Published in The Sunday Telegraph in 2001
The plan was to kayak out to the next island, snorkel for an hour or so, then back to the beach restaurant for lunch. Unfortunately, the boatman wouldn’t hear of it. “You’ve never kayaked before and you want to go out to Dead Chest?” He looked at my sister and me, dressed for our voyage in sarongs and flip-flops, and laughed. “You ladies should go to that bay over there.”
He was pointing to a bite-sized white beach a couple of hundred yards from where we were standing. “But Dead Chest is Blackbeard’s island,” we said, looking wistfully at the lump of rock on which the pirate notoriously abandoned his men with just one bottle of rum and a cutlass. “Yes, but it’s farther than it looks and you ladies wouldn’t make it.”
Fifteen minutes later, we dragged our brightly coloured craft on to the designated beach – deserted save for an assortment of chairs and a Champagne cork half buried in the sand. It was, we decided, unlikely that someone had kayaked here with a bottle of bubbly between their knees – they had probably asked housekeeping to deliver it via the service road which loops the 2,000-acre island. It was hot and we wished that we’d had the same foresight.
Peter Island, in the British Virgin Islands, was developed in the late 1960s by a Norwegian called Peter Smedwig. He shipped in the A-frame chalet-style buildings from Norway and named the island after himself. Now privately owned, the resort has more than 50 rooms, private bungalows and suites. Our room, if it didn’t quite overlook the sea, was separated from the beach only by a strip of grass, a hedge and a couple of palm trees. At night, if we remembered to turn off the air-conditioning and open the windows, we could hear the Atlantic swishing in from the reef and breaking over the sand.
You might expect an exclusive island resort to feel claustrophobic, but this one certainly doesn’t – even when the resort is full. “Where is everyone?” wondered my sister, as she clambered inexpertly into a hammock. I handed her a glass of Veuve Cliquot (ludicrously expensive but that discarded Champagne cork had given us ideas) and consulted my list of organised activities. “Perhaps they’ve all gone on the walking tour of the island or on the botanist trail? Maybe they’ve rented bicycles or taken the ferry to one of the other islands for the day.”
“Having cocktails, more like,” she replied. But they weren’t. It was 6.30pm and the poolside bar was deserted. A warm breeze, carrying with it the scent of lilies from the flower arrangement in the lobby, rippled the surface of the pool. At first, all we could hear was the shriek of the blender as the barman mixed our banana daiquiris. But, when he had finished, another noise became apparent above the rustle of the trade wind: the scrape of knife and fork on china; the clang of spoon on metal serving dish; the low murmur of conversation. Of course. It was buffet night in the fine dining restaurant. And, despite the early hour, that’s where our fellow guests were.
It’s a resort thing: you’re paying for three gourmet meals a day and there’s not much else to do in the evening so you might as well get stuck in early. We joined the throng at the seafood buffet and piled our plates with king prawns and lobster. By 7pm, we were pushing back our plates and declaring that we couldn’t eat another bite. Then a waiter asked us if we were ready for our main course. Eating too much is another resort thing.
The next evening, there was to be a steel band in the beach bar. So, after another idyllic day of snorkelling, swimming and lazing about in strategically placed hammocks and sunbeds, we made our way along the sand to supper. We paused for a moment to watch the pelicans diving for fish, with an inelegant sploshing technique which set the laughing gulls cackling like goodtime girls on a Saturday night.
A little farther up the beach, we passed a table laid for a private dinner for two under the palm trees. The beach bar was buzzing. As we ate, the steel band banged out vaguely familiar pop tunes. Then, suddenly, from the shadows tottered a phalanx of stilt-walkers. For half an hour, they swayed and lurched on their spindly appendages in time to the music. Then, appearing to tire of the whole thing, they sat down on the beach, took off their stilts and went to hang out with the band.
The excitement over, our fellow diners drifted off to bed. We thought there might be more life up at the other bar – and there was. A game of chess was under way in the poolside library. Since neither of us plays, we, too, decided on another early night – the better to save our strength for the day of loafing, snorkelling, drinking and eating that was to follow…