Friday, December 31, 2010

Time Warp

Every morning of the work week, I wake up, eat breakfast, and as I step into my work uniform, return immediately to 1991.

My work uniform consists of a teal polo, embroidered with my name and the hotel logo, and a pair of khaki shorts. But these aren't just any khaki shorts. HB refuses to be seen with me in public if I'm in my work uniform because of these shorts.

Exhibit A:

In case this picture isn't clear enough, allow me to point out all the things wrong with these shorts. First, the waist is ridiculously high. Usually, the waistband sits about 3 inches above my belly button, and 5 or so inches below my breasts, although it appears that when I raise my arms to shoulder-height, I get an extra couple of inches of clearance. The zipper, if you can't tell, is approximately 12 inches long. The only longer zippers I have ever encountered were for coats and jackets. The bottom of the shorts fall just above my kneecaps, as exposing thigh-flesh might cause guests to be offended. The whole look is pulled together by the enormous darted pleats, more on which later.

Equally depressing is the rear view:

I don't think I've ever had a pair of pants or shorts that have made my butt look worse. Perhaps my biggest complaint against these shorts is that they seem to have been manufactured backwards, or maybe for men? While the pleats in the front create a voluminous, sack-like look, the designer of these beauties neglected to put any space in the back to accommodate one's hindquarters. As a result, when I sit down, I have oceans of fabric in my lap, while my derrière becomes increasingly discomfited.

Objections to these uniform shorts have been raised to hotel management, all to no avail. It seems someone accidentally put an extra couple of zeros on the uniform order twenty years ago, and we all have to suck it up until we run out of these monstrosities. For those nostalgic for the early '90s, send me your size, and I will gladly ship you a few pairs to help reduce our stock!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cleaning Tips

For those of you who, like me, are fighting extreme mold, here are a few housecleaning tips I've picked up from other folks who have more experience with humid climates than I.

First, if you want to re-wear a piece of clothing, do not just hang it in the closet, as it will mold everywhere it touched your body. Spray it with Febreeze, let it dry, and then hang it up. Something about the formula of Febreeze will prevent the mold from taking hold.

To prevent mildew and mold on non-porous, non-fabric household surfaces that cannot be bleached, clean with a 1:1 mixture of vinegar and water. Make sure to test this first in a small, out of the way section of the surface, as the vinegar may damage it, but for the most part, this has proven to be a safe and effective way to neutralize mold and mildew.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Birds and Bugs and Lizards, Oh My!

As I make my way around the property at work every day, I often find myself wishing that I could carry a camera with me wherever I go. My pockets are certainly big enough to accommodate one, but I have a feeling that it would be frowned upon by management if, instead of carrying out my duties, I was constantly photographing all the various critters I see throughout the course of my day.

Since I originally posted about the Antillean Crested Hummingbird, I have seen one again, this time in much better light, and much closer, to the point where I could make a definite identification. The variety of birds here is surpassed only by the variety of insects. Giant bees and moths are not uncommon to see, and the other day, I saw an unusual variety of leaf-bug that exactly resembled the leaf of the royal poinciana trees on property.

I'm also in love with the lizards that we have here. They're about eighteen inches long, including their tails, significantly larger than an anole, and the way they move and look puts one in mind of nothing so much as a dinosaur. They're like miniature T-Rexes, with their short forelegs, and over-sized heads. Thanks to their diminutive size, they aren't nearly as threatening as a T-Rex.

Yesterday, though, I saw the first denizen of the hotel property of which I thoroughly disapprove. I came out of a room during the mid-morning to be confronted by a green iguana, on the ground about five feet in front of me. This unpleasant encounter came immediately on the heels of HB's first iguana sighting on Tortola the day before. While I don't mind the anoles and small lizards, iguanas are an entirely different matter.

About the size of a small dog (think dachshund), iguanas are, to me, one of the most primordial-looking creatures on the planet. Although iguanas in the wild are generally pretty harmless, they adapt to human encroachment quite easily, especially when fed by humans. Their long claws, sharp teeth, and the fact that they carry salmonella on their skin make them utterly distasteful, and sometimes scary, to me.

The iguana I met yesterday thankfully seemed to dislike my presence as much as I did his, as he took off into the bushes at top speed, running on the tips of his claws and crashing through the underbrush. Now that I know that there are iguanas on Tortola, though, I will be approaching my daily routine with a much-heightened vigilance.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

St. Paul's

I find the sanctuary and adjoining cemetery of St. Paul's Episcopal/Anglican Church in Sea Cow's Bay to be quite beautiful.

The above-ground tombs? graves? make me wonder every time I drive by, which is twice a day when I'm working. I know that above-ground graves are not uncommon in especially wet climates, or locations that fall below sea level. Still, having never been to New Orleans to see the famed above-ground cemeteries there, these few above-ground graves are rather different than what I had imagined.

I find the above-ground graves at St. Paul's especially curious, as they are intermingled with what are clearly more traditional gravesites, many of which are unmarked. Are the above-ground graves only for those who can afford them, while the less wealthy take the risk of damp decomposition, or being washed out of their final resting places? I imagine this is likely the case.

