Jost Van Dyke, BVI
05.05.2012 - 10.05.2012
There are thousands of tiny islands in the Caribbean, so don’t feel bad if you have never heard of Jost Van Dyke. Not many people have. It is only a few square miles, after all, and easily gets lost in the swirling blue waters of the British Virgin Islands.
Pronounced “Yost,” it wasn’t long ago that this tiny little island didn’t even have electricity or paved roads. It’s off the radar for most travelers, and for those few who are “in the know,” it’s merely a day trip from a larger island. Very few call Jost a destination of its own, and it was for that very reason that Matt and I decided this vacation would be spent entirely on its white sand beaches.
Having been to Jost Van Dyke many times ourselves on day trips, we knew how small it was. We knew how remote it was. We knew that you can almost count the number of restaurants on one hand and that “Main Street” consists of a strip of sand that stretches alongside a sweeping bay and is mostly made up of bars in varying stages of disrepair, old boats, and a very fat beach dog named Taboo.
We also knew that it was one of the most beautiful places we had ever been. We’d even spent a night here and we knew that getting to spend 5 nights here would be a unique opportunity. We would either become extremely relaxed or the remoteness of it would cause one of us would go all “Jack Nicholson in the Shining” on the other. Either way, we were up for the adventure.
2 airplanes. 1 taxi. and 2 boats. This is how you get to Jost Van Dyke from East TN. The day was long and the logistics were tight, but a flight to North Carolina, a flight to St. Thomas, a taxi to downtown Charlotte Amalie, a ferry to Tortola where we cleared customs, and a final ferry to Jost Van Dyke got us on the island at 6:30 p.m.
I had ordered a box of snacks and beverages from Bobby’s Marketplace on Tortola that was to be delivered to our ferry, but didn’t really expect it to be all that smooth. Nothing is ever that smooth when traveling to a Caribbean island, is it? We know to be relaxed because everything moves at a slower pace and a unique rhythm, right? I just knew that box wouldn’t be there. I expected it to show up 3 days after we left to return home.
But there it was. Waiting for me on the Jost ferry…a little cardboard box full of happiness with my name on it.
We had also called in advance to reserve a rental car. Having “reserved” rental cars on Jost many times, I knew not to expect much. The conversation goes something like this:
“Hello, I’d like to reserve a car for May 5 – 10 please.”
“Where ya stayin’?”
“What time you arrive on de ferry?”
“Um….I think we’ll be on the 6:30.”
“Okay. I be waitin’ for ya.”
That’s it. You don’t select a car type. Why? Because they only have one moderately abused Jeep in the lot. You get it. There really isn’t an option. You don’t get a reservation number. Why? Because they just wrote your reservation down on a post-it note. Post-it notes don’t generate reservation numbers. They don’t ask for a credit card to hold your reservation. Why? Because there is no room to put that long ass number on a post-it note.
So, I wasn’t surprised when we walked off the ferry and no one was there. I stood nervously, biting my nails, trying to decide what to do. You see, we were on the last ferry. There was one taxi waiting to take all the ferry passengers where we each needed to go. With no more ferries coming, that taxi wasn’t coming back.
It’s a long walk from the ferry dock with luggage.
Matt had given up and was just starting to load our luggage into the taxi when I noticed it was only 6:25. We were early! I told him we’d wait. He thought I was crazy, but I had faith. I mean, so far the day had been flawless. Our flight was early. Our taxi left immediately. Our ferry connections were smooth as silk. My box was even there on the last ferry…my name scribbled on the top in black Sharpie. The car would be here. I just knew it.
Precisely at 6:30, our rental car arrived. And yes, it was a moderately abused Jeep. But it was on time. And it was ours.
We drove to the Sandcastle on White Bay. The Sandcastle consists of 6 rooms hidden in the tropical gardens beside the famous Soggy Dollar Bar on White Bay, the most blindingly beautiful beach in the universe.
