. Since the resort abuts a wildlife sanctuary, there will be no building adjacent to the resort. Like most of the other Tobago properties, it is also built on a hillside from which you can get a view of the Caribbean. The view is onto famous Buccoo Reef and the Caribbean Sea. However, as it is set a mile or so back from the sea, the slope is gentler than those built right on the coast. When competed, the resort will have 27 rooms with flat landscaped rooftop in the hill side and 18 semi-detached villas with plunge pools each. There will also be 19 private villas with large pools each. In addition all can use the big pools at the resort. One planned feature of the complete resort will be a long water slide, in fact 3 of them , leading from a pool at one level to a pool at a lower level. How they are going to get the aquatic revellers back to the higher pool has not been determined. I suggested something like a ski lift. This water slide motif certainly could add a unique characteristic to Sanctuary Villa Resort . As Jackie drove me around the property, I thought of how Walt Disney must have felt when he surveyed the Orlando property. She was pointing out where each of the many components of the resort would eventually be situated. A number of the villas have been completed and I spent a night in one of them and toured the other already completed villas. There is one word to describe the feeling you get from any of the villas -- space. They are quite big by Caribbean standards. While configured differently, all have very large dimensions and because of the architectural design, you get sense that you are really outdoors. Rarely have I found Caribbean villas where two people could pass on the stairway. Usually they are very narrow and hard to navigate. Not so at Sanctuary Villa Resort. The stairways leading to the second floor were quite wide. You could easily accommodate 6 people in the villas in which I stayed. Probably 8. My villa had 3 bedrooms ( one on the main floor with two double beds, on the top floor there was a master bedroom and a third bedroom). This was adequate for me as I was alone!. Each bedroom had a adjacent bathroom ( no tubs) and there was a fourth half bath near the kitchen. While the entire villa is not air conditioned, each of the bedrooms have a remotely controlled air conditioner and ceiling fan. There was a private plunge pool at my villa. In general, each villa either had its own private plunge pool or shared a larger swimming pool with another villa. I could not think of any appliance not present in my villa. And the place ( like all the other which toured) was spotless. Some drawbacks at present may include the undeveloped access road -- go slow over this one --and the continuing construction. You would want to consider Sanctuary Villa Resort if you wanted luxurious villa living and plenty of space, especially if you have a family or are a group of friends traveling together. You can contact Jacqueline Whitling at Sanctuary Villas at: 809/639/9556 or fax 809/639/0019 or P.O. Box 424 Scarborough Tobago, West Indies E-Mail: email@example.com and their www site is www.trinidad.net/sanctuary SPEYSIDE INN Now for something completely different. If you are looking for a different experience on Tobago, then I'd suggest the Speyside Inn facing east on the less commercially populated area of the island. It provides a contrast to the large hotels situated near the airport and is run by the multi-talented Donna Yawching. Speyside is a reclamation project which she began about seven years ago and is quite small with only seven rooms. The views from any room encompass a beautiful bay and, according to Donna, a magnificent view of sunrise. Besides managing the Inn, Donna also edits the widely distributed tourist magazine "Discover Trinidad and Tobago". She also writes a column for the local newspaper. If you are looking to get away from it all, then this may be a good choice. It is not luxurious but provides basic accommodation with great views. You can get a double for under $100 a night in high season. Prices include breakfast. There is no a/c but as it is situated on side of a hill, a gentle sea breezes will cool you. Donna operates a small restaurant on the premises and cooks to order. She says occupancy is around 85% during the high season ( remember there are only 7 rooms). Speyside is definitely not for everyone but it would be a good choice for someone on a budget or someone looking for a simple but clean place with a view while exploring the natural splendors of Tobago. One word of caution is advised. The road leading to the property is called The Windward Road and it is the main island road leading to that section of the island. It is one of the worst roads in the Caribbean which I have seen. It twists and turns up and down hillsides for about ten miles. It's true that magnificent Caribbean bays suddenly appear around bends but I'd suggest you forget the view and concentrate on the road. AT NIGHT THIS IS AN EXTREMELY DANGEROUS ROAD AND SHOULD NOT BE DRIVEN EXCEPT IN DAYLIGHT. To compound matters you are driving on the left and there are sharp blind hairpin turns with ditches alongside the road. Caution is advised at all times for those driving it for the first time. You can contact the owner, Donna Yawching at 809-660-4852 for information and reservations. GENERAL COMMENTS ABOUT TOBAGO Crown Point Airport is a modern facility surrounded by a fairly large amount of commercial shops catering to the traveling public. There are shops selling books and magazines, places to eat and a bank. The airport is air conditioned and kept in pretty good shape. AA is flying the main service from the US but it leaves SJU at 8:45 pm arriving around 11:45 pm. The return flight ( which used to leave at 6:55 am ) now leaves at 8:55 am so you get back to SJU around noon. They are running ATR 42s on the route. Going down there were 7 passengers and coming home there were 15. Of course, it was the middle of July. But I was told that the route has been successful and that Tobago is hoping to get a better aircraft and times. The flight takes about 2:30. All the people I met on Tobago were friendly. I didn't venture far from the known tourist routes and was only there for 3 days so my experience was quite limited. Except for the Windward Road near Roxborogh and Speyside and in the capital, driving was pretty easy -- there is relatively little traffic except at rush hours but even then it does not get very busy. Tobago seems to be an up and coming Caribbean destination. The established resorts were on par with anything I'd seen on any other island in the region. There didn't seem to be much night life but it was the off season and it might be significantly more active in the winter. Tobago wouldn't be the place I'd recommend to a first time Caribbean visitor but if you've been to other islands , then you should definitely consider Tobago as your next destination.
