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CAKE BY THE OCEAN: A 50th Birthday Bash in Paradise

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I have found out there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them” – Mark Twain

It was a cold, gray day in December 2014. Matt and I were drowning our Seasonal Affective Disorder in a pitcher of top shelf margaritas at our favorite Mexican dive. Somehow, the conversation turned to Matt’s 50th birthday. I mean, if you’re already depressed, you may as well dredge up every miserable topic you can think of, right?

Despite the fact that it was still a year and a half away, it was already weighing heavily on his mind.

“Why don’t we plan something fun for your birthday, like when we took all my friends to the Bahamas for my 40th? You should look forward to your birthday, not dread it,” I said, through a mouthful of tortilla chips.

We started visualizing what such a trip could look like….where we would go…..who we would invite….and the more tequila we drank, the more amazing the idea seemed.

Why should he sit at home and bury his head in misery? Instead, we thought about going big and planning the trip of a lifetime.

By the bottom of the pitcher, we had solved all of the world’s problems, had figured out a cure for cancer, and had planned a birthday trip for Matt’s 50th. We had decided to rent a villa on Jost Van Dyke and invite our friends.

With 4 bedrooms, we could invite 3 other couples, but who? How to decide? We loved all of our friends and there were 12 of them.

“Let’s just invite them all and see who can come,” Matt said through the tequila haze.

It was a perfect plan.

What better way to turn 50 than do it with all of your favorite people in paradise?

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We invited 12 people.

12 people said “yes.”

This was an unanticipated turn of events.

Of course they all said yes. They have heard us rave about Jost Van Dyke for years.

Jost Van Dyke is simply one of the best places on earth. Not only does it have one of the most famous beach bars in the Caribbean, the Soggy Dollar Bar, a veritable rite of passage for any beach bum, it has TWO of the most famous beach bars in the Caribbean with Foxy’s just a stumble away. Jost Van Dyke is an island of pure magic; a bubble of happiness and perfection, an oasis of sunshine and rainbows fueled by painkillers and rum punch. It is Caribbean utopia.

So that was it, then. We were going. All 14 of us.

We were going to need a bigger house.

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Forget all those trust-building exercises where you have to assemble a puzzle together, or fall into one another’s arms with your eyes closed. I cannot imagine a more arduous test of any personal relationships than travelling together to a remote island as a group of 14.

Don’t get me wrong, I have vacationed with all of these people and loved it.

SEPARATELY.

I just wasn’t sure how the dynamics of the ENTIRE UNIVERSE OF PEOPLE I KNOW being in one place at one time would work.

Some of our friends had never even met each other.

Still unsure whether this was lunacy or genius, we booked another house.

God help us.

God help Jost Van Dyke.

It was officially on.

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SATURDAY: JOST VAN DYKE RULES.

Never mind that the mean age for this group was just over 50, the “House Rules” for this trip read something like a frat party:

• Wake up smiling every day.
• Remember that drinking rum before 10:00 a.m. makes you a pirate, not an alcoholic.
• Calories do not count on vacation. Anyone who attempts to exercise will be tied up and left as shark food.
• No talking about politics or the election. The first person to bring up Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton gets voted off the island.
• Stay hydrated.
• The least drunk people each day are in charge of looking out for the drunkest people each day.
• You can’t be the drunkest person each day. In the interest of fairness, please take turns. Except Matt. He can be the drunkest person every day.
• This is your vacation. If you need some “me time,” take it. Of course the rest of us will talk about you while you’re gone. We’re not Puritans.
• No passing out in the common rooms of the houses. No one wants to wake up and tiptoe around your drooling, lifeless body.
• If you don’t want to see it on Facebook, don’t do it.
• Yes to drinking games, spontaneous dance-offs, group singing, laughter, snacks, and naps.
• No to arguing, fighting, whining, crying, working, dieting, exercising, or excessive sobriety.
• Relax.
• Have fun.