The rooms are modest, but are large, clean and comfortable. Only 2 rooms have a/c, and I prefer those to the larger, oceanfront cottages. When I need to see the ocean, I can walk the 10 steps to it, but without a/c, I can’t get cool no matter what I do. The rooms come with an assortment of books, beach towels, and a fridge to keep some drinks and snacks in.
If you think the car rental process was laid back, wait until you hear about check-in at the Sandcastle:
We arrived. We walked over to the bar. Someone pointed over her shoulder toward our room. “Number 5,” she said. We walked over, found Number 5, and went inside. There was no paperwork. No credit card. We weren’t even given a key. I’m pretty sure our door didn’t even lock.
How can you not love the place?
We were tired and hungry. It was Saturday night and that meant Foxy was having his BBQ buffet back in Great Harbor. After operation quick change, followed by a complete bath in OFF, we headed over to Foxy’s in our moderately abused Jeep.
We were early and the place was still pretty empty. Even though there were 196 signs posted all over Foxy’s that said, YOU MUST HAVE A RESERVATION FOR THE BUFFET, Matt and I plopped our happy butts right down in some seats, oblivious. Within seconds a very large and very stern waitress arrived.
“You have a reservation????” she demanded.
“No,” we said sheepishly, certain that we were about to be expelled and humiliated in front of all the yachties, not to mention being denied a platter full of Foxy’s barbequed goodness. Our day of success had left us overconfident and we were about to get our comeuppance.
“No matter,” she said. “We’re full, but you stay here. I work it out.”
And she did. God bless her.
I love Foxy’s BBQ for many reasons. First, the atmosphere at Foxy’s is hard to beat. A wooden structure pinned together with old t-shirts and baseball caps, it is open to the ocean just a few steps away. There is always music, tons of people from the boats in the harbor, and cocktails flowing like water. Second, the food is good. The BBQ buffet is only on Friday and Saturday nights and consists of green salad, fruit, pasta salad, bread, veges, peas n rice, corn, BBQ ribs, chicken, and fish. Third, as the very large, very stern waitress said, “You can have all you want ONE TIME.” With it being an all-you-can-eat-one-trip affair, there is a tremendous amount of entertainment value in watching 60 very intoxicated people try to stack and load their plates in the most efficient manner possible…attempting to get as much as they can in that one trip. It’s a delicate balance…get too little and ..oh no! …you’re still hungry but you can’t go back….get too much and….on no! …your plate just toppled like a game of drunken Jenga.
My plate looked like a redneck Thanksgiving: a double-decker plate with nothing but meat and carbohydrates. Everything on it was brown and the only thing missing was Aunt Susan’s broccoli casserole.
But it was oh-so-good.
After a couple of hours of watching some adults behaving badly on the dance floor and feeding scraps to the dog under the table, we headed back to the Sandcastle.
It was the night of the supermoon, the largest full moon of the year, and as we rounded the top of the hill and looked back over Great Harbor, the moon wished up a happy vacation.
Thank you, moon.
Jost Van Dyke is only about 4 miles by 2 miles with a population that hovers around 300. It looks like several green mountains set into the water and it’s hard to find a stretch of flat land anywhere. White Bay is Jost’s crown jewel and is the main beach on the island, scattered with casual beach bars and hammocks. There isn’t really a “town,” but Great Harbor is a long sandy street with a few restaurants, bars, and a convenience market wrapped around a bay. Farther down the road, Little Harbor houses a few more restaurants that specialize in fresh caught lobster and pretty much nothing else.
There really isn’t anything else.
This is why we woke up on our first full day wondering what the hell we were thinking and wondering just how long it was going to take us to get bored. Our room didn’t even have a T.V., for goodness sakes. What were 4 full days going to be like?
I’ll tell you what they were like.