The following information is provided by Frank Barnako who owns property which he'd like to rent. You can check it all out at: For the most relaxing vacation of your life, stay at Over the Rainbow Our management company has produced a new web site for Beyond the Sea, a spectacularly sited 2-1/2 bedroom property. Please take a look at: http://www.caribbeanvilla.com/develop/carib/beyond/beyond.html. Fall Sale: prices reduced 10% to $1,386/week, 2 persons in September and October. Not all dates available. ** Park Service will make changes The little island which successfully resisted a traffic light has now forced the National Park Service to prepare changes to its plans for new facilities on St., John. An NPS spokesman said there will be alterations to the planned National Park Visitor's Center and Administrative Complex within several weeks, the Daily News reported. Earlier, 150 island residents attended a public meeting, many complaining about the plans which included relocating a children's playground and removing some trees. Park officials said the changes will cause delays in the project which originally was expected to begin construction next Spring.( 26 Aug 97) ** Tourism budget will spend $7.2 million for advertising It's budget time in the islands. And the Tourism Department has said it hopes to spend almost $7 million on television and print advertising in the next year to promote the islands. The plans were outlined during a meeting of the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce meeting. The group's president, Robert Siefert, said that in the face of more marketing efforts from competitors like Jamaica, the Islands have to respond, the Daily News reported. Siefert also said he has some quarrel with the government's spending plans, including $300,000 last year for Carnival which, he said, doesn't bring people to the territory. He endorsed island hotel operators buying their own advertising. "It is possible, and it is our responsibility," Seifert said.( 26 Aug 97) ** Theme park planned on St. Thomas St. Thomas's Eric Matthews is pursuing his ten-year-old dream of developing a theme park on the island. "We are going through fragile (financial) negotiations," he told the daily News. Matthews said his project will cost $ million dollars, with current plans for it to be located on about ten acres near the cruise ship docks. The News reported the park would include shopping, recreation, restaurants, and the natural history of the islands.(19 Aug 97) ** Coral World repairs continue St. Thomas's underwater museum, Coral World is being rebuilt slowly but surely. Hurricane Marilyn destroyed it, but the Daily News reports the a cofounder of the project has joined the new owner's staff to help direct the rebuilding.(19 Aug 97) ** VI restaurants featured Bernetia Akin, Daily News columnist reports two island restaurants will be featured on a Discover channel series set to begin this fall. "Great Chefs of the World", hosted by John Shoup, has already filmed interviews with chefs at St. Thomas's Ritz Carlton and St. John's Caneel Bay.(19 Aug 97) ** VIs get new area code The area code for the Virgin Islands has changed to 3404, although 809 will work until next Summer. The new area code is the VI's exclusively. The 809 was shared with other islands including Tobago, Anguilla, Caicos and the Dominican Republic.(19 Aug 97) St. John's oldest newspaper has given a new look to its Web site, complete with color photos. You can see the latest Web edition at http://www.tradewinds.vi/970720.html.(13Aug97) ** Restaurants: * The Blue Marlin, located at red Hook, next to the dock for the St. John ferry. Chef Bruce McGinty offers "progressive-contemporary" dishes, including tuna with horseradish-scented mashed potatoes, fish with sauces featuring horseradish and orange-infused soy sauce. Wife Katja works behind the bar and handles seating, according to the daily News. * Sera Fina Seaside Bistro has opened in what used to be Don Carlos Restaurant in Coral Bay on St. John. Chef Scott Bryan handles the kitchen, offering black Angus New York strip steak, turkey scallopini with mushrooms, garic and capers, and fresh snapper creole. The place is owned by Dennis and Pat Rizzo, who also have the nearby Shipwreck Landing restaurant and bar.(13Aug97) Ramada Yacht Haven finally sold A spokesman for Scotia Bank said its subsidiary has made a deal to sell the dilapidated St. Thomas's Yacht Haven Hotel and Marina. The name of the new owner was not reported by the daily News, however the new buyer reportedly has sent eviction notices to the dozens of tenants still living or running retail businesses in the rundown, damaged property. Target date for the property to be vacant is August 31..(5Aug97) Park Service defends building plan There is no indication that citizen opposition to renovations for the National Park services' downtown Cruz Bay, St. John will sway authorities from their plans, the Tradewinds reported. Park superintendent Francis Peltier responded to critics who complain the plan will mean downsizing of the nearby playground saying "There are severe time and money constraints to which we must adhere in order to accomplish this project. The center is not being built for just a few people, but to enhance the park experience for a local and a global community." He also denied the playground will be smaller but said, in fact, it will be enlarged from 20 x 20 feet to 20 x 60 feet after relocation..(5Aug97) VI Park rated St. John's V.I. National Park gets the same rating as Yosemite National Park in California in a study by Consumer Reports magazine. The survey was conducted by the magazine, and solicited comments from magazine readers. The VI Park's scenery got an "excellent" grade from 70 to 80 percent of respondents, according to a report by the Daily News. Eighty percent of the people rated the beaches excellent, but 30 percent said roads and buildings need repair.(5Aug97) Source: http://www.stjohntradewindsnews.com/
My wife and I returned from our 3 week vacation on Anguilla. This is our sixth trip to Anguilla staying at Allamanda Beach Club. We normally go in February for 3 weeks when the temperature is consistently 85-90 degrees with a cool Caribbean breeze blowing every day. We especially love Anguilla because the sun shines every day. Anguilla's greatest assets are the excellent beaches (30), the fine dining, and the friendly Anguilllan people. We usually take a picnic lunch and stay on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world when we are not at Shoal Bay Beach. Shoal Bay Beach is rated one of the ten best beaches in the Caribbean (Conde Nast 11/96) being 2 miles long with powder white sand and the greatest snorkeling reefs just off shore. The beach is also excellent for swimming and the water remains at 80 degrees even during February. Dining on Anguilla is an gastronomic experience. You can dine at a different restaurant for 2 weeks and never hit the same one twice. There are many excellent restaurants run by local and foreign restauranteurs. We found that all of the restaurants and some new ones are all open even though some were heavily damaged during the hurricane in 1995. A special new restaurant to mention is Zara's which is getting rave reviews by everyone who has eaten there. We were there for four dinners and would rate this restaurant, along with all our other friends who ate there many times, as being in the Boston Globe, New York Times, 4 star category. Zara's is located on the property of Allamana Beach Club and is a must if you are dining out in Anguilla. Chef Shamash at Zara's is a master Caribbean chef who is very well known and popular on the island for his creative talents. He previously was chef at superb restaurants such as Cyril's Fish House, Cove Castles, and La Fontana. We stay at the Allamanda Beach Club which we consider the best value not only in Anguilla but in the British West Indies. The Allamanda offers a fabulous location on Shoal Bay Beach with all rooms facing the ocean, Zara's restaurant and bar, pool, kitchens in every room, maid service, and much more. To us the Allamanda is the ultimate Caribbean hideaway with only 16 rooms. It is very quiet, romantic, and relaxing for what we