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Anguilla, Pt. 1: Like Peas In a Pod

If you have to undertake a recon mission, Anguilla is a pretty good place to do it.

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So when I finally convinced my sister and her husband to join us for their first-ever trip to Anguilla (after what we both agree was 20+ years of non-stop nagging), I knew a recon mission was in order. It had been 6 long months since our last visit, but it was only 6 short months until theirs. And so someone had to come down ahead of time to make sure the resorts were still open and the beaches were still there and the cheeseburgers still tasted the same . . . right???

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And as luck would have it, generous friends stepped in to make our unexpected trip less of a burden, offering up not just free places to stay, but places with warm hospitality and spectacular views and private swimming pools. And so Mission: Newbies was born.

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We made our way to the west end of the island, where a friend had invited us to stay at her beloved home, Octagon Villa, in her absence -- a bold move if ever there was one. I mean, knowing that I've walked into others' homes uninvited and critiqued their decor, what might I do with an actual invitation: Commandeer an entire bedroom just for my shoe collection? Bolt ironing boards to the floor in every room? Not just raid the fridge, but strap the thing to my back and carry it home?

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It turns out I did none of those things, but only because it took the entire duration of our stay for me to learn the layout of the house. That's because, true to its name, Octagon Villa is a gated compound of eight individual pods surrounding a large, private swimming pool, with each free-standing pod containing one room of the house.

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This unique layout is absolutely perfect for those travelling with kids or with another couple, since the amount of privacy is unsurpassed. It's also perfect for folks like me who love indoor-outdoor living, as even moving from the kitchen to the living room affords a quick trip outside. (And the walkways are covered, for folks like me who are allergic to rain.) If, however, also like me, you hear the phrase, "Your other left" with alarming frequency, it may take a little getting used to, as my days were spent something like this:

Me: Think I'll go to the kitchen for a diet Coke.
Me (opening door to Pod 1): Whoops. Living room.
Me (opening door to Pod 2): Shoot. Master bedroom.
Me (opening door to Pod 3 and giving the washing machine the side-eye): Dammit! You know, I'm not really thirsty after all.

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Angel, whose sense of direction is superb, of course had a field day with this, calling out "In the bedroom!" every time I yelled for him, then giggling as I made my rounds of every room in the house before finally finding (and vowing to strangle) him.

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Having settled in after an early-morning arrival, we set off for the one thing I actually can find: Ferryboat Inn.

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There, we planned to meet up with Rob and Julie, who had become fast friends after they spent nearly a week helping us look for my ring on our last trip; now, they'd agreed to spend an afternoon admiring my new bling and watching me gobble down cheeseburgers. Gluttons for punishment, I tell you.

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They even played hide-and-seek with us.

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By the time lunch was over, I was a little tipsy, a lot stuffed, and my face hurt from laughing so hard, so we decided to spend the balance of the afternoon doing nothing more than hanging around the villa. There, we discovered a bunch of other features to love, including a pool so private you could go au naturel in it (not that I would do such a thing -- ahem), a panoramic view of Shoal Bay West from the roof deck, and one of the lushest gardens I've ever seen in Anguilla.

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It even had a chicken. In a tree.

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I know it's hard to top a chicken in a tree, but Octagon also has three ginormous bedrooms, each of which is roughly the size of an airplane hangar.

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Indeed, the rooms were so large and comfortable that eventually I gave up trying to find the other pods, since each bedroom already had everything I needed: A huge attached bathroom, a flat-screen TV, and a color-coordinated mini fridge and coffee maker.

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In fact, Octagon is stocked as though the Zombie Apocalypse -- or my Boy Scout husband -- is coming any minute: Virtually everything in the house comes in triplicate, quadruplicate, and more, from coolers to candles, blenders to bottled water, dinnerware to dry goods . . . you could be happily holed up here for years and never run out of anything.

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But the outside world beckoned, and so we set off for a late afternoon visit to the Dune Preserve.

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Dune Preserve reminds me of the tree houses and pirate ships we used to play on as kids, with the welcome addition of alcohol.

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Before we knew it, we were enjoying a spectacular sunset at Rendezvous.

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The day had gotten away from us, so we raced back to the villa for a quick change of clothes, then set off for dinner at E's Oven.

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Back at Octagon, we took a quick dip in the pool, then headed off to bed.

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And it only took me two tries to find my bedroom.

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CLICK HERE to read Part 2!

Posted by TraceyG 05:44 Archived in Anguilla Tagged ferryboat_inn e's_oven octagon dune_preserve Comments (8)

Anguilla, Stage 4: Doing a Little Moonlighting

Another day, another spectacular sunrise. Angel was still sick, so I let him sleep until 6:30 this time.

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We spent most of the morning at the pool, not wanting to head off to the beach until we could judge Angel's condition.

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Here he is praying for one more cheeseburger.

