13 October 2012

Virgin Gorda 2012: Travel Day + Day I

Sunrise seen from the airplane
Our trip got off to an inauspicious start at the Fairfield Inn next to the airport.  We frequently nab a Park-Sleep-Fly package at an airport hotel because for trips of a week or longer, it costs less than parking at the airport for the time we're away.  I'd requested a room on the ground floor, only to find out upon check-in that the only room available in the fully-booked place was on the top floor. Oh yeah, AND the elevator was out of order. Granted, the top floor was only the third floor, but I'm a Marriott rewards member AND both of my traveling companions were in their seventies, so I wasn't exactly thrilled with the ways things were shaping up.

The elevator still wasn't working in the morning when we caught the 4:30 a.m. shuttle and grumbled our way to the airport, but things were about to pick up.  As I mentioned in the previous post, we broke our usual travel habits on this trip by flying first/business class--something we've not paid to do since our honeymoon trip nearly ten years ago. American Airlines must have had a glitch in their booking system that day, as the overall costs were only about $50 per person more than the cheap seats. We don't exactly have a surfeit of cash when it comes to travel--we'd much rather taking a longer vacation in a casual spot than a shorter vacation in a luxurious one--so this might be the only instance in our traveling history when we've had our cake and eaten it, too.

We had two easy travel legs, with a connection in Miami, an airport I rather like but only when not having to clear immigration & customs (in which case it's an utter nightmare). We arrived in St. Thomas around 2:00, took a short taxi to the ferry dock in Charlotte Amalie, and spent a couple of very pleasant hours upstairs at the Petite Pump House before our 5:00 departure on Speedy's for non-stop service into Spanish Town.

Mom at Petite Pump Room
View of some ruins from Petite Pump Room
We enjoyed the views and the breeze and even made photos of the floatplanes taking off & landing right next to us. First rum punch of the trip (alas--they make their punches way too sweet for me in the VI), plus some conch fritters (calling them mediocre would be too high a compliment), and some surprisingly good wings, plus a couple of Presidentes to wash everything down.

Waiting room for the ferry
Sunset viewed from the ferry
The ferry ride was extremely smooth and fun as we passed along the north shore of Tortola, spying St. John, Jost Van Dyke, Guana Island (where we honeymooned), Camanoe, and Scrub, which looks much different from the last time I passed through this area. The sun set well before our arrival on Virgin Gorda, passing through immigration & customs was easy-breezey, and our friend Melanie greeted us upon exiting the building.  Her travel day had taken her BDL-MIA-SJU-EIS, and then the North Sound Express to Spanish town and she'd arrived on the island about 15 minutes ahead of us. Leverick Bay had arranged for Chudney, a terrific fellow, to pick us up at the ferry dock, so after we retrieved our luggage we piled into his open-air jitney and we headed off into the darkness.
Leaving St. Thomas in our dust wake
My husband and I had visited Virgin Gorda before, not to mention other mountainous Caribbean islands, but my mom and Mel felt like they'd gotten themselves onto Mr. Toad's Wild Ride: holding on for dear life and praying not to fall off the back of the truck on those steep inclines. Still, all of us were grateful when, 30 minutes later, we pulled up to Euphoria Villa. A woman from Leverick was there to greet us, but she was so clearly tired and desperate to leave that she only gave us the most cursory introduction to the villa. If I hadn't asked where certain light switches were, or where the grill was, or where the keys were, or whether we should lock our doors, or whether there was any protocol about the a/c, we'd have had no information at all. Bone tired and barely able to keep our eyes open after 16 hours straight of travel, we bade each other good night and scurried into our respective bedrooms.

Sunrise over the North Sound
While I would never choose a long day of travel if I had my druthers, there is one incredible reward to arriving on an island after dark, and that's waking up at dawn and seeing its beauty for the first time. Our master bedroom faced due east, and though we had the jalousie louvered windows all shut for the a/c to run, the doors out to the pool are done in frosted privacy glass, so I was always awake shortly after the sunrise. I love the gentleness of that early morning sunshine--it's the only time of day I take the sun directly.

The beautiful early light on our villa & pool
Around 9:00, DH began breakfast preparations. I'd asked Leverick Bay to provision a few items in the villa for our first night and morning, including cheese & crackers, gin, tonic, Ting, fruit, bread, eggs, bacon, juice, milk, & coffee. Yes, the prices are already a little higher than at home, and there is a 20% surcharge added on top of that, but the convenience can't be beat.  I didn't want to provision at Bucks after arriving on Virgin Gorda that first night in case our ferry was running late, so I was happy to pay a little extra to have all of that waiting for us.

DH preparing breakfast in his lava-lava
We ate our meal at the outdoor table under the alcove, but that was the last time we dined outdoors. The flies soon drove us to distraction. There were some portable fans indoors that we considered moving outside for future dining, but we ended up just eating inside for the rest of our meals. With surrounded on three sides by sliding glass & screen doors, it was no hardship eating at the dining room table in total comfort.