 I think I am especially fascinated with St. Paul's due to the large population of chickens that dwells in the cemetery. In times of heavy rain, it is common to see the chickens atop the raised graves, a bizarre image that will stay with me long after I move from the BVI. The day that I stopped to take pictures was rather dry, though, so while there were many roosters and chickens about, none deemed it necessary to move to the higher, drier locale of the above-ground graves.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Morning Drive

Some things about the drive into work this morning put me in a wonderful mood. On days when HB is off, he drives me to work, and we take a different route. Instead of going down into Road Town and along the coastal road, we instead take Ridge Road to Carrot Bay, and then the North Coast Road to my work. I definitely prefer the Ridge Road route, as the views out both sides over the Atlantic and the Caribbean are excellent. It's also about twenty minutes shorter.

This morning, with HB at the wheel, I was relaxing into the ride when I spotted two parrots on the telephone lines overhead. With the windows down, we could hear them chattering and squawking to each other. Shortly after the parrot spotting, "Amazing Grace", played on the bagpipes, came on the radio -- on a station that usually plays reggae and hip-hop. Juxtaposed with the tropical vegetation around us, the parrots we had just seen, this Scottish hymn seemed a little out of place. Finally, as we descended the switchbacks into Carrot Bay, we saw a group of goats in the same spot we often see them in the morning. Today, though, there were a pair of newborn kids clustering under their nanny's legs.

As HB put it: With all these things happening, what a day to have to go to work. But I'm suppose I'm glad I did have to come into work today, as I thoroughly enjoyed the morning drive.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Today, Christmas Day, I am at work. One of the downsides of working in the hospitality industry, I suppose. But since Christmas for HB and me this year only involved the two of us, we moved our celebrations to Christmas Eve.

We didn’t get gifts for each other, figuring being in the BVI was gift enough for this year. We had a few packages from family and coworkers to open, but mostly we celebrated Christmas with food. I spent the two weeks leading up to Christmas Eve planning an elaborate menu of drinks, appetizers, entrees, sides, and plenty of cookies for desserts.

Unthinkingly, I left my grocery shopping until Thursday, my traditional shopping day, but also the 23rd of December, the last day most businesses were open until the 28th.  When I arrived at Riteway, the produce section was packed with people, and as I plundered the aisles, trying to find all my ingredients, I realized that my well-laid plans were quickly being destroyed.

No sweet potatoes, smoked salmon, pecans or baking chocolate of any kind, meant that one of four sides, my only appetizer, and all three kinds of cookies would have to be crossed off my list. In a sad, panicked mood, I finished my shopping at Riteway, went home to put away the groceries I had managed to find, and quickly left again to scour the other stores.

Although a trip to One-Mart revealed nothing, thankfully I was able to find sweet potatoes and baking chocolate at Bobby’s. Some quick menu changes based on supplies I had at home, and HB and I were able to sit down to a delicious Christmas Eve dinner last night.  With carols on the stereo, our enormous dining table filled with Christmas food, and the Christmas lights on the balcony, our first Christmas in the BVI will truly be one to remember.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Day Early

Basset's View of the Islands is celebrating Christmas today, since I have to work on Christmas Day. I'll be in the kitchen all day making delicious, pecan-free foodstuffs (no pecans to be found in any of four groceries), so regular posting will resume tomorrow.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 23, 2010


HB's boss invited us to another of his choir's events. As is often the case, the boss was not forthcoming on many details, and so it was that at 7:45 last night, we got into the car to follow along behind him as we made our way to an undisclosed location for similarly undisclosed activities.

It ended up we had been invited to a good, old-fashioned Christmas caroling, as the eight members of the choir, plus HB and me, crowded into church members' living rooms to sing a few carols, and share the festive spirit. Making my way into the folks of homes who had no idea who I was, was a little awkward at first, but the welcoming and accepting nature of both the hosts and the choir soon relaxed me, and before I knew it, I was singing along with carols I had never heard before.

HB and I were introduced to new Christmas Carols ("Jesus, the Light of the World" was my favorite) and new people as we went from house to house. At 10:30, with the choir showing no time of stopping soon, HB and I said our goodbyes, and headed home with wonderful memories of wassailing in the BVI.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Library

My aunt Diane, who has far more experience moving to new places than I, always said that one of the best ways to start feeling comfortable in a new city was to find the library, and get a new library card. It not only makes you get out and explore the city, but introduces you to a few local residents. And most libraries have a decent shelf of books about the area, and by local authors.

Finding the library in some cities, though, is harder than in others. I knew the BVI main library was on Fleming Street, in Road Town, but the first time I tried to find it, I drove the length of Fleming Street four times and never spotted it. When I returned to look a few days later, the third pass finally revealed the location of the library to me:

The Main Branch of the BVI Library is above the Riteway (or, as the letters say, the Rit Way Ood M Ket) downtown on Fleming Street. I swear the banner advertising its location in this picture was not there in August when I was trying to find the place.

A serious set of stairs on the left side of the Riteway lead upstairs, to the set of five rooms that constitute the library. The Circulation Desk and a Conference Room take up the front two rooms, while the remaining three are devoted to the Reference Section, Children's Collection, and Adult Collection, respectively. There is also small alcove off of Circulation that is called the "Women's Reading Room", and almost exclusively contains books about housekeeping and child-rearing.

The Adult Collection, by far the largest of the rooms in the library, constitutes about 800 square feet of fiction and non-fiction, along with a few study carrels. There is no card or online catalog, as it's generally pretty easy to find the subject you're looking for among the scant shelves seen below:

Despite the relatively small size, my explorations of the fiction collection, especially, have been frutiful, revealing many books that I wasn't able to find among Punta Gorda's considerably more extensive stacks. The small size also means that, if we stay here long enough, I might actually be able to achieve my childhood goal of reading the whole library.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


There was more construction this afternoon in the same place on the coastal road where I left my shoeprints last week. This time, though, they had a flagger to help guide traffic through the cone zone.

