Category Archives: Active Pursuits

Smuggler's Cove, Tortola, BVI

The Healing Powers of Vitamin Sea

This summer has been a bit rough, from friends who are going through hardships to my own personal issues. To add insult to injury, our rock is in the middle of one of the worst droughts on record, and the landscape, which is typically lush and green, is all brown and dead. But the one ray of proverbial sunshine is the sea. In contrast to the depressing inland landscape, the sea remains its gorgeous, blue-green self. One of the first things I do every morning is step out onto the balcony to check out my local beach and see which shade of turquoise the water is today.

But despite having direct, visual access to the sea, I sometimes go weeks without actually dipping my toes in the water (or in the sand). Life gets in the way, whether you live in a city, in the country, or on a tropical island.

This was the case recently. It had been two weeks since I’d had any “vitamin sea,” so I set an intention to go to the beach one Friday afternoon. The universe conspired against me – errands in town took twice as long as they should have (even considering the way things operate on this island), clouds moved in, and my mood was less than sunny and light. It was almost two hours later than I had planned, but with persistence (aka stubbornness) on my side, I finally made it.

Rather than visiting my local beach, which is large, well-known, and easy to access, I decided to venture a little farther and visit a beach that’s more secluded and rarely visited by anyone other than guests a small, nearby resort. And as luck would have it, I was the only one there on this particular afternoon.

When I go to the beach alone, I typically just get in the water for a few minutes to cool off and spend most of the time in a beach chair, catching up on some leisure reading. But this time, I decided to hang out in the water for a while. Since I didn’t bring a float or noodle to laze around on, I just floated on my back, with my ears submerged in the water to block out the sounds of the outside world. I floated, and floated, and floated, for what seemed like forever (although in reality, it was probably more like five minutes).

As I floated, looking up at the blue sky and listening to the faint crackling of the water, I tried to put some mental energy towards assessing the things that are going on in my life and in my friends’ lives. But my mind wouldn’t cooperate. The situations arose in my mind, but my mind refused to latch onto them. Granted, my problems and my friends’ problems didn’t go away, but it was nice to have a respite that forced me to get out of my own head for a while. Often times, a clear head is what’s needed to see things for what they really are, deal with them, and begin the process of healing. And this is just what that dip in water allowed me to do.

If everyone had direct access to the healing powers of the sea, I believe the world would be a better place.

Tortola Apartment, BVI

The Climb

Several days a week, I visit the hotel-bar-restaurant (aka “The Club”) below us to hang out and commiserate with friends about the realities of island life. When we first moved here, I always drove down, like a true American, even though it’s barely a stone’s throw away. But about a month ago, the hassle of driving started to get to me.

First, the road where The Club is located is just one lane wide. So if you meet oncoming traffic, one of you has to back up and let the other pass.  Typically being the less aggressive party, and clearly a “non-belonger,” I tend to be the one to give first in this game of chicken, which means I have to back up the road, into a three-way intersection, with a blind curve to the left and a steep downhill drop behind me. Fortunately, their road is mostly residential and dead-ends at the beach, so there’s not a ton of traffic. But even if I make it there without this harrowing experience, coming home presents another challenge, in the form of parking.

We’re lucky that our building has designated parking and we don’t have to park on the street, unlike many other places here, but squeezing the Jeep into our parking spot is like fitting a hippo in a coach seat on an airplane. Then there’s the fact that you’re backing into the parking spot coming from the opposite side of the road, with blind corners in front of and behind you. Yes, it’s every bit as nerve-racking as it sounds. And yes, I pretty much just close my eyes and pray every time I do it, even after six months of practice. If we ever move back to the States, I will never, ever complain about tight parking spaces again.

Three Wide

Three wide

Jeep

Yes, I parked that Jeep, thankyouverymuch.

So I finally came to the realization that we moved to the island to have less stress rather than more of it, and I started walking to The Club instead of driving. I can even avoid setting foot on any “public” roads by taking the stairs to the bottom of our building and walking down a series of driveways that lead from our building’s lower parking area to their back entrance.

Compared to the driving and parking scenario, you’re probably wondering, “Why is walking so bad?” Well, for starters, the hill leading from our apartment to The Club is so steep that it’s not paved with asphalt. No, asphalt would just flow down the hill like lava. As is the case with many roads and driveways here, it’s paved with cement. Take a look in the pictures below.  See those lines in the cement? Those are to help your tires (or your flip-flops in my case) gain a little extra traction. Without them, you would literally slide down the hill.  When our friends visited a few months ago, their rental car couldn’t even make it up this hill!

