Friday, October 29, 2010

Tortola, Ho! Part 3: Income & Expenses

Immigration is definitely on my mind right now, as I continue to wait for my lab results so I can complete my medical certificate. I thought I'd write a little bit more about the process both HB and I underwent in deciding to move and actually moving to the BVIs.

After weeks of research, in late April, HB drove to Fort Lauderdale, and boarded a plane for St. Thomas. The time for his in-person interview had arrived, a three-night trip to Road Town to meet the Owner. The details of the trip are hazy for me, as I wasn't there, but I know that during his time in the BVIs in April, HB spent lots of time at the company's location, was taken to Virgin Gorda for a day trip, and shown Tortola nightlife. The trip concluded with a request by the Owner for HB to consult with me, and then present the Owner with his desired compensation.

There were many things we considered in preparing the compensation package that HB proposed to the Owner. We started by trying to get an idea of what our bills would be. We already had some fixed costs, such as my student loans, and our credit card payments, that weren't going to change no matter where we lived, but in addition, we looked at what our cost of living would be on Tortola. We anticipated that an apartment comparable to what we had in Florida would at least twice as much in Road Town, and we also estimated that our monthly grocery bill would increase by about 20% (definitely underestimated this one).

Perhaps most importantly, we looked at income taxes. Using the IRS website (, we researched whether and to what extent the income we earned while working in the BVIs would be taxed by the US. Conveniently, we discovered that as long as we were truly living out of the United States, we could choose to exclude income from non-US sources from US income tax. That is to say, we would not have to pay taxes on our earnings while living in the BVI. This is known as the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, and you can find more information on it by clicking the link above. If you are considering working outside the US, I highly recommend you read up on the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. It is a complex provision, and you may want to consult a CPA or tax attorney before you move.

On the other hand, although we found that we did not have to pay US income taxes, we learned that there would still be deductions from HB's salary. First, he would be responsible for contributing 4% of his earnings to Social Security, the BVI's socialized medicine program. HB's work permit enables him to enroll in Social Security, and so the 4% contribution deducted from his check doesn't seem like a huge deal, considering it entitles HB to healthcare. Additionally, there is an income tax of 8% on all earnings over $10,000 in a calendar year.

The information about tax treatment was so important to us because it meant that HB would be bringing home a much larger percentage of his pay in the BVI than he was in the US. It made the increased cost of living in the BVI more attainable for us, because HB would have more dollars in his pocket from each paycheck.

Ultimately, after compiling all the data about our fixed costs, cost of living, and tax treatment, in early May, HB sent the Owner a two-option proposal. With rent running so high in the BVI, HB requested in the first option that the Owner provide housing and car in addition to salary. Understanding, though, that the Owner may be unable or unwilling to provide housing, the second option eliminated the housing proviso in favor of a higher salary.

The Owner responded a few days later, accepting whichever option HB deemed more suitable, and offering HB employment with his company. On May 12th, the process of getting HB and the dogs permitted for immigration began in earnest.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


I love living in the tropics, but if there is one thing I regret about moving to Tortola, it's the fact that there is no autumn there.

Thankfully, my work permit processing necessitated that I leave the BVI, just in time to catch the tail end of autumn in Colorado, my first since 2008.

I love the fall here.

The leaves may not change to the deep crimsons and oranges like the maples and oaks back east, but there is no replacing the deep Colorado blue sky to offset the gold of the aspen and the pale yellow-green of the cottonwood.

I love the way autumn in Colorado evades definition. There is no classic Colorado fall. It can be cut short in mid-September by a heavy, wet snowfall, or it can linger into November, as it seems to be doing this year. Often the days of fall are still warm, with temperatures in the mid-70s, as they were, memorably so for me, the first week of October in 2006.

I love that on October 27th, my mother's marigolds are still in full bloom

but her pampas grass is brown and ready to be scythed for winter.

As much as I want to be back on Great Mountain with HB and the dogs right now, I'm simultaneously grateful to be in Colorado for the fall.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Bathroom

For the past 6 days our toilet has been broken.  It works if you take the lid off of the tank, and fill it with gallon water jugs.  The water works at every other location in the house, just not the toilet.  I've tried to fix it, but it seems like the water is turned off, even though that is most definitely not the case.

So after a day or so of filling the tank with water from the kitchen sink, I went downstairs to tell the landlord.  Of course I've never seen her, but I do know her housekeeper(who speaks no English).  I did my best to describe my problem and asked that the landlord get it fixed.  Now, after four more days I am still without a functioning toilet, and I haven't seen hide nor hair of the landlord, or the housekeeper since.

Meanwhile the bathroom and kitchen are filled with empty gallon jugs.  The moral of this slightly disturbing story is:  You can never, ever, expect things to happen in a reasonable amount of time when you live in the Islands. Never.  Everything takes at least twice as long as it would in the states, and if you get mad about it, then you should probably live somewhere else.  Well that's enough for now.  I may need to use the bathroom tomorrow, so I'm going to get ready now.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Futilities, Part 3

Although the lack of water and occasional outages of electricity were difficult to get used to, they've become fairly easy to cope with in our daily routine. The water pressure has definitely improved since I opened our cistern valve all the way, and there simply isn't anything that can be done about the power outages, except enduring them.