consider a perfect vacation. Sam Mason, the owner of the Allamanda, tells all his guests that he has built this hotel, yet undiscovered, so that he can offer the best value and friendly experience without anyone going bankrupt. For this reason, the Allamanda's daily rates are the best starting at $85. Daily rates April 15, 1997 to December 14, 1997: Stay 6 Nights and get the 7th FREE Plus you do not have to pay the 18% Government tax on the room. 1. Deluxe king bedroom + kitchen (accommodates 2) - top floor -- Rooms #3, 4 -- $147.00 2. Deluxe with 2 queen beds + kitchen (accommodates 3) - second floor -- Rooms #9, 10 -- $147.00 Note: $25.00 extra charge per night for fourth person in room 3. Apartment (one bedroom plus sofa + kitchen) (accommodates 3) - bottom floor -- Rooms #13, 16 -- $147.00 - Note: $25.00 extra charge per night for fourth person in room 4. Standard queen bedroom + kitchen (accommodates 2) - top floor -- Rooms #1, 2, 5, 6, -- $127.00 5. Standard queen bedroom + kitchen (accommodates 2) - second floor -- Rooms #7, 8, ll, 12 -- $118.00 6. Studio apartment, pullout sofa, + kitchen (accommodates 2) bottom floor--Rooms #14, 15 -- $77.00 Daily rates December 15, 1997 to April 14, 1998: 1. Deluxe king bedroom + kitchen (accommodates 2) - top floor -- Rooms #3, 4 -- $165.00 2. Deluxe with 2 queen beds + kitchen (accommodates 3) - second floor -- Rooms #9, 10 -- $165.00 Note: $25.00 extra charge per night for fourth person in room 3. Apartment (one bedroom plus sofa + kitchen) (accommodates 3) - bottom floor -- Rooms #13, 16 -- $165.00 - Note: $25.00 extra charge per night for fourth person in room 4. Standard queen bedroom + kitchen (accommodates 2) - top floor -- Rooms #1, 2, 5, 6, -- $135.00 5. Standard queen bedroom + kitchen (accommodates 2) - second floor -- Rooms #7, 8, ll, 12 -- $125.00 6. Studio apartment, pullout sofa, + kitchen (accommodates 2) bottom floor--Rooms #14, 15 -- $85.00 Winter rates PLUS 10% Service and 8% Government Tax (Government required at all lodgings) This tax waved on the summer rates We have stayed at most of the other islands over the last 21 years and we have made many friends. All of our old and new found friends are booking reservations and relocating to the Allamanda and all agree that this is the best of the best in beaches, hotel, and dining. So based on our experience with Anguilla and the Allamanda Beach Club, you don't have to spend a lot of money per night to have a great vacation. My wife and I our just trying to get the word out on the best vacations we have been on and pass on information people we know have given us. Sam has created a great WEB page for the Allamanda because of all the interest in his hotel. His WEB page can be found at the following address: http://www.offshore.com.ai/allamanda/ Also Zara's has a new web page - www.ai/zaras
(Ed Note: the following contribution by Compuserve Caribbean Forum sysop Jim Jordan is copyrighted and used in the CTR with his permission.)
A First Time Visit to A Caribbean Paradise In 1969, a force of British paratroopers, marines and London "Bobbies" invaded the tiny, obscure island of Anguilla to "quell" a rebellion -- a rebellion over Anguilla's status as a colony of Great Britain. It should be noted here that Anguilla lost the revolution and retained it's status as a colony (though it's now a self governing British territory and is known as a British Associated State) -- which was exactly what the peoples of Anguilla wanted! In 1997, an obscure traveler invaded the tiny island of Anguilla -- still a colony of the British crown -- to see if all he had read and heard of this island was true. And, this traveler can say unequivocally that he found it to be everything -- and much, much more! (Please note that despite having previously visited more than half of the Caribbean countries, I fell totally and completely in love with Anguilla, whatever it's governmental status!) Anguilla - At First Look As the plane dropped down and began its approach into St. Maarten's Princess Juliana International Airport, I looked out the port-side window and glimpsed my destination on the horizon. It lay upon the calm blue of the Caribbean like a sea serpent, causing me to recall that on his second voyage to the New World, Columbus had so aptly named it "the eel" -- Anguilla -- because of its eely or reptile-like appearance. It snaked its way to the northeast, low on the horizon -- the highest point on the whole island is just a scant 213 feet above the level of the sea around it -- with soft, sugar-white beaches looking like precious pearl necklaces ringing around the edges. While the name conjured up by Columbus still remains today, Ol' Christopher wasn't actually the first person to "discover" the island. There have been archeological finds on the island that give evidence that it was inhabited as far back as two thousand years ago by Amerindians who called the island "Malliouhana". This name has been perpetuated in modern times, with it being adopted by shops and at least one resort. I had read and heard much about this most northerly of the Leeward Islands and now I was finally going to have my maiden initiation to this island -- one who's inhabitants still today firmly fight to hold back the exodus toward modernization that so many other of its near neighbors have simply accepted, and which has irrevocably changed not only the face of those islands, but has changed the total ambiance of them as well. And, I found the reluctance of those people to rush hurly-burly toward a plethora of strip shopping centers and a gaggle of gambling casinos and a herd of high-rise hotels, has afforded retention of a charm that's seldom seen in the Caribbean today. Fine Friends Are Hard To Find I had the good luck to know someone who had searched the islands of the Caribbean to find that "perfect spot" to ultimately be his retirement home and he had graciously invited me to experience the lazy island life firsthand. He had said, "Jim, you've spent a lot of time in Jamaica. Now, I want you to come and see MY island! I think one visit will provide you with a new knowledge of what Caribbean islands 'used' to be like -- and I don't think you will ever be able to look at other islands in the same way again." So, here we were, flying into the St. Maarten airport, there to meet our host who was scheduled to arrive just a scant fifteen minutes after my plane touched down. He was flying from Toronto, while we'd taken a flight that originated in Charlotte. I looked forward to seeing him again, since it had been more than six months since we initially met in his hometown of Toronto at a gathering -- a "bash" -- of CompuServe members and staff of The Travel Forum and The Caribbean Travel Forum. Daryl Gurvey is imposing. The very first time I met him, in his office in Toronto, where he oversees his many companies, I was immediately struck by the fact -- to my eye -- of how much he resembled a young Ernest Hemingway. I commented on this and thereby immediately christened him with the nickname of "Papa" -- a name that has become part of his on-line persona as the section leader on The Caribbean Travel Forum of CompuServe. Traveling To St. Maarten The flight down wasn't necessarily an experience -- just a routine trip to the Caribbean. We -- my wife, Nina and I -- had gotten to Charlotte on time and the transit from our arrival gate, via a commuter plane, was just up the escalator and across the hall to the international departure gate. Our US Air flight was right on time and we had gotten seats on the exit row, though we sat across from each other in aisle seats. The weather en route was calm and as pretty a day as I have ever experienced. St. Maarten Our arrival at St. Maarten's airport wasn't a problem, but we did encounter the most exasperating and time consuming immigration check- in I have ever experienced anywhere in the Caribbean, or the rest of the world, for that matter. (Unbeknownst to me, that was to be the prelude to yet another excruciating experience -- departure from that selfsame airport a week later.) There was one bright spot -- there was absolutely no customs inspection whatsoever. Therefore, once past the immigration officer's perfunctory stamping of our