A list of rules may seem unnecessary for a group of mature adults. This was not, however, a group of MATURE adults.

This was exemplified before our flight even took off as one male member of our party showed up on to the American Airlines gate dressed like a pregnant woman while screaming that Matt was the baby daddy.

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Yep. This was going to be a week to remember.

Despite the fact that we had all gotten up at 3:00 a.m. to make our early flights, the mood on the plane was downright joyful.

WE WERE GOING TO JOST VAN DYKE!

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We landed on St. Thomas at 11:30 and I sent everyone over to grab their free thimble full of rum while I sent Matt out to find a taxi large enough for 14 people.

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He found one all right!

With luggage and bodies crammed into every nook and cranny, we set off for Red Hook.

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4 carsick passengers, 7 impatient horn blows, and 23 hairpin turns later, we were dropped off at Duffy’s Love Shack where we hoped to grab a quick bite before catching the 2:30 ferry.

It was going on 1:00, so this seemed possible.

Yes, I wasn't really thinking about "island time."

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Despite the fact that there was exactly ONE very slow bartender and ONE even slower waitress, we somehow managed to eat, drink, and get merry in time to catch the ferry.

By the time we arrived on Jost Van Dyke and cleared customs, it was 3:30.

We had been up for 12 hours. We were hot. We were dirty. We were exhausted.

I had rented Escape Villa and Pink House Bougainvillea because I had a large group of people, a very special occasion, and I needed top notch service.

Despite the fact that I paid a hefty sum to rent these 2 houses for a week, I did not get top notch service.

The materials sent to me by the managers for the houses clearly stated that the caretakers would gladly help me provision the houses, accepting delivery of groceries and putting them away. This was one of the reasons I rented these properties.

From the Pink House information packet: Call our General Managers (Franky and Lydia) so they know what your order's delivery schedule is estimated to be. Please confirm with them a pick-up from the dock at Great Harbor and delivery to the villas.

From the Escape Villa information packet: The property managers will arrange to have your groceries picked up at the ferry dock and delivered to Escape Villa and waiting for you upon arrival. You will just have to email the Property Managers with the information and confirm it with them.

However, my repeated emails (which started 4 weeks before our trip), went ignored. When I finally pressed for assistance after 10 days of emailing, the response I received was rather curt:

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Two sentences that told me to do it myself. And no explanation about why or alternatives offered.

I envisioned 14 travel weary adults, ready for nothing more than a hot shower and a good meal, arriving to 50 boxes of groceries that needed to be loaded, transported, unloaded, and unpacked.

I appealed to the managers of the houses, sending this mournful plea (I am not too proud to grovel and would have done just about anything at this point): “It will be somewhat difficult to arrive with 14 people and luggage to also pick up boxes of groceries from the dock and transport them to the house on a taxi. If there is any way that this service can be provided, I would appreciate it, otherwise, I suppose we will simply try to do it on our own as best we can.”

I offered to pay extra for the provisioning assistance.

I received one response that said, “Please coordinate this with Lydia.” I received no other response.

Wow.

Not what you expect for $12,000.

So that is how we arrived: a sweaty, bedraggled group of 14 after 12 hours of travel that were forced to split up so that the women could get all of the luggage to the house alone and start getting it unpacked while the men sat in the sun at the ferry dock and to wait an additional 45 minutes for the ferry with our groceries to arrive, load the groceries onto a taxi, unload them at the house, and then all of us spend 30 minutes putting them away.

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At the moment when I was dragging our two fifty pound suitcases up the very steep driveway to the house by myself, I would have paid any amount of money for help. Unfortunately, I wasn’t even offered the opportunity.

To add insult to injury, the caretaker wasn’t even at the house when we arrived. When she finally showed up about 45 minutes later, she spent a scant 5 minutes showing us the house and left. We never heard from her or saw her again during our trip.