Tortola, BVI

The first stretch. It’s longer (and steeper) than it looks.

Second are the corners. Because the hill is so steep, there are two switch-backs between The Club and our building. Coming up the hill, the first corner isn’t too bad, except that if you’re walking in the dark and miss the turn, you run directly into a set of concrete steps leading up to a guest house. Guess how I know this?

Serenity House Tortola, BVI

Not too bad, but don’t miss this turn in the dark!

The second corner is killer though. It’s in the second-steepest portion of the road, and apparently it’s been patched a few times, because rather than being rough surfaced, it’s as smooth as river stone. In the Jeep, if you don’t have enough momentum and don’t hit this corner in just the right place, you have to back up, put it in 4×4, and try again. Walking it is like trying to ice skate, up-hill.

Tortola, BVI Road

Anybody up for a little (simulated) ice skating?

Then there’s the stretch just before you reach our building. The steepest part. Fortunately, at the bottom of this stretch is a clearing that’s perfect for stargazing on a clear night. Using this as an excuse gives me a chance to stop, catch my breath and get mentally prepared for the next leg of my journey. It’s not a long stretch, approximately 60 paces at my stride. But it’s so steep that you’d better have some momentum, because if you stop midway, you’re going to tumble backwards and roll into the bush, where you’ll be fair game for the wild chickens and lizards.

Driveway Tortola, BVI

It 60 paces up this hill, almost as vertical as you can possibly walk (or drive).

Driveway Tortola, BVI

The view from the top, looking down.

Making it up this last stretch to the apartment building is an accomplishment, but it’s short-lived. Technically, you’re home, but there’s one more obstacle between you and the shower:  the stairs. We live on the top floor of the building, which I like because it gives us more distance from the ground and the critters that dwell there. It’s only three stories – 51 stairs – from the ground to our door. But when your calves are burning, you’re panting, and sweat is dripping into your eyes, there might as well be 151.

Tortola Apartment, BVI

Just 51 stairs to go…

Every time I make The Climb, I think about how it’s a perfect metaphor for living on a rock.  It’s tough, it can be a pain in the ass (or the calves, as the case may be), but it makes you stronger.  And in the end, it’s totally worth it.

Role Reversal

Didn't Fail.

Didn’t Fail.

I love personality tests – Myers-Briggs, DiSC, Predictive Index.  I’ve taken them all, several times, and the conclusions are surprisingly consistent and, if I’m honest about how I really think and act, accurate.  So those of you who’ve known me for a long time will not be surprised to hear that these test all identify me as a strong introvert.

However, those who know me solely, or mostly, through work may be surprised that I’m labeled an introvert.  In my professional life, I am (as a professor once explained) “an introvert who has learned to adapt.”  Being in sales and other customer-facing roles, I’ve learned to dig deep into my persona to be outgoing and curious about others.  Having an abnormally high level of empathy helps with this adaptation.  (I’m talking about the kind of empathy where you cry just because you see someone else crying, even when you have no idea why they’re crying.)

Bill is also an introvert, but not the kind who “adapts” and acts like an extrovert when the circumstances would call for it.  No, he’s almost always reserved, to the point that I’m afraid he puts other people off with the scowl he carries on his face when we’re in public.  Our very good friend, Jon, tells a great story of how the first time Bill walked across the street to talk to him, Jon saw the look on his face and heard the tone of his  greeting (a simple, but harsh “Hey!”) and thought Bill was coming over to start a fight!

Even on vacation, he seems to be saying "leave me alone!"

Even on vacation, he seems to be saying “leave me alone!”

