Monday, February 28, 2011

Cow Questions

At the risk of turning this blog into Bovine's View of the Islands, my father had some questions regarding the cows I keep mentioning, that I thought would actually be relevant to the blog, as they're related to how farm animals are treated and kept in the BVI.

Here are his questions:

1. Do the cows have owners? How do you know who the cows belong to/are the cows branded?
I believe most of the cows have owners, though perhaps not all of them. I've seen herds being driven by people down the North Coast Road before, and occasionally seen a cow or two tied up. I haven't seen any cows with brands on them. There are variations in cow colors that I think help an owner identify his cows. Otherwise, there simply aren't enough on the island for them to get that mixed up.

2. Are the cows slaughtered/milked/used for food?
Presumably. There's local beef available at the supermarket, so I imagine some of the cows go to slaughter. I haven't seen many local dairy products though, so I don't think they're really raised for their milk. Their generally free-ranging nature would likely make using them for milk rather difficult.

3. Do you see any evidence of pregnant cows? Any juveniles?
The small herd that I usually see on the drive to Cane Garden Bay recently added a member less than a month ago. I had to stop the car because the herd was in the road, and the calf came up to the window. It could just barely stick its snout in the car it was still so new. There is also a calf in the herd that ranges close to the house, although after six months, he's hardly identifiable as a calf anymore.

4. Are there no pens or fenced pastures at all? Are the bulls free-ranging also? Do some of them seem to be feral?
I honestly haven't seen any cattle pens. There are barbed wire fences around some properties, but these seem more designed to keep cows out than in. Some roads also have cattle guards, but no one cares for the guards, so they've become thoroughly ineffective. I've seen a big bull tied up on the high plains, but he's not always there. I've seen plenty of other free-ranging bulls. I think that the herd that lives near our house is likely at least partially feral, as I've never seen any humans near them or any signs of humans interacting with them (bells, brands, any other identification). Also, the number of the herd has remained the same over the six months we've lived here, which admittedly may not be a long enough period to use herd number as a judgment of feralness.

5. Does the BVI have an agriculture agency that monitors the cattle? If so, how?
There is an Agricultural Department, but my only interaction with them has been related to pet importation. I imagine there is some sort of mechanism for keeping a count of the animals, and certifying them for sale at the grocery store, but I also imagine it is not as strenuous as the USDA.

6. Is there a similar situation with swine?
No. Pigs seem to be very closely, carefully, and quietly cared for. Many islanders don't eat pork, and seem to disapprove of it, vastly preferring goat. The only time I've ever seen live pigs was driving through Sea Cow's Bay, when I saw two large hogs in the back of a pick-up truck, presumably on their way to be slaughtered. I have seen local pork in the grocery store as well, but it's much rarer than local beef.

I hope that answers your questions about the cattle of the BVI. And for those of you with less interest in farm animals, I'll try to refrain from any other cow posts for at least the next few days.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The High Plains

I've written a little bit before about how Tortola seems to have microclimates, and nowhere is that more evident to me than in the small area that HB and I have taken to calling "The High Plains of Tortola".

Just past the Sky Bar along the Ridge Road, about two miles from our house, is about 10 acres of grassland. We call them the "high" plains because at around 1200 feet in altitude, it doesn't get much higher in the BVI.

Where the rest of the island is covered in tangled, jumbled bush and forest, this small section of Tortola is naturally barren and grassy. I believe the severe winds that seem to hit this area make it too difficult for anything more than grass and the slightest bit of shrubbery to grow. It's not exactly the midwestern prairie, but it does kind of make me feel more at home sometimes.

The open area is a popular place for cows to browse, although I find that the ones I see in this more "typical" setting don't excite me nearly as much as roadcows or beach cows. Still, I couldn't resist photographing this calm, willing subject, as long as I was there anyway taking photos of the high plains.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Schedule Change

My absence the last two days was unplanned, but it was intentional. I have come to realize that the posting schedule I set for myself back when I decided to stop posting on Sundays has just not been working for me. This has been evidenced by my occasional lack of posts on Fridays when HB's been off.

