Before we get into this five-part fiesta of cheeseburgers, lobster, and rum, there's something I'd like to say: Thank you.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy work day or lazy weekend to read this blog, to comment on it, to commiserate with me, or just to offer a kind note or message. What started off seven years ago as a way to pressure myself into honing my photography skills by posting them for public ridicule has blossomed into a wonderful way to meet like-minded people who at least pretend to understand why I travel with my own nutmeg and my own ironing board.
One of those like-minded folks, a gentleman named Hal, had gotten in touch with me earlier this year, and it was a very pleasant surprise when he suggested that Angel and I stay at one of his condos at the Fountain Residences on Shoal Bay for our next trip to Anguilla. Hal and his wife Donna would be on island during part of our stay, so we could finally meet and get to know each other “IRL,” as the kids say.
Of course, I saw through that pretext immediately: What Hal really wanted was to see if I could eat more in one sitting than he and his wife combined. To which I might say, LOL, LMAO, and ROFL.
But no matter: I'm certainly not too proud to perform like a trained monkey when the circumstances call for it. And so we set off for Anguilla, bound for blue water and sunny skies.
Our visit coincided with the 50th anniversary of Anguilla's revolution, during which 600 British paratroopers invaded Anguilla when the islanders rebelled against independence from Great Britain. It was hard not to see the parallels -- I, too, was invading Anguilla and the islanders were almost certain to rebel against me eating all their food -- so I decided I should drape myself in the Anguillian color scheme for the occasion.
This visit also marked the 50th anniversary of Angel's birth, and I had some secret plans up my sleeve to make sure we celebrated in style. Or at least with enough rum punch for him not to notice the lack thereof.
But first things first: We unpacked just the essentials -- deodorant and a toothbrush for Angel; 18 pairs of sandals for me -- and then bounded down the short little path from Fountain to the beach for a swim.
Fountain shares a small stretch of Shoal Bay East with Zemi Beach House, just a stone's throw from Gwen's and Tropical Sunset.
The dramatic rocks and varying shades of turquoise make it a perfect spot for photos.
Even bad photos.
Among the rocks, I found this little throne. Angel agrees that I am at least slightly more benevolent than King Joffrey.
After our swim, we decided to check out the grounds at Fountain before heading back to the condo to clean up for dinner.
The property at Fountain consists of twelve 2-bedroom units -- six poolside and six oceanside -- with full kitchens, spacious living areas, and roomy bathrooms with oversized showers.
Each unit can be rented as a one-bedroom or studio if you don't need both bedrooms.
Of course, we needed both bedrooms -- one to sleep in, and one to house my flip-flops.
Fountain may not be as chi-chi (or as cha-ching) as Zemi Beach next door, but it's got charm in spades, with shady paths lined with conch shells, cushy loungers at the pool (equipped with built-in drink trays!), outdoor showers, and even a bin full of beach and pool toys for the kids.
And, of course, Fountain enjoys the same gorgeous sunsets, made even better -- as most things are -- with wine.
Arrival day also happened to be Angel Eve, and we had decided in advance to celebrate at our beloved Dolce Vita.
After some red wine and deliberations, Angel decided to try something new: The grilled black Angus ribeye served on a hot stone and accompanied by an assortment of salts: peachy-pink Himalayan, fragrant rosemary salt, and a fiery salt studded with crushed Tellicherry peppercorns.
There was no way I was eating any kind of meat in advance of FBI Monday (see Rule #1), so I stuck with the classic lobster pasta in pink sauce instead.
We were much too full for dessert, but couldn't resist when Abbi surprised Angel with a slab of chocolatey tiramisu, topped with a towering birthday sparkler.
The next day started off cloudy, but luckily it wasn’t cutting into my beach time: My plan for the morning was to drop Angel off at Elodia's, head over to Village BakeHouse to pick up the birthday cake I'd secretly ordered, then deliver it to Ferryboat Inn for Angel’s birthday dinner . . . all without calling Angel for directions or roadside assistance, lest that give away the surprise.
There were, of course, a couple of roadblocks. First, the literal ones:
And second, although I've driven on island before -- who could forget all those pharmacy runs during CoffeeGate? -- this was the first time I was driving from one end to the other alone. I'm not great with directions as it is -- I'm generally looking out for new restaurants and baby goats, not memorizing turns -- and this trip involved multiple stops. And so, just to be on the safe side, I brought along the mobile phone that was provided for us at the condo.
An actual. mobile. phone.
I told you I wasn't good with directions. Apparently that's how I drove myself right back to 1989.
