A Travellerspoint blog

Puppies, Rainbows, and Chickenheads....Tortola has it ALL.

“What do you mean there isn’t a 5:00 ferry today?”

It was taking every ounce of self-control I had not to leap across the desk and begin choking the smug, unhelpful woman behind the Smith Ferry desk at the Charlotte Amalie ferry dock.

“We have no 5:00 ferry today,” she repeated without even looking up. I think she was afraid if she looked me in the eye, I could turn her into stone with one stare. If I thought it was possible, I would have tried.

“But your website shows a 5:00 ferry today. I even called to confirm.”

Our late afternoon flight had only given us one ferry option that we could make on time: the 5:00 Smith Ferry from Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas to West End, Tortola. If we didn’t get on this ferry, we weren’t getting to Tortola until tomorrow.

“You have a ticket?” she asked, smugly. I could see by her smirk that she knew good and well I didn’t have an advance ticket. It’s too risky to buy a ticket in advance. You never really know what time your flight will arrive and what ferry options you will realistically have. You could very well buy a ticket for the 5:00 on Smith and end up arriving in time to get on the 4:15 Fast Ferry.

I was just about ready to admit defeat when a voice spoke from behind me.

“I have a ticket for the 5:00 ferry.”

I turned and saw my savior: a petite young woman holding a suitcase and a ticket. I immediately hitched my wagon to her star. Her ticket gave her superpowers I did not possess. I moved in beside her and let her speak to the uncompromising mountain of a woman behind the counter.

“I have a ticket and you’re telling me there is no ferry????” I quickly learned that she was an attorney from Texas and she had purchased a ticket for the 5:00 ferry on their website. It was in her hand. She was small but mighty. I started to feel something akin to hope.

Within moments, she had free cab fare for all of us to the Red Hook ferry dock and had the woman at the Smith Ferry desk agreeing to call and hold the 5:30 Native Son ferry to Tortola until we arrived, no matter what time that was.

We then made the roller coaster ride from Charlotte Amalie across the mountains to Red Hook, St. Thomas. In 5:00 p.m. traffic it was a good 45 minutes. We'd have never made it without her.

I sighed as we were finally seated on the ferry to Tortola at almost 6:00 p.m. God bless Ms. Attorney From Texas, wherever she is.

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We arrived at West End, Tortola in the dark. To me, that’s the biggest drawback to visiting the Caribbean in the winter months: the short days. This meant we would be making the drive to Indigo House in the dark. We had never driven on Tortola before, but I knew enough about it to know that finding our way, alone, in the dark, wasn’t ideal.

No worries. We were just happy to be there.

We quickly went through customs, got our Jeep, and were on our way to Cane Garden Bay.

The drive was INSANE.

Tortola’s roads go in 2 directions: Up and Down. We found ourselves on the way up. Up. UP. UP. The road between Carrot Bay and Cane Garden Bay seemed to be nothing but a series of gravity defying switch backs.

At least until we hit a sharp 180 degree turn and started to go down.

I held my breath and closed my eyes and prayed for a blessed end.

It came in the form of a GIGANTIC speedbump that Matt didn’t see because it had no paint on it whatsoever, had no sign announcing its impending arrival, and came at us in the dark.

With my spine now lodged between my ears, we realized we had arrived in Cane Garden Bay.

Indigo House was a private villa that was part of Myett’s, a well-known restaurant and inn. However, unlike Myett’s, which is located on the end of the bay populated with a variety of bars, restaurants, and guest houses, Indigo house was on the more secluded end and was delightfully private and shrouded in tropical foliage.

It was hard to see much of the house in the dark, so we simply dumped our bags, checked to see that our groceries had been delivered and put away (Thank You, Bobby’s Marketplace and Myett’s!!), and quickly changed into something more presentable so we could head to dinner to let the stress of travel day dissipate.

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Unfortunately, this required a drive back to Carrot Bay. Up, down, up, down, up, down…..by the time we reached the Sugar Mill Restaurant, I had vertigo. It was nothing a strong cocktail wouldn’t solve. Despite our late arrival, they had agreed to hold our reservation and we were still able to enjoy a romantic first night’s dinner.

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The Sugar Mill’s history is almost as old as that of the island itself. Built within the rum house of an old Sugar Mill Estate, where sugar cane was once boiled to make rum, the restaurant welcomed us with rough stone walls and glowing candlelight. We learned that the walls of this beautiful restaurant contained cobblestones that the estate’s ship crews swiped from 17th-century Liverpool streets to use as ballast in their boats for the voyage to the New World to pick up sugar and rum.

Tropical cocktails were followed by the starter of the evening, jerk chicken spring rolls. They were crispy on the outside and oozing with spicy goodness on the inside. For dinner, we both had the Lobster Thermidor: tender lobster meat tossed with egg yolks and a splash of brandy and placed back in the shell to be topped with a fine crust of cheese.

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As I listened to the night creatures on the hillsides surrounding us, I found myself growing drowsy under the twinkling lights of the Sugar Mill.

It had been a long, hard day, but we were here.

It was time to see Tortola.

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Day One: BBQ and Budgy Smugglers

My first order of business was to explore my surroundings. Arriving in the dark is not my preference, so I was eager to see Cane Garden Bay and get a good look at the Indigo House.

Indigo House was everything I hoped it would be.

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Most villas on Tortola are situated high on the hillside, with sweeping views of the bays and islands below. I had opted for Indigo House when I saw that it sat literally feet from the edge of the water. I wanted to wake up and see the waves lapping the shore below my feet as I sipped my coffee in the morning.

Indigo House offered just that. Located on the quiet end of Cane Garden Bay, it was situated mere feet from the water’s edge. Surrounded by palm trees and tropical plants, I felt like I was in a tropical garden. The main floor of the house had a large open floor plan with a well equipped kitchen and large living/dining room with floor to ceiling doors that opened on every side, letting in the breeze and the sound of the waves. Delightful patios, courtyards, and decks filled with tropical plants surrounded the house on every side.

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There was a bedroom and bath downstairs, but we opted to use the upstairs bedroom and bathroom because it was larger and had sweeping views of the bay below. I loved that we had the choice of open windows or a/c. I also loved the heavy shutters that kept the room insanely dark at night if we chose to close them.

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There was only one part of Indigo House I didn’t love.

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This narrow, winding staircase, while being a great space saver, was an absolute horror after a few beach cocktails. Not only was it similar to swinging round and round on a giant merry-go-round after a couple of drinks, but if you needed to get to the bathroom quickly, you literally put your life in danger.

It was nothing short of a miracle that I made it through the entire week without wetting my pants or falling down the stairs.

Cane Garden Bay was as wonderful a beach as one is likely to find. It was a perfect crescent of white sand fringed with leaning palms and surrounded by towering, lush, green mountains. On the far end, it had a smattering of great beach bars and restaurants that we could easily walk to and stumble back home without even having to get in the Jeep. It was perfect.

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Well, except for the fact that the Tortola taxis dump 80% of the cruise ship passengers here.

I knew this in advance and made the decision to stay on Cane Garden Bay anyway because 1) I loved Indigo House, 2) Cane Garden Bay was beautiful and 3) Matt and I rarely stay at our villa past 10:00 a.m., so we had plenty of time each day to get the heck out of dodge before the cruise shippers showed up and ruined everything.

It was unfortunate that most of the cruise ship passengers ended up on Cane Garden Bay, lured in by an endless supply of cheap , plastic beach loungers and countless signs offering $2 daiquiris. In the morning and evening, when no one was there, it was an incredibly beautiful beach.

We had decided in advance that we would hang around Indigo House and relax until the first taxis showed up. That’s when we’d go check out the other beaches and explore the island. Most of the cruise ship passengers were there from about 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. This worked pretty well for us.

Except that first day.

We should have stuck to the plan. We had a plan. Why didn’t we stick to the plan????

We were tired. Travel day had us up at 3:30 a.m. and had us in airports or on planes, taxis, or ferries from 5:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. We thought, maybe just this one day, we could endure the crowd and stay on Cane Garden Bay for the day. Get some rest.

It started off well.

We had the beach to ourselves….and what a beautiful beach it was.

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We pulled our beach chairs into the sun, grabbed some books and music, mixed up some bloody marys, and started seeing how quickly we could turn our pasty-white November skin into a golden tan.

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This went pretty well until around 11:00 p.m. By this time, the chairs on the far end of the beach were filled with people. We could see them milling around like ants from our remote position on the other end.

“Don’t worry,” I told Matt. “No one will come down this far. There are no bars down here and there are no chairs.”

It was about that time that the first couple showed up, content to spread their towels in the sand and eat crackers out of a backpack to avoid the crowds at the other end. Then a few more showed up. Before we knew it, hoardes of excessively white, speedo-clad beach goers lined up in front of our house like it was a tourist attraction. The countless speedos clued us in that this group was most likely European. Some of them were so bold, I was surprised they didn’t ask to use my beach chairs or ask me to go inside and make them a drink.

