Saturday, April 30, 2011

Mineshaft Sunset

When we went to Virgin Gorda on Monday, we had dinner at the Mineshaft restaurant and caught a lovely sunset. The proliferation of outdoor dining, while problematic on the occasional rainy day, does make sunset-watching much easier.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


You know you live in a former British colony when ...

an official holiday is announced especially for the Royal Wedding.

That's right. Even though we've just finished up a round of Easter holidays - Good Friday, Easter Monday - this Friday we have a one-time-only official holiday so that folks can get up at 4:00 in the morning and watch William Windsor marry Kate Middleton and not have to worry about making it to work on time.

I suppose it's to be expected in any place that celebrates the Queen's birthday annually.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Virgin Gorda Chickens

HB and I went to Virgin Gorda (VG) yesterday to catch the tail end of the annual Easter Festival, meant to be one of the most elaborate Festivals in the Caribbean, complete with Carnival-style parade. But more about the Festival later: the most memorable part of the evening for me was watching the chickens at the Mineshaft restaurant where we dined. Despite a beautiful sunset, tasty food, and the Festival attractions, I could not tear my attention away from these chickens.

At first, I was fascinated at the juxtaposition of chickens among the cacti that grow readily in the drier climate of VG. I suppose that chickens are allowed to make their homes in the desert as well as anywhere else, but they strike me as more plains-type animals.

As the sun finished setting, we noticed that fewer of the chickens were pecking among the cacti. Instead, they had migrated into a tree near our table and seemed to be settling down for the night. Again, this seemed a strange haunt for chickens, whose feeble wings ought to keep them somewhat more earthbound.

Nonetheless, by the time the skies were completely dark, every chicken, rooster and chick had found itself a comfortable roost for the night in the tree.

Monday, April 25, 2011


When I got out of the shower last night, I asked HB, "Did you use my shampoo, or did we have a serious increase in atmospheric pressure?" During the shower, I had noticed that my shampoo bottle was compressed in the middle - something it had decidedly not been when I'd used it the night before - and when I opened the bottle, a fountain of shampoo splurted out.

These are symptoms typically associated with taking your shampoo on an airplane, or traveling with it from higher altitude to lower altitude, both examples of increased atmospheric pressure producing exactly this effect on sealed, flexible plastic bottles.

HB told me he definitely hadn't used my shampoo, and a quick glance at proved my intuition right. Pressure that had been holding steady around 29.9mmHg had a sharp increase in the course of a few hours to over 30mmHg on the night of the 23rd.

Maybe my new-found homemade barometer will come in handy during hurricane season.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter

Happy Easter from the BVI!

While I certainly haven't seen any rabbits around, the preponderance of chicks wandering the roads behind their mothers have been a strong reminder of Easter's approach. I also haven't seen Easter candy or Easter baskets or Easter egg dye kits or any other Easter products on sale anywhere. The grocery stores, though, were packed with people buying their ingredients for a big Easter feast - important when finally breaking the Lenten fast. Apparently the focus during Easter for BVI is church and family.

Still, I kind of miss the thrill of the Easter egg hunt.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Official Holidays

Back in October, HB wrote about all the special holidays we celebrate in the BVI. However, since he hadn't actually experienced a holiday here, he wasn't able to write about what you might expect should you find yourself in the BVI on an official holiday.

The primary thing you will note about an official holiday is that pretty much everything is closed. Offices, shops, restaurants, some grocery stores. Now you may be used to stores and offices being closed on major holidays, like Christmas, but this applies to ALL official holidays. When we celebrated H. Lavity Stoutt's birthday and Commonwealth Day in March (the BVI equivalents of Martin Luther King Day and President's Day, respectively), pretty much everything was closed.

The exceptions to the closures are what you might expect. Some restaurants will be open for dinner. The restaurants and maybe one or two shops closest to the cruise ship terminal will be open if there are ships in. They will only stay open until the cruise ships leave. The large Riteway and OneMart in Pasea Estate are open shorter hours (Riteway is usually 9am-7pm).

