Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lightning's Brother

Yesterday, I heard some of the other inhabitants of our building calling our local stray, known to HB, me, and now all of you, as Number 3.

They did not call him Number 3. They called him


"Thunder," I ask you? Thunder?

I'm sticking with Number 3.

Oceanic Oddities

I mentioned last week the "pirate ship" that was in Sea Cow's Bay two Sundays ago, but bemoaned my lack of camera. Well, luckily, it was still there this past Sunday, and so I was able to snap a few pictures of it. Obviously, not a pirate ship, but what kind of ship is it?

Then, driving to West End today, in another cove on the Caribbean side I noticed these guys

Obviously bollards of some sort, with the crosses on top, I imagined them to be watery grave markers, although I can't imagine someone being buried in such shallow seas. I'm sure they're for some entirely different, more practical purpose. I would love it if anyone could tell me what they are.

I feel like I am offering a sort of photographic smartypants quiz, so I should probably offer some prizes. For each of the readers who first provides the correct identification of the two objects above, I offer a $10 Amazon Gift Certificate. I know that isn't nearly as cool as the prize in the quiz I linked to, but I'm not Pioneer Woman yet, guys. Just leave your guesses in the comments below.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Brewer's Bay Beach

The beach that featured in yesterday's post about Roscoe's trip to the beach is Brewer's Bay Beach.

Just a five minute drive from our house, Brewer's Bay has quickly become our favorite beach, although in all fairness, we haven't actually tried any others. A reef runs between the tips of the two arms of the mountains that form the Bay, protecting it from large waves and strong currents.

It is also almost always empty, as you can see from the picture above. Sunday's swim was accompanied by the most people we've yet encountered -- about four families of four, and two other couples. Usually it's just us and another couple, especially on weekday evenings.

Unlike Florida beaches, there are very few shells on Brewer's Bay beach, either on the sand or in the water. I'm sure most of the shells are kept near the reef by the currents.

Brewer's Bay beach does, however, have a large number of rocks, nearly all of them igneous in nature, like the obsidian above. They serve as a continuing reminder of Tortola's volcanic origins.

Finally, if you get tired of swimming in the crystal clear waters, or sunning yourself on the soft, sandy beach, Brewer's Bay has its own set of ruins to explore. What they are ruins of, I am not sure, as there certainly are no explicative signs. Perhaps a sugar mill? Or a distillery? Maybe you can find out when you visit Brewer's Bay.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Salty Dog

Salty Dog can refer to a number of things -- an old sailor; a quality restaurant near Mote Marine Aquarium on Lido Key -- but in this case, I am using it quite literally to refer to a canine that is seasoned.

How does a canine get seasoned?

By swimming in the ocean of course!

On Sunday, we decided to take Roscoe to the beach for the first time in his life. We never had the opportunity in Florida because the closest dog-friendly beach was over 40 miles away, a distance we didn't want to try in the Land Cruiser. Here, though, the beaches are much closer, and are all dog-friendly.

We only took Roscoe because we were uncertain of the challenges dogs at the beach would pose, and we didn't want to have to try to corral two soggy, sandy fleabags if things went badly. Roscoe generally is more tractable off the leash than Flash as well, so we figured he's be easier to learn with.

The first fifteen minutes or so went pretty well. Roscoe trotted along the tideline, occasionally rushing at the incoming waves and "attacking" them by biting at them furiously.

Things went badly though, when a pack of three feral dogs appeared on the beach, and Roscoe rushed right at them, running flat out into their midst. The largest of the three, a dog about Roscoe's size, didn't appreciate this approach, and started a fight. HB broke it up, and thankfully, Roscoe came out unscathed, but we realized we still have a few kinks to work out before we start taking any dog(s) to the beach on a regular basis.

Still, I'm pretty sure Roscoe enjoyed himself.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Virgin Gorda

Cleaning out the camera, I came across some pictures we had of Virgin Gorda, when HB and I made a short day trip there earlier in the month.

How I could have neglected to write about it here, I do not know.

We took the ferry from Road Town to Virgin Gorda, and drove along North Sound Road, which had some fantastic scenery. Clear blue waters, white sand beaches, and lots of cactus

Despite being only 10 miles or so east-northeast of Tortola, Virgin Gorda has a much drier climate, and so takes on a more "desert island" type of vegetation. During the drive, our guide told us about the different kinds of cacti that thrive on Virgin Gorda, and even pulled over and let us try the small fruit of a barrel-type cactus. The fruits were about the size of a grape, and had a bright pink skin. Inside was a watery, white flesh, peppered with tiny black seeds, each of which made a satisfying crunch in your mouth.

We headed back to Spanish Town in the Valley for lunch. Spanish Town is the low-lying peninsula visible in the distance in the picture above.