With all that being said, I assumed the task of making friends here on our rock would fall to me and my “adapted extrovert” self.  But there seems to have been a reversal of roles over the past six weeks.  Bill has become the one who’s curious about other people – what they do, where they’re from, how long they’ve been here – and I’ve mostly reverted back into my shell, watching and listening from the sidelines. Thanks to Bill’s newfound willingness to strike up a conversation with just about anyone, we’ve met:

  • a temporarily homeless boat hand from the Netherlands
  • two (yes, two) George Clooney look-alikes!
  • several Rastafarians who show up at the same spot, at the same time, every day
  • a ton of boat captains
  • a guy in the financial sector (I expected to meet more of these, as finance is the second largest component of the BVI economy.  But I guess the places we’re hanging out are too low-brow for the finance crowd.)
  • three very loud and very opinionated middle-aged women (mental note:  sit at the other end of the bar when they’re around)
  • a doctor who works at the local hospital (a very good contact to have)
  • and more bartenders than I can recall

Maybe he’s just trying to gage what we might be like in 1, 3, 5, or 10 years.  Or maybe the confines of a 13 x 3 mile island are getting to him.  Whatever is driving this newfound extrovertedness, it’s kind of nice to let someone else do the social navigating for a change.  Next up, I’m putting him on the hunt for a certain country star who lives nearby.  Stay tuned…

O.M.G. S.U.P. Y.O.G.A

OK, first of all, I don’t really talk like that.  But that’s the only way I could express both the delight and the fear I had in my first SUP yoga class…

I spent both Saturday and Sunday afternoons at my favorite beach for hanging out and socializing – Cane Garden Bay.  Saturday was a low-key visit:  read, float, have a drink.  I’d heard there was a Stand Up Paddleboard yoga class at CGB, so I asked around and found out that there was a FREE class on Sunday.  So on Sunday afternoon, I trekked back to CGB (20 minutes from our apartment to the neighborhood, 25 minutes parked and in the water).  It didn’t take long to spot the teacher, as she was finishing up a SUP class for about a dozen kids – and I might add that these kids looked like professionals.

I’ve done presentations in front of hundreds of people – CEO’s, executives, people way smarter than I am.  But for some reason, trying a new physical activity for the first time scares the daylights out of me.  In my first golf lesson, I was so nervous that it’s a miracle I didn’t drop the club behind my back when I took the first swing.  And it wasn’t much different in the SUP yoga class.  I had only been on a paddle board once before, and all I accomplished that time was to paddle out a few yards, quickly give up fighting the wind, drift down the beach a few hundred feet, and paddle back to the shore.  Then I had to carry the board back up the beach to where it belonged.

So, yeah, I was nervous about this class.

The teacher instructed me to paddle out on my knees, and she would come right behind me to help me get my “sea legs” and get going.  But she got caught up with something else, and I was left there, on my knees on the board, paddling as best I could and trying to listen to her partner, who was yelling standing near the shore yelling instructions at me.  And the wind was blowing the opposite way of where the group was gathered…

Ten minutes later, with some direct intervention from the helper (i.e. he paddled out and literally pulled me and my board in the right direction), I joined the group.  This is where the OMG part really begins.

I made it through the warmup and the Sun Salutations ok, despite the fact that my legs were shaking like twigs in a hurricane.  Then came the Crescent Lunges and the Warriors.  The instructor had warned me that Warrior II was a tough pose to do on the board.  Whew, I made it through that, although I couldn’t properly do Reverse Warrior, but I modified.  Then came Side Angle.  An easy pose.  I can even “fly” in this one.  (“Flying” is where you bind your arms around one leg and lift it up while balancing on the other leg – called Bird of Paradise).

And fly I did.  Right off the side of my board and into the water.  (And I wasn’t even trying to do the Bird of Paradise variation.  I was just trying to do the basic Side Angle!)

I shook myself off like a wet dog, climbed back onto the board, and finished the class, legs shaking even more now.  But I finished, and I even managed to do a Tripod at the end (squat down with your hands on the ground/floor/board, put the top of your head on the board, put your knees on your elbows and lift your feet).

At the end of class, as I lay there in Savasana (also called Corpse Pose, where you lie on your back with legs apart and arms by your side), instead of closing my eyes, I looked up at the blue sky and the tip tops of the palm trees in my peripheral vision and felt grateful to be in such an amazing place, doing such amazing things.  This.  This is the reason I wanted to move here.

Cane Garden Bay:  View from a SUP

Cane Garden Bay: View from a SUP

 

10 Days on a Rock

We made it into the double digits!

It’s still surreal that we live here, but already we’ve come to recognize the good and the bad of living on an island, so I thought I’d share a little bit of both sides.