By the end of the first day we stopped wearing shoes…even when we went out to dinner. By the end of the second day, we had decided the only reason good enough to move off of our beach chair before 6:00 p.m. was for alcohol or something fried, and even then we had to think about it really, really hard. By the end of the third day we had realized that a Bloody Mary made the perfect breakfast. By the end of the fourth day, we had totally relaxed, fully recharged, and completely reconnected.
It was perfection.
On that first morning, I strolled out onto White Bay Beach, which was completely devoid of people. For those of you who have only visited White Bay on a day trip, I can’t explain to you the serenity and beauty that is White Bay before any boats have arrived.
I envisioned a leisurely morning: a little breakfast, a little lounging, a little floating, a little cocktail….lather, rinse, and repeat.
Matt had a different plan.
“Let’s go for a run first,” he said.
I looked at him as he sat there lacing up his running shoes, all gung ho and excited, but I still wasn’t motivated. I thought about all the fried things and calorie laden frozen concoctions that would fill my day, but I still wasn’t motivated.
Then I glanced down at the little bikini on the bed that I planned to cram my 40-something year old butt into and I got motivated.
Like I said, Jost is pretty much a series of mountains sitting in the water. One of these mountains goes from the entrance of the Sandcastle toward Great Harbor. Yes, it’s only about a mile up, but I swear, it has to be a 39% grade. It’s so steep that when you walk up it, your nose touches the pavement.
And we were going to run up it.
Of course we were.
You know those crazy people you see out running on vacation? My husband is those people.
Now that I am over 40, apparently so am I.
I should mention here that my husband is fit. Very fit. I, on the other hand, PRETEND to be very fit. There is a big difference. When you are reasonably thin and own a pair of sneakers, people just assume you are fit. This pretense had served me pretty well up to this point.
I was about 50 steps into my run up the Mountain of Death when my left lung ruptured and started to come out of my nose. I am certain that this is what happened, because I could no longer breathe and it felt like a small bomb had exploded in my chest. A searing pain hit me in the right eye and I was pretty sure that some part of my brain had just died from the lack of oxygen. I would probably be blind within minutes. I sucked wind and slowed to a jogging pace that my 88 year old grandmother could have matched, with her oxygen tank in tow, while Mr. Universe practically danced up the hill. As I contemplated the possibility of simply making a sharp 90 degree turn and leaping over the guardrail to plunge my body toward the sea rocks below, Matt turned to see just how far behind him I was.
I gritted my teeth and smiled and waved in a manner that I hoped looked casual and athletic, thinking that from that distance he couldn’t possibly see that even my ears were sweating, but that I was pretty sure looked more like someone having a grand mal seizure, since it is very hard to wave casually when your heart has just ripped itself from your chest cavity and is trying to lodge itself in your throat.
Somehow, I made it up the hill and back without vomiting, passing out, or simply lying down in the middle of the street and praying that a moderately abused Jeep would come by and simply run me over.
After surviving the run, I decided that the only logical thing to do was to now consume at least twice as many calories at breakfast as I had just burned. That’s why I went straight to the dining room and had this:
Mmm….a plate full of cheese and carbs with a view of the ocean. Almost made those sweaty miles worth it.
Well, actually, no it didn’t. But it was very good.
We established a routine on that first day that we would follow for the four full days we were on the island: run up the Mountain of Death (um…yes…I did it again on every morning of the trip…madness, no?), snag a cup of coffee and watch the waves roll in, have a little breakfast, find 2 chairs with tables and a nearby hammock and spread out with towels and books and music, grab a Bloody Mary somewhere around 10:00, swim a little, hit up the Soggy Dollar Bar for painkillers, have some lunch, and spend the afternoon in alternating between cocktails, lounging in the water with a pool noodle, and laying on a beach chair until it was time to head in for a nap before dinner.
It was heaven.
