Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté
Luxe, calme et volupté.
If history were told backwards you could be forgiven for thinking the rise and triumph of the image in our eminently visual culture had been solely and deliberately engineered by Anguillians to achieve world domination. From the Age of Discovery to the reign of King Sugar Anguilla remained a neglected spec of limestone and coral, floating inconspicuously in the middle of the ocean. Now that the western world has discovered the value of vitamin D, the appeal of a tan, and the addictive power of sharing, the tables have turned.
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know Anguilla, but I can safely say our acquaintance, made before I’d turned three, falls squarely under the trite label of love at first sight. By the hand of my young mother, now into her third decade on the island, I toddled down the dirt road at Rendezvous Bay, past the palm grove and onto the most spectacular crescent of calm turquoise water and bright white sand, much wider than it is today, slivered here and there by the odd mangrove and punctuated on the western end by a double row of tall dunes that towered monumentally above my small self. It was bliss, as Anguilla remains to this day to just about any child I know.
As a visitor, even a fairly regular one, I became a zealous keeper of the precious secrets I presumed had never been witnessed by anyone in the real world, other than me – the lighthouse on Windward Point, the remains of the quarantine station on Shannon Hill, the way in (and out) of the treacherous Captain’s Bay, even the white cedar tree I would so nimbly climb between the front yard of our cottage and the deep blue sea.
In the charred light of a tropical afternoon to the eyes of the enthused traveller Anguilla dazzles without fail, triggering a sense of ownership for all this pristine beauty. Oddly, almost counter intuitively, that sense of ownership fades as soon as you stop leaving Anguilla, once you’re here to stay and you grow aware of the resilience of a people who have successfully navigated the often torrid waters of adverse circumstance, quite on their own.
I became familiar with the impetuous spirit of Anguillians at a young age, as I listened in awe to the tales of our host, who also happened to be the patriarch of the nation – a bespectacled man taller than a building and stronger than a truck, bald as a friar, with a beard like Father Christmas and the skin of a walrus, who couldn’t have known all that chatter would one day serve as inspiration for The Night of the Rambler, my first novel.
Much has changed since the days when you couldn’t walk the length of Rendezvous Bay without getting wet from avoiding the mangroves. As the world trades fears of infection for fears of war, Anguilla keeps becoming an ever more attractive destination, not just for wedding planners and day-trippers. These are exciting days for Anguilla, for the first time ever the island is connected to the mainland with a daily flight to Miami, a seemingly trivial fact that nevertheless has brought a huge psychological lift to the local population – a sense of relief, really, at no longer being isolated.
To be sure, new opportunities also bring uncharted challenges, but there’s every likelihood change in Anguilla will continue to come in slow-moving stages – after all, Anguillians have always been most comfortable playing the long game. Everything on this island takes time – paving a road, building an airport, even getting used to its pace, or fully grasping the meaning of its age-old mantra: no casinos, no cruise ships, no high-rise hotels.
Building trust takes time too, but as the first flame of excitement morphs into the respect of enduring love, you come to realise that paused and prudent is the right speed for a vulnerable micro-nation such as this one. That might well be the most palpable indication that you’ve found your place in Anguilla, when you realise this isn’t just a good spot to visit – it’s a great place to belong.
An abridged version of this piece was commissioned by Belmond Hotels and published in the first issue of their global travel publication, Mondes, in October 2022.