Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Day

As I drove home from dropping off HB at work on Monday morning, I was overtaken by a rainstorm. Not wanting to run through the downpour to get inside, I sat in the car and read until it cleared up. The rain lightened, and I looked up from my book.

May your Leap Day be serendipitous.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Modern Library

One of the charms of the BVI library system up to now was the old-fashioned method used for tracking circulation. For the past year and a half, I have been accustomed to selecting my books in the library, and taking them to the circulation desk, where the circulation cards were removed, stamped with a due date, and filed in a wooden box on the desk. The box had numbered dividers, 1-31, and the circulation cards of the books I had just checked out would be paper-clipped to my library card, and filed behind the number matching the due date. The due date would then be stamped in the book, and off I would go.

If I brought my books back a few days late, it was no big deal as the librarians usually didn't want to bother having to calculate fines at 10 cents a day for only a handful of days. About once a month, someone at the library would go through the box, and if there were any egregiously overdue books, send out threatening letters quoting the amount of fine due and asking for the books to be returned. It was a beautifully simple system.

So imagine my surprise when I went to the library to renew some books yesterday morning, and there, in the space previously occupied by the lovely wooden box, was a brand-new 19-inch flat screen monitor, keyboard and mouse. I was doubly astounded as I asked to renew the books I'd had out for five weeks, when the librarian flipped them open to reveal electronic bar codes already pasted inside. Obviously this is a change that has been in the works for a while now, but that has only been recently fully instituted. As I watched the librarian  scan the books to renew them for two weeks, and paid my $2 in fines, I mourned the passing of an era in the BVI library system.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

IP Addresses

One of the biggest downsides to living in the BVI from an entertainment perspective is the lack of a US IP address. If you sign up for internet with either of the two major providers here, you will probably get either a BVI IP address or sometimes, a Dominica IP address. The problem with this, is that many multimedia sites, including Netflix, Hulu, and iheartradio, do not work outside the US -- and they know you're outside the US by your non-US IP address. Even some YouTube clips won't work outside the US.

Obviously, there are ways around this. You can download an IP proxy program that will convince Netflix and Hulu that you are using a US IP. Unfortunately, an IP proxy also slows down your internet speed.

Internet speed in the BVI is already remarkably slow compared to elsewhere in the world. At our place, where we were using a wireless air card through CCT, it could easily take me upwards of an hour to pre-load a 10-minute YouTube video. Now that we're using wirelessly broadcast Lime DSL at home, things have improved, and I can even use Skype to call my parents ... as long as I don't use video.

As a result, the IP proxy that gives you access to Netflix also has the side effect of changing an otherwise happy video-streaming experience to one of constant buffering.

The moral of the story is that if you're moving from the US to the BVI, and you're accustomed to using all these nifty online services for nightly entertainment, you might want to stock up on movies and CDs before you come.

Friday, February 24, 2012


This extremely large, flourishing bougainvillea in the open space between Bolo's and Vanterpool Pharmacy makes me happy, especially on days that start out as grey and rainy as today did.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Day Sails

I am going to go out on a limb and say that, unless you're chartering a sailboat of your own, the best day you will have on vacation in the BVI is the day you go on a day sail. I've had two great day sail experience of my own, and I hear nothing but wonderful things from guests who go. 

If, while you're visiting the BVI, you do decide to book a day sail (and I highly recommend you do) here's what you can expect. Depending on your destination for the day, your boat will be departing either from Village Cay marina in Road Town, or Soper's Hole marina at West End, usually around 9:30am. Your captain and crew will give you a quick safety briefing, and off you will sail. 

If you're going to Virgin Gorda and the Baths, get comfy, because you've got a two-three hour sail before you reach the Baths and Devil's Bay. If you're going pretty much anywhere else (Cooper Island, Norman Island, Jost van Dyke) you can expect about an hour's sail before the boat moors at your first snorkel stop. When you stop, your crew will let you know the best areas to spot wildlife, and any dangers you may encounter in the water. 