Bad:  You can’t drink the water.  Well, you can, but most people don’t.  Virtually everyone on the island gets their water from a cistern, and the water is filtered but not purified.  It’s not likely to make you sick, but several locals have told me that they use tap water for cooking, washing, and brushing their teeth, but for pure drinking they stick with bottled water.  Now, I know plenty of people in the States who don’t drink their tap water (either they’re on a well and don’t trust it, or they’re on city water and don’t trust it).  So to me, no big deal.  But this is probably Bill’s biggest complaint so far.

Good:  The views.  Just driving around the island, from anywhere to anywhere, the views are amazing.  Either you’re on a mountain overlooking beautiful bays, or you’re on the waterfront road, riding along just feet from crystal blue water.  I will never tire of the views here.

Waterfront Highway, Looking Toward Peter Island

Waterfront Highway, Looking Toward Peter Island

Bad:  Roommates.  Before we moved, I read a lot of blogs from people who live in the USVI and the BVI, and without fail, they all mentioned living with “critters” and the good and bad of each type.  Thankfully, our cohabitants are lizards, which are harmless and the most beneficial roommates to have , as they eat mosquitos and other insects.  The only problem I foresee is that our cats will probably become lizard connoisseurs.  So far, I’ve found two dead baby lizards, so the population in/around our place is probably on the decline already.

Good.  The beaches.  Whether you want calm, flat water or a great place to surf; a hopping, people-watching mecca or a nearly deserted beach lined with palm trees, they’re all here on Tortola.  The beach closest to us, Josiah’s Bay, is of the surfing variety, with waves in the 5-foot range.  (At least until summer, when the locals tell us that it “goes flat.”)  Although I prefer calm water, the waves in this turquoise blue sea are almost transparent, and it’s gorgeous to look at.  I foresee surfing lessons in my future!

My favorite beach so far. Picture-perfect and virtually deserted.

My favorite beach so far. Picture-perfect and virtually deserted.

Bad:  Driving.  The roads are worse than bad.  (NC/SC friends – think of the worst SC roads you can imagine.  That would be considered good here on Tortola.)  The roads are only about 1.5 lanes wide, most of the curves are blind, and there are no street lights.  Now, imagine those conditions on a 13 mile x 3 mile island that is essentially a mountain (the tallest peak on Tortola is the same height as Kings Pinnacle) where you’re perpetually climbing a 20 degree grade or descending a 20 degree grade.

Good:  The people.  Sure, there are people who are indifferent at best, rude at their worst.  And some of the drivers are a-holes.  But you’ll find that anywhere.  The vast majority of people we’ve met here – both locals and expats – have been friendly and downright helpful.  One charming thing about the BVI culture is that it’s considered rude not to address someone with “good morning,” “good afternoon,” etc. before you start a conversation, or just as a general acknowledgement, in place of “hello,” when you pass someone on the street.  And when you do this, the person’s entire countenance changes.  It’s amazing how far a little cultural sensitivity can get you when you’re in a foreign place.

Bonus:  Did I mention the views?  I did?  Ok, how about the beaches?  The snorkeling isn’t bad either.

Snorkeling at Smuggler's Cove

Snorkeling at Smuggler’s Cove

Practicing Patience

Road Town

After three days, spent almost entirely at government offices, we’re finally official!

I had read horror stories about dealing with the BVI government, so I knew clearing Immigrations would be frustratingly slow, but darn it, I was prepared with everything we could possibly need. There was nothing they could ask for that we hadn’t already given them or didn’t have in-hand. Or so I thought. When we walked up to the Immigration desk at the airport, operation “Teach the Americans a Lesson” began.

Being the obsessive-compulsive, anal person that I am, I made sure that we arrived on Tuesday evening with all the necessary paperwork for Immigration, exactly following the instructions in our approval letter and double-checking any “gray” areas through phone calls and emails with high-ranking Immigration officials, all of which were meticulously documented.

When we arrived, the Immigration officer slowly scrutinized our paperwork and inquired as to where our criminal records were. I told her that we had both mailed and emailed them to the Chief Immigration Officer, and obviously he had seen them and been satisfied, as he’d granted us approval to reside.  And, anyway, bringing our criminal record reports with us was not specified as a requirement in our approval letter. Unimpressed, she turned to her supervisor, who reiterated that, “you must present official copies of your criminal record upon arrival.”

Long story short, it turns out that the person who typed up our approval letter and spelled out what we needed to bring with us upon arrival just happened to forget this one item. Of course, it was after 4pm when we arrived, and the government offices close at 3pm, so there was no way to verify that the main office had previously received our criminal records. In order to get into the country, we had to turn our passports over to the Immigration officer, who gave us a receipt for them(!) and instructed us to call the main office the next morning to verify the documents were ok and retrieve our passports.

