The Dune Preserve, ranked by CNN as the world's best beach bar, sits atop remarkably soft sand.
This story first appeared in the Toronto Star travel section on March 3, 2012
By STEPHEN WICKENS
RENDEZVOUS BAY, ANGUILLA
—Shortly after the best mahi-mahi I’ve had in 25 years of Caribbean visits, I’m strolling in moonlight on white sand softer than I’d ever imagined possible. Quite the first impression.
The next morning, over breakfast after playing CuisinArt Resort’s Greg Norman signature golf course — azure waters and St. Martin’s hills in the background — it’s clear why celebrities and executives flock here.
Funny thing, though, despite the opulence and setting, the best part of my trip turned out to be listening to locals, especially when they talk of Anguilla’s pre-tourism days and its revolution.
Germaine Harrigan, the first Anguillian I met, isn’t old enough to recall gunshots. But aboard the ferry to the island, she proudly explains that Ronald Webster, leader of the 1967 uprising, is a great uncle. “Nearly everyone has friends and family who’ll talk about it. The St. Kitts police were kicked off the island and the British invaded two years later,” says Harrigan, a New York resident returning to visit her mom. “Ronald’s still alive.”
Brothers Lyndon and Lyle Connor, the boat’s operators, mention their dad patrolled beaches. “The older heads can tell plenty,” Lyndon says. “It was a proud time.” Cabbie Colin Connor, 61, picks me up at the ferry and continues my education. He was 17 when he rolled oil drums onto the dirt runway to prevent St. Kitts from landing troops.
Outsiders who know the tale tend to be amused by the farce. Many bullets fired, mostly at the police station. Nobody dead.
When British paratroopers landed in 1969, U.K. papers dubbed it “the Bay of Piglets” and opposition members howled as Harold Wilson’s government was congratulated for finding a manageable foe (things weren’t going so well in Rhodesia). But it was all serious for Anguillians. To liberate themselves after nearly 150 years of what they deemed neglect and abuse at the hands of St. Kitts, they risked lives or jail for treason. Locals will tell you they weren’t eligible to be police officers in their own country, and that foreign aid for rebuilding after Hurricane Donna in 1960 went missing on St. Kitts.
The last straw was in 1967, when Britain created the independent state of St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla. “Anguillians view it as if an abusive babysitter had been given complete custody,” said Colin Rickards, a late Torontonian who covered the invasion for British newspapers.
Gilligan’s Island was already prime-time history but, like Robinson Crusoe, Anguilla was primitive as can be. “Even in the 1970s, people had to go to St. Martin or St. Kitts to see electricity, telephones, flush toilets, paved roads,” says national museum curator Colville Petty, who was a 16-year-old teacher when revolution erupted. “We saw jets in the sky, but for us, after dark, we needed kerosene or the moon for light.”
The British were greeted as tardy liberators just two years after ostensibly giving the island independence from the empire. Anguillians just wanted to be free of St. Kitts and its leader Robert Bradshaw. Locals still spit out Bradshaw’s name.
Of course, locals will also remind you their ancestors had long been independent out of necessity. Slaves were left behind when 18th-century plantations failed due to thin soils and sparse rain. People grew veggies, built boats, fished and traded with nearby islands. In the 20th century, droughts and famine forced some to work on other islands and send home the pay.
Among charges against Bradshaw is that remittance cheques and medical supplies were held back by St. Kitts, which ran the mail.
"All my songs are about the revolution," Dune Preserve owner and reggae artist Bankie Banx says. Banx's beach bar is a magnet for celebrities, though he says he doesn't know who they are.
At the Dune Preserve, a beach bar recently featured on ABC-TV’s The Bachelor, owner Bankie Banx would rather talk of paratroopers landing in his mom’s backyard 42 years ago than current celebrities who come for a drink.
“I don’t even know who the movie stars are,” says Banx, back from recording his 13th album in Jamaica. “My drummer was one who was rounded up and put in a St. Kitts jail. All my songs are about the revolution.”
Less than 30 years ago, embarrassed Britons were still scrambling to bring Anguilla and its 6,000 people into the 20th century. Now there are 14,000, and not all are happy with Britain – especially during annual budget talks. There’s still that independent streak. There’s talk of breaking with the U.K.
So, enjoy the beaches, rated the Caribbean’s best by Britain’s Daily Telegraph and Travel Channel. Visit the beach bars (Banx’s is No. 1 on CNN’s list of the world’s 50 best). Stay in luxury at CuisinArt, which has 20 chefs, cooking classes and a spa that’s among Conde Nast’s favourites. Or try Paradise Cove, a friendly resort targeting more middle-class travellers.
Whatever you do, just remember to take time to talk with the locals.
Stephen Wickens is a freelance writer based in Toronto.
JUST THE FACTS
ARRIVING: Air Canada, WestJet and Sunwing fly direct to St. Maarten. From there you can take Air Anguilla for $105 (U.S.) each way or are variety of fast (20-minute) ferry options. GB Express, which looks after airport-to-dock connections, charges $105 round trip and staff are fun. Visit aircanadavacations.com and authenticcaribbeanholidays.com for deals.
SLEEPING: Air Canada Vacations offers flight-ferry-hotel packages from about $1,600 for Anacaona Boutique Hotel. Rooms at Paradise Cove start at $250 a night. The five-star Cap Juluca starts above $600 a night and there are villas that will run about $10,000 a week. Extensive accommodation listings are at anguillahta.com
DINING: The island specializes in high-end cuisine and extensive wine cellars. Many menus don’t bother with prices. Ask locals for a list of the best places for the dining experience and you’ll hear Veya, Jacala and Hibernia. You can also find good ribs, chicken and seafood meals for under $15 at roadside caters and beach barbecue huts. Hungry’s Food Van is recommended.
DOING: Anguilla brags about its lack of casinos and its ban on jetskis. Hotels provide snorkeling gear, but they’ll arrange day trips to reefs teeming with fish of many colours. Moonsplash is a four-day reggae festival around the full moon each March at Bankie Banx’s Dune Preserve. Celebrity spotting is big and Sandy Ground is a nightlife hub, with Johnno’s and Pumphouse good for live music. Ask your hotel about Anguilla After Dark, a designated-driver service for $15 a night. Many hotels have tennis courts and there’s an academy at Blowing Point. There’s only one golf course, at CuisinArt, but it’s outstanding.
WEB SURFING: Most of what you need to know is at ivisitanguilla.com, anguillaguide.com or anguilla-beaches.com. Go to anguillarising.com for fun history links and to learn about filmmaker Gary Rodrigues’ feature project.