Friday, July 1, 2016

Favourite Islands Part 2: Anguilla to Dominica

Still on a quest to see if we can figure out our favourite East Caribbean island - here's the second instalment.  Here's the first instalment if you missed it.

Just a scant 6 miles north of St. Martin, Anguilla is a low-lying limestone island that is quickly making a name for itself with high-end boutique resort and villa tourism.  There is one main anchorage on the north side, Road Bay, and a number of small fishing harbours scattered along the coast.  Getting to the shoals and islets that lie along the north shore is an expensive proposition (extra cruising permit required) and is really only enjoyable in calm weather.  We have been to Anguilla twice and both times have enjoyed the island more by car than for its water-based activities.  The history of Anguilla is quite interesting with their relationship with Britain and we enjoyed speaking to a passionate local historian and learning a bit more about this island.  The locals are friendly, understand tourism and there are many opportunities for great eating.
     Love:  Small and easily accessible by car
     Hate:  Not much to do if you don't have a car

Road Bay is the main anchorage

The little museum makes for an interesting diversion.

Fishermen bring in the catch at Scilly Bay.

Sint Maarten / St. Martin
Sint Maarten (the Dutch side) the mecca of all things boating related and it's island neighbour St. Martin, the first of the French islands.  The two halves are so different and yet exist so well side by side.  We come to Sint Maarten to do boat work, buy stuff for the boat and have stuff easily shipped from the States.  We then go and drop the hook on the other side and enjoy a much more relaxed stay with all the benefits of the French territory.  The lagoon is one of the most amazing features since by dinghy we can access so much on both sides.  We love playing on St. Martin with friends since there are many great bars and restaurants, pretty beaches and usually so many assembled cruisers that just hanging out on each others' boats is a great time.
     Love:  You can get anything you need for your boat here
     Hate:  This island is BUSY!!

A parade of boats entering Simpson Lagoon under the lift bridge on the Dutch side.

Mega yachts and big sailboats - all part of the scenery.

On of our favourite hangouts - Lagoonies.

On the French side, the fun little town of Marigot with the lagoon in the background.

Ladies of the tourism office dressed in traditional Creole costumes.

St. Bart's
We haven't spent a huge amount of time on St. Bart's but what we have felt here was that we could be in the French Riviera.  High end shops and boutiques, a charming little gallic town, well dressed residents and visitors - this place exudes luxury.  Anse Colombier at the north end of the island is the perfect stop-over spot with free mooring balls and beautiful clear waters.  We've heard that this is THE place to be on New Year's Eve.
     Love:  Perfect for a short visit
     Hate:  The anchorage at Gustavia (we stay in Colombier.)

The pretty little town of Gustavia is wrapped about the inner harbour.

This is probably the only real Louis Vuitton shop in the Caribbean.

St. Bart's is one of those islands with a crazy little airport - just look at this approach!

Antigua & Barbuda
Two islands ...

Barbuda is one of the most isolated, barren islands you will have the pleasure of visiting.  Miles and miles of white sand beaches, the scantest population, an interesting topography with an inner lagoon, relatively flat island, rising to low cave-studded cliffs overlooking the Atlantic.  Visit in the winter months and you will be amazed by the Frigate Bird nesting colony - it is a sight to see!  Plan on being there in calm conditions and with a well provisioned fridge so you can stay a few days.  This is the place to achieve your inner peace.
     Love:  Peace & serenity
     Hate:  Water-taxi ride or a long wet dinghy ride to get to Codrington

The beach on Barbuda - really, there is nothing here!

Except of course the Magnificent Frigate bird - you have to go see them.

Antigua is the complete opposite - this is a busy island and in the winter months hosts a number of top-notch regattas.  What is amazing about Antigua and sets it apart from most other islands is that with its extensive reef and island system, you can find anchorages on all sides of the island.  After the hustle and bustle (and regatta party time) in Falmouth and English Bays on the south side, heading around to Nonsuch Bay on the east side is much like turning the clock back to some untold time, or instantly finding yourself on vacation.
     Love:  Multitude of cruising opportunities
     Hate:  Don't let vendors confuse you with USD vs. ECD - that's a 270% ripoff!

No charge, just stand on the beach or the cliffs and watch these incredible speed machines race for the start-line.

The colours of the water fill the spectrum of blue.

Lots of resorts on Antigua - this is a high-end one on Long Island at Jumby Bay.

Catch some wind action on the east coast at the kite school on Green Island.

Back in Falmouth, the Classics are lining the docks.
The biggest of the French islands and the seat of the Antilles Administration offices.  It is not however the most 'French' of the islands - it is the most 'Creole'.  Here you get the most in-depth feel for the French Caribbean and the island-style cooking is delicious.  Guadeloupe is made up of two bridge-joined islands, each with a very unique character.  There are also a number of outer islands including Marie-Galante and Les Saintes.  There is so much to see and do on all these islands, many rum distilleries to visit, ruins - old forts - history galore.  Point a Pitre (the biggest but not the capital city) is a gritty working class place with great energy in the daytime, not sure I'd want to be out on the streets after dark.  One of our favourite hikes of all time is on the south-west end of the island - Souffriere Volcano.
     Love:  Diversity - so much choice
     Hate:  Difficult and sparse anchorages, language can be an issue if you have no French.

Pointe a Pitre on Guadeloupe is a totally cosmopolitain city.

But the outdoor market is still the place to get the best fruit and veggies.

Ah - what's not to love about French Creole cooking.

Welcoming you to Les Iles des Saintes - the doctor's house.

Learn your history of the pivotal Battle of the Saints at Fort Napoleon - this one didn't go so well for the French.

Wander the quaint streets of Grand Bourg des Saintes.

Ah, the nature island.  Dominica is like finally getting to the cottage for that long anticipated summer wilderness vacation.  Everywhere you go on Dominica is like walking through a tropical nature conservancy or a garden.  Take your pick - literally.  Fruit drips off the trees, lemon-grass grows everywhere, the farmers will give you roots from their gardens.  The lush forests that cover most of this island, clinging to the steep slopes of nine volcanos make for the most excellent hiking along the Waitukabuli National Trail.  Some of the friendliest people you will meet live on Dominica and hiking along the roads involves a multitude of stops along the way just to lime with the locals.  It's irie mon!
     Love:  Getting in shape - hiking on Dominica / PAYS organization in Portsmouth
     Hate:  Breaking my personal rule here to write more than a short phrase because this is a complex topic.  When we first visited Dominica we saw poverty everywhere.  To our North American eyes, these people lived in poverty.  What we now see is a population that lives close to nature.  No-one is starving on this island.  There are some individuals who are poorly clothed and wander the streets but there is usually an underlying issue of physical or mental illness and we see this every place we visit, including back home in Canada.  What has created the greatest need on Dominica was Tropical Storm Erika that devastated the island in August 2015.  Villages and roads were wiped out and people lost everything they owned. So I guess what I 'hate' about Dominica is actually my own interpretation of what I see on the street and I really need to get over myself.

Dominica is rugged, green and wet.  Magnificent waterfalls carve their way through the landscape.

The Waitukubuli National Trail encircles the island in 14 segments.

Following the trail and getting close to nature.

From the largest tree...

To the shiest bird...

To the power of Mother Nature in the Valley of Desolation, you can see it all on Dominica.

And then finish it all off with some delicious hand-made chocolate.
So that's instalment two - stay tuned as we look at the inner Leeward Islands from Saba to Montserrat.