You will also note, should you be unfortunate enough to arrive in the BVI on an official holiday, that the streets are very quiet. If, as HB and I often seem to do, you elect to take a drive on an official holiday, the only other people you will see are expats and cruise ship passengers. On the other hand, should you wish to go to the beach, you will immediately realize where the vast majority of the population has opted to spend their holiday. Brewer's Bay usually has about 10 people using its lovely sandy beaches, but on holidays, that number is more like 100.

The last thing to note about your BVI official holiday experience is in relation to Good Friday. Not only do all the above rules apply to Good Friday, but there is an additional rule in effect on this official holiday as well: alcohol may not be purchased in the territory before 6pm on Good Friday. It cannot be served at bars. It cannot be sold at grocery stores.

I feel strident sympathy for the passengers of the two cruise ships that arrived in Tortola yesterday, on Good Friday. They're on holiday, they get off in the port, and everything's closed. No shopping available to them, many of the shore excursions are not operating, as it's a holiday. They try to go to the beach and at least enjoy the sun, but the beaches are crowded. And they can't even get a drink.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stick Shift

With our regular car in the shop after catching on fire Saturday night, we're using a loaner - a manual transmission turbo-diesel truck. After driving to work today, I understand why 98% of the cars on island have automatic transmissions, and I only had the minor obstacle of Zion Hill to traverse, not the 1000 ft climb to the house from Road Town.

As I've mentioned before, the grade here is steep, and if circumstances arise while you're going uphill that cause you to slow down, you'll need to downshift. Downshifting in an automatic is not a problem - just pop the gear lever down a notch. Downshifting with a clutch on a hill is no fun, since it's accompanied by a sensation that, should you fail to shift fast enough, gravity will win.

On the other hand, the engine braking offered in a manual transmission car sure is nice for the downhill parts of your trip.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Puzzling Prices

I continue to be baffled by the costs of goods and services in the BVI. I've documented the high price of food, and also the astonishingly low price of birth control pills. Every time I try some new, yet commonplace, activity, I have no idea what to expect to pay. A base model compact rental car costs $55 per day in low season (compare to about $20 per day in the US), but today HB got his glasses adjusted and repaired, including a new nose piece to replace the one he'd lost, for $7.

If I had to generalize, I would say that cost of living in the BVI is about 30-50% more than in all but the most expensive locales of the US. But then I get three months' of birth control for $6 and I have to revise my thinking.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Internal Combustion

I am a little scattered the morning, the result of having to get up at 6:00 - an hour earlier than usual - to get a ride to work. Ordinarily, our Sunday morning routine involves HB driving me to work, but after our car caught on fire last night, I had to find another route to work.

Yes, our old Hyundai sedan apparently decided to thrown a little hissy fit, and after sitting, parked, not running for four hours, started gently flaming around 9:45 last night. Our downstairs neighbors noticed the fire, and hollered for us, so HB was able to extinguish the flare-up within a few minutes using the gallons of water we keep stored in the house. His diagnosis: an electrical short in the ABS computer solenoid caused the wiper fluid tank to overheat and catch on fire.

The firemen who arrived around 10:00 in response to our neighbor's phone call said that this is the second similar incident they've had in as many days, but that in the other case, the entire car was consumed in the fire. We're lucky that the fire was noticed so quickly, as only the ABS computer and wiper fluid tank were really damaged. Nonetheless, we have to wait until tomorrow to have the car towed to town for repair, so in the meantime, I'm bumming rides from co-workers.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Indoor Activities

As HB and I discovered yesterday, the BVIs are a decidedly outdoor place. Our first thoroughly rainy day in a while left HB and I struggling to find rainy day activities -- things we could do inside.

The movie theatre offers perhaps the best option. With a bowling alley in the theatre building and four movie screens, you could stay entertained inside for an extended period of time, as long as you're looking to do it in the afternoon. The bowling alley opens at 2pm, and the first movie showing is usually at 4:30.

