On being a morning person

sunrise

What sunrise looks like just a few steps from my front door.

I’m a morning person. You’re picturing it now: I get most of my important tasks done before noon; I eat proper breakfast; I wake up without an alarm. While those are all true, I have realized over the years that my particular morning-person-ness is a bit out of the ordinary because I actually enjoy getting out of bed at 5am.

It may sound hard to believe, but truly, being an early riser is the best way to get the most out of island life. Here are some of my favorite things about being a morning person.

  1. The roads are quiet. If I’m in the mood for a jog, dawn is the time to do it. There are few, if any, cars on the road just after 5am. At that hour, I’m about as likely to share the road with other morning exercisers as I am to share it with vehicles.
  2. As a matter of fact, pretty much everything is quiet. I can sit on my front porch in the heart of Road Town and not see or hear another soul. Likewise, if you fancy a sunrise swim or surf, you won’t be competing for space with many others. If you’re a person who savors solitude, early mornings are a treat.
  3. I can map out the day. Without the distractions that abound later in the day, it’s much easier to set goals for myself. It’s the time I use to clear my head and prepare for whatever the day might throw at me.
  4. I get things done. Sure, maybe it’s just everyday activities like cleaning out the cat’s box or running a mop around the kitchen, but something about having the whole day in front of me gives me motivation to check things off the to-do list.
  5. The view. Whether I’m on the road, hiking a trail or just sitting on the front porch, an island view of sunrise is sure to give me a big dose of gratitude for another day in paradise.

This piece originally appeared in the Limin’ Times on Jan. 12, 2017.

Bookworming it

You guys 2016 is almost over and I’m proud to say I read more books than I can count this year! Here are some of my favorites that actually came out this year. You should read all of them and then talk to me about how great you think they are. Or fight me if you don’t like them.

obeliskThe Obelisk Gate
Easily the best thing I read this year. What I love about excellent fantasy is falling into a world that is super different from mine but still makes sense. In this case, N.K. Jemisin has created an earth that is pissed off at humanity and taking out its revenge with gnarly seismic activity; and certain humans have (possibly evolved?) the ability to respond by diverting the shakes and even by using geologic energy as a weapon. I love the powerful and imperfect main character, Essun, and the cool way we’ve gotten to know her (both here and in The Fifth Season, the first in the series). This second in the series shows us more about Nassun, Essun’s daughter, who is young but looks to be just as powerful as her mom. Just like the first one, the story is epic and engrossing and sometimes sad but ultimately super satisfying. I can’t wait for the next installment.

potterHarry Potter and the Cursed Child
This one took me a whiiiiiiiile to get into. Time moves super duper fast in the beginning and there is this scene on the Hogwart’s Express that just… why? Anyway, I walked away from the script for MONTHS. But I am truly a die hard fan and anything from the Potterverse deserves at least a couple of chances from me. So.

I’m so glad I came back to it! Harry and his friends are all grown up but still endearing. I would have liked to get to know the next generation better, but since it’s many years crammed into one stage show there’s not enough time. The way this script shows the relationships between kids and their parents was really moving – Basically, even if you saved the magical world from the Dark Lord, at least one of your kids is bound to think you’re annoying. I really hope I get to see it performed somewhere live someday!

towerThe Tower of the Swallow
I’m actually not quite finished with this one but I love it so much. To me this whole series is gold. It reminds me of how great it is when authors play around with some of the beloved “high fantasy” tropes established in classics like The Lord of the Rings. The Witcher for whom this series is named, for example, is like what you would get if Aragorn, instead of being inherently magical (and let’s be real — BORING!), was a regular orphan who became a highly trained badass fighter. And had flings with feminist sorceresses. And was best friends with a lecherous bard…

Anyway, as the series has continued, The Witcher himself has become just one of several important (and awesome) characters, many of them as badass as The Witcher himself and also ladies, which is fun. This book mostly follows Ciri, The Witcher’s now-teenaged apprentice, who also happens to be the heir to a warrior queen and the subject of a mysterious elven prophecy. If the title sounds familiar, the novels were the basis of a popular video game that I will probably never play.

