In our first ten weeks on the rock, I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with people back in the States and in Europe, and there’s a common theme to their opening comments. Every conversation tends to start with something along the lines of, “So, how’s paradise?”
It’s difficult to temper people’s perceptions of what life on an island is like, and I understand, it sounds like a dream come true. I won’t lie, in a lot of ways, it is. But as I told friends and family before we left, life on a rock isn’t all palm trees and boat drinks.
To save time on future phone calls, I’ve compiled a list of perceptions/questions that you might have, and my responses.
- Caller’s Perception: I hear tropical birds in the background.
- My Reality: Those are called roosters. And yes, they’re crowing at 10am. And at noon. And at 7pm. Island Roosters Never. Shut. Up.
- Caller’s Perception: I hear the roar of the ocean through the phone.
- My Reality: Actually, that’s an industrial-strength fan you hear. It’s 89 degrees here with 95% humidity, and no air conditioning. So we invested a small fortune in fans – floor-level, adjustable-height, oscillating, stationary – you name it, we have every style of fan you can imagine. The plus side: the fans tend to blow all the cat hair into one corner of the hallway, which makes quick work of sweeping the floors. (Full disclosure, we do have AC in the bedrooms, but we only run it at night, because power here is very expensive.)
- Caller’s Perception: What type of fruity cocktail are you having right now?
- My Reality: The kind you buy in mass quantities from a vending machine. Also known as water. (On Tortola, it’s advised to purchase your drinking water, and the most economical way is by filling 5-gallon containers from water dispensing machines around the island.) In this climate, you drink more water in a day than even the most health-conscious people back in the States. And if you don’t, feelings of lightheadedness and grogginess will quickly remind you that dehydration is setting in. The plus side: your body processes all this water so efficiently (via SWEAT) that you don’t constantly have to pee, contrary to what you would expect. And you’re never bloated. So you’ll have to come up with another excuse if your tummy is hanging over your shorts or your bikini bottom a little more than usual.
- Caller’s Perception: How was the beach today?
- My Reality: In ten weeks, I’ve only hit the beach during the week on three, maybe four, occasions. I can see Josiah’s Bay beach from my patio, and every day I look out and smile at its stunning beauty. But typical life stuff still has to be done – cleaning, grocery shopping, taking the trash to the dumpster, getting drinkable water, searching for shaving cream… So contrary to popular belief, I’m not taking phone calls from a lounge chair under a palm tree. But don’t get me wrong, I do love the views, even if my toes aren’t in the water.
- Caller’s Perception: I’ll bet the seafood/fruit/produce is really fresh and amazing there.
- My Reality: I’m allergic to shellfish and don’t eat much seafood. I imagine that this will change over time, but for now, I’m sticking primarily with beef, chicken, and pork. And as far as produce goes, Tortola is basically a mountain in the middle of the Caribbean, and the terrain makes farming a challenge. As a result, 99% of the food is imported, so availability and quality are somewhat spotty. We’re learning which markets to go to on which days for which items, but it’s a fact of island life that if you have a specific recipe in mind, at least one of the ingredients will be completely sold out on the entire island. So learning to improvise is important. That and obsessively checking expiration dates. And not buying any fresh fruits or veggies that you don’t plan to use within about three days. But when you find something that’s locally grown, it is amazing.
So there you have it. Five misconceptions about life on a rock and the not-so-glamorous realities behind them. Feel free to share your perceptions/questions in the comments, and I’ll give you the behind-the-scenes look at what it’s really like.