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We decided to walk down to Myett’s and grab some lunch. After lunch, we planned to head out to Brewer’s Bay.

As we approached Myett’s, the crowds got thick. We had to navigate our way through rows and rows of beach lounges to even get to the steps. Makeshift bars were set up all along the beach, each one promising a better drink for a lower price. Rum punch for $3? Seriously…how good could THAT be?

I started to worry that Myett’s would be overrun, but was surprised to find the actual restaurant almost empty. Apparently, the cruise shippers were too cheap to actually eat inside the restaurant.

Yay for us!

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I LOVE Myett’s. Not only is the view amazing (even if it was mostly of giant white bellies in speedos that day), and not only does it have the most amazing tropical-tree-house vibe, they have the BEST BBQ sauce in the world. BEST.

Paired with anything made with their house spiced rum….it’s near perfection. Speedos be damned.

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We started off with a combo plate of conch fritters and cracked conch. This might have been the most perfect Caribbean appetizer ever designed for me and Matt. He loves cracked conch (I hate it) and I love conch fritters (he hates them). Served with their own calypso sauce and paired with a rum punch and a shot of house spiced rum, I was as happy as a fat European in a speedo shop.

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We followed that with the wings, which are fried extra crispy and slathered in the house BBQ sauce and the sweet and spicy boneless chicken thighs on salad greens. The chicken thighs were frenched and marinated in Saba Island sauce, cooked crisp and served with a lemon vinaigrette, toasted nuts, and scallions.

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We were staring into our spiced rum, trying to decide whether to make the drive to Brewer’s Bay when we saw two things that sent us running back to Indigo House in horror:

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The rest of the afternoon was spent reading inside while listening to the rain on the metal roof and hiding from any more speedos.

We were so tired, and the rain sounded so amazing, and the rum had been so plentiful and strong that we fell asleep. We woke up in the dark and decided a walk to Myett’s for dinner sounded far better than a drive up and down the hills of horror.

For dinner, Myett’s had a 2 lb lobster special. Oh my. The lobster was so tender it literally melted in my mouth and came with a selection of steamed and buttered vegetables artfully displayed on top of the lobster. It also came with a side of Myett’s hand cut fries, which were out of this world. It was even better than the BBQ.

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Our first day might not have been very exciting, but it was unbelievably relaxing and went a long way toward recharging our batteries so that we could dive into the rest of the trip with gusto.

Day Two: Nature Boy, Chicken Heads, and Why Columbus Run Like Hell

I always wake up before Matt on vacation. This is my “quiet time.” At Indigo House, I came to love the first hour of the morning, where I would make my coffee and sit out on the deck, watching the fisherman cast their nets and listening to the waves roll in.

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BANG!!!

BANG!! BANG BANG!

BANG!

What the? My peaceful reverie was interrupted by the falling of extremely hard little green fruits, about the size of my fist, every 20 minutes or so.
It wasn’t the sound that was disturbing. It was the force with which they hit the deck from so high above.

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BANG!

I got nervous and went inside.

I could just see one of those little suckers slamming down onto my head and knocking me out cold. It would be hours before Matt woke up and found me. I could be dead by then. My eyes would be pecked out by the chickens.

That’s when I got an idea.

I needed a helmet.

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Now I could sit outside without the fear of "death by fruit."

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We were rested up and ready to see more of the island. Our first destination of the day was Long Bay Beach and the Nature Boy Beach Bar. We headed down the switchbacks toward Carrot Bay.

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We made an unexpected stop along the way. When we saw the Original Shell Museum of Carrot Bay, we just had to stop.

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There was art.

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There was history.

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There was shopping and fine dining.

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This place apparently had it all.

We hadn’t done a lot of driving yet, but already knew getting around Tortola was challenging. The island wa only 12 miles long and 3 miles wide, but it was extremely mountainous. Many of the roads simply went straight up and down and had multiple 180 degree switchbacks thrown in just to keep things interesting. This made for beautiful sightseeing and horrifying driving. We wanted to look at the spectacular views, but we were afraid to take our eyes off the road, lest we round a rogue curve and get smashed by a water truck on the wrong side of the road.

We shot up one vertical hill, crested the top, then immediately tilted down 50 degrees. It was madness.

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We also realized that road signs were hit or miss. The lack of good signage easily turned simple beach excursions into exercises in frustration (it took us 3 days to finally find Smuggler’s Cove).

We managed to find Long Bay without hitting an errant chicken or plunging off the side of a sharp turn, but finding Nature Boy Beach Bar was another matter.

The bay was very long, with a bump of green on the very end. How were we supposed to know exactly where this place was on this long, dirt road? Where should we park?

And there it was.

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Sort of.

At least we knew where to park, but once we walked out onto the enormous expanse of beach, we saw nothing that resembled a bar.

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“And remind me why we need to find this place?” Matt sighed, tired of lugging my crap up and down the beach.

“He has CHAIRS,” I explained.

I wanted a chair.

We finally gave up and picked a spot under a palm tree.

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“Wait, let’s go over there,” Matt said. “There’s more shade.”

And just as we rounded the curve, there it was: one of the most interesting beach bars I have seen to date. And I have seen some interesting beach bars.

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The bar was assembled from an extraordinary number of giant palm leaves that had been woven into huge panels and painted. These created tunnels and arches going up the hillside that lead to several structures with some chairs, tables and benches. It was extensive and bizarre.

No one seemed to be home.

We grabbed a couple of chairs and made ourselves comfortable. Since Nature Boy didn’t seem to be anywhere to be found, we just set up our own bar.

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After a couple of hours, a guy showed up with a cooler and some jugs of water. We watched with interest as he straightened up the place, put ice in several coolers, filled some Igloo containers with water, and began setting up his bar with 3 cans of tropical juice and several bottles of Paradise Rum.

Nature Boy had arrived.

We immediately headed over to pay for our chairs and order a drink. We learned that his name was Winston, he only had a few teeth, and no matter what we ordered, he poured us juice with Paradise Rum.

But for $4, who cared?

He proceeded to mix us up the two strongest $4 rum punches in the entire B.V.I. while he talked non-stop. Because of the missing teeth, it was hard to catch everything he was saying, but I am pretty sure I heard “platters of cocaine,” “mushrooms,” and “Spanish girls are the best.” Matt just kept nodding and smiling, looking for a good opportunity to make a break for it. We were finally released when two new victims showed up to order a drink.

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I’m 99.99% sure they got fruit juice with Paradise Rum.

We took the golden opportunity and took a walk down the beach with our rum punch. Long Bay was beautiful. We never wanted to leave.

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At least until we got hungry.

We made the mistake of “taking a shortcut” (what a stupid thing to do when you are on an island you’ve never visited before, you know the roads are horrific, and you have a really bad map), but somehow we finally made our way out of a maze of small dirt roads to find ourselves near Soper’s Hole.

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Soper’s Hole got my vote for the prettiest village on Tortola. Not really a town but more of a sailing port, Soper’s Hole was filled with colorful shops and restaurants.

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My goal was to try Scaramouche, but they weren’t yet open for lunch for the season. I made us a dinner reservation for another night and headed in search of other options.

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We ended up at Pusser’s for wings and painkillers. (And maybe a giant pile of kettle chips with blue cheese and a huge bowl of lobster macaroni and cheese).

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On our way back to Cane Garden Bay, we made a stop at the famous Bomba Shack to see what all the fuss was about. The Bomba Shack is, in fact, a shack. It appeared to be made up of handmade plywood signs held together with driftwood and corrugated tin, then tastefully decorated with dirty bras and panties. There were handpainted signs everywhere, most of them sharing information that would not be appropriate for mixed audiences.

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Best known for its Full Moon Parties and mushroom tea, the Bomba Shack was something to see. Somehow, it’s been standing since 1971, when Bomba Smith Callwood took some salvaged driftwood, a case of beer, and a bottle of rum and set out to create what has become one of the world’s most famous beach bars.

It wasn’t a full moon, so it was mostly filled with surfers looking for a break from the waves. Matt claims I am attracted to all things considered “low rent,” so it was no surprise that I was mesmerized. I loved the colorful crappiness of it.

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We had a Bomba Rum and left before anyone could suggest that I leave my underwear on the wall.

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset on Cane Garden Bay before heading to Bananakeet for dinner.

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We knew Bananakeet had a spectacular sunset view, but weren’t disappointed about missing it until we found out that they passed around free “sunset shots.”

Vowing to make the sunset on another night, we dove into the menu with gusto.

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Matt started with the “fritter of the day,” which was a saltfish fritter and I opted for the creamy delicious curried vegetable soup. We both ended up with seafood pasta for dinner. Matt’s was a spicy scallop and mine was a citrus shrimp.

