Thursday, April 8, 2021

Being Flexible While Traveling....

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men. Gang aft a-gley”. Or to translate, the best laid plans of mice and men can still go wrong.  No matter how well you plan, there is no guarantee of success.  By the way “Gang aft-a-gley” means “goes wrong”. Having traveled extensively we have really tried to keep this in mind, but me of my has it really been tested during day 4 & 5.  Add that to what is called "island time," which has truly lived up to its etymology of being a double entendres ....

On the one hand it refers to pace, a certain slack attitude towards the clock. But it also refers to time well spent, away, in a place that refreshes the spirit and cleanses the soul.

Day 4 had us up early heading for Road Town and the Sensation Ferry to Virgin Gorda. We were loaded down with snorkeling gear to swim around the famous Baths, which we had visited when last here in 2016. We had a car booked so we could move about more easily as we have learned flexibility is key and things are not what they seem during a pandemic. Meaning call ahead no matter what the website, Facebook, or Trip Advisor says about operational hours. We booked our tickets on-line and parked about a city block right on the water and found everything easily. Once sanitized we headed to the top deck for the 25 minute ride over...where the kids quickly found the wifi.

Upon arrival we were greeted by eager taxi drivers, but we informed them we had a rental and were headed to Virgin Gorda rentals. A short 2 block walk from the terminal we turned up the alley marked with their business sign when up behind us came one of the taxi drivers honking their horn like mad. I thought we must be in the way so I yelled to the kids ahead to get over to the side, but then he sticks his head out and yells..."hey man I am just trying to help you." We circle back to his car to find out the rental company owner tried to call Andy on the way over and he would not be able to help us today...his Mom was ill. So he had hooked us up with someone else. Hmmm.... well, we've always gone with the belief most of the people in the world are good. And right again...sure enough after several calls up drove a smiling young man who had tried to intercept us at the ferry, but different from the US you do not tell them when you will pick up the simply tell them what your ferry departs your place of origin, so he thought we were on a different one. Then minutes later up pulls another guy with the car and the paperwork. Super great guys! L&S was the company. And another nod to this welcoming and trusting community...just leave it in the ferry terminal unlocked with the keys inside.

Off to the the Baths National Park we were nervous as there was some serious waves coming in from the North. So we were hoping at least Devils Bay which was a little more west exposure might be OK. NOPE! Red flag. No one allowed in the water. So we paid our entry fee and proceeded to walk, climb and wade through the amazing rock boulders. Still an incredible experience. Then when finished we went to the Top of the Baths...which was a small set-up of restaurant, bar, stores, and a freshwater pool to swim in. We were the ONLY people there, but the staff happily greeted us...took our temperature and sanitized our hands, and guided us to any table of our choice. We enjoyed drinks, some snacks, and a dip in the pool. And the staff was super excited when we even did a little shopping in one of the boutiques. The initial reason by the way we stopped there was for free wifi because teachers had told Ally she could Zoom into class, but in the end with testing they canceled all of that, so the kids, especially Ally taunted friends who were in school with texts or snaps. Now for the record they are both doing their school work from here. we head back on the earlier ferry and cut our loses OR do we look for another spot to spend our day.  On the dive boat a day earlier the locals had told Andy to try Savannah Bay.  This incredible bay was not one for snorkeling on this day, but the waves were perfect for a little body surfing.  And again we had the entire beach to ourselves.  No chairs as these are more like parks we did note some of the trees/bushes had been trained to be natural cabanas, so we threw out our blanket and used the beautifully painted tires with little messages to hold the corners and sunk in for the afternoon.  We all even managed a big nap, which left Ally with some very sunburned legs.  A quick bite at The Bath & Turtle/Chez Bamboo where kids enjoyed pizza and Andy and I shared a Caribbean Burger and a Virgin Islands Summer Ale. CocoMaya the most famous restaurant on the island was closed on this day and our rental car guys had recommended this place.

