Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sunday Morning, Huntum's Ghut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It makes me laugh every time I drive by. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Daily Commute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 27, 2010


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

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

Friday, November 26, 2010

Tortola Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Silence of the Donkeys

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hitchhiking Etiquette

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

DeCastro Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 22, 2010

New Schedule

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 20, 2010


It's been a bit quiet around the apartment lately. The landlords have been out of the country, and two of our other neighbors have moved, so it was quite pleasant this morning to have a visitor.

For the first time since October 15th, Number Three, aka Thunder, was hanging out in our parking lot this morning. A large-gauge chain around his neck helped explain his extended absence. It seems in October, he returned to his actual home down the hill from us, where his true owner opted to tie him up instead of allowing him to continue to roam free. Remarkably, though, Number Three broke his chain and spent the better part of the morning visiting old friends.

He hung out for a bit with the Border Collie next door, and the Lab at the neighbor's. He enjoyed some leftovers from the housekeeper downstairs, and got plenty of head scratches from HB and me. Number Three left again sometime around mid-morning, probably to go back home where, despite being tied up, he's being fed regularly. Hopefully he won't forget us, and will continue to occasionally come visit.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Baths

I mentioned the Baths in my post about Virgin Gorda. HB and I finally made it back, for a beautiful day of sun, sand and surf. 

The Baths are a grouping of very large boulders on the southwestern corner of Virgin Gorda. This geologic phenomenon creates a playground for amateur cavers and advanced snorkelers. Exploring the space among the boulders reminded me of being in slot canyons in Zion National Park in Utah, as we pushed our way through narrow openings between boulders and followed a reasonably well-worn trail up and down water and algae-slicked stone.  

The tides come in and out among the rocks, and much of the trail is under a few inches of water, so going barefoot or having water shoes is advisable. The cave trail runs between the beach at The Baths and the beach at Devil's Bay, with Devil's Bay being the better of the two for swimming. Doing some light bouldering and enjoying the light playing off the rocks and water was a great change of pace from our daily grind on Tortola. 

I can't wait to go back and explore underwater a bit more. Each time I visit Virgin Gorda, I find something else to love about it. The canyon-esque caves at the Baths, combined with the generally drier climate and the prolific cacti on the island make it feel like the "southwest" of the BVIs. And as the shot below at Savannah Bay shows, the water around Virgin Gorda is pretty fantastic, too.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Labor and Immigration

Yesterday was kind of a disjointed day. Having re-attended and passed the Immigration Medical Clinic on Tuesday, I was instructed to go to the Department of Labor on Wednesday. Everyone I talked to said that they opened at 8:30, and that it took forever, so I should be there early.

I arrived at Labor shortly before 8:30. The doors didn't open until 8:50. Perhaps on this occasion they were just running late. Additionally, while I was there, I noticed a sign in the employee area that stated that new work permits are processed on Wednesdays between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., so perhaps the best strategy would be not to arrive until 10:00, or even a little later. I don't think this policy is made public, which is why everyone believes it's necessary to arrive at 8:30.

Labor didn't actually take much longer than the Clinic had, as I left at 11:15. After paying the $375 for my work permit and getting my work permit card made, I was asked to step next door to the Department of Immigration. Compared to the Department of Labor and the Clinic, the Department of Immigration is shiny and new and super organized. They use a "take a number" system to be seen by the front desk clerk, who then either processes your paperwork into a variety of piles and asks you to take a seat, or gives you forms to fill out and instructions and tells you when to return.

In my case, I received a bond form for my employer to complete, and a questionnaire that I had to fill out. The clerk asked me to return with my completed paperwork before 2:00 p.m, if possible. I left Department of Immigration around 11:45, and arrived at work at 12:15. My boss filled out the bond form, I completed the questionnaire, I did about half an hour of work and shoveled down my lunch and then I was back in the car for the half-hour drive back to Road Town and the Department of Immigration.

