A Day in the British Virgin Islands
Parents and Teens Together
We’re four Americans on our first trip to the British Virgin Islands, two parents, two teenage girls. I’m the Mom, driving a 24-foot powerboat full-throttle through a rough stretch of the Caribbean, north of Virgin Gorda. Wind from an approaching thunderstorm churns up mountainous swells and blows the tops off whitecaps. With a tight grip on the steering wheel, I concentrate on hitting the waves straight on. The prow splits them rhythmically, showering us from both sides.
Daughters, Caroline (17) and Clara (16), sit in front of the console on a cushioned seat. Huddled together in drenched towels, they laugh themselves breathless with each repetitive dousing. They’re trying to sing, “Wide Open Spaces,” into the wind. Can teenagers have fun in the BVI with their parents? You bet your papayas!
Their Dad relinquished control of the boat following a drenching. Now, he steadies himself best he can to towel off. Between each rise and fall of the boat, he wipes his glasses with a dry corner of a stowed tee shirt.
In less than ten minutes, we’ve outrun the storm, and approach Virgin Gorda’s North Sound under a fierce sun; a brand new adventure. The girls stretch out on the wide cushions in the bow of the boat and get down to serious sunning, while I circle the Dog Islands in calm waters. Dad studies the map, and when we discover a pristine arc of sand bookended by rocky peninsulas, he identifies it, “Cow’s Bay.”
In spite of the drenching, by the time we anchor in the white sand, we’re parched. We snorkel in the clear water over white sand, peering into the living coral reefs hoping to surprise bright, irridescent fish. While I float and ogle at the undersea life I think how like the weather adolescence is, one moment of fervor, the next, of bliss.
We had rented the power boat in Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda, and left Yacht Harbor mid-morning, setting our compass just east of due north. Our family expedition for the day was to find Anegada, the coral and limestone island famous for rock lobster grilled on the beach.
We set out in good weather between Virgin Gorda and the Dog Islands, past Mosquito Island into open sea. Zooming for twenty minutes into open water toward Nova Scotia, we hoped to find Anegada, an island much closer, but flat, and knew we wouldn’t see it on the horizon until we were right there.
When the water changed from navy blue through lapis to aquamarine, and we saw the sandy ocean floor abundant with dark and indistinct reefs, we knew we were close. Then green trees, yachts, bright pink one-story buildings, a dock, and a wide expanse of sand ascended from the water into a backdrop of diffuse sky.
After docking at the Anegada Reef Hotel pier, we went in and hired an open-aire taxi. We were lucky, they said, because The Bamboo at Loblolly Bay, had the famous Anegada rock lobster on the menu for lunch.
On the back of an uncovered taxi-truck, the girls sat across from me on vinyl cushions, hair whipping their eyes. They were interested in beach and lobster, but as we bumped and rattled across the island, they stretched their necks anyway, toward the scrawny brush, hoping to spot at least one pink flamingo or green iguana. It was only for me they did this. (In case we might have learned something about the natural history of the island.) But none appeared in the stark white roadside heat.
Meanwhile, Dad was in the cab with the taxi driver making arrangements for a pick up. When the driver stopped, at the end of the road, all we saw was a fire in the sand near clusters of seagrapes. But, he got out and gestured, “Go around the bushes. It’s back there. You’ll see it.”
Within the giant seagrapes and loblolly bays, we found an open-air restaurant and bar. These, plus a few benches and bohios to shade them, are the only structures suggesting humanity on an idyllic stretch of white beach, emphasis on idyllic. And it’s all ours.
A chalkboard menu hung on the door of the restaurant. We knocked, and a woman with pad and pencil came out. A young man appeared from behind the building and ambled into the bar.
She said, “Decide what you want and what time. We’ll cook it. You go to the beach.” (Okay, it looked like heaven, sounded like heaven...)
For a while, all four of us sat at the beach bar, talking to a young fellow from Dominica and the bartender from Guyana. Their anegada punch and frozen piña coladas, like lazy-day milkshakes, frosted us to the core, regenerating our limp bodies.
