Trip to the Beach: Living on Island Time in the Caribbean

Trip to the Beach: Living on Island Time in the Caribbean

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by Melinda Blanchard, Robert Blanchard

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This is the true story of a trip to the beach that never ends. It's about a husband and wife who escape civilization to build a small restaurant on an island paradise -- and discover that even paradise has its pitfalls. It's a story filled with calamities and comedy, culinary disasters and triumphs, and indelible portraits of people who live and work on a sliver of…  See more details below


This is the true story of a trip to the beach that never ends. It's about a husband and wife who escape civilization to build a small restaurant on an island paradise -- and discover that even paradise has its pitfalls. It's a story filled with calamities and comedy, culinary disasters and triumphs, and indelible portraits of people who live and work on a sliver of beauty set in the Caribbean Sea. It's about the maddening, exhausting, outlandish complications of trying to live the simple life -- and the joy that comes when you somehow pull it off.

The story begins when Bob and Melinda Blanchard sell their successful Vermont food business and decide, perhaps impulsively, to get away from it all. Why not open a beach bar and grill on Anguilla, their favorite Caribbean island? One thing leads to another and the little grill turns into an enchanting restaurant that quickly draws four-star reviews and a celebrity-studded clientele eager for Melinda's delectable cooking. Amid the frenetic pace of the Christmas "high season," the Blanchards and their kitchen staff -- Clinton and Ozzie, the dancing sous-chefs; Shabby, the master lobster-wrangler; Bug, the dish-washing comedian -- come together like a crack drill team. And even in the midst of hilarious pandemonium, there are moments of bliss.

As the Blanchards learn to adapt to island time, they become ever more deeply attached to the quirky rhythms and customs of their new home. Until disaster strikes: Hurricane Luis, a category-4 storm with two-hundred-mile-an-hour gusts, devastates Anguilla. Bob and Melinda survey the wreckage of their beloved restaurant and wonder whether leaving Anguilla, with its innumerable challenges, would be any easier than walking out on each other. Affectionate, seductive, and very funny, A Trip to the Beach is a love letter to a place that becomes both home and escape.

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Editorial Reviews
Our Review
A Labor of Love in Paradise
Melinda and Robert Blanchard, authors of A Trip to the Beach, have made every traveler's fantasy their reality. After a lifetime of sun-kissed vacations on the gorgeous Caribbean island of Anguilla, they decided to trade their life in snowy Vermont for an existence of sea breezes, sandy beaches, and spectacular sunsets.

But don't get too jealous of the Blanchards' move to paradise -- it wasn't all palm trees and trade winds. That's because the Blanchards' decision to move included a unique twist on the familiar tale of the couple that ditches the rat race for a more laid-back way of life. The Blanchards, lifelong gourmands, decided to move to Anguilla to open a restaurant.

Getting a restaurant up and running is backbreaking work no matter where you are. But when you're on an island where the national pastime is "limin' " (sitting in the shade watching life go by) and every piece of equipment for the kitchen and every ingredient for the menu must be procured by traversing international waters, opening a restaurant that will cater to the world's most discriminating palates is an unfathomable task. To say the least, the Blanchards had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

For the Blanchards, the successful proprietors of the Blanchard & Blanchard specialty food business, planning the look of the restaurant and the dishes on the menu came naturally. But for foreigners living and working on the island, navigating the local rules and regulations was a real challenge.

Anguilla operates on "island time," a far cry from the pace the Blanchards were used to. But the countless frustrations they faced were mitigated by their carefully cultivated friendships with a compelling cast of island natives. With lots of help from their friends, Melinda and Bob were able to create an award-winning restaurant and transform themselves into true islanders.

Melinda and Bob's experiences with building, opening, and running Blanchard's make for a delightfully delicious and entertaining read. Tales of navigating customs, shipping building supplies from a Home Depot in Miami and importing food and wine from around the world are great comedies of errata, as are the amusing stories about pleasing discriminating diners and trying to serve a spectacular meal during a blackout.

The real highlights of the book are Melinda's mouthwatering recipes, taken directly from the restaurant's menu. If you can't get to the Caribbean anytime soon, try whipping up a crispy-crusted snapper with Thai citrus sauce with a side of the venerable Uncle Waddy's favorite corn bread. Thirsty? Try some rum punch, or the Blanchards' bartender's favorite drink, the banana cabana.

A Trip to the Beach is a wonderful a story of a labor of love that will make you want to hop the next flight down to Anguilla for a day on the island's gorgeous beaches and a night of fine dining at Blanchard's.

Emily Burg is a New York-based freelancer who burns, not tans.