Since my work schedule settled down to Thurs/Fri off, Sunday, being a slow, quiet day at work, has become a great day for me to post. Thursday, on the other hand, is a nightmare day of responsibilities -- laundry, cleaning, banking, grocery shopping and cooking. Also, it seems that any time HB and I have off together in the future will likely be on Fridays, and I really want to spend all Friday enjoying it with him, doing things like

going to the beach

playing with my dogs

photographing farm animals

 and watching the sunset.

So in order to accommodate my duties, responsibilities, and desires as a wife, I am going to try changing my posting schedule to Saturday through Wednesday for a while, and see how it fits.

So far, so good

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Smuggler's Cove

Figuring that after six months here, it was time to try a beach other than Brewer's Bay, HB and I borrowed a 4-wheel drive vehicle, and headed out to Smuggler's Cove on Friday. Smuggler's has a wide, fairly deep beach and very shallow water extending several yards from shore. Combined with the protection offered by the natural cove and reef, Smuggler's is a great beach for sunning and snorkeling. Sea turtles are often seen in the waters here.

Its location at the end of a long stretch of dirt road, impassable in a regular car, combined with what we had read online had led us to believe that it would be a quiet, nearly-empty beach, similar to Brewer's. Our understanding was that there were no facilities or restaurants, just an old honor bar that someone occasionally stocked, and that had been used as a filming location once or twice.

As a result, we were rather surprised to find a beach busy with tourists -- okay, so it doesn't look that busy in the picture, but compared to the five people we saw at Brewer's later that day -- and vendors selling to the tourists. There were a few tables set up with beads and dresses for sale, and someone else was barbecuing chicken legs and selling them to the beachgoers.

Ultimately, the presence of so many other people discouraged HB and I from setting up and testing the waters, so I can't report on the quality of the swimming or snorkeling available. Instead, we high-tailed it for Brewer's, with a promise to each other to return to Smuggler's once tourist season quiets down a bit.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Local's Corner

We started our day off together on Friday with breakfast at the Moorings' Mariner Inn in Wickham' Cay. It is the nature of the tourist complex that many of the best restaurants on the island are connected to hotels, but most do a good job of giving their restaurants a distinct character apart from the hotel. So it is with the two restaurants at the Moorings.

Having previously eaten at Charlie's, the Moorings' Italian restaurant, we decided to eat at the Moorings' main restaurant for breakfast. The menu looked pretty appetizing, with a varied selection of traditional American and Continental breakfast items. But my attention was arrested by the "Local's Corner" portion of the menu.

While I realize the US is unusual in its preference for sweet breakfasts, and that savory breakfast is preferred in much of the rest of the world, entre├ęs such as "Pigs' Tail Souse" and "Locally Prepared Saltfish" did not seem like acceptable additions to the category of "breakfast" in my definition. Sauteed liver and onions may be delicious, but it's generally not what I'm looking for as a morning meal.

HB had a hankering for the rum-soaked french toast, which he had tried previously and thoroughly enjoyed, and I was simply not brave enough to try any of the offerings from the "Local's Corner", so I cannot report to you on their viability as breakfast, or meals for other times of the day. I can, however, recommend the Mooring's restaurant for breakfast, as the french toast and coffee was delicious. Just be prepared to spend some time there. Service was a little slow, but with views of the marina and a lovely relaxing breeze, it's almost forgivable.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Beach Cows

The day off with HB on Friday was pretty awesome, but the best thing about it can be summarized in two words:

Beach Cows

On our drive through East End for dinner on Friday night, HB espied a small herd of about 10 cows milling around on a sandy stretch just west of Penn's Landing. There they were, just browsing on sea oats and getting sand in their hooves. The sight of these beachy bovine sent me into raptures. I couldn't get enough.

There is a new love in my life. No longer are cows milling about the roadways of Tortola enough to satisfy me. I demand more coastal cattle.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Road Warrior

On an island that is only 13 miles by 3 miles, spending nearly four hours driving in a day seems like it might be a difficult feat, but that's what HB and I did yesterday. We were aided in our pursuits by questionable road quality, which occasionally slowed our speed to five-ten miles per hour, and by the far-flung locations of our destinations.