After 45 minutes' or so snorkel time, you will head to another mooring where either your crew will prepare lunch, or you will have an opportunity to go ashore for lunch, depending on the boat. The afternoon will usually see another snorkel stop before heading back to Tortola for a return time of 4:30 or 5:00. 

There are maybe six or seven boats on Tortola offering day sails. Here are a few boats I've worked with before:

Mystique, by Voyage Charters. A beautiful new catamaran, Mystique's prices do not include lunch, but guests are offered the opportunity to go ashore to Soggy Dollar (on Jost), or Pirate's Bight (on Norman) for lunch.

Aristocat / Lionheart, by Aristocat Charters. Captain Steve will regale you with tales of his years in the BVI, and will happily share information on BVI history and geography. 

Kuralu Kuralu is known for the delicious gourmet lunch served on board, along with Captain Gary's willingness to go wherever his guests request. 

White Squall II is the only monohull day sail boat in the BVI, for a true sailing experience. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pearly-eyed Thrasher

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Dick Daniels (

Living in Florida and Caribbean has made me a bigger fan of birds than I used to be. Egrets, herons, pelicans and hummingbirds all rate well with me. But there is one Caribbean species that could topple the entire avian class into my "hate" column.

Pearly-eyed Thrashers are greedy, aggressive, opportunistic little buggers with loud calls. They compete handily not only with other birds but also with many amphibian and reptile species. Their aggressiveness makes them fairly fearless, even with regard to humans. I've seen Pearly-eyed Thrashers steal food from the plates of restaurant diners and shooing them away from the hotel bar is an exercise in futility, as they stare at you menacingly until you're close enough to touch them.

Aside from their imperturbability, Thrashers also have an ear-piercingly loud, sharp call, making them impossible to ignore when they're within 100 feet. So bothersome are they, that even though it is the height of thrasher season in the BVI, I haven't been able to find one, fearless example to photograph in the last few days, as though they've been intentionally hiding from my attempts at documentation, forcing me to make do with the borrowed image above.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lazy Weekend

The weather over the weekend was like this:

Warm and sunny, 82 degrees, low humidity (65% is very low for the BVI). Essentially, the perfect weather for being lazy. HB and I couldn't even muster up the energy to go for a swim in the beautiful water.

Instead, we spent almost all day Sunday lounging on the deck. At first in our comfy white deck chairs, but in the afternoon, I thought the deck itself looked especially appealing, so I lay down with the dogs and watched the fluffy white clouds skid across the deeply blue sky. It gave me a bit of vertigo. Monday saw much of the same, although I did manage to leave the house to go grocery shopping and take these photos.

I'm glad I did leave the house on Monday, as it allowed me to discover that the neighbour goat, which I had not seen since September, and about whom I assumed the worst, is in fact alive and well -- quite enough excitement for my otherwise lazy weekend.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saturday Morning

Here's why the consistency/existence of my blog posts on Saturdays is questionable: Saturdays are too much fun. Many of you out there probably think that I must be really busy at work on Saturdays, or something, and so often cannot find the time to get a post up. You would be incorrect. Often, I am too distracted by chatting with colleagues and guests and doing the more enjoyable parts of my job to remember to post here. Shocking, I know.

After all, Basset's View of the Islands is, for all intents and purposes, my second job, and if I don't get around to writing here, no one else does. But on Saturday, I often let myself slack off. Especially Saturdays like this Saturday. It's a beautiful day outside today. Sunny and clear, low humidity, and unseasonably warm. It's like, 85 degrees -- unusually high for February. I spent the morning unpacking boxes of housecleaning supplies, an activity in which I take bizarre delight, and I followed my exercise with a healthy hour-long chat with my co-workers. A stroll down to the beach to correct a credit card error took me cleanly in to lunchtime.

