Part 5: Visiting an Old Friend & Making New Ones
My eyes open slowly, one then the other.
7:05. How have I slept so late?
A glance out the window answers my question. It’s raining. Nothing substantial, just light and steady. Refreshing.
Coffee on the terrace, hummingbirds in the flamboyant tree. I give up trying to read and surrender to the moment. I read somewhere that this is what the aftermath of a stroke is like: no worries about the past, no stress about the future. Just right here, right now.
The family begins to stir around nine, but today, maybe thanks to the rain, I don’t feel the urgency to get moving. We enjoy a leisurely morning lounging around the villa. Even make two pots of coffee.
Eventually, the rain tapers off until it’s merely just cloudy with an occasional drop.
Time to head off to Meads Bay.
We find the parking lot for Blanchard’s Beach Shack, which is already crowded despite the clouds. But the beach itself, which we find by following the well-maintained boardwalk through the lovely tropical landscaping, is not crowded at all. And while there is a decent row of umbrellas, this arrangement is more of a grove rather than a forest.
We rent chairs and umbrellas for $6 (plus deposit) and set up base camp.
This was my favorite beach when we visited last. The Malliouhana still stands proudly on the eastern cliff, just as it did in 1994. It’s closed now, but word is it is being renovated for reopening later this year. But now there is a rival kingdom –er, resort, the Viceroy, on the western cliff, a marble citadel, it seems. In between lies an abundance of hotels and restaurants, and no sign of any rusted out vehicles. It is still absolutely beautiful, but I am rather shocked by the changes.
But time does march on, doesn’t it?
Lunch at the Beach Shack is good. Tacos for the girls, a blackened mahi bowl for Mark, the MBLT for Aaron. I have the shrimp roll, which is not quite the lobster roll I am anticipating but still good.
The day is still rather overcast, and a few drops of rain still fall for a while, but eventually the clouds start to part and the sun comes out, gradually at first, then soon in full force. More people emerge on the beach.
We spend the day wandering the beach, meeting people, enjoying adult beverages. And of course “twirlers” for the kids. Sunbathe, rinse, rehydrate. Repeat.
The kids notice a set of “stairs” carved into the rock cliff below the Malliouhana. And what’s more enticing than a set of mystery stairs? I can’t help but feel we’re trespassing as we follow their siren call, but can’t seem to resist.
Our on the other side our curiosity is rewarded with a lovely little cove (and numerous other likeminded adventurers). I park myself on its little beach and watch as the kids plunge in its waters to snorkel.
They reemerge gushing over the marine life they found, and beg me to join them.
Now, try as I might, snorkeling is just not my territory. I don’t care how many times I try it, I can’t comfortably plunge my face in the water and suck in a lungful of air. It defies logic. For my kids it has become second nature in a matter of days; for me it will always be a delicate balance of consciously breathing through my mouth yet not thinking too much about what I’m doing. Inevitably I end up thinking about it. And then I get all messed up and panic.
Nonetheless, I decide to oblige the kids for a few minutes. I follow Aaron out to where the water is way, way over our heads. He points down, and at first I don’t see anything. But then I vaguely make out a cluster of spiky black rocks, and realize I am looking at sea urchins!
And then the magic slips, and I remember I am breathing through a tube, and in sets a mild panic.
I make it back to shore without sucking in too much water.
Not my territory.
I am good at walking the beach, though, so decide to exercise my strength by a walk all the way down to the Viceroy. Lots of people down here, by Anguilla standards.
On the way back an enormous white villa catches my eye. I fetch Mark, and we return to gaze at in awe. This was definitely not here last time.
As we marvel at its grandeur, a caretaker working in the gardens invites us inside.
We look around to make sure he means us and not some celebrity who snuck up from behind. No one. We shrug at each other, then bolt inside before he can discover we’re just a couple of ordinary tourists.
The villa is stunning, all whitewashed walls, travertine marble, chrome, and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Meads Bay. We calculate there are enough bathrooms for each member of our family to have two.
Mark and I are amazed by the house, of course. But we are even more amazed by the generosity of the caretaker in inviting us two schmucks in. That’s Anguilla for you.
The sun starts to take on that golden quality it gets in the late afternoon, and I think that if I’m going to meet Melinda Blanchard, it’s now or never.
Lunch is long over, and I’m not sure she will still be around, but head around to the back of the restaurant. I glance in the kitchen, and see her working with her crew.
How gracious she is to step out of the busy kitchen for a stranger. We chat for several minutes before she has to get back to its demands. What a perfectly lovely lady. Thank you, Melinda.
The sun is getting low by the time we leave, and I know we need to hurry if we are going to catch the sunset on our beach. I’m hoping to pick up some BBQ from B&D’s, basically a popup in a roadside yard. But alas, when we find it, B&D are only just firing up the grills. Apparently on Thursdays, things don’t get rolling until around 6. They invite us to come back for lunch on Saturday.
We enjoy another great sunset on “our” beach, although this time we share with some friendly locals, a family with a darling little girl. The young father, a realtor on the island, strikes up a conversation. I realize how jaded I have become since moving from Montana, and how readily I am to assume ulterior motives from strangers. But this young man simply wants to tell us about his fishing boat anchored there a few years out, and to share some tips about the island, like the tours of the hydroponic gardens at the Cuisinart.
Friendly folks. Leaves you with a warm feeling, doesn’t it?
Dinner that night does not give us the same warm feeling, however. Deprived of BBQ at B&D’s, we head down the beach in hopes of finding some there. I seem to remember there being stands when we were here years ago, and since it’s Thursday, maybe we’ll find some tonight.
Maybe the stands were there last because it was Carnival. Tonight we find none. So after wandering a while, we decide to try Elvis’ again.
I really want to like this place. However, the food we order is just so-so. Later I can’t even remember what we ordered. That’s never a good sign. We hang around for a while, listening to possibly the worst DJ I have ever heard, hoping the magic will eventually kick in. It never does.
Had we gone to Picante that night, I later discover, we would have dined in the presence of Leonardo DiCaprio. And the Mexican would have been much better, I’m sure. If only we’d known, right?
We manage to jettison the kids after dinner, who are tired and desperately craving some wifi time. So after making sure they get safely home (“that’s a mighty big rope”), we hightail it to the Pumphouse.
Now this place is definitely rocking. The Musical Brothers hold stage, and people pack the bar, so many they spill out the doors onto the street. We join in the fray and order rum punches, then spend the next couple of hours dancing and people watching.
It’s late when we finally leave the bar, much later than I’ve been up this whole trip. We start to head back to the villa, but spy a crowd of people down the road by Ripples. We decide to check out what all the fuss is about.
A magical smell greets us as we approach. BBQ!
And finally, at last, I get the BBQ I’ve been craving, thanks to Kenny’s (?) BBQ stand. Jerk chicken, a leg. And hot damn! is it good.