We wandered over to Jewel’s Snack Shack for lunch, having heard that Ms. Jewel makes a mean hamburger. Admittedly, the place was about the size of a garden shed…Actually, I’m not sure it wasn’t a garden shed. A few battered stools sat out front and the bar wasn’t much to look at.
Why is it that you’ll gladly eat at a place on vacation that you’d literally run screaming from at home?
We ponied up to the bar and placed our order. Ms. Jewel quickly told us that there were no fries because her fryer was broken. And then she told us there were no bacon cheese burgers because she didn’t have any bacon.
What she did have was one fine hamburger and the world’s best rum punch. I especially liked the 3…yes, exactly 3…Pringle’s that she put on the plate as a sort of peace offering for the lack of fries. Like a Pringle garnish, I wasn’t sure whether to eat them or if they were just for looks.
This was our view for much of the afternoon, because after a few of Ms. Jewel's rum punches, you are not qualified to do much more than sit stupidly in the water.
For dinner, we wanted lobster, and for us the first stop for lobster is always Sydney’s Peace and Love in Little Harbor.
My favorite part is the self-serve bar. I love being my own bartender.
According to Matt, I could not actually be a bartender because I put so much alcohol in the drinks that the bar would go broke because 1) it would have to spend too much on alcohol, 2) no one could buy more than one drink because the first one would leave them in a coma, and 3) someone would inevitably end up wrapped around a palm tree and sue the bar because my drinks are too strong.
Whatever. I think I am a bartender extraordinaire.
As we sat just at the edge of the open air restaurant, facing the breezy waters of Little Harbor before us, a quick but fierce rain blew in. I like these shots of Matt. I like to call them Before the Rain:
and After the Rain:
If he’d just let me keep making the drinks, he wouldn’t have even NOTICED the rain.
Sydney’s serves up a great lobster dinner. So fresh, your lobster was probably swimming under a rock a few hours earlier, the lobster is HUGE and comes with potato salad, corn on the cob, peas n’ rice, cole slaw, and your choice of soup with garlic toast.
Don’t let the elementary school cafeteria dishes scare you. It’s phenomenal.
Even though Sydney is no longer with us, his lobster legacy lives on.
Wake up. Run up the Mountain of Death. Shower. Coffee.
That is how every morning started. The coffee was definitely my favorite part because the view was outstanding. And because it didn’t involve hills. Or running. Or thoughts of suicide.
We spent the morning sunning, reading, lounging, drinking, swimming….I’d like to say something exciting happened, like a band of pirates showed up and shot a cannonball into the Soggy Dollar bar or that Morgan Freeman breezed in on his boat and invited us all aboard for a giant party, but the most exciting thing to happen was watching a drunk guy from a day boat get lost and wander back and forth on the beach for about 20 minutes trying desperately to figure out where he was. I’m not sure he even knew who he was.
We decided to hit Seddy’s One Love for lunch. It’s my favorite place for lunch on White Bay. To me, it’s a perfect combination of the most colorful location and the best food.
One Love is like the nautical version of Hoarders, with buoys and traps, surfboards and life rings, nets and anchors taped, tied, wrapped, and hung on every imaginable surface.
The menu is always fantastic. Maybe I only think that because they always have lobster “something.” Like this lobster sandwich:
They also make the best bushwacker, which is one of Matt’s favorite drinks.
The view is pretty hard to beat too.
Oh, sorry, I meant this view.
The afternoon was spent becoming waterlogged with a pool noodle and trying to see if I could balance a Soggy Dollar cup on my head. I couldn’t.
We decided to take a drive to “the end of the road” to break our afternoon lethargy. For perspective, here is a road map of Jost.
White Bay is at one end.
Driving to the other end takes you past Great Harbor, where you can often find Foxy “doing his thing.”
It then takes you past Little Harbor where the lobster is great and the views are even better.
After Little Harbor, you find yourself with amazing views out to Sandy Spit, Little Jost Van Dyke, and Diamond Cay.