Caroline found a hammock in the shade of a dense stand of seagrapes and pulled a Dean Koontz novel from her bookbag. I swam in the crystalline water. Clara wandered the beach and into the water for easy snorkeling over the shallow reefs. Dad stayed in the shade, smelling rain.
When they called us to our table, other guests had arrived, as if out of the sea. We came as we were, loosely covered, to the sheltered concrete porch where a fresh lobster feast had our name on it. Lobster halves the size of whole pork tenderloins crowded platters of red beans and rice, and grilled vegetables. We alternately savored and scarfed. By the time johnny cakes arrived on a separate plate, we had no more room.
Dazed by food, we lolled around some more, watching the sky darken from the east, bringing Dad’s predicted rain, but our taxi arrived in time to whisk us away as the first drops fell. We returned to our boat and speed off southward, racing the storm.
Home, when we finally returned, exhausted after a day on the water, was a modest villa on the northwest side of Virgin Gorda at Nail Bay. From our deck on the hillside over Mountain Trunk Bay, we watched the sun set over the Francis Drake Channel, the Dog Islands, and Beef Island in the distance. After changing clothes, we walked up to the Dog and Dolphin Bar and Grill for a Bushwacker by the pool. Tess, a bartender from Grenada, advised “for the girls, don’t miss the music and dancing tonight at the Bath andTurtle.”
“You mean there might be people our age on this deserted island?” Clara didn’t believe it.
Caroline was hopeful. “When it comes to other teenagers, I have radar. Lets go check it out.”
With renewed vigor and appetite, we headed for the Bath and Turtle. The girls scanned the gathering human clusters and found potential. Somehow, we were starving again, and everything on the menu sounded good, from grilled fish and fried plantain to penne pasta.
By nine-thirty, the place was packed with people arriving by land and sea to hear a three-man band play reggae pop. The girls danced with young people they’d met from as far away as San Francisco, or from the nearby Caribbean islands. Parents danced too, especially when they played tributes to Bob Marley and Jimmy Buffet. Tired? Yes, but going home early was out of the question.
Parents wandered the yacht marina, comparing boats. Our plan to rent a villa and make Virgin Gorda home was right for us. With a rental jeep for exploring the island, and a motor boat for exploring the water, we had the freedom to make our own schedule and move at our own speed.
By midnight, when the band stopped, the girls had new friends, the skies were aglow with stars, and everyone was happy. They raved about their evening, and briefed us on plans for the rest of the week. “Friday night, The Mineshaft out on Old Coppermine Road, for more live music. Be there by sunset. And, tomorrow we’re sunning on the beach at Little Dix Bay.”
On our bumpy jeep ride back up to the villa, we encountered a giant crab (ten inches across, maybe,) claws raised to challenge our jeep. It was so big, Clara had to get out and take a picture. The crab stood her ground in the middle of the road, motionless and staring into the headlights, but only until the car door slammed. Startled, it scuttled toward Clara who screamed. Dad cut the lights. Caroline laughed hardest as Clara scrambled frantically back in the jeep. We snickered in the dark, (except Clara who mumbled unmentionable things under her breath,) until the crab sidled off behind a tall organ pipe cactus, cliffside, at the edge of the road.
Back at the villa by one in the morning, worn out and happy, the girls closed the door to their shared room, still talking, laughing. We parents settled in the swing on our balcony to star-gaze and listen to the softer music of surf and crickets, palms rattling in the wind. The moon was a fingernail surrounded by stars. Down here, closer to the equator, constellations are apparently rearranged. Which means, mon, that parents and teens, and everyone else, can be happy, having fun together.
Life is all about making memories since nothing stays the same. In fact, a lot has changed. We have aged, our girls are adults now, and sadly in 2017, Irma, a category 5 hurricane, devastated the beautiful and friendly island of Virgin Gorda.