A Travellerspoint blog

January 2014

The BVIs, Part 1: BBQ, Boulders, and Blacklists

When your last tropical vacation involved unimaginable horrors like low water pressure and plastic wine glasses and a boat nicknamed "The Divorcinator," the last thing you want on your next vacation is to rough it. On your next vacation, you want to be pampered. You want all of the high-end luxuries you missed on your last trip, like electricity and real silverware and hot water. And you most definitely want someone else to drive the boat.

We found all that and more on our recent trip to the British Virgin Islands.

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Now, I know that most folks who frequent the BVIs are hardy souls who live aboard their sailboats and take quick Navy showers and don't own hair dryers. And to them I say, you have my utmost respect. I, too, have lived as one with nature -- on our last vacation, for example, there was a large spider in our house that made it impossible to get to the ironing board -- and I know that it takes a special kind of person to spend a week or two peeing in what amounts to a bouncing broom closet.

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Our ten days of soaking up the modern conveniences sunshine began after a short direct flight from New York, when we arrived in St. Thomas, hopped the ferry over to Tortola, picked up our 4-wheel-drive, buckled ourselves in, and wedged our overstuffed luggage in place to serve as makeshift airbags.

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That's because driving on Tortola is not for the faint of heart, or the fearful of heights, or the lover of life. Imagine that you're in the front car on a roller coaster. You approach the first steep incline and the coaster begins its ascent, inching its way up, up, up, until it's almost at the top, and then that dreaded clicking sound slows to a excruciating pace. Click . . . click . . . . . click . . . . . . And then comes that final lone click, and for one terrifying heartbeat there's complete silence.

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The front car of the coaster peeks hesitantly over the edge of that first drop, and then, with an audible whoosh, the car suddenly plummets over the edge at breakneck speed, only to barrel full-tilt up the next incline, repeating the cycle until your eyes are watering, your stomach is flip-flopping, and your white knuckles have to be pried from the safety bar.

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Now, throw in a dirt track studded with potholes and rocks; switchbacks set at absurdly steep angles; obstacles like goats, chickens, sinkholes, and hitchhikers; and a distracting postcard view around every turn, and you have a good idea of what it's like to drive on Tortola.

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I realize this might sound daunting, but it's actually not all bad. For example, unlike on most other Caribbean islands, on Tortola you don't need to worry about remembering to drive on the left. That's because everyone drives straight down the middle of the road, swerving into their proper lane only at the last possible second, involving you in an unwitting game of chicken every time you leave the house.

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And so it was with some trepidation that we double-checked our seat belts and followed the property manager up a one-lane burro path of rocks and rut and dizzying precipices to the house we'd rented for our stay, the charming Peach Cottage, which rewarded us with breathtaking views of St. John and the islands beyond.

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The house also came with a sweet little cat named Bella. We quickly developed a mutually beneficial relationship, like those tiny birds that eat the bugs off hippos: I rubbed her belly and scratched her ears, and she kept the scarier tropical creatures that would have otherwise invaded our house at bay.

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After getting acquainted with the house, we ran the route from the main road to the house one more time in the waning daylight to make sure we'd be able to find our way back at night -- left at the superette with the stray dogs outside; right at the crumbling yellow retaining wall; left at the house with the cow tied up in the front yard -- and then settled in to watch the sunset.

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Soon we were hungry, and it was time to head out for some dinner. We'd driven on Tortola before, but our skills were rusty, so what better way to sharpen them up than with a first-night drive up and over the mountain . . . in the rain? Sure, that sounds stupid, but when Myett's BBQ ribs are at stake, you'd duct-tape yourself to a blind, three-legged mule to get there.

Angel has been teasing me for years about our last visit to Myett's, where I'd ordered the chicken because I liked the sound of their spiced-rum-and-tamarind BBQ sauce. Now, I am not a big fan of chicken. Not because it's dry (which it is), or because it's boring (which it is), but because it is often full of unpleasant surprises. Nobody ever finds a random vein or tendon in a bowl of spaghetti, but in a chicken breast? It's like a gristle-y pinata.

But that BBQ sauce at Myett's sounded so good that I ordered the chicken. A half-chicken, replete with bones and tendons and veins and those rubbery joint-socket things and god knows what else.

But oh, that sauce was good. It was so good that, like a crazed piranha, I proceeded to pick that poor little half-carcass completely clean, as Angel looked on in stunned silence. I'd never done anything remotely like that before, and I've certainly never picked a chicken clean since, all of which is a very long-winded way of explaining that Myett's serves some damn fine BBQ sauce.

And so we piled into the car and headed off to Cane Garden Bay. All was going fine until the we reached the last switchback, a hairpin turn set on an angle so steep that it's impossible to see the oncoming traffic, even at night. The only way to take the curve is by going wide, into the oncoming lane.

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Me, I'd have closed my eyes and crossed my fingers and taken the turn wide. But Angel is a rule-follower. He always does the right thing, even when the right thing means almost certain death. And so he stayed in his own lane. But the angle of the switchback was just too steep; the turning radius too narrow. The car began to lose its grip on the road, and we began to slide back down the mountain . . . on our backs . . . in the rain . . . without a guard rail.

Even roller coasters don't usually do that.

Eventually we made it to Myett's, where we devoured tamarind ribs and coconut polenta and nerve-calming cocktails, and Angel inquired about a long-term rental so he wouldn't have to drive back up and over the mountain.

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Of course we did make it back, and were greeted at the house by creatures great and small.

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Very small.

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Obviously I'm getting the short end of the stick in this deal with the cat.

The next day we awoke to a glorious view.

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And if we hadn't already planned a day trip to Virgin Gorda, we'd probably still be lazing around in that bed. But one of the things we like best about the BVIs is its generally efficient ferry system (even if most of the schedules do require you to get out of bed before noon). Some of the ferries are less, um, sea-worthy-looking than others, but for the most part they are fast, on-time, and inexpensive. Best of all, the ferry boats are typically operated by people who know how to drive them and dock them and avoid grounding them, which was a nice change for us. Ahem.

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Upon arrival in Virgin Gorda we picked up the car we'd rented for the day, which came with an air freshener that probably doesn't sell too well north of the Mason-Dixon line.