As a result, our current most-frustrating utility problem is the cable. The first step in getting cable is to go to the cable office, make your deposit and first month's payment, pick up your cable box, and schedule your installation appointment. We were admittedly a little delayed in doing this, as we had a lot of errands to run when we first arrived in Tortola. HB finally made it to BVI Cable to pick up our box on the 23rd of August.

When he asked to schedule an installation appointment, BVI Cable informed him that the soonest they could get to it was the 31st of August. Pressed for an earlier appointment, BVI Cable insisted that all of their cable technicians were at a training conference in Puerto Rico and would not be back until the 30th of August. Hence, the earliest available appointment was the 31st of August.

In the meantime, we went ahead and hooked the cable box up to the TV, and were gratified to get reception on several channels, including PBS, National Geographic, the Weather Channel, the TV Guide Channel, and a handful of local access and religious networks. We figured that would be plenty to make do until the 31st of August.

On August 30th, Hurricane Earl passed over the British Virgin Islands, tearing leaves off trees and downing many power and cable lines. We knew our August 31st appointment would have to be moved. On September 1, I called BVI Cable to reschedule our installation appointment, and was told that they were handling too many downed lines to reschedule at that time, but that they would call me by the end of the week to reschedule.

On September 8, with electricity completely restored to the island, I made a second call to BVI Cable, where they again told me that all their technicians were busy fixing the damage from the storm, and that they would call me to reschedule my installation appointment when they had available technicians.

On September 15, I made my third call, and was given the same story.

Sometime in late September, HB's co-workers informed him that all of their respective cable channels were fully restored, an event which we noticed because our previous line-up of channels expanded for a brief period to include TBS, TCM, ESPN2, and the WB. I made my fourth call to BVI Cable around the 28th of September, ever hopeful that I could schedule an installation appointment. Not surprisingly, they told me again that they were still fixing damage from Earl.

In early October, we lost the additional channels and returned to PBS, Weather, TV Guide, and Nat Geo, but now, Nat Geo was unreliable at best, often skipping and freezing during a show. Then, on October 6th, 7th and 8th, the tropical wave that would become Hurricane Otto dumped over 15 inches of rain on the BVI in three days, and the landslides and fallen trees downed many more cable lines.

Since I left the BVI on October 10th, HB has informed me that he is down to just PBS. He no longer has any other stations, not even the local access or religious networks. Additionally, with the repairs necessitated by Otto, BVI Cable was estimating that it would be another three to four weeks before they could schedule installation.

It has been over two months since HB picked up the cable box, and nearly two months since our original scheduled installation. While we understand that natural disasters happen, and that they may interfere with our plans to get cable TV, the complete inefficiency and ineffectiveness of BVI Cable in responding to the disaster leaves me speechless, especially considering the rapidity with which the BVI Electric Company restored complete power to the islands.

Perhaps it's time to look into getting satellite.

Monday, October 25, 2010


The subject of this post is not very related to the BVIs, except, perhaps, in how much the moisture-level of the environs contrasts with that of Tortola. Unfortunately, I've been out of the BVIs for two weeks now, and I am starting to run out of BVI-related subject matter, so I thought I'd post a little about what I've been up to. I would definitely rather be writing about my latest Road Town adventure, but in the meantime, I hope this will suffice.

After being on Jeopardy! in LA, I took advantage of the fact that I was going to be stuck in the US for an indeterminate period of time, along with cheap airfare to visit my best friend, who lives in Tucson. Having grown up in Denver, I feel drawn to deserts; they bring peace to my soul. Denver may not actually be in a desert, but it is rather surrounded by them, from the rocky, high desert near Mesa Verde, to the red sandstone of Moab. I'll admit that the barren, Mars-like formations of southwestern Utah are probably my favorite manifestation of desert, but the Sonoran desert in Arizona is a close second.

Why do I love the Sonoran so? One word: Saguaro

I've been to Tucson four times in the last four years, and every time I take endless pictures of saguaro. They are so otherworldly, completely unrelated to the vegetation the rest of the United States -- really, the rest of the world -- sees on a daily basis. And they only exist in the Sonoran desert. 

While I was in Tucson last week, it was definitely spring. The ocotillo were in such full leaf, as you can see from the photo above, that I actually mistakenly identified one as a foxtail fern from a distance. Ordinarily, the ocotillo look like thorny, dead collections of sticks, but the late-season monsoons had dropped enough rain on Tucson that everything was green and spring-like, in mid-October.

This man-made arroyo (you might call it a drainage ditch) helps funnel the water off the roadways. It, too, was brimming with life after the rain. I was astonished at how green it was, greener than Tortola is at this time of year. That's another thing I love about the Sonoran. It has its own seasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the calendar. I would argue that they probably coincide more with the southern hemisphere's seasons than with anything else. 

I spent three lovely, sunny, warm days in the desert with my best friend and her brilliant boyfriend. Not as good as being at home with HB, Flash and Roscoe, but a wonderful balm for my spirit.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Medical Certificate

I had meant to address this as part of the Tortola, Ho! series, as it was definitely one of our big surprises in trying to get HB's paperwork together for his work permit. However, since I am working on my own work permit right now, it is very much on my mind.