Breakfast in Road Town was followed by a trip to the far tip of West End to check out a new beach for us at Smuggler's Cove, after which we headed back home. Our afternoon included another trip into Road Town, a quick trip to Brewer's Bay to see if it had stopped raining there and we could swim, and we ended the evening with a drive out to East End for dinner.

To be able to spend so long driving was deeply gratifying to me, as one of my favorite ways to spend time off with my husband in the States was going for a drive, and I had worried that living on such a small island, that pasttime would be closed off to us. Defeating my expectations, our four hours of driving yesterday actually succeeded in making me mildly road weary for the first time in six months.

Friday, February 18, 2011

No post.

Please note that since HB has the day off again (for the first time in five weeks) there will not be a full blog post today. Updates tomorrow.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Good Workdays

Most of the time, my job is all right. A little boring, a little easy, a little uninspiring, but there aren't any major drawbacks and I like the people I work with, so it's okay. Then there are the days, like yesterday, really good days, that make me wonder why I never worked in the hospitality industry before.

It isn't big things or lots of things that make it a good day. It's one little thing. It's the satisfaction of knowing you've made someone else's day, or week. That something you, or even the staff you work with, has done has made a small part of their dream come true.

Yesterday, we had a couple staying with us that had just been married, and were spending one night at the hotel. They were having a small dinner reception (8 people) and had requested a small, inexpensive wedding cake, and a couple of small bouquets for the table. Not only were we able to fill these requests, but we were also able to fill the requests of their loved ones, who had called in the days before with little gifts (champagne, fresh strawberries, etc) and cards to be in their room on arrival. The icing on the cake for me was that, because another guest had decided to depart early, we were also able to give the couple a complimentary upgrade to a bigger, nicer room.

Hearing people say that their time at the hotel was the best vacation they've been on in years, or the most relaxing, or more than they could have hoped for, makes me pretty happy I fell into the job I did.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dry Season

According to a discussion with my co-workers the other day, we are currently in the middle of dry season in the BVI. I found this to be a bit of a surprise, as a low pressure system hovering over the Caribbean for the last two weeks has resulted in rains nearly every night and every morning, at least where I live. Our maintenance men assure me, however, that it really hasn't been very rainy - certainly not rainy enough to make the breadfruit grow, or the guavas ripen.

I suppose I've noticed that the hillsides have been looking rather brown lately, something I guess I attributed to it being winter, even though temperatures have definitely not been cool enough to make the trees drop their leaves. But the browning is inconsistent; one side of a hill will be lush and green, and the other side dead and brown. I imagine that similar phenomenon responsible for where moss and lichens grow is also responsible for this mismatched drying.

Still, I remained somewhat unconvinced that it's dry season. Having to keep the door closed at night to keep the rain out will do that. But yesterday morning, I saw this:

These succulents grow everywhere on the island, and they're normally the bright green color visible at the top of the photo. I've seen very similar succulents in Florida, but never before have I seen them turn fluorescent red like this. Perhaps the change in color is simply because these plants are a different subspecies from the ones I knew in Florida, but I'll attribute it, for now, to the dry season. Like leaves changing colors in fall, in Tortola, the succulents change colors when there's a scarcity of water.

And because they were quietly hanging out in the bush just across the road from the house this morning, undisturbed and unnoticed by the dogs when I was watching ... and then I couldn't help but take 12 pictures of them, here's a bonus road cow photo for you:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Not really tallships in the truest sense of the word, but I can't get enough of the large schooners cruising around the BVIs lately. Last night, on my drive home, there was one just rounding the head at Prospect Reef, sailing westward.The setting sun made the bright-white boat stand out beautifully against sea and sky.