passports, we only had to fight the crowd -- it was almost a mob -- clogging the luggage recovery area. (That provides yet another reason why folks shouldn't check luggage on a Caribbean trip.) Daryl's Air Canada flight had touched down while we were waiting to clear customs. But he didn't actually reach the terminal until we had exited the luggage area, so we simply waited for him to walk out through the final gate -- and there he was! We shook hands warmly, I introduced Nina to our host and my friend -- and we hurried for a taxi van to travel the short distance to the ferry docks -- in the separate country of St. Martin. (I'm always intrigued that two completely different countries can have a presence on such a small island. Dutch St. Maarten has all the gambling -- but French St. Martin has all the nude beaches!) When we got aboard the taxi van, a pretty young lady was already there and an inquiry resulted in her sharing the information that her new husband -- they had been married just that morning and were to honeymoon on St. Martin -- didn't have proper documentation and the airlines had absolutely refused to allow him to fly until he got it. So, the bride was all alone and the groom wasn't expected to arrive until the next morning! It was too bad, since I understood from the girl that her husband did have an expired US passport and most countries do accept those, as long as the expiration is within a reasonable time -- a year possibly. The van dropped the new bride off at a small, downtown Marigot hotel and we were off to the ferry dock. By Ferry To Anguilla Upon our arrival, the next ferry was just about to depart, so the three of us hurried aboard for the short five mile, twenty minute, ferry ride across the Anguilla Channel from Baie Nettle to the Anguillan port of Blowing Point. A note to anyone who plans to travel to Anguilla by ferry -- make certain to fill out the Anguillan Embarkation/Disembarkation Form prior to the boat fully leaving the Marigot Harbor! The waves can get rough in the Anguilla Channel -- if there is a stiff wind blowing and it's difficult, if not almost impossible, to write with one hand and hold on with the other! Anguillan Arrival I had purposefully purchased a really good bottle of a local wine from the vineyards of the Biltmore Estate, in the mountains of nearby North Carolina, to take to Daryl. I knew he was something of a wine lover. As we started to pass through Anguillan customs at Blowing Point, the customs inspector asked if I was bringing in any gifts. Not wanting to spoil my surprise gift, I leaned over and whispered in her ear, "Yes, I have a bottle of wine and it's a gift for our host, who is standing next to me." She smiled and waved us through. And, when she did, Daryl was waved through right behind us, without her asking him any questions! But, as our government says, "Don't ask -- Don't tell!" Despite Daryl being Canadian -- he utilized that approach and walked right on. (Now, before anyone gets the wrong idea, he wasn't smuggling in anything -- it was just that it was a funny experience and we all laughed about it after we had cleared the port!) Immediately after exiting the gates at the port, we were met by Daryl's very charming and beautiful wife, Gayle. A Canadian, Gayle opted to live on the island in the double villa she and Daryl purchased a few years ago. She stays on-island most of the time, with trips back to Toronto in the mid to late summer. In addition, Gayle has a really nice, upscale boutique located at South Hill called "Curiosity" and she travels to the States and Canada on buying trips occasionally. Daryl has a number of companies in Canada and must be in Toronto much of the time to oversee these operations. He flies down to the island about a week a month. They plan to live full time on-island as soon as Daryl retires. Bayberry And Chinaberry The double villa was originally built by an American ex-patriot woman and as soon as Gayle and Daryl saw it, they decided it was exactly what they were looking for -- having visited many Caribbean islands in search of "just the right place" to settle down. I must admit, their villa is something to behold! The villa is located just a few minutes from Blowing Point in an area that is known as Cul de Sac. Actually built as two separate buildings joined by a common courtyard, Bayberry is the main house and Chinaberry is the adjoining guest house. The two houses provide two sides for the courtyard, while a beautiful Spanish wall stretches across the front and a raised parapet walkway, connecting the two structures across the back, completes the enclosed area. Gayle has done a masterful job of decorating both houses, as well as overseeing the gardenscaping of the tiled courtyard and all of the landscaping of the yards outside the walls. We spent the week in Chinaberry. It contains a huge living area, with a king size bed replete with ceiling-hung netting to ward off the stray insect from making a morsel of an outstretched leg or arm. There is a compact, yet fully functional, kitchen and breakfast area and both the living area and the kitchen had ceiling fans -- and the breezes completely eliminate the need for air conditioning. There is a day bed that doubles as a couch and a lounge chair and settee of rattan complete the seating. In addition, there is a television set connected to the local cable. There's a beautiful step-down bath and toilet area with an open-air shower. The living area opens out upon the parapet walk, with its own outdoor chairs and a round table with an umbrella, to provide shade from the tropical sun. The walk looks out on Rendezvous Bay to the west and the sunsets viewed from this vantage point are as magnificent as any I've ever seen anywhere. Gayle And Daryl - Hospitable Hostess And Host I can't say enough about the gracious hospitality of Gayle and Daryl. We had occasion to dine with them a couple of nights, and Gayle invited us to a delicious dinner on our first night on-island. In addition to us, they had invited Barbara and Roger, a charming British couple who have lived on Anguilla for some years now. While the others were inside enjoying a cool drink, I chanced to chat with Roger on the parapet and he enthralled me with his knowledge of the history of Anguilla. He is controller and general factotum at the Anguilla Great House Resort. In addition, in the past, he has performed in the capacity of tour guide from time to time at Great House and has a wonderful knowledge of the evolution of the island and, more recently, the revolution that Anguilla staged against Great Britain -- a totally bloodless revolution that Anguilla completely won, following the "invasion" by British para-military units -- a a classic example of "the mouse that roared"! I was especially enthralled with his accounts of the history of the island and the revolution. An Anguillan Legend The following day, I had an opportunity to actually meet one of the men who was part and parcel of the revolution - one Jeremiah Gumbs. Jerry is the person who built one of the original resorts on the island -- Rendezvous Bay Resort -- and he still lives there and, though he was to celebrate his eighty- fourth birthday on February 18, 1997, just a scant week following our meeting, he still is hale and hearty. He sports a full beard and has been called the "Anguilla Santa Claus". There was a photograph of Jerry on the cover of the current Anguillan Life magazine, showing him tanned and bearded, swimming in the waters of Rendezvous Bay, something he does every day. An Interesting Sidebar I enjoyed my conversation with Jerry and found out all of the contributions he had made to his native island. While we were talking, Jerry mentioned that he had served in the US Army and been stationed at a "Camp Croft." I hastened to tell him that I knew exactly where Camp Croft had been, in Spartanburg, South Carolina! I think he was completely surprised to find somebody who actually knew of the long-gone army base. He said that for some years he had been trying to find somebody to help him contact someone who he had known as a young soldier -- a lady named Hortense Potts, who had lived in East Flat Rock, North Carolina. He had never been able to find a single soul who