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It also came with a set of keys, which Angel proceeded to confuse with our other set of keys . . . for our rental vehicle back on Tortola. Now, I understand that normal people do stuff like this all the time. But in the nearly 20 years that I have known Angel, he has never so much as forgotten his keys, or temporarily misplaced them, or lost a pair of gloves, or left an umbrella behind at a restaurant. Do you know what it's like to live with someone who has never experienced a Senior Moment, ever???

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It is maddening.

Thus it is with no small amount of glee that I tell you that Angel spent a good 15 minutes trying the (wrong) keys over and over and wondering how he'd locked himself out of a car that had been working fine when we picked it up just five minutes earlier. Eventually he gave up and used the phone at the Top of the Baths to call the rental company and inform them about the "faulty" keys; later, of course, he had to call them again once he figured out his mistake.

I am not ashamed to admit that watching him make that phone call was the highlight of this vacation, if not this year.

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Once my 15 minutes of glory were up, our first stop was to re-visit the Baths. We hadn't been there in about six years, and back then Angel had to convince me that checking out a bunch of boulders was a worthwhile way to spend a day. I had been decidedly unimpressed by the time we reached the end of the path, not realizing that we hadn't even started yet, and that the "cave" is where the Baths really begin.

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And so we slipped on our water shoes (the Baths are no place for any footwear that is not water-friendly and preferably equipped with suction cups on the soles) and took that same route this time around, following the narrow path down to the beach and the entrance to the cave.

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The last time we were here, we didn't know much about the Baths, so we'd asked our elderly taxi driver, and his equally ancient buddy who'd come along for the ride, exactly how the boulders at the Baths had ended up there, expecting to hear something about volcanoes or landslides or shifting tectonic plates. Instead, both men had looked at each other, then replied with the exact same answer, at the exact same moment: "Creation." And the truth is, whether you believe in a higher power or not, it's easy to believe that the island's volcanic origins only partly explain how these massive granite boulders came to be strewn on the beach and balanced precariously on top of one another, as if tossed by the hand of a giant.

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We spent the next two hours picking our way among the boulders, squeezing and shimmying and sliding our way along, all the while marveling at their immense size and ethereal beauty.

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Occasionally it wasn't clear which way we should go, but there were a few hints.

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Before our visit, I'd seen a review online which said that the Baths were no place for anyone over 40, which cracked me up. Then I climbed these 85 flights of stairs and cursed my own hubris.

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The path ends at the beach, which on this overcast day lent an eerie grey tinge to the mossy, water-worn boulders.

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After a short rest and a quick swim, it was time to head back.

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Afterwards, we rewarded ourselves for not tearing our ACLs in the face of nearly insurmountable odds with a couple of frozen drinks at Top of the Baths.

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Indeed, we were enjoying ourselves so much that it wasn't until 11:37 that I suddenly remembered that I'd made reservations for lunch at Little Dix Bay . . . at 11:30. This couldn't be happening! It was like one of those dreams where you show up for your final exam 3 hours late. You see, I am a planner with a capital P. I am organized and on time. I never miss an appointment (and never, ever miss a meal), and if I'm going to be late, I call. Things don't just slip my mind. And yet, the reservation at Little Dix had done just that, leaving me embarrassed and wondering if forgetting a lunch reservation is the first step toward forgetting that your pants should stop at your waist, not your ribcage, and that sandals should be worn sans socks.

And so I urged Angel to leadfoot it over to Little Dix, while he reminded me that we were on island time, and reassured me that they probably wouldn't notice if we were an entire hour late, let alone 10 minutes. He's probably right, I told myself. Heck, they probably never even put me in the reservation book . . . if they even have one, that is. We made a quick pit stop for directions to avoid the possibility of misreading our map, and were instructed to turn "at the gap," which (we eventually determined) refers not to the place where you buy khakis but to the place where you can next make a right or left turn.

Luckily the resort wasn't far, and in short order we found ourselves at the Little Dix security gate. We explained that we were here for lunch. And then the security guard uttered the most humiliating words I have ever heard.

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"Oh," she said, eyeing a Log of Latecomers apparently inscribed with my name, social security number, and date of birth. "You're the 11:30 people."

"You're the 11:30 people"?!? I was mortified. I slunk down in my seat so she couldn't get a good look at me and mumbled something about island time and the Gap. She radioed ahead to the restaurant and repeated the damning words -- "The 11:30 people are here!" -- motioning us through the gate and making some kind of notation in the Log that I am sure will follow me around for the rest of my life, like a blacklist for lollygaggers.

We parked the car, raced down the winding path, and arrived sweaty and panting . . .

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. . . to a completely empty restaurant.

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That's right: They were expecting the 11:30 people . . . because we were the only people.

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By this time I was so stressed out that despite the Beach Grill's lovely menu of grilled fish and salads and other island fare, I went straight for the pepperoni pizza. Nothing says "It's okay to be 12 minutes late" like extra cheese.

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Once you make the decision to eat an entire pepperoni pizza for lunch, you might as well have a bowl of homemade potato chips and a Bailey's banana colada, too.

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We also had a Planter's punch, a bowl of gazpacho, the grilled fish, and some of the best tuna tartare I have ever had. Which didn't work out too well for Angel, since he's the one who ordered it.

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At least I think he was. You know what they say: Once you hit 40, no more climbing ladders for you, or remembering who ate what for lunch.

If you can even remember to show up, that is.
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The next day was Christmas, and it was the worst one since that year I received a pink bottle labeled "toilet water" and realized that Santa really was keeping a list. Click here for Part 2, or click here to subscribe and you'll be the first to know when a new post goes up!

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Posted by TraceyG 06:27 Archived in British Virgin Islands Tagged tortola Comments (15)

The BVIs, Part 2: We're Just a Couple of Swingers

Back on Virgin Gorda, during a day trip in which we locked ourselves out of our car, defied the AARP by climbing a bunch of ladders at the Baths, ended up on a blacklist for latecomers at Little Dix Bay, and then proceeded to eat their restaurant out of all its pepperoni, potato chips, and rum, we were now in something of a food coma. And so our waitress suggested that we take a look around the property and told us to feel free to relax on the beach loungers or take a swim.