His "stop sign"? A stick with an inverted Coke can on it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Surrounded by Seabirds

An impromptu trip to the beach Sunday afternoon resulted in one of the most memorable afternoons of my life. 

After a full day of work, HB picked me up, and we headed to Brewer's Bay for a swim and a snorkel. When we arrived, there was a large flock of about 30 pelicans at one end of the beach, fishing for fry and frolicking in the surf. HB and I waded into the water at the opposite end of the beach, and while HB set to snorkeling, I relaxed in the waves. 

As I waded in the water, I was delighted to watch the pelicans diving for fish, and gliding low over the water. A few flew so close to me, I could feel the wind from their wings. About the time HB tired from snorkeling, and joined me for a little floating in the shallows, I noticed that where the majority of the pelicans had been a few hundred yards down the beach from me, now the largest portion was maybe only a hundred feet away. 

HB and I stayed still in the water, and as the surf continued to shift, and the large shoals of small fry moved closer to us, so, too, did the pelicans. Soon, there were fifteen or twenty pelicans fishing all around us, within twenty or thirty feet of us. They would dive and swoop and fly just over the tops of our heads. The best part was when one pelican dove straight down into the water only five feet in front of me. 

The nearness of so many birds, along with the sheer size of the pelicans (most have about a 6' wingspan), eventually made me nervous enough to get out of the water, but I'm sure this serendipitous afternoon will stay with both HB and me for a long time. 

Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to commenter #2 Wanda for winning the British Virgin Islands 2011 Calendar giveaway!

Winner was decided by the Random Number Generator. 

Wanda, please e-mail me at with the address where you would like your calendar sent!


One of our favorite BVI treats is lunch from Crandall's.

Located on the west end of Road Town, across the street from the Riteway and Arawak Interiors at Prospect Reef, Crandall's Bakery is open Monday through Saturday for breakfast and lunch. Having never been for breakfast, I have no idea what they offer, but I know their lunch is as tasty as they come.

The high quality of the lunch is evidenced by long line that accumulates inside the small storefront every day between 11:00 and 2:00. I have never been in that there isn't a line of at least six or seven people, often more, which by BVI standards makes Crandall's one of the busiest places on the island.

What are all these folks eating? Paté.

Paté is the Caribbean version of the Cornish Pasty. A filling of spiced meat is surrounded by a tasty, rich crust, and given a crimped edge to make for easy, one-handed eating.

The beef paté above served as HB's lunch on Friday, while I indulged in a chicken paté. Crandall's also offers turkey and saltfish as fillings. The warm spiced meat and flaky crust is a delicious lunch with a price that can't be beat. Two filling patés and a johnny cake cost $7.50.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

100th Post

This, the words I'm writing right now, are my 100th post! I suppose 100 posts for a daily blog really isn't that many, but it's still a milestone I'm excited about, as I wasn't even sure I'd get to post three or five or twenty, much less 100 when I started. Many of you have commented to me that it seems like I enjoy writing as much as you enjoy reading, and it's true. I love the time I get to spend everyday sharing my life, and this island I now call home, with you my readers. So thanks for sticking with me thus far!

In honor of my 100th post, here's a little giveaway of another piece of the British Virgin Islands. Today, I will be giving away one of these lovely 2011 British Virgin Islands calendars.

Published by (a helpful resource when visiting or moving here) and with photograph by Dougal Thornton, this is the unofficial official BVI calendar. I haven't seen any others available in shops around here. 

To enter to win this lovely calendar, just answer the following question in the comments:

What is the biggest event on your 2011 calendar?

If you don't feel like answering the question, just leave a comment, any comment, and you will be entered to win. 

All entries must be received by 9:00 pm Pacific Standard Time on Sunday, December 19th. Please allow up to four weeks for shipping. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

At Sail

As we've moved closer to the winter season, which doesn't "officially" start until the first day of winter, December 21st, cruise ship traffic of all kinds has been picking up. Not only are we seeing more cruise liners, the gigantic moving buildings I posted about before, but we're also seeing more luxury liners, large yachts that hold maybe 200 passengers, tops. Many of these smaller vessels are motorized, but some of them run under sails. There's been a 300 foot schooner making it's way around the islands for the last week or so, and the other night, on my drive home from work, I finally got to see it at sail

Thursday, December 16, 2010


My post today is awfully delayed. For the first time since I've started this blog, I just really didn't want to have to write here. There are things about my work that I would like to write about, but even after five weeks, I haven't really figured out how extensively I want to write about work here, and if I do, how to write about it without identifying the exact location of my employ.

I also feel that since I started working, it has definitely detracted from the time and energy that I put into this blog. Now, not only do I have to squeeze writing in around my work schedule (sometimes writing in spare moments at work) but I also have to squeeze in all my explorations of the BVI -- all the experiences that ultimately become posts in this space. I'm struggling to find topics around my daily grind of 45 minute commute, eight hour workday, 45 minute commute and dinner. I suppose, in that regard, living in the BVI is not much different from living anywhere else. We all must try to find inspiration and childlike glee -- those (sometimes brief) moments of pure joy and revelry -- in the ins and outs of our quotidian lives.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Leaving My Mark

My footprints are now embedded on Tortola.

