Category Archives: Driving

Island Bumper Cars

There goes another side mirror

There goes another side mirror

In a previous post, I mentioned that the roads here are bad.  But it’s not just the roads, it’s the other drivers that make navigating the island an exercise in facing your fears.

Case in point – within the first week of arriving, we had a (thankfully mild) run-in with another vehicle.

It was the day my sister and I arrived with my two cats.  She had been here all of about two hours, and we were going to dinner in Road Town.  There are two ways you can get down the mountain from our apartment, and both involve steep declines (because you’re going down a mountain), narrow roads, and sharp curves.  But one route is a bit worse than the other.  We were taking the worse of the two options, because at that time, we didn’t know any better.  And it was night.

So we’re going down the road, and one of the oncoming cars is obviously in our lane (if there were actual lanes on the roads, but that’s another issue).

*Did I mention that you drive on the left here?  The cars are American-style left hand drive, but you’re on the wrong side of the road, which puts the passenger sides of the cars in the center of the road.  So when you’re the passenger, oncoming traffic is coming directly toward you, not the driver.

As the headlights came closer, it was apparent this car was not getting over to his side of the road, so I did what any rational person would do.  I closed my eyes and screamed.  I heard a slight crash, and when I opened my eyes, there was a mirror in my lap!

The other driver had clipped our side mirror, which popped the glass part out.  Thankfully, I had my window rolled down, and the glass mirror landed squarely in my lap, broken, but salvaged.  I still can’t believe I “caught” that mirror!

The rest of the night was a little tense, to say the least, since Bill felt bad about getting the rental car damaged (although there was little he could have done, short of running into the side of the mountain), and I was not looking forward to dealing with the credit card and rental car companies over this little incident, which would probably cost a fortune to get resolved.  But an inquiry the next day at a local auto parts store put us in touch with a glass shop.  One day and $50 later, we picked up the replacement glass and popped it back into the mirror assembly, with the rental company none the wiser.

Bill’s theory is that when the Jeep gets here, we’ll get more respect on the roads, since it’s big and has these massive, after-market bumpers on it.  My theory is that I’d do just fine in a Mini-Cooper.  Or a Smart car.  Or maybe a golf cart.  I’ll take the smallest thing that can make it up the mountain.

Seating for six and lights for nighttime driving.

Seating for six and lights for nighttime driving.





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