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That was our first inkling that Little Dix is truly someplace special. Not only is the service impeccable, but the staff there truly cares, and the pride that showed on the faces of everyone we encountered -- from the gardeners to the waitstaff to the shuttle drivers -- was lovely to see, particularly in a part of the world that often gets a bad rap for service. "Have you seen the main dining room?" they asked, beaming. "What about the pool?" "Oh, but you must visit our spa before you leave!" they urged us, their eyes lighting up. It wasn't a sales pitch. It wasn't formal, forced politeness. It was a warm, welcoming embrace, and we quickly realized that Little Dix treated a couple of day-tripping interlopers better than some of the high-end resorts we've actually stayed at.

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And so we checked out the beach and the grounds . . .

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and the main dining room . . .

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and the pool . . .

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. . . and, to AmEx's great delight, the well-stocked gift shop.

Later, we hopped in one of the complimentary golf cart shuttles that roam the resort -- the main stop for which is at "deh big tree" -- and climbed the hill up to Sense, the spa at Little Dix that we'd heard so much about. There, we were greeted with our choice of lemon or orange water and given free reign to explore at our leisure.

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If you actually climb the dozens of near-vertical steps up to this platform, yoga itself would seem to be overkill.

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Besides, you will be too busy taking in the incredible view to worry about perfecting your downward dog.

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Once we descended from the yoga platform, we made our way past the infinity pool to a steep stone path that leads to a secluded, secret beach.

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Obviously we had no choice but to act out the surf scene in "From Here to Eternity" here.

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It was no small task to pry ourselves away from the beauty of Little Dix, particularly since we were adapting quite nicely to being treated like visiting royalty, but eventually we made our way over to Coco Maya, a chic new spot on the beach known for its sleek decor and sexy cocktails.

Coco Maya was like a big, beachy showroom for all my favorite things: Edison bulbs, fire pits, cushy couches, ivy walls, beds-for-two on the beach, and booze.

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And just when I thought that I couldn't be any more in love with this place, I saw this at the end of the bar.

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Oh, how I loved that swing. I loved it the way I love the corner booth in a cozy bistro, or the window seat on an airplane, or any seat on the subway.

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That day's special was a mango daiquiri, which was made simply and from scratch, with freshly cubed mangoes, rum, and a pinch of sugar, as opposed to the cloying, sugary syrup that so many other daiquiris are made from. For his part, Angel went with the Passion Martini, which was made with puréed passion fruit, raspberry vodka, guava, and a bit of chili, this last ingredient both adding some kick and ensuring that Angel got a drink all to himself for once.

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Don't have too many cocktails, though, or you might get confused about which bathroom to use.

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Out back, Coco Maya has a cool "game room," with more couches and a couple of dart boards nestled among the boulders.

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There was a small playground, too, because we all know how well children mix with alcohol and flying darts.

The day's forecast had called for an 80% chance of rain, and sure enough, by late afternoon, the clouds began to roll in in earnest. As we swung and sipped, the sky darkened to a charcoal grey, and soon it was raining heavily.

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Angel likes to tell the story about how one Labor Day in Cape May, I was so determined to soak up the last few hours of summer sun that I stubbornly refused to leave the beach, despite the day's gale-force winds. He tried to stick it out with me but finally, his mouth full of sand and his eyes full of grit, he had no choice but to leave me there. When he returned a few hours later, only the edge of my blanket, the corner of my magazine, and a few strands of blonde hair were visible beneath a wind-swept, Tracey-shaped mound of sand.

That was me with that swing as soon as it started to rain. I knew that if I didn't move, I was going to get soaked. I knew I would be cold and damp later, particularly on the air-conditioned ferry (and that somehow it would be Angel's fault). And I knew from experience that running around in wet flip-flops is the safety equivalent of running around with both legs stuffed into one pant leg. But I also knew that I had the best damn bar seat in the universe, and no tropical depression was going to get me to move.

Eventually, though, the rain became so heavy that I knew we'd better make a run for the car before it floated away.

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Although I felt bad for this driver, I was immensely relieved that that tree didn't land on our car. After the false-alarm calls to the rental company about the keys earlier that day, a call informing them that we could not return the car because there was a tree on top of it surely would have landed me on yet another blacklist.

That night marked the first of three reservations I'd made back on Tortola at The Dove, a tiny jewel-box of a restaurant housed inside an historic West Indian cottage near the waterfront in Road Town.

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I guess the fact that I started emailing them back in September and made three reservations over the course of a nine-night visit made an impression, because when I gave the hostess my last name she exclaimed, "Oh, you're Tracey! We've been expecting you!" Which translates to, "We doubled our usual food order this week, just to be safe."

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The Dove had been one of the highlights of our trip six years ago, and we were delighted to find that virtually nothing had changed since our last visit: The restaurant was still cozy and candlelit, with warm red walls, comfy banquettes strewn with satin pillows, and a glimmering chandelier.

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Since our last visit, however, they've added a funky outdoor patio, the centerpiece of which is a mango tree aglow in flickering candles, along with a comfortable lounge area for nibbling appetizers and sipping Champagne. That's right, Champagne. From France. I told you this trip was going to be luxurious, n'est-ce pas?

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For dinner that evening, we each started with a bowl of spicy coconut lobster bisque with cumin-roasted almonds, cilantro, and lime creme fraiche, followed by the seafood melange for Angel, which was overflowing with cod, clams, shrimp, scallops, squid, and chorizo, and swimming in a rich, Chardonnay-and-tomato broth perfumed with saffron.

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I decided on the mushroom and leek risotto, which had a lovely bit of "crunch" to it thanks to a celery-walnut ragout . . . and a fried egg yolk on top. Those delicious little cholesterol bombs ought to come with a warning: Don't try this at home . . . unless your life insurance is up-to-date.

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Throw in an icy bottle of Sancerre with just enough left after dinner for a nightcap outside on the patio, and The Dove easily held on to its place at the top of our must-do dining list in Tortola.

But really, they had me at fried egg yolks.

The next day was Christmas. Although we had agreed not to bring any gifts with us to save room for more important stuff in our luggage, like hair dryers and ironing boards, Angel not only broke our agreement, but got me one of the best Christmas presents of all time. You see, my sister Trina has exquisite taste, particularly with respect to home décor and apparel. Over the years I have been so enamored of various items in her possession – everything from candleholders and beach cover-ups to dishtowels, sweaters, and even a reclaimed radiator cover that she cleverly refurbished – that she frequently jokes that she hides all of her best stuff when I come around, for fear that I will “stamp” it with my name and take it home with me. And so, “Quick, hide that before Tracey gets her stamper!” is as common a phrase when I am around as, “Wait, you ate all of it?”