Essentially, I spend Saturday doing all the little things I didn't have time to get to during the week. It creates an opportunity for me to clean house, tidy up, before I go away for my two-day weekend. And we all like a clean house.

Friday, February 17, 2012

They're Running Out of You

I've driven by this food stand almost every day for the past year, but it wasn't until recently, after watching the Seinfeld episode, "The Comeback", that I cottoned on to the double entendre inherent in its name.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Behold, the disturber of my sleep, the haunter of my nightmares

Our formerly peaceful garden has been invaded by a rooster and his harem of chickens. Each morning they gather to eat the tasty insects found in the well-cultivated soil.

They chatter and cluck and drive Roscoe mad as he paces the deck, trapped, unable to hunt them down, ferret them out, get them out of the garden. Thankfully, touch wood, the rooster does not seem especially inclined to crowing, but the fear is in me nonetheless.

As I left the house this morning only to see six or seven chickens scatter at my step, I vowed to become their bane ... or perhaps to just let Roscoe loose in the garden the next few mornings.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Cuba Libre

I often complain about commodities that are common in the US that I am unable to find on Tortola -- simple things like blankets and rice noodles. But here's something that turns the tables.

According to HB, Cuban rum does not make the best Cuba Libre.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Snorkel Spots in Brewer's Bay

Having spent many many happy hours snorkelling in Brewer's Bay, I am always a bit surprised to hear people tell me they are disappointed with the reefs and wildlife they have seen there. I wonder what has conspired to make their experiences bad ones and I always come back to the same two things: either their expectations are too high, or they don't know where to look.

Let's get one thing straight, Brewer's Bay is no Horseshoe Reef. Even though it's not that vibrant, Brewer's Bay does offer some of the best snorkelling from the beach available on Tortola. You have to be a pretty decent swimmer to enjoy it and you also have to know where to find the reef.

I have borrowed this screenshot from Google Maps to illustrate my point. In this satellite image, you can clearly see the reef areas -- they appear in lighter yellow and green colors. There's a big triangular area in the middle that extends up to towards Anderson Point, and then there's reef lining the wall on the south side of the bay.

The best coral I've seen is in the areas marked with the white lines in the image above. As you might note from the scale, these areas are over 1000 ft from the beach. Brewer's Bay is usually fairly calm, so anyone who feels reasonably comfortable in the water can probably swim out to these areas. Plenty of sea fans and elkhorn formations and the animals I've seen in these areas include sea turtles, lobster, porcupine fish, and plenty of large parrot fish. Additionally, the stingrays seems to prefer the sandy area between the two lines, about halfway between shore and where the map is marked "boating".

If you don't think you can make it out the 400 yards or so to these spots, or if you're not comfortable swimming and just want to stand in the sand and see some fish, you may find snorkelling at Brewer's a bit unrewarding. There are a few spots close to shore, about halfway between the two beach bars, where the reef comes in and you'll see a few rocks, maybe a small brain coral, and some gobi and other small fishes.

Hopefully, with the knowledge of the snorkelling spots in Brewer's Bay, you'll have a more satisfying day in the water.

Friday, February 10, 2012


I will never get enough pelican pictures to satisfy myself, so I'm afraid you'll have to bear with the redundancy as I post new ones every few months. These are from my walk in Brewer's Bay while HB was away in January.

Always a little bizarre to me to see Pelicans perching in trees. Even though I know they only weigh 4-6 pounds, it seems like this spindly manchineel should barely be able to support a full-grown pelican.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Power Surges

I know that many menopausal women use the figurative term "power surges" to describe their sleep-disrupting hot flashes. Let me tell you though, literal power surges can disturb sleep just as much.

Over the last few months, we've noticed that the voltage in our apartment does not seem to hold steady. The lights will dim for a few moments, or the stand fan will suddenly quieten. In recent weeks, instances of power surges have gotten worse. So much worse, that the constant raising and lowering of voltage has successfully managed to fry our satellite box, despite the box being plugged in to a surge protector. 