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We were getting used to the harrowing drive back to Indigo House in the dark, but we could never seem to remember that speed bump.

WHAM!

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Day Three: Heading Off Island - Jost For Fun

We woke to a beautiful rainbow and a puppy on our porch.

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The tone of the day was officially set to AWESOME.

We had decided to spend the day off island and decided to take the ferry over to Jost Van Dyke. We had reached the point where the hairpin turns no longer caused us to white knuckle the steering wheel (or in my case, grab the “Oh Shit” Handle that comes on the passenger side of every Jeep), so we were able to enjoy some of the stellar hilltop views that the drive from Cane Garden Bay to West End offered.

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The ferry ride was short and sweet, and before we knew it, our toes were buried in the luxurious sand outside the Soggy Dollar Bar.

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As we always do, we ended up at Getrudes for Olga’s “pour your own rum punch.” I opted for the $6 size, not quite ready for $10 worth of rum, but she still gave us the chairs for free. I LOVE Gertrude’s.

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We did nothing all morning.

Nothing with bloody marys, bushwackers, and rum punches, but still….nothing.

There is no better place than White Bay to do nothing.

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Lunch found us at Seddy's One Love. Sure, maybe I’m in a rut, but I always end up there because I think they have the best lunch and the most colorful atmosphere.

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I also had to see if they had dragged out the Christmas tree again and if yes, did it look any better than last year?

Yes they had and no it did not.

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Seddy’s One Love served us delicious lobster and the best lobster quesadillas. We ate ourselves silly before heading back down the beach.

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We made a stop at the Soggy Dollar for afternoon painkillers and were sad to find out that Mic had finally retired. We consoled ourselves with copious amounts of rum. We also bought some drinks for friends that would be coming down in December. Merry Christmas, Robert and Stacey!!! Have a painkiller on us!

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After a bit, we decided to walk the treacherous goat path (it’s really not treacherous, I just always seem to do it without shoes on….) to see the changes at Ivan’s Stress Free Bar.

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I have to admit, I was disappointed. Ivan’s used to be one of my favorite places. It was unique and eclectic, made of seashells and love and looking like it could fall down any minute:

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The "new and improved Ivan's" was nice, but it seems to have lost its heart. It just looked like any other beach bar.

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We returned to our chairs and entered the “giggly” phase of the afternoon. This always happens on White Bay. This is the point where the number of beach drinks overtakes the amount of food we’ve eaten and we can do nothing but lie on a chair and laugh.

We spent the rest of the afternoon watching the antics of the party-goers up and down the beach.

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We had vowed to make it to the Bananakeet Sunset, so we did a quick spit bath and change of clothes in Gertrude’s bathroom before heading to the ferry.

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The ferry left at 5:00 p.m. The ferry ride was 25 minutes. Sunset was at 5:30 p.m. We had to drive that dreadful road from Carrot Bay to get to Bananakeet.

Matt was determined to make it.

We were definitely going to die.

Even though my eyes were closed, I could hear the tires squealing and could smell the rubber as we took each turn. There was smoke.

“I don’t really care about the sunset,” I whispered.

“We’re making the sunset,” he responded.

I grabbed the “Oh Shit!” bar and held on for dear life.

Can you believe we made it? On time and intact?

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We even made it in time for the sunset shot.

By then, I needed that shot.

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When the sunset was over, we agreed on dinner at Myett’s again. Matt desperately wanted another 2 lb. lobster and I was in dire need of more BBQ sauce.

Myett’s didn’t disappoint.

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The only thing that would have been better would have been a rainbow and a puppy.

Day Four: Around and Around We Go

It was another beautiful morning on Cane Garden Bay.

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It was our last full day, so we decided to circumnavigate the island. Given the road conditions, we realized the plan was bold, but we felt up to it. We wanted to see all of Tortola.

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We headed toward Smuggler’s Cove first. We had tried to find it on other days, but it was buried in a maze of tiny dirt roads with no signs and we hadn’t had any luck so far.

Every day of our drive, we had passed this mural on Zion Hill which honored the governors of the BVI. I understood that this was a touching tribute, but the painting of the Honorable Wilfred W. Smith made me pause. I am hopeful that is not an accurate rendering.

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The views along the way were stellar.

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We soon found ourselves in Road Town. I had been hoping to eat at the Dove, what appeared to be one of the best restaurants on the island, but was reduced to a sniveling pile of tears on the first day of our trip:

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There appeared to be nothing else worthwhile in Road Town. It was simply a confusing maze of heavily trafficked streets littered with cruise ship day passengers swarming around with plastic tote bags. I decided that unless you need to purchase an engagement ring without paying tax, catch a ferry or meet the Chief Minister, it’s best to avoid Road Town.

We drove straight through.

My Plan B for lunch was Brandywine Estates, just past Road Town. Before long, we found ourselves at Brandywine Bay Beach, and stopped to take a walk because of the inordinate number of shells that were washed up on the beach.

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We then made our way up the hillside to Brandywine Estates to have lunch in their elegant open-air restaurant, with panoramic views on two sides of the restaurant.

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There was a large party on the rear deck, so we requested to sit alone in the garden overlooking Brandywine Bay. There couldn't have been a more perfect spot.

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We both felt like we were in Greece again, with the blue tile table scattered with fresh bread and olive oil and a couple of cocktails, staring out at a vast blue sea, a cat contentedly lounging at our feet.

A lunch of caprese salad with fresh mozzarella and basil drizzled in balsamic vinegar, a curried seafood pasta, and moules frites paired with a crisp white wine only intensified the similarity. It was simply a perfect meal.

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Because we wanted to drive all the way to the end, we drove all the way to Lambert Bay Beach on the far end of the island, not sure what we would find.

We found a spectacular beach with absolutely no one on it.

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There were even a couple of reasonably usable chairs and a palapa that we could use.

We spent a couple of hours soaking in the sun before steeling our nerves to drive the Ridge Road all the way back to Cane Garden Bay.

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Ridge Road ran along the central spine of Tortola and offered spectacular views.

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Our final stop was to take the road down to Brewer's Bay, since we had gotten rained out on that first day.

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We were back in Cane Garden Bay in time for sunset cocktails, snacks, and an emergency rooster rescue.

We found this poor rooster so tied up with string behind our villa that he couldn't move. We didn't know how long he'd been that way, but was completely still, obviously having exhausted himself. Both of his feet were completely bound tightly with a long piece of string that the wind had blown into a tree.

We had no scissors, so Matt held him and slowly cut all of the string away. That poor, exhausted rooster never even struggled. When Matt had him freed, he gently set him on the sand. He sat for a few minutes, recovering from the shock of his ordeal, and then made his way back to his hen who was squawking in the shrubbery nearby.

We celebrated with snacks and drinks!

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Our dinner reservation that night was at Scaramouche in Soper's Hole. Not really knowing what to expect, it turned out to be a little slice of heaven. The owners were Italian, the music was Brazilian and the vibe was all Caribbean.

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Watching the chefs prepare the plates was like watching an artist paint a canvas. The time and attention they took with each small aesthetic detail of each meal was inspiring.

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They started us off with a little amuse bouche and cocktails.

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Next came a tangy snapper and passion fruit ceviche carefully arranged on a slab of fresh watermelon and topped with lovely vegetable ribbons.

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For his entree, Matt had a spinach tagliatelle with seared scallops and I had the chili tagliatelle with grilled jumbo shrimp, blistered tomatoes, basil coulis, and sundries tomato pesto.

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We finished the meal with a peanut butter semifreddo with caramelized bananas with a sugar crust and chocorum sauce.

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They even made the bill special with dark chocolate dipped ginger candies and a lovely shell.

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They even had a lovely coffee shop downstairs.

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It was time for one final sleep.

Day Five: Don't Cry Because It's Over. Cry Because You Have To Go To The St. Thomas Airport Soon.

It helps to wake up on departure day to a dark, rainy sky.

We didn't.

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At least it wasn't a rainbow and a puppy.

We had a late flight, so we took advantage of the morning sun to soak up some final rays before packing it in.

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Before I knew what was happening, I was sitting at the ferry dock waiting for my ride to St. Thomas.

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We had time for one final meal, so we made the short walk from the Charlotte Amalie ferry dock to the Pie Whole in Frenchtown. Pie Whole might be the best thing about St. Thomas.

We fortified ourselves with wine and pizza before making the dreaded trip to the airport.

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Don't cry because it's over. Smile because you made it through another rum fueled vacation with all your teeth intact.

What's next???? A pre-Christmas weekend at Barnsley Resort! Can I get a "Ho, Ho, Ho?"

Posted by vicki_h 09:58 Archived in British Virgin Islands Tagged tortola virgin_islands bvi british_virgin_islands Comments (0)

Let the Shenanigans Begin: Girls Weekend Asheville!

