Monday, April 11, 2016

Island...Tales of the Caribean

Time for 'I'.
And of course, 'I' must be Island.
Which means it's time for another Tale of the Caribbean...Island...

Most people experience the Caribbean on a cruise or an all-inclusive resort. Rob and I have never done anything the easy way.
Our destination on the first trip to the Caribbean was Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. The trip included in a small condo where we could cook breakfast and probably lunch or dinner each day, with a plan to rent a car to explore the island. Never mind that they drive American cars (steering wheel on the left) on the opposite side of the road from what we are accustomed.

That particular detail of the trip was parked after the open-air taxi ride to the rental place- on the WRONG side of the road, which was barely two lane in places and shouldered on one side by steep walls of dirt and vegetation and shouldered on the other by the ocean.
Ocean spray would on occasion splash the front window and the passenger on the water side should you be in an open-air vehicle. 
This is an oil tanker. Taken from the passenger window as we sped 50kph around the island.

Oh, and the rental place was closed on Sunday afternoon.
As our drive said, "Welcome to the Caribbean!" He graciously drove us the rest of the way to our condo at Fort Recovery.
Now you would assume, being a taxi, that there would be no hesitation. However, Fort Recovery sits near the West end of the island which means chances of a fair back to the airport was slightly slim.
We figured out the nuances of cabs quickly.
As foreign cell phones can get sketchy coverage on the island, Fort Recovery provides local cell phones with around $5 worth of minutes available, renewable in the office. The phone is loaded with about two dozen taxi services. It took three calls to arrange a cab – the service on the West end really didn't want to drive all the way to the East end. The East end didn't really want to come West. The third dispatcher I spoke too, at a different number but sounding suspiciously like the first dispatcher I spoke with, finally agreed to send a car.
I got the distinct feeling these services are family run. More than once we were picked up in unmarked sedans.
Sounds safe, right?
Actually, it couldn't have been nicer.
Every driver, with the exception of one, was pleasant and helpful and told us all about the beautiful island. Even the cranky one warmed up when we asked his favorite local place for dinner – Fish and Lime at Soper's Hole.
Sunset at Fish and Lime. More on this in another post.
He was right – dinner was inexpensive and delicious.
Good thing. The taxi rides averaged around $20 - $30 one way.

Which brings me to the original idea of this story.

We have stayed in several condos on other vacations. They are economical, given that a kitchen – no matter how small – offers the opportunity to save money on meals. I generally plan to cook breakfast and stock the fridge with a fruit plate, veggie plate and some lunch meat from the local grocery. My vacation pantry includes coffee, tea, crackers, chips and something sweet.
Exactly how I intended to stock our kitchen in Tortola.
Our tiny, but well equipped kitchen. Of course the stove is on the WRONG side of the kitchen.
This was before I began to take an actual interest in island life. Had I read even one article on cooking on a sailboat I would have realized that grocery shopping on an island is...different.

Road Town, the largest town on Tortola, offers a couple of actual grocery stores.
Of course this would have meant another taxi ride to and from.
The kind folks at Fort Recovery told us there was a small grocery just down the road, about half a mile. Well within walking distance.
So we figured, on our first afternoon on the island, what better way to discover our new neighborhood than to walk to the store...on that narrow, two-lane road where everyone insists on driving on the WRONG side.
Or perhaps we were WALKING on the wrong side.
Either way, I never did get use to hearing a car approach only to be facing the approaching vehicle rather than having it come up from behind. We side stepped several times into driveways, dirt paths and once an honest to goodness palm tree jungle. 
You thought I was kidding, didn't you.
But as death defying walks go, it couldn't have been prettier or more interesting.
We listened to children at a day school singing songs.
We spied into the courtyard of a lovely, albeit forgotten, home. 
part of the gate

so inviting
And then we arrived at the grocery...
Or more specifically, the Tortola version of a QT.
Part gas station, part cell phone provider, part grocer.
All neighborhood hang-out.
Yes Big Ben. You are indeed a Super-ette!!
I could not have felt more like an outsider that Sunday afternoon as we wandered cautiously onto the parking lot. A couple of men sat on the concrete steps talking, a dog at their feet. A family, I assumed heading home from church, were piling back into their car. Each child with a treat in hand.

The interior of the small store felt a little more familiar. Dry goods on shelves. Produce in an open cooler at the back. A large freezer in the other corner.
There were a few familiar brands – Coke, Pepsi, Oreo, Campbells. But most everything had a slightly exotic tweak. The carrots were the size of watermelons. The juice and milk were un-refridgerated in vacuum sealed cartons.
And the meat?
All unlabeled and frozen.
And Unlabeled...

I was very cautious on our first trip to Big Ben's. I was also slightly travel shocked. We had to carry our purchases back to the condo and we didn't want to waste money or supplies so we tried to buy things that could do double duty. It seems like we wound up with some juice, a couple of apples, some lemons and limes, a zucchini, a 6-pack of soda, a bag of coffee, a stick of butter and a rice pilaf kit. And some sort of fish.
I am still not sure what sort, I think it may have been a red snapper. Given that whole 'unlabeled' issue I really just guessed according to color, thickness and smell. Or in this case, lack there of.
I also grabbed a package of locally baked raisin buns at the checkout.
The buns were great for breakfast, sliced and slightly toasted in a skillet with some melted butter.
The fish, sauteed in butter with salt and pepper and a little lemon tasted quite exotic.

As it turns out, unlabeled meat became a fun challenge.
By our last trip to the market, I was a pro at rummaging through the freezer. Tossing aside boring chicken and what looked to be pork, or goat, to score the coveted 'some sort of beef'.
Turns out it was a skirt steak.
And it was delicious, not just because of the Caribbean pepper blend sprinkled on top or the lime juice marinate.
It was most delicious because the clerk recognized us as the goofy couple who held a guessing game outside the meat freezer and debated over which ice cream treat to eat on the walk home. And she greeted us that day with a familiar 'hello'.

(Visiting local markets is one of my absolute favorite things to do when traveling – whether it is the SafeCo in Colorado, the Piggly Wiggly in Florida or the Mexican Walmart in Cabo. Big Ben's was my most challenging to date. And so worth the push past my comfort zone. Which is really the point of travel, in my opinion. As always, come back again. There will be many more Tales from the Caribbean.) 

For more info on Fort Recovery click here:
For more info on Fish and Lime click here:
And Soper's Hole:
This post is part of the A-Z blogging challenge, where Monday -Saturday in April is dedicated to running the alphabet, using each day's letter as the inspiration. 


  1. We are the same way when we travel although, we've never been out of the U.S. We always like to have our own food available and it's always fun to check out the local grocery store for the unexpected.

  2. I live vicariously through others, and I am enjoying your photos. Thanks for that!

    #AtoZChallenge I is for Imbruglia

    1. So glad you like the photos. They only begin to capture the beauty of the Island.


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