Sometimes, the best Caribbean vacation experiences are found when you wander off the beaten path. One of my fondest island travel memories is a day trip we took during a visit to the British Virgin Islands. Well over 20 years ago, I still remember that day as it if were last year.
This was pre-social media, pre-selfie, pre-Instagram post. The photos I took were even on old-fashioned 35mm film, for heaven’s sake.
Back then, I couldn’t go on a trip without planning the life out of it. Our base in the BVI would be the main island of Tortola. While researching ‘must dos’, I came across an ad promising: “A day away in paradise – a charter aircraft ride to and from the island of Anegada, taxi transfer to Loblolly Bay, a spectacular beach, a delicious lobster lunch and a tour of the island.”
Since much of the fun of the BVIs is being able to explore other islands, I signed us up. We would fly from Tortola to Anegada, for “a day away in paradise”. Away from what many would consider a paradise to begin with.
Anegada is the most remote of the BVI’s. In fact, it’s the only island in the archipelago that you can’t see from Tortola. It is also the only coral island in the otherwise volcanic chain, and is characterized by its nearly flat elevation, the striking reefs that surround it, secluded sandy beaches and clear springs bubbling up from coral beds. Despite being the second-largest island in the BVIs, Anegada’s population numbers only about 250, none of whom has found the legendary treasure from the more than 500 wrecks lying off the notorious Horseshoe Reef.
Our adventure began with Fly BVI. My first time in a (really) small plane, a Cessna 402. It was up and then down, a scant 10 minutes in the air, passing directly over Virgin Gorda. My husband and I were joined by a constantly giggling, honeymooning couple from New Zealand and a friendly fellow Canadian. Still unseasoned, I didn’t even think to ask her name, but I recall she was from out west and visiting the BVIs on her own. Good for her, I thought.
The five of us were met at the ‘airport’ by our driver for the day; a Mr. George Anthony Smith, esq., a.k.a ‘Sweet’ Tony, the first and only major taxi service on Anegada. As I searched for my seat belt, Tony assured me I didn’t need it. “I guess you don’t have car accidents on this island,” I remarked. “Oh no, we have accidents here,” he replied. “You know, when sometimes I get talking and backing up at the same time, I might back into another vehicle. But never going too fast, so not much damage”.
We headed straight for Loblolly Bay. The promised stunning beach was certainly realized, as was the delicious fresh lobster lunch, courtesy of The Big Bamboo. Our Canadian friend joined us for lunch, while the honeymooners understandably kept to themselves.
Tony returned mid-afternoon to take us on our island tour. As we rolled through the “town”, Tony pointed out the highlights, including the community hall where the locals gathered for dances and dominoes (“where it all happens”, according to Tony). He also pointed out the brand-new government building, which seemed oddly out of place, and some small shops. One of these, we were told, presented Tony with his hardest decision of any given day – choosing which flavour of ice cream to have as his afternoon treat.
As we pulled up to the Anegada Reef Hotel the manager emerged to alert Tony to the fact that his answering machine wasn’t working (these were pre-cell phone days). He promised to get it fixed, later telling us, “I don’t bother with those phoney messages – I’m not here to take your call blah, blah, blah. No need for that nonsense. Just say what you want after the beep. I’ll listen to it”.
The route of our tour somehow seemed to conveniently pass a number of spots where Tony had to make a “quick stop”. It turned out Tony also doubles as the island’s unofficial courier. It soon became clear that he was also the conduit for local scuttlebutt, among other things. One of our stops was for him to commiserate with a woman ranting about a neighbour’s cow eating her flowers. A priceless slice of island life.
Our last stop was to see the flamingoes. The local story is that the flamingoes were originally imported by multi millionaire Sir Richard Branson to adorn Necker Island, his own private piece of the BVI. The flamingoes had other ideas and decided Anegada would suit them better. We watched them from a distance gathered on an offshore sandbar – a splash of bright pink against a turquoise background – until Tony called time and herded us back to our waiting plane.
As the plane taxied down the runway, my lasting memory is of Tony waving us goodbye. He looked genuinely sad to see us go. The feeling was mutual. It would be 17 years before we would visit Anegada again, courtesy of a cruise ship excursion. It was lovely to be back, and the island is still a beautiful, unspoiled gem, but it didn’t match the special charm of that first visit, one that will be forever impressed on my memory.
Photo: Loblolly Bay, Anegada. Courtesy of Cayeldo, www.panoramio.com This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0.