Which is why Angel got me this for Christmas.

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Forget that old saw about a good spouse being one who knows everything about you and likes you anyway. What you really want is a spouse who not only tolerates your worst habits, but actually facilitates them.

After a quick swim and a short visit with the sleepy Bella, it was time to begin the day.

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Little did we know that it would end in a hail of obscenities and (squirt) gun fire.
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CLICK HERE to read Part 3!

Posted by TraceyG 06:22 Archived in British Virgin Islands Tagged virgin_gorda Comments (9)

The BVIs, Part 3: Merry Christmas, Ya Filthy Animal

It was now Christmas Day, and I'd naturally made our lunch plans well in advance. I decided on the Lambert Beach Resort, an out-of-the-way property at the far eastern end of Tortola, and through a series of emails I was assured that they were most definitely open for lunch on Christmas and that no reservation was necessary and that they looked forward to seeing us. And so on Christmas morning we set off for the other end of the island, taking the longer but more scenic Ridge Road, which runs along the island's mountainous spine.

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For the first hour or so, we ascended higher and higher up the mountain, stopping frequently for photos. Although the day was hazy, the views became more and more spectacular.

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Along the way we encountered donkeys, cows, and other animals, almost none of whom were happy to be having their photo taken . . . and were not shy about saying so.

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Well, except this guy. Then again, if he knew how many of his brethren I've gobbled up over the years, he probably would've told me to get lost, too.

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The route soon became slow and arduous, repeatedly requiring us to scale the mountain via a series of angled switchbacks; slowly and carefully descend back down; then climb right back up again in order to go . . . straight ahead.

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By the second hour, we both had to pee and were getting hungry.

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As we neared the three-hour mark, I was kicking myself for not packing a jar of emergency peanut butter.

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Finally, a Christmas miracle -- a sign directing us to Lambert Beach Resort! We attempted to gun the engine up the final series of steep hills -- the Tortolan equivalent of a marathoner crawling across the finish line and then promptly throwing up -- and, at long last, we pulled into the parking lot at Lambert Beach Resort, nearly three hours after we'd left the house. We were tired, hungry, and in urgent need of both a bathroom and a cocktail.

But both of those could wait because . . . kittens!!!

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Eventually I tore myself away and we made our way over to the restaurant.

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The restaurant was completely empty. I don't just mean that the 11:30 people never showed. I mean empty: No table settings. No menus. No bottles or glassware behind the bar.

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And no people, save for a lone woman sitting at one of the tables using her computer. She gamely explained that the waitstaff had all gone home and the chef was at the beach, and therefore there hadn't been any food or drink at the resort for the past several days.

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She also genially offered to make us sandwiches in her room, which we politely declined (though not without some regret on my part). Later, while we explained to the disinterested woman from the front desk that this whole fiasco was completely unacceptable, Sandwich Lady helpfully piped up, "Oh, you should have been here last year. It was even worse!"

(Wait a minute. You spent last year's vacation at a resort with no food or drinks, and then you came BACK the following year?!?! I have some swampland in Florida that we should talk about.)

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Now, if you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I like to eat. And I eat way more, and way more often, than the average person. And so, when it finally became clear that we had driven almost three hours LITERALLY UPHILL BOTH WAYS to get to Lambert Beach Resort for lunch, and that there was not actually going to be any lunch, well . . . I lost it. And it is particularly fitting that I lost it on Christmas Day, because the only way to explain what happened next is to use an example from one of the most famous Christmas movies of all time, "A Christmas Story." You know the scene: Young Ralphie, having been tormented for weeks by the neighborhood bully Scut Farkus, finally snaps and beats the living crap out of him, all while uttering a string of unmentionable curse words. In a voice-over, adult Ralphie explains: "I have since heard of people under extreme duress speaking in strange tongues. I became conscious that a steady torrent of obscenities and swearing of all kinds was pouring out of me as I screamed."

There were no beatings that day at the Lambert Beach Resort -- it was Christmas, after all -- but there was most certainly a steady torrent of obscenities and swearing of all kinds when I found out that I wasn't going to get my lunch.

(I wish I could say that we jumped in the car, revved the engine, and left skid marks on our way out of there, but the 90-degree hill we had to chug up to leave the parking lot didn't really allow for a dramatic exit. It was like trying to stomp out of a tent.)

After about another hour of driving, we made a fortuitous wrong turn in Road Town and ended up at the Village Cay Marina, a spot that we both vaguely remembered from six years ago as the site where we crashed a wedding after one too many bottles of wine at The Dove.

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Thank you, Village Cay, for operating a restaurant with actual food. Your chicken fingers were juicy and tender, your shrimp wrap was overstuffed and tasty, and I am grateful that your bar was open so I did not have to go all "Roadhouse" on you.

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Right nearby is the quaint and colorful Crafts Alive outdoor market, where I put that new stamper of mine to good use.

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Back at Peach Cottage, we took a quick nap, then got ready for our dinner reservation at the Sugar Mill Hotel, whose lovely restaurant is housed in a romantic 17th century sugar mill with the original stone walls and beamed ceilings.

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The Sugar Mill was one of several restaurants we visited on this trip that indulged us in the charming British tradition of the "Christmas Cracker," a brightly colored tube that's twisted at both ends. The cracker makes a popping sound when pulled apart, and inside you'll typically find a small token gift, a joke, and (best of all!) a shiny paper crown. We'd received utilitarian gifts like a tape measure and a shoe horn in the crackers at other restaurants, but the Sugar Mill must have known I was coming, because Angel received a mood fish and I received . . . a miniature pink squirt gun!!! You probably don't need a mood fish to guess Angel's mood from that moment on.

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Dinner was fantastic, with pumpkin-and-black-bean soup for Angel, tuna tartare for me, and an un-ordered salad course for both of us. Extra food: Merry Christmas to me!

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Angel barely even looked at the menu before deciding on the traditional turkey dinner, while I settled on the lobster medallions with risotto.

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We each ordered the apple pie for dessert, which was the only disappointing note of the meal because it was served cold. So we took it to go, warmed it up back at the house, and ate it in bed.

