A Handsome, Friendly Place To Live…
And to Visit While Doing Conchly Things
Like Hiking and Swimming
This is based upon my column which appeared
in The Washington Post September 8, 1995
five of us keeping on-line logs about our lives and
training efforts live here, in the mountainous, affable, lightly
peopled world of the British Virgin Islands. About 17,000 residents
live here spread over 19 populated islands.
Perched on a rock outcropping 90 feet above the ocean, my house
overlooks eight other islands, a lush mountain-rimmed coastline
that curves like a cup handle for miles, and, most importantly,
the palm-fringed village of Little Apple Bay, population 125. Village
life unfolds below my home with a regularity and gentility that
is at times quite moving, at times a little unnerving, very often
funny, but always instructive.
years ago, half a mile away at the edge of a grove of palm trees,
I watched a stooped old fisherman stand before a cross-topped white
mausoleum in our village cemetery. To get there, the old man hobbled
along a narrow path through the lively Lenora Delville Primary School
yard, past the new water plant, past the community vegetable garden
and the charcoal pit where fine charcoal is made from hard kasha
wood. A tough walk for rickety legs.
The fisherman came to pay respect to this territory's first elected
chief minister, H. Lavity Stoutt, who died on May 14. These islands
have dealt with visionaries (as the vast majority consider Mr. Stoutt),
political fools, pirates, thieves, and many men of honor for at
least 450 years. In a tiny world, residents feel the unbuffered
impact of good and bad people very quickly in everyday life.
That's why even now, seven years after his death, a few islanders
each day, many bringing their small children, pay respect at Lavity
Stoutt's handsome tomb. A mother said quietly to her children one
day, "You must remember this man."
Over the centuries the influences of multiple rulers, religious
ideologies and tragedies have washed over these islands -- indelible
experiences that to this day seem to have given the survivors an
inbred sense of practicality, tolerance (if not acceptance) and
In our little village, within walking distance of a small, fancy
hotel, one friend makes do on the sale of a few island limes and
sweet potatoes each day. Close by, another sells homemade bread
and the occasional adult men's magazine. Next door an important
church leader greets a passerby as her ax takes off the head of
a goat -- the beginning of a favorite soup and fine curried stew.
The locals also define ingenuity. It's normal here to see old metal
wheel rims used as sturdy charcoal grills, a stray piece of chicken
wire turned into a fish trap, old juice bottles filled with "atomic"
pepper sauces and spices, small cottages built from scrap and lumber
washed up on the beach, plastic milk cartons hoarded to store precious
rainwater. On islands, necessity seems to be the mother of recycling.
This sense of using up everything efficiently applies to the roadside
trimming crews, too, or rather to the lack of them. Drive along
most any tortuously winding but stunning road on this island and
you'll meet donkeys and goats and cows busily trimming up the roadside.
At times they roam free. At times, a donkey is tied to a tree perhaps
20 feet farther along than the day before. One howling, rainy night
I encountered a donkey, fed up with it all, lumbering down the steep
road dragging his palm tree behind him.
is all a very handsome, oddball, history-steeped and interesting
world -- aside from being lots of fun. Life in the British Virgin
Islands is a microcosm of life back there in the "real" world. We
have AIDS problems. Crime is on the rise, though it is sufficiently
rare that some time ago a newspaper still considered the theft of
two dozen diapers from Kelly's Bar, Snackette and Superette a feature
We've even have traffic jams : seven years ago, I wrote about the
bollix caused by a dozen cows ambling through downtown Road Town
(the capital) taking a break in front of the Chase Manhattan Bank.
One cow even settled down for a snooze with her back against the
bank door, imprisoning all inside. The bank patrons took this in
In the B.V.I. there's controversy about growth and too many "off-islanders,"
and there's fear that the village family structure is falling apart.
The drug problem, which hasn't hit yet, is on everyone's mind.
There's great discussion, too, on the quality of life in general
here. In the midst of spectacular beauty, and in the midst of carefree
vacationers who spend money with abandon, most islanders struggle
with great dignity to make their lives work. In 1995 I wrote about
an 80-year-old, elegantly dressed woman hitching to church. She
has hitched "everywhere" her entire life, and took a folding chair
with her to make the hitches easier, she said.
Last year, I saw an equally elegant older woman settled in her
chair by the road, waiting for a ride. She was talking on a cell
In 1995, I picked up an immaculate young woman hitching to town
with a small baby. The child, she told me, would play in a large
cardboard box in the shade of a flamboyant tree "just by the kitchen
where I work."
During a particularly dry spell, I picked up a young boy hauling
a five-gallon barrel of water up a lonely road. His family's rain
cistern was empty.
reality of island life for most people here is hard work at home
and hard work for modest pay on the job. Improving individual livelihoods
without harming a delicately balanced and fragile world will be
a Herculean chore. These are smart people, however, and they will
probably find a way.
Their inventiveness and determination rubs off on everyone. Take
the young surfer couple who spent the winter just down the hill
from me in a perfect little ocean-front cottage. Trouble was, their
bedroom window was less than a foot from three energetic roosters'
favorite perch -- and around here, the incessant crowing starts
at 3 a.m.
But in small villages, strangers don't complain much; they, too,
become inventive. The couple bought the roosters from their neighbors
for a premium price ($5 each) and in the dead of night transplanted
them into a neighboring village. In the yard of a competing surfer.
Island ingenuity. No problem.
be posting new Tortola pictures here every few weeks, tropical
carrots to keep you training. Here are some other sites about
our little world you might enjoy
Want to help preserve the beauty of the BVI?
Check out this site, sponsored by Peter Jennings, Walter Cronkite,
George Plimpton and others.
Click here to learn
more about Lexi's school, The New England Culinary Institute at H. Lavity Stoutt Community
is one of our great local newspapers.
is another really good paper.
This site gives you great information about our parks, despite
the fact its still under construction. Did we tell you you
can learn to scuba dive while you're down here for the Conathon?
is the official web site of the British Virgin Islands
If you really want to be mean, click here and send
free postcards of the BVI to your friends and enemies. Recommended
text: “Oh, I’m training for an international athletic event here.”