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We had to share the pool with a visitor, but he didn't drink much, so we didn't mind.

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Unfortunately Angel still wasn't feeling well as the morning progressed, and neither Pepto-Bismol, nor ginger-ale, nor bitters, nor even rum had done the trick. We figured we had nothing to lose by getting him a big bowl of rice to soak up the remaining poison, so we set off for Ocean Echo for some stir-fry.

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There, Angel managed to smile his way through a swim at Mead's, but when the water looks like this, you'd probably find yourself beaming even if the grim reaper was standing on shore just waiting for you to get pruney.

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Our man Delacroix took great care of us, making sure my glass of boozy lemonade remained filled and chilled.

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The rice helped settle Angel's stomach a bit, and we both managed a short but sublime period of pure, unadulterated joy.

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By that evening, however, Angel was back to feeling pretty awful, and Stage 4 of Anguilla Vacation Grief, depression, was starting to set in. Not only did we have just three days left, but at the rate we were going, we were going to spend all three of them not at the beach, but in bed (Angel) or at the pharmacy (me). Worse still, we were going to spend all three of them cheeseburger-less. (You know things are bad when the person who is dying of dysentery is actually less upset than the one who didn't get her second cheeseburger.)

That night we stayed in for dinner, since Angel wasn't eating much anyway and resting up would do him some good.

We agreed that I would set the table and prepare the wine while Angel made a quick run over to CeBlue to pick up a couple of pizzas. (Yes, we sent poor, sick Angel out instead of me. Do you really think that pizza would actually make it back to the house if I picked it up?)

We'd had lunch at CeBlue on our previous trip, and the brick-oven pizzas had been divine -- charred, chewy dough with bubbly, blistered edges and a variety of fresh toppings.

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This time, however, we were disappointed: Instead of brick-oven pizza, we ended up with two rounds of cardboard topped with some sauce. Luckily we still had enough lobster from that Straw Hat mac & cheese to salvage them.

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The pizza might have a been a letdown, but the evening itself was positively magical: A full moon danced off the nearby waves, bathing the pool and patio in shimmering moonlight. We soaked up the spectacular surroundings, trying to imprint them on our memories forever, as we sipped our wine, dangled our feet in the pool, gazed at the glowing moon, and counted our many blessings.

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By the next morning, I was getting desperate to make sure Angel enjoyed his last few days of our vacation, despite the fact that he probably should have been enjoying a stay at Princess Alexandra. And so we set off for a morning swim at his favorite beach, Maundays Bay.

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I continued my campaign ("Make Angel Great Again") by then whisking him off to CuisinArt, where I figured that if his favorite drink on the island couldn't cure him, nothing could.

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We kept our lunches on the light side to avoid riling up Angel's insides any more than necessary.

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We spent the rest of the day back at the villa, Angel alternating between napping in the cool AC and joining me at the pool.

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Happily, by that evening Angel felt well enough to go out again, and so we got dressed and popped over one of our favorite spots on the island, E's Oven.

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Have you been to Anguilla more than a few times, but still haven't been to E's? Look, I know you love dining on the water. It's breezy and beachy and romantic. But you can't see the waves at night anyway, and even if you could, there is no sight -- day or night -- more glorious than E's coconut-crusted grouper with banana-rum sauce atop a bed of curried beans.

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The grilled red hind amuse-bouche and spiny lobster spring rolls with orange-chili sauce are no slouches, either.

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And because Angel wasn't feeling well enough to finish his grouper, somebody got to have the leftovers.

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We still have 36 hours left, and that's plenty of time for meatballs, BBQ, lobster pasta, chicken roti, and even some old-school guavaberry coladas. Click here to read Part 5!

Posted by TraceyG 04:44 Archived in Anguilla Tagged cuisinart cap_juluca e's_oven moondance_villa ocean_echo Comments (8)

A Sweet Return to Anguilla, Pt. 7: It's Like an Oven in Here

The first time we ever visited Anguilla's Little Bay, the ride was short and the boat was small, but the leap of faith was huge.

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Based on an early, primitive version of TripAdvisor called "word of mouth," we'd managed to find a man identifying himself as Calvin (last name unknown, but Gumbs or Hodge is always a good bet) hanging out under a big tree near Crocus Bay. After a short discussion, he agreed to drop us off at Little Bay and pick us up three hours later. It sounded simple, but in ye olden times, before the internet, cell phones, and instant background checks, it was akin to accepting a ride from a stranger in a rusted-out van with the windows blacked out. And so it wasn't until we watched this Calvin Gumbs-Hodge motor away, his boat getting smaller and smaller and our sense of dread looming larger and larger, that the thought occurred to us: No one else on the planet knows where we are. If Calvin should get drunk with his buddies under "de big tree," spring a leak in his boat, end up in the doghouse with his wife, or develop a sudden case of amnesia . . . not a living soul in the world would have any idea what had happened to the two of us, except that the little one had tried to eat the big one before both of their skeletons were found.