One of the largest attractions at Virgin Gorda, especially for day-trippers and cruisers, is the Baths National Park. After lunch, HB and I took a walk down to the beach at the Baths, but unthinkingly, we left the camera in the car. The Baths are known for their large rock formations, which contribute to the excellent hiking, caving, and cave diving in the area.

It was doubly unfortunate we didn't have the camera, because in addition to the breathtaking natural beauty of the Baths, we encountered quite a bit of fauna on the way back up the trail, including a racer snake, several hermit crabs making their journey to the sea, and a large lizard (about 2' long) of type unknown.

We caught the last ferry of the day back to Road Town, and made plans to return to Virgin Gorda once we're equipped to check out the underwater world.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rainy Day

It's a little gloomy today. I would like to tell you about it my trip to the East End post office earlier this week (my one outing), as it was a lovely drive, but my pictures didn't turn out. Except for the 20 or so pictures I took of the herd of sheep in the post office parking lot, but I think you, my dear readers, have probably had enough of livestock for a little while.

Today, it has been raining off and on. Five minutes of sunshine followed by 20 minutes of rain. The view right now is a little grey.

September is the rainiest month in Tortola's year, although the rainy season lasts from September through November. I don't think it's coincidental that the rainy season coincides with hurricane season, but nearly all of the rain we've received so far this month has been independent of tropical cyclones.

Tortola averages about 6 inches of precipitation in September, and about 17 or 18 inches of precipitation from September to November, somewhat less than what we saw in the rainy season in Florida. Tortola receives more precipitation in the three months of September, October and November, than Denver, CO does the entire year.

Roscoe is wondering why I've spent so much time discussing the weather, and he's right, so I'll leave you for now, perhaps to post more later.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Chairs

The furniture in our dining room is pretty nice. It's large, heavy, dark-stained wood, a bit ornately wrought in a traditional style. It looks like this:

I'm especially fond of the chair backs, which have lovely scallop designs.

But the chairs have been giving us problems in other ways.

About two days after I arrived, HB and I sat down to dinner at the dining room table. We heard small "krrathunk" from HB's chair. HB bent over to investigate, and came up with a small piece of chair, about 2" x 2". It took us a day or two to discover where the piece came from. But eventually we realized that the front legs of the chairs were supposed to look like this:


Not like this:

A couple of days later, the same thing happened to the chair I usually sit in. We didn't really think it was a big deal. We figured we'd get some wood glue, and reattach the two small pieces to their respective chairs.

Until about 10 days ago. HB pulled out one of the chairs and sat down to put his shoes on. I was still in bed, and I heard a "krrrWHUMP". The next thing I knew, HB was in the bedroom, waving this at me:

It had come from here:

Lately, we've been eating in the kitchen instead of the dining room.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I took a trip to East End yesterday, to the post office (yes, we're still having fun with the mail), and I had planned on writing about it in this space today, but I left the camera in the glove box and HB has the car.

Unsure what else I wanted to write about, I perused the pictures I had on the computer, and I realized that I had a bit of a theme going. Although I'm still a little scared to take pictures of people on the island, for fear of intruding, I seem to really love the animals. So here's a quick snapshot of the Tortola's native, and not-so-native fauna.

These little black beetles like to congregate under the eaves outside, especially near the flood light for the stairs. They're about the size and shape of the "clicker" on a ballpoint pen. Lately, they've taken to flying into the living room at night and mating on the ceiling, something we don't appreciate. HB has become a fearsome indoor beetle hunter.

Blogger doesn't want this guy to appear as I found him, nose towards the sky. I'm pretty sure these anoles are related to the ones we had in Florida, but these have a much greater diversity of patterns and colors.

A representative of the insects we get on our porch all the time. I have seen more, different bugs here than I ever knew existed

Except of course, when they're not on the porch, but in the house. This grasshopper (?) lived on our living room wall for three days, before we found him dead on the floor one morning.

Of course, it's not all insects and reptiles. Although Tortola has no native mammals (think about that for a second!) there are plenty of imports. This goat ran across the road on a drive we took through Carrot Bay a couple of weeks ago. If I were a goat, I think I would hang out in a place called Carrot Bay, too.

And what would a post about animals be without roadcows? Road cows seem to be a special class among all the fauna, as I have an entire folder of pictures dedicated to them.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Futilities, Part 2

In the interest of full disclosure, since my first Futilities post, the water pressure has definitely improved to a point where it's possible to take a good shower in a reasonable amount of time. I think this is because I opened our cistern valve all the way ... While the water situation has improved, we are still struggling with some of our other utilities.


My personal introduction to the inconsistency of the utilities in the BVI came the first morning I was here. After a fitful night of sleep in our new place, I got up Thursday morning to send HB off to work, and start my day. HB and I got dressed, had breakfast, and went to sit in the living room briefly, to chat. I tried to turn on the oscillating fan, and although it had worked fine the night before, it wouldn't come on. In a house in a tropical climate without A/C, the failure of the oscillating fan was a disaster of the first order.