When Matt told me he was going on a duck hunting trip with the guys in November, I knew it was time to plan a girls’ weekend. Travel in our household must be fair and equitable. It was necessary to keep the balance.

I immediately sent the Batsignal into the sky to alert the girls.

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Bags were packed, credit cards were shined up, and husbands were kissed goodbye. We left with modest goals: laugh, shop, and eat. With only 48 hours, it was best to keep things realistic. Finding a cure for cellulite or mastering Italian wasn’t within the realm of possibilities. This trip was for us. It was for reconnecting, renewing our bonds, and wearing pink wigs while drinking copious amounts of wine and beer.

We were headed to Asheville. Asheville has a walkable downtown that is packed with almost 100 eateries in only 1 square mile with everything from Indian street food to classic Carolina barbeque, two dozen breweries (it’s not nicknamed Beer City, USA for nothing), countless craft bars, and endless shopping. It was a perfect location, only 2 hours from home, where everything we wanted was stumbling distance from our loft.

We headed over in 2 cars in an attempt to minimize the mayhem that having all of us in one vehicle might create. This attempt was unsuccessful. Mayhem began almost immediately.

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My crew arrived slightly before the other car, and it was too early to check in at the loft, so we made the short walk to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge to kill an hour. We also managed to kill 2 glasses of wine, a cider float, and a dark chocolate pot de crème. Also massacred were my genuine intentions to “eat reasonably” on this trip.

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It was obvious that I would simply have to rationalize my eating. Chocolate comes from cocoa. Which is a tree. That makes it a plant. So chocolate is a salad.

It was a crisp fall weekend and fun was in the air.

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Within an hour, the rest of our group had arrived and we were able to meet at the Lofts at 16 Church for our check-in. Because our trip had been planned at the last minute (one needs a lot of advance planning time to book a place in Asheville, NC for a fall weekend), we couldn’t find a place large enough to accommodate all 7 of us. So, we had opted for 2 adjacent lofts.

It was perfect. The lofts were roomy and beautifully decorated. They also offered us some privacy and separation from one another in the event that we felt it necessary to segregate and talk about each other before the weekend was over.

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The original plan involved a 9:30 p.m. dinner reservation at the Admiral so that we could stay late and enjoy the “funky dance party” that takes place around 10:30.

I should have known that “plans” were not going to work with 7 women. At precisely 6:37 p.m. I received the following text from the downstairs loft:

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You don’t tell an apartment full of hungry women that they should just eat some crackers because dinner will be in 2 hours and 53 minutes.

Reservations were quickly cancelled and we made the short walk to Salsas. There would be a wait anywhere at this point, but at least we knew at Salsas we could get some chips to hold everyone over so that we didn’t have a “hangry” incident (hungry + angry = not good).

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Salsas had a cool outside window where we could order margaritas and chips and salsa while we waited for a table.

Salsas was a small, cozy restaurant that touted itself as “Mexican Caribbean.”

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The menu was a smorgasboard of things we couldn’t pronounce and didn’t understand, but that sounded delicious: molcajetes, pom pom poms, paquetes….we didn’t know where to begin.

We started things off with the Anafre Bean Dip, a savory mix of beans, ancho sauce, avocado sauce, queso, sour cream, and pico de gallo served with giant, warm corn chips.

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I went safe with the slow roasted pork quesadilla, but I have to give kudos to Alison who went bold with the pom pom pom, which turned out to be a pile of awesomeness crammed into a giant Puerto Rican pilon.

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After dinner, we grabbed some cocktails at MG Road, but even as mesmerizing as the giant disco ball was, we were tired from travel day and called it a night.

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Our original plans for breakfast the next morning were to head to Biscuit Head, but when we got up, we decided to find someplace that didn’t require driving. I mean, that WAS the point of staying downtown, after all.

I made a quick change and diverted us to Mayfel’s (SEE….I CAN be flexible. I can.)

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Mayfel’s is an eclectic little place that serves up some of the finest southern cooking in Asheville, served with a side of funky.

Breakfast started off with beignets and mimosas, or champagne for those of us who don’t really see any reason to mess up a perfectly good glass of bubbly with pulp. The beignets were warm and crispy on the outside and soft and doughy on the inside, dusted with powdered sugar and served with jam. They were almost as good as the ones from Café du Monde, but came without the mimes and trombone players or the hoarde of onlookers with cameras and sun visors glaring at you from the line on the street.

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The best things about breakfast at Mayfel’s: 1) You can order southern sides like collard greens and fried okra with breakfast and 2) the biscuits are as big as your head.

I had a giant biscuit topped with fried chicken and slathered in creamy sausage gravy with a side of smoked collard greens.

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I ate the whole thing because I didn’t want to look back later and say, “I could have eaten that.” I just can’t live with that kind of remorse.

It was time to do some shopping, so we headed down Wall St. only to find that some mad knitter had gone and covered everything with sweaters. Seriously. There were sweaters on the light poles, sweaters on the parking meters, there was even a sweater on the giant iron. The yarn bombers appeared to have left nothing uncovered.

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We spent the next few hours browsing through Asheville's quaint downtown, filled with unique shops, artisans, and street performers. As we shopped, everyone found something that matched her personality.

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After we were all shopped out (okay, that was a joke – that never really happens), I had a surprise for everyone. I had told all the girls to bring hats, wigs, boas…whatever tacky crap they had in their closet and throw it on.

Seriously, why do they always do what I ask? It’s like magic.

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WE WERE GOING ON THE AMAZING PUBCYCLE!!!!

What is the Amazing Pubcycle, you ask? Why, it’s a pedaling bar that blasts awesome retro music while you pedal around the city with drinks.

Why the costumes, you ask? Why, to add to the fun and levity of it all (or possibly so that no one would recognize us, should someone we actually knew be in the vicinity of said Pubcycle).

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I can hear you now, “Let me get this straight…You’re drank while pedaling your way through the city on a moving bar? How was this possibly a good idea?”

Because there's nothing quite like pedaling a giant mass of steel and wood uphill to the tune of cheesy '80s music while two fisting a beer or solo cup filled with wine. Everyone we passed….the drivers, shoppers, pedestrians, cyclers…..couldn't decide whether to laugh or be jealous and stare in awe. (Jealous. They were definitely jealous.)

Sure, our thighs were burning a little, but that was nothing a few drinks and a rousing chorus of "Girls Just Wanna' Have Fun" couldn't fix.

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I wasn’t sure how this was legal, but I didn’t care. It was a helluva lot of fun. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it.

At least until we ran out of drinks. And then it was a bit like being in the gym, tipsy, if the gym was in the middle of the street.

As with all good things, the Amazing Pubcycle eventually came to an end and despite attempts at bribery, crying, and clinging to our seats, we had to get off.

It was someone else's turn.

And to avoid an uncomfortable scene where the bride-to-be and her bachelorette party starting beating us off the Pubcycle seats with their giant inflatable penis, we made the wise decision to scoot.

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We ran all the way to Barley's for pizza.

All the way across the street.

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After pizza, it was a quick change back into our respectable selves for a trip to the Battery Park Book Exchange, a delightful combination of champagne bar and old book store.

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After the champagne, I had another surprise for the girls. We were heading to the Wake Foot Sanctuary to reward our tired tooties for all the shopping and pedaling they had done that day.

None of us really knew what to expect. We were a little leery and after a few glasses of champagne, not sure how seriously we could take a foot spa.

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I turned out to be AMAZING.

I can't recommend this place enough.

We were each changed into slippers and ushered into a quiet oasis - a dark room filled with large comfy chairs, each with its own giant copper tub of warm sudsy foot soak. While getting a foot soak, each of us also had someone simultaneously giving us a head/neck/shoulder massage or a foot/leg massage, depending on our preference.

Wake was able to transition 7 loud, laughing, wound-up women into silence, relaxation, and serenity in a matter of moments. We all agreed it was one of the most awesome things ever.

It had been a pretty fabulous day. The only thing that could wrap this party up was a quest for the best burger in Asheville. We found it at the Rankin Vault Cocktail Lounge. This tiny hole-in-the-wall served up a monster of a burger with a giant side of tater tots.

The burger was a an oozing mess of cheese and bacon and it was absolute perfection.

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After that, the girls were nestled all snug in their beds while visions of tater tots danced in their heads.

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Sunday morning brought one final carb-loaded breakfast and Early Girl Eatery served it up just right in the form of the Porky Bowl, filled with grits, fried potatoes, barbecue pork, and an egg coated with Benton's Bacon gravy served with a giant biscuit and a gob of gooey blueberry jam.

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It was a delicious ending to a decadent weekend.

It was that kind of weekend where, when someone at work on Monday asks you what you did over the weekend, your first response is, "Why? What did you hear?", that kind of weekend that puts a smile on your face for the next 5 days, that kind of weekend that makes you laugh until you pee a little.

