On my first date with Chris, we met at a little restaurant in downtown Chicago. It was a sunny day and we took advantage of it by sitting outside on the crowded sidewalk, guaranteeing good people-watching should there be any uncomfortable lulls in our conversation. Like all first dates, our start was awkward. Two people trying to figure out just exactly who it is they’re having a drink with, sorting out clues based on clothing, posture, vocabulary, demeanor, manners, and attitude toward the waitstaff.

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It was apparent to me that I was sitting across from a man who excelled in all of these categories, but it wasn’t until he began telling me about an  island in the British West Indies that I knew I was talking to someone really special. With sirens screaming down Michigan Avenue and house sparrows stalking crumbs on my plate, Chris took me back nearly four decades to a tiny British protectorate known as Anguilla (airport code AXA), the northernmost of the Leeward Islands.

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“I was about thirteen when my dad came home one day and said we were moving to this little island in the Caribbean. He’d had it with his business in the States, and always hearing that the ‘check was in the mail,’ so we were all moving to Anguilla, the whole family,” Chris said.

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That was in 1976, and not only were nonnative families exceedingly rare, so were electricity and running water. “People used generators and cisterns,” Chris explained. “Right away we learned that ‘in the isles of sun and fun, we never flush for number one.'”

It was an exciting time to be a young boy. Chris and his brother explored the undeveloped island from pristine beach to pristine beach–Rendezvous, Cove, and Maundays–reaching the tip of the West End cliffs on a good day, provided they’d escaped their neighbor’s guard dogs, ubiquitous sand burs, and the exhausting combination of humidity and sun, usually without seeing another human being.  “I’m a beach snob,” Chris has told me repeatedly. Of all the beaches we’ve been to together in Cuba, Big Sur, Nicaragua, Florida, Puerto Rico, he says there’s not one that compares to what he grew up with.

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A few weeks ago I finally met the island I’ve heard so much about. Chris may exaggerate about a lot of things, being a consummate yarn-spinner like he is, but I have to admit he was spot-on about those beaches. Nothing compares to the finely ground coral that feels like talcum powder under your feet, and glistens in both the light of the sun and the glow of the moon. Over this whiter-than-white miracle sand is mirror-clear water that simultaneously reflects stunning shades of aquamarine and royal blue while revealing hints of the technicolor sea life that lies just beneath.

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Although Condé Nast and Frommer’s have both deemed these shores some of the best in the world, it’s the people that really make the island. Chris has all kinds of stories about how he learned to play dominoes at Smitty’s,  to walk on coral from I-jahdge, and to fish for moray eels from Robert. And then there’s Cap’n Floyd, the man who ferried Chris’s family across the choppy seas to St. Martin once a week for groceries and supplies. “The boat was filled with people and goats, and they all huddled near the mast because the chop was so bad,” Chris said. “Cap’n Floyd would race the other ferry and occasionally ram into him along the way. We all just hung on to the nearest rail, fellow passenger, 55-gallon drum …. or goat, hoping we wouldn’t get washed overboard. I don’t think my mother will ever forget those rides. It was pretty bad.”

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During our visit we ran into several people who remembered Chris and his clan fondly. Their eyes would light up and a smile take over their face when they made the connection. “Oh, yes, yes. I remember you. How are you, how are your parents, where are they?” Over and over again. It felt like going back to a small hometown, only one with palm trees, reggae music, and lizards.

On that sunny afternoon in Chicago when Chris talked about walking on prickly coral in bare feet, I was in awe. I never dreamed we would walk on it together someday. Of course, Chris nearly broke three of his toes and I shredded every inch of skin on the bottom of my feet, but still … it was pretty romantic.

With so much more to learn about this tiny nation’s history, ecology, food, marine life, and people, I can’t wait to return.  In fact, I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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26 thoughts on “AXA: Then & Today

  1. I have been one of the few people who have been to the greatest kept secret in the Caribbean, twice. First time with Chris. I certainly can smell the air as I am typing this comment. You too, now are one of the lucky ones. My wife knows my ashes are to be spread on North Shoal Beach. Ummm Ummm….

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  2. Hi Jeff. Chris showed me the ambulance that Marque built (it’s still on the road!) and said you guys had a great time down there. Hope the Anguillians won’t be seeing your ashes any time soon on the beach. 😉

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  3. Ok Chris, give it up! How’d your Dad make ends meet on the island and can a family of 4 still wing it today? My husband has already packed our bags.

    Beautiful, engaging writing. As always, you took me away Monica.

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  4. So good to hear about your vaca….hope your cabin has progressed.
    I too have news, but later…..you need all your strength to fotify yourselves
    for the bitter cold.
    Pegi & Sam

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  5. Monica, I am so happy to see a new post! I’ve been wondering about you. What a lovely and fascinating vacation. Forrest and I are hooked on the islands of the French West Indies, specifically St. Martin. Each time we have to return to the states I’m sad and emotional. How I ended up a land-locked state and not near the sea is a mystery to me… perhaps I lived on an island in a previous life – I don’t know! I’m so happy you both enjoyed yourselves! Take care of those feet now… you’ll be needing them in Polebridge! Best wishes ~ Lori

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  6. Thanks for sharing your beautiful life story together living a glorious life . I am very glad you share the same interest n appreciate life’s gift n blessings. Happy New Year to you n Chris

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  7. I love reading your posts and seeing all your pictures. Sometimes I randomly go back and read them again because they are so intriguing. Glad you had a fabulous trip!!! Mike and I just got engaged and will be getting married at home this summer after mom’s retirement party.
    Stay warm…xoxoxo
    Tiff

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  8. Wonderful post! Sitting in Chicago this morning reading this after another blast of snow and cold……we are sure getting our licks this season!

    Hope we can connect the next time you pass through Chicago.

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  9. Monica that is “just so coool” that the ambulance is still running. We did have a wonderful time but one night I had to many rum punches. Wow.

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  10. And I thought you were freezing in the yurt in Montana! This postcard arrived just in time–3 degree weather and about a foot of snow outside with sidewalks as ice rinks. You made me forget our world as I was transported to the World of Chris. Thanks for sharing. Happy Friendships all around!

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