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That's one way to salvage Lunchless Christmas.
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Next up, a day trip to Jost Van Dyke, where the beaches will be beautiful, the Painkillers will be plentiful, and the restaurant will be open . . . or "Boxing Day" will take on a whole new meaning.

Posted by TraceyG 06:36 Archived in British Virgin Islands Comments (5)

The BVIs, Part 4: A Soggy, Stress-Free Day

The day after the worst Christmas since 1978, when I accidentally glued my eye shut with the sticky remnants of a chocolate-covered cherry, we hopped a ferry to Jost Van Dyke, where I planned to spend the entire day eating cheeseburgers to make up for missing lunch the day before.

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I even matched my outfit to the ferry for good measure.

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We enjoyed the short ride over to Jost, taking in the sights along the way.

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Soon we arrived at the ferry dock at Great Harbor.

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That's where we met up with taxi driver Gerald Chinnery, who kindly stopped the car so I could take a few photos on our way over to White Bay. "You think I'm stopping for you," he quipped as we admired the stunning view, "but really, I'm stopping for me!"

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Soon we found ourselves at White Bay, where we had arrived at the Soggy Dollar bar early enough to claim the best chairs (a pair of slouchy Adirondacks) on the best part of the beach (as far away from everyone else as possible, without being accused of stealing said chairs).

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Up at the bar, Mic whipped up a batch of Painkillers, grated fresh nutmeg over them, and mugged for the camera.

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On our last visit to Soggy Dollar, we'd eaten lunch on the boat and came ashore just long enough to have a round or two of Painkillers and then swim back to the boat. That was also enough time for me to sniff out the charcoal-grilled cheeseburgers they were serving out back, which I have naturally been thinking about ever since. And so when it came time for lunch this time around, Soggy Dollar had the unenviable task of making up for Lunchless Christmas and living up to the cheeseburger that I'd been dreaming about for the past six years.

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I am happy to report that it rose admirably to the occasion, serving up a great burger, more fries than we could eat, and the best pasta salad you're likely to find anywhere, coated as it is in a creamy, garlicky Parmesan cheese dressing.

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After lunch, it was back to our chairs for more Painkillers (or, in my case, Banana Bombers) and some more soak time.

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Later that afternoon we decided to take a walk over to Ivan's Stress-Free bar, which entailed a short walk down the beach, then up and over a small rocky outcropping, with helpful signs to guide the way.

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Ivan's is at the quiet end of White Bay, away from the crowds at Soggy Dollar.

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We took a swim, chatted with Ivan, and ordered up a round of rum punches, but His Highness the Rum Connoisseur snubbed it after noticing that it was made with Captain Morgan's instead of a locally-made rum. (I harbor no such pretensions when it comes to booze and happily drank them both.)

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I like to think that instead of those stupid team-building exercises where one person falls backwards and the team catches him, Brenda Davis and the good folks at Starkist get bombed on Painkillers, then play strip poker and naked Twister before leaving their name badges at the scene of the crime.

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Too soon, it was time for Gerald to pick us up and return us to the ferry dock. We'd learned that morning that he was currently enjoying a long visit with his baby granddaughter, Arianna, and I'd half-jokingly suggested that he bring her along when he came back to pick us up, so we could meet her.

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I guess I should have clarified that he should bring her in a car seat.

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On the ferry ride back to Tortola, I had the good fortune to be seated next to Mic from Soggy Dollar. "Let me get this straight," I teased. "The most famous bartender on Jost Van Dyke actually lives on Tortola???" Mic responded with some delicate euphemisms about cocks and henhouses to explain that he's slept with everyone on Jost, and therefore had no choice but to move to Tortola.

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Which I suppose is the Caribbean equivalent of Harry having to move back to New Jersey, because he's slept with everyone in New York.

As we approached Tortola, we noted the huge black cloud affixed to its highest point, and patted ourselves on the back for having had the good sense to spend the day on sunny Jost.

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But by the time we arrived back at the house, happily the cloud had moved on, and we were able to share some wine on the patio as the sun sunk below the horizon.

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We toasted to our enjoyable day -- "Here's to lunch! With food!" -- then headed back over to The Dove for dinner.

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By now we were on our second reservation in three days, so we were treated to the best table in the house: a cozy banquette in the tiny, private "porch" room adjacent to the main dining room.

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Over the past two days I'd eaten just three measly meals, and scurvy or rickets or whatever was starting to set in. I listened eagerly as our waitress described the specials.

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And then I ordered the meatloaf. Or, more specifically, the sage meatloaf en croute with walnut Merlot gravy.

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Which was served in a puff pastry crust.

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And stuffed with foie gras.

And pork belly.

And is also known as "how to out-heart-attack a fried egg yolk."

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Now, you might have noticed that this meatloaf was preceded by a large cheeseburger earlier that day at lunch. And there is a very good reason for that. It begins with that other time that I almost starved to death, during the East Coast blackout of 2003. I had just graduated from law school, and my graduation present from Angel was six weeks at a rented beach house in the Hamptons, at which I would get to be gloriously alone Monday through Friday while he was at work back in the city. One Thursday afternoon I picked up 2 lbs. of ground beef at the grocery, planning to grill a burger or two for myself that evening and have the rest on Friday night when Angel arrived. As soon as I got home, however, I realized that the power was out, along with my cell phone service, and when neither had returned after a few hours, I started to panic. Was I going to have to spend the night here in the pitch dark, alone? I wouldn’t have a stove, or a refrigerator, and all that meat was going to go bad! Most importantly, how long would it be before I’d get to eat again?!? In my ensuing panic, I formed all 2 lbs. of that ground beef into burgers and grilled them up on the gas grill outside. . . and then proceeded to eat every. single. one. of them. Later, through tears of laughter, Angel asked me, “But why didn’t you just grill them and put them in the fridge? They would have stayed cool overnight, and then you’d have had some cooked burgers to reheat on the grill the next day.”

I'll tell you why. Because, in the heat of the moment, it just never occurred to me to ration them out. All I knew was that the power was out and it wasn't coming back on and god only knew when I might get to eat again. And so I ate two pounds of ground beef in one sitting . . . just in case.

Which also explains why I ordered that meatloaf/insurance policy at The Dove.

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For his part, Angel started with the tuna ceviche, followed by the ribeye in a black peppercorn brandy sauce that came with a ridiculously good spinach, oyster, prosciutto, and potato mash. Prosciutto: That's how you get people to eat their vegetables.