There has been quite a bit of road construction since the most recent heavy rains in November, and on my drive home last night, I encountered a cone zone. The coastal highway was coned down to about a lane and a half, but the cone zone was long enough that it was impossible to see if there was oncoming traffic. With no flagman in sight, I entered the coned off area, only to encounter cars coming in the opposite direction.

The majority of the cone zone was wide enough for two cars to carefully pass very slowly, however, the last cone was set about two feet closer to the curb than the others, making it too narrow for traffic in both directions.

Stuck in the cone zone behind this offset cone, with angry traffic both in front of and behind me, I thought I'd just hop out of the car and move the offending cone back in line with the others. I discovered the purpose of the cones as my feet promptly sunk an inch or so into a strip of concrete that was not yet dried. Realizing my error, I got back in my car and did my best to maneuver around the errant cone.

So I suppose it's not really my footprints, but my shoeprints, that are visible on the coastal highway of Tortola, just outside of Nanny Cay.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

OSHA Disapproves

This is HB's story, but he's given me permission to post it here. Earlier, he witnessed the following scene:

A painter was asked to repaint a sign on a signpost about 20 feet high. A ladder of sufficient length was available, but when the painter tried to use it, the sign proved too flimsy to effectively support the weight of the ladder and the painter. 

With a job in front of him, and no other resources, the painter commandeered a nearby forklift. He had another worker place an empty pallet on the forklift, and then he, the painter, stood on the pallet. The other worker then lifted the pallet and painter into the air to a sufficient height for the painter to successfully paint the sign. 

The pallet was not secured to the forklift by any means, nor was the painter secured to the pallet or the forklift. Whenever the painter needed new supplies, or to use the restroom, he had to holler for someone to come operate the forklift to let him down and then lift him back up again. 

Exciting jerry-rigs like this no longer happen in the States, but luckily, in the BVI, there aren't any OSHA-like regulatory agencies to prevent such creative ventures. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010


While I toiled away at work on Sunday, HB hung the Christmas lights he bought last week. Although we've managed a Christmas tree two out of four years, this is the first time since we've been married that we've had Christmas lights. 

Since last year in Florida marked the least interest in Christmas I've ever had, I was kind of expecting the same thing this year, figuring the climate was to blame. However, I think it's fair to say that both HB and I have the most Christmas spirit either of us has had since before we met.

Not only can we see the lights in Road Town from our balcony, now we can see the lights on our balcony from Road Town. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Hat Parade

At the behest of HB's employer, we had the pleasure of attending the Road Town Methodist Church Women's League Christmas Concert last night. HB's employer was performing in the concert, and we had missed a previous performance of his. 

Amidst the Christmas carols performed by various choirs, and the readings and poems presented about Christmas, the Road Town Methodist Church Women's League was supposed to perform a skit. However, when the skit's slot in the program arrived, the ladies were not yet prepared, and so, to buy time, several other members of the League entertained the audience with a "hat parade".

This impromptu fashion show of ladies' church hats was by far the highlight of the evening, as the Women strutted their stuff across the stage, accompanied by fungi band versions of "Joy to the World" and "Silver Bells." I only regret that I didn't take the camera. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Caribbean Run

Last night was one of the most relaxing, mellow, enjoyable evenings I've had since we moved to the BVI. I finally got to see Quito Rymer play at his restaurant, Quito's Gazebo in Cane Garden Bay.

Quito's Gazebo is the restaurant and nightclub portion of the hotel, Quito's Ole Works Inn. The whole kaboodle is owned by a guy named Quito Rymer, a bit of a local celebrity, who performs at the Gazebo three or four nights a week. The Gazebo sits on the beach at Cane Garden Bay, close enough to the surf that many tables are crusted with sea spray. At night, "the lights of St. Thomas, 'bout 20 miles west" are quite visible past the bobbing and weaving mastlights of the boats anchored in the Bay.

Quito's music is a rich mix of original songs that combine reggae, blues, and folk sensibilities, peppered with the occasional location-appropriate cover. In his lyrics, Quito expresses his love for the BVI and the Caribbean lifestyle. The mood is laid-back and cool, and I felt like I could sit for hours and hum along to Quito's melodious voice and guitar.

While Quito is the main focus of a visit to the Gazebo (as he should be), the food coming out of the kitchen is nothing to shrug at, either. Important to note is that, out of season, the kitchen is often closed or on a limited menu on nights when Quito is not playing.

Ultimately, Quito's Gazebo some of the best entertainment the BVIs has to offer, and definitely represents the vibe of the BVIs. Not to be missed.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Always Sunny on the North Coast

While it isn't always sunny on the north coast, I am constantly amazed in the difference in weather between one part of Tortola and another. It is not unusual for me to have a glorious, sunny day at work on the north coast, only to have HB complain about how much it rained when I pick him up in Road Town. Similarly, there are certain spots on Tortola that are so windy that plains have formed, because the wind has impeded the growth of tall trees and bushes. The plains are not vast; maybe an acre or two in all, but they create this tiny little distinct ecological niche. 