had even heard of East Flat Rock! I told him that I not only had heard of it -- but that East Flat Rock was no more than 45 miles from where I lived! I used his phone and called directory assistance for that area and obtained a phone number, but when I called it, there was no answer. I promised I would make an effort to locate Mrs. Potts -- if she was still alive -- and put Jerry in touch with her. Mission Accomplished As Paul Harvey would say, "Now, the rest of the story!" A week after my return from Anguilla, I drove up to the mountains of North Carolina on a sunny, Sunday afternoon. I thought if nothing else, I might be able to find someone who could either put me in touch with Mrs. Potts -- or tell me what might have happened to her. I happened to stop at a country convenience store along the highway and asked the clerk if she knew of a Hortense Potts. She appeared to be more than a little apprehensive about telling a stranger anything about anybody in those parts, but responded that she did know of such a person. I asked if Mrs. Potts was still living, whereupon she guardedly volunteered, "She was -- when she was in here last week!" I then explained why I was attempting to find Mrs. Potts -- for my friend on a tiny Caribbean island. The clerk then quickly detailed exactly what roads I should take and which turn-offs to make and said, "Mrs. Hortense lives in the first house -- a yellow one -- on the left after the curve!" I followed the instructions, found the house just as it was described, drove up the driveway and went to the door. A beautiful lady opened the door and said, "Hello. What can I do for you?" I replied, "Are you Mrs. Hortense Potts?" When she affirmed that she was indeed, I told her I was looking for her -- to put her in touch with Jeremiah Gumbs! She said she was delighted and that her sister had just that morning been wondering what could have possibly happened to Jerry, after all those years of not having heard anything about him. Suffice to say, when I later called Jerry and gave all the information to his son, Alan, I got my just reward -- a warm feeling that I had done something good for somebody! First Impressions of Anguilla It's difficult to express in words what I felt when we first arrived. To try to fully explain what Anguilla is like, would take a much longer time than I currently have for this account. I was impressed with everything I saw and every person I met on Anguilla. It is, as Daryl had said, just the way most Caribbean islands were or had been in years gone by -- laid back, unhurried, friendly, interesting, historic -- and with a total ambiance that I have never experienced on any other island or in any other country in my travels. There is little of the apparent abject poverty that is so prevalent and noticeable on other islands in the Caribe Basin. Chalk that up to the fact that the people of Anguilla are very proud and very conscious of their homes and property. In addition, the people of the island are very religious and on a Sunday, few folks will be seen out and about -- it's a day of rest and a time for families to be together. Most of the houses are well maintained and have well tended yards. The roads, while in need of some minor repairs -- as in most places, there are the inevitable potholes and it seems that that is something that the locals are very verbal about - are for the most part far above the roads on other islands. Probably the most noticeable thing about Anguilla is the lack of the lushness of tropical plants. There are a few stately palm trees located in out of the way spots and along Savannah Bay and Junks Hole Bay and there are a couple of sparse groves of these stately trees swaying in the winds. But, for the most part, the vegetation is low scrubby bushes and short trees reminiscent of very dry islands, such as Cozumel. Thanks to Anguilla's location near some of the best fishing spots in the entire Caribbean, the island has an abundance of local catches. The most notable are large quantities of crayfish and spiny lobsters, both of which are delicacies and are well known as local specialities in all of the island's restaurants and resort dinning rooms. (I don't like to expound on meals in a trip report, but I had a lobster at Roy's Place -- situated on the beach at Crocus Bay -- that was so large, that even I couldn't eat it all! And, believe you me, it was not only delicious, but as tender as it could be!) Anguilla - Locale, Weather, Size And Stuff Anguilla is a scant 16 miles long and only 3 miles wide at it's widest point, and it gives a visitor a much different experience from visits to the much bigger islands of the Caribe Basin. While many, if not most, of the islands of the Caribbean have some sort of rain forest, Anguilla has scant rain, except for the occasional occurrence of a hurricane. While I was there, though, we experienced a couple of short showers -- just enough to wash the sky clean and provide a sparkle to the air that only seems to happen in the Caribbean. The island experienced a triple whammy in 1995 when Luis and Marilyn arrived back-to-back and then in 1996, the island caught some of the fury of Bertha. The island's inhabitants effected rapid recovery from all three storms, even in the face of winds that had wreaked near havoc on the island. And luckily, these natural weather disasters don't usually come along quite so frequently. In addition, most of the islands in the Caribbean archipelago tend to be volcanic in origin. However, it's quickly evident that Anguilla was born from coral, which explains it's lack of mountains and tall hills, that on most other islands evidence extinct activity in now eroded volcanic mountains. I was told that Anguilla might be thought of as actually being a coral island that is virtually floating on it's seamount. Anguilla, lying as it does at the northern extremity of the Leewards - - it is almost due east of the British Virgin Islands and north of all the rest of the Lesser Antillean Archipelago -- the island comes under the balmy "trade winds." These winds derived their name from the fact that it was these northeasterly winds that enabled early explorers and merchants from Europe to easily sail to the islands and thereby begin trade in everything from sugar to slaves. I spent a number of days on beaches, with names such as Rendezvous Bay and Maunday's Bay and Shoal Bay. On the Atlantic facing-side, the easterly winds kept trying to unseat The Tilley Hat I wore, but the fine folks at Tilley Endurables had taken care of that -- they included chin and neck straps for just such winds. Even on the lee, northwest-facing side of the island, which tends to be sheltered from winds on most other islands, there was a strong wind most days. Luckily, there was usually a blissful wisp of wind to cool us at night. The lack of rainfall has resulted in little being grown in the way of crops, and almost everything must be imported from outside the island. Additionally, the tropical vegetation that is so prevalent on most of the islands in the area is virtually non-existent here. There are low, scrub trees that are more reminiscent of arid locations -- Anguilla isn't a desert island, but it's pretty close to being one. There are few if any wells on the island and most of the water that is used, is caught in cisterns when there is rain. This really didn't present us with any problems while visiting -- and the water did not at all taste bad as I would have thought. In fact, the water was very soft and we noticed that it had a totally unexpected effect -- gold rings, bracelets and watch crystals actually looked as if a jeweler had polished them, they shone so much. It appears that was due to the water! Anguilla's Ex-Pats Having Gayle and Daryl as friends conferred on us the friendship of other folks who have similarly moved to this escape from the rest of the world. We had the pleasure of meeting many of the Anguillan "ex- pats" (ex-patriots) who have come to know Gayle, through her boutique, and Daryl, from his frequent trips to the island. I've already mentioned Barbara and Roger earlier in this narrative. We also had the distinct pleasure of meeting Jo-Anne (an artist of world renown), Suzanne and Lee (Lee owns the cable