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Now, of course, Little Bay has been discovered by every private yacht, catamaran, and party boat from here to St. Martin, and you have a better chance of being marooned on Sandy Island than at Little Bay. The only saving grace is that most people like to sleep in when they're on vacation, and so we dragged ourselves out of bed as early as possible to beat the crowds.

We stepped outside and were greeted by this eight-legged leaf? flying snow pea? on the front porch steps, which is reason #1,642 why you should never, ever get up early.

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After I climbed out a window to avoid exiting via the porch, we headed over to Crocus Bay and waited for Calvin to arrive.

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I'm no Navy Seal, but even I know that it is never a good sign when your boat driver shows up armed with a roll of duct tape.

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Apparently the canoe Calvin uses to access his "real" boat had sprung a leak, and so we watched as he nonchalantly duct-taped it back together. Then, trying not to think about the spit, glue, and wadded-up Kleenex that might be holding the real boat together, we went ahead and climbed aboard.

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Calvin immediately recognized Angel's "Little Bay Boat Service" shirt, which has held up surprisingly well over the years, especially considering that Calvin admitted to giving them away to his friends once he discovered that all the lettering kept peeling off. (Ah - yet another use for duct tape.)

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Soon we rounded the bend into Little Bay, which was just as stunning as we remembered.

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We spent the better part of the morning blissfully alone, exploring the rock formations and snorkeling just offshore.

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Well, mostly alone.

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There is an old episode of "Seinfeld" where George Costanza's boss accuses him of having advance knowledge of a bomb threat called in to the office. "You know what I think?" the boss asks. "I think you knew about that bomb ahead of time, George. You climbed under that desk because you have E.S.P. What am I thinking right now? MMMEATBALLS!!!"

You may not have E.S.P., but I'm pretty sure you already know that we didn't drive all the way to the east end just to spend a few hours at Little Bay.

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Located just above Crocus Bay, CeBlue is a small complex of just eight villas carved into the mountainside, each topped with a pale blue roof to mirror the crystalline waters of Crocus Bay below.

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The Blue Bar is bright and airy, with a bird's-eye view of Crocus Bay and beyond.

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We snagged a cliffside table and a couple of Coconut Mamas, which came topped with a floater of dark rum and a dusting of freshly-grated nutmeg.

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They were like piña coladas . . . sans piña.

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Then it was on to the main event: A baking dish filled with MMMEATBALLS!, then topped with Neapolitan-style tomato sauce, ricotta cheese, fresh mozzarella, and baked to bubbly perfection in CeBlue's brick oven.

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Of course, you can't just have meatballs for lunch, so we ordered a couple of pizzas to go with them.

Angel decided on the Romana, topped with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, chicken, roasted peppers, and caramelized onions, while I stuck with a classic pepperoni.

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And the remaining meatball sauce made the perfect dipping sauce for our pizza crust.

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During my junior year of college, some friends and I decided to stay at school over Thanksgiving break and prepare our own turkey dinner. The guys next door decided to stay over break as well, so we offered to cook dinner for them, too. (We were no dummies -- they were old enough to buy booze.) And to add to the festivities, we included a Secret Santa gift exchange. As something of a joke, the person who drew my name got me a foot-long submarine sandwich, just to see if I'd actually eat it after our enormous Thanksgiving feast.

All of this is a long way of saying, if you were sure that I couldn't possibly have finished an entire pizza after those meatballs, you wouldn't be the first one to lose money on that bet.

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After lunch, we took a drive over to Shoal Bay East.

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We were already in the neighborhood, so we stopped by Serenity for some rum punch and a quick swim.

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Serenity has a lovely open-air restaurant overlooking the water, along with a funky little beach bar right on the sand.

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We spent a lazy afternoon alternating dips in the sea with sips of rum.

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Later we took yet another dip -- this one in the pool back at Sweet Return -- before cleaning up for dinner at E's Oven.

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E's is one of the unsung heroes of Anguilla's restaurant scene: Warm and friendly, with a cozy dining room, gentle prices, and food to rival some of the best restaurants on the island.

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On this night, we started with an amuse bouche of tuna crostini, followed by E's smooth, velvety pumpkin soup.

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Then it was on to the real stars of the show: E's sweet-and-spicy coconut-crusted grouper over white bean ragout for Angel, and tender chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce for me, ordered up with a side of E's cheesy potato gratin.

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We finished the meal by candlelight, sipping our wine and reflecting on what we both agreed was one of our favorite meals of the trip.

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Which is saying a lot, considering there weren't any meatballs.
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Posted by TraceyG 05:52 Archived in Anguilla Tagged serenity sweet_return e's_oven little_bay ceblue crocus_bay march_10 Comments (3)

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