Tag Archives: Tortola

Fearlessness in the Face of Island Adversity

The following post is rated PG-13 for strong language and disturbing imagery.

Those of you who know me personally, know that very few things freak me the hell out as much as spiders. And in the past six months, it seems that the Island gods have come to recognize this and have decided to teach me a lesson in fearlessness.

The evidence…


Late this summer, I was getting ready for bed one evening, when I looked out of my bathroom into the bedroom and saw a giant spider on the wall by my bed. But not just any spider – it was a tarantula! This thing was so big, you could almost count the hairs on its creepy, not-so-little legs.

A very fuzzy picture of the tarantula - because it was taken from almost 20 feet away!

A very fuzzy picture of the tarantula – because it was taken from almost 20 feet away!

At this time, I was living by myself, so I didn’t have a designated “in-house-spider-exterminator” who I could lure into the bedroom and lock inside until said spider was taken care of. So, in a panic, I called one of my friends who lives just down the hill, and he (reluctantly, although he would never admit it) came up to take care of the intruder. When he saw it, even he was a bit freaked out!

But with the help of a dried-out sponge mop and a shop vac, he managed to kill and dispose of the spider so I could go to bed. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep very well that night.


Then, a couple of months ago, I came home one evening and noticed something in the middle of my kitchen floor that didn’t belong there. Not an unusual situation when you have three cats. I put away some stuff and piddled around the apartment for a few minutes, failing to investigate the foreign object right away.

When I finally went into the kitchen and turned on the light to deal with what I expected to be a furball or a dismembered cat toy, I discovered that the offending object could move, although just barely. And even though it was missing a few, it obviously had eight legs at one point in its life!

Upon closer (but not too close) investigation, it was unmistakeably deemed to be a brown recluse. Now, although there are more creepy-crawlies on this island than I would like to acknowledge, none of them are highly dangerous or poisonous to humans (none of the land-based ones, anyway). Except brown recluse spiders.

Brown Recluse

This is what a brown recluse looks like after “playing” with my cats.

Not wanting to inconvenience (and freak out) my friend down the hill for a second time, I decided to handle this one by myself – with the aid of a stiff-bristled broom. I figured since it couldn’t move very well (the cats had obviously been “playing” with it before I got home), I could impale it with the broom bristles and sweep it up and throw the body over the balcony. What I didn’t anticipate was that the spider might get caught up in the broom bristles.

When it disappeared into the broom, I hauled ass outside with the broom and the now “missing” spider, beat it against the side of the building over my balcony, and left it outside in the breezeway until the next morning. Then I tied a trash bag around the bottom part and took it to the dump, just in case the spider recovered and wanted to get revenge.


But the most recent test of my fearlessness was probably the worst. After yoga one evening, I got into the Jeep and was checking my texts before I drove off. The door was open, so the interior lights were on, and that must have woken up an uninvited passenger. Which was…another huge spider!!! This one was as big as the palm of my hand, and I could see his eyes!

He leapt from the passenger-side floorboard into the passenger seat and onto the center console. I jumped out of the Jeep like my seat had just become an electric chair. In a move that is now typical, I panicked for a second. But then I realized that my yoga instructor’s brother was nearby – I could go get him to deal with this situation. (I’m not sure why it always has to be a guy to help out in these instances. I guess it’s the primal “Southern Belle” that comes out when I’m in fight-or-flight mode.) But he was so far away, I was afraid by the time I got to him, explained what was going on, and (hopefully) got him to come take care of the problem, Mr. Hitchhiker would have found a nice cozy place to hide, and I’d have to fumigate the Jeep before I could ever get into it again.

Instead, I grabbed a towel that was conveniently left in the back seat, wrapped it completely around my hand – like eight times – and used that to “pick up” the spider and fling him as far away as I could.

All I can say is that it’s a miracle this ordeal happened while I was sitting in the Jeep, idling. If I had been driving, all three of us – Mr. Hitchhiker, the Jeep, and I – would be in the ocean right now.


But wait – it gets better!  On the way home I stopped by my local hangout to say “Happy Birthday” to a friend and have a good, stiff drink to calm my nerves. When I got home, I went to the back of the Jeep to get a box out, and what did I see? Mr. Hitchhiker apparently had a friend, albeit one that was slower and/or dumber and hadn’t quite found his way inside the Jeep yet. That’s right – there was Mr. Hitchiker’s accomplice, staring at me from the back windshield of the Jeep. Seeing him was such a shock that this time I jumped and screamed – so loud that if my neighbors had been home, they would’ve come running to see who was attacking me.

