The Caribbean’s Best Off-the-Beaten-Path Shopping

January 18, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Posted in Anguilla, Antigua/Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Caribbean/Bahamas/Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, Martinique | Leave a comment
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by David Paul Appell

Why in the world should you settle for all those cheesy malls and resort gift shops, the cruise-terminal complexes and hypercommercialized downtowns clogged with cookie-cutter perfume, watch, and T-shirt stores? If you know where to look, it’s still possible to find unique local products, atmosphere, or both. There are of course various straw markets and crafts centers on various islands, of course, but here are just a few of the other favorites I’ve come across in my years covering the Caribbean. And it’s just part one — part two is on the way!

Anguilla One of the Caribbean’s top sculptors, Cheddie Richardson is a world-class whiz at shaping wood, coral, bronze, and stone into graceful, sometimes haunting pieces depicting people and fauna. Get an eyeful out at Cheddie’s Carving Studio in The Cove, out on the island’s west end not far from Cap Jaluca and other resorts (he does commissions and sells other Anguilla artists and artisans, too).

Antigua Shopping-wise, if there’s one thing the Caribbean’s stuffed full of, it’s same-old-same-old jewelry shops. The Goldsmitty, part of the historic Redcliffe Quay complex in St. John’s, is one of the felicitous exceptions. Dutch expat Hans Smit has quite an imagination, and uses it to turn out unique gold pieces set with pearls and a slew of gems from diamonds to black opals.

The Bahamas You may’ve spotted those primary-colored Androsia batiks — cheerfully awash in sea critters, island flowers, butterflies, and more — for sale elsewhere in the Caribbean. But the mother workshop, now in its 37th year, is on Andros, the Bahamas’ largest Out Island, just outside Andros Town. Pop in for a tour and the best selection anywhere (outlets also on most other Bahamian isles). Another Out Island keeper is Great Abaco’s Conch Pearl Galleries in Marsh Harbour, which sells some great local arts and crafts but specializes, of course, in conch pearls — those pink little beauties from the queen conch that are among the world’s rarest baubles. And yes, I’m aware that technically the Bahamas aren’t part of the Caribbean.

Barbados In the island’s upper central highlands, Earthworks Pottery contains a cornucopia of colorful crockery with designs from understated to psychadelic, but all tropically inspired (you can stick it all in the microwave and dishwasher, too). The gallery also hawks a bunch of other great Bajan booty, from paintings to jams.

British Virgin Islands Yes, corals are endangered in parts of the Caribbean, but at The Coral Studio, up in the hills of Tortola, Fiona and David Dugdale use only that which washes up on shore to create elegant, delicate pieces — figurines, plates, clocks, boxes, and more — in various pastel colors and sometimes reminiscent of Wedgwood china (by appointment). For some funkier browsing, head to Tortola’s East End to bridge-connected Beef Island, where Aragorn’s Studio purveys not only Aragorn Dick-Read’s creative pottery and metal creations but also an array of edibles, traditional Carib Indian crafts, and more; demos and lessons are available, too.

Cayman Islands The Caymans famously excel in the quality and quantity of their marine life, and for evocative depictions thereof, a couple of Grand Cayman stalwarts offer different but equally compelling options. Artist/marine biologist/all-round personality Guy Harvey sells his vividly realistic paintings, prints, and sculptures at his imposing George Town gallery, and at the Sunset House Hotel south of town Cathy Church runs a dive/camera shop and gallery full of her stunning color and B/W photos and prints.

Dominican Republic All the resort areas — Punta Cana, Puerto Plata, etc. — have their little shops and malls, but for better options I recommend a visit to capital Santo Domingo, an easy day or overnight away. Examples include the colonial zone’s La Atarazana complex and L’Île au Trésor in the Plaza Conde building, where Parisian Patrick Leclerq creates exquisite jewelry using native Dominican amber and larimar, much of it pirate-themed. Outside SD, another must-see collection of shops at a touristy but high-quality ersatz “old Mediterranean” village out in La Romana, Altos de Chavón, including jewelry (some one-of-a-kind and/or custom made, especially out of larimar and amber, a Dominican specialty), artworks, crafts, clothing, housewares, furniture, cigars, coffee, linens, golf gear, and plenty more.

Martinique Don’t miss Le Village de la Poterie in Trois-Ilets, the small seaside town across the bay from Fort-de-France. In these red-brick buildings, front and center amid the various island crafts is of course the pottery, planters, and figurines shaped from the local red clay using traditional Carib and Arawak techniques and designs; demos are very much a part of the experience.

