Parrot Cay, oh, Parrot Cay…
I am in the Admirals Club at the Miami airport as I write this; I am about to board the American Airlines flight 69 to Los Angeles, after ten days in beautiful Parrot Cay, the smallest of the Turks and Caicos islands.
It was the early afternoon of August 31st when we arrived on the island: “We are back,” we said in unison. I looked at Ben, and his smile warmed me like a blanket on the first day of winter. But it was still summer nonetheless, humid, salty, marine summer. And we were finally on vacation, full of promises and good intentions.
The first two days playfully ran after each other like kids chasing a ball; we slowly began to unplug. We had found the same room in which we had stayed the year before, for our honeymoon, so the ocean view from the terrace felt familiar — we were at home at last. The green of the trees, dotted with the bright red of the hibiscus flowers, sharply gave way to the sea, the cyan, turquoise, azure, and midnight blue Caribbean sea.
During off-season, the two restaurants of the resort open on alternate nights. The Asian-inspired Lotus, by the pool, serves lunch daily, and dinner on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, while the Italian-inspired Terrace Restaurant is open the other nights. And it was Italian, that we had on the evening of September 2nd.
I ordered tagliolini al pesto, and even though they were a bit too oily for my taste, I appreciated the mild use of garlic, which I don’t digest easily. The flavor all but shouted from the plate, and the powerful aroma of basil and pine nuts reminded me of my grandmother’s cooking. Pesto was her signature sauce, and just like her, chef Heidi Flanagan served it according to tradition, with boiled potatoes and French green beans. For the appetizer, Ben and I shared burrata with a vincotto sauce, and even if the Pavlova for dessert was more of a hard meringue topped with mango sorbet, we were satisfied with the meal.
Right after dinner, we returned to our room.
“I want to see today’s photos,” I told Ben after I had brushed my teeth. I sat on the bed while impatiently waiting for the files to download on my phone. Wi-Fi isn’t fast in Parrot Cay, but being on vacation I wasn’t bothered by it, and by the end of the stay I had almost forgotten about my phone.
Each shot portrayed clear waters, white sand, mangroves, and palm trees. But some also showed me in a bikini.
“Oh my God,” I said. “Look at this,” I pointed at portrait that Ben had taken of me in the pool. “Round and fat like when I was 10. I hate it!”
I compared the photo with a childhood one that I had posted on Instagram the day before — it was circa 1990 in Italy, and I was dressed up as a gypsy for carnival.
I hated the photo so much that I deleted it, and before I knew it I was making a list of all the food I had eaten since our arrival.
In Parrot Cay, the food is a little expensive for its quality, but most dinners were averagely good nonetheless.
At the Lotus restaurant, the oysters with sweet chili, lime dressing and pickled shallots may not have been as exceptional as the ones I was used to at Grand Central Market in Downtown Los Angeles, or at The Hungry Cat, in Hollywood, but they were good enough to order them every other night. The lobster Pad Thai was very well balanced in texture and flavor, and the prawn spring rolls with avocado, cilantro, mint and peanuts were possibly the best appetizer the restaurant offered. Their signature ginger tea is to die for, an intense and invigorating union of long-simmered ginger root, lemon, and honey; and so is breakfast. The morning buffet offers — among other things — fresh pastries, warm pain au chocolat, almond-filled croissants, fruit tarts, and several types of bread. Tropical fruit always abounds, fresh, local, so colorful that I could eat it with my eyes. And the unique blend of goat and cow Greek yogurt with fresh mango is divine, sweet and tart, at once vibrating on the tongue, and like velvet down the palate. Their coconut waffles with mascarpone and berry salad, too, are not to be missed.
But my reaction to the photo of me taken earlier by the pool didn’t have anything to do with food. In fact, I was reading Ruth Reichl in those beach days, and I was also taking notes on my own food memoir. I mean, I was interested in food, and I actually looked forward to every meal; I was curious to discover the local flavors and new recipes to try at home.
My disappointment with what my face and body looked like in the shots from earlier that day had to do with a wounded, young me that still struggles to embrace today’s Alice. I did not recognize my body, and so I punished myself for it, for not being able to transform it into the old image of ‘perfection’ that still lingers in my mind, from time to time.
I went to bed sad that night, and the following morning, September 3rd, I woke up in physical pain; my neck and my left shoulder hurt, and I had a terrible headache.
“You should get a massage,” Ben suggested after breakfast.
The COMO Shambhala Spa (according to ancient Buddhist texts, ‘Shambhala’ refers to a sacred place of bliss) is, in fact, one of the most renowned in the world, heavenly, at one with nature, and offering superior holistic treatments and products. The Remedial massage with Buapan Phasanawong seemed to be the perfect choice, not cheap, at $245, but promising magic when in pain.