Finally, you end up at Foxy’s Taboo and the path to the Bubbly Pool. We decided to save Foxy’s Taboo and the Bubbly Pool for another day.
You know you are relaxed when you are simply too tired to get out of the car.
We cleaned up for dinner. The plan was to head to Little Harbor again, but instead of eating at Sydney’s, we’d walk next door to Harris’ Place, where we’d heard a rumor that Monday night means all you can eat lobster.
Apparently, Monday night was “eat more than we have” lobster night and Harris’ Place had no more lobster. So….it was back to Sydney’s for a do over.
It was tough having to eat Sydney’s delicate, delicious, buttery lobster a second night in a row…. But somehow I managed to choke it down.
You know exactly what I did that morning, now don’t you? Of course you do. Why torture us both with the agony of it? Let’s move on to things that don’t involve sweat, sneakers, or pavement.
How about breakfast with a view?
It was on our 3rd full day that I worked up the courage to drag out the paddle board. Like I said, I am not very athletic and things like that scare me. But I really, really, really wanted to try it, so I did what I always do. I made Matt do it first.
He paddled to the other end of White Bay while I walked the shore and watched. The views were outstanding as I crossed the beach.
Matt kept paddling and I kept walking until we ended up at Ivan’s.
Ivan’s is a colorful, tumbledown, scruffy collection of buildings covered in every manner of flotsam and jetsam. Every available space is covered with sea shells, bits of glass, tiles, driftwood, coral, rocks, and anything else that anyone has managed to find washed up on the shores of White Bay that didn’t run away before they could glue it to a board.
The place was deserted so early in the morning, so it made a perfect place for me to debut my paddleboarding skills without any witnesses to the ridiculous spectacle that would be me trying to get on a paddleboard and stay on a paddleboard.
The paddleboard was a little bigger than a surfboard. The idea was that I would just climb on it and paddle myself around the bay. Easy as pie. Right?
Actually it was. Easy. As. Pie.
I loved it.
Now, in addition to being bartender extraordinaire, I was a paddleboard phenomenon.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I never fell off the sucker once. For me, that’s worthy of a medal.
I settled for a Bloody Mary.
We spent a lazy morning with the paddleboard, the hook and ring game, Mic’s Bloody Marys, and the sublime beauty that is White Bay.
We lunched at the Soggy Dollar with painkillers, fish n’ chips, and their outstanding roti.
We then spent an afternoon looking at this:
That’s what you see when you have one painkiller too many and can do nothing more than lay in a heat and rum fueled coma on a beach chair counting the puffy white clouds as they roll by. Ah….bliss.
Too lazy to even get in the moderately abused Jeep to go to dinner, we signed up for dinner at the Sandcastle. To sign up, you simply head to the bar before 5 pm and find the dinner book. You write your name down beside a time and you look through the menu and put down all the items you want.
At your dinner time, you show up and they bring your food to you.
We arrived at a table with this wonderful dinner view….
Dinner was a romantic candlelit affair with our toes in the sand and the waves just outside our reach.
There were conch fritters, snapper, and my favorite, painkiller ice cream.
Then the light faded from another picture perfect day.
Our last full day…our last run up the Mountain of Death. No, it never got any easier.
We spent the morning drinking in the beauty of White Bay and making sure Mic, the Caribbean’s most awesome bartender, kept us supplied with liquid sunshine.
We decided to head to the Bubbly Pool and thought the nearby Foxy’s Taboo might be a good choice for lunch, so we headed out.
We made our way through Great Harbor….
Then Little Harbor…..
Over the hill…..
And finally to the end of the road.
Foxy’s Taboo is named after Foxy’s dog and is Jost Van Dyke’s swankiest hangout. Granted, when the other establishments boast giant pairs of dusty underwear signed in Sharpie hanging from the rafters and have bars held together with duct tape, spit, and seashells, it doesn’t take much to be the swankiest. It sits alone on a scrap of beach facing a small harbor where there were at least a dozen sailboats moored, twinkling and swaying in the blue water. The menu was a little more sophisticated than most of the ones we’d seen on the island, with choices like garlic eggplant cheesecake and Mediterranean salsa.