At the very end of the process for immigrating to the BVIs, the employer is sent a letter granting the work permit. I will address the actual letter and its requirements at another time. For now, I want to focus on the medical certificate that is attached to the letter.

The immigrant must complete the medical certificate, along with all supporting documentation, before arriving in the BVIs.  The medical certificate is two pages of instructions, accompanied by three pages of the actual certificate. Let's take a look at what is required:

The final page, which I was unable to get the scanner to reproduce contains the following:


1st DPT & TDPV
2nd DPT & TDPV
3rd DPT & TDPV
1st Booster
2nd Booster

It then gives space for the doctor to provide a Conclusion, and then has the certificate for the doctor to sign and seal or stamp.

Examining the elements of the medical certificate individually, the most important things to note are the required lab tests and the immunizations, as these seem to cause the most difficulty and take the most time.

The required labs are: 1) VDRL; 2) Stool O & P; 3) Mantoux.

The Mantoux is a skin test for Tuberculosis. It is a common test, administered by pricking the skin. The site must then be examined by a medical professional 48-72 hours later to see if any reaction occurred. The medical professional will prepare a certificate giving the date and time of administration, the date and time of reading, and their observations of reaction, including measurement of swelling in millimeters. If you test positive for Tuberculosis, you are also required to bring your most recent CBC, ESR, and Chest X-Ray. Neither HB nor I tested positive, so I cannot speak to what these items entail.

The Stool O & P (Ova & Parasites) is also fairly simple. The lab will give you the required equipment and instructions. At home, you will take samples of your stool and place them into the appropriate containers before returning them to the lab. My understanding is that results can take as long as two weeks. HB never had a stool sample, and I am still waiting on my results, so I cannot verify turn-around time on this yet.

Finally, VDRL is intended to test for syphilis. It is a serum-based blood test, so you will have to have blood drawn. Additionally, VDRL results take a minimum of two weeks. In HB's case, it was actually three weeks before his results came back. The extended length of time for VDRL results is especially frustrating in light of the fact that another, newer test for syphilis exists. Called an RPR, results are returned in two to three days. Unfortunately, since VDRL is on the certificate, VDRL is what we have to do.

The required immunizations are the three DPT & TDPV shots, plus two boosters and BCG. DPT is the Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis shot. In the US, the DPT series is required for all schoolchildren, so if you received your school vaccines, you should be fine on this. My last DPT booster was in 2001, so I went ahead and got another one while I was at the doctor. BCG is the bacille Calmet-Guerin vaccine, which is used to vaccinate against tuberculosis. BCG is no longer common in the US, as tuberculosis is very rare here. Neither HB nor I have had the BCG vaccination, but this was not a problem for HB in receiving his work permit. My doctor advised against getting the BCG vaccination, as it can often result in a false positive for the Mantoux skin test (see above).

In all, if you are immigrating to another country, be prepared that a medical certificate may be part of your process. Do your best to find a version of the medical certificate before you submit your visa application, so that you are not stuck, as HB was, waiting for three weeks for lab results while everything else pertaining to the work permit was ready.

If you are immigrating to the BVI, please feel free to print these copies of the medical certificate to use in making your own preparations, but be advised that your doctor must fill out and sign the original that BVI Immigration will provide to you.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Compare and Contrast:

Pile of asphalt on Tortola, peeled off the ground by 15 inches of rain in three days.

Broken sidewalk in LA, caused by roots of growing tree.

I have no idea how long the sidewalk in LA had been in this condition, or how much longer it would remain that way. I do know that the pile of asphalt on Tortola was cleared within three days. While the initial quality of the infrastructure in Tortola may have been worse, the efforts to maintain and improve it seem to be putting LA to shame.

Holidays Mon!

Tomorrow will be my first National Holiday experience since moving to the BVI in August.   While I will miss such American standards such as Thanksgiving, Memorial and Labor Days, and the ever-rollicking President's Day, I'm sure that holidays such as St. Ursula's Day, named for the Patron Saint and Namesake of the Virgin Islands will more than make up for them. The islands were so named due to the legend of the Saint and her 11,000 virgins.  Which sounds like an awful lot, based on my personal observations.

Other Public Holidays include:
March 5th -Lavity Stoutt's Birthday(not a Caribbean beer brand but the longest serving Chief Minister)
March 12th-Commonwealth Day  (the day the we got the "B" in BVI)
Second Saturday in June-Sovereign's Birthday(Long live the Queen!!!)
July 1st-Territory Day (the day the Queen decided that we were too far away to micromanage)
1st Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in August-Festival!(Potentially my favorite, with 5 days of Partying total)
December 26th-Boxing Day!(The day we let "the help" celebrate with their families after cleaning up after us on the "real" Holiday, and maybe give the Postman a little something)
And I almost forgot about the monthly Full Moon Parties at assorted and sordid locales around the Island.  Apparently hallucinogenic mushrooms are legal here, and are the focus of these all-night affairs.