On top of that, because it was drizzling by the time I set off, I'd left my sunglasses back at the condo. My prescription sunglasses . . . which I need for driving.
But the worst part was the phone. That godforsaken, E.T.-phone-home contraption would not stay on the hook no matter how or where I positioned it or how securely (or violently) I stuffed it into the glove box. The incessant dial tone was mocking me, I was sure; I could almost hear its taunts about my bad driving and poor eyesight and non-existent sense of direction in that endless, high-pitched drone.
Despite these obstacles, I managed to find the Village BakeHouse, though I did not find the nearby parking lot. Instead, heeding Angel's advice to stay on the left no matter what, I maneuvered the car into a nearby ditch and stumbled out like a blind mole . . . who’s also gone deaf from a maddening dial tone.
Of course, I wasn't willing to settle for just any birthday cake for my little viejito. And so I'd arranged for Pascal to make an authentic bizcocho, or Dominican cake, which is just like regular birthday cake . . . except that about one-third of the cake is pure fat. The result is an extra-springy, extra-moist cake, which is then topped with suspiro, a soft, fluffy meringue icing. (There's also usually a layer of pineapple jam, guava jam, or dulce de leche in between the sinful layers, but I'd asked Pascal for coconut cream instead.)
Miraculously, I managed to get the cake all the way down the stairs and into the car without dropping it. Which is not to say that I did not have some wobbly moments navigating myself and the cake into that ditch, then gunning the car like I was at a monster truck rally in an attempt to catapult it back onto the road.
All of which goes to explains why, if you saw me behind the wheel that day, you saw a wild-eyed maniac -- with one hand on the wheel, one hand on a lopsided birthday cake, and one eye squeezed shut in an attempt to squint down to 20/40 vision -- doing battle with a Soviet-era telephone that absolutely refused stay on the $#@&% hook.
Meanwhile, back at Elodia's, the weather had not improved, so Angel contented himself with guzzling rum punch and checking his futuristic iPhone for Amber Alerts involving yours truly.
I dropped off the cake without further incident and joined Angel for lunch, where we had "the usual" -- grilled fish for Angel and a turkey club for me.
Plus a side of chicken nuggets, 'cause I like to party like it's my birthday . . . even when it's Angel's.
Happily, by mid-afternoon, the day had brightened enough for us to take a swim.
We returned to Fountain just in time for another fabulous sunset.
Soon it was time to clean up for Angel's birthday dinner.
He'd chosen Ferryboat Inn, which might not be the first place that comes to mind for a milestone birthday celebration on an island brimming with gourmet restaurants, but is the only logical place if you've ever had the good sense to call ahead and order Marjorie's life-changing lobster Thermidor. Plus, FBI was the very first restaurant we ever visited on our first trip to Anguilla 20 years ago -- nearly to the day -- and it seemed only fitting that we celebrate Angel's 50th, Anguilla's 50th, and our 20th all on the same night.
To our delight, Marjorie surprised us both by decorating our usual table with balloons, a candle centerpiece, and elegantly folded cloth napkins.
It was a lovely gesture, particularly at a spot so casual that we looking forward to seeing our favorite dogs in the dining room.
And so you could have knocked us over with a feather when Christian busted out a celebratory bottle of Champagne, and a fancy glowing ice bucket.
Because it was Angel's birthday, he got to eat his buffalo wings at the table, instead of over at the bar where I didn't have to smell them.
While Angel devoured his wings, I was holding my breath -- both literally and figuratively -- in anticipation of the main event: Marjorie's justly-famous lobster Thermidor.
Were you so busy drooling over that Thermidor that you didn't even notice that thing that looks suspiciously like a green vegetable next to the lobster? I can't say I blame you, but trust me: That cheesy, creamy, crunchy-edged spinach casserole was so mind-blowingly delicious that I would have happily traded my entire lobster -- or at least half of it -- for just one more bite of that casserole. I can only assume that it's not on the regular menu because creamed spinach casserole + FBI cheeseburger would be so much cheesy stupendousness that the universe might implode.
After dinner, Marjorie brought out the bizcocho, and the entire bar serenaded Angel with a rum-fueled rendition of "Happy Birthday."
As the night wound down, we settled into a loose circle of Adirondack chairs in the yard and sipped the last of the Champagne, with the sound of the waves providing the soundtrack to raucous retellings of McClean family lore, countless belly laughs, and hugs and happy tears before we finally called it a night.
At least at Ferryboat, that is. Because not even spinach casserole beats a slice of extra-sinful birthday cake in bed.
Wondering why this post is pre-Irma? Read the "prologue" here...or, CLICK HERE to read Part 2!