There are a few museums scattered across the island, like the Maritime Museum at H. Lavitty Stout Community College, the Virgin Islands Folk Museum on Main Street, and the Lower Estate Sugar Works, but most are small, and few are so fascinating or extensive that a second visit is needed. Still, I admit that browsing BVI Tourism's list of historic sites and museums offered enough variety to occupy you for at least one rainy day.

A favorite rainy-day activity of mine is to go to a coffee shop and enjoy the indoor warmth and a warm beverage, but this option is generally precluded in the BVI by the lack of indoor restaurants, bars, or coffee shops. HB and I did venture out to Trellis Bay for lunch during a break in the weather, but although the cafe we ate at was covered, it was open air, and when the rain resumed, our sandwiches got a little soggy.

All in all, there are a few good options on Tortola for entertainment on a rainy day, but the limited indoor activities give me all the more reason to be appreciative of the sunny good weather we enjoy on a regular basis.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Shimmy and Shake

As reported on this morning:

"An earthquake measuring a magnitude of 5.14 on the Richter Scale was felt throughout the Virgin Islands at approximately 12:28 this morning. The report indicated that the epicenter was located near 18.78N and 64.28 West or ... 54.23Km NE of Road Town, Virgin Islands at a depth of 25 miles."

While this is not the first earthquake the BVI has experienced since I've been here, it is the largest, and it is the first one that I've felt. Since the epicenter was at a bit of a distance, and I was busy sleeping when it occurred, I merely thought the bed had grown a set of magic fingers, until HB informed me that no, it was in fact an earthquake.

The mild vibrating sensation we had for about 10 seconds last night did serve as a good reminder that we are in a seismically active part of the world, and should be prepared for both earthquakes and tsunamis at any time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Beer Burnout

After 8 months on Tortola, HB and I are facing a crisis we never even imagined could exist. We are both burnt out on beer. Being a big fan of beer, I didn't think things would ever come to this, but I believe the root of the problem lies not with beer in general, or with my taste buds, but rather with the limited selection of beer available on island.

Colorado, you see, is a wonderland of beer. It is awash in major breweries and microbreweries alike, and other breweries throughout the country seem to like to market their beers in Colorado, too. You can find literally hundreds of varieties of beer in Colorado, if you look hard enough, whether in cans or bottles, or on draft. In stark contrast, by my last count, there are maybe 20 types of beer available in the BVI, and that includes O'Doul's. I am also, apparently, a bit of a beer snob, as of the 20 types available, there are maybe only 10 that I will drink on any sort of regular basis (Miller Lite, Coors Light, etc. are not my cup of tea)  and after 8 months, I want something different.

The other contributing factor to my incipient beer burnout is the lack of beer on draft. I've heard that a few bars on island used to have beer taps and real kegs, but I haven't been able to find any since I've been here. Beer from a bottle or can just doesn't taste as good as a fresh draft beer.

We're planning another trip to St. John soon, and I'm hopeful that, being a US Territory, there will either be different beer available there, or someplace that keeps a few kegs. Otherwise, it will be September before my dreadful beer burnout condition will have a chance to be treated.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Insect Plagues

The changing calendar seems to bring different insect plagues to the BVI. When we first arrived in August, we had a rash of termites. We'd have to sweep their dead bodies off the front porch every morning, only to have the heaps of them replaced the next night. September and October brought the little black beetles that I wrote about here. I noticed in November a number of grasshoppers, though not nearly as numerous as the beetles or termites.

The winter months were relatively uneventful in this regard, but March brought an onset of the mosquitoes I mentioned yesterday. Lately, I've noticed more than our fair share of these fellow at the house, and around the property:

About as big around as a pencil, and maybe two-three inches long, all told, I've really only seen about five of these millipedes. But five live millipedes are creepier than one hundred dead termites.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


As JB would say, "We've all got 'em. None of us want 'em."

