Today’s Weather on a 5-star scale:
- DESIRE TO SLIDE INTO A DITCH AND DIE ON THE WAY TO WORK:
On this snowy day, a perfect day for doing some reading and thinking (and oh alright, some damn homework, if i must) i am wrapped in a soft red robe, bright as the cardinals lighting on the snow-laden branches and the bird feeder outside the window.
And so a trade in the weather calls for a trade in the birds . . .
I suppose i should tell you about my little Caribbean getaway, since i haven’t done that just yet . . .
We flew out of Philadelphia this time instead of Baltimore. The couple hours of extra driving were worth the $200 cheaper airfare. We were looking to go on the cheap since we would be checking in early evening (8pm) and leaving early morning (4am), so we stayed at the Motel 6 which i haven’t done since i was a child traveling across country. This place was squeaky cheap; the air was sterile, the lighting somber and jaundiced, the tv bolted down, not even any badly rendered seascapes or horrific art on the wall. The plaque on the bedside table discouraged smoking in the rooms but there were cigarette burns on the sheets. And as for the sheets . . . they were so over-bleached, thin and scratchy, i could barely tell them apart from the toilet paper which as you know, can be equally miserable!
But onto the actual vacation . . .
We arrived January 6th, on Beef Island and took a taxi to Tortola, for the first nite’s stay in the resort and the following day to collect the boat, a 42′ Beneteau monohull. It was Three Kings Day that day, celebrated in the Caribbean as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Hispanic communities, particular with Mexican Americans and especially on the East Coast. It is also known as the Epiphany feast, occurring 12 days after Christmas to commemorate the Three Kings – Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar who visited baby Jesus with gifts. The tradition is older than Christmas and Santa’s visit, but follows the similar gift-giving tradition. On the Eve of the Epiphany children collect hay, straw or grass and place it in boxes, containers or shoes (in Mexico) under their beds. This gesture is the equivalent of milk & cookies for Santa and is instead, a gift of food for the camels, elephants and horses that the Kings ride in on while they rest in between deliveries. If you thought a sleigh that landed on rooftops with reindeers was implausible, imagine a camel, horse or elephant on the roof! i’m sure you’d smell the barn yard coming . . .
But i digress – Three Kings Day, after the children received their presents and sweets, was more or less another reason to have a wild feast, bonfires, parades, and to consume Pusser’s Rum. Which no one needs an extra excuse to do down there.
Though i had only been to the British Virgin Islands once previous, getting back onto the boat, unpacking clothes and storing provisions was just like coming home. Everything in its proper place and then commence to stowing the Carib beer, getting plenty of ice, securing items and getting underway. The days are spent cooking breakfasts, sailing for a bit, stopping somewhere to moor or anchor near the island du jour, snorkeling, swimming, shopping, sunning. Showering off the saltwater and rinsing out the wetsuits. Catnapping through the brief, light rainfalls in the morning and mid-afternoon. Watching pelicans dive into the water after fish. Eating dinner on the boat or at some wonderful restaurant nearby. Drinking rum and beer until about 11pm or until you are too tired to resist the gentle sway of the boat and then it’s bedtime and up again with the morning rain sprinkling your face through the hatches and the 7am sun glinting off the water like pools of silver. i only seem to adhere this alien schedule when i am there. At home – i keep vampire hours.
We returned to our first sailing point, across the Sir Francis Drake Channel, past a collection of rock formations poking out of the water known as the Indians, and onto Norman Island, which is locally known as Treasure Island and is believed to have inspired the Robert Lewis Stevenson classic. We moored at an anchorage known as The Bight and rode our dinghy out to The Caves for snorkeling. The Caves are incredible rock formations only four feet deep, but dropping off to 40 feet near their entrance. The walls are encrusted with gorgeous, yellow and orange cup corals, sponges and incredible tropical fish swimming all around.
As we finished snorkeling, we were approached by a dingy with two frantic Italian men. One of them had deep-sixed their new, and expensive Oakley sunglasses. We rode out to their boat where i handed Brooks his weights and he dove to recover the lost glasses. Upon his resurfacing, the crew, 2 lovely women and four men all cheered, clapped and snapped photos. They offered us a couple beers, we sat down for an hour chat and they later gave us a bottle of wine from his brother’s vineyard! We drank that later with some fresh fruit, crackers and cheeses on our own boat.