When I arrived back at Immigration, I took a number again, and when I was called, the clerk requested all of the immigration forms I've been shuffling around for two weeks now (medical certificate, police certificate, etc.) and the two forms she had given me earlier. She also asked for my passport and newly-minted work permit card. With all of this important identification in her hands, she told me I could return on Friday at 11:30 to pick it up.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Although I know better, I'm beginning to think I live south of the Equator. It is November, right? In the last few days, a veritable riot of color has broken out around our house -- around the island, really. The Clematis has started blooming, the trumpet vine has gone crazy, and most notably, the bougainvillea has begun to put out flowers. Bougainvillea has always struck me as kind of odd. The petals of its flowers look like leaves. I don't think I ever saw bougainvillea in person until I went to the Keys for the first time, though, and so nothing quite says "tropics" to me like a flourishing bougainvillea plant.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Moving Hotels

This has been a common sight in Road Harbour since I've been back. We've had at least one cruise ship in port every other day, and a couple of days with two ships in. Considering that only three total came to the BVIs during my first two months here, the increase in frequency has definitely alerted us that high season is approaching. 

When a ship is in port, it is highly advisable to avoid downtown Road Town. Although not many cruise ship passengers rent vehicles, the assumption among locals is that a cruise ship means bad traffic, which seems to give the local drivers and excuse to drive worse than usual. It is also a good idea to stay away from the beach at Cane Garden Bay, since the majority of on-island excursions, along with the buses that line up at the dock, shuttle cruise passengers directly to that beach. 

Despite the mild traffic annoyances created by having cruise ships in port, I rather like waking up in the morning and seeing them there. The influx of people into downtown helps create a holiday atmosphere. It makes me feel as though I, too, am on vacation, even on days I'm working. I doubt I will ever get tired of sitting on the balcony at sunset, watching these moving hotels maneuver their way out of the Harbour, and head down the Sir Francis Drake Channel to their next destination.

Monday, November 15, 2010


I have been craving homemade chocolate chip cookies since I arrived in Road Town in mid-August, but I have been putting off baking them because I wasn't able to find pecans at the grocery store. A slow day at work and lots of cookie and cake-related posts on food blogs made the craving especially bad today, and so I finally crumbled and asked HB, since he was off, to stop by the grocery store and pick up the necessary ingredients.

Miraculously, HB was able to find chopped pecans at Riteway, something I have looked for every time I've gone to the store and never seen. Unfortunately, he was not able to find semi-sweet chocolate chips, so we had to make do with semi-sweet chocolate chunks instead. Nonetheless, I baked a batch of delicious cookies tonight that hardly differed from those I've made so many times in the US. It made both of us very happy to have this most important of comfort foods here in our new home in the BVIs.

For those who are interested, here is the recipe I use, just slightly tweaked from the quintessential chocolate chip cookie recipe on the back of the Toll House bag:

"Wet Ingredients":
1 c Crisco
3/4 c sugar
3/4 c brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla

"Dry Ingredients":
2 1/4 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

1 12 oz bag Toll House semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 c chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2. Mix wet ingredients together in large bowl. Note: Use a dry measuring cup to measure crisco, and liquid measuring cups to measure sugars
3. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredient mixture and mix well. Note: Use liquid measuring cup to measure flour
4. Add mix-ins to dough and stir until combined.
5. Place 1 tsp portions of dough on cookie sheets at least 1 inch apart.
6. Bake for ?? minutes at 375 degrees.

The reason I do not specify the number of minutes in this recipe is because it varies by oven. For my mom, it's 6 minutes and 15 seconds. For the gas oven I'm using here in Tortola, it's 9 minutes and 30 seconds. You will have to judge the appropriate time for yourself. Start at six minutes, and keep checking every minute or so after that. The cookies are done when the uppermost parts of the cookies have turned a golden brown.