Even after I communicated my displeasure with the owner of the houses after our trip – not one word of apology. His response was “We have established relationships with vendors who provide our guest top service. In this case, while you’ve personally had a good experience with Bobby’s, we’ve had dozens that have not and therefore we do not use them anymore. We advised you this was the case and simply stated that you would need to coordinate with them on your own if you didn’t want to use our preferred vendor.”

Seriously???? It’s important to note that NO ONE advised me at any time prior to my arrival (not during the 4 weeks of emails that I continued to send in hopes of some assistance) that they would not help if we used Bobby’s rather than their grocery store of choice. The only communication I received in those 4 weeks were the two sentences that told me to do it myself with no explanation about why.

And frankly, I don’t think it should be their choice to force a guest to use a more expensive grocery store when that guest has a well-established history of good service with another vendor. Just. Incredible.

So….instead of arriving to this:

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We arrived to this:

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Escape Villa and Pink House?

As a well-travelled individual who has rented many homes on many island in all price ranges……My advice is…

DON’T DO IT.

Stay at White Bay Villas and put the other $10,000 in your pocket. Not only will you be treated well, you’ll have a lot of money left over for painkillers (or for sending your kids to college).

Hours later, we finally had everything put away and everyone got a much needed shower (and a much needed drink!).

The party had gotten derailed. Instead of arriving to paradise, my group had arrived to a carboard box filled hell complete with sweat, tears, and Ritz Crackers that needed to be put away.

As the official Funmeister of Matt’s 50th Birthday, I had to get things back on track. I knew there was only one thing that could make everything right with the world again: SHOTS.

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Okay, make that two things:

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FOXY’S – BECAUSE EVERYTHING TASTES BETTER WHEN YOU HAVE DUSTY UNDERWEAR HANGING ABOVE YOUR HEAD.

I knew I had been successful when the waitress at Foxy’s came out for the third time to tell us that the pole was necessary to hold the building up and was not, despite our best efforts, put there for dancing.

The party was ON.

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SUNDAY: PARADISE DOES HAVE A NAME. IT’S GERTRUDE.

The forecast had called for mostly cloudy with an 80% chance of rain and storms for every day of our trip. I know better than to pay attention to a Caribbean forecast, but, like the rest of you, I can’t help myself.

We all know we do it.

It’s like looking behind the shower curtain when you walk into the bathroom even though you know there isn’t anyone in there. It’s pointless, but you are helpless to stop yourself.

When I woke up that first morning, I thought about that forecast.

After the arrival fiasco the day before, I prayed that we didn’t wake up to gray skies. That was a blow I didn’t think even the Funmeister could pull the group back from.

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We woke up to a gloriously perfect White Bay Day.

I was as happy as a pig in the sunshine.

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As the official master of ceremonies, I was in charge of the itinerary. (Was this even a question????). I had decided our first day had to be a White Bay Day. We had no plans more aspiring than seeing how long it took to get lounge chair marks on our butts.

The first order of business, however, was collecting 16 free painkillers at the Soggy Dollar Bar.

How do you get 16 FREE painkillers at the Soggy Dollar Bar, you ask? You have extremely awesome friends that purchased them months before on their own trip to Jost Van Dyke.

It also helps if your super nice friends can’t count and accidentally buy you 2 extra so that the Birthday Boy and his master of ceremonies, the Funmeister, can two fist it before it’s even time for lunch.

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On the “party end” of White Bay, my favorite base of operations is Gertrude’s. Not only does she have full size reclining chairs, she has “pour your own” rum punch.

My version of Gertrude’s rum punch has enough rum in it to kill a small horse.

Or Gary Busey.

The day was spent drinking copious amounts of rum and alternating between getting pruney in the gin clear water and getting marginally sunburned on a lounge chair in between sporadic bouts of bad dancing.

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Lunch found us at Seddy’s One Love downing lobster quesadillas, wings, and the island’s best bushwackers.

