Tuesday, March 8, 2011

This Week: Tortola, BVI - Part Two

It gets better – Part Two

Monday was a holiday in the British Virgin Islands, Commonwealth Day to be exact. School was out, but a drum corps of school children pounded out marches in the schoolyard. Woke us up. It was also cruise ship day. Something the retirees mentioned with disdain. We wanted to visit the National Park but there wasn’t a taxi in site because they were all in Road Town picking up cruisers. About noon, the taxis and buses returned to CGB full of tourists and they packed the beach in minutes. We snuck up to the solitude of Rhymer’s deck. Amazingly no one else ventured up here the entire day. We felt like royalty standing at the railing passing judgment on all the tourists below - Old guy in Speedo, bad; Children playing limbo with broom, good; Women with giftshop bags sitting under palm tree, in-between. A group of local children arrived having finished with their holiday festivities. From the balcony at Rhymer’s we watched them build a sand castle and then dig a giant moat around it. By late afternoon all were gone. The sand castle was in shambles. Only the moat remained.

We were contemplating what to do for dinner when the solitude of the balcony was broken. A man and woman were entering the hotel room across the hall from us. We watched them enter and sadly realized we were about to have company. Shortly after their entrance they came out on the balcony. We all said hi. They asked us if we had been to Rhymer’s before. We said no and the husband told us they had been coming to this particular hotel for 16 years. Then the wife chimed in that they first came here on their honeymoon, when the pink hotel was the only one on the beach.

“There used to be no carpet, just miss-matched tile,” she told us, “and cockroaches! And this deck wasn’t here, nor the restaurant. When they first put the restaurant in it use to have a canvas roof, remember?”

The husband continued, “Yeah, they finally made a permanent structure and created this deck.” With a smile they said goodbye and went back to their room. We went into ours and changed for dinner.

So Elm’s was the place to eat dinner today. The sun was finally setting and the cruisers were gone. Elm’s restaurant and mini-suites were right next door to Rhymer’s, however, it was hidden by palm trees. As far as we could tell, it was never open, at least we hadn’t seen any people in it yet. We were curious about this place too, because of the wooden swings all around the bar.

Dinner at Elm’s was once again grilled fish and chicken, our third day in a row. However, the chef, who was standing in the sand next to a giant grill made out bricks, outdid all the previous meals. I don’t know what he did differently, but this was by far the best fish we had eaten. And instead of just beans and rice, grilled vegetables were available. We ate at a picnic table near the grill. In the warm evening we enjoyed some liquored up ice cream drinks for dessert. Around 8 o’clock the chef and the wait staff began cleaning up the grill and the serving table. Some of the customers left as well. Just few people sat inside. We moved to one of the swings that faced the water and swung for several minutes too busy slurping our drinks to speak. A guitar strum broke the silence.

“Good evening, everyone,” someone behind us said through a microphone. “My name is Steve.” Then he began to sing.

Don’t worry…about a ting…every little ting…gonna be all right. Baby don’t worry…about a ting…every little ting…gonna be all right…

On cue, all of us in the bar all joined in.

Rise up this morning…smiled with the rising sun…three little birds…pitch by my doorstep…singing sweet songs…of melodies pure and true…singing this is my message to you, ou, ou….baby don’t worry…

The next day I woke up early and sneaked out to the beach. It was daylight, but the sun had yet to clear the hill behind the bay. Three young men were raking the beach in front of Rhymer’s. After raking leaves, removing the debris and dusting off beach chairs, they moved to the front of Elm’s and raked that section of beach. They continued this all the way down to the cemetery. I followed them taking some photos, trying not to look like a stalker. Then they walked around the cemetery and to the school building across the street. I returned to Rhymer’s.

Rhymer’s restaurant was open for breakfast. I was so happy to see the breakfast menu; French toast, bacon, scrambled eggs, oatmeal even. After three days of grilled fish, I was desperate for some “ordinary” food. I ordered the French toast with a side of bacon and glass of OJ. Cost for this simple meal was $9 ($3.75 was just for the OJ!), but I didn’t care. I missed the food I normally ate back home. The French toast may have been Wonderbread, but the sugar cinnamon made it sweet, the bacon was not as crispy as I prefer and the OJ was pulpy, but it was the best money I spent on Tortola.