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Here's to the girls!

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What's Next??? Come with us as we escape to Tortola!

Posted by vicki_h 13:11 Archived in USA Tagged mountains north_carolina nc asheville girls_weekend girls_trip Comments (0)

Into the Woods: Unplugging in Big South Fork

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Picture yourself trapped in the middle of the woods without electricity, wi-fi, or cell phone service. You have no car. The only way to get out is to hike through the woods for miles until you reach a dirt road….a dirt road with nothing on it for 4 miles.

No, this is not a story about how Matt and I crashed the plane and foraged our way through the wilderness surviving on pine cones and crickets. This is a story about our recent vacation “off the grid” at Charit Creek Lodge in Big South Fork, although, no weekend that begins by hiking your luggage in on a 2 mile trail can really be called a “vacation.”

I have tried and failed to wean Matt from his technology addiction. Even on vacation, he is continuously plugged in. The photos below demonstrate the severity of his dependence on electronic things and the difficult challenge that I face.

Matt on his phone in Hawaii:

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Matt on his phone in the BVI:

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Matt on his phone in Philly:

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Matt on his iPad on Jost Van Dyke:

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Matt on his phone in Italy:

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Okay, so he's not actually on the phone in that photo. I just wanted you to see that he's reading Twilight, because that's funny stuff.

Matt on his phone at the Chattanooga Aquarium (as evidenced by the "flip phone," this problem has been ongoing for quite some time.....):

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Matt on his phone in Anguilla with a curious donkey looking on - I'm pretty sure the donkey is saying, "Man, what are you DOING?"

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The only way to uplug Matt is to take him somewhere with no cell phone service and no wi-fi. If there is no electricity and the nearest road is at least a 2 hour walk….all the better.

When I stumbled upon a description of the Charit Creek Lodge, I was immediately intrigued.

"Charit Creek Lodge is a rustic wilderness lodge located in a valley in the heart of Big South Fork. While reasonably accessible, it is both peacefully isolated and remote. It is accessible by hiking, biking or horseback only. The lodge is a wonderful place to escape the modern world. The lodge is completely off the grid with no wi-fi, phones, or electricity. Hand-built fences zigzag the collective area, encasing it within a hollow, emerald grassland peppered with wildflowers. All cabins offer toasty, wood-burning stoves and comfortable bedding. Every meal is fully-prepared beforehand by the staff, dinner experienced by the comely flicker of kerosene lamps. Chosen foods are familiar to Southern, home-style cuisine, featured plates ranging from cornbread and cast iron fried chicken, candied yams and spicy turnip greens, and fresh chocolate cake or apple pie. Bellies filled, residents may proceed to the rocking chairs upon the decks to stargaze into the infinitesimal beauty of the Cosmos, exceedingly clear amongst the solitude of nature. Novels may be read by candlelight or roaring fires kindled outside, all the while listening to the chorus of cicadas, glow bugs streaking the star-ridden sky above. The experience of Charit Creek Lodge is true charm. It offers a classical feel like no other. It returns visitors to their center, their sense of peace and belonging in the world. The spirit becomes reawakened by the placidity of nature in this place, and after gazing back in time here, one returns to the daily grind at home increasingly self-aware."

Forget the placidity of nature and the reawakened spirit. They had me at fried chicken and apple pie.

Friday:

The drive from Knoxville to the remote dirt road where we would access the hiking trail was about 3 hours, so we grabbed a pizza and hit the road, boots and backpacks loaded and ready.

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It was a perfect fall day with a clear blue sky and leaves at their peak.

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The drive took us through Rugby, TN. I don’t know how I have lived in Tennessee for 25 years without hearing about Rugby.

Rugby was founded by Thomas Hughes, the novelist famous for Tom Brown’s School Days (don’t feel bad, I haven’t heard of it either). Hughes was an idealist who founded the town to provide a place for the younger sons of titled English nobility and give them a means of gainful employment. Because their elder brothers inherited the family wealth and titles, these youth were dependent on handouts from the family patriarch yet were prohibited by social custom from actual employment. So these younger sons wasted their days drinking, gambling and chasing after loose women.

Hughes’ idea was to provide a place of their own, where they could learn a trade and be productive members of society. He funded the construction of a little Victorian English village in the Southern highlands of Tennessee. At its peak Rugby had 65 buildings, more than 350 residents, a large inn, a weekly newspaper, tennis courts, and even a factory that canned tomatoes. For a short while the experiment seemed to be working.

Unfortunately, when given the chance to spend their days working instead of drinking, gambling and chasing after loose women, the only ones that ended up working were the ones pouring the drinks, dealing the cards, and hiking up their skirts. Within about a decade it became obvious that the settlement of Rugby wasn't working out, and most of Rugby's original settlers moved away or died. (Probably from cirrhosis or syphilis.)

What the late nineteenth century social experiment left behind was this village of quaint and beautiful Victorian homes and a number of mostly English ghosts in the heart of Dixie. Today Rugby is merely a ghost of an ideal village that almost was. What’s left behind is a charming village of beautiful homes, churches, and shops.

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We spent some time walking through Rugby’s picturesque streets before getting back on the road for the final stretch to Big South Fork.

After a long drive down some winding dirt roads, we found ourselves at the trailhead. Unfortunately, it was the WRONG trailhead because I am not very good at reading maps. There are several ways to hike into Charit Creek Lodge, the shortest being only a .8 mile hike. This was obviously the one I had targeted because I had to make sure we got there in time for pie dinner. The trailhead I actually took us to required a 2 mile hike. Still, not too bad.

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The hike in was a beautiful display of blue sky and show stopping leaves, so I was secretly glad we went the long way.

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The trail eventually took us to a clearing down in a hollow where the Charit Creek Lodge sat nestled among the golden trees. There was a main lodge building with cabin accommodations on each end and the communal dining hall in the middle, a kitchen cabin, 2 field cabins, a bath house, and the adorable "corn crib," a small cabin for 3.

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Each of the 4 main cabins had a front porch with rocking chairs and a screened back porch, perfect for wasting the afternoon with a good book while drinking in the crisp fall air. The interior of the cabins was made up of one large room with several double sized bunk beds with cozy bedding, some handmade furniture like tables and benches, a wood stove, and a gas lantern for light.

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There was also a shiny red cooler.

"What's that for?" I asked, knowing good and well that no one was packing in ice and cold beer.

"Varmints," was the quick reply.

Because we were in the backcountry, we still had critters to deal with. I thought being in a cabin eliminated the need to worry whether or not a bear was going to smell my toothpaste. Apparently this was not the case. We were told that, if we left “smelly” items out, we could expect bears, raccoons, possums, and mice to join us overnight.

Had I known that, I would have simply elected to bring no food whatsoever and brushed my teeth with soap. However, I naively thought a cabin eliminated the potential for a varmint infestation and I had an inordinate number of sugary, carb-y, chocolately things from Trader Joe’s hidden in my backpack.

Thankfully, we were given the cooler so we could store our goodies without any fear of waking up with a mouse on our forehead.

We got our backpacks unloaded, hanging our clothes on neat wooden pegs at the foot of our bunk and headed out to dinner. We barely made it in time.

We were greeted warmly by Booger, the resident dog.

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He showed us to the dining hall which was warmly lit with lanterns and set beautifully with mismatched china and mason jars of fresh lemonade.

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Dinner didn't disappoint: roasted pork loin, carrot soufflé, green bean casserole, macaroni & cheese, and soft yeast rolls. The food was served family style at communal tables and there was literally more than any of us could eat.

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Charit Creek also serves beer and wine for a modest charge, or you can bring your own if you don't mind backpacking it in. I assumed Matt didn't mind and had loaded his pack generously with several full sized bottles.

For dessert, there was a decadent scratch made chocolate cake. I think it was better than my grandmother use to make.

The only thing that could appropriately follow a dinner that good was a nap by the fire pit.

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Saturday:

It was so dark in the cabin and the bedding was so comfortable that we all slept late. The soft sound of rain on the tin roof didn't help matters. Eventually, we dragged ourselves out of bed and made some coffee on the camp stove.

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We got a fire going in the wood stove and within minutes, our fire alarm was going off because the smoke was drifting into the cabin instead of drafting up the flue. It was so dark in there, we couldn’t see.

We felt foolish and sheepishly opened the doors. About that time, we heard the fire alarm go off in the cabin next door and instantly felt less stupid.

Despite many attempts, I have not yet figured out how to control the weather. Consequentially, I can’t seem to avoid the occasional vacation day that begins with a never-ending torrential downpour.

It was gray and raining when we woke up. We buried our disappointment under piles of pancakes with real maple syrup, quiche, bacon, and cheese grits.

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For those of you that aren't from Dixie, I will explain what a "grit" is, although I have found that trying to explain grits to someone from up North is a lot like trying to explain why fish love riding bicycles.