Monday, February 14, 2011


In September, facing only uncertain prospects of cable installation, HB and I would occasionally go to Mulligan's on Sunday to watch the football games. After I started work in Novemeber, we really settled into a routine. I would get off work at 4:00, HB would pick me up, and we would get to Mulligan's in time to catch the last quarter of the early games. We'd have a few beers, and a couple of cheeseburgers, and usually leave after the first half of the late games. Even after we got cable TV at home, the routine continued - I think we (or at least I) looked forward to our weekly cheeseburger as much as watching football.

Well, obviously, football season ended last Sunday. The Superbowl was played, and when we went to Mulligan's yesterday afternoon, I found I missed the football. It was much quieter without the crowd of expats hoping to catch their team's game. I didn't even want a cheeseburger.

In Colorado and Florida, I always rather looked forward to the end of football season. No longer would HB and I be stuck inside on glorious Sunday afternoons watching TV -- we could get out of the house and enjoy the weather. This year, at least so far, I'm rather missing it. Mulligan's nature as an outdoor bar actually meant we could have the best of both worlds: football AND the out-of-doors.

Now, I will look for my weekly dose of outside elsewhere, which is easier said than done, as Tortola is very quiet on Sundays. The days are lengthening and warming though, and hopefully soon there will be enough daylight left after I get off at 4:00 to make trips to the beach worthwhile. HB and I will be able to get our fill of snorkeling and swimming. I guess I am looking forward to the end of football season this year, too, just a little belatedly.

Friday, February 11, 2011

BVI from the Air

HB and I went to Quito's again last week to get a few drinks, and enjoy the singing. I thought I had linked to this video in my last post about Quito's, but apparently, I neglected to do so.

Start your Friday out right with footage of a Cape Air flight as it takes off from Beef Island and flies over the BVIs, set to Quito's song, "Caribbean Run"

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Basset Burps

The topic of today's post is pretty unrelated to the BVIs, but since the blog is called Basset's View of the Islands, I figured I could talk a little today about that basset.

Flash, lovely basset hound that he is, has developed a little habit. I think it started in Florida, and has only gotten worse, growing more frequent and forceful over the years.

You see, Flash likes to burp.

Flash's burps are not quiet affairs, like I imagine they are for most dogs, since I have never before heard a dog burp audibly. Flash's burps are long, gurgling, resounding eruptions of gas. Perhaps belch is the word I ought to use, as they remind me of TV depictions of the way beer-drinking, couch-potatoing men sound when burping.

Not only does Flash burp audibly on a regular basis, but he seems to get a bit of ironic pleasure out of it, as he usually chooses the quietest possible moments to really let one rip. Occasionally, when we chastise him for his burping, he'll immediately let out another.

Is there anyone else out there whose dogs burp? If so, let me know, so that I don't feel quite so alone in Flash's weirdness.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

When the Rain Comes

Something I'm definitely having difficulty getting accustomed to: rainbows in the morning.

I grew up in Denver, where rains came in the afternoon, if at all, and rainbows are usually best observed around 4:00 pm, as the sun lowered over the mountains, and the rainclouds passed off to the east.In the BVI, the rains come pretty much any time of day, but the rainbows are usually most visible and vibrant in the morning, with the sun breaking over the top of the island.

It's also a new phenomenon to me to be able to actually see "the end of the rainbow", something I can never recall having seen before. Here, the rainbows seem to disappear into the waves, and it seems like if you just had a fast enough boat, you could reach the place where the rainbow meets the water, and bathe in the multicolored light.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cash Is Still King

Slate recently ran an article on getting rid of the $100 bill, claiming that it no longer had a purpose in a society where everything was paid for online or with credit cards. While I might have agreed with the articles arguments in June of last year, reading it as I did five months after moving to the British Virgin Islands made me realize how out of touch with the rest of the world the article's author was.

The almost pure-cash nature of the BVI economy surprises both tourists and immigrants alike. BVI Electric doesn't accept credit cards. Neither do many of the grocery stores. Even tourist-friendly activities like daysail boats sometimes run on cash only, or if they do accept credit cards, they impose a 5% surcharge on their customers. Our favorite bar, Mulligan's, finally got a credit card machine last week, in preparation for the large crowd they had for the Superbowl. Up until then, they would be happy to serve you, but only in exchange for cash.