The pretty little outdoor alcove with table
While we were lingering over one last cup of coffee, Chudney pulled up with our rental car around 10:00 am. We offered him a beverage and he joined us over some conversation.   He hails from Handsome Bay, and if everybody who lives there looks like Chudney, then it's a well-named place, indeed! He gave us a small island map and showed us all of the places we could buy groceries before heading on his way.

I'd randomly selected a 4-door, AWD vehicle from the Leverick website that turned out to be much smaller on the inside than it looked! It was a lavender-colored Daihatsu and it had a hard time making it up some of the hills.  In retrospect, we probably should have traded in for a larger, more powerful vehicle and paid the difference, but we made do. There were times when the pedal was to the metal and  the poor thing could only slowly chug up the hill at about 15-20 km/hour. The floorboard design was poor, as when I had anything other than flipflops on my feet, the gas and break pedals were so close together that it was hard to have my foot on just one of the pedals.
One of the views of the island
We didn't plan to do much that day, other than drive around a bit so that mom and Mel could get their bearings and do our main grocery shopping, and basically just rest from the day before. So around 11:00 we piled into the car and drove into town, and I think the drive was one long exclamation from my mom and Melanie (helped along every now & again by DH and me) over how beautiful the views were. That's one of many things that I think Virgin Gorda has all over Tortola: at almost every point from almost every road, there are stunning views. Well, that, plus the fact that the roads are actually wide enough to accommodate two cars abreast at one time. Don't get me started on the fear factors behind driving to Brewers Bay on Tortola!

Because we were feeling rather parched, it seemed like the most reasonable of ideas to continue on to Mad Dog before doing our shopping.  I'm not sure how it's possible that I've never been there before, but it's true.  It's the kind of place that's easy to fall in love with: casual setting, utterly unpretentious, with good drinks and a good-humored staff and chickens to entertain you while you're waiting for your food. Whatever you do, do not ring the bell in the ceiling unless you want to buy a round of drinks for everybody!

DH and Melanie inside Mad Dog

Mom outside at Mad Dog, enjoying her first (but not last!) Bushwhacker
We ordered a round of their signature Bushwhackers, which are so decadent that it's easy to forget that they can also pack a wallop: it's a frozen drink made with rum, cream of coconut, Kahlua, amaretto, Irish creme, and occasionally with a hint of chocolate.  Let's just say that they go down with tolerable ease.

The dart board in "our" corner at Mad Dog
After reviving ourselves sufficiently to go on, we drove back to Buck's to buy our groceries, including food for dinner a few nights during our stay. Once home, we enjoyed the pool all afternoon until it was time to go to Hog Heaven for an early dinner--early because we wanted to enjoy the famous views
before sunset and because we hadn't really eaten since breakfast that morning.

See what I mean about views from the road?
Hog Heaven is on the road to Nail Bay and it's another casual island eatery, but it has the very best views on the island. The menu is simple and not extensive; I wouldn't recommend going there if you're a vegetarian. We decided to try the pork platter (me), the fried chicken (DH), and the grilled chicken (Mom and Melanie), with each platter accompanied by your choice of two sides. I personally thought the plantains and coleslaw were very good, and while the pork itself was really terrific, the cheap Kraft bbq sauce slathered all over it completely masked the flavor of the meat. As we Southerners say, to us BBQ is a noun but to the rest of the world, it's merely a verb.  Too bad, as the pork at Hog Heaven truly could have been excellent BBQ in noun form. DH enjoyed his chicken, as did Mom and Melanie their ribs, and the latter especially enjoyed the signature drink called Blondie. I myself chose a Presidente as being the better accompaniment to our meal.

DH at Hog Heaven
All in all it was a moderately priced dinner out and we'd had a great time. It was definitely chilly out on the balcony, especially after the sun set, and the folks with me were glad to have a light wrap, despite being skeptical of the need for one when we left the villa. There were no sunset views, strictly speaking, which was a surprise to me. We would have eaten dessert, but they don't serve anything sweet. Also, Hog Heaven is strictly cash-only, so please plan accordingly. Our bill came to about $80 and we couldn't tell if a service charge had already been added, so we asked: the answer was yes, 15%. We added a bit more and went home for a nightcap and a dip in the pool.

Once last lovely view before concluding this post


  1. Cap'n Doug, thanks for letting me know what those ruins were. I'm glad they're being restored.

    Wendy, with your camera and terrific eye, I can't wait to see your photos from this trip.

    Both of you: Your original comments got lost somewhere and I'm really sorry!

  2. Sometimes when I'm reading you I feel like there is a Victorian influence in your writing, something like Jane Eyre's voice if she had traveled to the Caribbean.

    " I love the gentleness of that early morning sunshine--it's the only time of day I take the sun directly."



    1. Thank you, Daffy. I can't think of a higher compliment. And thanks for reading AND commenting!

  3. I totally agree with all your comments.....it was truly a memorable experience to share all this beauty with you...

  4. Bushwacker..had to google that one..cheers, mom

  5. Ah the bushwacker. I was searching for Mad Dog's particular recipe & came across your post dear friend. I thought it'd be fun to serve a few at Ted's birthday. Heck, someone has to carry on the Mad Dog tradition!


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