After the official close of the conference, the real fun of exploring the island begins. First stop, Sandy Island. Only 25 by 150 yards, Sandy Island offers beautiful white sand beaches, and a quiet, intimate experience. As you wade into the calm, tepid water it is easy to imagine you’re actually entering a bath that was especially drawn for you. As the sun glints off the rippling water, the healing powers of an afternoon spent like this – no matter how busy or stressed you are – justifies itself.
Back on the mainland, after an exhilarating ride on the water taxi, we’re winding through some of the local beach communities that possess a whimsy you don’t find in the more touristy parts of the island where wild dogs, aimless bovine, and ranging roosters occasionally obstruct the roadway. Onward to Scilly Cay, another small Island that offers a more private beach experience. There we are greeted by the soulful sounds of live SoCo music. The sandy dance floor is crowded with local Anguillan men swaying to the beat with beer bottles and plastic cups of rum punch balancing effortlessly on their heads in an act of cool machismo unchallenged by the fuddy duddy tourists who dance awkwardly on the periphery. Here the music is rocking, the people are friendly, and if you’re hot, there is nothing barring you from a quick dip before refilling your drink.
A place of great mystery and beauty, Anguilla’s tranquility belies a sturdiness of spirit, and a certainty of self that is a reflection of its history and its people. At the close of the conference, David Carty, local Anguillan, writer, film maker (his book Nuttin Bafflin went on to become a critically acclaimed documentary), and paramount seaman, delivered a speech about Anguilla and its history elegantly placing the conference into a much needed context. In that speech he repeated the rhetorical mantra, “Is there a story here?” That fact is, the literary festival was the perfect entry point to Anguilla because it is a place that indeed has many stories, and a place that is invested in telling its own story on its own terms. Worth visiting, least of all because it possesses some of the most beautiful beaches that the Caribbean has to boast, Anguilla could teach us all a thing or two about self-determination. Picturesque, colorful, and deeply tranquil, Anguilla is quite simply unforgettable. To be sure, if these islands could talk, they wouldn’t need to say much.