TV operation on Anguilla, as well as cable TV companies all over the Caribbean), Jacquie (formerly the owner of the Tropical Penguin) and the enchanting and delightful Erica, who runs a very exquisite and very exclusive, gift shop at Cap Juluca. Anguilla's Many Resorts Anguilla has every kind of resort and accommodation one could want or hope to find on such a small island. There are accommodations that range from those that are truly regal (and which have undoubtedly hosted royalty) to those slightly less magnificent, but equally as good, if you're comparing them to similar resorts on most islands of the Caribbean. Then, there are the still smaller places, which by their very size are excellent places to spend a Caribbean vacation. The sheer number of extremely high-end resorts, which in my travels around the Caribbean, is far more than most islands and exceeds all of those on near equal size islands, amazed and awed me. I had read of resorts such as Cap Juluca and Malliouhana. These are truly world class resorts in anybody's travel guide books! I can well understand why these ultra resorts are so well touted, and yet in some instances, these self same resorts would just as well be less known -- so their guests won't be hassled by the hoi-polloi! Since we didn't stay as guests at any of the resorts, I can only provide my observations and comments on a few below: Cap Juluca Hotel, Maunday's Bay -- This resort is, if not the finest I've ever had the pleasure of seeing, certainly one of the true world class resorts anywhere. Its location is somewhat sheltered from all but a direct south wind and it has a stunning beach. Malliouhana, Meads Bay -- Located along a hillside, Malliouhana is also a world class resort. It too is somewhat sheltered from all but a west wind and the beach area is gorgeous. Sonesta Beach Resort, Rendezvous Bay -- Sonesta, with its pink and green, Moorish architecture, might be out of place anywhere else in the Caribbean, but it seems to fit right into the landscape on Anguilla. The beach is grand -- and long. Formerly the Casablanca Resort, it was reopened in 1996 as the Sonesta, following extensive repairs from hurricane incurred damage. Rendezvous Bay Hotel, Rendezvous Bay -- The first real resort on Anguilla (and the home of the original developer, Jeremiah Gumbs, mentioned above) was Rendezvous Bay Hotel and it still has a certain charm to it. Located on the southwest-facing shore of Rendezvous Bay, it has a delightful beach and a choice of the older rooms near the main building or the newer rooms directly along the beach. Anguilla Great House, Rendezvous Bay -- This gracious beach side resort was not what I expected from its name. (It isn't a "greathouse" in the tradition of the greathouses of Jamaica and Barbados. It's gone through two iterations in that it originally had the same name it does now, but it was named the Pineapple Beach Club for a time.) The rooms are in separate buildings that are located around a central garden. The beach, on the south- facing shore of Rendezvous Bay, is as good as it gets. Anguilla's Great Restaurants For its tiny size, Anguilla is home to a real plethora of places that serve everything from true haute cuisine to meat patties! I sampled a fair number and I can say, without fear of contradiction, that Anguilla's eateries are among the best I've tried anywhere in the Caribbean. I won't attempt to enumerate all, but the following are ones that stand out and which I would definitely recommend: Palm Grove, Junk's Hole -- This was one of the first places where we dined out and combining the view of Junk's Hole Bay, with it's breakers tumbling against the shore, with the scrumptious grilled lobsters and bread patties, downed with a cold beer was as close to perfection as I had ever experienced. Ferryboat Inn, Blowing Point -- While the Ferryboat Inn is slightly off the beaten path -- you really need to "want" to get there in order to find it (it is located just west of the real ferryboat landing about a hundred yards, on Cul de Sac Road, the first road to the left as you leave the landing, headed inland) -- the food is superb and the views of St. Martin across the water makes a meal here one to be enjoyed. By the way, their hamburger is "to kill for"! Roy's Restaurant, Crocus Bay -- I've been a lot of places and eaten in places that most folks never get to. But, Roy's Restaurant is one place that I would heartily recommend to everybody. The ambiance is nice, what with the outward appearance that the place has somewhat "grown like Topsy," and there seem to always be a number of locals who "belly up" to the bar here. The view of the bay is great, and if you're lucky, you might see the WindJammer 'Polynesia' drop anchor and ferry its passengers ashore. But, it's the food that really caught my fancy. I can truly say that I had a grilled lobster at Roy's that I couldn't finish, it was so big! Chatterton's on the Beach, Cap Juluca Hotel, Meads Bay -- We had a delightful lunch at Chatterton's and I heartily recommend it to anybody. It has two levels and you can order a la carte or serve yourself from a wonderful buffet which contains more items than anybody could eat. Palm Court, Cinnamon Reef Resort -- We had the pleasure of dining at Palm Court on evening and the food was excellent. It's somewhat difficult to find unless you know exactly where it's located -- take the road at the red light to the west of Wallblake Airport towards Little Harbor and follow the signs. You won't be disappointed. Old Cotton Gin Ice Cream Pallor, Old Factory Plaza, The Valley -- For a cool place to grab a quick sandwich and have ice cream, the Old Cotton Gin is my choice. Landing Strip, Wallblake Airport, The Valley -- Yet another place to have a quick sandwich is the Landing Strip, the airport restaurant. I had thought that an airport restaurant would be like those the world over, but this small grill has sandwiches and drinks that are both good, quick and inexpensive. Hibernia, Island Harbor -- You just can't find a better restaurant than Mary Pat's Hibernia! It's small and intimate, it's classy and the food is out of THIS world! It's not just a meal -- it's truly an experience! I don't think I have ever had any food better prepared or better presented than the dinner we had on our final night on Anguilla. I think it's most fitting that Gayle and Daryl saved the very best for last. Yes, it is a bit pricey -- I picked up the tab that night, much to the chagrin of Daryl! But, it was worth every cent to delightfully "dine" rather than "eat out". Anguilla Shopping We didn't do a lot of touristy shopping while on Anguilla. In the first place, we have tourist trinkets from previous trips and have now decided we just don't need any more "junque" to lug home and end up later either throwing it away or giving it to others. Therefore, this trip we really didn't buy much in the way of keepsakes to take home. The Boutique at Malliouhana, Meads Bay -- We were invited to an "event" at this elegant shop and found that it was without a doubt the most upscale shop on the whole island. They were having a jewelry show and sale, but the prices were much above my meager assets! Curiosity, South Hill -- As noted previously above, this is the shop that our friend and hostess, Gayle Gurvey, runs and while I'm not normally a devotee of boutiques, this has something for everybody. It's located conveniently along the main road on the left as you head toward The Valley. L'atelier Art Studio, North Hill -- Both the home and the studio of Michele Lavelette, this is a place to get prints that by a well known artist, albeit more known in Europe than in the United States. Michele has excellent prints and she is a charming hostess to visitors to her shop. Exploring Anguilla I have always had a bent for exploring new places and Anguilla provided me an opportunity to do just that. We drove our rental car literally from one end of the island's 16 mile length to the other -- and almost every possible place in between. The main roads, as noted above, are good and much better than those on many Caribbean islands. There are places where the roads are not paved and in some few places, the paved roads have some pot holes, but these are the