Tortola is not a large island. It's about 3 miles wide by 13 miles long -- similar to the size of Manhattan. I realize that the urbanization of Manhattan has probably affected the climate there, but really? There aren't minute plains on Manhattan; it's not snowing in one part of Manhattan and sunny and 50 degrees in another part. Granted, I haven't actually lived on Manhattan, but I get the sense that if this were frequently the case, the world would have heard about it. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Paying Bills

As yesterday's post may have hinted, the process of paying bills in the BVI is rather different from in the US. The lack of a well-organized postal system is probably the chief factor that makes receiving and paying bills a bit more complicated. Some companies are happy to send a bill to a postbox, but since the post is somewhat new (postal codes were introduced in 2006), many companies don't even send a bill. 

Not receiving a bill means not knowing account numbers or balances, so in turn, mailing a check to pay a bill is often out of the question. If I were to mail a check to BVI Cable, for instance, without an account number written on it or a stub to accompany it, I'm sure they would happily deposit the check and never credit the account. Mailing a check also means a trip to the post office, as there is no easy "dropping it in a mailbox" or "letting the mailman pick it up" here; neither mailboxes or mailmen exist here. 

But what of online bill pay, I hear many of you asking. HB and I paid nearly all our bills online in Florida, after all. Hah! The internet is an even newer advent in the BVI than the postal system. Admittedly, many banks here are now offering online banking (a recent addition), but few of them offer an online bill pay service. Even more rare are companies that have the capacity to pay bills through their corporate website. 

All of this means that most folks are left with one option: to go to each company's headquarters and pay the monthly bills in person, no small feat considering many utility companies and banks are open only from 9:00 am to 3:30pm, Monday through Friday. Take a moment, those of you who work a 40-hour week, and imagine trying to pay all your bills given those parameters. Thankfully, I'll be permanently switching to Thursday and Friday off, which will make it infinitely easier to pay our bills than it has been over the last few weeks, when both HB and I only had Sundays off. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Power Play

Last night, after a long day of working and grocery shopping, HB and I came home to discover that the electric company had shut off our power due to non-payment. Lest you think that HB and I are deadbeats who don’t pay our bills, let me explain that the electric bill goes to our landlady, who then passes it along to us.

The only electric bill we’ve ever seen was handed to HB by our landlady’s son in early November. It was for August and September, and HB paid it in full, plus gave the son some extra for October’s bill. Apparently, the landlady’s son has been too busy to either give us October’s bill, or pay it, and so BVI Electric shut off our power yesterday.

When I called the electric company’s main line to see if I could rectify the situation, I was told that the office was closed and nothing could be done until the morning. Five minutes after I hung up, though, a BVI Electric truck pulled into our parking lot. Thankfully, someone at BVI Electric was very generous and dispatched one of the on-call technicians to turn our electricity on for the night

Ultimately, what could’ve been a long evening of not being able to put away refrigerated groceries and sitting around in a dark, hot house was salvaged. I went in and paid our electric bill this morning, and after a forceful talk with the landlady’s son it was determined that HB and I would take full responsibility for the electric bill going forward, so hopefully this situation will not happen again. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas on Main Street

After happy hour at Frenchman's Cay on Friday, HB and I headed into downtown Road Town to check out Christmas on Main Street.

Main Street is the major shopping street in Road Town. It parallels Waterfront on the opposite side from DeCastro, and many of the cafes, clothing shops, and the bookstore are along Main Street. So, too, are the former post office, and many of the J.R. O'Neal Buildings, some of the oldest surviving buildings in the BVIs. Christmas on Main Street is an annual street festival, involving local artisans, musicians, and restaurants.

We wandered through the vendors tents for a little while, checking out their wares and smelling the west indian food on offer at the food tents before ending up at the square in front of the old post office, where a stage was set up in front of a giant, lighted Christmas tree. On stage, school groups were performing Christmas carols and religious songs, and doing synchronized dances.

The children singing and dancing in the square definitely helped amplify my Christmas spirit, but probably the best part of the whole evening was checking out the secondary stage, where an Afro-Caribbean band performed a BVI version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." As with many things that happen in the BVI, the lyrics to the adapted "12 Days of Christmas" are not to be found by googling. As far as the internet is concerned, we witnessed a wholly original performance. The only gifts in the song that  HB and I came close to understanding were the fifth day (five guava plants?) and the first day (a something and a guavaberry).

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Happy Hour

A co-worker told me about the happy hour at the Clubhouse at Frenchman's Cay, so last night HB and I decided to check it out. The lure of $3 mojitos, and, more importantly, $2 fish tacos was too strong to resist. The happy hour runs from 3-7 Tues-Sat, but when we arrived around 5:30, we were the only people there. Still, the staff was happy to serve us, and we sipped our mojitos for a little while before ordering our tacos.

While the mojitos weren't especially satisfying for me, the fish tacos were tasty, and the closest thing to an Aurora taco truck HB has encountered in a while. Large, flaky chunks of breaded, fried fish were dressed with a large smear of queso fresco and roasted red peppers, and topped with shredded romaine. In warm corn tortillas, the only thing missing was a little cilantro and lime juice to sprinkle on.

Perhaps the best part of happy hour at the Clubhouse at Frenchman's Cay is the setting. Frenchman's Cay is a high-end resort, and the manicured lawns and gardens, and views over the salt pool and the Caribbean, made for an elegant, yet comfortable vibe. Leaving with mostly full tummies and a bill of only $16, I'm sure we'll be back often to partake of this happy hour.

Friday, December 3, 2010


On Sunday, HB and I finally got around to buying some snorkeling equipment, something we've meant to do since we moved to Florida about a year and a half ago. On a recommendation from my co-worker, we went to Blue Water Divers in Nanny Cay to begin our search. The friendly owner was super-helpful, and we left the shop about 20 minutes later, the proud owners of new snorkels, masks and fins.

