Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Chartering in the BVI - Part 1: Getting There

Drove down to Chicago Tuesday night and spent the evening at my brother's place. Keenan came up for the send off, and we dropped him off around midnight at the Red Line. An early morning call, with the cab picking us up at 5:50 for the ride down to O'Hare. Our flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico took off at 8:30, and we arrived around 3, local time. We then had a three hour layover before our flight to St. Thomas in the US Virgins.

We had heard about some good food in Puerto Rico from Geri, but we didn't want to go through the rigamarole of going through security again to get to it, so we opted for a quiet looking bar near our boarding gate. $6.50 beers (Madalla or something like that, a local brew, presumably) and the worst meal for the money than we've had in a long time. Terri got Nachos (which we originally thought of splitting, since they had a $10 price tag), and were basically ball park nachos with velveeta and tomatoes and sour cream, and I got a cuban sandwich, which basically ended up being a slightly cuban-ish 'Slim Jim' like you'd get at Big Boy. It was nearing dark when we got on the little puddle jumper for St. Thomas, and it was a short hop over to the island, and then a 12 dollar cab ride to the building right next door to the airport. Starting to feel like we've started to work our way through our budget before we've even gotten to our destination.

Anyhow, settled into our hotel room now. Nice view (from what we can see at night), and we took a hike down the road to stretch our legs, and build up an appetite, and ended up eating dinner here at the hotel. A couple of beers and vegetarian burritos, the best meal of the day, and then a quiet stroll down on the hotel beach, before the storm clouds rolled over the hills and it started lightly raining on us. We have the whole day in St. Thomas tomorrow, so we plan on doing a little sightseeing and exploring in the morning.

(photo above): St. Thomas as seen from one of the roads leading up to Mountain Top.

We had a day to spend in the USV island of St. Thomas, with no specific plans as to what we were going to do with our time. We rose fairly early (as usual, I was up with the dawn, and Terri slept in a bit later), and caught the shuttle downtown to try and hunt up some breakfast, and maybe do a little shopping in the business district. We found a nice little hole in the wall deli/bar near Fort Christian and the Vendor's Square and had a very nice meal and had a nice talk with the waitress, who is also a sailor and gave us some good tips on places to go.
After breakfast, we wandered a bit through the vendor's market, and then wandered a bit through downtown, eventually heading uphill to try and find the '99 steps', which we assumed were something like the slave built quarry steps we saw in Nassau. At the top of the steps we came across Blackbeard's Castle (not sure what this was, but seems to be geared towards the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' crowd, like so many cheesy gift shops around here), at which point, we started noticing how nice the scenery was from the growing altitude, so we thought we'd try and climb up to 'Mountain Top' which is purportedly a great scenic outlook, where you can see all the surrounding islands. The island doesn't seem to be 'pedestrian friendly', and walking up the tight little switchback roads with traffic driving on the opposite side of the road, with little or no shoulder beyond the pavement was a bit hairy at times. We didn't see any other 'walkers', but plenty of tourbuses passed us with encouraging shouts from the passengers. The view was spectacular when we finally made it to the top, and we celebrated with a couple beers and a very refreshing banana daquiri (and several bottles of water to make up for the two that we drained on the way up).

(photo above): Magen's Bay as seen from Mountain Top, we will eventually hike down to it thanks to directions from the bartender.

While up on the mountain we got a glimpse of Magen's Bay Beach on the north side of the island, and we asked directions from one of the bartenders on how to best get there. Mostly downhill, which was a nice change of pace, but with more hairpin blind curves and little shoulder to walk on. The beach was beautiful and not too crowded and I had thought ahead and wore my swimsuit under my clothes (Terri didn't and regretted it), so I had a nice refreshing swim out in the lukewarm calm water. After a walk to the far extreme end of the beach and a couple more beers, we decided that we didn't have enough gas left in our engines to try and walk back to town (which would entail crossing the island ridge once again), so we grabbed a taxi back to the city center and got a recommendation from the driver for a place to eat.

(photo above): Magen's Bay from the western end looking east.

