For a few days before our planned trip to Anegada the weather was unsettled and the Northern swells were up. Showers came and went and the wind howled. But the morning of the journey to the BVI’s far north dawned clear with gleaming shafts of brilliant sun reaching down from the heavens.
My parents and I were awake to see the dawn because the ferry to Anegada departs Road Town at the early hour of 7 am and we rose before the sun to get ready. Our day packs bulged – crammed with lots of this and that afraid as we were of leaving behind that single piece of equipment or diversion that would be suddenly missed when we were away from home.
The ride to Anegada by ferry from Tortola can take less than an hour in the best weather conditions. But it took us 75 minutes, including a brief stop at Virgin Gorda to take on more passengers. We rode on the top of the ferry for part of the way but then beat a retreat from the strong wind and brisk air of the open deck to the cabin, where it was possible to read in peace. Just about the time that I grew tired of my novel and started to feel restless, I could see the profile of Anegada clearly out the window, distinguishable at this distance mainly by the stands of weepy pine trees that grow in certain parts of the island.
The bare facts about Anegada are very simple: it is 15-square-miles and the second largest of the British Virgin Islands by size, but quite near the bottom of the tables by population; fewer than 200 souls live here full time. The island lies about 14 miles north of Virgin Gorda. The Horseshoe Reef, one of the world’s largest barrier reefs, trails along behind it like an underwater tail, which explains the island’s remarkable fecundity of sealife. Most of all, however, Anegada is famously flat. Its highest point is a mere 25 feet above sea level and even the trees appear stunted. Its name derives from the Spanish for ‘drowned island’. Notably it is not a volcanic island, but limestone – in places the ground beneath your feet appears more like concrete than earth. As a result, the eco system that Anegada supports is entirely different than that of the other Virgin Islands.
After arriving at Setting Point on the southern shore, my parents and I spent our morning exploring this singular landscape. Fitted out with a rental car and a simple map for navigation, I drove towards the north shore and we stopped at Bone’s Bight (supposedly named for a pirate) for a stroll along the beach. Anegada is famous for its northern shore, a sandy uninterrupted coastline protected by an offshore reef. When you stand on shore and look out to sea, there is only water between you and the western shore of Africa. The ocean delivers an intriguing array of gifts to the beachcomber here: we found driftwood, a shoe, pieces of sponge, coral fans, and thousands of sea urchin skeleton so white, perfect and round.
Then it was on to the Anegada outback, the bushy forest that covers most of the island. Like a snowflake that appears plain to the naked eye but betrays a delicate beauty under a microscope, Anegada’s wilderness requires a close look. What is at first an unwelcoming landscape of thorn trees, low bushes and dry-weather plants becomes a wonderland of remarkable character. My parents are amateur naturalists and I am their child, so we had a wonderful ramble through the bush, admiring tiny flowers, spiny bushes, edible succulents, and the breathtaking elegant orchids that grow up on narrow, gently bending stems and rise above the surrounding bushes. The final coup was that just a bit farther down the road more than 100 pink flamingos were wading in Red Pond. We watched them through a pair of binoculars (highly recommended since the birds are actually quite far from the road). These bright pink birds spent most of the time with their heads underwater, but raised up from time to time producing an elegant S with their neck.
As famous as Anegada is for its nature, the island’s lobsters are its true calling card. Caught in offshore reefs by local fishermen and prepared with genuine expertise in restaurants around the island, Anegada lobster is truly as good as it gets. We had ours at Pomato Point on the island’s western shore. Here in the dining room finished in glossy green tiles and decorated with lush tropical plants we shared a large lobster and a plate of some of the most tender and well-seasoned conch I’ve ever eaten.
One good thing about eating at Pomato Point is that while you pass the time you can visit the Pomato Point Museum, housed in a room off the dining area. Here Anegada native Wilfred Creque displays his private collection of shipwreck treasure. More than 200 ships were wrecked on the reef around Anegada in the 18th and 19th centuries, before the area currents were well-understood. Mr. Creque’s collection includes broken crockery, buttons, coins, jars, and silverware and other items rescued from the bottom of the sea.
After lunch we headed eastward again. First we visited the Settlement, Anegada’s town, where we stopped at the iguana headstart facility to get face-to-face with these ancient-looking lizards. And then it was off the Loblolly Bay, the destination that is, for many, definitive Anegada. Loblolly, named for a type of tree that grows all over Anegada, is a long, curving bay that sits on the northeastern corner of Anegada. Here the offshore reef is relatively close to the beach, making it easier to swim to for snorkelling. The sand is fine and white, and the water is clear and almost blindingly blue. There are a handful of beachfront establishments, but none is more famous than the Big Bamboo, which serves excellent lobster, fish, conch, and other dishes. A new ice cream shop was doing a brisk business when we arrived at mid-afternoon, and the hammocks which hang from seagrape trees near the dining room were also popular.
My mother and I claimed a spot on the beach and then soaked in the water while my dad snorkelled on some of the small reefs that are close to shore. Our normal conversation died out as we grew quiet and simply took in the remarkable beauty around us. Later, my father observed that Anegada needs a painter. The island possesses stunning beauty, but it is a loveliness more mysterious than most and – one could argue – better suited to the interpretation of poets and painters than the prose of journalists and the firm eye of photographers. There is some truth in the point, especially since my photographs of Anegada never seem to do justice to the feeling of wide open space that defines the island’s landscape.
Our ferry ride back to Tortola seemed to pass more quickly than our morning journey. By the time we docked at Road Town the sun was setting and we were forced to leave behind our private thoughts for the drive home, a small dinner, and sweet dreams of our day on Anegada.