The food was delicious, and while I love a good beach burger or piece of giant fried something, it was a nice change of pace.
The views weren’t half bad either.
So, it was finally time to see the Bubbly Pool that all the fuss is about. We walked the goat path through the scrub until we came to a little pool of water the size of a small swimming pool that had about 97 people in it.
We politely sat on a rock and waited. I don’t do crowds. We waited while 8 more people showed up and trudged into the tiny pool with giant cans of beer. We waited while 3 more people showed up and squeezed into the tiny pool in water shoes. We waited while 12 more people showed up and crammed themselves into the few tiny spaces left in the water, most of them hanging half in/half out of the water on the rocks, some satisfied to just have a toe sticking in.
It was like the human version of that motivational exercise they always do at lame conferences where they try to see just how much crap they can cram into a jar with rocks or marbles, then tiny pebbles, then sand, then water. You know the one. It was like that but with sweaty bodies, fanny packs, and giant cans of beer.
We waited. I felt like I was in a queue at Disney World, except that it was much hotter and there was no ride waiting for me at the end of the line. Just a tiny pool of water that now probably had a high concentration of beer and pee in it.
There was finally a blessed break in the endless stream of bodies and we jumped in, had our 3 minutes of bliss in the foamy, bubbly, tingly water, and jumped back out before a new wave of troops marched boldly in.
The bubbly pool is very cool, if you can have it in relative privacy. Unfortunately, it has gone the way of most things that are awesome and is now the 8th wonder of the world, drawing freakish crowds that destroy the very nature of what makes it so special.
My advice: Go very early to miss the crowds, or either skip it altogether and simply douse yourself into a bucket filled with Coca-Cola (it will feel very similar) or just go the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” route and take a giant beer with you and plunge right in, if you can find a space to squeeze into.
After that debacle, I needed an adult beverage, so we assumed our positions once again on White Bay and hit Gertrude’s for some liquid entertainment.
Gertrude’s is unique. You walk inside and order a drink. She’ll often ask if you want a $7 cup or a $10 cup. She’ll then hand you a cup and an assortment of liquor bottles, presumably the bottles needed to make whatever you just ordered. Then you make it. Yourself.
YES! Vicki was bartender extraordinaire once again. I’m telling you. This is my destiny.
After a couple of those rum punches, Matt and I had a contest to see who had the cooler initials to make out of a hand signal.
I declared myself the winner.
We decided on Corsair’s for dinner for 2 reasons. 1) They had a supercool vintage Jeep which meant it must be undeniably fabulous and 2) They had a sign outside saying that they had a MONSTER LOBSTER.
Okay, it was really just for reason #2.
We had a choice of a lobster up to 8 lbs. That sounded like a prehistoric beast and I feared trying to eat something that was larger than my dog, so we went for a modest 3.8 lb. lobster.
I loved the look on Matt’s face when the lobster arrived. It was so big they had to put it on one of those giant wooden sushi boats.
You’ll be pleased to know that we made short work of that lobster. Matt’s look of trepidation was for naught.
Matt & Vicki: 1
It was time for my final cup of coffee with a view to die for.
It came and went so fast. We were off on the 9:15 ferry to catch a 10:15 ferry to catch a cab to catch a plane to go home.
With one final stop at Pie Whole on St. Thomas, for an Italian Margarita and the best pizza in the universe, it was all over but the flying.
Would I do it again?
In a heartbeat. It was one of the most relaxing vacations of my life.
Would I stay at the Sandcastle again? Yes, you can’t beat the location if you want to stay on Jost. Sure, there are a few other places to stay, but the Sandcastle is tops.
Would I stay that long again?
I’d stay longer.