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One of the things we noticed about the food at The Dove was that each entree was like its own little tasting menu. So instead of serving, say, a slow-roasted chicken breast with sweet potatoes, The Dove serves a slow-roasted chicken breast with "cinnamon ginger rub / cherry orange glaze / carrot / fennel / apple braised cabbage / sweet potato bacon apple hash / green bean parmesan salad / mustard vinaigrette." Which was just fine with us, though we did worry that this place was going to go bankrupt buying ingredients if it served one more New Zealand rack of lamb with "cocoa chile rub / mint raisin chutney / fennel asparagus ragout / pear pistachio pumpernickel pudding / preserved lemon / red pepper arugula salad / sesame vinaigrette."

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The next day, we ventured up and over the mountain again, this time lured by the promise of a bottle of Sebastian's rum.

You might be wondering why I didn't just take over the driving at that point. I tried to, but Angel's insistence that I stay in my own lane and yield to oncoming drivers and stuff like that took all the fun out of it. I mean, why apply the brakes when you're barrelling down a hill, when you need the momentum to get back up the next one anyway?

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Anyway, Sebastian's may not be the the best rum, or the strongest, or the most famous, but in a world where virtually anything you desire can be ordered online and delivered directly to your door, usually overnight, a rum that can only be purchased in person, and only at Sebastian's, is way too much catnip for spoiled New Yorkers like us to ignore. Plus, we really like it.

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And we love Sebastian's rotis, which are soft and puffy on the outside and filled with tender, white-meat curried chicken, diced potatoes, and carrots on the inside.

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After lunch we took a ride over to Long Bay and Smuggler's Cove, checked out the beach bars, and then headed back to the pool to laze the afternoon away.

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Soon it was time to eat again, so that evening we headed over to Bananakeet.

To watch the sunset.

To take in the panoramic view.

For free shots.

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Take a tip here, Key West. Clapping for the sunset is for amateurs.

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We decided to stick with the fresh seafood at Bananakeet, which included an Asian-accented scallop dish for Angel and the coconut-rum shrimp for me. Both were delicious.

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The next morning, we started the day with a little shopping at Soper's Hole before lunch.

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Soper's Hole, also known as the West End, is home to a full-service marina, customs house, provisioning market, and nearly a dozen charming shops, including Latitude 18, Arawak Surf, and the Pusser's Company Store.

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Of course, my favorite is the one that sells food: Sunny Caribee, a spice shop selling everything from hot sauces and marinades to curries and West Indian hangover cures.

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After snatching up everything in sight, including t-shirts, beach cover-ups, spices, and rum, we headed over to Cruzin's for lunch. I had heard great things about the food here, and we were excited to give this place a try, but I cannot deny that I was secretly somewhat relieved to find that it was closed when we arrived for lunch, seeing as how the surrounding area reminded me of an old episode of "Sanford & Son." In addition, it had begun to rain, so we jumped in the car and headed back over the mountain in hopes of seeing the sun. Lacking a backup plan, we took the easy way out and ended up back at Soper's Hole and Pusser's.

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There, we started with a round of Painkillers served in tin cups to keep them nicely chilled.

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Those were followed by an order of the bang-bang shrimp, and then fish and lobster sandwiches that were as good as you might expect a place that primarily sells rum.

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In short order the sun returned, so we headed back to Peach Cottage, where we lounged in the sun, immersed ourselves in our books, and took refreshing dips in the pool while sipping on frozen pina coladas with lots of fresh nutmeg.

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Angel and I struck a deal: As long as he continued to bring me drinks, I resolved to put my new squirt gun away for the afternoon.

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Marriage, it's all about compromise.
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Click here to read Part 5!

Posted by TraceyG 16:57 Archived in British Virgin Islands Comments (6)

The BVIs, Part 5: Please, Sir, I Want Some More

On Sunday evening we decided to relax at the house with some pina coladas before heading out for the evening.

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I'd made reservations for the Elm Beach BBQ that evening, which in island-speak means that I received an email from Steve stating that he'd "let the girls know that you are coming."

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Of course, once we arrived "the girls" had no idea what I was talking about and were loath to seat us since a few large groups were supposedly on their way. But after Lunchless Christmas at Lambert Beach Resort, I was in no mood for another mealtime bait-and-switch. One look at my face must have made it clear that I had no intention of leaving without some ribs, even if one of those large groups had to eat their ribs sitting in their car, because in short order we were seated at a nice, large table right in front of the band.

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Do you remember that scene in "Jurassic Park" when they lower that cow into the velociraptors' paddock using a sling, and after some thrashing about in the bushes, all that's left of the cow is some bones and the shredded sling? That was me and Angel with Elm Beach Bar's fantastic BBQ ribs.

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Soon the Elmtones got going, and everyone made their way out to the dance floor. Some more reluctantly than others.

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Sure, this guy is glaring at me now, but like so many others before him, by the end of the night he will absolutely insist upon taking a blurry photo of me and Angel, while I give him an uneasy smile that pleads, Please don't drop my camera.

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The next day we decided to take a day trip over to Anegada, partly because we didn’t make it there on our last trip to the BVIs, and partly because Anegada is low, flat, scrubby, dotted with salt ponds, and composed of coral and limestone . . . just like our beloved Anguilla. And so we boarded the ferry at the ungodly hour of 6:45 a.m. and set off through the early morning gloom for, um, Aneguilla.

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After a quick stop in Virgin Gorda, the ferry continued on its way, the sun made an appearance, and soon we were docking at Setting Point, the main harbor on Anegada.

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After a quick pit stop, we decided to make the short walk over to Neptune’s for a quick breakfast, not because we were particularly hungry but because we had heard raves about Pam’s cinnamon rolls, and deciding to skip cinnamon rolls because you’re not hungry is like deciding to skip dinner because you ate yesterday.

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Soon the adorable Neptune's came into view, and Angel snagged the last waterfront table while I went inside to choose our cinnamon roll.

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Unfortunately, we must have arrived on off day, because although we could tell that these cinnamon buns are probably delicious when freshly baked, the one we got was clearly a day old. What a waste of 5 lbs. of butter.

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After breakfast we hitched a ride with local taxi driver Jerry, who was friendly and knowledgeable and knew all the best cow-watching spots.