We walked around a bit, did a little shopping, and eventually found the restaurant ('Cuzzins' I think it was called) and had a very enjoyable supper around 4ish. I had Conch Creole with Funji (whatever that is), local stuffing and rice and peas (and a very spicy hot sauce... yumm), and Terri had one of the fish specials (catch of the day, we though she said it was 'king fish'), which had a similar topping of onions and peppers, with fried plantains, sweet potato and vegetables.
I then talked the poor girl into walking from there back to our hotel. I have no idea how many miles we put on our poor feet today, but it feels like one of those 10 mile hikes from our backpacking days (I'll google map it later and figure it out when I get home).
Back at the hotel now, about 6pm local time and feels like 10. We are whipped. A very fun day however and looking forward to our ferry boat ride to Tortola tomorrow morning.


We rose bright and early to catch the taxi down to the Tortola Ferry Dock, and we were on the water by 8:50. The weather was an interesting mix of sunshine clouds, rain and a beautiful rainbow over St. Thomas (or it could have been over St. John's, hard to tell). The sun was back out and shining by the time we arrived around 9:30. Customs was quick and easy, but getting our prepaid taxi ride to the Charter docks was a bit of a problem. Somebody didn't pick up our paperwork and there was confusion regarding whether or not we had paid for the ride. We got to the docks around 10, and found out our chart briefing time would be at 4 and check in to the boat would be at 6, so we had about six hours to kill, so we stashed our bags in the office and headed out on foot to check out the local grocery and downtown area.

(photo above): The view from the road to Brewer Bay, looking down on Road Town on Tortola (skies looking a bit overcast), you can see Peter Island and Dead Chest Island off on the horizon.

Shopped a bit in the downtown local vendor booths and then hired a taxi to take us to the other side of the island where we had read were some nice beaches. Terri did NOT want to climb these mountains today and I have to say I was in her corner. Glad we didn't, because once the taxi left the town proper, it started heading STRAIGHT UP the sides of the mountains, and the ride back down on the other side was just as harrowing (but with worse roads). Our driver, a fellow named "Lonely" with incredibly long fingernails and lots of gold bling kept up a running commentary on the way, instructing us on local history (some of it going back to the 1700s, and not all of it we could decipher due to his accent). Some beautiful scenics on the way however, and he did a fine job of getting us there in one piece (he informed us that he is 65 years old and has been driving cabs here since he was 17).

(photo above): Looking down the beach from the north side of Brewer Bay, near where we were dropped off by 'Lonely'.

The beach was very nice. Secluded, quiet and with a scenic view of the Jost Van Dyke Islands off the north. The waves were quite a bit bigger than the ones at the St. Thomas beach the day before, and Terri remembered to bring her bathing suit this time and got to enjoy the sight of the waves nearly peeling my swim trunks off. Keenan would have gotten a big kick out of these waves. 'Lonely' kept up a vigil for us at the local watering hole while we hung out on the beach most of the afternoon (he said things were kind of slow in town).

(photo above): View looking straight up from our beach towel on Brewer Bay Beach, on the north side of Tortola Island

Back at our chart orientation at 4, we got a rapid fire verbal tour of the islands and how to avoid sinking or running aground in all the bays from Winston the 'chart orientation dude'. A bit overwhelming, but we think we have a sort of plan for tomorrow. Norman Island, the setting and/or inspiration for the 'Treasure Island' book. We sat around for an hour or so after our chart tutorial, and signed our paperwork and were led aboard our 36 ft Benneteau "Thermos Popsicle" (not the real name, but pretty close, and what I have rechristened her). Beautiful inside, lots of room, and actual galley with gimbaled stove, a shower stall, two roomy staterooms, fridge, nav station, and a roomy little living room/salon where I am writing this now. We get woken up for a boat orientation at 8 tomorrow morning, and then we are on... our... way.

Unfortunately, we have no internet access right now, so I'll have to save it and post later. (update: here I am at Norman Island in the middle of a bay at a mooring ball, connected to the internet.. what at amazing world)

Wildlife Tally so far: 3 Iguanas (jumbo sized at the top of some trees), numerous Chameleons, One mystery lizard (medium sized), several jumbo sized spiders with colorful patterns, many free range chickens, 1 mongoose, a couple pelicans.

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