Wrapped tightly in aluminum foil, these cookies can keep for 4 or 5 days on the counter. Not that they'll last that long.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


The BVI Beacon, a weekly newspaper, is the repository for all classified advertisements on the islands. If you're looking for a job? Check the Beacon. Want to buy a used car? It's in the Beacon. Internet advertising is unheard of here.

All of that said, the classifieds in the BVI can definitely be a little different from what you might find in the US. In the most recent week's edition, the following appeared under the heading "Miscellaneous":

MAY THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS be adored, glorified, loved and preserved throughout the world now and forever. Sacred Heart of Jesus pray for us. St. Jude help of the hopeless pray for us, Amen. Say this pray three times a day by the ninth day your pray will be answered. It has never known to fail. Publication must be promised. A.E.

If you'd like to explore the Beacon's classifieds further, you can find them online on their website: www.bvibeacon.com

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Wake-up Call

This past Monday, I started work. The 45-minute drive and 8:00 a.m. start time meant that, for the first time since we've been here, HB and I used an alarm clock to wake up. We haven't needed one before now, because the BVIs provide their own wake-up call.

Since we have no a/c, the best way to ensure the bedroom is reasonably cool at night is to leave the windows open. As a result, when we go to bed, we're treated to a chorus of forest noises. There are small insect chirps, and a few nocturnal birds, but the Bo-Peep frogs (also known as the Virgin Islands Coqui) create a wall of noise that can surmount 100 decibels, especially when it rains.

There are a few things that quiet the frogs. Wind comes to mind, as does sunrise. When the first rays of light peek over the horizon, the constant "bo-peep, bo-peep" sound of the frogs comes to a quick end in a startling silence, guaranteed to jar you awake.

Realizing it's only 5:45 or so in the morning, you try to doze off again, but soon you are heralded with that other dawn event, the cock's crow. Chickens run wild on the island, and if you're lucky enough to live in a little pocket that doesn't have any fowl, it doesn't matter, because the rooster's "cock-a-doodle-doo" echoes up the ghuts and over the hillsides from all directions. Thankfully, unless there is a particularly randy rooster on any given morning, this usually only lasts for about 30 minutes after sunrise.

There is a blissful time that arrives after the roosters stop crowing. The sunlight is soft and golden, the air is as cool as it's going to be all day, and you feel like you can actually cuddle with your spouse without becoming a giant ball of sweat. Everything is comfortable and lovely and you feel like you could sleep for several more hours.

Until 7:00 a.m. That's when the border collie next door starts his morning bark. It is a desperate, sharp, happy-to-be-awake bark that has a high-pitched, whining tone impossible to ignore. It even keeps HB from snoozing, though he manages to sleep through the roosters most mornings.

By 7:30 or so, when the collie's morning vocal exercises begin to die down, traffic has picked up on the road. Large trucks rumble past, and sometime very soon, the schoolchildren will be outside our window, two stories down, playing and laughing in the road while waiting for the school bus. It is time to get up. The BVI is out there waiting.

*Sorry about the lack of post yesterday. The internet was down until late in the evening 

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Another tropical wave has been battering the island over the last few days, leading to lots of rain and generally gloomy conditions. Last night, a startling, vibrant sunset brought us hope that the rain would soon be coming to an end.


I often get asked about the population of the British Virgin Islands. How many people live there? What are the people like? What types of people live there? Are there lots of ex-pats? While official sources begin to answer these questions, I often have to rely on my own observations as well, since official sources do not account for people on the islands beyond citizens and permanent residents. So who comprises the population of the BVI?

Let's start at one of the most reliable sources for international geographic information, The CIA World Factbook. The Factbook tells us that in 2010, the BVI has an estimate population of just under 25,000 people. The majority of the population resides on Tortola (approx. 19,000), with around 4,000 on Virgin Gorda, 1000 on Jost Van Dyke, 200 on Anegada, and the remainder scattered on another 12 inhabited islands. Of the 25,000 people on 16 islands, 83% are Afro-Caribbean, 7% are white, 1% are East Indian, and the remaining 10% are "other" or "mixed". Protestantism is the dominant religion, as 86% of the population practices some form of it.