exception rather than the rule. The only place we found where a vehicle may encounter problems are the unpaved roads beyond Junk's Hole, extending to the northeastern end of the island. These dirt roads tend to be located in clay soil and the pot holes hold water, making mud holes that can be a major problem, given that there aren't many folks driving up that way. A tourist getting stuck in one of these mud holes, would be in a real pickle. However, the area does have some interesting places such as Captain's bay, where somebody is constructing either a really big private residence or a new resort -- I wasn't able to find out which. Back to St. Martin All too soon, our week on Anguilla drew to an end and it was time to look toward returning home. <Sigh> But, suffice to say that our stay was one that neither of us will ever forget! And, we attribute that to three things -- the graciousness of Gayle and Daryl, the beauty of Anguilla and the many delightful people who call this island home. We had made prior arrangements to leave the rental car at the ferry landing. Our US Air (now US Airways) flight departed earlier than did Daryl's Air Canada flight, so we decided to head on over to St. Martin ahead of him. We had agreed to try and hook up at the airport. We got our tickets and boarded the ferry, but we were just late enough that we were among the last passengers to embark. That meant that we had to settle for what seats were left -- which were inside the lower cabin. Take my advice -- try to be early enough to board early and select the better seats in the upper, rear cabin -- at least there is more air there and less pitching! (I hated it, and Nina experienced a bit of mal de mer and that's not something that is to be wished on anybody!) We disembarked at the dock in St. Martin and hied a taxi to take us to the airport. The ride was uneventful -- until we arrived at the airport, that is! I've traveled through a lot of airports all over the world, but the crowds that we encountered at Princess Juliana Airport in St. Maarten were the worst I have ever experienced. The lines at the ticket counters were long, there was little or no air conditioning and the air line employees were the slowest I've ever encountered. After finally getting our boarding passes, we went into the departure lounge, only to find it completely mobbed. It appears that every single flight leaves within a short time frame and that means that passengers simply have to put up with chaos. Return From Paradise The flight back to Charlotte was comfortable. But, as the plane made its takeoff roll and started climbing from the tarmac, I looked out one last time at Anguilla. It's low profile and sparkling white beaches stood out from the azure of the sea surrounding it. I could just make out the villa in which we had spent our week in paradise. I could see the roads we had explored and the villages where we had met the friendly, yet reserved Anguillans. And, as the plane turned toward the continent, my views of the island were cut off, to remain only in my memory. But, the memories of our week on Anguilla will always be as clear as the waters that surround the island and we will forever think of Anguilla as "the way the Caribbean used to be!"
This was our first time in the Caribbean and, having benefited from reading Jack Ailey's useful article on the island in general and Trafalgar Beach in particular, we wanted to pass on some tips to future visitors. Antigua is an excellent choice for a holiday, provided you are prepared! It is very friendly and, at least for the most part, safe to walk around. We experienced no harassment and never felt threatened. Indeed, when we had a potentially serious problem with our hire car after dark in St. Johns, we were rescued by a passer-by; in some other places we have visited, this could have been a tricky situation. There are the inevitable beach vendors - usually selling boat trips or T-shirts - but they are good-humored and know how to take "no" for an answer. What you may not be prepared for is the cost of most things, especially food. Even the goods in the supermarket cost two or three times as much as in England. If you are on a self-catering holiday, you would be well advised to take a few basic provisions with you. The main reason for the high prices seems to be the fact that most food is imported, though this did not explain the cost of tropical fruit in the supermarket. (Try the market if you want things grown locally.) The cheapest meal we found was in the Kentucky Fried Chicken, but we did not want to spend our Caribbean holiday eating inter- national takeaway fare, and we discovered plenty of very tasty local dishes in the restaurants and hotels. Take advice locally as to which restaurants are the best; appearances and prices do not always give much of an indication, as we discovered one night when we paid an inflated price and I ended up eating what seemed to be chicken in custard! We stayed in Trafalgar Beach Villas, an ARI/Interval International resort. The units are well-designed and attractive, with air- conditioning and plenty of space. Most of them have good sea views, though some have a less inspiring view of the Royal Antiguan Hotel and some apparently cubic holiday homes on the hill above it. Our initial impressions were favourable, but we were increasingly negative in our judgment as the fortnight wore on. The resort lacks facilities, having one very poky poolside restaurant/bar, which shuts on Thursdays and Sundays, and which is staffed by people who might kindly be described as unenthusiastic. The office is alleged to have cash to change travelers cheques, but always seemed to be down to its last $30 when we tried to use it. The resort shop is very small, though it has some essential supplies and provides beach towels on free loan. Not many of the guests sat around the pool or bar, preferring to walk to the Royal Antiguan (see below). This could have been partly due to the fact the pool was overlooked by builders completing two new villas on the site of the former restaurant (a victim of the last hurricane). We were also disappointed with the beach, which is far less attractive than most Antiguan beaches and is often windswept (the flying sand can sting, and I was left trying to protect the lenses of my glasses). Nevertheless, the flying sand is not really a problem back at the villas, and the sunset and sea views are good. We also had a good view of the cruise ships and cargo vessels using the shipping lane a few hundred yards from shore. We did not swim at this beach, which, we were warned, drops away quite suddenly a few yards out. A few locals and tourists did swim there, however, and the water was clear and calm, though we suspected that there was an undertow. We had to spend our last night elsewhere (because of flight times), and ended up at the Rex Halcyon Cove. This was a much happier experience, and we would readily recommend it to other travelers. Our room (which overlooked the pool) was beautiful and well equipped. The hotel has lush gardens and a beach well appointed for swimming. It is close to other hotels and some noted restaurants. Back at Trafalgar Beach, the plus side is its proximity to Deep Bay (about 10 minutes walk on the flat). The better of the two possible routes is along the side of the salt lagoon, and over a small footbridge near Fort Barring- ton. Deep Bay has a long, safe beach, culminating in the Royal Antiguan Hotel. Despite the dull, concrete appearance of the hotel itself, we became quite attached to the place! It has pleasant gardens, friendly staff and some good restaurants. Trafalgar Beach residents are made welcome, and we ate several times in the restaurant (called "the Andes", for some reason) built on stilts over the sea. This offers a limited menu, but the food is good. One evening, they had a barbecue and a steel band - presumably a weekly event - and we were impressed by both the food and the band. The beach itself provides safe swimming and limited shade for sun bathers. The lagoon behind it is strangely deserted, considering the number of pelicans and other large birds which congregate in the lagoon at nearby Galley Bay. At the west end of the bay is Fort Barrington, a