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As we bounced along I worried that Jerry's rickety van might shake apart, held together as it was with seemingly nothing more than spit and glue.

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Literally.

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A short ride later and we found ourselves at Cow Wreck Beach, which on this particular day was so windy that it was all we could do to remain upright, let alone sane from the constant whistling in our ears.

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Look up "classic Caribbean beach bar" in the dictionary and there is undoubtedly a picture of Cow Wreck Beach Bar. Perched at the edge of a stunningly perfect sliver of beach, Cow Wreck features a brightly painted bar decorated with debris from the sea, a couple of good house drinks, a simple menu of grilled seafood, and an assortment of sun-faded Adirondack chairs nestled in the soft, white sand.

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Cow Wreck reportedly got its name when the Rocus, a ship carrying animal skeletons to a bonemeal factory in the U.S., wrecked on one of the many reefs encirling Anegada and the skeletons washed ashore.

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More likely, though, Cow Wreck just refers to the state you'll find yourself in after a couple of the bar's famous Cow Killers, which are made with light rum, dark rum, passion fruit juice, and ginger ale.

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Or whatever else you might feel like throwing in, since Cow Wreck functions as an honor bar at which patrons can simply slip behind the bar, whip up the concoction of their choice in the strength of their choice, and then keep track so they can let the bartender (who also doubles as the waitress, the cow-patty-on-the-beach remover, possibly the cook, and hopefully the hand-washer) know what they had.

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Indeed, these guys felt so at home at Cow Wreck that when they were bothered by some flies while eating at the bar, they headed out to the shed, grabbed a ladder, dragged it over to the bar, and proceeded to hang up a few baggies full of water to keep the flies away. (After all that effort, I didn't have to heart to tell them that a few drops of hot sauce around their plates would have worked just as well.)

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Did I mention that there's also a country club here? This vacation, it really was all about the finer things.

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Angel thinks God loves Painkillers, but I hear he's partial to the Cow Punch.

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Luckily the small dune here protected the restaurant from the incessant wind, and the flies were busy over at the bar, so we enjoyed a peaceful lunch while admiring the view.

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Of course we had to try the Anegada lobster. I stupidly ordered a half-lobster, which was tasty but disappointingly puny, while Angel decided to try the "Anegada-style lobster," which is made by sauteeing lobster meat with onions, peppers, and . . . ketchup. You can go ahead and read that again, but I doubt it is going to sound any more appetizing the second time around. Still, I should have known that anything made with ketchup -- even fresh lobster -- would be delicious, and in fact it was.

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We also had the lobster fritters, which did not contain any discernable lobster but were still good because fried dough.

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After lunch we decided to head over to Loblolly Bay in hopes that it would be less windy.

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It was not, but they did have a lovely assortment of plastic flamingos, and if forced to choose I think we both know that I will pick the kitschy lawn ornaments every time.

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We spent a little time in the water, a little time lounging in the sun, and a lot of time sipping pina coladas.

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And then, because the meat on that half-lobster I had at Cow Wreck could have fit inside a coin purse, and at the rate this trip was going, I couldn't be sure when or if I might ever get another meal, it was time for lunch . . . again.

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Two lunches in one day? Now that's what I call luxury.

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The sixth and final part of our BVI adventure is now posted! Come along as we wrap up our visit with hot dogs, hooch, and one very unfortunate frog.

Posted by TraceyG 05:19 Archived in British Virgin Islands Comments (5)

The BVIs, Part 6: Of Hot Dogs and Hooch

The next morning we headed over to Cane Garden Bay to check out the Callwood Distillery. Although no one knows exactly how old the distillery is, the stone and brick architecture suggests that the distillery, which uses sugarcane instead of the traditional molasses, dates back to the mid 1700s.

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We've tasted homemade hooch like this before on other islands, and if you have ever taken a sip of turpentine, then you have, too. And so we took the tour for the sole purpose of seeing the place and snapping some photos, and then we got the hell out of there before they could make us drink the stuff.

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Still, you have to respect a place that has its priorities straight.

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We had reservations around noon for the Pimm's Poolside Brunch at Bananakeet, which we expected to have Pimm's Cups and live music, but instead featured a rousing chorus of whooping children.

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We tuned them out with a couple of Bananakeet Bombers, then moved onto an Irie Omelet for Angel and the pesto flatbread for me, which unexpectedly came with pepperoni on top and was therefore almost as nice a surprise as a miniature pink squirt gun.

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After lunch we headed back down to Cane Garden Bay again, this time to visit the Green VI Glass Studio.

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The glass studio is Green VI's first project in the BVIs, which is intended to promote recycling, sustainability, and other environmental issues. The glass studio therefore makes all of its gorgeous, handmade items from recycled beer bottles collected from a local restaurant, and soon it will begin using their leftover cooking oil for power.

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The beer bottles are lovingly transformed by Greg, one of the resident glassblowers at Green VI, into dozens of works of art featuring sea turtles, palm trees, dolphins, and other motifs, all in a kaleidoscope of gorgeous colors that catch the light and sparkle in the sunshine.

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You might think you'd have to be crazy to get anywhere near a glass furnace in the Caribbean heat, but blowing glass in Siberia isn't all that different from blowing glass in the tropics, since the area around the furnace will typically reach 110° or so no matter where it's located. (The temperature inside the oven hovers around 2,400°.)

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Once the glass is sufficiently heated as to be pliable, the glassblower uses a variety of tools -- paddles, tweezers, shears, molds, and even, terrifyingly, balled-up newspapers -- to achieve the desired size and shape, and then sand can be added to provide depth of color.

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The glassblowing process is truly fascinating, and it would have been even more fun to watch if I could have stopped thinking for even one second about what would happen if that blob of molten glass accidentally plopped onto Greg's bare leg.

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The end result might just be worth it, though.

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The director at Green VI, Charlotte, was a wealth of information, and after I purchased one of Greg's stunning suncatchers for myself -- a dreamy tropical swirl of vibrant green and turquoise -- she kindly gifted me a second one (which I reluctantly gave to my sister, but only after carefully stamping the back with my new stamper in case I changed my mind later).

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Charlotte also explained that the gift bags are made from recycled clothing and fashioned into drawstring bags by a local woman who is 87 years old. Which makes sense, since anyone who gets to be 87 surely has decades' worth of old clothes lying around.