HB and I fiddled with the fan for about fifteen minutes, trying different positions for the switch on the fan, changing the outlet, flipping switches on and off in case the outlet was switched ... Finally, I had a brainwave. When I'd been flipping light switches, no lights had come on. I double-checked the bathroom light, and the ceiling fan in the bedroom, and they weren't working either. The electricity was out.

It had gone out sometime between 8:45 and 9:00 that morning, and would stay off until almost noon. HB left for work, and I pondered life without electricity, before giving up and spending the entire morning reading.

Since I've been here, the electricity has been off for an average of two to three hours out of every three days. Power outages are inconsistent. They occur at various times of day, and at very indistinct intervals. A power outage today has little to do with your probability of a power outage tomorrow.

I think the longest we've gone between power outages is about five days. The longest outage we've had was during Hurricane Earl, as the government cuts all power to prevent live wires from flying around in the storm. That outage lasted from 4:30 a.m. on the 30th, to about 11:30 a.m. on the 31st -- just about 30 hours. I understand we were rather lucky, as most parts of the island went at least 48 hours without power, while some had no electricity for five or six days.

The power being out can be slightly inconvenient. We can't watch TV, or use the lights or fans, obviously. We try to conserve the computer battery in case we need it for an emergency, so we usually don't surf the internet during an outage. The refrigerator doesn't run. We don't want food to spoil, and we don't know how long the outage will last, so we don't open the fridge or freezer. That keeps eating and drinking to a minimum.

Still, the biggest issue I have with the electricity being off is actually related to my last Futilities post. See, when the electricity is off, the pump for the cisterns can't run. Since there's no government water right now, an idle cistern pump means no water. As a result, whenever we lose electricity, we also lose running water for the duration of the power outage.

The question, "why does the power go out so frequently?" remains unanswered. I have asked a few people, and most of them just shrug. No reason. That's just how life is in the BVI.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


On Sunday, I learned a valuable lesson about taking my camera with me wherever I go.

After the outing to Sage Mountain, it began to rain. It rained heavily, and steadily, from about 2:30 until around 4:15. When the rain lightened up, HB and I decided to go to Mulligan's to watch the Broncos game. Since we were just going to Mulligan's, a place I had already blogged about, I didn't take my camera.

As a result, I will have to describe to you the impromptu waterfall we saw cascading down the mountain about a quarter mile from the house. I can only tell you about how all the major streets in downtown Road Town were flooded, with waters rising over the curbs in many places. I will have to use words to convey the potentially car-destroying rubble from the minor landslides we saw along the Great Mountain Road, and the unexpected sight of live-rooster-bedecked above-ground graves in the cemetery, where the fowl were sheltering from the flood water.

Perhaps most disappointing is that I have no pictures of the driveway in Sea Cow's Bay, half of which had been destroyed by the rainwater. After obliterating the steep driveway, the rain had carved a four-foot-deep gash in the mountain-side, carrying all the debris from the driveway and the mountain out into the coastal highway we were driving on.

Amidst all the destruction, I did not have my camera to take a picture of the truly bizarre -- an eighteenth-century style sloop, moored without sails in Sea Cow's Bay, as though on Talk Like a Pirate Day, some real pirates had sailed into Tortola for the occasion.

Lesson learned, BVIs, lesson learned.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sage Mountain

Sorry for the lack of post yesterday. Since Sunday is HB's only day off, I think I'm going to stop posting on Sundays to better enjoy his time off with him. The good news is, by taking Sunday off to hang out with HB, I have lots of exciting things to share with you during the week. 

Yesterday started out a beautiful day, and after our morning coffee, and some time spent reading, HB and I decided to try and get some exercise and check out one of the BVI's National Parks, so we headed to Sage Mountain in hopes of some hiking and education. 

Sage Mountain is the highest mountain on Tortola, and also the highest mountain in the BVI, with its summit at around 1716 feet. I'm sure my Colorado readers consider that more of a hill, but they call it a mountain here. Sage Mountain is also a National Park, and has a couple miles of trails for the more intrepid Tortola residents. 

We arrived at the Sage Mountain car park and studied the informational sign, which included a map of the trails, before setting out on the main trail towards the main park gate, but were stopped short by the muddy mess the rains from the previous night had made of the trail. Normally, a little mud wouldn't be a problem, but HB and I both only brought one pair of tennis shoes to the island, so until we acquire second pairs, we're trying to keep these in the best shape we can.

Stymied by the mud, we took the secondary trail leading from the car park, "Slippery Trail". The trail, although dirt, was wide enough and graded enough to pass for a road, and after getting to a nice vantage point, we decided we didn't want to intrude on anyone's property, and we headed back to the car park. All in all, we hiked maybe half a mile yesterday, but we saw a bit of the island we hadn't seen before, and I'm sure we'll be returning to explore Sage Mountain National Park a bit more.