The 4:45 ferry had us back at our house in time for Andy to do an incredible sunset SUP.

Day 5...which is also 72 hours before our return flight meant another COVID test.  There is no information on how to make this happen, other than I heard from some other Americans you go to the hospital again.  So I called the COVID hotline and they took all our information and told us to show up at 10:30, so they could clean everything after the quarantined people from the early morning were done.  Uhhh...that didn't work too well...there were lots of people arriving when we were there that were coming for their Day 4 test.  The other thing that didn't work...paying with credit card for the $70 test.  They had only one person inside the hospital doing transactions at a rate of 1 every 5-10 minutes.  And after 90 minutes the lady walked out and called "Jolly" and told Andy his card did not work.  So we gave her another card and when she walked out again she called for everyone's attention that the internet was down and they could only take cash.  Oh me oh my...Andy was off to the ATM.  4 COVID Tests, $280, and 2 hours of our day and we were finally on our way. 

We headed to Cane Garden Bay...the closest to Jost on Tortola where we found one beach bar open (Paradise Club Lounge Bar & Restaurant), but after that experience the word "bar" was all Andy and I needed.  We settled into a picnic table with many others we spotted from the COVID testing to one of our best lunches to date...Mahi Mahi burger for Andy and chicken wraps with a sauce infused with coconut.  A little beach time and we reassessed the rest of the day.  

We decided to run the kids back to the house for homework and Andy and I would keep an appointment with Fedrica, the wife of Aragorn a well known local artist and farmer. 

Before coming down to the Virgin Islands I had simply spoken "British Virgin Islands" into our fire stick to see if anything fun came up and there was an old documentary about this guy and the metal work he does.  Most notably out of old metal buoys.  He uses a blowtorch and cuts intricate designs and then fills them with wood and other and basically they are gigantic round firepits.  When not a pandemic this place is famous for its full moon parties, but obviously this has all been stopped pretty much since last March.
Fedrica, scheduled our visit for 4PM and she texted Andy at 4 and said she was running late from their luncheon.  They also own an organic farm that does boxes and provisioning for chefs on the boats of the wealthy.  Today would be as close as we got to celebrity for when Fedrica arrived she apologized profusely that her luncheon for the Bransons (uuhhh....yes...that one) had run over.  We simply nodded and said no problem, but not surprised as the documentary actually shared that Sir Richard Branson had commissioned Aragorn to do a fireball for Necker Island and it is said to be cut outs of the island's famous guests.

We opted for 4 shirts that are screen printed with artwork by Aragorn and based on the local environment and culture, a mug for my Mom, a hand-painted ornament, and a beautiful piece of pottery.  No fireball for us...they start at several thousand dollars and that's before shipping and living in wildfire zone probably not a great idea.  We had a wonderful time chatting about the islands, farms, island time struck again and the piece of pottery I wanted was not logged in the system and then for the second time today the internet was down, but this time she hand-wrote out info and sent us on our way and we had a receipt within 30 minutes after she got home.

Not the days we planned but very nice ones none the less and met some wonderful people along the way.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

More Snorkeling and Diving

Day 2 out of quarantine we decided to stay on Tortola on a local beach with some snorkeling perhaps.  We headed out to Smuggler's Cove which faces Jost Van Dyke, the island we had been the day prior.  We knew we were on the right track seeing signs for Nigel's Beach Bar.  We pulled off the sandy road to a wide open beautiful bay bright blue in the center and darker on the edges where small reefs were.  We poked our head around the corner to see about 4 people in chairs with umbrellas.  Knowing most of these places charge for their use Andy headed to what we would find is a shutdown Nigel's.  Surfboards, SUPS, all stacked and chained neatly.  We read on Trip Advisor a review from January, so we are guessing he is only open on the weekends, but his Facebook has not been updated since before Irma.