Of course we get to keep Christmas, New Years Day, and all the various, and confusing Easter-related days.  As for Halloween?  Well, I don't really know what to expect, but will try to keep everyone updated.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


From the minute you enter the environs of Cyril E. King International Airport on St. Thomas, you know you're in the tropics. The check-in area is completely open-air, with a roof and a few columns separating ticketing agents from the elements. Baggage pick-up is in a large, hangar-like facility with heavy-duty ceiling fans spinning so fast they look like they're about to have a flight of their own. The eight departure gates all lead to a tarmac where you will be met with a flight of stairs leading to your plane.

There are no jetways at STT, and it is unusual to see passengers clad in much more than shorts, shirts, and flip-flops. The western end of the only runway at STT is surrounded on three sides by water.

Landing during the daytime is especially exciting, as planes usually approach from the west to land on the runway, the western end of which is pictured above. To feel the plane steadily lowering, with nothing in sight but water, until suddenly, a runway materializes just a few feet below you, is certainly a thrill.

Of course, taking off from STT has its own joys. You take off over Charlotte Amalie, the largest city on St. Thomas, and continue to gain altitude with the rest of the island unfolding below you. Soon, your view is dotted with fluffy white clouds, blue green waters and enticing Caribbean islands

The view coming into New York at sunset was nearly as spectacular as the one leaving St. Thomas, as the Jersey shore came into sight, the first bit of land since we'd run out of islands four hours before.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Answers to, well...Almost anything

Unfortunately our little friend "Number Three" seems to be AWOL.  He was last seen slumbering on the neighbors front porch on Friday afternoon.  Since then neither hide nor hair of him has been seen.  I'm hoping he found a comfy porch up the road a ways, or perhaps a more fragrant garbage can to frequent.  If any of our loyal readers here in the BVI have seen Number Three, aka "Thunder", aka "Lightning", please throw him some tasty scraps, and make sure he has a cool place in the shade to rest.

Monday, October 18, 2010

1000 Visitors!

Today, I reached 1000 visitors to this blog, just six short weeks after I began it.

I enjoy writing Basset's View of the Islands so much, and I'm so happy so many of you have already enjoyed reading it. I cannot thank you enough for giving me the opportunity to share my experiences with all of you.

Thank you!

Where and Why

Last Saturday, I told you that I was leaving Tortola, but that I couldn't tell you why. However, circumstances have changed and now I am able to reveal full details of my trip to the United States.

On Sunday, I left the BVIs and after a ferry ride and two very long flights, arrived in LA around 10:00 p.m. The initial motivation for my trip was the same as my reason for being in LA. In September, I received an invitation to appear on Jeopardy!, and was asked to attend the tapings on the 12th and 13th of October. Being a Jeopardy! contestant is one of the things pretty close to the top of my bucket list, and so I was extremely excited to be asked to be on the show. Taping was an amazing experience, almost surreal in a way. I felt like I'd eaten a little cake that caused me to shrink and enter the TV.

Coincidentally, before I left the BVIs to be on Jeopardy!, I was also lucky enough to find someone who wanted to employ me. BVI regulations require that applicants for work permits be out of the country while the application is being processed. As a result, and conveniently, I decided to extend the trip I already had planned. I took a brief trip to Tucson to visit my best friend, a different HB, and I will be staying with my parents in Denver until my work permit is processed.

One of my biggest priorities while in Denver is shopping. Although we can find most goods we need on Tortola, the prices of certain items make it advantageous to purchase them in the United States and take them to the BVIs in my luggage. Also, there are some things we simply can't find in Tortola, most especially pet-related items. My list ranges from flea & tick medicine for the dogs, to a quality chef's knife at a decent price. How I'm going to go about actually getting all these items in my return luggage remains to be seen, but I'm looking forward to unpacking them with HB when I get back. It will almost be like an extra Christmas.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Contest Winner

Without delay, here are the answers to Thursday's contest:

1. Taro Root

2. Batatas

3. Yucca Root

                                            Since no one was able to come up with the correct answer the $25 Amazon gift card will go back into the pot for the next contest.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Ferry Ride

When traveling to or from Tortola, most people fly through Cyril E. King International Airport on St. Thomas (STT) and then take the ferry between St. Thomas and Tortola. Although there is an airport on Tortola, Beef Island International Aiport (BIS), I find that the price difference to fly through St. Thomas generally makes the ferry ride worthwhile.

As a result, on Sunday morning, I caught the 8:45 a.m. ferry from Road Town to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, in order to be on time for my 1:35 p.m. flight from STT.

Many different ferry companies operate between Road Town and Charlotte Amalie, but HB and I have become loyal customers of Smith's Fast Ferry. Smith's is the only company that does not use catamarans; but we find that the standard, v-bottom boats they use actually cause us less seasickness than the cats do.

We also love riding a boat named the "Bomba Charger" every time we go to or from St. Thomas.

The interior is nearly as charming, with its rows of old airline seats bolted to the floor, and the tiny TV screen that is hardly visible, even on the rare occasions it is working.

The ride from Road Town to Charlotte Amalie takes about an hour, but the boat stays fairly close to the islands (Tortola, St. John, and St. Thomas) so there is plenty of scenery and activity to watch.