From this point on the Slippery Trail, we could see ocean in three directions

Looking towards Radio Mountain; the mountainside is so brown because the trees were stripped of their leaves during Hurricane Earl

HB on the trail, enjoying the sun

Although I failed to include perspective in this photo, these elephant ear philodendrons were huge -- a single leaf could easily have covered my entire torso.

The best view of all was from the road going to Sage Mountain: overlooking Cane Garden Bay.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fluffy Clothes

Yesterday I spoke of two events that pretty much made my week. I discussed the new grocery store in detail, but just as important to my joy and excitement this week was my first visit to the laundromat.

Since I arrived, laundry has been my most frustrating chore. We do not have a washer and dryer in our apartment, but there are three coin-op washers and two coin-op dryers downstairs in a little laundry room. Despite the fact that the washers are marked $1.00 and the dryers are marked $1.50, they are both $2 each, something I had to be taught by Michelle, the girl who lives below us.

The washers seemed to work reasonably well, although they're a little on the small side. The dryers, however, need at least three cycles to fully dry a load of clothes. At $2 per cycle, I decided to buy some clothes-drying racks. I've hang-dried my clothes before, and although it takes a little extra work, it's really not that big of a deal.

Shortly after the hurricane, I went downstairs to do some laundry. I put my clothes and detergent in, put eight quarters in the slide, and pushed the slide in. The machine started, and I wandered away. An hour later, I went to take my clothes out of the washer, but the machine still said "in use". I opened the lid, and realized that nothing had happened. The washer wasn't filling with water.

After playing with the valves in the pump room, to no avail, I knocked on the landlord's door. The landlord told me, "Since the cistern water is supposed to be a back-up water source, and the washer uses so much water, we only use city water in the washer. The city water isn't on right now, so the washer isn't working." At this point, I was not fully informed about the water situation, so I asked when the city water might be back on.

"Oh, who knows, another day or two," was the reply. "I'll let you know when you can do some washing."

As you know from my post about our water, the city water hasn't been on since the hurricane. Still, I think the landlord recognized that the washer should still be usable, so he turned on the cistern water to the washing machine.

Except, it's only on sometimes. And the only consistent way I've discovered to find out if it's on, is to put my clothes, detergent, and $2 in the machine and wait to see if water comes out. It's like laundry roulette. Will my clothes be washed now? Or will the water not be turned on for another 24 hours?

After two weeks of dealing with this, I'd had enough, and I told HB that this week, I was going to the laundromat. So on Wednesday, I put all my laundry and detergent in the car, and headed down the mountain. When I arrived at the laundromat, I put my clothes, detergent, and quarters ($1.50 per wash) in the machines, and all four machines immediately began filling with water.

This alone would have been enough to convert me, but then I tried the dryers. A mere 50 cents buys 10 minutes of dryer time, which is enough to fully dry three towels. A large load of laundry only took 20 minutes. For the same amount of money I was spending weekly to merely wash my clothes in the fickle washers in my building, I could wash and machine dry all of my laundry at the laundromat. And it only took two hours, start to finish!

Although I don't know that he'd admit it, I think HB is just as excited by the laundromat as I am. I think he was getting sick of crunchy, hang-dried underwear and socks.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Food Shopping

Two events this week have conspired to put me in a state of childlike glee - the kind where you're jumping up and down in the middle of the room clapping because you can't contain your excitement.

These events would have to be pretty big deal then, right?

They are! The first, is that a new supermarket opened this week. The second, is that I went to the laundromat for the first time.

Do those seem like fairly ordinary events to you? Let me explain why they are not.

1. Grocery shopping has been a little challenging here, largely because of the cultural difference in how food shopping is approached. I prefer to buy all my groceries for the week in one large trip. From what I've observed, families here buy enough food for two to three days at a time. I think the food-shopping style is likely the result of the supply of food, and the way grocery stores are organized, but it's possible that it is also a cause of grocery store construction.

Grocery stores here are fairly small, by US standards. They are about the size I remember grocery stores being in the mid-80s in the US, when I first became conscious of grocery stores. The largest grocery store with the best variety, and certainly my preferred store, the Riteway flagship store on Pasea had 8 aisles, including the freezer cases, and deli counter. The aisles were too narrow for two small carts to pass each other. Most shopping was done with a hand basket.

It was always a gamble as to whether the store would have the items you were looking for in stock. Where the canned tomatoes were one week was simply a gaping hole the next. This was especially true for meats. Planning a week of meals meant coming up with 9 different recipes, then seeing what was available, and completing the shopping from there. I understood why so many people only shopped for three days' food.

The new grocery store, taking the place of the Riteway flagship store, is a new, improved larger Riteway. I went there yesterday. It is immense in comparison to the rest of the grocery stores here, easily twice as large as the old Riteway. The interior looked stunningly familiar, and after a moment or two, I realized I had just walked into a new Safeway. Literally, all the fixtures are the same. I don't know if Riteway partnered with Safeway to create the new store, or if the owners simply modeled this new store on Safeway, but a Safeway it is.