We sailed past Peter and Salt Islands the next day and moored at Manchioneel Bay just off of Cooper Island. Manchioneel Bay is named for the trees on the beach with shiny, little, green, poisonous apples. The Carib Indians used this tree’s sap to poison their arrows as it causes severe skin blistering and, if in the eyes, at least temporary blindness. Manchioneel Bay is said to be the inspiration for Jimmy Buffet’s famous “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” It is typically known for good snorkeling, but i must confess, this was a rainy, windy day where not much got done, besides popping anti-nausea medication, drinking ginger beer, and attempting to feel human. That night – eughhh . . . the boat swung around on the mooring ball and rocked sickeningly, prompting me to rename it “Lurch n Heel” or “Munch n Hurl” Bay. The only good thing is that Brooks got to go on his first dive that following morning, backtracking off Salt Island to a famous dive site, the Wreck of the Rhone, where the R.M.S Rhone (Royal Mail Steamer) went down in 1867 in a hurricane.
From there we sailed on to Virgin Gorda and landed in Spanish Town, where we stayed in the Yacht Harbor for two glorious (civilized) days. There we ate some wonderful food at a patio tavern called The Bath and Turtle. Chicken wings with Tamarind honey ginger barbeque sauce, conch fritters, some terrific fresh tuna and French Toast on actual French Bread for breakfast one morning. Chickens free-ranged everywhere with their chicks in tow (though they were not for dinner), goats roamed the local shore nibbling the grass, little dogs begged for food at the lunch tables in front of the small grocery store, bougainvillea grew in brilliant hedges, lizards flitted along fence posts and tree limbs. We took a taxi to visit a much-photographed scenic area called The Baths. The Baths are named for its large assortment of huge basalt boulders, formed deep underground from magma, which are properly called batholiths (from the Greek bathys and lithos, meaning “deep” and “stone.”) We climbed the trails, explored the caves and rocks, collected seashells and admired the feral cat with the torn ear who hung out at the little beach bar shack.
At the gift store, Brooks impulsively bought me a beautiful teardrop ring i had been turning over in my hand, hemming and hawing about amongst others, but was trying to behave by not purchasing. “I’ll take this one,” he said before the woman could put it back. “Is that the one i like?” i smiled and asked playfully. “Yes,” he said. And it was sealed. It’s so rare i buy jewelry for myself; to me wearing something is symbolic. It has to be right place, the right time, the right shape, color, energy, memory. Now i have something to remember Virgin Gorda and the Caribbean by.
We sailed past The Dogs (Seal Dogs, George Dog, West Dog and Great Dog) where there are a great many nesting birds and on to Marina Cay. Marina Cay is small eight-acre island with soft, white sand beaches, a beautiful nature trail with lush tropical plants, cactus, flowers, and wildlife, a small 8-bedroom hotel and bar, and a great little store attached to the tasty Pusser’s Restaurant. When we were there last time, a calico cat named Tess dined with us. In my lap, you could more correctly say. And she was still there! Cruising the dining room, being fed chicken scraps and shrimp tails. This time she sat with me while i rubbed her ears during dessert – rum soaked Bananas Boulangere with caramel, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. Our dinners were sopped with the Pusser’s Rum creation called The Painkiller, available in levels 2-5.
Earlier in the day, the current was moving a bit, but i dove down and wedged the dingy anchor between two rocks on the silty, grassy bottom and Brooks went diving while i snorkeled with turtles and puffer fish along the reef. I found a beautiful tulip shell that i lost off the side of the boat in a clumsy, stumbling attempt to show off my prize. Brooks donned his dive equipment again and went down for recovery – surfacing with the shell and a few other lovely prizes. It wasn’t as interesting a dive as the one he took earlier in the week at Alice in Wonderland in South Bay on Ginger Island, but good search experience for his log.
