Anguilla offers a quiet respite from the usual regional fare

Writer Kristin O'Meara visited Anguilla only weeks before Hurricane Lenny descended in November. Her report follows.

Seagrapes are a natural decorative touch on Anguilla.THE VALLEY, Anguilla -The rum punch was technicolor pink, the water was popsicle blue and the sand was sugary white.

It was Sunday afternoon at Scilly Cay. Folks swam in the calm waters off the private island, downed pink drinks and ate grilled lobster while the band crooned reggae tunes.

Little bronzed kids built sand castles while their parents danced or dozed. It was, in short, a surreal day, even after the rum wore off.

Go ahead and blame the punch, but after this trip, it appears that the happy haze is a value-added service provided by Anguilla.

If your clients are planning a visit, tell them they can expect a pleasant and friendly one.

Only 10,000 people reside on Anguilla, so it is quiet by nature with no shopping malls, glitzy casinos, fast-food restaurants or noisy water sports. Even the Wallblake Airport landing strip is little, so the big planes stay away. And as many islanders here agree, that is a very good thing.

In fact, Anguilla is so mellow that it is hard to believe anyone gets heated up, but they do.

We found some locals engaged in some good-natured shouting about a sailing match in Road Bay. Out on the water, a fleet of sailboats glided by in mute counterpoint to all the hoopla.

Back in 1967, folks got so incensed about their government that they actually seceded from St. Kitts and Nevis, which eventually led to a British invasion of Anguilla on March 19, 1969.

These events are commemorated at the Heritage Collection, a museum in Pond Ground. Curator and resident historian Colvill Petty oversees a diverse collection of Arawak artifacts, circa-1960 newspaper articles and photos of British soldiers caught with their pants down -- literally -- while skinny-dipping in Anguilla's bays.

Today, chances are slim of running into crowds on Anguilla's beaches. They are pretty empty by any standard.

Witness our visit to Shoal Bay Beach: gentle surf, white sand, scattered low-rise hotels and few people competing for the lounge chairs that lined the strand in front of La Beach Restaurant.

Our lunch there was adequate, but the atmosphere was great, with an unobstructed sea view.

Snorkeling equipment is available, but I opted for a beach walk along Shoal Bay. I spotted fewer than five people during my 30-minute trip and saw no vendors, ice cream wrappers or time-share flyers.

After a beach day, most visitors head for a hot shower followed by cocktails and dinner.

The shower is a large part of the evening's events. Several Anguillan hotels appear to be competing in the largest loo category. During my visit, I saw bathrooms with picture windows overlooking the sea, bathrooms with marble from baseboards to ceiling moldings and bathrooms with more floor space than many New York studio apartments.

After a few nights, I was totally sucked in, happily creating my own private pond in the big tub at the Sonesta resort.

Room inventory on Anguilla got a boost by 93 units when CuisinArt Resort & Spa opened Dec. 20 after construction and hurricane delays. Local industry officials expect the resort to become one of the island's top properties.

Anguilla's culinary offerings are as intriguing as its beaches and resorts. Vertically presented food is the rage now on the island, and I was treated to food served in stacks.

Fish were stacked on a bed of rice at Cap Juluca, a lobster appetizer aimed skyward at Sonesta's Casablanca and everywhere, garnishes lunged upward.

Nearly every meal I was served on Anguilla was very good or excellent.

Leaving the buzz of a restaurant behind one evening, I stepped outside to the vision of millions of white-hot stars splashed against the night sky. And silence.

When visiting the islands, it is sometimes easy to forget how small a place really is, surrounded by water. Anguilla may be just a small island in the big Caribbean, but in that constellation, it shines with unusual clarity.

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