Having packed lunch and drinks (bring a cooler bag on trips) we were good to go.  4 chairs and an umbrella up we proceeded to enjoy the day of snorkeling and beach time.  Lots of fish, especially if you hung to the edge of the reef.  The big find for the day was 3 squid, which Andy was lucky enough to get close enough to spook and able to get them on video changing colors.

Back to the house we showered, changed, and headed to D'Coal Pot for dinner.  This is the place we got take out while in quarantine.  Right on the beach we got to enjoy a beautiful sunset and wonderful food.  Andy and I shared a seafood dishes, including conch in butter sauce, Ally was thrilled for a veggie tofu dish, and Alec pasta.

Day 3 and Andy, Alec, and Ally were up early to head to Nanny Cay for a 2 tank dive with Blue Waters.  We all have our dive certifications now, with Andy and Ally both having their advanced.  And Andy has his nitrox cert.  Ally actually got hers during the pandemic with the local shop, Fish Eye Scuba and plans to get her rescue diver cert next.  While in quarantine she's been researching colleges a lot and is bound for marine biology or science and has been most excited about any program with a coastal lab and/or diving.

(Ally in the yellow fins)

They did both dives off Cooper Island with the first being a wreck dive and the second being more general reef.  They got to see a green eel, large southern sting ray, and eagle ray...and Ally's long sought after shark...a reef shark. 

We are sad to report though Alec had trouble equalizing and did not get to dive.  But we're already planning another Caribbean trip next spring break and he and I can go together.  I chickened out...having had a decent COVID cough and fatigue I wasn't quite ready take that plunge.  So to make it up we headed to Soper's Hole and the Harbor Market with a milkshake machine and enjoyed sunset.

Day 4 in tomorrow's post and our trip to Virgin Gorda will be a true test of flexibility, but also woven with the kindness of strangers and enjoying what you have.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Released and We're Off

Now don't mind that title too much.  We haven't really felt in confinement this whole time.  I mean yes we have not been able to leave our house.  But it's on the beach.  We can snorkel, kayak, sunbath, watch sunsets, and just be together.  The kids would argue the confinement bit was the fact that Mom was rationing food because she didn't want to place another grocery delivery because the delivery fee and prices were pretty steep as it is generally used for provisioning food for week long charters of sailboats and catamarans.

Day 5 we remembered Erik, our cab driver said be patient.  We likely would not hear until Noon.  Noon came and went and around 2 I started to call around.  The FOUR numbers they gave us for the Public Health Department went unanswered.  Hello, we are still in a pandemic.  So I actually found a number for the lab on our Day 0 results (which I never received mine and we figure since an army in PPE didn't descend on our house like the scene out of ET I was good).   Someone answered and gave me the COVID hotline.  And yay someone answered there too and went on to ask me if the lab said if yesterday's results had been released.  I said I have no idea.  She said...well the lab releases ALL the results at once, then the Public Health Department comes in and reviews everything, and emails everyone.  So I called the lab and she said oh no...we are not even close yet and it may be tomorrow.  WHAT?!?!?  We had spent the last 4 days mapping out our plans and needed to get to the grocery or dinner was going to be interesting and also had made plans for a worker to come in special on Good Friday to give us our rental car.

About the time we decided to settle in and eat the last of the pasta a huge rainstorm came and then with sunset a rainbow emerged over our house (I know, I know an optical illusion as Allyson would have to say and tarnish my moment a bit), but 5 minutes later the phone started dinging and 1, 2, 3, 4 ...our releases popped into our email.  Difficulty getting a cab on Good Friday our agent/owner, Bonnie, offered Andy a ride to the rental car agency and an umbrella while he waited in the rain for the worker.  Back at the house we all piled in and were off to the police station.  Two officers sat behind a plexiglass counter.  Once sanitized we held up our passports and the results displayed on our phone one by one.  Then we proceeded to fill out more paperwork and cut off our bands and turn in our GPS tracker in an overflowing box.  Getting dark now we drove out to Sopher's hole, the end of the island and the marina/isthmus the direction we have been watching sun set each night.