With these figures, the Factbook provides us with a good baseline for beginning to understand the population dynamics of the BVI, but it is only a beginning. The people counted in the 25,000 listed in the Factbook are only those who are citizens or permanent residents of the country. The 25,000 figure does not take into account the large number of people who are in country on work permits, or who are otherwise temporary residents here.

So here's what I've seen since I've been here. When I arrived in August, I would say that there were maybe 5,000-6,000 more people here than what the Factbook says, but that race and religion stats were pretty close to correct, with maybe a slightly higher percentage of white and East Indian population. However, the closer it has gotten to winter, the more the population has swelled, as yachties, ex-pats, and seasonal workers have begun to arrive on island, and the majority of the new arrivals (around 60% by my best guess) are white.

If the rapid growth of the unofficial population in the last week or so since I've been back is any indication, I would estimate that in the high-season months of January and February, there will be easily 45,000 people calling the BVIs home. While I understand why these folks cannot be counted in population statistics for sources like the World Factbook, I think that in considering whether to travel or move to the BVI, the prevalence of non-native workers, and of an ex-pat community (as either a source of support of annoyance) may be a factor.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Immigration Medical Clinic

After arriving in the BVI and being granted entry by an immigration officer at the port, the first thing a person with a work permit must do is present himself at the immigration medical clinic for medical clearance. Held every Tuesday morning (and only Tuesday morning) at the Valerie O. Thomas Community Center in Sea Cow's Bay, the placard on the side of the building states that the clinic opens at 8:30 a.m., but in fact, the doors aren't unlocked until 9:00.

Nonetheless, it is highly advisable to arrive early, as the line is quite long by 8:30. I pulled up around 8:15 yesterday and the line was already about 10 people deep. By the time the doors were opened at 9:00, there were around 30 people in line. Additionally, immigrants should plan on spending the better part of the morning at the clinic. As the 10th person in line, I still did not leave the building until 10:45.

Once inside, immigrants are asked to grab a seat (literally, you have to get a chair from a stack and place it across the room) and then sign into the registration book in the same order as the line. Considering how easy it would have been for folks to be dishonest about their place in line, this was a surprisingly organized process, with the book being passed in correct order.

It is not unusual for an immigrant's medical paperwork to have errors, or be incomplete, and so often, an immigrant will have to return to the clinic on successive Tuesdays. Luckily for these returnees, however, they are handled first. With everyone signed in, the administrator calls the returnees in order of their arrival, before proceeding to "new" immigrants -- those individuals who are at the clinic for the first time.

The process for new immigrants is pretty long. First, wait until all returnees are handled. Then, get called in order of arrival by the administrator. The administrator will glance at your paperwork, and point out any obvious errors or problems that she sees. She will then ask you to step back to the cashier, where you will pay $100 for "Immigration Process". After paying, you will return to the waiting room until the nurse or doctor in charge calls you to be examined.

If there are problems or errors with the paperwork, the nurse or doctor will inform you of them, recommend how to correct them, and ask you to return the following week. At this point, you are free to leave.

If there are NO problems with the paperwork, the nurse or doctor will give you a cursory examination for any obvious symptoms of disease or injury, and presuming you are healthy, ask you to return to the waiting room. The administrator will call you again, stamp your paperwork, and you are free to go on to the next step in the process, a visit to the Department of Labor.

In my case, I had a minor error on my Mantoux (TB) test form that needs to be corrected by my doctor, so next Tuesday, I will again be arriving early to the Valerie O. Thomas Community Center. This time, though, I will be one of those lucky returnees that gets to be seen first.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

San Juan to Beef Island

On my return trip to Tortola, I had the pleasure taking a more palpable, tactile, immediate flight than I've ever taken before. As a result of the short period of time between my booking date and my flight date, I opted to take a CapeAir flight from San Juan to Beef Island International Airport (EIS). I knew when I booked the flight that CapeAir was known for its small planes, but I had no idea until I walked out onto the tarmac at San Juan exactly how small the planes were.