In a way, I feel a little guilty that I am so excited by this new, bigger grocery store. Instead of adapting to the island style of grocery shopping, I now have a familiar, US-style store, where I can go and do large, US-style grocery shopping. On the other hand, the well-stocked shelves, prominently-displayed price tags, and wide aisles bring such joy to my heart that I ignore the guilty feelings, and echo in the sentiments of the British ex-pat who was in front of me at the checkout: "Wow! I can really get some SHOPPING done at this store!"

Tomorrow: Why the laundromat is the most exciting thing since the electric washer.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cold Flour

This is my pantry. One shelf of a two-foot wide cabinet. It is a little sad, empty pantry.

In the interest of full disclosure, part of the reason the pantry is this empty is because today is my shopping day, and I haven't been to the grocery yet. The pantry will be moderately more full when I return from the store.

The main reason, though, that my pantry is empty, is because of this:

All of my staples that do not come in thick containers are in my refrigerator.

Why do I keep my flour (and pasta and pop-tarts) in my refrigerator?

Because of these:

Okay, those are disgusting. Those are the three stages of the meal worm beetle, a tiny insect that lives in my pantry and likes to eat my cereals and grains.

We've talked about calling an exterminator, but in the meantime, we've taken the advice of HB's coworkers and moved most of our dry food stuffs into the refrigerator.

I am telling you all about my meal worms and my refrigerated cereals and grains so I can share a lesson I learned earlier this week.

Tuesday night, I decided to make griddled turkey sandwiches and onion rings. I pulled my flour out of the fridge, and started making my basic beer batter. 2/3 c flour; 1/3 c flat beer; 1 egg white; whatever seasonings you feel inspired by. I measured everything and mixed it all together, but something had gone wrong. The batter, which is often a bit stickier than other batters, couldn't even be called a batter this time. It had congealed into more of a ... dough.

I thought maybe I'd mis-measured the beer, so I added a bit more, hoping it would thin things out. The mixture retained its dough-like consistency. Frustrated, I decided to soldier on, so I heated up the skillet, and started doing my best to make onion rings with the dough.

As the kitchen warmed from the skillet, I noticed that the dough was transforming itself back into batter, and I realized my mistake!

Just like with any other ingredient, flour behaves differently at different temperatures.

So, just a heads up for anyone else out there who has to store their cereals and grains in the refrigerator: Let things warm up before you really get cooking.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On the Road

As long as we've known each other, HB and I have connected on the road. In the US, we would often go driving to entertain ourselves, and we don't plan on changing that any time soon, but driving here can be ... a bit stressful.

Adapting to driving on the left, in an environment where most streets are not striped, or named, is difficult. The activity is compounded by the occasional disrepair of the roads. Large, rain-created potholes often develop overnight to provide a concave counterpoint to the abundant, unmarked speed bumps. Further complicating the matter is a lack of sidewalks in residential areas, and the previously-discussed wandering livestock.

The extreme grade and frequent hairpin turns of the mountain roads create another obstacle. Add narrow roads and haphazard roadside parking to all of the conditions above, and you begin to get a sense of the intricacies of driving in the British Virgin Islands.

The vehicle HB's employers have provided him, a Hyundai sedan, performs adequately, given the challenges it has to face on a daily basis. After five years in service on the island, the suspension is on its last legs, and the front end has begun to make suspicious noises. Still, the car makes it up the mountain every day, although it resists on days when the pavement is wet.

The radio in the car is usually tuned to 104.9, The Mongoose, a classic rock station, and inevitably, as I turn out of the driveway and head down the mountain, the station plays something fast-paced and intense, guaranteed to get my heart pounding. CCR's "Run Through the Jungle" more often than not, though occasionally The Who's "Pinball Wizard" or GNR's "Paradise City" introduces some variety. When the song ends, and I'm nearly to the bottom of the hill, the announcer enthusiastically intones the station's slogan: "The 'Goose Is On The Loose!", an apt description of my too-fast descent.

I often feel, circling the block for the sixth time, looking for the library, like I'm stuck in a real-life game of Mario-Kart, close to the final lap, as other drivers work to out-gun me, and I try to avoid the lava pits (potholes), red shells (pedestrians) and green shells (roadcows), and just cross the finish line (arrive at my destination). Driving up the mountain only increases this feeling, and I imagine I'm on the Ghost World level, dodging all the same hazards, while also attempting not to fall off the edge. When I pull into the parking lot and turn off the car, I always exhale robustly, happy to have survived another race.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tortola, Ho! Part 1: Getting Hired

So how does someone go about moving to the British Virgin Islands, anyway?