Never before have I lived in a place where the mosquitoes preferred the indoors. In Florida, you might be attacked by swarms of them when you stayed outside for more than 30 seconds, but you could stay safely inside all day and not see a mosquito. Any you did see were there through your own mismanagement of screens, doors, and other barriers to the exterior.

Here, the opposite is true. Outside, you might get pestered by the occasional bite, but if you plan on spending extended periods of time in your office or bedroom, you should probably apply some "Off". It's especially disturbing when the loudness of the mosquitoes buzzing your ear wakes you up at night. And they're fast. HB, who has the reflexes of a praying mantis, can still only manage to kill them about one out of every five attempts.

Some of the regular rules do apply. The mosquitoes here, like those elsewhere, are still deterred by breezes more than a few miles per hour. Leaving the ceiling fan on at least "medium" setting at night definitely helps create a buzz-free night. But the conventional wisdom regarding eliminating sources of standing water is apparently irrelevant, as the mosquitoes here seem to prefer to breed in piles of discarded paper. Both HB and I have noted that mosquitoes are most populous when our office trashcans are full.

Still, wicked-fast indoor mosquitoes are not a terribly steep price to pay for living in a place like this. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

New Ground

I took a drive yesterday with the intention of checking out some new beaches, particularly Josiah's Bay and Lambert Bay in East End. I decided to take Ridge Road to get there, and ended up getting distracted along the way by the numerous small coves appearing on the map along the North Coast, none of which I was successful in reaching. Apparently, based on the map of the route I took, if I'd been just a little more adventurous in my driving, I might have actually reached one or two, particularly Cooten Bay.

The result of my distraction was that I ended up exploring many estates that I not only hadn't been to before, but didn't even know existed. As used in the Virgin Islands, an estate is most synonymous with the US idea of a neighborhood or development. Most of the place-names marked on the map of my driving route, like "Fort Hill", "Pasea", and "Wesley Will" are names of estates.

Driving through Wesley Will, Baugher's Bay, and Purcell made me realize that while I thought I had explored and knew the places on Tortola quite well, there are plenty of pockets that are completely unknown to me, and that I probably never would have seen had I not been trying to get to Cooper Bay and Trunk Bay. Now, I have a new interest in taking sketchy-looking turnings on to dirt roads to see what other pieces of Tortola might be hidden along them.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Difference in Meaning

I've been seeing a lot of commercials lately that refer to being "in the cloud" or going to "the cloud". I guess these are meant to refer to cloud computing.

In the BVIs, though, being "in the cloud" is a bit more literal

Last night, as waves of rain washed over the house, we were quite often in the cloud. And sometimes, as wisps of vapour passed through the open door, the cloud was in the house.

Monday, April 4, 2011

What We Lack in Food

As I sit here enjoying my burrito, leftover from dinner last night, I realize that there were a few things in my restaurant post from a few days ago that I alluded to, but did not specifically make clear.

First, if you are a fan of American-style fast food, like Taco Bell, KFC, or McDonald's, you may be mildly disappointed in your eating options when you come to the BVI. The closest you'll find to fast food is a place like Crandall's. Delicious, yes, but not satisfying in quite the same way that a Whopper is; at least not for me. Since I'm a bit of a fast food addict (shameful, I know) this has required some adjustment on my part.

Second, if you are a fan of what we can call "ethnic" cuisine -- TexMex, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Ethiopian, Moroccan, Uzbek, Greek, etc. etc. -- you may be mildly disappointed in your eating options when you come to the BVI. The only "ethnic" cuisine you'll find here is West Indian.

There are two restaurants that purport to offer Chinese food, each of which provides passable examples thereof, if you know what to order. There is one restaurant on East End that I have yet to try that supposedly has good TexMex, although I'm dubious. When we tried to go to Fat Cat Thai Restaurant, we found it no longer in business, just a few short months after the Limin' Times (the local entertainment magazine) had given it glowing reviews.