After a pit-stop at home to clean the silicone off our masks with toothpaste (an important step to prevent mask fogging, according to the owner of the dive shop), we headed straight for Brewer's Bay Beach. Not only is Brewer's Bay our favorite Beach, but we have also seen it listed in countless articles and online sites as one of the best beaches for snorkeling in the BVIs, because the reef comes so close in to shore.

When we arrived at Brewer's Bay, we were surprised to encounter some significant wave action, as rollers of three to four feet were making their way to shore. Our previous swims at Brewer's have often found it as still as a lake, so we were mildly intimidated to try snorkeling in such a surf -- well, at least I was.

We debated a while about whether to put on our fins on land, or carry them into the water and then attach them. I'm sure the divers that read this blog regularly could have told us what we eventually found out: wait until you're in the water to put on your fins. At least we provided an entertaining spectacle for the other folks on the beach as we flopped around in our fins on dry land, flinging sand everywhere.

Finally, though, we made it into the water. The big moment came, and we both put our heads in to see the glorious underwater world. And how "glorious" it was. The afore-mentioned wave action had kicked up so much sand, that the visibility in the usually pristine waters of Brewer's Bay had been reduced to about two feet. HB and I spent thirty minutes swimming around, trying to see any signs of life in that vast fog of sand and water.

Half an hour of seeing nothing but the color of the bottom of a swimming pool, with occasional glints of sunlight, and I was done. I swam back to shore, stowed my snorkeling gear, and spent the rest of the afternoon playing in the surf. It wasn't the most successful snorkeling trip, but at least now we're equipped!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bird Watching

Yesterday afternoon, in the last few minutes of my shift at work, I stepped outside to take a few pictures of the early evening light and leaves. 

The seaspray and dust filtering through the sunbeams made the sunlight seem somehow substantial. While playing with the camera, I saw a small bird, about two inches long, that looked almost like a jay, but in miniature. It moved like a hummingbird, making photography difficult, and because of the light conditions, I couldn't see what color it was.

Still, the sighting of a fairly colorful bird was pretty exciting. Most of the birds I've seen here look roughly like a cowbird. They're all medium-sized, and dun-colored with slightly different dark markings. So this purplish-looking mini-jay was something new and different. After consultation with my father, and a bit of research, I believe what I saw was an Antillean Crested Hummingbird

While trying to figure out what I saw yesterday, I learned what a wide variety of colorful birds make their home in the British Virgin Islands. Perhaps a bird watching expedition will be in order this Sunday or next.

Hot Pelican Action

As ridiculous as it may sound, one of the major reasons I agreed to move to Florida was because of the prevalence of brown pelicans near the coast. Whenever I would feel discouraged about the possibility of the move, HB would remind me of the pelicans, and I'd get excited to be going to Florida again.

Compared to Florida, the BVI is a veritable brown pelican mecca. The area near my work is especially popular; something about the wave action brings the pelicans' food source up close to the beach, and I often spend the 15 minutes between my arrival and when my shift starts watching the pelicans fishing.

Today, I took the camera.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sunday Morning, Huntum's Ghut

Huntum's Ghut refers to many things. At its most basic, it refers to the watercourse that handles most of the drainage from Great Mountain. "Ghut", after all, is just another word for "ditch", and there are many ghuts throughout the island.

Huntum's Ghut also refers to a street. Huntum's Ghut Road parallels huntum's ghut, the ditch, and connects Great Mountain and other points in the mountains with downtown Road Town. It's one of only two roads going out of Road Town into the mountains. HB and I drive it every day, as it's the easiest way from our house to Road Town.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Huntum's Ghut refers to the community that lines Huntum's Ghut Road. The busyness of the road and the barrier of the ghut create a cohesive, vibrant community. 

During the morning and evening rush-hours, Huntum's Ghut Road is lined with pedestrians and parked cars. Traffic tries to maneuver through them, and often comes to a standstill when a driver sees an acquaintance walking and stops to have a chat. Friday nights, especially, Huntum's Ghut Road becomes nearly impassable from all the people out and about. 

The pictures below were taken on Sunday morning, an exceptionally quiet time for Huntum's Ghut.

There are always a few folks limin' on the porch of the laundromat/ice store. The laundromat, combined with the One-Mart across the street and the gas station next door, forms the core of social life in Huntum's Ghut.

Many of the women in HG wash their clothes at home, and use the dryers at the laundromat.

Where does the water come from for a washing machine installed on an outdoor balcony?

Animals are prolific along Huntum's Ghut. There is a rash of feral dogs, and pet dogs that are allowed to roam free. 

One family keeps goats and chickens in their front yard, although there are plenty of roosters and chickens on the streets, too.

Near the laundromat is a popular local restaurant that HB and I keep meaning to try (hopefully in the next week or two)

And just next door is my favorite sign in all Tortola:

It makes me laugh every time I drive by. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Daily Commute

It's been a little difficult since I've been back to get used to having a daily commute again. My "commute" in Florida was about 5 minutes, and the three months or so without work or a commute of any sort have made me a little soft.

Still, I don't have a whole lot to complain about, because while my morning drive to work is long -- about 17 kilometers and 45 minutes --  it only nominally counts as a commute, as it is pretty relaxing driving.