leftover from colonial days, built by the British to keep an eye on the French. The building itself offers little of interest, but the views make the short, steep climb worthwhile. The goats you will see near the fort and elsewhere on the island are not goats, by the way. They are sheep, which Susan and I - accustomed to sheep being round woolly things - found hard to believe! Further afield, the most beautiful beaches are in the south and west. Carl- isle Bay looks like a tropical island beach is supposed to look, though the swimming is not as good as it is at Deep Bay or Dickenson Bay. Some of the inland views are very rewarding, with brightly coloured Antiguan villages set against the distinctive, pointed hills. The tiny patch of rain forest in the south of the island is also worth a visit, especially if you have little or no experience of the tropics; here you will find denser, taller vegetation than on the rest of the island, with an abundance of mango, breadfruit and other fruit trees. Unfortunately, in colonial days the forest was stripped from most of the island to make way for sugar cane. The sugar cane is gone, but the forest has not returned, leaving scrubby vegetation and the ruins of windmills. St. Johns has some good restaurants and some buildings of interest. Heming- ways provides good Caribbean food or a pleasant refuge from the sun for a cold drink. The Redcliffe Tavern, one of the brightly painted buildings on Redcliffe Quay, proved to be a good choice for lunch one day. There is some good shopping, especially on the modern Heritage Quay, and the best super- market we found is near the Post Office. The Anglican Cathedral is unusual, having a pitch pine interior, apparently to protect it against earthquake damage. It may have helped to some extent during the last earthquake, about 20 years ago, but the building still incurred some damage and looks a little sorry for itself. We both warmed to the museum. It is tiny and the least professional museum you will have seen in years, but that is part of its charm. It has been lovingly put together by people who clearly care about it, and has many of the qualities of a school project, including the odd shell falling off the display card because the glue has perished! Its contents are genuinely interesting and informative, with a display of pre-Columbian artifacts and a harrowing account of the appalling treatment of African slaves. A cricket bat used by Viv Richards, the most famous Antiguan, is proudly mounted by the door. There is no entrance fee, but do give them a donation (in the red pillar box) if you go in. On the south coast is English Harbour. This includes Nelson's Dockyard, a must for anyone interested in Nelson, things naval or the history of that period. Even if you just want to stroll around, it provides a pleasant trip, as the setting is beautiful, and the dockyard is still put to a variety of uses which do not mar its historic character. Getting around is most easily done by taxi. The fares are not cheap, but they are fixed and you can check with your hotel before you hire a taxi. The taxi drivers we met were all eager to chat and provide local information. We hired a car for two days to make the longer journeys to English Harbour, the Atlantic coast and Fig Tree Drive. Driving in Antigua is not stressful, but there are no road signs and you should watch out for the deep gutters in St. Johns. The roads are poorly surfaced, and you spend as much time watching for pot-holes as oncoming traffic. Journeys therefore tend to be on the slow side, but the island is small enough for this to be a pleasure. We were warned not to pick up hitch-hikers or to run out of petrol in remote places after dark, but this sort of advice probably applies almost anywhere. We took one boat trip, choosing the glass-bottomed boat operated by Shorty, one of the chief local characters. Shorty is evidently quite a businessman, having had a previous career as a singer and recording artist. Unfortunately, his glass-bottomed boat broke down with engine trouble the week before our trip, but he provided a good alternative, a speed boat used for deep sea fishing trips. This took us to Great Bird Island, where a good time was had by all. An ample barbecue was cooked for us on the beach, and there was a seemingly unlimited supply of soft drinks and beer. The tourists were in some danger of being more barbecued than the lobster on an island with little natural shade, and we certainly improved our tans that day. If Shorty's relaxed beach barbecue is not your thing, there are plenty of other boat trips to choose from, some of them committed to frenetic partying. If you are thinking of going to Antigua, you should expect a good time if you want relaxation, good beaches, friendly people and some gentle sight- seeing. If you are a hell-for-leather sightseer, you will run out things to see in a few days. Antigua is a place to be taken gently and savoured. There are few hazards and much to commend Antigua, and Susan and I concluded on our final day - the best time to make a judgment - that we had had a very good holiday.
Monday, March 3rd Arrived at Royal Antiguan at 3:30 pm. Check in went smoothly, visited tour desk and checked out the grounds. Dinner at Andes by the ocean. Nice atmosphere. Native Antiguan with guitar singing songs about the island, very friendly. BTW, we enjoy casinos and according to Fodor's, the Royal Antiguan has an Atlantic City type of casino. This is false - there are no table games at the Royal Antiguan - slots only. For a full casino you must go to Kings Casino in St. Johns. The cab fare to St. Johns is $10 one way. The Royal Antiguan will pay for the fare one way if you ask at the desk and tell them you are going to the casino. Tuesday Traveled by St. Johns by taxi to do shopping and get provisions. Plenty of vendors with the usual T-shirts, jewelry, etc. Tried a Dawdadli beer - not as good as Amstel - a bit more of a bite, but quenches thirst. Dinner at Hemmingways on balcony overlooking street. Nice atmosphere with West Indies cuisine. Tip on St. Johns - it is best to go shopping early in the week as two huge cruise ships come in on Thursday. We rented a car and went to the other side of the island on Thursday. Wednesday Took a trip on a catamaran "KoKomo Cat" ($60 per person and they pick you up at the beach at the Royal Antiguan). Excellent trip. Crew great, ambiance, etc., music. Snorkeling wasn't very good though - reefs were really damaged by Hurricane Luis. Lunch was cole slaw, rice, macaroni & cheese, baked chicken, unlimited drinks (hard and soft) all day. Dinner at Big Banana in St. Johns. Ate lite, lobster salad - excellent! Then to Kings Casino to try our luck. Thursday Rented a car for the day - $50.00 car, $10.00 insurance, $20.00 Antiguan Drivers License. Drove to Jolly Beach, Fig Tree Drive (fantastic views - not to be missed), Nelsons Dockyard and Shirley Heights. Lunch at "The Deck" on the water - great music and ambiance. The roads were a nightmare, but what a grand adventure! Drove back after detour at English Harbour and much confusion. Lite dinner at Lagoon at the Royal Antiguan. Friday Decided to take the "KoKomo Cat" again to Cades Reef for snorkeling. This is in the other direction around the island from the previous trip (going south). Snorkeling was much better although there still is damage from the hurricane, the visibility was much better. After lunch on Catamaran went to Darkwood Beach (really gorgeous) for more snorkeling, walks, cricket, etc. Saturday Took a taxi to Hawksbill Resort to spend the day relaxing. Gorgeous resort with four beaches and snorkeling from the shore over a reef on Beach #3. Best snorkeling experience of entire trip. Spent the entire day there and would consider staying there in the future. There is no A/C but with the breezes in March should not be a problem. Dinner at the Andes at the Royal Antiguan. Sunday Spent the day a the beach at the Royal Antiguan resting up for the trip home. Used the hotels complimentary sailboats and went sailing. The pina coladas are great there at the beach. Dinner at the Lagoon at the Royal Antiguan - Carvery night - fantastic!
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