Category Archives: Food

Perception and Reality

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 not always like this - I promise.

It’s not always like this – I promise.

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.
They've taken over the island.  Seriously.

They’ve taken over the island. Seriously.

  • 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.
You can reach me at 1-800-Cocotel

You can reach me at 1-800-Cocotel

  • 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.

 

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