We had a nice day of sailing and stopped off for an hour or so at Sandy Spit, the ideal tropical isle with the single leaning palm tree where i took this photo:
Our last stop was Great Harbor in Jost Van Dyke, only four miles long, named after a dutch pirate and known as an unspoiled “barefoot” island with a mere population of 200, a main street lined with restaurants and bars, the most famous of which is Foxy’s. We were privileged to catch Foxy Callwood himself singing in the afternoon and later during our dinner. He is notorious for dirty and corny joke-telling, and for making up songs about the people he meets and singing to them. He sang to Brooks who carried his shoes up from the beach on his hands and sang about him “wearing gloves on his feet.” He then sang to me as i took photos and encouraged me to use the flash or all i would get was “eyes and teeth” since he didn’t plan on getting his “black ass out into the sun.” Foxy’s throws infamous parties, one of which is New Year’s Eve. A New York Post journalist once wrote that there were only three places in the world to be on New Year’s Eve and voted Foxy’s as one of them. A staggering amount of people showed up that year and with all the boats, they turned the harbor into a giant raft. This tradition still continues . . .
We enjoyed a fabulous steak and lobster feast. The large, spiny lobster was fresh from the nearby Anegada Island. The music was enjoyable, the people danced wildly amid the Christmas lighting which still hung like colorful icicles from all the roof edges. Mind you – Foxy’s is like a sprawling lean together of tin roofs and wooden poles on which all manner of objects are stapled – any part of the structure it can be affixed to. The ceiling and visible areas are covered with business cards, t-shirts, boat flags, license plates, even signed underwear. All of which is proof of the many people the world over who have visited Foxy’s: a place that began as little more than a lemonade-stand-size bar, supposed to be open for one day only, and “has evolved into a major cultural force.” I know this to be the case because when i wear my Foxy’s t-shirt home, people smile and want to talk about it.
We stayed until the karaoke began and the overweight, sun burnt tourists began dancing to “Do you love me?” by The Contours.
We proceeded to wander down the beach to Corsairs Bar where Vinny “The Blade,” and wife Debbie were our fine and fabulous hosts. The last time we were there, we caught the last half of The Sopranos followed by Deadwood, where we invented our drinking game. Any time the word “fuck” or “cocksucker” or any derivative thereof was said, we took a drink. When someone was shot or died, we did a shot. We ended up giggling and toddling off to the dingy that night and pouring into bed i can tell you!
This time, we were treated to some drinks and interactive music from Reuben Chinnery. We were all (all meaning about 6 of us) encouraged to grab a percussive instrument out of a large milk crate including tambourines, shakers and a few things i failed to identify, and begin playing along. Reuben was wonderful, did a fine rendition of “Summertime,” and when a light rain began that chased us under the awning, he called the rain, “liquid moonlight.” A funny little drunk character named “Nippy” unloaded his hand-collected and crafted seashell necklaces onto the bar. i bought one and then he asked politely if he could touch my hair. Of course – i permitted.
I got to meet local artist, Aragorn who came by on his boat with t-shirt prints from his studio in Trellis Bay on Beef Island and also we received another visit from Deliverance, a small supply boat that offers ice, fruit, fresh baked goods and will pick up trash bags from your boat.
On the way back into Tortola, Brooks and i had to put on full rain gear. Two squalls hit us with winds and pelting rain and we had to motor all the way back in. We cleaned up the boat, collected the linens and cleared out. We were able to take a taxi into Road Town to see some local flair and culture.
As we waited to board the small plane, i noticed one of the women waiting with us. She had sung a Bob Marley song at Foxy’s during the karaoke madness. She hid her dark and lovely face behind her long, beautiful dreads and laughed as we said we recognized her. Turns out she is one of Foxy’s cousins.
My reward for the grey skies and the rain on the last day was a rainbow appearing just over the hillside as i walked onto the tarmac and boarded the plane.
With Douglas Adams on my iPod and into my ear, i drifted off to sleep. i was too tired to write in the little journal i brought with me, a journal whose pages rippled up from the wet and the salt, like the bends in my hair, some of the thoughts which are written here now.
i will be posting more snippets of memories in my scrapbook and my formal gallery as i look through the mega-folder of photos i took.