Andy's found a new website to watch the winds on and determined we needed to change up our plans for the next day.  We were headed to Virgin Gorda, but the wind direction showed it may not be nice for snorkeling, so instead we would opt for a leisurely morning with breakfast, driving around a bit, securing groceries, and cash, then the afternoon ferry to Jost Van Dyke.

Breakfast, to Alec's pleasure was Omar's Fusion, which is not even 5 minutes from the house, on the water with coffees that are all the rage according to the reviews on social media and their latest post showed all you can eat pancakes for $9.99.  Win-Win!  Once there just as we had been told...we and every person who approached the door was met with a friendly "Please sanitize and ensure your mask is on," then we selected a table on the water.  Prices ranged from $6.95 - $13.95 and YES the coffees were amazing as were the portions.

Next we walked the marina and checked out the Harbor Market, which was pleasantly very well stocked.  But decided we should head to the larger town on Nanny Cay to a Rite Way for an even bigger selection.  We did a little driving, then to the Marina at Nanny Cay where the grocery was and where we found we had made a mistake...the Harbor Market was much better, so we grabbed a few staples and headed out.  We also found ATMs are mostly non-functional.  Not sure if it is since Irma or just since the pandemic and lack of need for them with lack of tourists.  We headed back to the house with about 2 hours before we would head to the ferry terminal and our afternoon adventure.  

The New Horizon ferry to Jost is only running out of our end of the island, so we thought we might see a few more people, but the 1PM only had us, one other couple, and some well as lots of provisions for someone named "Amy Jumper - Pink House - JVD."  $30 a person for a 25 minutes round trip we boarded the older ferry.  Not like the ones we took when in St John in 2016 this one was definitely "vintage" with a steel U shaped bench in the open air back then you climbs down some stairs to the ship's hull and there were maybe 8 rows of benches and beautiful teak wood floors (definitely vintage).  Gotta love how the locals love seeing people back...and taking care of their own.  Not even 3 minutes into the trip a guy had come around asking who needed a cab and had us booked $5 ea to White Bay...only a little over a 1.5mi walk, but up and down a steep hill.

Once in White's Bay a place we had been in 2016 we settled onto a very quiet beach.  Met by staff who helped us move chairs and get settled it was the start to an amazing afternoon.  This Harbor would generally be loaded with boats, charters, tours, 30-40.  Today there was maybe 10.  And then a handful of us who came on the ferry.  All in all maybe 100 people.  Last time were were here in 2016 there was probably 20X that.  And much to the kids' happiness this slower pace meant the bar could easily combine tabs from their sweet snack bar with Mom and Dad's adult beverage bar at the Soggy Dollar, where we enjoyed the famous painkillers in several versions.

The afternoon was spent chatting with a few can just tell everyone is starved for conversation after the pandemic.  Canadians, who are staying permanently to those staying at least a month due to the explosion of cases there and practical closing of the borders.  To Midwest folks escaping the last gasps of winter.

The thrills of the afternoon were due to the quiet on the beach sea turtles and sting rays who normally stay out closer the reef which allow this Bay to be so blue and quiet were right below us and were not phased a bit to have a person or two hanging out.  Go Pros and snorkels led to some amazing experiences captured on film.