The plane awaiting my fellow-passengers and me at the gate was a Cessna 402. 10 seats. One for the pilot, 9 for the passengers. Two small steps in the door led up to a cabin that was the approximate size of a mini-van's interior.

On the tarmac, an airline employee assigned our seats to us based on our relative size and weight. Once all 9 passengers, along with our scant carry-on luggage was loaded, our pilot, who looked to be about 20 years old, took off into the nighttime skies and the far outer bands of Tropical Storm Tomas for the 40 minute flight to Beef Island.

Watching the lights of Puerto Rico and St. Thomas about 2000 feet below us, while the night sky, filled with bright stars passed above us, is a scene I will never forget. Similarly, I won't forget the moment when the pilot turned on his map light and pulled out a paper map about 20 minutes into the flight, or the sudden jounce and shimmy we experience when our pilot couldn't quite avoid flying through a cloud.

While I know that it may not be for everyone, if you have the opportunity and wherewithal to take a similar flight, in a similar aircraft, I heartily recommend it.

Contest Winner

Congratulations Jamie! You are the winner of the $25 amazon gift certificate. To claim your prize, please e-mail me at thebvis@gmail.com with the e-mail address where you would like the gift certificate sent.

To determine the winner, I used the random number generator provided by random.org. To read more about random number generation, please check out www.random.org

I also wanted to thank those of you who commented for putting my time away from HB in perspective. I hadn't considered the implications of going to war, or having a loved one go to war, and I appreciate the reminder of the sacrifices so many Americans make.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hurry Hurry, Come for Curry

It's been an excellent two days at home with HB and the dogs. I'm ridiculously happy to be back in the BVI. Probably the best event since I've been back was the curry dinner held at Maria's by the Sea.

While I was in Denver, HB bought two tickets for "Hurry Hurry, Come for Curry". Neither of us really knew what to expect, but both of us were extremely pleased by what we found.

Hosted by the BVI Catholic Society, the curry dinner is an annual event, presented in an "around the world" buffet style. The entry fee is $15, and in exchange, each guest is given a plate, eight meal tickets and one dessert ticket, to spend as you please. One meal ticket purchased a one-cup portion of an entrĂ©e.

Inside the main dining room, approximately 10 buffet lines are set up representing different countries in the Caribbean, and the world. Each country's table had five or six options. HB and I sampled delicacies from the tables representative of Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and "a taste of Africa", but the options were almost endless.

The vast quantities of people participating both as guests and hosts made the event extra special for us, as we crammed into the dining room, attempting to navigate through the crush of bodies without spilling our foam plates of food on other diners (or having theirs spilled on us). Despite the crowds, everyone was in high spirits, representing the best qualities and friendliness of BVI social life.

The Jamaica table was my favorite, with excellent boneless chicken curry, some jerk chicken that was almost too spicy even for HB, and a loquacious server that was happy to explain all the choices.

In all, the curry dinner was one of the best experiences I've had in the BVI, and I can't wait to go again next year.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Going Home

Sorry for the lack of entry yesterday, I was pretty busy packing and doing the last-minute things so that I could leave to go home this morning. After 26 days away from HB and the dogs, I get to go back, and I am so excited. As a result, you should not expect another post until Monday. I need a full two days to catch up with my husband.

In additional good news, HB told me that the cable was installed today -- an entire week before our appointment. I can hardly believe it.

More importantly, though, I want to thank everyone who made my visit to the US so pleasant, and kept me from missing my family too much. My parents were wonderful to let me stay with them in Denver for an undefined period of time, and all of the friends and family member that I got to see while in Denver made me feel so welcome and loved. I'm so lucky to have so many people who care about me. I had a great few days in LA, and a very relaxing, slightly geeky time in Tucson. I participated in Halloween for the first time in two years, and got to prove how lame I am by heading home from a party at 9:00.