Many people think grits are made from ground up bits of white corn. This is a lie spread by Communists and Yankees. Nothing as good as Grits (except moonshine) can be made from corn. In reality, that mysterious Manna that God rained down upon the Israelites during their time in the Sinai Desert was Grits.

Sure, some grit scholars might disagree with me and say that grits are actually made from dried corn or hominy that is ground and then cooked with water. Obviously, these people have never eaten proper grits or else they would know that they are actually carried down from heaven on angel's wings.

Grits are symbolic of the South, like cornbread, guns, sweet tea, NASCAR and SEC football. Furthermore, it's a sin, comparable to saying "you guys” instead of “y’all,” farting in church, or saying "Huh?" when references are made to the Vol Nation, to put sugar on grits. Grits are appropriately served with salt and butter, maybe the occasional smattering of cheese.

Now you know. Go make some grits. You can thank me later.

With our bellies full of buttery grit goodness and pancakes, there was nothing to do but cozy in and watch the rain from the back porch.

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Around 10:00 a.m., the rain stopped and we decided to do some hiking to make us feel better about how many pancakes we had consumed at breakfast. We set off on the Slave Falls trail, planning to connect to the Twin Arches loop and then return to the Lodge. In all, it was about 9 miles of hiking and would get us back with a couple of hours of down time before dinner.

The rain had made the woods soft and quiet and the smell of earth and wet leaves hung heavy in the air.

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I love hiking. I love the peacefulness of the woods. I love the sounds and smells. I love the time spent lost in my own thoughts or talking to Matt for hours on a trail.

What I DON’T love about hiking is when there is a “call of nature.” Thankfully, it was Matt that received the call, not me.

We were about 2 miles into the trail when Matt made it clear he had some “business” to attend to and that we should move on down the trail. John, Teresa, and I moved on down the trail for about 15 minutes. I assumed this was a simple stand-up event and thought Matt would have caught back up to us by then. Guessing it might have been more of a “squat and hold onto a tree branch” event, I told John and Teresa to go on and I would wait for Matt.

I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

It had now been about 30 minutes since Matt peeled off. I was alternating between being worried that he had suffered a more serious “event” than anticipated and had to return to the Lodge and being annoyed that I was now stuck in the middle of the woods alone. I didn’t know if I should turn back, keep waiting, or try to catch up to John and Teresa.

After several more minutes, I realized the only logical explanation for that length of time was that Matt was indeed experiencing an unfortunate gastrointestinal episode, no doubt brought on by too much butter and lard, and had returned to camp. That being the case, he would probably prefer to be alone and my best option was to try to catch John and Teresa, who were now a good half hour ahead of me on the trail.

It was about 5 minutes into my solo walk that I started thinking about bears. I don’t usually think about bears in Tennessee like I do in Montana. However, Big South Fork is home to a thriving black bear population. Hiking alone is not a good idea in bear country. Bears are more likely to attack a solo hiker than a group.

I started walking faster.

I found myself looking at every shadow, every hill….What was that??? Did that shadow move?????

Before long, I was literally sprinting up the trail. I decided it was better to trip over a root and knock out my front teeth than to be mauled by a bear. Sure, I may never be able to eat corn on the cob again, but that's what knives are for.

I reached John and Teresa, heaving and sweating.

“What’s wrong?” they asked.

“Matt never showed up. He may be sick,” I said.

“He’s right behind you,” Teresa said.

Sure enough, I spotted his orange jacket about 50 feet behind me in the woods.

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Trying to decide whether to be relieved or irritated, I settled on sympathetic, because Matt had obviously had a significantly worse experience than I had.

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We made our way back to Slave Falls, which was severely anticlimactic. The fall was little more than a dribble.

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The good news was that I had worked up a hearty appetite with all that worry and running, despite the mound of pancakes still in my belly.

We stopped at a clearing called “Jake’s Place” and had smoked trout wraps with cream cheese and dried bananas and mangoes.

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After lunch, we completed our hike with the Twin Arches Loop, which was far more scenic than the Slave Falls trail had been. We managed to finish the hike without any more dramatic events.

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We arrived back at Charit Creek Lodge around 3:00 p.m. Dinner was served at 5:00 p.m., so we had some down time for naps in the hammock, reading on the porch, or enjoying a glass of wine in a rocking chair.

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We returned to the dining room for another spectacular meal: Meatloaf, fried Brussels sprouts, asparagus casserole, sweet potatoes, cornbread, and apple pie.

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We wrapped up the night by the fire pit and retreated to our cabin for another cozy night’s sleep.

Sunday:

We enjoyed a leisurely morning with coffee, biscuits and gravy, sausage, and frittata.

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Then it was time to pack up and hike out. The hike out was as beautiful as the hike in. Despite the fact that the hike out was ALL UPHILL and that my stomach was distended with a mountain of biscuits, it was a glorious morning.

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As I threw my pack on my back, I was surprised to find that I did feel reawakened. I did feel peace. Charit Creek truly was a magical place and it exists as an oasis in the middle of the woods filled with crackling fires, warm friendship, and fluffy biscuits. My spirit did feel renewed.

And that’s not just the apple pie talking.

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Next stop: Hitting Asheville, NC with the girls!

Posted by vicki_h 07:18 Archived in USA Tagged hiking tennessee big_south_fork jamestown_tn charit_creek Comments (0)

Bad Trips Happen ....Getting Bamboozled in Beaufort.

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On occasion, Matt’s charter flights involve the drop-off of a passenger to some fun locale, and sometimes, this happens on a weekend. This makes it easy to slide right into a weekend stop somewhere new. Recently, Matt had a drop-off flight to coastal NC on a Friday night. What a perfect way to spend the weekend somewhere on the beach. Right?

The flight was planned, the bags were packed, the trip was happening – or was it?

I had it all planned out. We would fly into Beaufort, NC on a Friday night and drop Matt’s charter client off. He wouldn’t be flying back with us, so we would make the short 20-minute flight to Ocracoke Island where we would spend 2 nights in an adorable inn, have seafood boils delivered to us on the beach, ride old fashioned bicycles, search for seashells, and have romantic dinners in quaint little seafood shacks.

But none of this would actually happen. At least not this time around. A week before our Friday night flight, Ocracoke flooded. Actually, the entire southeast coast flooded, but the small low lying barrier islands were hit particularly hard. When Ocracoke was still closed to visitors on Wednesday night, we made the decision to cancel and change our Friday plans.

No worries. I always have a Plan B. All neurotic planners do. What you do know about us is that we put a neurotic amount of time into planning the perfect trip. What you don’t know is that we usually put a neurotic amount of time into planning 2 trips….you know….in case the first one doesn’t work out.

My travel nightmare (okay, maybe that’s a bit strong, we’ll call it “Vicki’s Least Desirable Scenario) is to show up somewhere I have never been WITH NO PLANS.

No, I take it back. That IS a nightmare.

I don’t deal well with lack of structure and uncertainty.

I realize there are those that disagree with me. They believe you should never plan a trip. They say unplanned trips lead to spontaneous adventures, new friends, and unexpected experiences.

I say these people are imbeciles.

I say unplanned trips are how you end up sleeping in a car because you don’t have a reservation, get diarrhea from that restaurant that was rated #789 out of 800 (but you didn’t know that, now did you?), and run out of clean underwear because you didn’t count on getting lost for 2 days on those back roads without a map.

Spontaneous travel is for 20 year olds. I want to know where I am sleeping, where I am eating, and how many changes of clothes I need. I want to know the thread count of the hotel sheets and whether the bathroom has a hair dryer. I want to know whether or not there are any meatballs on the menu and if they are made with lamb or beef. I want to know what the day and nighttime temperatures are going to be and where the closest place is to get a ginger nut latte with an extra shot of espresso. And I want to know it at least 2 months before I go.

I shifted us to The Alternative Flood Plan, which would involve flying into Beaufort, spending Friday night at a lovely Inn with a romantic seaside dinner out, following by a B&B breakfast, a quick trip on the morning ferry to see the feral horses on nearby Shackleford Banks, lunch in Beaufort and a return home. No need to spend the whole weekend since Ocracoke was out. We’d be home by Saturday afternoon.

I packed one change of clothes, minimal toiletries, and we were on our way.

It was clean. It was simple. It was fine.

Or so I thought.

My mistake was not wearing a headset in the plane.

I never wear a headset. I find them bulky and uncomfortable. Okay, fine….. I don’t wear them because they mess up my hair. I opted to read a book on the flight over as Matt and his passenger chatted away.

By the time we arrived, the plans had already been made.

Not MY plans.

That’s where all the trouble came in, you see.

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Friday:

We left Knoxville on a Friday afternoon and headed to Charlotte to pick up Matt’s passenger. We had time to grab a quick lunch so we opted for something close to the airport. Have you noticed that airports aren’t usually in the best parts of town? That means restaurants near airports typically feature all-you-can eat Chinese places in strip malls or places with names like “Larry’s Sunshine Café” or “Super Taco.”