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Ferrytales From the Abacos

August 31, 2009 at 9:12 am | Posted in Bahamas, Caribbean/Bahamas/Bermuda | 1 Comment

by Chelle Koster Walton

No matter where you go in the Abacos, boats are big -- even when they're little. Above, New Plymouth.

No matter where you go in the Abacos, boats are big -- even when they're little

I watched tidily uniformed schoolkids climb aboard as the crew loaded sacks of flour, a boxed microwave, some spare luggage, and various other unidentifiable bundles onto the 50-foot fiberglass ferry boat. Despite the early hour, everyone was cheerful as they made their way to their wood benches, nodding good morning to fellow passengers whether they knew them or not. The captain crawled through the window, gunned the engine, and we began powering our way through the bracing, briny air from Treasure Cay to Green Turtle Cay.

 

Other seafarers that day were piloting million-dollar yachts that were costing them a small fortune in anchorage fees to travel around the Abacos, a 120-mile-long chain of more than a hundred Out Islands of the Bahamas. Us? We were paying $17 round trip to hop out to Green Turtle Cay, where we spent the day breakfasting at Green Turtle Club, snorkeling and picnicking, and touring the bright little town of New Plymouth (the very model of what a Bahamian town should look like).

It’s my favorite pastime in the Abacos, the Bahamian sailing capital: day-hopping to its scattering of small isles or overnighting on one of the chain’s ten inhabited islands to soak up as much of the character of each as possible. Flights from Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando, West Palm Beach, and Nassau drop you on Great Abaco Island at Marsh Harbour, the third largest town in the Bahamas – but with only one stoplight, mind you. And out here you can find plenty of places to eat and overnight that your wallet will appreciate.

From Marsh Harbour and the Great Abaco Island town of Treasure Cay, ferries depart regularly and dependably for Green Turtle Cay, Elbow Cay, Man-O-War Cay, and Great Guana Cay. The Sea of Abaco crossings are quick – 15 to 30 minutes – and usually smooth.

Elbow Cay’s the most popular excursion because the ferry leaves from the Marsh Harbour municipal dock and delivers you to a fairytale town where the lighthouse looks like a candy cane and the homes cut from gingerbread. Hope Town, like New Plymouth, was one of four early Bahamian settlements created by Loyalists fleeing the turning tide of the American Revolution. With them they brought their architecture, ships, and slaves. All influence the makeup of today’s Hope Town, where motor vehicles are permitted only to those with special licenses.

Daytrippers stroll Front Street and Back Street, stopping to learn the island’s history at the Wyannie Malone Historical Museum, perusing the galleries and shops, and refueling on “conch in da’ bag” at Harbour’s Edge restaurant. To overnight in the midst of the local scene, check in to Hope Town Harbour Lodge (www.HopeTownLodge.com). Tucked into a flowery hillside on the edge of a dune, its accommodations range from rooms in the historic inn to gingerbread-trimmed oceanside cottages, and start at $99 (the Bahamian dollar’s on par with the U.S.). Its tiny restaurant is considered one of the finest in town.

In-the-know sailors know Great Guana Cay for Nippers Beach Bar & Grill, one of the most famous yachtie bars in the tropics — especially come Sunday, when it throws one heck of a wild boar roast. Drink something rummy here, grab a Guana Grabber (three kinds of rum mixed with pineapple and grapefruit juice) at Grabbers Bar & Grill, and you’ll find yourself easing into the rhythm of this island nicely. If you’ve grabbed one too many, Grabbers rents out one- and two-bedroom units (www.GrabbersAtSunset.com) from $100 a night.

The antithesis of Great Guana Cay’s eternal happy hour, on Man-O-War Cay no booze is sold or served. So why go? As the boatbuilding capital of the Bahamas, it’s a fascinating place to watch craftsmen at work making and repairing boats, creating models, and creating ditty bags out of sailcloth. Another car-free, carefree island, it has a few interesting shops and harborside restaurants, plus a wonderful beach that’s nearly always empty.

The Abacos are among those places where you just must get out on the water. And naturally there are plenty of varioius kinds of boats for rent and charter. But if that’s too involved and/or pricey for you, don’t worry, the ferry-boat system will do double duty for you: island-hopping you through mesmerizing seascapes that will send you back home full of ferry tales.

More info: Abacos.net, Go-Abacos.com.

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