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Sleepy, Tasty Anguilla
Thomas R. Fletcher
A songbird belts out its call, as a tree frog answers with its own vociferous chirping. Sounds of morning? In some places, but not here. Here, the sun has just dropped below the horizon. Waves melodically lap at the shoreline thirty yards away. The bird lets out a few more notes, just for good measure; the frog responds. What’s with the bird and the frog? Don’t they know their sounds are for waking up? But then, this is Anguilla, and things are paced differently. Life is laid back. No need to hurry. The island is small, only 35 square miles. What’s the rush? Pace yourself. So what if the bird and frog save their morning songs for sundown? Maybe they’re so content they sing all day long.
The most northern of the Leeward, Lesser Antilles islands, Anguilla is a Caribbean gem. It is the Caribbean as it should be: slow-paced relaxation punctuated by fine dining experiences. Anguilla is about relaxation . . . and the food, the incredible food. It is an epicurean destination for those seeking to revel in sun, sand, and fine cuisine. Ringed by beautiful sandy white beaches, caressed by brilliant aqua waters of the Caribbean, the island is a sun-lover’s dream.
Long inhabited by the Arawak Native Americans, the island was discovered by Columbus in 1493. Its name is thought to have originated with explorer Pierre Laudonnaire, who in 1565 referred to the island as Anguille, French for "eel;" a description of the low-lying, long, narrow island’s shape. The English came in 1650 with the desire to make the island a plantation colony. Tobacco, corn, cotton, and sugar were all tried. The dry climate, with an annual rainfall of only 35 inches, made a plantation economy impractical, so islanders turned to subsistence farming, fishing, and boat building. The seafaring traditions have led to the boat racing popularity of today, which is the national sport. Nearly every island holiday features boat racing as part of the festivities.
(CAR-46-14 Anguilla lobster fisherman unloads his traps, Island Harbour, Anguilla)
Anguilla was part of an imposed (by Britain) island federation consisting of itself, St. Kitts and Nevis, until she declared independence in May 1967–which prompted the invasion of British troops. In 1971 Anguilla reverted to English colonial status. She was formally separated from Nevis and St. Kitts on December 19, 1980, becoming a British Dependent Territory.
(CAR-48-3, Grilling lobster and crayfish on Gorgeous Scilly Cay)
"You might as well not look at the menu, if price is a concern," said one US visitor. The island imports most everything, from building materials, to food, which drives up expenses. The menu prices really aren’t bad when one realizes the quality of the food. It is as if Anguilla were the cuisine capital of the Caribbean. There are a wide range of dining options and culinary styles from which to choose, including: French, West Indian, American, and Creole--all with a Caribbean flair. I sampled a wide range of establishments and dishes. I was never disappointed, and often pleasantly surprised. One such surprise is the deliciously-spicy Cajun fish bites appetizer at the Overlook on South Hill. The Overlook features an eclectic mix of menu offerings, and the Jamaican chef certainly knows how to handle the spices. Blanchard’s serves up "new American" cuisine, and their grilled mahi mahi with an Asian sauce of mild red curry is a delight for the taste buds. The delicious crayfish and lobster grilled and doused in the secret sauce of owners Eudoxie and Sandra Wallace at Gorgeous Scilly Cay, shouldn't be missed. The small, private island restaurant is open 11:00 A.M. - 5:00 P.M. Tuesday through Sunday, November through August. Scilly Cay does lunch only, specializing in lobster and crayfish– though chicken is an option–offering what may be the tastiest lobster in the Caribbean. The island is located just offshore from the fishing village of Island Harbour, where a free ferry ride to the island is available. Guests place their orders, which take 30-45 minutes to prepare, then sunbathe, swim, or enjoy the shade of one of the many tiki huts and a cold drink while they await lunch.
Well-known for her upscale resorts, the prices do sort out the budget travelers–though summer is a good time for those to sample the island. The off season, May-November/ sees prices drop dramatically at many facilities. Anguilla boasts of crime being practically nonexistent on this island of 10,000. One sincere lady described her island as "a Christian community." "There’s no crime here," she said.
Unspoiled tranquillity in the sun is the product being sold. It is a product being maintained through government-controlled development. Since 98% of the island’s income derives from tourism it behooves the government to maintain a relatively crime-free, relaxed environment for travelers to unwind. The luxury resorts offer a high-quality vacation product at pricey levels–making Anguilla a bit of a status destination, frequented by celebrities and others seeking to escape the traveling masses.
For those who decide to break away from their resort pampering, a good day outing is an exploration of the wreck of the El Buen Consejo (The Good Counsel). El Buen Consejo was a Spanish ship carrying 50 Franciscan missionaries on their way to the Philippines. All passengers and crew made it safely to shore. The ship went down July 8, 1772 and wasn’t discovered again until 1986, in Stoney Bay on the Atlantic side of northern Anguilla. The area has been set aside by the Anguillian government for protection and public enjoyment as El Buen Consejo Underwater Archaeological Preserve. The preserve is a partnership between the island government and Anguilla Maritime Research, Ltd. Center for Maritime and Underwater Resource Management Michigan State University. Popular with divers, the wreck lies in about 35 feet of water 100 yards from shore, which makes it accessible to non-divers using snorkel gear. Visitors see canons, anchors, doubloons and other items. No metal detectors, spear-fishing, or dive gloves are permitted on the site. It should go without saying, all items are to remain where visitors find them.
The "Art Tour of Anguilla" brochure includes 15 galleries. Some galleries represent local artists, which others cover the Caribbean, featuring some pieces from Haiti that I’ve seen elsewhere in the Caribbean at a small fraction of the cost here. I did see many excellent and reasonably priced pieces by local artists. Shop carefully. It has been my experience, that as a rule, the gallery with a direct connection to the artist offers the better deal for the buyer.
If You Go:
Wallblake Airport, near the center of the island, is served by several airlines including American Eagle and LIAT. However, some visitors may find substantial savings by flying into neighboring St Martin, and taking the $12 ferry across to Anguilla. The ferry offers an alternative for those who get bored with all of Anguilla’s tranquility. Many visitors use it for a day trip to Marigot, the capital of French St Martin. Here there are definitely more people, many fine restaurants, and wonderful shopping opportunities in the Marigot market. A $15 US departure tax is charged at the airport. Taxis are readily available at both the airport and ferry.
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