I'm sure the answer to that question varies from person to person, depending on financial resources, and the lifestyle you're looking for when you get here.

When we were trying to move, I couldn't find anyone's answer to that question. I thought I'd share our experience, in the hope that it may help others down the line. Even if your reasons for moving are different from ours, or you're relocating to a different part of the Caribbean, I hope that our experiences might help prepare you for some of the things you may encounter.

Sometime in February 2010, HB was at work, and it was a boring day. He and his assistant, George, were talking, trying to pass the time. Amongst the variety of topics broached were 1) How much HB had enjoyed Tortola on our recent Christmas cruise and 2) How little HB was enjoying his current job.

George was familiar with Tortola, as he had once worked coordinating shipments to all of the company's locations in the Caribbean. George mentioned that the owner of the location on Tortola was a good friend of his. One thing led to another, and soon, George was promising HB a list of all the owners in the Caribbean.

HB came home that night and told me about his conversation with George, half-laughing at the coincidence of it. The next day, George handed HB a list of names and contact numbers for the owners, and again mentioned his especially strong connection with the owner of the Tortola location. George asked HB if he would like George to get in touch with any of the owners, and HB, figuring it couldn't hurt, said "why not?"

George called his good friend, the owner of the Tortola location. They chatted briefly about the company, and then George asked how things were going.

"Ok, ok. But I could really use a really great manager. Do you have anyone you could send me?" the owner asked.

"I think I have a guy here who might be interested."

"Well, have him send me his resume," and the owner gave George his e-mail address.

Both HB and I were stunned at how quickly an opportunity had presented itself. Before that fateful February day, we had half-heartedly fantasized about living in the Caribbean, but certainly had no plans to leave Florida any time soon. Neither of us had made any effort to research job opportunities in the Caribbean, nor did we have any idea what it would take to move and work here.

Obviously, not everyone is going to have a George. HB could have gone years and years and never had a George, and in that, he got ridiculously lucky. What can be taken from HB's experience, I think, is that if you want to move to the Caribbean, looking in the line of work that you currently perform is not a bad way to start.

HB made a more-or-less lateral move from one location in the company to another. I think it wouldn't be too hard for most other people to do the same, if what you're doing now is in any way skilled labor.

Well-qualified, skilled people are always wanted here. Many companies who may not have an opening will make one for the right person. Most of the phone books for most of the islands are available online. Pick an island, find what you do in the yellow pages, and start making some calls. You may not get your first pick of islands, but you will, eventually, find work in the Caribbean.


The signature drink of the British Virgin Islands:

1 oz coconut cream
4 oz pineapple juice
1 oz orange juice
2 oz dark rum
dash of nutmeg
orange slice

Mix Coconut Cream, Pineapple Juice, and Orange Juice. Pour over ice, and add rum. Sprinkle nutmeg over the top, and garnish with an orange slice (or pineapple slice) and cherry.

For a true BVI experience, use a BVI-distilled rum, such as Pusser's or Callwood's.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Since our cable still isn't installed, a circumstance I will explore more thoroughly in a future Futilities post, HB and I decided to try and catch the Bronco's game at a local sports bar. After asking around during the week, and looking online, we figured our best bet was probably Mulligan's.

The entrance to Mulligan's reminds you instantly that you're in the Caribbean. A sandy path leads from the gravel parking lot to the main structure, which consists of a wooden floor, approximately 2500 square feet, covered by a wooden roof.

Picnic tables are scattered about the large lawn outside, and there's a small kitchen lean-to attached to the building. But for the most part, Mulligan's is a floor, a roof, and a bar.

The blue sheeting behind the flags is a weatherproof fabric that the proprietor rolls down to protect the bar during rainstorms.

The major draw for us on this first Sunday of the NFL season was the gigantic outdoor screen.

It didn't occur to us that the screen would be much better for watching Monday Night Football, then a game on a sunny, Sunday afternoon. Luckily for HB, Mulligans has several smaller TVs stationed "inside" the building.

Mulligan's is most famous for its driving range, the only one on the island, as far as I know.

In keeping with island style, it's nothing too fancy. A couple of tees, and a net or two. But with flat land at a premium on Tortola, the proprietors had to be innovative with their range.

Anything you manage to hit more than 100 feet winds up in Sea Cow's Bay.

For those interested in checking out the driving range, or Mulligan's excellent Painkiller, from Road Town, take Waterfront Drive towards West End. Turn left into the entrance for Nanny Cay Marina. Mulligan's is immediately on your left.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mangy Mutt

Every morning, I open my front door to walk Flash and Roscoe, and am greeted by:

I'm not sure who he belongs to, or if he can be said to belong to anyone. Michelle, the little girl who lives below us, feeds him, but when I asked her his name, she just shrugged. Dogs here are rarely named, even when a family claims one as a pet. Even more unusual is for a dog to be allowed indoors. Michelle stands at our front door and stares, spellbound, at Flash and Roscoe wandering freely through the house. 