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That was followed by more dancing and generously giving away all of my chips to two little boys who asked me if they could have them.

With those faces, I would have given them my kidney if they had asked.

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Foxy’s Taboo was supposed to be having a Regatta party that afternoon, so we pried ourselves off our chairs and headed that way.

We found….nothing.

No live music. No dancing. No people. No party.

Although we did find some exceptional cocktails.

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Everyone was a little too salty, a little too tired, and a little too lubricated for another party anyway, so we headed back to the house for much needed showers and naps.

Besides, Ivan’s told us they were having an 80s party that night. We needed to rest up.

The plan was to put on some obnoxious 80s-wear and head to Ivan’s where we would do the robot, listen to some Billy Idol, and grab some eats.
As I sent everyone inside to “gear up,” we sent a scout over to see what was going on at Ivan’s. It was only feet from Escape Villa, but we couldn’t hear any music. That seems suspicious.

Apparently, Ivan’s had gotten the same memo Foxy’s Taboo had gotten and the party was not meant to be.

What does a Funmeister do when she has promised a night of 80s fun to 13 adults and has forced them to put on costumes only to find out there is no party?

She makes shots and starts her own party. (Shots are the vacation equivalent of duct tape - they fix EVERYTHING)

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What no one knew was that one of our 50 lb suitcases had contained a secret:

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The Rockville was 800 watts of musical awesomeness. Who needs a party at Ivan’s when you have the Rockville, an iPod full of 80s tunes, and 14 adults in costumes? Not to mention strobe lights and a fully stocked bar.

It was EPIC.

The party was so good we had strangers wandering up from the beach to join us. We could have charged admission.

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It was around 9:00 p.m. when I noticed Matt staring blearily into space while shoveling handfuls of chips into his mouth that I realized I hadn’t thought about dinner when we made the shift in plans. I had 14 adults who had been drinking all day and had no dinner.

I made a quick call to Vinnie at Corsair’s.

“Is it too late to order some pizzas for delivery?” I said in a state of panic. “I have 14 people who need some grease and dough in their bellies STAT!”

Vinnie delivered a stack of pizzas to our door in 30 minutes.

I am pretty sure he should be called Saint Vincent.

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MONDAY: BOATS & HOES.

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One of Matt’s birthday week requests was to charter a catamaran to take us out a couple of days.

Captain Colin of Jost Van Dyke Scuba had just what we needed: a 42’ catamaran with 1000 square feet of deck space and free rum punch.

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Everyone was still felt like Vicki Prince was screaming “Let’s go Crazy!” in their ears, so we started the day slowly, with some much needed boat lounging.

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Cpt. Colin took us to the Indians for an incredible snorkel.

This was followed by a nice spread of snacks on the boat.

And rum punch.

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That’s pretty much where the civilized portion of the day concluded.

Next stop? Where else do you go once the rum punch starts to flow? The Willy T, of course! (every Funmeister knows that)

This broken down pirate ship just off the beach at Norman Island was definitely the place to let this group get their fun on.

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We started off with lunch.

Lunch turned in to drinks.

Drinks turned into…well….I have been instructed not to overshare. I’ll just let you use your imagination.

Let’s just say it made 80’s night look like your grandma’s tea party.

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The boat ride back to Jost was uneventful, although we did have one person throwing up off the back of the boat, three passed out in the salon, and one puking into a zip-loc bag.

Fun times!

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The Funmeister passed waters around and we managed to get everyone back to Jost Van Dyke intact. Getting them off the boat and onto the dingy and then from the dingy to the dock was an entirely different matter.

No one fell in the water, so we will call it a success.

I sent everyone in for naps and showers, letting them know dinner was at Sidney’s Peace & Love that night.

Sidney’s was a perfect end to the day. The lobsters were HUGE and we made short work of them. All that was left was the carnage.

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TUESDAY: THE ULTIMATE F WORD.

I have heard it said that a birthday is nature’s way of telling you to eat more cake.