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From the air Anguilla looked narrow, flat, and scrubby, but that was only part of the picture. In my mind, I saw the real Anguilla: sea grape and crimson flamboyant trees, women steadying pails of water on their heads, sand that might have been poured from a sack of sugar, the cool terra-cotta floors of the Hotel Malliouhana. The sunshine alone was enough to make me smile. Stepping off the plane, I felt the breeze from the east, scented by the hibiscus that grew alongside the terminal. Those cool currents made the sun seem unthreatening. Poor Bob, with his fair complexion, would be pink in a matter of minutes.

In Anguilla it is customary to greet everyone with a courtly "Good morning" or "Good afternoon." As we approached the young woman at the immigration counter, we were greedy enough to hope for more. We'd seen her many times on our visits to the island. We wanted to be recognized, to be told that we were different from mere tourists--connected.

"Good afternoon," the young woman said, smiling. "Welcome back." Anguilla had begun to cast its spell.

As our taxi made its way westward--slowing for potholes, speed bumps, people, goats--I counted the ways I loved this little island. Unlike its neighbors, Anguilla (rhymes with vanilla and pronounced Ann-gwilla) had no casinos, no duty-free shopping, and no cruise ships. Visitors here looked for less, not more. They tended to arrive one or two at a time and not in packs. Their intentions were simple: to walk on the beach, go snorkeling, read a good book, take a dip in the water. They'd found a place where handmade signs beckoned them to Easy Corner Villas, Sandy Hill, and Blowing Point. Drawn to this tiny British outpost only sixteen miles long, they appreciated the rhythm, the balmy pace. Little schoolgirls in handmade uniforms skipped along the road, holding hands.

The idyllic life on Anguilla isn't an illusion manufactured for tourists. The island's standard of living is higher than its neighbors'. No gambling means no gambling problems. Limited work permits for outsiders ensures plenty of jobs for locals. This is a country with no taxes, where a dollar earned is an actual dollar. There is no unemployment, and eighty-five-degree temperatures with sunshine almost every day. Life is good.

There are several world-class hotels on the island, all criminally luxurious. Over the years we had alternated between them, savoring their brands of exquisite tranquillity. One, Cap Juluca, boasts villas with Moroccan-style domes, and bathrooms so vast that they have their own gardens. Another, Malliouhana, was created--and is lovingly cared for--by a retired English gentleman whose lifelong dream had been to preside over such a hideaway. Here life is serene, with white stucco arches, ceiling fans that seem to lull away one's cares, and a breathtaking view of the clear turquoise water from the top of a cliff.

Our taxi driver, Mac Pemberton, had driven us around the island many times, but that day was different. He had called us in Vermont with urgent news. We had spoken about opening a beach bar in Anguilla, and he had promised to help find us a spot. Now he had scheduled a meeting for us to meet Bennie, the landlord of an abandoned restaurant.

It wasn't a notion from the blue. Many years earlier, when Jesse was five, Bob and I had taken him to Barbados, where we'd spent a wonderful morning hunting conch shells and building an enormous sand castle complete with moat. By the time we finished we were ravenous, but there were no restaurants in sight. So we set off down the beach. We were all three healthy and brown with sun; even Bob had gotten past the sunburn stage. Jesse danced in and out of the surf, laughing at nothing and everything. I felt preposterously lucky. A good meal would complete the experience.

After about a mile we spotted a picnic table. A short distance away was a man leaning back in a beach chair, his feet propped up on a giant cooler, his head buried in a thick, tattered paperback. Above him was a small thatched roof with a blackboard sign.




It was like finding a lemonade stand in the middle of the desert. We stood in front of the man and smiled expectantly, but he must have been intent on finishing his page, because it took him a minute to acknowledge us. When he was ready, he slowly swung his feet off the cooler and looked up.


Jesse was the first to respond. "Starving. What do you have?"

With his head, the man gestured at the menu on the blackboard. He seemed eager to get back to his book, which I saw now was Moby-Dick. After a hasty conference, we ordered three burgers, two Cokes, and a beer. We handed him a wad of bills and in return received our drinks, three raw hamburger patties, and a long pair of tongs. Then he motioned toward a fifty-five-gallon oil drum that had been cut in half lengthwise with a torch, propped up on several lengths of steel pipe, and filled with hot coals. We realized we were about to cook our own lunch.

"We just paid forty-two dollars for a lunch that must have cost that guy five bucks," said Bob, standing over the grill. "And we have to cook it ourselves." His grumbling was mixed with admiration.

One bite was all it took to change our mood. "This is the best hamburger I've ever had," Jesse declared. We all agreed.

I marveled at the ingenuity of the setup. A secluded spot, sand like flour, customers arriving in bathing suits. The guy barely lifted a finger, cleared at least $35, and gave us a lunch we'd remember forever--an experience that seemed to me to rival the best white-tablecloth meals we had eaten in Paris. The man reading Moby-Dick had sold us a frame of mind.