So I did. I called the spa and made an appointment for that same day, at 2:45 in the afternoon.
But things were about to change in paradise. The day ahead, that I was about to spend in bed, in the dark, hating myself, would prove that no amount of love, physical health, beauty, money, or possibilities, can heal a wounded soul.
“You take the massage, you deserve it more than I do,” I said to Ben, over his protests. He had gone to the beach and I, obsessed with my body, had opted for the gym.
Even if I was angry and in a lot of pain I rejected his help and the massage. I also rejected the Earl Grey that he had gotten me from the library where, every day, afternoon tea is served. I rejected his kindness, his empathy, his patience, and a shoulder on which to cry.
I skipped dinner, too, which can be a dangerous for a recovering bulimic or anorexic.
When I came back from the gym I went to bed without showering, because I couldn’t bear the vision of myself naked. I slept the entire afternoon away, and the night, too. When I woke up, early the following morning, nothing seemed to have changed.
I still hated my body, and I only walked to the beach to breathe fresh air. I had not yet spoken a single word since the day before, and my headache had not left.
“No thanks,” were my only words when Ben asked me to please book another massage. He had taken mine and loved it.
“I am a waste of life,” I said. I emailed my therapists and told them what had happened. I meant it, when I said that I didn’t deserve life. I wanted to die.
“Don’t watch that,” Ben whispered as I laid on the bed, after the beach, hypnotized by the resort video that showed every marvel of Parrot Cay, the Japanese bath, the infinity pool, the coconut and banana plantation, lovers holding hands walking along the beautiful beach, kids playing, and also the sunsets, the food, the love for life.
The air was humid in the room; I wanted to cry, but no tears escaped my eyes.
“Don’t watch that, Alice” Ben said again.
He sat next to me on the bed and he delicately touched my hand; I did not retract it.
“Let’s go be in it, Alice. We are here, we are in Parrot Cay.”
His eyes were full of sorrow; his pain hurt me more than my own.
It took me almost 48 hours to cry. But I did, on September 4th, as soon as Ben walked into the shower and couldn’t hear me.
I consider myself very lucky; I have a beautiful life, I am healthy, I am loved, I get to travel and see the world, and I am building a family with the man I love with all my heart. But there are days when I am blind to all that; I can’t see my blessings when I am in a depressive loop. It isn’t my fault, I am not a bad person; depression is an illness, and I am on a healing path.
I wouldn’t wish this suffering on my worst enemy, and that’s why I write about it. Because healing isn’t always an easy road to take.
Luckily, after two days I came back anew. Ben and I walked by the beach at sunset, depression had left me exhausted and confused, but also open to the surprises of life. Coincidence or not, before dinner we ran into Keith Richards at the poolside bar!
During the six days that followed we were blessed with fantastic weather. I had the remedial massage and enjoyed the spa. We also biked around the island, and adventured into the coconut plantation, where I was bitten by more mosquitos than I can count. I didn’t blow-dry my hair or wear make-up; we did yoga at sunset, and meditated daily.
We made new friends, and a sweet family from New Jersey invited us snorkeling. With Sal, Lisette and their kids Leo and Sophia I witnessed one of the most beautiful shows in nature; I had never snorkeled before. We ate chips on the boat, and also drank fruit punch.
Ben and I kayaked and paddle boarded like pros; we read books, forgot about our phones, and we swam in the sea until the very last day.
Parrot Cay is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and it is with beauty and serenity in my heart that I have returned to Los Angeles. Because if I don’t take with me what makes me happy, I am not really living the life I have been given.
We fall, and when we get up we walk even further. Parrot Cay is a starting point to build my very own island within.
What NOT to miss in Parrot Cay:
- Their signature honey ginger tea
- Breakfast, the homemade yogurt, and the coconut waffles
- Prawn spring rolls with mint and cilantro
- Mango and guava sorbet
- Banana Crème Brulée with coconut sorbet
- Afternoon tea in the library, accompanied by an exquisite, delicate selection of pastries like macaroons made with the locally grown coconut, tiny gems of perfectly buttery puff pastry covered with cream custard and fresh raspberries, or tiny chocolate cakes.
- Dominican Paella at Mango Reef, in Turtle Cove, Providenciales
- The Remedial massage with Buapan
- The hot infinity pool next to the yoga pavilion
- The Invigorate line of soap, shower gel, lotion, conditioner, shampoo, and essential oil
- Meditation at sunset in one of the secluded huts along the beach
- Watching the stars on the beach. I have never seen the milky way so clearly as I did on the island