So the next morning came and I called (having already learned that calling in advance can help you get some of the “I don’t know anything about this,” or “that person isn’t in the office” hassle out of the way) to be sure someone was looking into the mystery of our “missing” criminal records . We were instructed to come to the office to get everything straightened out. So down to Road Town we went, passport receipts in hand, not really sure what to expect. In a somewhat fortunate turn of events, the lady working the front desk at Immigration was someone I had spoken to via phone numerous times over the past several months, so there was a bit of rapport already built. She instructed us to come back at 2pm (it was approximately 9:30am) when the Chief Immigration Officer would be back at the office. So we made use of the day by learning our way around town and picking up some essentials for the apartment. And back to the Immigration office we went around 2pm.

The CIO finally arrived around 3pm, but instead of speaking with him directly, our “friend” acted as our intermediary, supposedly relaying our comments/concerns, and coming back to us with his “official decision.” In reality, it was she who wrote our letter, so I think she was trying to save face and cover her ass, since it was her mistake that got us into this predicament. In the end, the CIO, in the intermediary’s words, “realizes that it’s our (the office’s) mistake, so he will grant permission to process your residence visas, but you have to produce the required documents (criminal records) within six weeks.” It was now approximately 3:03pm, and the processing office was closed, so we had to come back the next morning to get our visas processed.

On Thursday morning, we made our (now routine) trip down to Road Town to the Immigration office just before the official opening time of 9am. There were already about eight people in the waiting area, so we took our number and sat down, expecting at least a 20-30 minute wait.

Side note:  Based on our experience so far, I can safely say that all government offices have a process. You walk in, announce “good morning, or “good day” to everyone in the room, take a number, and WATCH THE CALL BOARD LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT. When the “now serving” number comes up, if you don’t jump up within about .5 milliseconds, the attendants move on to the next number, and you’re at risk of losing your place in line.

As I mentioned, this morning, there were about eight people in the waiting area before us, so I expected a wait and started checking email. Within less than three minutes, our number had flashed for the customary 0.5ms, and the next number was staring me in the face.

I walked to the desk and begged to take the next place in line, but in the end it didn’t matter, because it turns out that AGAIN, we not informed about a requirement that we had to fulfill before our visas could be processed.

Everyone (family, friends, blog readers) has been spared of the details regarding the medical tests and procedures we had to go through here in the U.S. in order to fulfill the BVI immigration requirements.  You’re welcome. But these ridiculous, almost humiliating tests aren’t enough. No, the U.S. doctors apparently can’t be trusted, so you must take your medical records to the Tortola hospital and have one of their doctors approve them before you’re granted residence. And of course, nobody told this until Thursday morning, when we naively expected to have our visas processed that day.

So off we slogged to the hospital to have our records “checked” by a BVI doctor, and at exactly 2:50pm, we finally got the medical records back with the necessary approvals and high-tailed it back to the Immigration office. Did I mention that they close at 3pm?  The deputy at the Immigration office took our applications and instructed us to come back Monday, as processing takes two days.

At this point, I was having a really hard time keeping my cool, but once again, she had our passports in her possession, so I sucked it up and nicely buy urgently informed her that I had to go back to the States over the weekend, so I would just have to bring my passport and application back the next week to be processed.  She looked unfazed, but dryly said, “Ok, come back at 1:30pm tomorrow.”  *Sigh*  I said a little prayer that she would keep her promise and not fall ill or get hit by a bus overnight.

We made use of the next morning by going to the DMV and purchasing a drivers handbook – again, taking a number and watching the call board.  Then we found another “department store” (think Big Lots, with many items of questionable origin) to pick up some more things for the apartment.  At approximately 1:30pm, we went back to the Immigration office, and 30 minutes and one rude government worker later, we were official!  I can’t remember the last time I was so relieved and proud.  Maybe this is their strategy – make it so difficult to obtain residence that once you do, you never complain about “island time” or the government again.

The best part is, we had just enough time to get to the bank and open a bank account and swing by the postal service to get a forwarding address set up from Miami.  So now we’re officially residents of the BVI, we can spend money, and we can get mail.  Life is good.

Until we go to get our BVI drivers licenses.