Whenever I fly Caribbean way, I most often choose to land on the under-the-radar islands. Grenada’s like that. So are Montserrat, St. John and Tobago. But Anguilla is my new favorite off-the-beaten-path getaway.
I did some homework, went to Google and hit the CIA’s (!) The World Fact Book site. Here’s the two-minute lowdown:
Location: between the Caribbean Sea and North Atlantic Ocean, east of Puerto Rico (18 15 N, 63 10 W). Thirty-minute boat ride from St. Maarten, six miles from St. Kitts.
Area: 39 miles long, three miles wide, half the size of Washington, D.C.
Terrain: flat and rocky; coral and limestone composition. Sparse vegetation—trees, scrubs, wild brush, 30 beaches and zero farmland.
Population: 13,008 (median age: 30.4 years).
Industries: boat building, offshore banking, construction, lobster fishing and tourism.
My early-November itinerary was Newark to San Juan, Puerto Rico to St. Maarten. It’s worth your while to dally in on the French side of the island. Marigot is way cool. Nice shops, quaint cafés, waterfront restaurants. The ferry ride ($25 U.S.) from Marigot to Anguilla’s southeast port Blowing Point is normally a 25-minute cruise. I didn’t take the ferry, ’cause Craig Handy of the Mingus Dynasty band offered me a free ride. Big mistake. Not only was our route longer—St. Maarten to Sandy Ground—the extremely choppy water, courtesy of rainy season, turned a 45-minute ride into 90-minutes-worth of stomach-churning discomfort. By the time we reached shore, it was pitch black. As I teeter-tottered towards the hotel van, somebody shouted, “Look up!” What I saw made me drop suitcase and jaw: Big ass, intensely luminous half moon surrounded by acres and acres of twinkling stars. And the air smelled so fresh and so clean.
The two-lane road to the hotel—matter of fact, all of Anguilla’s roads—was a mixture of smooth blacktop and packed earth. No road lamps. Couple that with the whole U.K. driving on the left-hand-side trip and I got my second dose of visual/physical disorientation. Thankfully, check-in at the Carimar Beach Club was a snap. A quick, hot shower, change of clothes and a toe-dip in the surf out back later, and the world was right again. Hammer Time!
It was the first night of the Tranquility Jazz Festival, so two other journalists and I headed on over to the CuisinArt resort to catch jazz diva Carla Cook and the Cyrus Chestnut Trio. The joint is, in a word, opulent. Looks like a Rudolph Valentino fever dream: rows of huge, billowing palm trees, Mediterranean villa-like structures, looong, rectangular pool. The audience was predominantly black, elegantly dressed and well cool. They were hip to Cook’s and Chestnut’s bravura stylings as well.
On the way out, I bumped into fellow New Yorker Tracy Wormworth (bassist for Sting, B-52’s, Rosie O’Donnell Show). She’s been coming here for five years. Loooves Anguilla. Told me that the only place to be for the serious late-night Anguilla hang was Johnno’s in Sandy Ground. An unpretentious open-air beach bar—tin roof suspended by columns, wood plank floor, café/picnic tables, warm-hearted local crowd—Johnno’s was all that and a bag o’ chips. Johnno pours a stiff and cheap Havana Club rum Cuba Libre. And if Johnno likes you, he’ll treat you to a lethal snort of the island’s killer Pyrat rum. The icing on the cake was the off-the-hook jam session featuring Trinidadian guitar legend Michael Boothman (think Ernest Ranglin crossed with Phil Upchurch).
Early the next morning, I took a three-mile trek across the beach. Although a number of resorts bordered my route, there were no fences ’cause all of Anguilla’s beaches are considered public property. The water was warm, the surf vibrant, the sand soft. When I returned, Meredith Gumbs of the Anguillan Ministry of Health was waiting. A friend of a friend of my sister Bevie, Meredith was going to take m
| Travel notes|
||Anguilla Tourist Board: T: 264-497-2710
How to Get There:
Wallblake Airport is the only airport in Anguilla. With the exception of American Airlines’ affiliate American Eagle, no major North American carriers fly into the Anguilla. From the U.S. Virgin Islands, Wallblake can be reached daily on Windward Islands Airways, LIAT, Air Anguilla and Tyden Air. St. Maarten/St. Martin, St. Kitts and Nevis, and the British Virgin Islands (through Tortola) also link with the Anguilla Airport several times daily. Check the airlines’ web sites for fares and schedules.
Where To Stay:
Carimar Beach Club
Meads Bay, T: 264-497-6881; F: 264-497-6071
Shoal Bay Villas
Shoal Bay, T: 264-497-2051; F: 264-497-3631
Places to Shop:
Devonish Art Gallery
George Hill Landing, T: 264-497-2949; F: 264-497-2735
Cheddie’s Carving Studio
The Cove, T: 264-497-6027; F: 264-497-6496
Where To Eat:
Shoal Bay, T: 264-498-4000; F: 264-498-4010
Sandy Ground, T: 264-497-2878