From the Hardcover edition.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"A Trip to the Beach is the next best thing to being there. The Blanchards have given us a smart and amusing tale of running off to chase a dream. It's just as tasty as their cooking."
— Tom Brokaw, Anchor, NBC Nightly News

"If you think it takes courage to open and operate a fine dining restaurant, just try doing it the Blanchard way. Pick a beautiful but remote island with cultural idiosyncrasies, build it from scratch, make it seasonal to assure up and down business, and subject yourself to the most powerful hurricanes Mother Nature knows how to create. Other than that, it's easy. I love the Blanchards' determined sense of hospitality and appreciate the rich texture they have woven into Anguilla's colorful fabric."
— Danny Meyer, Coauthor, The Union Square Cafe Cookbook

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Trip to the Beach 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
love2travel2gether More than 1 year ago
A trip to the beach is a memoir written by a couple who decide to live their dream of moving to Anguilla and opening up a restaurant. Although their journey is full of challenges in the end they are successful and extremely satisfied with their decision. I could relate 100% to this book as my Husband and I plan to open a B & B in Puerto Rico when we retire so it was interesting to see another couple do something similar (although PR is modern compared to Anguilla). If you love to travel and you love other cultures, read this will just be swept away to the beach.
cage1947 More than 1 year ago
Interesting without the drama of 'Don't Stop the Carnival'. Unlike the bar and grill they planned to open they instead opened a gourmet restaurant which required twice the work and half the fun.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A lovely memoir about life on island time
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
mrobin9 More than 1 year ago
I really liked this book. If you enjoy experiencing what it is like to actually live in another part of the world (like I do) get this book. You get a real sense of the people on this island. I even looked up the location afterwards to understand where exactly it was and the surrounding islands. A real life geography lesson!
twinmommy32 More than 1 year ago
I have never ever been a reader! I would rather see the movie than read the book anyday. That all changed when I picked up this book. I couldn't put it down, you feel like you are right there with the Blanchard's. It is a great read! It makes you want to move to the Caribbean!!
Diana Beideman More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a lot of fun. I feel the need to visit the island and the restaurant and contemplate my retirement days.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have recently started reading travelogues and stumbled across this one in the bookstore. Although I am presently in no position financially to do what this couple was able to do, I definitely admire their strength and unity in their marriage to accomplish what they have. I especially liked how open and loving they were to the natives of the island, and pretty much became a part of everyone's family there. Maybe one day if I ever get to visit Anguilla, I will most certainly visit their restaurant and offer my congratulations to them on a job well done.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. What a wonderful feeling the author created, making us a part of their struggles and joys of starting their business and running it. I felt as if I were right there in the kitchen with them. I loved their staff. They sure are Sweethearts. I tried the 'Cornbread' recipe. MMMM,It was really delicious. I thought it was an interesting twist on cornbread.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Very interesting and entertaining book. It sounds like hard work getting away from it all on a Caribbean island! Recipes sound great. Their Hurricane experience was interesting to read, since I went through Hurricane Andrew. I would have liked to know more of their background, i.e. how did she become a chef and how did he become a builder? Also, at the end of the book, after they settle down in the restaurant again, were they still happy having only their island friends. I guess if I want to know more, it must be a great book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wonderful first book for these two authors. Touches on all the senses. Enjoyed the behind the scenes information on the Easter Sailboat Regatta.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a good book. For those who like letting your mind get away from the everyday humbug, this is a good escape.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mel and Bob Blanchard have done what I feel many wish they could...just leave it all behind for that dream of a house overlooking the unbelievable Caribbean water. Their baptism into the island lifestyle will have you giggling and crying at some point during your read because they are sharing some very amazing experiences as they follow their dream (with more than a few potholes along the way). I loved this book and really want others to realize the charm of the Caribbean, beyond the beautiful beaches and in her lovely, warm, wonderful people! Having experienced this firsthand in my life, I was so thrilled to read a book that really conveyed that message. It will captivate you! I only now must figure out when I can make MY trip to Anguilla that I have wanted to do for several years. I know the trip will have been worth the wait!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book makes takes you the heart of Anguilla. It allows you to tag along with the author's as they establish their dream restaurant right on the sunny beaches of the Caribbean. They introduce you to some of the locals who add flavor with their island lifestyle. The reader can easily picture the adventures as they unfold for the authors. A must read for anyone who enjoys that special island lifestyle.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Blanchards seem a bit up tight to do what they did and that is why they seem to have so much trouble in their new enviroment. They weren't on 'island time' when they started their new lifestyle, they were still on continental time. Fun reading anyway.