I’m not really a fan of restaurants near airports.

We chose the least offensive looking place and found ourselves in an old school BBQ joint, complete with shiny yellow gingham tablecloths, oversized plastic ketchup dispensers, and lots of waitresses wearing Lee jeans and too much eye make-up. I was starting to think we’d made a HUGE mistake when our smiling waitress showed up with a basket of free hushpuppies.

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HUSHPUPPIES.

FREE.

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The food wasn’t fancy, but it was good: finely chopped BBQ pork with a tangy Carolina vinegar-based sauce, crispy fresh fried okra, and savory Brunswick stew with sweet tea. It was just enough to make a southern girl happy.

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We made it back to the airport, picked up the passenger, and headed to Beaufort, NC. I had never been to that part of the coast and I was looking forward to a nice night out and a little bit of sightseeting the next day before heading home.

When we landed, Matt said, “There has been a change of plans.”

Anyone who knows me or has read my blog knows that that is quite possibly the worst sentence you can ever say to me. You would probably get a less violent reaction if you told me I was actually adopted and my natural parents were both serial killers or that I had an incurable skin fungus.

Matt saw my face clouding over and quickly explained, “The weather looks bad for flying back tomorrow. When I mentioned that, my flight client told me that it would help him out if we could stay until Sunday night so that he doesn’t have to drive home.”

Okay, this didn’t sound too bad. I mean, I had done enough research to know there were enough things in Beaufort to keep us occupied until Sunday. We could just extend our stay at the inn, add in a few of the other restaurants I had seen online, and do some shopping. What’s not to like about a whole weekend at the beach? This might be fun.

That’s when Matt really let the bomb drop.

“We’re going to stay with him at his condo tomorrow and go to a dinner with him that night. He also invited us out on his boat Sunday.”

Just like that, I was no longer in control of my plans. I had no information about where I was going, where I was staying, where I was eating, or what I would be doing.

You would have thought I had just been told I had an unplanned pregnancy, not an unplanned weekend.

I was instantly clammy. My breath came in shallow little gasps. I was pretty sure I was going to pass out.

Matt dove in with gusto, “It sounds really great,” he said, “He’s got a 4 bedroom place on the beach all to himself, tickets to a ‘Sea & Farm’ dinner being hosted on Harker’s Island by Beaufort and Blind Pig of Asheville that he wants to take us to, and he said he’s taking a yacht out for the day on Sunday with some nice food and drinks and we can tag along.”

“Why don’t we just get a rental car and do our own thing?” I asked, the panic starting to rise.

“I already told him we’d do it.”

And that was that.

I’m not much of an optimist. For me, it’s not about whether the glass is half-full or half-empty. I want to know what restaurant the glass came from and whether or not it was on my list.

This was definitely not on my list.

Unfortunately, I was stuck with it, so I unbound my internal optimist and took the duct tape off of her mouth for just a moment.

“This could be pretty awesome, you know,” she immediately started to jibber-jabber. “I mean, a condo on the beach, a private dinner, a yacht….this is a rich, classy guy….this has to be AWESOME, right?”

I quickly put the duct tape back on her mouth, but maybe she had something…..could this be awesome?

Probably not. The reason I keep my internal optimist bound and gagged is because I tend to be more of a "if it seems too good to be true, it probably is" kind of girl.

Matt and I are not the type that luck into free luxury condos, private events, and yachts. We are not going to win the lottery. No one is going to give us a free car because we are the 1,000,000th customer at the gas station. We are the people that are most likely to step in the one dog turd that exists in a 10 block radius. That is our reality.

And this all sounded too good to be true.

Not that it really mattered. There was nothing I could do about it now. I was no longer the captain of my own ship. In fact, I was shipwrecked.

But we still had tonight at the Inn. At least I knew that would be good.

When I was looking for a place to stay in Beaufort and found that the #1 rated inn sported an inordinate number of floral polyester bedspreads and fake plants, I knew I had to look outside the usual reference sites. I dug a little deeper and found a new inn that had only been open for a couple of months, so…. no reviews, but the Inn on Turner looked perfect.

The Inn on Turner was a historic home with only 3 quaint rooms decorated in beachy chic located in the middle of historic Beaufort. We arrived just as they were serving complimentary wine and champagne with snacks.

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Champagne? I had already forgotten about the next day’s disastrous plans.

I had champagne! Strawberries! I loved this inn!

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The innkeepers had made us a reservation for dinner at Blue Moon Bistro. It was a very pleasant stroll through Beaufort’s quaint streets to the restaurant. I spotted adorable wine shops and stores that I was looking forward to checking out the next day. This was getting better and better!

We found the Blue Moon Bistro in the historic 1827 Dill House, just about a block from Beaufort’s waterfront. The dining space was small and intimate with just the right amount of candlelight.

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We started with the “big bowl” of Caesar salad and the fried oyster plate. For dinner, Matt ordered the creole style shrimp with Andouille sausage and jasmine rice. I couldn’t resist the autumn gnocchi with butternut squash, shaved Brussels sprouts, and balsamic glaze. We followed that with a spice cake served with turbinado sugar ice cream.

After dinner, we stopped off at a little bar that had been recommended by the innkeepers - the Backstreet Pub.

You know that dream where you are standing in front of your class at school in your underwear?

Yes. It was like that.

Do you ever walk into a place and know you’ve made a mistake the second you enter? But the place is small, local, and everyone looks up just as you walk in so there is no option of a clandestine escape?

As soon as we stepped inside, I felt like I had just walked into someone’s family reunion uninvited. The awkwardness of not belonging was compounded by my glance at the bar which showed NOTHING BUT BEER.

Just beer.

We were now non-beer drinking, overdressed outsiders in a local’s bar that served only beer.

I did the only thing I could think of.

I immediately ran to the bathroom and left Matt standing there alone to deal with the painful process of figuring out what to order in a bar full of staring strangers.

He doesn’t hate beer, so he managed to find something he liked and he found a cider for me, so it wasn’t a total loss. We quickly drank our bottles and tore out the door like our pants were on fire.

It had been a long day, we were tired, and I was all stressed out worrying about the “no plans” problem tomorrow presented.

There was nothing left to do but go to bed.

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Saturday:

I woke up tired because I spent the entire night Friday trying to figure out how to make plans out of the mess that had taken over my weekend.

A rental car. That would solve everything. We could do our own thing, show up at the condo just before the “dinner,” and still salvage most of the weekend. The next day, if we decided the yachting with strangers was simply too awkward, we could find something else to do and meet the client back at the airport.

It was perfect.

Except that there were no rental cars. Anywhere. Not until Monday.

I know because I called them all. I even called a guy named Jimmy at a place called A Diamond Rent-A-Car.

Sigh.

I decided to make the most of it. Not because I am a decent person deep down inside, but because, like any animal trapped in a corner, at some point, you simply realize that playing dead is probably your best chance of self-preservation.

At least we had today. We could stop in all those fun little shops, have a nice lunch, and go see the feral horses at nearby Shackleford Banks.

As we had a hearty breakfast at the Inn, I checked the ferry schedule and saw that we could head over to Shackleford Banks at 11:00 and return at 12:30. That would give us time to have lunch, shop for a few hours, and still meet up with the client in time for the 6:00 dinner.

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It would be FINE.

Shackleford Banks is the southern-most barrier island in the Cape Lookout National Seashore and is home to approximately 100 wild horses. They are thought to be descended from Spanish mustangs from early Colonial settlers and have been roaming the island for over 400 years.

Even though it was a gray and drizzly day, it was pretty neat to see the horses. The barrier islands are also a treasure trove of seashells, so we spent an hour wandering along the windswept dunes before getting back on an early ferry to head back to Beaufort.

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Beaufort was incredibly quaint. I was looking forward to spending some time looking around after lunch.

As we walked to lunch, I made a mental list of all the places I wanted to visit.

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We stopped at the old Beaufort Grocery to get some lunch. I immediately loved the mismatched dish towels that were scattered on the tables for napkins. The place was warm and lively, and it seemed like everyone knew everyone (probably because they had all been at the Backstreet Pub the night before….). The small town quaintness of it was nice.

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As I was settling down to eat my “damn fine gumbo” and crabcake sandwich, Matt’s phone rang.

It was the Inn.

“We really can’t store your luggage any longer. We need you to come pick it up.”

What?

But.

But.

But….we didn’t have a car. That meant we had to get a taxi to head out to the “condo” right then.

“I wanted to do some shopping,” I said. I’m pretty sure I was whining when I said it. “I don’t even have clean underwear or clean clothes for tomorrow. I need some shampoo.”