Obviously, coming from the US where I, too, paid everything online or with my debit card, carrying cash on a daily basis became a big adjustment. I had never before carried large quantities of cash, worrying that I would lose it, or it would get stolen. Debit cards and checks always seemed safer. Now, every other week when I get paid, I feel myself in the shoes of the scores of immigrants in the United States, both legal and illegal, that stand in line to cash their paycheck. Like them, I now pay for everything in cash -- and my ability to carry the requisite amount of cash and to make large transactions is greatly eased by the $100 bill.

So as a heads-up for anyone coming to the BVI anytime soon, you may want to leave your AMEX or Visa at home, but be sure to carry plenty of cash, because here, at least, cash is still king.

Monday, February 7, 2011


A guest asked yesterday: "What is the language the locals speak? It isn't really Spanish; we haven't been able to identify it."

The locals speak English, of course, and while such a question may seem a bit laughable, it is understandable, as the variety of English spoken by BVIslanders is usually a heavily-accented Caribbean patois that can be very difficult for speakers of American English or "the Queen's English" to understand at first. Often times, when I listen too hard, it is easy to believe that the locals are speaking a different language, as the rhythm, cadence, syntax and diction are all quite different from the way I speak.

Comprehension is compounded even further by the presence in the BVI of many immigrants from other Caribbean islands, each of which have similar, but distinct styles of speaking -- so much so that folks from one island sometimes have difficulty understanding those from another island.

There are no generalizations to be made about which island patois are easiest to understand, as it truly varies from individual to individual. HB has commented that his co-workers from St. Lucia and Guyana are the most intelligible to him, while I have the most trouble understanding my co-workers from the same places.

As with all language differences, the friction points come when joking or using sarcasm. The maintenance guys at work like to use plays on words that are completely culturally unfamiliar to me, and I know they get frustrated when I ask them to repeat their jokes three or four times. It's always a good day when I can pick up a punchline the first time around.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Farmer's Week

For the most part, I don't mind working on the weekends. HB can take the occasional Friday off, and since we don't have any kids, I don't have to worry about my schedule conflicting with theirs. I still get two days off together (Thursday and Friday), and I can't even complain during the football season: the first game doesn't start until 2:15, and I get off at 4:00 on Sunday, so I could watch the last quarter of the early game, and all of the late game.

Sometimes, though, there are events that make me regret having to work on Saturday and Sunday. This week, February 4th through February 11th, is BVI Farmer's Week. It only happens once a year, and as is often the case with such festivals, the major events occur on the weekend. I am pretty upset that due to my work schedule, I will be unable to go to the Farmer's Week festivities today and tomorrow in Paraquita Bay. I will be missing local food displays and agriculturally-related games.

Most importantly, on Sunday I will be missing what, for me, is the highlight of BVI Farmer's Week, and the agricultural year: Donkey Races. That's right. All the donkeys on the island will gather in one place, and race! I am devastated to be missing it. My only consolation is that perhaps HB will go and bring me a report on the wonder and excitement of the donkey races. I'm not too hopeful, though, since Sunday is his only day off this week, and I can hardly expect him to be anticipating the donkey races as eagerly as I am.

For more information on BVI Farmer's Week and its focus on local agriculture and sustainability, the BVI News has a great article.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Request for Questions

Often when I sit down to write a post, I wonder how well it will play with you, my readers. I imagine some of you as more photo-oriented, totally skipping any post without pictures, while others are more interested only in the tropical aspects of island living, and couldn't care less about medical certificates or housing costs. I get a basic idea of which are my most-read individual posts based on statistics that Blogger runs for me. Since Blogger doesn't recognized a view of the main page as an individual post view, though, I have little idea of who's skipping the day's post, and who's actually reading.

So what ARE you interested in?

Are there topics I've covered here that you would like to hear more about? What haven't I discussed that you're curious about?

Maybe you want more pictures of Flash and Roscoe sunning themselves on the porch?

