In this day and age of accessibility to information, digital image sharing and social media interaction, the pressure has mounted on travellers to “get it right;” to have chosen the ideal hotel that seamlessly bound your entire party’s aggregate criteria; to have avoided sacrificing even a single meal to the realms of mediocrity and this phenomenon is perhaps even more pronounced amongst travel bloggers, who are eager to share the exploits of their adventures publically and who enthuse over amassing recommendations from their communities.
Sometimes, truth be told, I miss the simplicity of traveling in years gone by. I will admit, it dealt me some shockers but I felt a reduced onus of responsibility for them and they made/make for better anecdotes to this day.
When I learned that Antigua was purported to have 365 beaches, one for every day of the year, I would not have imagined that choosing one for a day of relaxation would be axing work by anyone’ definition. I had carried out some cursory research about Antiguan beaches during our Caribbean cruise and knew I wanted to avoid the crowds that would infiltrate the island’s largest and most famous beaches.
Also excluded from the shortlist were the most remote beaches, lacking in bathroom facilities or dining options. Creature comforts aside, it would not have been in Pumpkin’s interests to take me to a place where I would not be fed for the majority of the day.
And thus, once again, I was drawn towards my happy place, somewhere characteristically but comfortably between these two extremes and that was how I arrived at Ffryes beach. On the south-west coast of Antigua, this relatively smaller, less populated beach is still equipped with sun loungers, a beach bar and restaurant, bathroom and changing facilities and had been reported to be mind-blowingly beautiful.
As we disembarked the cruise ship in Antigua, we found taxi drivers circling us almost intrusively, something which we had not experienced at other ports. Most were gathering up groups of around eight tourists into min-buses to drive towards their chosen beaches – except that once we engaged in chit-chat with them, it became apparent that they were trying to coax tourists into choosing Dickenson Bay.
As one of the larger, more commercial but supposedly stunning beaches, this may have just been helpful recommendation but the rumour mill reported to me later that many drivers get commission for bringing custom to Dickenson. We adamantly refused to be swayed, insisting on visiting Ffryes beach, however, and two other couples of a similar age, already in his vehicle, started to ask us why we had opted for this one.
I was, in no way, seeking to enter a “my beach is better than your beach” debate but I briefly filled them in about how I had read it was more tranquil and unspoilt and within a few minutes of mumblings and exchanged glances, both other couples in the taxi decided they would follow our lead to Ffryes beach as well.
All of a sudden, that pressure to “get it right” heightened tenfold. It was one thing for Pumpkin to take a gamble with my suggestion in good faith and hope for the best but it was quite another for four unknown adults to change their plans on the basis of my musings.
As we all stepped out of the car, we were faced with a view, so unfathomably blissful that the prevailing sentiment among the group rapidly changed from one of uncertain apprehension to one of free-floating delight. The research had paid off and we had been dropped off at a palm fringed paradise, discovered by merely a handful of other people before us that day.
The sun loungers are charged at a rate of approximately 10 dollars per sun lounger (a little extra for a parasol) and there was a member of staff wandering up and down the beach taking payments for these. Even with a cruise ship in port, this beach was tranquil and uncrowded, requiring no competitive marathon sprints to acquire sunbeds.
After taking a few (dozen) beach view photographs from the flower-adorned balcony of Dennis’ Bar, we gave our flip-flops the afternoon off, enabling the warm, soothing sand to settle in the webs of our toes. I giggled to conceal my relief when one of the other couples who had been in our taxi asked me whether I would like my tip at the end of the day or immediately!
As I abided by the rulebook and lathered sun block on with tedious precision, Pumpkin leaped straight into the shallow, Tiffany-blue water, which was so sun-kissed that the transient few seconds of acclimatisation usually needed when you step int
o the sea became redundant. With so few other people in the water, his main competition in the sea came from a hungry pelican swooping in and out of the water with a competitive velocity.
I sometimes fear that travel writing has quashed the reader in me with all of life’s quieter moments being used to stimulate the conception of my own words rather than the appreciation of others’. Before joining Pumpkin for a wade in the sea therefore, I tried to redress this balance by making headway through my novel, disturbed only by the transient and unexplained mist of thousands of graceful butterflies whirring by in tandem.
Lunch at Dennis’ Bar
When our appetites were beckoning us, we ordered up some Pina Coladas and took shelter under the veranda at Dennis’ Cocktail Bar & Restaurant, where it is worth arriving a little early for lunch to secure yourself one of the beach view tables (it really does promise one of the best beach views you have ever dined to.)
With the benefit of being the only eating joint around, they have a bit of a monopoly on the stomachs of hungry tourists but they live up to this task by serving up solid portions of hearty, fresh, local food, the kind of food that will have you Googling Caribbean recipes when you are home and for us, was the best food we tasted during our entire time in the Caribbean.
Pumpkin kept it simple with a classic, jerk chicken, which he tells me is the best he has ever tried and I decided to keep it very local with the Ffryes bay shrimp in coconut and garlic sauce.
Of all the island beaches we visited, for me, it was Ffryes beach in Antigua that stole my heart the most. I want to say that next time I am back, I will explore one of the other 364 beaches. I should. And perhaps, I would but as I relive that perfect day at Ffryes in my mind, its idyllic sandy shores, its tranquil surroundings and its mouth-watering food-like-your-Grandma-made cuisine, I find it harder to convince myself that I could.