Since HB and I can manage to cook reasonable replicas of TexMex, Thai, Chinese, and Greek food, we do not have to go completely without, as evidenced by my burrito lunch, made possible through my mother's generous shipment of Stokes' green chili.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Since the heavy rains in October from Tropical Storm Otto, the roads around Tortola have been in serious need of repair. The force of the water rushing downhill, and flooding the low-lying areas tore up asphalt, carved enormous potholes and caused road shoulders to slough off the sides of the mountains in landslides.Although BVI Public Works cleaned up the landslides, cordoned off missing shoulders and filled the smaller potholes, much of the repair work was beyond the scope of their capabilities, and remained undone.

In the middle of February, though, the BVI government signed a multi-million dollar contract with a local construction company to complete all the repairs necessitated by the October rains. Work commenced almost immediately after signing, as the rough road at the top of Huntum's Ghut was completely removed, and then the concrete poured to create a lovely, smooth driving surface. The large potholes nearby were also filled with concrete to help prevent redevelopment of the same holes.

It was terribly exciting to us, who had driven over the bumpy, dusty, rubble-filled road for six months, to see the work progress. Even the inconvenience of our regular path to work being reduced to one lane was insignificant compared to the anticipation of having a real road once again. Three weeks later, with the Huntum's Ghut project complete, we wondered what would be next.

So far, nothing. The guardrail is still hanging precariously off the roadbed on Great Mountain Road. Joe's Hill Road has a surface that is half-asphalt, half-concrete, with six inches of height separating the two. Similar conditions apply for the roads to Cane Garden Bay. It took six months to truly begin the roadwork created by Otto. Maybe in another six months, it will finally be complete -- just in time for hurricane season.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Tortola, Ho! Part 5b: USVI Customs for Pets

After saying goodbye to the dogs on the 17th of August, I flew from Miami to St. Thomas, where I would meet the dogs the next day. The flight Roscoe and Flash were on was due to arrive around 2:30pm on the 18th. HB and I made sure to get to the airport plenty early in order to have time to figure out where to pick up the dogs. When we inquired at the airline's counter, we were told the dogs would be placed on the baggage carousel, along with all other luggage from the flight.

The flight landed on time, and HB and I waited at the baggage carousel until there were no bags left, but there was no sign of Roscoe or Flash. Finally, I went back to the airline's counter and said our dogs hadn't shown up. The employee looked mildly confused before asking if the dogs had been shipped as cargo (something we had explained the first time) and then telling us we had to go to the airline's cargo counter to collect the dogs.

We agreed to pay a taxi driver an exorbitant sum ($80) in exchange for taking us to the cargo counter (2 min ride), waiting for us while we collected the dogs, and then transporting all four of us to the ferry terminal (10 min ride). We arrived at the cargo counter at about 3:10, and could see the dogs waiting patiently in their crates in the cargo bay. Unfortunately, the woman at the cargo desk informed us, the dogs had to be cleared by USVI department of agriculture before she could release them. Now, this was an issue we had researched before we left the states. I had asked the USDA on the phone and they had assured me that there were no import regulations for taking dogs from the US to the USVI. But I wanted my dogs, so I asked what we had to do.

Well, it seemed that the USVI department of agriculture closed at 3:00pm, so we would have to spend the night in St. Thomas and come back the next day to get the dogs, at which point they would have spent well over 24 hours in their crates without relief. There was a long pause. HB started to get his angry face on. Suddenly, the woman at the cargo counter offered a second option. "OR!" she said, "I have someone here in the office who, for a fee of $30, can stamp the paperwork and I can release the dogs to you now." Both HB and I realized we were being scammed -- that there was no USVI department of agriculture clearance requirement -- but as we were already at risk of missing the last ferry to Tortola, we gladly paid the $30 and hoisted the crates into the back of the waiting taxi and high-tailed it to the ferry terminal.

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