Additionally, our back-up generator has become quite confused. In the middle of the night, power will cut out, and the generator will automatically come on. Except then the power surges just a bit -- not enough to actually supply electricity to the house, but enough to make the generator believe that there is a sufficient power supply. So everything electric (fridge, fan, alarm clocks, stove, etc. etc.) turns off again until the voltage lowers and the generator comes on again and the cycle continues. 

The word on the street is that BVI Electric recently replaced a key component in their plant, but they chose the cheapest, worst-made version of the component that they could, and this is resulting in the power surges. Supposedly, the power surges will continue to worsen until the component wears out or something blows up, so we can look forward to another few months of electric futility. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sense of Place

This may not be Jamaica, but in case you had any doubt that when you're on Tortola, you're in the Caribbean ...


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dog Grooming 101

There were a number of reasons that added up to the decision to try to groom Roscoe ourselves. It had been over four months since his last shave, and the hair was just getting to be too much. The Humane Society recently had to move out of their digs, so we weren't even sure we could take Roscoe to them to get groomed. And when, on his recent trip back to the States, HB found some pet-friendly clippers at Wal-mart for $30, we thought "what a deal", as a grooming at the Humane Society cost us $60.

We watched the introductory DVD that came with the clippers, and were astounded primarily with the gigantic muscular arms the woman in the video had. We also read the instructions about how to blend the short-haired areas with the longer-haired areas, and how to trim around the face and feet. Despite all our preparation, the first side didn't go so well.

HB and I both had difficulty controlling the nearness of the clipper blade to the skin, and, not wanting to hurt Roscoe, his fur ended up coming out a bit ... stripe-y. After the first half hour, or so, HB seemed to finally get the hang of it, and the second side came out much better ...

After a little over an hour, HB had finished the vast majority of the work, and I used the scissors to trim around his feet and get rid of much of the hair on his tail. It looks a little hacked, but I think I'm getting the technique down. Trust me, this is a huge improvement over previous attempts to trim his tail.

Ultimately, with his cooler, svelte, summer look, Roscoe is a pretty happy dog.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Greetings from Florida

Having returned from a week-long trip to Southern Florida, HB revealed that the entire time he was there, he only took three pictures.

Two of the stunning sunset at Mallory Square in Key West, and this lovely piece:

The prettiest manatee mailbox in all of southwest Florida, dressed and ready to go for spring.

Friday, February 3, 2012


I've been driving past this strange plant for months now, wondering what on earth is going on. At first glimpse, I thought it had very strange flowers, and then I realized that instead, someone had decorated the tips with eggshells.

It wasn't until I read this post on the Key West Local yesterday that I realized my unusual eggplant was only an iteration on a theme.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Brewer's Stroll

HB has been in the States for a week now, so I was left at loose ends trying to entertain myself on Sunday. I couldn't even resort to our usual Sunday activity of watching football at Mulligan's, since there wasn't any on.

Uncertain how to proceed, I grabbed the camera and hopped in the car, and headed to my favorite spot on island, Brewer's Bay.

Seen from the western route, the water's of Brewer's Bay are tropical blues and greens, lined by a stretch of golden sand.

Water temperatures are almost too cold for swimming right now (78 degrees), but this seemed like the perfect place to spend a sunny winter's afternoon.

Since I was on my own, I took the opportunity to slow down and spend some quality time with the camera, playing with depth of field, focus, and shutter speed. This bleached sponge provided a convenient subject.

I also managed to find the black and white setting on the camera. I think I like the sponge better in color, though.

My compositional eye needs a bit of retraining too. Hopefully, with a few more afternoons like this one, I can get my camera skills into good shape for our trip to Peru in September.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


I think moving to Tortola has changed the hierarchy of my favorite animals.

Goats, like these browsing across the street from Islands Department store yesterday, have definitely moved their way rather far up the list.

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