A FIFTIETH birthday is apparently nature’s way of telling you to drink more rum.

Because that’s what we did.

All day long.

It was Matt’s birthday and we were going to party like it was his birthday.

It was another picture-perfect White Bay Day.

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We took up our usual spots at Gertrude’s and soaked it in.

It was a perfect day filled with sunshine and friends, beach ducks, interesting strangers, Seddy’s magic tricks, lobster rolls and spicy wings, and enough rum to pickle a small army.

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I wanted Matt’s birthday dinner to be special. The restaurants on Jost are great for a beachy lunch or drinks, but none of them seemed right for a nice birthday dinner. The Sandcastle no longer did dinners on the beach, and the thought of being crammed in their dark cement hole of a restaurant just didn’t feel right for this occasion.

I had gone out on a limb and contacted Liz Henderson of Hendo’s Hideout. Hendo’s was just being built when we had last been on Jost and I remembered it being a beautiful building with a stunning view. The restaurant and bar had just opened 2 months earlier, serving drinks and lunch only.

It was a risky move. We had never even seen the completed restaurant. We had NO IDEA what their food or drinks were like. They didn’t even serve dinner.

But I had a gut feeling and I went with it.

When Liz agreed to do a private dinner party for Matt’s birthday, I was so excited. And nervous. But mostly excited.

Everyone put on their beach best. You’d have never know this group had been moderately intoxicated for 4 days.

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At least until the guys put on a pre-dinner concert, but maybe that was because of the birthday shots.

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We walked down the beach to Hendo’s, wondering what to expect.

Liz had decorated a beach front table beautifully. We were greeted by delicate starfish and small votives filled with sand.

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She immediately took drink orders and we noticed right off that these weren’t your average “White Bay” drinks. It was less rum punch and bushwacker and more passionfruit margarita and champagne cocktail. The drinks tasted as good as they looked.

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Champagne buckets arrived, filled with bubbly and ice.

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The dinner was getting off to a great start.

Liz had provided a menu in advance and we had sent in our orders the day before, so within minutes of our arrival, we had delicious cocktails and mouth-watering food.

The food. OMG. THE FOOD!

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The food was nothing short of amazing. We had lobster with butter lime sauce, BBQ ribs (because every group has the one person that won’t eat seafood!), grilled mahi-mahi with peppers, and a creole snapper that was to DIE FOR.

The champagne flowed. The food was phenomenal. The candles sparkled. The air was filled with the laughter of our friends.

It was perfect.

Liz had knocked it out of the ballpark.

Run, don’t walk, to Hendo’s Hideout the next time you are on Jost Van Dyke. You will thank me.

Our group agreed it was everyone’s favorite meal of the entire trip.

Then it was time to head back to the villa for cake.....by the ocean (I'm sorry. I couldn't help myself).

Matt had specifically requested a chocolate peanut butter cake, so I had made it myself. After drinking rum all day.

Cake mixes should come with "island directions." Kind of like "high altitude directions," but more geared toward simple things that you forget in a slightly altered state like, "First, open the box. Next, cut open the plastic pouch. Then, pour cake mix into a bowl, crack the eggs before putting them in the bowl, do not put the shells in the bowl." That would have been helpful.

I really think it turned out quite nice, complete with “nutter butter sand” and chocolate seashells (and enough candles to start a forest fire).

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Then it was time to break out the Rockville and dance the calories away.

Happy Birthday, Matt!

You may be 50, but to me, that just means you are 5 perfect 10’s. (Can I hear a collective “awwwww….,” please?)

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WEDNESDAY: RUM SOAKED, SUN SOAKED, AND WELL….JUST SOAKED.

The party hadn’t stopped since we had arrived. Our fun switches had been in the “ON” position for 4 days. I think one of our friends summed it up perfectly when she looked at me the night before and said, “I just realized I have been drinking for 13 hours.”

We needed a break.

We were exhausted.