taxiMidnight Taxi Tango
They call this “urban fantasy” which I gather means that magical stuff happens within an otherwise normal, contemporary city. I call it a page-turner starring a half-dead dude named Carlos who works as an agent for the Council of the Dead and Kia, his sassy teen girl sidekick. This book is the second in the Bone Street Rumba series, and I feel like it’s much creepier than the previous one. (Honestly, if you have a roach phobia do not read it.) Usually any type of horror is not for me, but these characters are people I want to spend time with in real life (especially Reza, who reminds me of a favorite auntie). Plus there is this cool mystery thread of who the heck Carlos was in life and why he became a half-dead agent. Anyway all this makes it a really engrossing and delightful read. (Related: so far I have loved everything I’ve been lucky enough to come across by Daniel Jose Older. Shadowshaper is among my favorite books ever.)

nofxThe Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories
One of the greatest pastimes of my teens and 20s was going to see shows. Birthdays, road trips and visits to friends far away would be planned around seeing my very favorite bands, including NOFX. I loved the energy, the oddly introverted nature of this social activity and of course, the music. Heavily amplified music and huge crowds of people aren’t so much my jam these days, but this book reminded me of that part of my life in a good way. Even though I can still sing the catalog, I was never the type of fan to read all the interviews or keep up with whatever might have been going on with the bands’ lives outside of the music, so I learned a lot about the members that I didn’t know before. I also dug how since they formed the band when they were basically kids, reading it lets you see how the guys grew up. This one was extra special in audio format because most of the chapters are read by the band members, except for the ones that are read by special guests like (swoon) Jello Biafra.
loverThe Japanese Lover
Okay so this one actually came out in 2015, but it was December so I’m counting it. Plus, it’s sooooo good. I love these broad sweeping romantic stories, but I also love the California of this book, the way the characters all have a very specific ethnic identity, and how loving Allende is with all the elderly people we meet in the story. Even though this type of story is definitely my jam and the author has been on my “to read” list for years, this was my first time reading anything by her.

Also, if I have to go to a home when I’m old, I hope it’s just like the one in this book.

***

So as I review this list I realize that all these are books I listened to and didn’t actually read on the page. I guess I really am an audiobook junkie. The bonus of this is that my walks across town, laundromat time, mundane chores around the house, etc. can be spent on books. The drawback is that sometimes I start listening to a book and I’m so turned off by the reader that I give it up even though I’m interested in the story (Looking at you, Game of Thrones).

Reflecting on 6 years in paradise

Nov. 18th marks six years since I arrived in the BVI.

I was bleary, sleep deprived (I had spent the previous day flying across the US, then the night dozing on top of my luggage inside the San Juan airport) and was far more focused on getting through the immigration and customs line than on considering what a monumental turning point in life I was experiencing.

Still, it was a day of flashbulb memories. I can still clearly see many things from that first day in Tortola. There was my editor, Freeman, carrying my old-fashioned trunk1 in one hand by the rainbow strap I’d  wrapped around it to his somewhat frightening island jeep, Sugar2. Driving up and down the hilly coastal road from the airport into town for the first time. The mid-day traffic in Road Town, even on the “side road” past the movie theater. My relief at meeting Vou and realizing I wasn’t the only lady reporter on staff. There was lunch at The Pub, the paper staff’s favorite lunch spot right on the water, where I had the least satisfying grilled cheese sandwich of my life<sup>3</sup>. There was my delightful apartment with the view of the race track and the sounds of neighboring goats.

The years since have, in some ways, been a whirlwind. I turned 30 here, moved apartments, invested in my first real camera, lost my Dad to cancer, traveled solo to a couple of other Caribbean countries (plus to visit family stateside), moved desks and job titles, had flings and boyfriends and got married, and collected a small but really special circle of close friends.

Over the years, I was asked a lot by my family and friends back in the US when I was coming home. I’m sure that most of them just missed me, but a few ruffled my feathers by hinting that I was on some kind of Rumspringa/gap year/temporary ‘adventure.’ It’s true that my plan when I landed was to stay for two or three years and then move on. But really, it didn’t take long for me to realize I love living here: It’s a beautiful place, the people are friendly and I feel safe.

I remember a few years ago that I applied for a couple of jobs back in the states, and how relieved I was when I  didn’t hear back. I didn’t actually want those jobs. I guess that was when I really began thinking of the Virgin Islands as home.

rainbow

Nbd, just a rainbow I saw one morning from my front porch, which is also a dock.