Finally, in celebration of my return to the BVIs, I'm offering a giveaway of a $25 amazon.com gift card. To enter the giveaway, answer the following question in the comments:

What is the longest you've been away from your spouse/significant other/child? 

These 26 days have been comparatively short. While I was in law school, HB and I were away from each other for 63 days straight. The span between Christmas break and Spring break is pretty rough.

One entry per person
Any comment counts as an entry
Giveaway will close at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on 11/7/10
Giveaway is sponsored by Basset's View of the Islands. Basset's View of the Islands has no affiliation with amazon.com.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Surrogate Canine

I've been out of the Islands for over three weeks now, and I'm really missing HB, Flash and Roscoe. I am so accustomed to having all three of them around to cuddle, that I have had to find a substitute since being in the States. Luckily, I'm staying with my parents, and they have a very acceptable surrogate.

Duffy enjoys playing with her tugger, napping belly-up in the sun, and long walks around the pond.

Lots of her time has been occupied keeping me entertained while I'm here.

Futilities Update

An update on my most recent futilities post about cable. HB confirms that he has a new installation appointment scheduled for the 11th of November. Readers, keep your fingers crossed!

I'm actually a little hesitant to post about it, as I'm superstitious it will cause something else to go wrong, and delay our cable installation even longer.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Caribbean Living

With November (and my three month anniversary of living in the Caribbean) fast approaching, I decided that it was time to share some of my thoughts and observations regarding "the easy life" in Paradise.

When most people think of the island life, they probably imagine all-inclusive resorts with jet skis, drinks with umbrellas in them, and duty-free shopping.  That is not the real Caribbean.  While there are definitely places like that on pretty much every island, it is not the norm.  Just remember that Jamaica, with all of it's natural beauty, and squeaky clean resorts, has the highest per-capita murder rate in the world.  The real Caribbean is better, and worse than you think.

Amanda has spent some time discussing a few of the negative aspects of island living, but for me the "real Caribbean" is even better than the TV version.  I don't think most people here would recognize an alarm clock if one fell from a mango tree and hit them upside the head.   Most people get to work when they're ready and everyone takes a lunch break.  People bring strange fruits and vegetables to work, and hand them out to friends and strangers alike. People you don't know honk their car horns and wave as they pass by.  Hitchhiking is common, because its safe -- you don't have to worry about who's giving you a ride, or who you're picking up.

I'm lucky enough to work in a place where on every Friday after work, a few of the guys bring in coolers full of beer, whiskey, and whatever else you can imagine.   They lounge around outside, either on a bench or on the ground or they sit on car hoods, or old rusty drums, and the party goes on for hours.  And everybody is welcome, whether you're a local, a tourist, a politician or janitor.  Saturdays it starts around 11am, only this time with pork, chicken, or goat on the grill, and a five gallon cook pot full of Conch or Whelk soup with dumplings.  

It's not that everything is better here.  Just some things.

Monday, November 1, 2010


As much as I talk about the mountains on Tortola, for someone Colorado born and bred, there is no substitute for the Rocky Mountains.

Tortola's "mountains" wouldn't even make hill status in Colorado. On Friday, I got to visit some of my favorite spots along the Front Range, and appreciate the splendor and majesty of real mountains again.

After a wonderful breakfast at The Mountaineer in Estes Park, a favorite of HB's from way back, my parents and I meandered around the greater Lyons area looking at property for sale, before taking the Peak to Peak Highway over to Blackhawk. I saw snow up-close for the first time in eighteen months, as the higher portions of the Peak-to-Peak still had drifts from earlier in the week.

I think what I enjoyed most about the all-day excursion was the opportunity to drive in the mountains for several hours. The experience of being able to drive on well-paved, well-marked, but still fun and mildly challenging roads, combined with the sheer duration of the trip, is something so unachievable on Tortola that it turned a simple mountain drive into an extraordinary event.

Search This Blog