As luck would have it, this was the one overcast day we had on the entire trip. It was a blessing.

We had booked a second catamaran day with Cpt. Colin.

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For a minute, he wasn’t sure if we were the same group he had dropped off 2 days before. We were quiet and subdued.

It was time for a down day.

We decided to put up the sails and sail to Cane Garden Bay on Tortola. This would take a couple of hours and give everyone plenty of time to relax.

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When we arrived at Cane Garden Bay, we decided to head to the Callwood Distillery. Matt and I had spent an entire WEEK in a house across the street from the distillery the previous November and had never made it inside.

No one really knows how long the distillery has been in operation, but the Callwood family has been operating it for 200 years after taking it over from the Arundel family.

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As the sign demanded, we bellied up to the bar, put down our $1 and sampled 4 shots of their rum, all aged to various degrees.

The 90 proof Arundel cane rum called the “horny rum” was clearly the group favorite.

I’m not sure what that says about our group.

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After making some rum purchases, we headed to Myett’s for lunch. We ordered a rainbow variety of frozen drinks, wings, burgers, and sticky-sweet chicken thighs.

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Did I mention that we were exhausted?

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On the way back to Jost Van Dyke, we passed by Sandy Spit and made a B-Line for Little Jost Van Dyke.

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The B-Line Beach Bar, that is.

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This little bar sits by itself on a little curve of sand and serves up a delicious drink called the passion confusion. There were even chunks of frozen pineapple floating in there.

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We found a birthday message to Matt that had been left by our friends in December.

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And we left a message of our own.

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Then it was back to the villas for our requisite afternoon siesta.

We headed to Corsairs that night for dinner. While Vinnie’s pizzas are top notch and had really saved our bacon a couple of nights before, the rest of the menu is exceptional and begged to be sampled.

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Matt and I had creamy lobster mac n’ cheese and the spicy cioppino with a fresh salad. It was out of this world.

I’m not sure how we had the energy to stop for a drink at Foxy’s before heading home, but we did.

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Then it was time to head back and get some sleep, lest we end up looking like this guy:

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THURSDAY: STRESS FREE.

So far, we had spent our beach days on what I call the “party end” of White Bay. This is where you will find the Soggy Dollar Bar, an inordinate number of people in straw cowboy hats, and a sea of boats pulled up to the shore. It’s crowded. It’s loud. It’s fun.

But sometimes, you want the quiet end of White Bay. That’s when you park it at Ivan’s Stress Free Bar.

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We lined up 14 chairs, mixed up some rum punch, and proceeded to take over the place.

It appeared the “off day” had worked it’s magic and everyone had their groove back.

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That was a good thing, because we had a lot of rum to drink in two days.

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I guess Ivan’s wasn’t the quite end of the beach anymore.

When the hungries hit, we headed back to Hendo’s for lunch. Dinner had been so great, lunch had to be pretty good.

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It was good.

The afternoon was spent doing a whole lot of nothing.

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That evening, we all got cleaned up and decided to head to Ivan’s for the Thursday night buffet, because we certainly needed more all-you-can-eat on this trip!

Ivan’s didn’t disappoint and the ladies serves us up some mean chicken and ribs.

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We ate enough to send us all into a food coma for the night.

Or was that the rum?

It was getting hard to tell.

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FRIDAY: AIN’T NO PARTY LIKE A HATFIELD PARTY, ‘CUZ A HATFIELD PARTY DON’T STOP.

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One of our friends had come up with this phrase on a previous trip and it had stuck. Because it was true.

We were good at this.

We had sustained the party for a week with very few down times. Even Vicki the Funmeister was impressed with this group’s stamina.

It was our last day, so we wanted to make it a good one. We decided to stay on “our beach” for the day. We lined up the chairs, blew up the floats, dragged out the paddle boards, anchored the floating mattresses, and turned up the Rockville.

The day was non-stop fun.

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We went through every phase of beach drinking that day.