Nanny Cay Marina -- the majority of the boats constituting that forest of masts are in dry dock.

Smith's almost always stops in West End, Tortola, as well, which means the journey with them is sometimes a few minutes longer than with other ferry companies, but I kind of like the way it breaks up the trip.

The Jolly Roger Inn is a West End institution, and constitutes the end of the road -- the farthest west you can travel on Tortola.

This cliffside house on St. Thomas near Charlotte Amalie never fails to stun.

The Edward Wilmoth Blyden IV Ferry Terminal in Charlotte Amalie also contains US Customs and Immigration. Although the actual transit is only an hour, it is advisable to plan at least two hours between departing Road Town and emerging into Charlotte Amalie from the ferry terminal, given the customs-related delays that often occur. I was fortunate on Sunday to pass through customs fairly quickly, and arrive at the airport in plenty of time to catch my flight to JFK. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Photo ID Contest

In relation to yesterday's post regarding unusual items at the grocery store, I have a new photo identification contest.

The Rules: Identify the subjects of the following photos. Post answers in the comments. One entry per person, please. Answers must be posted by 11:59 p.m. PDT on 10/15/10.

The Prize: $25 gift certificate will be awarded to the first commenter to successfully identify all three photos.




Note: All prizes are sponsored by my pocket. I have no association with; I just like being able to buy all my books and music there. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I am always modestly unprepared for some of the items I find at the grocery store. Especially now that the new, Safeway-like Riteway store has opened, a trip to the grocery store in the BVIs differs little from one in the US. Perhaps I am lulled into complacency by the wide aisles and abundant price tags, but sometimes, an unusual product grabs my attention and reminds me that I'm in the Caribbean.

Often, it is a familiar product, with a slight twist. We all know Campbell's Soup. How many of us have seen the "Pepper Pot" flavor before? I now note, looking at this picture, that "Pepper Pot" is a product of Canada -- I wonder how many Canadians eat it?

Sometimes, it is a different way of doing things. Although I don't have a picture of it, it is common to find a large package of small items (nuts; grated parmesan; chocolate chips) has been opened by the store, and repackaged into ziploc bags, each with a price on it. I suppose this is not so different from what every butcher's department does with meat, but it is somehow startling to see a Ziploc Sandwich bag with 2 ounces of chocolate chips for sale on the shelf next to the Nestle Toll House packages.

Of course, there are always the products that I just never dreamed existed.

This rather blurry photo is of a bag of dehydrated cane juice. It wouldn't have crossed my mind to conceive of such a notion. How would I employ these little granules? To what delicacies would they contribute most? Are they meant to take the place of sugar?

On my most recent trip to the store, it was an instance similar to the pepper pot that took my head out of the clouds and plopped it in the Caribbean. Sometimes, all it takes is a word:

"Jamaica Cock Soup Mix -- with Pumpkin"

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Living in the Clouds

One of my favorite things about living in Tortola, especially in the more specific place we live, on Great Mountain, overlooking Road Town and Road Harbour, are the clouds. I have tried many times to take pictures of a variety of different cloud phenomena. My camera skills must not be up to the task though, because the photos don't ever look like what it does in person.

My absolutely favorite cloud event is the squall. Squalls have been pretty rare the last couple of weeks, but when I first got here in August, we usually had a squall every day. Sometime in the early afternoon, I look off our balcony, and out past Salt Island, Dead Chest, and Peter Island, to see a smudge of grey on the horizon. Twenty minutes later, I notice that what used to be a grey smudge is now hovering over Salt Island, with wispy tendrils of rain descending from the clouds.

I watch as the tendrils move over the island and across Sir Francis Drake Channel, able to see by the disturbance in the glassy water exactly where the rain was falling. Soon, the squall line would make landfall again, covering Road Town and making the streets and buildings invisible, before gradually beginning its climb up the mountain. Some five minutes after enveloping Road Town, I feel the first small droplets on my face.

These little drips always come as a surprise, as the squall seems still to be several hundred feet below me. Looking down on Road Town, watching the clouds ascend, I neglect to look above me and realize that I am already enveloped by cloud. After a few days here, I realized the droplets were my last warning; the heavy rain would be upon me before I had a chance to get inside.

The heaviest rain from the squall keeps me briefly indoors, lasting five or ten minutes at the most, before the squall passes, and I am greeted with a clear view of dampened Road Town under blue skies, shining in the sun.

Monday, October 11, 2010


On Saturday, as a preface to my departure, and in honor of the sun finally coming out, HB and I cleaned the house top to bottom. It has been shut up most of the week, as Tropical Storm Otto dumped 15" of rain on us. The humidity and the winds had wreaked havoc on the cleanliness of the house. I have never been in such a damp environment, and I cannot even begin to put into words what damage the wet did, so here are some pictures:

The shoe on the left in the above pictures is what the shoe is supposed to look like; the one on the right is what they both looked like this morning -- covered with mold.