1. That trunk was a gift from my grandmother years and years ago. I think she’d approve of my continued use of it as both a storage item and nightstand.

2. Sugar got scarier over the years. I would later become the third Beaconite to own her and last person to drive her.

3. The Pub is one of my favorite BVI restaurants to this day and I know many of the staff by name. I don’t think that grilled cheese sandwich is on the menu anymore.

St. Ursula, the BVI’s patron saint

Oct. 21 is a holiday here in the BVI. I did some research on why for the Limin’ Times this week. Here’s what I found (from the Oct. 20th Island Life column):

st-ursula

Who was this Ursula person, anyway?

Most readers will know that this Friday the 21st of October is a public holiday here in the beautiful BVI, but I suspect that not as many know why.

The short answer is that we’re celebrating the feast day of St. Ursula, the patron saint of the Virgin Islands. The longer answer goes way back in history, all the way back to the 4th century, when a basilica was built to honor the memory of a group of girls martyred at Cologne. Who were these girls? Why and how were they killed? I bet it’s a fascinating story, but the truth has been lost to history.

In the absence of facts, several legends have cropped up to fill the vacuum that is their story, including one about a Christian princess from Britain named Ursula who, while traveling with 11,000 maids and ladies-in-waiting, was ambushed and slaughtered by pagan Huns. The legend eventually led to Ursula being named a saint associated with England, the city of Cologne, teachers, education and holy death.

There is even an order of nuns named after her. The Ursulines, founded in the 1500s, are devoted to the education of young girls. Now you might ask how this particular martyr came to be connected with the VI. Blame Christopher Columbus, who evidently thought this cluster of islands was like the legendary saint and all her attendants, calling them Santa Úrsula y las Once Mil Vírgenes or las Virgenes, for short.

If you want a visual of St. Ursula (other than the circa 1440 Stefan Lochner painting pictured above), all you have to do is check out a BVI flag. The woman on the green field is St. Ursula carrying a lantern, and around her are 11 more lanterns to represent her 11,000 co-martyrs.

vigilate

While those of us who are glad to have the opportunity to squeeze another beach day into our calendar can be glad that St. Ursula’s Day looks like it won’t be leaving the BVI calendar of public holidays any time soon, it’s interesting to note that we are probably the only place in the world that celebrates this saint with a day off. The Catholic Church removed her from its official calendar of saints in 1969 owing to a lack of historical evidence for the legendary martyr.

 

IMHO: The Best BVI Beaches

Okay, maybe best is a strong word. It might be more accurate to say that after nearly six years, these are the beaches I can go back to again and again, weekend after weekend, and still love.

  1. Smuggler’s Cove
smugglerscove

An afternoon in Smuggler’s Cove

Like all Tortola’s best sandy beaches, Smuggler’s Cove is on the northern shore, but unlike a lot of the others, the area is naturally very sheltered so the water is almost always calm. You can’t quite see it in this picture, but on this particular trip there were several really small kids enjoying the water — this is the kind of place you can usually take even your not-so-experienced swimmers. There’s also a reef for nice snorkeling if you’re into that and with so little wave action, the water is usually crystal clear.

Getting to Smuggler’s is probably the most difficult drive on this list, with a decent trek down a rutted dirt road that I’ve heard some in the neighborhood don’t want paved for fear it’d bring too many people to this extra-gorgeous beach. With plenty of sea grape trees and two separate parking areas, I find that even on a busy Sunday afternoon I still wind up feeling like I have the place to myself.

If you go: Watch out for the occasional undertow, and don’t forget your bug spray; the hordes of sand flies and mosquitoes make their appearance at about 5 o’clock every day.

2. Long Bay, Beef Island

lbbi

Sunset at Long Bay, Beef Island

With easy road access, plenty of parking and seemingly miles of smooth sand, this beach is a favorite for group gatherings of all kinds, from family barbecues to the annual Fisherman’s Day Jamboree. The length of the bay makes it popular with runners and swimmers seeking a good workout.

From Tortola, you get to Beef Island by driving on the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. Close to deep water, this beach is a nesting site for sea turtles — once we discovered a handful of recent hatchlings climbing around on this beach — they were so cute!

