Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Astrophysicist of the Caribbean 2

Last Friday I embarked on the holiday part of my trip (yes, the rest of it had been purely work-based) as me and my friend (former officemate and bandmate Chris) headed off to the British Virgin Islands (BVI). [Actually the first thing we'd done on Friday (with a few others, in a hired Jeep) had in fact been to drive out to the El Yunque National Forest (still on Puerto Rico) and do a bit of hiking.]

We were going to the largest island in the BVIs - Tortola - which is only a short 30ish minute flight from Puerto Rico. The plane levels out at only 6000 feet before starting it's decent again, but this does offer some great views of the islands.

When we arrived in Tortola we got a taxi across the island to Cane Garden Bay where we we're to be staying for the weekend. The first thing I noticed when getting driven across the island was how steep the place is - the roads are at crazy angles and are far steeper that any I've seen before - but somehow our taxi made it over okay. When I got over the steepness of the roads (and the occasional cow in road) I started to notice the views (and the many chickens!), which allow you to see over large chunks of the island and some of the other islands beyond. It was a really great view when driving down into Cane Garden Bay and realising that this is where we'd be staying.

Cane Garden Bay is apparently one of the most popular locations on the island - it certainly does look very nice and has a really good beach. When you first drive through it some parts have a slightly run down look, but outside of the modern expensive resorts this was how most of the island looked (people seem to leave their houses half finished, or at least they leave them with the option of extending them a bit, so many house had piping and cabling sticking out their roofs for when they decide to build the next floor). It was in reality perfectly nice and our hotel (the Elm Beach Suites) was basic, but very nice - and most importantly pretty much on the beach. We had a relaxing first night and sat around having barbecued meat, a few beers and the local drink - the Painkiller - and the whole place was pretty quiet with a nice atmosphere.

The next day the beach by our hotel became very busy. There was a cruise ship docked in Road Town (the capital of the BVI) and large numbers of people had come through to Cane Garden Bay. This made the whole place not that nice - it was similar to any Spanish beach packed out with touring Brits (and Americans)! We sunbathed and swam in the sea for a bit, but got a taxi into Road Town for the afternoon to get away from the beach crowds. Road Town itself seemed to have nothing really going for it (and according to our taxi driver apparently on Saturdays it's quite dead!) We wandered around for a while, but couldn't find a tourist information office, or any sites to see, so we ended up just having a drink in Pusser's Pub (where we ended up watching the end of the Man U. vs. Spurs FA Cup match). Going back to Cane Garden Bay that evening it had calmed down a lot as all the cruiseship crowd had left. We had dinner in Quito's where later the local band played. The day was slightly disappointing, but our main problem was not having had any plan of what to do.

The next day we did make a plan. We decided to walk west along the coast (the less steep option) from Cane Garden Bay (on the north west of the island, but looking out more south west toward Jost van Dyke Island and the US Virgin Islands) towards the western most tip of the island and see what we could find. Our own bay was also a lot nicer due to it being empty of the cruiseship crowd. After a bit of hill negotiations getting out of the bay we eventually got into Little Apple Bay, where we saw a few people surfing (the waves were pretty small, but there was enough to catch a bit of surf). We stopped off for lunch at Sebastian's on the Beach (a hotel I'd looked at when booking, but was a bit more expensive, which did look very nice). We hired body boards and spent a couple of hours there (I did manage to get a bit of board rash from mine, but it was fun). We next carried on into the next bay, Long Bay, which contained a really nice looking long bay - this place was home to a rather fancy looking resort, which identical modern villas. We attempted to scramble around the rocky point at the end of the bay, which would have lead into Smuggler's Cove, but we didn't manage to make it all the way around due to fear of killing ourselves (there was a plaque near the point we reached commemorating someone who'd maybe been unlucky when attempting to get around) - if we'd had extra gear and more time it would probably been doable. We took the easier road option around to Smuggler's Cove and found a cool beach that seemed popular with the locals. Later (after having a rather strange vegetable/cheese pizza from a very nice woman called Annie, who made us listen to Christian ballads as we ate) we headed back to Little Apple Bay to go to Tortola's "Number 1 Party Spot", the Bomba Shack, which was a literal shack on the coast that had many pairs of pants hanging from it's ceiling. Here we met a group of American's, well mainly this guy Marcus, who we had a pleasant chat with - they we sailing the islands and off to a party on Jost Van Dyke the next day (Marcus did invite us, but we had to decline). All-in-all this was a far better day that the previous one as we'd actually done stuff and been productive.

The next day, Monday, we were leaving, but still managed to get out for a bit of sea kayaking in the morning before our flight back. On driving back to the airport the whole island looked really nice and it felt like a shame to be leaving already after only just discovering what we could do. It was also annoying that we found out that the following evening 800 blues musicians were going to be descending on Cane Garden Bay and playing on the beach!

In general I'd recommend traveling to the BVI, but do have some idea of what you want to do (unless you're happy to just lie on a beach all day). One thing we should have done is try and get on a day's sailing trip around the islands - sailing is the main thing to do there, and it looks a great place to do it. [Do also note that they charge you a $20 departure tax!]