“BEE-HEE-HEE-HAW-HAW!” I impressively bellowed like Peter Potamous, the cartoon hippo on the Hana-Barbera animated series “Peter Potamous and So-So” (1964).
I had every right to howl, now that almost all of the tourists on Tortola–in the British Virgin Islands (or BVIs for short)–had been evacuated from their flimsy villas to my clunky concrete-block bunker of a hotel, built to last on the scenic north shore beach of Cane Garden Bay, away from the awesome shadow of Mount Sage (1,780 feet and dunno meters).
Needless to say, at the time Tortola was being struck by a hurricane, with me in it!
On the yachtie map at longitude 64o 30o W and latitude 18o 30o N, the best time to visit Tortola is during the so-called Hurricane Season (from June to November)—that’s right, I am not mistaken.
Off season, the prices are low and the adventure is high.
By emphasizing spare luxury over sprawling construction, the ecotourismic edifices on the island, many of them rebuilt over and over again, are just asking for it.
With any storm of over 100-mph winds threatening the 575 square miles and 1,489 square kilometers of private BVI ocean, one can expect an epiphany (yes: the correct term) resembling being whipped up into the so-called Bermuda Triangle a little farther north.
But still, with dry land topping 59 square miles and 153 square kilometers, there are plenty of dry areas in which to migrate or hide out in, especially with an average mean temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit, easily translated from Celsius by the old schoolmarm trick of doubling and adding thirty.
“This is no good, Mr. John!” the dreadlocked concierge admitted, resembling Farina on “The Little Rascals” (a.k.a., “The Our Gang Comedies”). “Jah, mon, the roads going to Road Town [the capital] are all flodded!”
The concierge with a hard-to-pronounce surname (“Poopoopoo”), sounding more East Indian than West Indian, then handed me a gift of a bottle of “Pusser’s Rum” (invented here among the ruins of an abandoned Rum Distillery). In return I slipped him a little baksheesh, a crumpled U.S. “Hamilton” (who was born in nearby Nevis), since the British-owned BVIs didn’t use the pound but instead the dollar.
Outside on the balcony at the end of the long hallway where we were all hunkering down for the “sitch” was a more-than-severe thunder-and-lightning storm, as electric wires resembling tossed linguini lassoed by.
Ah, another blackout!
An “Apocalypso” feeling set in, my heart beating like a metal drum, as all of us goners passed around Go Cups of “Painkillers” (dark rum, coconut cream, pineapple juice, and ginger flakes), invented at the famous “Soggy Dollar Bar”—named after tourists wading to shore up to their waists–on the nearby island of Jost Van Dyke.
Also down the hellish hallway leading outside onto the balcony, baby palm trees flew around like witches’ brooms, amid a maelstrom of swirling garbage, including candy wrappers, fluttering origami.
Even though this hurricane didn’t have a name yet–later “Louise,” pun intended—we mocked Mother Nature and cussed her out for raining on our paradise parade, including pearl-shaped hailstones.
Decidely “Danish,” the ex-colony Tortola, the largest island in the Lesser Antilles, was once the stomping grounds of pirates such as Captain Kidd and Blackbeard, who left behind plenty of pretty polly in sunken galleons, filled with treasure chests to explore way out in the off one of the Top Ten beaches in the Caribbean: Cane Garden Bay.
Now the island is filled with Import-Export artists (an international euphemism for “chronic unemployment”), who still resemble chic corsairs—British dolebludgers, straight out of Waterworld, also aping Johnny Depp and Keith Richards, who dress like pirates anyway 24/7.
Or, “Fleetwood Mac.”
In fact, brave-looking “Hans,” a temporary refugee from Denmark and an obvious member of the Danish Mafia—yes, they have one!—wore a sportingly colorful headscarf against the wind. “Sucks!” Hans gave Tortola a vigorous Roman thumbs-down while idly chewing his stale “roti” (a West Indian wrap with curried conch, chicken, or veggies).
Besides “Hurricane Hugo” (1989), what would later be called “Louise” (or “Luis”) turned out to be the worst tropical storm to hit the island in over seventy years! Registering a 4 out of 5 in severity—and with over one-hundred-mph winds–the startling storm was way dangerous, with excessive rain, hazardous winds, and devastating deforestation, and which may have also included (unreported) loss of life, judging from the damages evidenced later in its aftermath, an apocalyptic scene of knocked-down buildings and salad-y garden trash.
Still, the whole thing was rather exciting, I was forced to admit later after the ordeal was over, but with my flight annoyingly bumped into the near future. . . .
Hurricanes date back to way before The Flood, maybe even all the way back to Creation, as Caribbean Evangelical Christians, outside their white clapboard churches, are always ready to point out, just like “Noah’s Ark.”
How “prelapsarian” hurricanes form however is no longer a topic of scientific debate; without warning, when you least expect it, they just
do, whammo! Caribbean tropical storms are created by the evaporation of warm water from the ocean’s surface, which then condenses into clouds full of rain, vaguely resembling “colostomy bags.” When the moist air rises it cools to saturation, and then breathes out, voila!
Many West Indians believe that the dinosaurs died from a “hypercane,” an über-storm caused by an asteroid strike, which struck me as a plausible theory—one dittoed by no less an authority than National Geographic Magazine.
On a recent return trip through the BVIs–(which includes 36 islands, not only Tortola but Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, Anegada, Guana Island, Peter Island, and Marina Cay)–I met Tortola’s Cane Garden Bay local hero “Quito Rhymer,” owner of Quito’s Gazebo, who was also a successful calypso star selling his own CDs. Quito, I found, did have the air of someone who knew for a fact that he was already vaguely a little famous.
Anyway, my freshly shaked hand tingled.
“How is Hurricane Season going?” I asked.
“Any recent hurricanes?”
Obviously, Quito didn’t really want to talk about it.
Anyway, things seemed to be looking up, considering Cane Garden Bay’s beach, rife with friendly geckos and icky spiders, was now overwhelmed with German cruise passengers on a stopover, leaving us real tourists and travelers severely underwhelmed with the “scene,” whacking mosquitos.
There were seemingly more deadbeat beachcombers and dirtbag travelers–picking their way carefully through the fringes of cacti, oleander, elephant ears, and “manchioneel” (poison apple trees), most of which are an irritant to touch and toxic if ingested–than in that “Star Trek” episode (original series) where a group of futuristic hippies burn their feet on the Planet Eden.
At least, there seemed to be even more neocolonialist “invaders” than the entire population of local color and ersatz Rastas!
I felt a little like a character out of the West Indian poet Derek Walcott’s “Omerous.”
That’s for you to decide on your next Tortola tour, but stay away from fishing boats when the next big one hits. . . .
Anyway, things seem to be pretty much normal now up till November, when the Hurricane Season ends and the Christmas deluge begins.
Especially when instead of sightseeing I spent my entire return vacay on my back on the beach at Cane Garden Bay, without having the hutzpah to additionally tour the nearby mile-long beach at Long Bay.
Oh well, maybe next time.
Instead, I avoided rereading a condensed version, from my hotel’s “book exchange” (a place to steal books), of one of my favorite childhood adventure stories: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
. . .
“No Smoking!” a beefy security guard with obvious caveman genes made unwanted advances. “It is against the law!”
“Even outside, mon! We do not like picking up all of your stinky cigarette butts!”
Welcome to the Hurricane Season of 2013!