If you go: This beach is right next to the Beef Island airport, so be prepared to hear the occasional takeoff and/or landing.

3. The Baths National Park

thebaths

The swimming area at The Baths National Park

If you can only see one place in the BVI, get yourself to Virgin Gorda and go to The Baths. Not only is the beach beautiful, the boulders all around the place that you can climb through are positively magical. It’s really hard for me to do it justice, but seriously, it’s a must-see.

Summer is when the water is calmer and the crowds are almost nonexistent, but if you have to go in the height of winter travel or on a day when you know there is a cruise ship in port, go late in the afternoon and you should miss the crowd.

If you go: Make sure you coordinate your ferry and taxi returns so you don’t wind up stranded in paradise.

4. Cane Garden Bay

cgb-swim-dock

Jumping off the dinghy dock in Cane Garden Bay

Popular with sailors as an anchorage, entertainment is the perk at Cane Garden Bay, which is dotted with a variety of beach bars, restaurants and water sports rental spots. If you want to be served tropical beverages while relaxing in a rented lounge chair, this is the place to be. It’s also got a nice public restroom and easy parking.

All the amenities are also why it’s the most popular beach with cruise shippers, so on some days it can get quite crowded.

If you go: Check the cruise ship schedule so you’ll know whether to expect a big crowd.

5. Savannah Bay, Virgin Gorda

savannah-bay

Christmas day a few years ago in Savannah Bay

Beautiful sand, calm water, and cute little bohios (thatched shelters made of wood and palm leaves) make this a postcard perfect beach. There’s also a reef for snorkeling and it’s just a stone’s throw from Spanish Town, making it an easy picnic spot even if you have to get back to the ferry the same day.

If you go: Post up under a bohio for some shade! The sun is so intense some days that many around here like to say that Virgin Gorda has its very own sun.

BVI friends, how is my list? Did I leave out your favorite beach? Let me know in the comments!

 

I’m still here

So it’s been a minute, but I am still here in paradise. Tons of big changes since TWO YEARS ago when I last posted, like a brand new job at Island Publishing Services. The gig includes doing a bunch of fun things, including writing for the Limin’ Times.

Here’s one of the first things I wrote when I started. It appeared in the weekly Island Life column in the July 28th edition.

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Ready for de road

Join the Festival Fun

(or how to have the best possible August Monday in the British Virgin Islands)

You might think that the best way to enjoy August Monday is to find a shady spot to sit while watching the parade, but that’s not true. The real secret is to find a spot in a parade troupe. This year will be my third time in the August Monday Parade (and my second with the Tortola Dance Project — hey ladies!), which tells you that the experience is worth repeating. Here are my top six reasons why:

  1. The view: Being “on de road” offers the best people watching. You get to see the other parade participants while you wait around for things to get moving, and then you get to see everybody who’s watching along the route once the parade gets under way.
  2. Camaraderie: The best way to join the parade is with a lively friend, but even if you don’t know the folks in your troupe, you’re sure to bond quickly and make a few in short order. I’m still friendly with some of the people I met in my first parade back in 2011.
  3. Photos: My fellow social media junkies will have already noticed this one. After festival time the fabulous new profile pictures pop up and Facebook fills up with photo albums from the parade. Since all the territory’s best photographers work the event, you’re bound to wind up with several flattering shots of you and your friends.
  4. Vibes: Over the years I’ve noticed that whether the troupe is filled with disciplined performers, casual “freestylers,” or the members of a community service organization, band or sports group, the folks that care enough to form a troupe and show up on parade day are a positive bunch. Even if a day on my feet in the sun wears me out a bit, the positive vibes leave me feeling uplifted for days afterward.
  5. Music: Every year artists from around the region put out new music especially for the various Caribbean fetes. On parade day, between the DJs and the bands that play in the parade, you get to hear mixes, covers and originals curated by music industry professionals. If you love to dance like I do, it’s a great education on the season’s best tunes.
  6. Wardrobe: Being in a troupe is the perfect excuse to get out your beads, bedazzle your jeans, customize your t-shirt, and generally bling up. It’s probably too late at this point to get a feathered headdress for this year’s festivities, but hey, there’s always next year!