Here's a map of the drive I make every morning:

The drive starts up on Great Mountain, near the words "Lower Estate". HB and I leave around 8:05 in the morning, and head down Great Mountain Road, through Huntum's Ghut (more on which tomorrow), and into Road Town. I drop HB at his work, in the heart of Road Town, at about 8:15, and then head to my work.

Through downtown Road Town, past the ferry terminal and the old government house museum. Suddenly, I round a corner, and the view tells me that I've left the city behind.

After a few kilometers along the coast, the numerous speedbumps and potholes on the coastal road in the various communities that line Sea Cow's Bay slow me down for a little while. After Sea Cow's though, it's pretty much a free-for-all. I hit about 60kph (38mph), my top speed, during the stretch between Sea Cow's Bay and the incinerator (near the area marked as Pockwood Pond on the map above).

The radio stops receiving when I hit the slightly industrial area near the incinerator, which consists of a petrol station, some large warehouses, and a mine, but this lasts for only half a kilometer, and then it's back to open coastal road and winding turns at 60, until I have to turn right on Zion Hill Road to cross the island to the north coast.

The two or three minutes spent on Zion Hill Road are some of the most enjoyable of my commute, as the homes and business along Zion Hill are especially neat, and the views of the North Coast after cresting the summit are spectacular.

Zion Hill dead-ends into the North Coast Road at Cappoon's Bay. I like to take my time cruising past the brave folks surfing on the swells in Cappoon's.

I usually pull into the parking lot at work around 8:45 or 8:50, and since I don't have to be in the office until 9:00, I get a few blissful minutes to myself to read, or enjoy my surroundings.

Despite the odd inconvenience, like the speedbumps in Sea Cow's, and the lack of radio for the last ten minutes, I certainly couldn't wish for a better 45-minute commute. I get to see nearly the entirety of Tortola, and hardly have any traffic to contend with.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


I've been having difficulty getting in the Christmas spirit so far this year. I'm sure most people don't even think about that until a few days after Thanksgiving, but for me, Thanksgiving is kind of part of Christmas, and I'm usually ready to go shortly after Halloween. In an effort to stimulate my Christmas spirit, I've been listening to lots of Christmas carols, and watching lots of Disney movies.

Still, the tropical sunshine, green vegetation, and complete lack of any sort of nip in the air have stymied me, until yesterday. On the drive home, the band at the youth center in Huntum's Ghut was practicing. They were playing "Carol of the Bells". On the steel drums. Christmas spirit, achieved!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Tortola Thanksgiving

As most of you know, yesterday was the US holiday of Thanksgiving. I hope all of you in the States had a satisfying feast and enjoyed the football, and that you're getting all the shopping deals you want today. 

Since Thanksgiving is a US holiday, it is only partially celebrated in the BVIs. There is a sizable American ex-pat population, and of course some Americans may be visiting during the holiday. In response to this American presence, many restaurants do a set Thanksgiving menu, while others accommodate the holiday by adding a traditional Thanksgiving dinner special to their regular menu. 

Most of the Americans who have been on island for an extended period have potluck Thanksgiving dinners with friends in groups of 8 to 12 or so. The small size of kitchens in most apartments and the likelihood that recent arrivals won't have much equipment for roasting and baking and boiling makes the potluck a practical approach to Thanksgiving.

Having only been here for three months, HB and I have made friends with a few folks, but no Americans. As a result, we were left to our own devices for Thanksgiving. Since Thanksgiving is not an official holiday here, both HB and I had to work. That, combined with the fact that I have exactly one baking dish, made for a slightly truncated Thanksgiving dinner for us. 

No turkey or stuffing or mashed potatoes for us. Instead, we resorted to the one-pot, semi-traditional (for HB anyway) solution to Thanksgiving: Chicken and Dumplings. And since I don't have a pie plate yet, instead of pumpkin pie, we had pumpkin cake. In all, a satisfying first Thanksgiving in a foreign locale.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Silence of the Donkeys

Last night, around 10:00, HB and I were startled by a noise outside that sounded very much like a woman screaming at the top of her lungs. When the noise was repeated twice more in the course of a few minutes, we went outside to try to make sure that no one was in trouble.

Staring into the dark, hearing this loud, high-pitched scream coming from well over a kilometer away, echoing off the mountains, gave both HB and I the chills, especially as our concern that someone was being injured grew. After a few more repetitions of the noise, though, we began to hear a slight snort at the end that definitely couldn’t be human.

We slowly realized that what we were hearing was not a woman screaming, but rather a donkey. I sincerely wish, again, to have recording capacity on my computer, as words cannot describe the eeriness of this sound. The intensity and desperation in the noise coming from the donkey across the hill made us think of scenes in movies where horses are attacked by wolves or bears.

But there are no large mammals on Tortola. It’s possible that the donkey was being threatened by wild dogs, but this possibility seems somehow unlikely to us. What caused this donkey to scream so hauntingly for over half an hour? Predators? Pain? Mating Season? I can only hope that the poor creature is healthy and at peace now.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hitchhiking Etiquette

Hitchhiking constitutes a primary form of transportation for a sizable percentage of the population in the BVI. It is the way many people get to and from work everyday, or get into town to run errands. It is unusual to take a trip in the car and not see someone waiting by the side of the road for a ride.

As a driver, however, I am often flustered by how to interact with hitchhikers, both when I do pick someone up, and when I don't. When I pick someone up, does the burden of conversation fall on me? Or on my passenger? Should I turn the radio down for conversation, or up for listening pleasure? Is the A/C too cold? Where should I drop the hitchhiker off if our paths diverge?