Even HB's leather shoes molded. Thankfully, the mold wipes off pretty easily, but the list of things we had to wipe mold from today included: 1) all of our shoes; 2) all of HB's baseball caps; 3) the laptop bag; 4) sunglass cases; 5) closet door hinges; and probably most disturbingly, 6) HB's passport.

Any advice on how to keep the house drier, so the mold doesn't attack all of our possessions, would be greatly appreciated.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


I find myself obliged to leave the BVI tomorrow for the United States. I will be going for an indefinite period of time, although hopefully not much more than a month. I will be visiting at least four states: New York, California, Arizona and Colorado. Unfortunately, neither HB nor the dogs will be joining me. 

I cannot give reasons for my departure. Although they are good, they must remain secrets for a while. I will be away from the computer through the end of next week, but I have some posts scheduled for that time, including a contest, so keep checking back. 

Uncertain how to continue a blog about the BVIs while I am away from them, I have resolved on a compromise. While I will post on my adventures in the States, HB will also be posting a few times a week with updates from Tortola, to continue the island influence in this space. Posts may not be as regular over the next month as they have been since the inception of this blog. 

I look forward to my return to the BVIs, when I will once again be able to spend my morning sharing my tropical life (and my reasons for my trip abroad) with you. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

On Blankets

My most memorable night of the four months I spent in Spain in 2002 was in Cadiz. I arrived by a late bus, and for my 6 euros, was granted a 4" thick foam mattress on the roof of a hostel. No blankets being made available, I pulled out my bath towel, quickly discovered what an inadequate cover it made, and spent the night shivering under the stars. Since I have been living here, I have been reminded of the poor substitute nightly, as I have again resorted to using a bath towel as a blanket. 

We have no A/C, and the nights, especially the first few weeks I was here, are warm, with temperatures usually around 80 degrees. To combat the warm nights, there is a first-rate ceiling fan in our bedroom. The ceiling fan spins so fast, and moves so much air, that it is faster for me to hang-dry our clothes in the bedroom than outside. Despite the accompanying warm air, the ceiling fan results in a breeze that makes me chilly. 

So I should turn off the ceiling fan. But HB, having a decidedly more vigorous circulatory system than mine, would suffer with heat and sweat were we to do so. So to combat the cool breeze, I should use a blanket. Our furnished apartment does not include a blanket, but we do have a comforter. It is very heavy, of the style people use in very cold climates. I am baffled as to why it even exists here. Also, it is very large, so to pull the comforter over me would also involve, in some degree, pulling it over HB who, as I mentioned before, is perfectly happy to sleep with no covering between him and the blissful wind from the ceiling fan. 

As a result, the first night, I made do with a bath towel. It is precisely the right weight. Just heavy enough to weigh the sheet down so it doesn't flap in gusts from the fan; light enough that it doesn't significantly increase my body temperature. Unfortunately, it is only about 2/3 as long as I am, and so leaves either my shoulders or feet and calves exposed. 

I figured I would soon find a blanket of similar weight, like a small throw, or even a twin-size duvet, that would give me the protection from the ceiling fan I desired. After trying all the shops that we know of that carry bedding, I have been completely unable to find anything that answers to that description. 

Frustrated in my purpose, I asked my mother if she would be so kind as to mail me one. She complied almost immediately with my wishes, and on the 1st of September, mailed a package to me. Alas! there was a miscommunication about the address, and despite repeated trips to the post office (beloved institution), I have yet to receive the parcel containing my sought-after coverlet.

And so I continue to use the bath towel as a blanket, recalling that chilly night in Cadiz each time I go to bed. But not for much longer; relief is in sight. Only two more nights to contend with my ineffectual cover. How do I know that my suffering is nearly at an end? Update tomorrow. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gas Station

Recovery from the rain poured on Tortola by the tropical wave is still ongoing. Government offices and schools are all closed today, and heavy machinery is out in force to clear the roads. On my way back from town this morning, there was a boulder in the road the size of a Volkswagen bus. It had been deposited there by a landslide during the hour or so that had elapsed since I'd gone into town with HB.

On a lighter note, I thought I'd talk a little bit about going to the gas station here in the BVIs. This seemingly normal task has been transformed for me by a few small idiosyncrasies, the chief of which is that, in an effort to decrease unemployment, all gas stations employ pump attendants.

Now for those of you who remember the 60s, or those of you who are from New Jersey or Oregon, pump attendants do not seem so strange. But I, child of the 90s that I am, have never before encountered a gas station that is NOT self-serve. To pull up to the pump and be asked to remain in my vehicle is simply unheard of for me, and so it is delightful to me every time I have to get gas, to sit in the car and listen to the radio while the attendant dutifully pumps my petrol.

The entire experience only amplifies my bemusement when there is some sort of difficulty in communication. Although I seem to get along fine with the accents everywhere else, for some reason, pump attendants and I are on entirely different pages. The hardest concept for me to communicate is that I want $30 worth of gas. I roll down my window and dutifully say, "Thirty Dollars' worth, please!" and am met with a confused stare, before being corrected: "Oh, terty dollars. Tree oh. Terty." Apparently, my use of the "th" diphthong is simply unacceptable.