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After the glass, it was time for some gas, grass, or ass.

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At the Bomba Shack, that is.

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Although it looks to be held together with nothing more than spit and glue, the Bomba Shack is actually reported to have sustained only minimal damage during Hurricane Earl in 2010.

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Then again, who could tell?

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Last time we were on Tortola we attended Bomba's infamous and crowded Full Moon Party, where someone offered to sell us some "magic mushrooms" out of their car trunk.

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You know you have had too many Bomba Punches when your problem with that offer is not that those mushrooms could have been poisonous, but that they might not have been all that fresh, seeing as how they'd been sitting around in an airless trunk.

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That evening we had reservations at The Clubhouse on Frenchman's Cay, which we remembered and liked from its days as Oscar's.

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The setting here is lovely and, more importantly, the wine list is so large that it arrives in its own treasure chest.

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I started with the local pork shu mai with a spicy tamarind dipping sauce, while Angel went with the grilled shrimp and black bean gateau layered with cilantro cream cheese and plantains. Nothing says fancy like using a French word in place of the English one, unless that something is real silverware.

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As if all this luxury were not enough, Angel's fresh catch of the day -- local wahoo -- came with actual granola on top. I don't remember what it was made of or why it was there, but you can bet that the only place we saw any granola, savory or otherwise, on our last vacation was at home before we left for the airport.

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I went with the Veal Poelle, which was pan-roasted, topped with a caramelized shallot jus, and accompanied by mashed potatoes that, like my meatloaf earlier this week, were served in a puff pastry crust. You know what doesn't taste better when wrapped in a puff pastry crust? Absolutely nothing.

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I am not much of a dessert person, but one of the Clubhouse's offerings caught my eye: frozen key lime custard, which is really just gussied-up frozen key lime pie guts on a plate, and therefore one of my new favorite desserts of all time. Crust just takes up valuable stomach space, you know.

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The next day we'd arranged to take a day sail on Aristocat, one of the catamarans based in Soper's Hole.

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We'd done a similar trip on the Kuralu on our last visit and enjoyed it immensely, and the Aristocat was shaping up to be even better because their lunch menu includes hot dogs.

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Yes, I know what hot dogs are made of. But when I was a kid, my mom bought me my very own at-home hot dog steamer, an ingenious little contraption that allowed you to gently boil the hot dog and steam the bun into pillowy softness at the same time. Since operation of that machine eventually came to represent the Lifetime Achievement Award in terms of my cooking skills, I have a soft spot for hot dogs, and when the occasion calls for one -- at a ball game, at an amusement park, on a day sail around the BVIs -- I will happily partake in a hot dog or three.

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We had a nice, small group on this sail, consisting mostly of a few older couples, one woman who had clearly never set (a be-wedged) foot on a boat before, and a delightful family of six from Philadelphia. I am embarrassed to admit that I can remember the names of only three members of this family -- well, two, really, since one of them was a junior -- and will refer to them here as the Jeff Family. (The fact that we cannot remember their names has nothing to do with how much we enjoyed their company, and everything to do with how much we enjoy free rum punch.) Then again, they probably remember me as "that girl who wouldn't shut up about the hot dogs," so I guess we're even.

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Soon we got under way, soaking up the sun and the invigorating salt spray.

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Our first stop was at Sandy Spit, a classic desert island paradise about half an acre in size that looks like something out of a movie (and is in fact rumored to be the location of many of the Corona beer commercials).

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As we got closer, the water changed from cobalt to turquoise to green, then back again as clouds swept past the sun.

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We continued to lounge about in the sun and sip our rum punches for a bit, then eventually decided it was time to cool off.

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On our last visit here, Angel and I snorkeled the reef, then swam ashore to take a look around. We'd taken about three steps on dry land before Angel cut his toe open on a sharp piece of coral.

This time around, we were hoping for better luck. And so Angel scuttled down the swim ladder and pulled on his brand-new, never-been-worn "travel" fins . . . at which point the ankle strap promptly snapped off and sank to the bottom of the ocean.

I think that was right around the time that Angel's mood fish burst into flames.

I should add here that the crew on the Aristocat, Gilbo and Emily, are young, good-humored, good-looking, have fabulous British accents and even more fabulous tans, and were willing to go above and beyond the call of duty, which included diving for Angel's missing ankle strap and reattaching it while we were taking a swim. If you are considering a day sail in the BVIs, you couldn't be in better hands.

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Next up, we pulled into a protected area near Diamond Cay to wait out a brief rain shower and do a little more snorkeling.

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Here we spotted a few sea turtles and stingrays, indulged in a few rum punches, and had such an engrossing chat with the Jeff Family that for a minute there, we thought we'd missed lunch. Like I was going to let that happen . . . again.

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Why don't I have any photos of the hot dogs, you ask? Because I don't have three hands, that's why.

Our final stop of the day was at White Bay. Angel was skeptical when I told him I planned to jump off the boat instead of using the swim ladder (I'm known for freak accidents, not feats of daring), but liquid courage is a marvelous thing, so Angel grabbed the camera in order to capture the proof. Knowing I was being photographed, I leapt into the air with what I hoped was uncharacteristic grace . . . but was instead a spot-on imitation of that frog NASA accidentally blew up during a rocket launch a few months back.

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The hour at White Bay passed quickly -- we had just enough time to enjoy a round of Painkillers, walk down to One Love Bar & Grill and catch Reuben Chinnery's last song of the day, and pick up a few CDs, before it was time to swim for the boat . . . with the CDs in hand. Suffice it to say that while Angel is good at many things, swimming against the current with one arm held above his head while everyone on the boat "waves" back at him is not one of them.

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Is there anything better than the end of the day on a boat? Everyone is suntanned, wind-whipped, slightly buzzed, and wrapped up in their fluffy towels, and the gentle rocking motion of the boat lulls everyone into a sleepy haze, smiles lingering on their salty lips as the sun begins to slowly melt into the horizon.

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Or it could have just been all those hot dogs.

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Next up, we're taking an "A to Z" tour of the Hamptons, and then it's ten days of friends, food, wine, and hangovers in northern California. Click here to subscribe and you'll be the first to know when it all goes, um, sideways.
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Posted by TraceyG 06:30 Archived in British Virgin Islands Comments (7)

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