“It’s no big deal,” Matt said. “He said his condo was just right here. We can take a quick taxi, drop off our stuff, and run back over here.”

Well, okay. That sounded okay.

It would be FINE.

The taxi ride to the condo was 30 minutes.

30 minutes.

IN A TAXI.

30 minutes in a taxi in NYC and 30 minutes in a taxi in North Carolina mean very different things. You may as well be taking a taxi to another country.

This meant that 1) it was a really damn expensive taxi ride and 2) we were not close to ANYTHING now.

It was 1:00 p.m. on Saturday and we were stuck at the “condo” with no car and no way to get back to Beaufort unless we wanted 2 additional, expensive, 30 minute taxi rides.

“This sucks,” I said, visibly sulking.

“Let’s make the most of it,” Matt said as he looked for the key the client said he had hidden in the grill. “I mean, it’s probably a really nice place and we have it all to ourselves for the rest of the day.”

It was really nice. If really nice means that it hadn’t seen a decorator or a housekeeper since 1981.

It was frumpalicious. It was like entering an early 80s time capsule in a bad motel.

It was a pulsating pit of despair filled with wicker light fixtures, lumpy furniture, and dusty floral arrangements.

Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if I had been prepared, but I was expecting this:

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And I got this:

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Ugly condo? Strike one.

To make matters worse, we had no transportation, no food, and I was wearing my only pair of clean underwear.

We sat on the beige, vinyl sofa and waited for the client to return. When my butt started to stick to the vinyl, I decided it was time to at least go for a walk on the beach. There was that, at least.

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He finally got back at 3:30. While he graciously let us use his car to go find some clean clothes and shampoo, he reminded us that we needed to leave for the Blind Pig dinner by 5:15.

It was a 1 hour round trip drive to Beaufort and back. That left us 45 minutes to shop, IF we didn’t want to get cleaned up before dinner.

So much for the cute stores in Beaufort.

No matter. There was still the Blind Pig dinner to look forward to.

And I was really looking forward to it.

It would be FINE.

The Blind Pig Supper Club of Asheville, NC creates unique and exclusive dining experiences through chef collaborations and off-the-chart locations. The chefs are incredible, the menus are show stopping, the locations are phenomenal and are kept secret until 48 hours before the dinner, and the experience is touted to be simply amazing. Tickets are pricey and sell out quickly for each dinner.

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I know, because I have tried to get us to a Blind Pig dinner for years.

And I was finally going to one! One on the beach, no less.

The dinner was a farm to sea dinner titled “Brogue” and would be held on nearby Harker’s Island. Seven acclaimed chefs would create a one-of-a-kind 7 course dinner with wine pairings for 137 lucky ticket holders.

I had to admit I was excited.

We got back to the condo around 5:00 p.m., just in time to change our clothes and head to Harker’s Island.

We noticed the client was wearing his athletic gear.

“I don’t think I want to go. I think it’s going to rain,” he said. “If it’s okay with you, we’ll just go to my friend’s restaurant in Morehead City.”

Let’s see…..Go to exclusive, high-end, private beach dinner or eat at crappy restaurant in Morehead City…..

OF COURSE IT WASN’T OKAY!!!!!

Unfortunately, I was powerless to voice an opinion because 1) I wasn’t the one who had been invited to the Blind Pig dinner by one of the hosts and 2) I had no transportation.

I was expecting this:

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And I got this:

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No Blind Pig dinner? Strike two.

After my “sort of okay” dinner, I feel asleep under my excessively floral comforter and wondered about that yacht.

Would it be fine?

Sunday:

The weekend had been in a steady spiral of decline since we received the call from the Inn to pick up our luggage.

This spiral of decline became a full on cataclysm of horrific proportions when I woke up to find the car was gone and there was no coffee.

WHO DOESN’T HAVE COFFEE?

It was Sunday morning. I had no coffee. I had no transportation. The closest place where I might find coffee was 7 miles away.

Clean underwear, I can live without. Coffee? Oh hell no.

This was a disaster.

To make matters worse, Matt doesn't drink coffee so he had no interest in trying to help me build a distress signal out of seashells so that a passing airplane might save me. The lack of coffee coupled with his complete indifference to my misery just added fuel to the already smoldering fire that was burning in my soul that weekend.

The cherry on top? The guy left a pack of bagels and a jar of peanut butter on the counter and sent Matt a text to “help ourselves.”

I did nothing but sit and stare at the ugly carpet for the next 3 hours.

Like Seligman’s shocked dogs from the 1960’s, I had stopped trying to control my environment and simply gave up and embraced my helplessness.

I didn’t even try to kid myself by saying, “Well, there’s still the yacht….”

I didn’t hold out much hope.

It would not be FINE.

The client had explained that he had rented a “yacht” (his word) and that they would be filming all day on it for his marketing firm. His “guy” was going to pick up some good food and drinks. We’d head over to Cape Lookout where Matt and I could take the dingy and explore the island, hang out on the beach, or relax on the yacht.

“It’s a YACHT,” he said, emphasizing the word the way one would speak to a child when I asked about somewhere to sit if it got too cool, “There’s a nice big indoor salon. It’s great. We’ll even have live music.”

With no car of our own, it’s not like we really had a choice, now did we?

Friends, the “yacht” was the piece de resistance.

It was a big, ugly fishing boat.

I wish I was kidding.

I guess, if length is what determines yacht status, it was technically a yacht. I guess we should have asked him to be more specific.

I was expecting a luxury yacht, with wine & cheese where I would sit on a large outdoor lounger and sip champagne as I forgot the wretchedness of the past 24 hours.

What I got was a large, dirty, utilitarian fishing boat with no outdoor seating, a darkly lit indoor salon filled with ugly green cushions with water stains and dirty carpet, and a white 5-gallon bucket filled with ice and Bud Light paired with a giant brown paper bag of turkey subs.

The music? One of the guys brought his banjo.

I can’t make this stuff up.

I was expecting this:

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And I got this:

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Crappy Fishing Boat? Strike Three.

I suddenly realized why this guy was a Senior VP of marketing.

He could sell anything.

I will call this photo "Matt's Portrait of Dispair." I particularly like the 1978 Olan Mills close-up effect.

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We had been sold a classy beach condo, an exclusive beach dinner, and a yacht tour. What we got was a dumpy room, an average dinner, and 8 hours on a barebones fishing boat with beer and Jersey Mike’s.

As I headed down to the bathroom to cry in silence, the Captain looked at me and said, “The toilet doesn’t work so good. If it won’t flush, pump it a few times.”

Priceless.

There had been some tense moments in the past 2 days as our plans unraveled again and again. By the time we got left on the boat, however, all that was left to do was laugh. We couldn’t stop laughing.

We laughed until we cried.

Then Matt offered me a turkey sub, and we laughed some more, especially when we figured out there were no napkins, plates, or condiments. Just dry turkey on wheat.

Sure, I would have loved to have taken a bubble bath in a high rise condo on the beach, enjoyed wine pairings with famed chefs in the sand, and snacked on canapes on the teak deck of a luxury sailing yacht, but I found myself laughing with Matt at the hilarious turn of events as we stole a few private hours in the sunshine on the beaches of Cape Lookout.

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Some weekends are for meeting new friends and being whisked away to exciting elite locales to experience a life you only get to see on the pages of magazines.

Other weekends are for bonding with your spouse in a dark condo with peanut butter bagels.

In my life, there is room for all of it.

It was FINE.

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Next up? Join us as we head to the hike-in only Charit Creek Lodge in Big South Fork!

Posted by vicki_h 10:26 Archived in USA Tagged north_carolina beaufort Comments (2)

Bikini Hut: Before and After

Bikini Hut is about 115 years old and has served as everything from a home to 13 children (yes, at the same time) to an actual Bikini Store. The cottage had been recently renovated completely, so everything was in top notch shape when we bought it. We just needed to change out the decor and add our own touch to it (seriously....who says "I think the perfect furniture for our beach house would be some red leather sofas and a black leather theater chair"??? Don't even get me started on that PVC and plywood table.....).

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We only had 2 weeks to make it ours, but I loved every minute of it. I decided to keep the name the house came with, because it suits the house and it suits me. Here’s the before and after!

Before:

Exterior:

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Living Area:

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Bathroom:

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Kitchen:

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Dining Area (what is now the Murphy Bed Room):

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Bedroom:

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After:

Exterior:

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Living/Dining Area:

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(There is actually a flipping millipede in the picture above! Damn millipedes!)

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Bathroom:

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Murphy Bed Room:

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Kitchen:

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Bedroom:

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Want to stay at Bikini Hut???? We’re taking a limited number of reservations. Check us out on VRBO!

http://www.vrbo.com/762793

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Posted by vicki_h 05:50 Archived in Bahamas Tagged island caribbean tropical abaco elbow_cay guana_cay marsh_harbour treasure_cay lubbers_landing Comments (8)

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