Although I can't seem to get the hang of "terty" rather than "thirty", another mis-step that I think I've mastered is the term to use when I want my tank to be brimming with gasoline. The first time I asked for a top-off, I used the Americanism, "Fill 'er up, please". I quickly realized my mistake when confronted with the same confused stare that "thirty" brings on. I repeated my request more distinctly, "please fill the tank," before being gently set right again. Here, you do not fill the tank, you "full it."

In the last few weeks, I've simplified things entirely, by only purchasing $20 worth of gasoline at a time. I may have to stop at the gas station more frequently, but with pump attendants, it's almost fun.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Tropical Depression 17 is nearly finished with us; a few intermittent showers remain, from which these sheep were sheltering on a patio.

Water flowing downhill folded this section of asphalt like a ribbon.

HB stands on the broken edge of the asphalt; water still flowing beneath and continuing to wreak havoc

No longer on the jack stands where it's dwelt since we arrived; it barely escaped being plunged into the ghut (watercourse) below

Walking home through the rubble.

Brown and Green

Road Harbour, ordinarily a lovely, deep shade of cerulean, is turned brown from the silty run-off of the rainfall.

The government has requested that all businesses close for the remainder of the day, to keep as many people as possible off the roads until debris can be cleared.

Tropical Wave

I would wager that most people in the United States, outside of Floridians and serious storm chasers, do not know what a tropical wave is. A tropical wave is a weather system originating between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, characterized by low pressure, severe thunderstorms, and lots of wind. It is the predecessor of the tropical depression and tropical storm. In fact, the only thing that prevents a tropical wave from being called a tropical depression is that it either a) is not organized enough (doesn't spiral around a central point); b) doesn't have enough convection or c) doesn't have strong enough winds.

In the case of the tropical wave Tortola experienced last night, the only thing missing was organization. Sustained winds of 35 mph hit the island overnight, and 6" of rain fell on Tortola on 10/5/10. That doesn't include the rain that continued to fall after midnight this morning. The tropical wave we experienced, now tropical depression 17 and soon to be Tropical Storm Otto, brought far more rain to Tortola than Hurricane Earl did six weeks ago, and I believe, far more destruction as well.

I'm sure the folks in North Carolina, and all along the East Coast of the United States, are now conversant with the destruction that large quantities of water dumped on a small area in a short period of time can do. Over the weekend, they too, contended with a tropical wave, although the Weather Channel never called it that. The remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole, disorganized, and stretched over a huge north-south axis, brought similar conditions to the Carolinas and the Mid-Atlantic states.

I have not been out further than to walk the dogs this morning, but HB assures me the damage is significant. Having driven safely to work, without incident, the day after Hurricane Earl, HB did not hesitate to go into town this morning, but on the phone, he told me he several times tried to turn around to come home, because the roads were so torn up they were nearly impassable in the Hyundai.

I hope to get out of the house later this afternoon, once the rain has stopped, and get some pictures of the effects of tropical wave 97L. If I do, they'll be up here this evening.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

All in the Timing

I've been fidgeting with the auto-timer on our SLR camera lately. The dogs and I were having a cuddle in the sun yesterday afternoon, and I thought it'd be good practice.

As you can tell, I'm still learning.

Mute Mongoose

The antenna on the Hyundai automatically retracts when the car is turned off, and extends when the car is turned on. Or at least, it did up until Sunday. Now, it just stays still, extended about six inches from the rear quarter of the car, making the car radio useless. This has drastically reduced the my enjoyment while driving, as I can no longer blare "I Am The Walrus" while careening around town.

Our Current Currency

Here's your BVI factoid for the day: the official currency of the BVIs is the US Dollar.

I am sad about this because it means I do not get to show off the funny new money HB and I are using. I don't get to post tons of pictures that revel in the colors and strange symbols of a foreign currency. I hear some of you breathing sighs of relief that you won't be encountering a post like that on here any time soon.

I do, however, appreciate using the US Dollar on a daily basis, as it saves me quite a bit of brain power. I'm not constantly converting prices in my head to find out whether I'm being ripped off, or getting a good deal. And, most importantly, since neither HB nor I has been successful in getting a bank account here, yet, I don't have to worry about sudden fluctuations in exchange rates when we mail HB's paychecks back to the US for deposit in his bank account there.

For those of you who were looking forward to that extensive analysis of foreign money -- sorry to disappoint.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Walking the Dogs

As long as I have lived with HB, it has been part of my morning routine to walk the dog(s). HB has always been one to wake up and leave the house within ten or fifteen minutes, whereas I like to take my time in the morning: have some breakfast, read my e-mail. Walking the dogs is just a natural thing for me to do.

In Florida, walking the dogs in the morning became one of my favorite things to do. I would get up around 7:15, which was usually pretty close to sunrise and stand on the sidewalk in the slightly cool, early-morning Florida air, watching the mourning doves on the telephone wires, or the ibises grazing in the field. Since I didn't have to be to work until 9:00, the morning walks for the dogs were never rushed, unless it was raining.