Or you want more details about my work at a hotel on a tropical island -- what do I do do all day?

Perhaps all you're here for is photos of tropical beaches and towns, and you just want to see more of the island?

I'd love to hear your questions and requests, and you can leave them by posting a comment below, or e-mailing me at

Thursday, February 3, 2011


One of the biggest concerns HB and I had before moving to the BVIs was the cost of housing. Early looks at real estate and rental websites gave us an idea of how much we could expect to pay for a place that would suit us.

If you've clicked those links above, you've seen that their listings start at about $900 per month and go up to as much as $7000. These listings give a false idea of the apartment rental market in the BVI, though, as friends have told us that apartments are available for as low as $400 per month. The market is such that, as a generalization, property closer to Road Town is more desirable, and property higher in the mountains is more desirable. Obviously, there are plenty of variables and wrinkles within this equation.

Still, having perused available options online, HB and I figured we could find something we liked for around $1300 per month -- twice as much as we were spending on rent in Punta Gorda. Ultimately, our rent settled out to be a bit above the $1300 we had planned on, but despite the few quirks and flaws of our place (bizarre decorating), we're pretty happy here. We have about 1400 square feet of interior space, divided between two bedrooms, one bathroom, living room, dining room and kitchen. Bizarrely, the dining room is the largest of our rooms, but both bedrooms are quite ample as well. We also have another 400 square feet or so of exterior space, split between front and back porches, which definitely help extend the living space and keep the dogs happy. This is probably because we are rather spoiled by our current place.

Now that we've lived here a while, I would say that $1300 would be the minimum we'd be able to spend on housing and be in a neighborhood we liked. While there are many things about our apartment that I dislike (old kitchen), the neighborhood is one of the best on Tortola. Great Mountain is not heavily populated; there are only houses on one side of the road where we are, and there is quite a bit of space between buildings. However, it enjoys the advantages of being on a major roadway, which include connection to municipal water (fickle as it may be) and rapid repairs to any other infrastructure that may get damaged.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Current likes

I was thinking this morning about the things I appreciate a little more now that I live in the BVI. 

1. Rain. I've always enjoyed a good, rainy day to curl up with a good book, drink some tea, and stay inside. Now, though, rain means water -- every time that it rains, our cistern gets replenished, and a full cistern is important when there is no municipal water for weeks on end.

 2. Brakes. They stop your car, which is quite useful, but in the BVI, brakes are even more important. They keep you from flying down a steep, windy hill at breakneck speeds and prevent you from hitting the bull in the road in front of you.

3. Sunrises. I used to love watching the sunrise when I was little, but sometime around 14, sleeping became much more important than sunrises. Now, at least two days a week, when I get up before 7:00, I get to see the sunrise over the harbor/Fahie Hill. I hadn't realized I much I'd missed it.

4. Dog Groomers. I'm not sure what the cause is -- the extra time spent outdoors, the humidity, some bizarre pollen or dust mite -- but the dogs get so much dirtier here. Roscoe, who used to go six to nine months without a bath, gets matted and coated in dirt in six weeks. And as far as I know, there aren't any dog groomers on Tortola.

What are you appreciating more in your life right now?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


I noticed on my way to work on Saturday that a house on Zion Hill had a piece of yellow poster board stapled to a tree, proclaiming "Food Sale Today". Another piece of poster board around the corner, stapled to another tree, offered a brief menu, listing the delicacies that might be found within. I didn't have time to stop for pictures, but on my way home, I observed that the menu was still there, and in the meantime, a canopy had been set up, and tables and chairs seemed to flow and course over the lawn. A few cars were parked in the driveway, and the Food Sale customers appeared content and at ease as they limed the day away in the fading afternoon light.

Resolved to photograph the scene the next chance I got, I stopped by on Monday afternoon. To my dismay, the signs had been taken down, and the canopy, tables and chairs put away. What I thought at first was just a makeshift, make-do permanent restaurant was apparently just evidence that the pop-up restaurant trend is reaching far and wide.

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