IMG_2014

See – I’m not kidding! This thing was HUGE!

I grabbed my trusty towel, and from about six feet away, snapped it at him like a teenage boy in a locker room. Success! I managed to knock him off the Jeep and onto the ground, where I found him camouflaged on a small branch behind one of my tires (another reason to always carry a good flashlight in your purse). There was no way I was letting this fucker live, so I grabbed the biggest rock I could find – about 10 inches in diameter and 10 pounds – and dropped it right on him. Convinced that I had succeeded in killing the creepy bastard, I picked up the rock, and then almost fainted when he came running from under it and up the wall that surrounds my parking area. At this point, it was full-on war.

Spider Under Rock

Can you believe he lived?!

The only weapon I had left within easy reach was a can of OFF, which I proceeded to spray on him as he ran across the top of the wall. When there was no more OFF, I ran downstairs and grabbed a can of Raid. Of course, by the time I got back upstairs to the parking area, he was nowhere in sight. But I sprayed the hell out of that wall, the ground around the Jeep, and over the wall as far as I could reach.

I have a feeling the Island gods aren’t going to let me win this one, and he’s still up there, plotting his revenge. All I can say is that thankfully, he’s on the other side of the building from my apartment.


A note to the Island gods…Just keep in mind that you won’t have anyone to torment if you give me a heart attack.

Advertisements

Eighteen Lessons in Eighteen Months

October 22 was my 18month island-girl anniversary. Reflecting on my time here so far, I thought about how much I love island life, and how it has tested me in ways I could never have imagined, or possibly endured, in the States. In celebration of my rock anniversary, I’ve assembled a list of lessons learned since I moved to this small island. Some are practical and some are personal. But each one is something that required a change in perspective and lifestyle to learn and embrace. I hope some of them resonate with you.

1 ~ Don’t wait until you need it. Buy it when you see it. (Applies only to non-perishable items.)

2 ~ Not having the “luxury” of spending days on end searching dozens of stores for the exact item you’re looking for, can itself be a luxury.

shopping-best-buy-ikea-target-walmart-lowes

3 ~ You can predict the weather based on the state of your hair.

4 ~ Always keep electronics fully charged.

5 ~ Keep flashlights and candles where they can be easily accessed in the dark. Not in the vicinity of furniture that has a reputation for breaking toes.

Broken Toe

6 ~ How to fit a Jeep into spaces that, technically, should be two inches too small.

7 ~ Greet everyone courteously – i.e. “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” etc.

8 ~ On an island, “No problem” doesn’t mean, “That will be easy.” The correct island translation is, “I hear you, but I may or may not do what you’ve asked, depending on how much trouble it will be.”

No Problem

9 ~ Always bring reading material to places where you may have to wait:  government offices, doctor’s offices, the bank, the line at the grocery store on a Saturday…

10 ~ A hair dryer is not a basic necessity.

11 ~ Vinegar will clean almost anything.

12 ~ You don’t need fancy equipment, or even a gym, to stay in shape.

Beach Exercise

13 ~ Everyone has a story, and most of them are extremely interesting – if you’ll just listen.

14 ~ Have compassion towards immigrants – making a life in a new country is much harder than most people realize.

15 ~ Your closest friends can be people who you have very little in common with on the surface. And that’s a good thing.Peanuts

16 ~ Appreciate the quiet.

17 ~ During the day, look around at the beauty of the island. And at night, look up and enjoy the stars.

Moon at Night

18 ~ Sea water heals both physical and emotional wounds. Indulge generously.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Palm trees Tortola BVI

Images of Island Life: Part 2

Further evidence that living on an island isn’t all* palm trees and boat drinks, here’s Part 2 of the series, “Images of Island Life.” All photos—from the beautiful to the bizarre—were taken during our first year here on Tortola, BVI.

*Well, as you’ll see below, sometimes island life is about palm trees and boat drinks. 😊

The bar scene on an island can be quite entertaining

Cat in a Box

Who needs “hair of the dog” for your hangover? On our island, you can get “hair of the cat.”