All that has changed since we moved to Tortola. What used to be a relaxing moment of pause in my day has become the most stressful part of my routine. The apartment building where we live does not have a yard. It does not have a grassy area nearby, or a field of any sort. Walking the dogs involves walking them along the road in front of the house

As you can see, the road in front of our house (house on the left) does not have any nice, relaxing, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, or manicured lawns. It has bush along one side, with some tall grass where the dogs can do their business. The other thing it has, although not pictured here, is a lot of traffic. After all, this is Ridge Road, the third busiest highway on Tortola (after the Coastal Highway and North Coast Road), and it is especially busy from 7:30 to 9:00 in the morning; about the right time for the dogs' a.m. walk.

The morning walk consists of dashing across the road between oncoming cars, and pressing myself and the dog against the bush. The dogs have a fondness for darting out into the road after they're done, stressful enough in itself. But recently, both of the dogs have developed a strong dislike of the roadway, probably because they're picking up on my stress and worry that they'll be hit by one of the SUVs thundering past. As a result, lately, when I try to walk them along the road, they do what Flash is doing in the picture below: they freeze up in the middle of the road and dig their claws into what slim purchase they can get on the asphalt, refusing to pass the centerline of the road.

With charming timing, they often do this when a car is barreling down on us, and so I have to run quickly back to the safety of the parking lot, dragging the dog behind me the entire time. Once I finally get the dogs to do what they need to do, I come in the house exhausted from stress, and sweating from the obstacle course that walking the dogs has become.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Mount Healthy

When we went to Sage Mountain a couple of weeks ago, HB and I had anticipated spending two hours or so exploring the park. Instead, we spent about 45 minutes. As a consolation prize, we took a second trip to Mount Healthy National Park, which is about halfway between our house and Brewer's Bay.

Mount Healthy is known primarily as the site of the ruins of an old sugar mill, and has become a popular place for picnics, especially for tourists.

The windmill part of the mill is still standing, although it's lost its blades. Various other ruins of the mill-works are scattered through a 1/4 square mile area nearby, including portions of the old cisterns and storage sheds. The windmill is by far the easiest to access though, as it doesn't involve tramping through overgrown bush or meadow, quite possibly across someone else's land. 

The ramp was used by teams of horses or cows to pull wagon-loads of cane into the mill for milling. HB was doing quite a good job taking pictures of the mill, until I absent-mindedly strolled through his shot like an undersized sasquatch. 

We wandered around for about twenty minutes, enjoying the springy grass under our feet, taking pictures of the flora. This tree (I think it's ironwood, but I'm not sure) was showing signs of recovery from Earl, putting out plenty of new, bright-green leaves less than three weeks after being stripped by the winds. 

For those looking for a little outdoor recreation, other than the beach, Mount Healthy offers a little history, a pleasant stroll, and an excellent picnic location. 

Contest Winners

Still new to the contest thing, I realized that I didn't declare a time when the contest would be over, so I am officially declaring it now. It's been over 48 hours since my original post, so that seems like enough time.

While no one identified the ship in Sea Cow's Bay, cholly correctly identified the items below as mooring buoys with bollards attached.

Congratulations cholly! Please e-mail me at with the e-mail address where I should send your Amazon gift certificate.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tortola, Ho! Part 2: Research & Helpful Links

On the Sunday after HB had sent his resume to the Owner, we were wandering around Epcot when HB got a phone call from a number he didn't recognize. The caller left a message, and of course it was the Owner. HB said he'd call the Owner back when we got home that evening, but I insisted that HB call back immediately.

So, leaning against a wall in the UK pavilion at Epcot, HB had a phone interview with the Owner. The call lasted about 20 minutes, and at the end, the Owner asked HB to come to Tortola for a visit -- a sort of second interview -- to make sure that HB truly new his way around the company systems and that he got along fairly well with the Owner and his potential co-workers. 

When we got home, we took a look at the calendar and HB emailed Owner to confirm that the dates would work for him. Once HB heard back from Owner, we booked HB's plane ticket. 

Then the research began. We knew very little of what it would take to immigrate to the BVI. How hard was it to get a work permit? What kind of documents would we need? How would we go about taking the dogs with us? Could we take the dogs with us?

We also wondered about money issues, and had to do the appropriate research to determine: What sort of salary should HB expect? Request? How much was rent? Groceries? Utilities? What were the tax implications of working in the BVI? Would we still be paying US income tax? What about BVI income tax?

We spent almost an hour nearly every night in the five weeks between the phone call and HB's visit researching these questions. I hope to answer them all more fully is this series -- to make a one-stop-shop of sorts for others trying to move to the BVI. In the meantime, here is a list of resources we found helpful

Work Permit Info:
BVI Visa Application (note, this is NOT the application actually used for work permits, but was helpful in giving us an idea of what documents and information the work permit app would require)
BVI Work Permit Application This is the actual work permit application

Pet Import Info:
Pet Importation Information (not an official site; may contain incorrect information)
More Pet Importation Information (not an official site; may contain incorrect information)
Caribbean Pet Entry Requirements (great intro resource for people going somewhere other than the BVI)

Cost of Living Info:
Provisioning in the BVI (info on food markets and costs)

Income Tax Info:
IRS Form 2555 for Foreign Earned Income (I also recommend reading the instructions for Form 2555 for additional information)

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