"Where do they sleep?" she asks, unable to envisage the circumstances.

I must admit, I have the same question about him. 

He is an excellent watchdog. We can always rely on his bark (oddly reggae-rhythmed) to alert us to roadcows or other potential intruders.

HB has taken to calling him "Number 3", in reference to the idea that he is somehow our third dog. Aside from the consequences of claiming him, I think the name "Number 3" may be ill-advised, as I have a history of unintended pets named "Number 3" becoming long-standing members of the family. 

I'm sure that won't happen in this case.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Futilities, Part 1

Yesterday, I wrote about how happy I was watching the cows in the road, but I have to admit, my true happiest moment so far on Tortola was the day that HB brought the internet home. The happiness of having the internet would soon be dashed by the instability and unreliability of the internet, but by then, I knew that was just par for the utilities course in the British Virgin Islands.

I learned very quickly how frustrating the utilities could be. On my first night at home, after a long, hot day transporting myself, my luggage, and two dogs in crates by taxi and ferry from St. Thomas to Tortola, the only thing in the world I wanted was a shower. Thankfully, the water was working that night, and in that sense, I was luckier than HB who had gone two days without running water when he'd arrived in Tortola the week before.

Still, the water pressure definitely left something to be desired, as it emerged from the showerhead in the kind of slow trickle that you or I might normally call "a leak". I walked around with helmet head for several days before I finally figured out how to deal with the low water pressure -- how much shampoo to use(lots); what time of day to shower for optimal pressure(about 3am); how long to stand under the dribbling water rinsing my hair (indefinitely).

The water, just like all the rest of the utilities, as you will see, comes and goes. This is the result of a two-tiered water system, intended to ensure that all residents have water all the time, but that has several defects that, in fact, ensure the opposite.

Tier 1 of the water system is the government water. Government water is similar to just about any municipal water system. A government agency pumps a supply of clean, fresh water through pipes underground to anyone who is willing to pay for it. All you have to do is hook up to the system, and send your check in monthly.

In the British Virgin Islands, though, there are no aquifers, rivers, lakes, or any other source of naturally-occurring fresh water. As a result, the government water is provided through desalination of ocean water. The desalination plant was built by a private company under government contract, and is controlled by the private company.

To the best of my understanding, in recent weeks, there has been discussion of creating a second desalination plant, which would be contracted to a DIFFERENT private company. Upset by this discussion, the company controlling the only existing desalination plant on Tortola has opted to stop desalinating water, effectively cutting off Tier 1 of the water system, government water.

Tier 2 of the water system are the cisterns required to be installed on any dwelling house built in the British Virgin Islands. Cisterns are similar to wells, in that they provide a private source of water, dependent only on that source not running out. A network of guttering attached to the residence collects the rainwater, and funnels it to the cistern to be stored, until it is needed by the residents. Cisterns are intended to be used only as a back-up water source when government water fails -- for example, when there's a burst pipe.

Unfortunately, since the government water has worked only two days out of the twenty-four I have been here, we have been entirely reliant on cistern water for most of that time. The only noticeable effect of using cistern water vs. government water is the afore-mentioned water pressure problem. While government water provides water pressure not unlike a fire hose, cistern water results in the dribbling shower of my first night.

Except, of course, when it doesn't rain for several days at a time. Then, there is a more detrimental effect of relying on cistern water: the cistern runs dry. Last week, we experienced an unusual period of three days straight with no rain. At the end of those three days, we were left without running water for over 24 hours, until the skies broke, briefly, and we were granted the use of our indoor plumbing again.

In upcoming weeks, I will describe the capriciousness of our other utilities, including the electricity, internet, cable, and mobile phone. On the positive side, we have one utility that has never failed us yet (touch wood), not even during Hurricane Earl, and I am very thankful for our propane gas.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bovine Nocturne

"Psst. Wake up. Wake up. And shhh, be very quiet," HB whispered to me as I lay dozing on the couch at 11:00 last night.

"What? What's going on?" My sleep-fogged brain scanned the reasons HB would be encouraging me so excitedly to get up and be quiet. Perhaps one of the dogs was doing something cute, I thought ... or something bad.

HB was motioning me towards the kitchen. As I staggered in, he told me to look out the door.

"See?" he asked insistently.

Frankly, I didn't, so I took another look, and saw pale, yellowish horns, gleaming ever-so-slightly in the streetlight.

"A cow in the road!" I shouted, as HB tried, fruitlessly, to shush me.

It was, indeed, a cow in the road. We scrambled for the cameras, but to no avail. It was dark. There would be no pictures of the road cow. Startled by the camera flash, the cow, and we now saw, her attendant calf, started moving on up the road, lowing in complaint at our intrusion.