4:45 came quickly and the bar called our cab driver for the last and return ferry to Tortola.  With the weekend and the holiday all beaches are closed at 5PM to discourage gatherings and prevent COVID spread.  The bars helped with this by closing down food service at 3:30 and last calls.  A quick ferry ride back we opted for a stop at the more stocked Harbor Market where we picked up more food, including the kids talking us into cookie dough (the last and only tube there) and a big tub of ice cream.  A gorgeous sunset we had dinner and all hunkered down reliving our day through pictures and video.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Nearing the Quarantine Finish Line

This morning we were picked up at 8:10 by Erik, our government approved taxi, bound for the the hospital in Road Town for our 4th day PCR test.  I am normally a pretty good planner and we had been understanding, but frustrated that all these required taxi rides come with fees that were not communicated until yesterday.  Day one was $86 from the airport.  Today was $96 round trip to the hospital.  Erik informed us the rides were complimentary for a while, but the government realized they could no longer subsidize and started charging only recently.  Understandable, but they need to get this info on their websites' updated.  And thankfully for us Erik was super friendly and actually lives just above us on the hill and let us ask him TONs of questions.  Tomorrow we will need our taxi driver (may just call Erik) to stop at an ATM on the way to the police station to turn in our GPS tracker and to cut off our quarantine bracelets because we are nearly out of cash.  And then we pick-up our rental car, so we will be in the clear.

NOTE: On COVID Day 4 testing...either go for the early morning pick-up, 8AM (testing opens at 9AM) or wait until after 10AM.  We were Taxi #3 in line, but before we left there were probably 20+ taxis lined up with people not only from Tortola, but all the other islands and charter boats had to come in this morning to get tested.  You stay in your car and your taxi driver goes and waits in line for you outside the large white tent in the hospital's parking lot.  Once it opened though...WOW a well-oiled machine.  It flew! - We were back on the road by 9:11.

But seriously...this quarantine thing has not been bad at all.  Our home is located right on the ocean, so we have snorkeled each day, do tide pooling, and tried our SUPs and kayaks...albeit the wind has been a bit much for the later.  Right next door to our house there is a resort which Erik told us has recently sold.  Very pretty.  Their dock however was destroyed in the hurricane and is now teaming with lots of little fish and the coral is starting to come back.  The only caution is we have to wear our snorkel booties or Teva/Keen like shoes because the entry is covered with tiny sea urchins tucked down in the rocks.

I stocked the house like I stocked the RV in New Zealand with a delivery from RiteWay Food Market with lots of items to be flexible in their use.  Eggs have been used for omelets, French toast, scrambled, and even a egg custard for dessert one evening.  Pasta has been used for dinner as well as cold pasta salad.  Lettuce has been used for salad, burgers, etc..  And lots of fruit juices have been used for the well-known Painkiller adult beverage and smoothies for the kids.  We did get delivery one evening from D'coalPot...conch fritters, coconut shrimp, and the local burrito, Roti...filled with veggies and seafood and flavored with curry.  Delish!  The delivery girl was so incredibly grateful for our order.  Definitely a place on our list to visit when we are released.

All those water toys by the way were rented from Island Surf and Sail where we also secured a Fender guitar.  Ally got one for Christmas and it has been a welcome distraction for her, Alec, and Andy during the sunset hours.  Also similar to our RV trip we packed some portable and travel Scrabble which are used every night at Happy Hour and after dinner.  Rummy, BS, Village Idiot, and Solitaire have dominated the games.  And our Midwest friends will be sad to learn we tried to teach the kids Euchre, but they grew frustrated very quickly.  Maybe we will try again.  Sunbathing and playing in the sand round out our fun daily activities.  Yes, there are "not so fun" activities which include a little work for Mom and Dad, school work for both kids (since we extended to a second week), and almost fun for Ally...lots of college research.  Inquiring minds and family will be happy to know UC Davis is still tops on her list and she is still leaning towards Marine Science or Biology, but wants to continue to compete in skiing at the college level, so several schools out here have USCSA.

A lot of people have commented they are so sorry about our quarantine, but we have been totally fine with it.  Great family time, kids (especially Ally) catching up on sleep that has been missing with the insanity of ski season, school, work, and having had COVID, and it's allowed us to do tons of research and plan our time out of captivity.  We are excited once out we are allowed to move about the BVIs and have planned trips to Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda, and Cooper Island.

Another 24 hours and we should be good to go!