Hitch-Hiking, No Running Water, and Gecko Poop on my Pillowcase : The Truths about My Time in the British Virgin Islands
Spending a year living on a beautiful tropical island – Tortola in the British Virgin Islands -was the best experience of my life. I was working my dream job as a writer and Editorial Coordinator for a publishing company whose main publication was a luxury property & yacht magazine.
From all of the “Sugar Shots” I posted during this year on Instagram and Facebook [Sugar shot: a picture posted on social media with the intention of showing the world how sweet your life is – yes, Lala made up this term] you’d think that attending Superyacht regattas and touring million dollar mansions would be a glamorous lifestyle. And it was.
Sugar Shot: Me on a giant pink flamingo in an infinity pool above Cane Garden Bay, while my friends are in Canada shovelling snow off their cars
However, beyond the experiences I had in this privileged position, living like a local on an island was not very salubrious.I did not have a the salary of those working in finance, law, or at a trust company. And you know what, I loved it.
Here’s some stories about my personal island experience you probably didn’t know.
1. I spent a whole year hitch-hiking. No car. No public transportation.
This may sound like a nightmare, but the British Virgin Islands is actually one of the few places where it’s safe and common to still hitch-hike. Most expats make purchasing a car their first priority when moving to the island. I did not for several reasons.
The thought of driving up HUGE, steep mountains with dangerous curves and corners and crazy drivers, not to mention, no lamp posts gave me the willies. Plus, they made you retake your driver’s test and no way was I going through that again, especially when they’re known to make you reverse park backwards up a hill.
I also could not afford a vehicle nor the expenses you pay to maintain a car from wearing it out on these mountains. Instead I happily spent a whole year of my life using my two legs, a heart beat, and hitch-hiking to get everywhere I needed to go.
In a close knit community you’d often get drivers pass who you knew and they’d offer you a ride as long as it was on their way. Sometimes you’d need to take multiple “hitches” and from members of the community you’d yet to meet!
This was a ton of fun, and these are some of the most memorable experiences:
1A. Getting stuck at the highest point of the mountain and wandering until I got a ride down. I pretzeled myself amongst dirty paint brushes in the back of an SUV.
1B. My morning rides over the mountain on a Tourist Safari Bus, blasting Regge music with a bunch of local high school kids.
1C. Taking a random bus and it blowing up at the top of the mountain. Luckily my Dance Teacher passed by and gave me a ride as the driver and I stood beside the smoking engine.
1D. Meeting many people who became close friends as a result of hitch-hiking. Although I had my fair share of stinky men ask for my number, this was a great way to meet people and learn things about people from other Caribbean islands and countries around the world.
2. We relied on solely the Town Water Supply, and frequently we’d have no running water.
My place in town I shared with two different roommates. One was a fashionable boy who was a mixologist and DJ from Harlem, the other a girl, a delightful seasoned traveller from London in the UK.
Together we worked with our water outages and became resourceful, as at least twice a week the town decided to randomly cut the water for “maintenance” or there was an unexplainable burst in a pipeline. We stored jugs of emergency water in the kitchen, and I learned how to take a “shower” using a jug of water and a saucepan. I mean you don’t get fully rinsed, but it’s enough to bathe.
3. Roaches, spiders, and creep-crawlies.
“MUM THERE’S A BUG IN THE KITCHEN!”, used to be something I’d shout growing up in North America .Mum would come to the rescue with her glass and postcard to trap the insect and free it outside. Screw that. That thing enters MY HOME…I’m killing it. From my first month and a half living high up in the mountains in a place where the doors and windows were always open, I became accustomed to insects and geckos, which occasionally used my pillow as a toilet.
4. My best trip on a Sunday morning to the laundromat: Seeing someone teach a their pet goat on a leash how to box
When I lived across from the beach we had no washer or dryer. It’s pretty common for expats to rent places without their own laundry facilities, so without a car I used to have to walk my laundry down the driveway and about 600 feet away to the little laundromat. One morning I was carrying my laundry basket after a long night out, all stinky in my PJs, and a boy started to hit on me by asking if I wanted to walk his pet goat on a leash. He proceeded to show me how he taught the goat how to box on its hind legs. I was like yeah okay, welcome to the BVI, and proceeded to wash my underpants.
5. I found a dead bat in my bedroom, and I didn’t even scream.
I came home one night only to find a dead bat on my floor. I had plans to go to my friend’s house to watch a movie. I tried calling my buddy to see if he’d come pick it up – I was afraid it wasn’t actually dead and would start flying about if I tried to move it. When I got back from watching the movie, the bat was still there so I just swept him out the door and under the tire of my neighbour’s car.
6. Roosters and chickens became my biggest phobia.
I developed a legit fear for roosters, to the point where I actually woke up in a blood curdling scream one night because I dreamt one was in my room. Why? These things not only shout all throughout the day, but these beasts do not fear human beings. Out at the marina where I sat and ate lunch, the bloody things would peck and my feet and jump up on the table. The guys in the marina working on the boats used to think it was hilarious when I’d scream and shout and throw coconuts at them. There was one demented rooster that hid in a bush outside our office all day and would shout for no reason.
7. One time my toe got infected, and I had to go to limp 30 min across town by foot to get to the filthy clinic.
So the story goes, I split my toe open dancing out on Friday night. The next day we all went out on a boat trip and I put some TCP (antiseptic) on my toe and a Band-Aid. I went swimming in the ocean, walked up and down the beach getting sand in my toe, and then to top it all off, I did not have shoes on the legendary Willy T – The Willy T [above] is a pirate ship restaurant and the floors are covered in alcohol and sin.
No surprise I woke up Sunday morning with a pussy yellow sore on my toe. The infection had spread throughout my body and was making me dizzy. I was terrified to visit the clinics, as I’d heard nightmares about others’ experiences. It was Sunday and hardly any traffic was out to hitch a ride, so I hobbled across town to this walk in clinic which smelt like sandwiches and sat there crying thinking I was going to die.
The nurse pinned me down as the doctor mumbled something in local slang and squeezed the blood and puss out of my toe. They bandaged it up and gave me antibiotics and thank GOD I happened to see my friend in the clinic as I got out. My 40 year old friend from Dominica [below] said “Ay Baby. Why you sad?”. I ran into his arms crying and he drove me home. My toe survived.
There’s so many more stories about my experience living on this island which I’d love to share. You’re probably thinking, how did this crazy girl at 23 years old survive? I don’t know. But I loved it. I miss the ants, the overflowing sewers, the limited selection of groceries, and the sporadic power outs. All these challenges made me appreciate life all the more.
I’m happy with very little and I will do what it takes to survive, because at the end of the day, I lived by the beach surrounded by coconuts, and that was my dream come true.
Love from Lala.
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