17.11.2015 - 22.11.2015
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There was only one part of Indigo House I didn’t love.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now I could sit outside without the fear of "death by fruit."
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.
We made an unexpected stop along the way. When we saw the Original Shell Museum of Carrot Bay, we just had to stop.
There was art.
There was history.
There was shopping and fine dining.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Day Three: Heading Off Island - Jost For Fun
We woke to a beautiful rainbow and a puppy on our porch.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Seddy’s One Love served us delicious lobster and the best lobster quesadillas. We ate ourselves silly before heading back down the beach.
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!
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.
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:
The "new and improved Ivan's" was nice, but it seems to have lost its heart. It just looked like any other beach bar.
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.
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.
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?
We even made it in time for the sunset shot.
By then, I needed that shot.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The views along the way were stellar.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.