Later that morning, Christian found me lounging on one of Rhymer’s signature blue beach chairs enjoying a rum punch. Considering we still had rum and Coke back in the room, I had wasted money ordering a rum drink, but I was too lazy to get up. Saying it looked good, Christian ordered himself one. I told Christian about my fish revolt at breakfast and he decided we should do the same for lunch. Conveniently the café next door had a pizza special. We were so happy to not be eating fish that we didn’t care how fattening the cheese and pepperoni pizza was.

As we wiped the grease off our hands, a young couple took the chairs next to Christian and waved hello to us. We asked them if they just arrived and they said they had early that morning. He introduced himself as Ed and his girlfriend Kelly. They had also come after spending a few days on St. John and were going to spend the rest of the week on Tortola. Ed said they had been camping on St. John and that after a week of sleeping on cots and taking cold showers, Rhymer’s was a palace. We told them about our St. John “Scooter of Death” and how the roads were so bad in Tortola that we decided to just spend our time here and hoped we weren’t missing anything. Ed said they had arrived by ferry in the island’s main port of Road Town (we had arrived in West End) and spent the morning walking around town looking for a place to eat. However, they were not impressed - old buildings, crowded streets and pestering sales people. Ed said the reason he started talking to us was jealousy over our pizza. Unfortunately they had already eaten in Road Town, burnt fish and sticky rice. Happy to oblige a fellow traveler we pointed to the café next door.

This quiet day was our last on Tortola. I spent it looking at the bay, listening to the sounds around me and writing notes in my journal in between naps. Every now and then I could hear the shouts of the retirees playing dominoes at Elm’s. We had some afternoon entertainment in the form of a coconut vendor. “Cooooooo-conuts,” he yelled in a deep baritone. He pushed a wheel barrel with one hand and wielded a machete with the other. Intimidating enough that no one would approach him. Then a local boy ran up and the man opened a coconut for him. Watching him whack away with his machete at the coconut with the precision of a surgeon, a crowd of people quickly gathered. He would spin the coconut around in one hand while hacking the machete with the other. After a few spins, he put a straw in the hole he made at the top and handed it over to people for which they gladly gave him $5. After serving everyone in the crowd, he continue down the beach yelling, “Coooooooooo-conuts!” Soon the sun was in front of us announcing the approaching happy hour.

We could hear the patrons singing before we could see Myett’s bar sign. Cap’ Eye was entertaining again. We got our Presidentes from the bar and took our seats behind Cap Eye, the same seats we had on our first day. The retirees were living it up dancing and singing and hugging each other. Before Cap’ Eye ended with his signature song, Brown Eyed Girl, he asked for volunteers to play some percussion instruments. Tucked safety behind Cap’ Eye we were not worried at all about having to join in. That was until a woman wearing a black and white swimsuit cover up dress grabbed some maracas and stumbled over to us.

“Here,” she said handing me a maraca. Then she grabbed my arm and pulled me over to Cap’ Eye. Then a guy with a Jimmy Buffett Tunes in the Dunes t-shirt grabbed a couple of tambourines and went and grabbed Christian. Along with two other guys, one with a cabasa and another with a cow bell (I need more cowbell!), we shook and banged with the beat, not at all embarrassed in any way. After Cap’ Eye’s set was done, all of us percussionists posed for a group photo for the tipsy woman who started it all.

After the happy hour, we returned to our bar stools overlooking the water to watch the sun set. We still had one more Presidente to drink. Hurray two-fer-one! With each sip we reflected on what we had discovered the last few days. We discovered you get what you pay for and that can be a good thing; that the party doesn’t end with retirement; that no mattered how well it’s prepared we can only eat so much fish; that we can go with the flow…if we have to. Most importantly we discovered that being a traveler didn’t mean turning over every single rock on the island. Cane Garden Bay had everything we needed. Jimmy B was right; it does get better.

Please don’t say Manana if you don’t mean it;
I have heard those words for so very long,
Don’t try to describe the ocean if you’ve never seen it;
Don’t forget that you just may wind up being wrong.
– Jimmy B

Useful Links:
Rhymer's Beach Hotel
Myett's Garden and Grill
Elm's Beach Suites