The questions are even more intense when, for a variety of reasons, I don't pick someone up. As a rule, I don't pick up single male hitchhikers. Although the BVIs are very safe, I simply can't get over my US-instilled fears of being alone in a car with a strange man. Also, I generally don't pick up people when I'm within half a kilometer of my destination. Such a short ride is probably going to actually be counterproductive for the hitchhiker. Additionally, there are times when I'm running late for work, and simply don't have time to pick up and drop off another person.

But what do I do when I pass someone by? Shout the reason for my rudeness out the window? Smile, wave, look them in the eye, shrug? Or simply avert my gaze? I know that most hitchhikers are probably passed by several cars before they get a ride, but I still feel guilty whenever I don't stop to pick someone up.

On the whole, though, despite the minor complications that arise for me with regard to hitchhiking, it's kind of nice to live in a country that is safe enough and relaxed enough for hitchhiking to still be such a prominent form of transportation.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

DeCastro Street

Although Waterfront is arguably the main drag through Road Town, the beating heart of downtown -- the street where everything gets accomplished -- is DeCastro Street. DeCastro and Waterfront run parallel to each other, so many of the buildings that front Waterfront back up against DeCastro, and vice versa. But most of the entrances and all of the parking is on DeCastro.

At the foot of DeCastro Street is the Main Administrative Complex for the Government of the BVI. This is where the Governor goes to work everyday, and other ... government ... things happen. Ok, so I'm not entirely clear on what goes on here, as I've never actually been in, but it is certainly a big, impressive structure.

Just up the street from the Administrative Complex is the intersection of DeCastro and Nibbs, the heart of the banking district. While there are lots of trust companies scattered throughout Road Town, all of the banks are within a five minute walk of this intersection. First Bank is by far the busiest. At 8:30, the parking lot was already filling up, and the bank doesn't open until 9:00

The BVI Tourist Board, a helpful resource for visitors, cohabits a building with Hezikiah Photography and Fine Art. Hezikiah's is an important landmark because it's the best place to get passport-sized photos in town, something every immigrant needs every year.

Across the street from the Tourist Board are the post office boxes. Keep in mind that the Post Office is nowhere near DeCastro Street (it's about 5km away), so if you have a package, you can't get it here. But it is a convenient place for picking up your letter mail, since you're likely already on DeCastro for some reason.

Perhaps you need some housewares, stationery or toys, or need to pop into the grocery store. Bolo's Department Store and Bobby's Market (the building with the blue trim) form a convenient corner at the top of DeCastro. Bolo's is the most convenient place in Road Town for household items, while Bobby's has the best, and least expensive produce I've seen on the island.

As long as you're on DeCastro going to the bank, picking up your mail, and doing your grocery shopping, you may as well get your car washed, too. This is the only car wash in Road Town, as far as I know. It consists of a tent, a pump truck, and a few guys who, for $10, will wash your car by hand in about half an hour. Just drop your car, run your errands, and it'll be ready to go when you come back.

Finally, at the very top of DeCastro Street is Geneva Place. I have visited this set of five buildings more times in the last two weeks than I can count. On the far left is Eureka Medical Clinic and Pharmacy, where my doctor's office is. The orange building is the headquarters of CCT, a telecom company. The pink building is the department of labor, and the dark blue building on the right is the department of immigration, where I have spent about 4 hours this week.

As I'm writing this, I realize I probably should have stopped at CCT today after I finished at immigration to pay our monthly internet bill. Oh well. It won't be long before I'm back on DeCastro again.

Monday, November 22, 2010

New Schedule

When I returned to the BVIs, I also started work, something I hope to write more about in this space, but not until I have a chance to discuss it with my boss. Starting work also meant starting a new schedule.

Working 8-4 Saturday through Wednesday has presented a few challenges, especially since HB and I only have one car right now. On the weekdays, we've been up around 6:30, leaving the house around 7:15, so I can drop HB at work and be to my work, a half hour's drive away, in a timely fashion. The weekends aren't much better.

Perhaps the biggest effect I'm feeling from the new schedule is I no longer have the morning hours to sit and drink coffee and write in this space. My blogs of September and early October were usually written around 10:00 in the morning. I would get up around 8:00 and take HB to work, and then curl up on the couch with the computer for an hour or two. I had a strenuous, self-imposed 11:00 a.m. posting deadline.

Since the typical blog entry takes me about half an hour to an hour to compose, depending on whether photos are involved, and how descriptive I'm trying to be, continuing to write posts in the morning, except on my days off, would mean getting up even earlier than my already too-early 6:30 a.m. wake-up call. I know that many of you get up far earlier than that, and have no sympathy for me, but I haven't woken up earlier than 7:00 on a regular basis since I started working.

So I've been trying to write in the evenings, instead, preparing an entry before bed and then just hitting the "post" button in the morning. It's been working out ok so far, except on the evenings, when, due to tiredness, or busyness, or any combination of factors, I simply forget to write. Then I find myself scrambling in the morning to get any sort of content together. Like this morning. In between walking the dogs and putting in my contacts and generally getting ready for work, I'm writing this.

All of which is to say: If, in the coming weeks, you check this blog and there is nothing new posted, my apologies. Please keep checking back. As I get settled into the new schedule, those instances should be fewer.

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