Guess who

During the day, a disguise can help protect your reputation.

After dark, the "weirdos" come out.

But after dark, the “weirdos” really come out.

Topless bartender

Apparently, they’ll let anyone bartend.

Topless bartender

On-the-job hazards go far beyond carpal-tunnel. At our local hangout, being accosted by a bearded dude is a likely occurrence.

Tourists provide a never-ending stream of amusement (and shock!)

The contrast between lobster-emblazened swim trunks and the leg tat shows diversity in taste.

The contrast between his lobster-printed swim trunks and the leg tat shows diversity in taste.

Caution...This cannot be unseen

Caution…  This. Cannot. Be. Unseen.

Willy T, Norman Island, BVI

It’s higher than it looks. Jumping from the top deck of the “Willy T” is practically a rite of passage for visitors to the BVI.

Even "locals" act like tourists sometimes.

And sometimes, even “locals” can’t resist acting like tourists.

Pets from the U.S. have to adapt to new surroundings, just like people

Seriously? How about a fan over here?

Wearing a fur coat in the tropics can be rough. Snowball says, “Seriously? How about a fan over here?”

Cat on Suitcase

Apparently, Coco’s getting “rock fever.” Road trip anyone?

Cat in shower

Trouble knows that staying hydrated is important. And that it takes 76 seconds before the water gets hot.

Siamese with toys

Smooth has resorted to hoarding as a coping mechanism. He who dies with the most toys, wins!

German Shepherd by pool

Most dogs love the clear, calm waters of the ocean, but the classier ones prefer infinity pools.

Up next: night scenes, the many faces of island weather, and the truly bizarre!

Josiah's Bay Beach Tortola, BVI

Images of Island Life: Part 1

Some of the drudgeries of daily life—grocery shopping, paying bills, vehicle issues—are pretty much the same regardless of where you live. But when the daily chores take place on an island, they’re framed by a backdrop that ranges from the beautiful to the bizarre.

As Bill and I are coming up on our 1-year rock anniversary, I thought it would be fun to share some of those backdrops with you. So here’s what daily life on an island (mostly) entails…

Traffic and vehicular issues are quite different on a rock

island Traffic Jam

Island traffic jams usually involve livestock rather than accidents or construction. Cows are the worst. They’re slower and take up more road space than goats or sheep.

BVI Driving

The hills can be brutal, not only on your calves, but also on your axles (if you’re a car).

Yep, I don’t think the wheel’s supposed to turn that far.

That’s just painful.

I think there’s supposed to be a solid connection here…

Jeep

Your own parking spot, no matter how tight, is one of the most sought-after perks in renting a house or apartment. Second only to electricity (and more reliable).

BVI Dodgy Driving

But if it’s raining and you can’t find a place to park at the local grocery store, no problem. Just drive right in.

Virgin Gorda BVI Runway

Landing in Virgin Gorda is my favorite air travel experience of all time!

The wildlife ranges from scary to cute to just plain annoying

Don't be fooled by the lack of size perspective. This picture was taken from 12 feet away.

Don’t be fooled by the lack of size perspective. This picture was taken from 12 feet away.

Island Spider

A little smaller, but no less creepy. Thank goodness for a Shop Vac with a long hose.

IMG_0493

I have to admit, I have a fondness for the little lizards (locals call them wood slaves) that show up in my shower.

Lizard BVI

A rare look at the underside of a lizard. In an unusual turn of events, this one was on the *outside* of our screen.

Snorkeling BVI

These are my favorite fish. I really need to look up what they are.

Snorkeling BVI

I like these too, but only when viewed from outside the water.

Island rooster

Pretty. And pretty annoying. Someone please get these guys an alarm clock.

Christmas trees come in all shapes, sizes, and materials

Roundabout in Tortola, BVI

Who says Christmas trees have to be fir, spruce, or cedar?

Miniature Wooden Christmas Tree

My sister sent me this small, wooden tree (originally from Germany!) because, as she so poignantly put it, “Everyone needs a Christmas tree.”

Airplane bottle Christmas tree

Even the local bar has a Christmas tree. Drift wood with airplane bottle ornaments – perfect!

IMG_0972

Snow-covered tree. Wishful thinking, island style.

Next up: pets, tourists, and scenes from a local bar!

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.