I'm sure, for many Midwesterners, a cow in the road is not such an unusual occurrence. For me, it is one of the charms of island life. I see livestock on a daily basis here, and it isn't stuck out in giant fields, far away from human establishments, munching quietly on grass.

Cows wander complacently down major thoroughfares. Goats scramble up and down mountains, and live in small yards, penned against apartment buildings. As on many Caribbean islands, chickens and roosters lay claim to most public areas. And if I look out my front window at 8:15 every weekday morning, I will see a gentleman riding his donkey to work.

I'm not sure whether it says more about me, or the British Virgin Islands, that one of the happiest moments since I've been here, was last night, watching the cow mosey on down the road.


Ha! One of the pictures did turn out. Here are the roadcows:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Blue and Green

The view today seemed extra special. The play of clouds and sun on the water and hillside, I suppose.

Directionally Challenged

Being new to the BVI, HB and I often find ourselves having to ask directions to new stores and locales. Getting directions is complicated by a variety of factors, including a lack of addresses, a lack of street names, a lack of knowledge of street names, and the general foolhardiness of trying to use cardinal directions.

The complexity of both giving and receiving directions in the BVI is perhaps best illustrated by the example of the DVD Rental Store.

One of HB's co-workers, let's call him Bruce, had been enthusing to HB about the DVD Rental Store since HB arrived on Tortola about a month ago but it wasn't until last week that HB asked Bruce for directions to the DVD Rental Store. Here is what Bruce said:

"So, you know where the First Bank is? Well, if you start at the First Bank, and then walk towards the water, you'll see the Mill Mall, and it's in there."

Enthusiastic, HB thanked Bruce for the directions, and we drove to First Bank. We walked toward the water, and we found the Mill Mall! We spent close to 20 minutes scouring the Mill Mall - a shopping strip containing 10 or so stores - and found no DVD Rental Store. We went back to First Bank, and wandered in all directions, covering all the territory within about a block and a half of First Bank. No DVD Rental Store.

Confused and frustrated, we headed home.

On Sunday, HB's boss, let's call him Mr. Smith, took us for a day trip to Virgin Gorda. On the way back, we got onto the subject of the DVD Rental Store, and how we had been unable to find it earlier in the week. Mr. Smith gave us the following directions:

"So, you know where the First Bank is? And there's a blue building behind it? It's one of the biggest buildings in town. About five stories and painted blue? Between the First Bank and First Caribbean Bank? Well, the DVD Rental Store is in there."

We did not arrive back in Tortola until late on Sunday night, so we did not attempt to find the DVD Rental Store in the blue building, but agreed we would try again on Monday. When I picked HB up from work on Monday, I was prepared to drive to the blue building, but HB had news. He had spoken to another co-worker, and the co-worker had given him the following directions:

"No! It's not in the blue building. Look, you have to go to the roundabout, and then follow Waterfront Drive. It'll be on your left, about halfway between the roundabout and the traffic light on Waterfront Drive."

Now, these sounded authentic. Not only did they use a street name, they also referred to two of the most venerable landmarks in Road Town - the roundabout and the traffic light.

One of two traffic lights in Road Town, "the traffic light" is at Waterfront Drive & Wickham's Cay I, and should not be confused with "the other traffic light" at Botanic Station and Waterfront Drive.

We set off again, carefully scanning the shops on the left-hand side of Waterfront Drive, but had not seen a DVD Rental Store by the time we arrived at the traffic light. We parked in the lot for First Caribbean Bank, and decided to explore on foot.

After walking for a few minutes, we entered the Palm Grove Shopping Center, which is at the corner of Waterfront Drive & Wickham's Cay I. Right at the traffic light. It even says "Palm Grove Shopping Center" on the side of the building.

We started exploring the Palm Grove Shopping Center, and finally, we found it:

At least no one had spoiled our fun by telling us the name of the actual store. They left us to discover that all on our own.

For those living on Tortola: Big Baller DVD Rentals can be found in the Palm Grove Shopping Center, located on the corner of Waterfront Drive & Wickham's Cay I, at the traffic light.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Amphibian Invasion

There is no accounting for taste. While I can stomach the majority of the decor in my new home, there are a few items and trends that I find a bit ... unpalatable. Today, I will be highlighting perhaps the most bizarre element, our resident frog.

The frog is a four-foot high statute, that ordinarily resides in the corner of the living room, but occasionally, likes to go exploring. In the photo above, he is taking the sun on the balcony, with his lily-pad umbrella protecting his sensitive, amphibian skin. The frog is joined from time to time by his amphibian pals:

From left to right, we have guitar newt, baby frog, and dancing newt. Their home is the wicker bookshelf in another corner of the living room. 

Suffice to say, what with his prowling nature, the frog has not made fast friends with the recently-introduced fauna. Flash and Roscoe generally give the frog a wide berth ... except when enticed with treats to pose:

I cannot fault the dogs their scorn of the frog. When I catch him watching me, I get a shiver down the spine myself.

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