There was the “this is the most fun I have ever had in my life,” phase:

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That was followed by the “I love you, man,” phase:

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Next up was the “we are amazing dancers,” phase:

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Things started to wind down with the “I've fallen....and I can't get up,” phase:

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And finally, the, “let’s just take a nap,” phase:

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With one dinner left, we let Matt pick where he wanted his last meal on the island.

Of course he picked Sidney’s Peace & Love for another monster lobster. He is painfully addicted to their potato salad.

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Before we knew it, we were hanging up our own shirt at Foxy's and taking our last sleep on the birthday island.

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SATURDAY: ADIOS TO JOST….IT’S THAT TIME OF DAY.

It’s the point that comes in every trip: time to go home.

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I couldn’t believe how the week had gone. It had been amazing. Near perfect.

All 14 of us had gotten along so well that it was almost frightening (rum helps with that, I think). There had been no fights, no arguments, and no hurt feelings. We practically held hands and sang “Kumbayah” every day like a commune full of hippies in an old farmhouse in Woodstock filled with cats.

The weather had been great. Everything had gone well. We never ran out of potato chips. And no one got hurt (except for one unfortunate incident involving a member of our party and a large shrub.....).

I couldn’t believe how great the week had gone. I couldn’t believe how fortunate we were to be able to spend a week in paradise. I couldn’t believe how blessed we were to call these people our friends.

Ehr ma gawd, that’s some sappy crappy, isn’t it? I blame all the rum I guzzled over the trip for that word vomit. My liver is still trying to recover.

(But I meant every word of it)

So, here’s to Matt! Here’s to his 50th! Here’s to great friends!

If this is what we did for his 50th, I better start the planning for mine NOW.

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Posted by vicki_h 11:05 Archived in British Virgin Islands Tagged island caribbean tortola jost_van_dyke bvi british_virgin_islands Comments (5)

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)

Five Nights on the Barefoot Island

Jost Van Dyke, BVI

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.

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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.

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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.

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Day One:

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.

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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.”

“Name?”

“Vicki H.”

“Where ya stayin’?”

“Sandcastle.”

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Day Two:

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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.

That’s it.

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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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and After the Rain:

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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.

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Don’t let the elementary school cafeteria dishes scare you. It’s phenomenal.

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Even though Sydney is no longer with us, his lobster legacy lives on.

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Day Three:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The menu is always fantastic. Maybe I only think that because they always have lobster “something.” Like this lobster sandwich:

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They also make the best bushwacker, which is one of Matt’s favorite drinks.

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The view is pretty hard to beat too.

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Oh, sorry, I meant this view.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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It then takes you past Little Harbor where the lobster is great and the views are even better.

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After Little Harbor, you find yourself with amazing views out to Sandy Spit, Little Jost Van Dyke, and Diamond Cay.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Day Four:

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?

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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.

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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.

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Matt kept paddling and I kept walking until we ended up at Ivan’s.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Now, in addition to being bartender extraordinaire, I was a paddleboard phenomenon.

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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.

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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.

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We lunched at the Soggy Dollar with painkillers, fish n’ chips, and their outstanding roti.

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We then spent an afternoon looking at this:

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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.

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We arrived at a table with this wonderful dinner view….

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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.

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Then the light faded from another picture perfect day.

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Day Five:

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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.

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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.

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We made our way through Great Harbor….

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Then Little Harbor…..

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Over the hill…..

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And finally to the end of the road.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Seriously?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Okay, it was really just for reason #2.

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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.

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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
Lobster: 0

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Day Six:

It was time for my final cup of coffee with a view to die for.

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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.

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Would I do it again?

In a heartbeat. It was one of the most relaxing vacations of my life.

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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?

Heck no.

I’d stay longer.

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Posted by vicki_h 18:13 Archived in British Virgin Islands Tagged jost_van_dyke bvi british_virgin_islands Comments (5)

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