Return to Tortola FAQs

This is a little post about what it’s like to relocate to BVI having been away for some months post-Irma.

I hesitated about writing a blog which is premised on having still having a job (when so many are jobless) and being able to go out to eat and drink (when so many have been relying on relief supplies). We talk about checking our privilege before speaking on a topic, and in this case, my privilege would take longer to check than an overweight bag at the LIAT desk in San Juan. On the other hand, I know some people will be apprehensive about going back, and that doesn’t help anyone.  So I am here to reassure you: fear not!  Taste of India is open.  Everything will be all right.

Before you go

Ain’t nothing going on but the rent

If your place still has a roof etc, you are probably going to get a little bit price gouged on rent.  We paid full rent since September for a three-bedroom house, in which zero out of three bedrooms were properly habitable for at least the first month after Irma.  Our French doors had entirely blown out, leaving the property susceptible to looting – had it not been for the fact we were so blocked in by trees that getting to the front door was like completing a tough mudder.

Take a deep breath, try not to be angry and be thankful you don’t have the hassle of a property search.

Cleaning

If you have a home to return to, it’s really, really worth employing someone to clean up before you return.  You can attempt to quell any middle-class feelings of guilt by paying well and reminding yourself that it’s important to put money into the local economy by employing people.  Many of the cleaners for holiday homes and hotels are now jobless.

If you can stretch to asking your cleaner to take musty clothes and sheets to the laundry for a hot wash, do this too.  Going back can be a bit emosh and  involve hugging people: your experience (and theirs) will not be improved by walking around in clothes that smell of wet dog.

If that’s big enough to convince you, just think: God only knows what state the inside of your fridge will be in by now (possibility of new life forms?) Do you really want to tackle that in the dark after a long flight? That said, obviously only an utter nobhead would ask for any unsafe jobs (black mould, rusty corrugated iron) to be tackled. Don’t be that nobhead.

Things to take with you

The days of stocking up on insect repellent, extension cords and batteries in San Juan are over.  Clarence Thomas and Drakes are veritable cornucopias of post-hurricane supplies.

For treats, Umi and House are open and accepting credit cards.

Umi well stocked and open for business

What’s the vibe like?

Good.

First off, I’m happy to report that immigration staff appear to have stopped kissing their teeth at returning immigrants and accusing them of having run away.

Quite a few bars and restaurants are open for business as usual in town: Watering Hole, Marche, Xtians, Capriccio’s, Pussers, Pearl of the Orient, Aroma, Camdem, and most importantly TASTE OF INDIA.  There is a nice feeling of people chatting to each other more than usual. I guess a bit like in London right after a terror attack or when Michael Jackson died, strangers tend to make more eye contact and smile at one another. But in London it only lasts about three hours max, whereas on Tortola it has lasted a full three months.

Rudy’s bar back open for business

Liming at the always fabulous Red Rock

In Nanny ‘Green Zone’ Cay, it is business as usual at Mulligans and the beach bar, both of which are buzzing with customers.

Anyone expecting Soviet-style lines for food and fuel will be pleased to discover that Riteway Pasea is better stocked than ever and accepting card payments.

Look at all the fresh fruit and veg in Riteway!

The ethnic make-up of the place has plainly been temporarily impacted by the fact thousands of immigrants relocated to other countries after the storm.  In November and December, at least, there were noticeably few white people around.  But if that’s a problem for you I suggest you (1) have a word with yourself, and (2) move back to wherever in Farage-land or Trump-istan that you came from.

In the spirit of community, Tim and I are giving more lifts to hitchhikers.  We find we are talking to neighbours and strangers in bars more.  It’s rather nice, actually.

UPDATE: try not to read xenophobic/stupid comments about ex-pats on the BVI community board. Or if you must read, bear in mind you are basically reading the comments section of the Daily Mail and this is not reflective of the general feeling on the ground. It’s tempting to comment on capitals. Don’t.

Did I mention TASTE OF INDIA is open?

How does it look?

The roads

We have had no problems driving the full length of the ridge road, up and down Joe’s hill, windy hill, the elevator, and the full length of the coast road.  Up to East End on the coast road is reminiscent of that long period in 2014-2015 where they were ‘doing the road’ and it was a bit like a farm track. So I’d say the roads are back to pre-Irma states of shambles.

The cars are, er, a different matter.

The buildings

If you have an income and a place to live (and a small generator), the island is comfortably habitable.

But the island is not, and does not look, back to normal.

Road Town probably looks the most normal. But frankly, people that tell you ‘Road Town looks all right’ have lost a sense of perspective and probably need to get off island for a break.  While we are no longer at London-in-the-Blitz levels of rubble, everywhere you look there are destroyed, damaged or boarded up buildings.

Road Town, December 2017

Take a drive through Carrot Bay and Long Bay West, and you are back to a post-apocalyptic landscape.

What used to be Tropical Fusion, Long Bay, December 2017

Night time

It is probably worth remembering that even areas with power are darker than usual at night (perhaps excluding Nanny Cay which is normal), because so many houses are in ruins and so don’t have lights on at night.  

Is there power on the island?

Yes and No.

Time to give yourself a massive pat on the back if you chose to live in Nanny Cay, Road Town or near Cedar School: you will have mains electricity and water.  The only black fly in your (chilled) chardonnay is that outages are frequent and can be prolonged, which is unsurprising as work continues on the network.  You may wish to get a generator for these outages and for (gulp) future storms.

Quite a lot of the island still seems to be without power.  If, like us, you live down a picturesque little lane, it’s probably going to take a while.  Even after power lines go up near your house, it could be weeks before you actually get electricity.  You probably want to get a generator rather than going fully feral while you wait.

Cooking by LED light

What to buy

OK, I basically have no advice to give on this. Our generator is 7500 something-or-others.  It seems to power our water pump, water heater, a small fridge and lights.  It won’t do our electric oven.  We haven’t tried to make it work the pool pump because we’re not dickheads.

Our generator

Safety first

Your generator needs to be positioned outside the house, and far from any windows.  Forget any bright ideas about keeping it in the house.  As with a car engine, running this thing in a confined space is a pretty effective method of ending your own life.

Do not put fuel into the generator whilst its hot, unless you want to see what an exploding generator looks like.

Get help if you’re going to wire yours in. We didn’t know where our water pump was (or embarrassingly, even where our water cistern was), so were obvious candidates for ‘getting a man in’.  But it is probably worthwhile to get a man (or woman) in to help you even if you’re quite handy.

#generatorlife

Generators use a lot of fuel.  They are noisy.

So unless you are made of money and hate the environment, you won’t be running your gene while you’re asleep at night.  Nor will you want to run it in dramatic weather: you would be mad to run a portable gene during a hurricane, not least because you’ll want to stash it away safely to the wind doesn’t plonk it on your car or summat.  And you won’t want to be outdoors fiddling with it in the midst of a tropical storm or flooding.

And if you decide to have a BBQ or something you’re going to need your guests to decide whether they’d rather have (a) peace and quiet; or (b) toilets that flush.  The two are mutually exclusive.

A few tips

  1. Fill your bath (or buckets).  If it’s yellow you might let it mellow, but if it’s brown you’re going to definitely want to flush it down. So while the gene is on, fill up containers up with water for loo flushing when the gene is off.
  2. Get a marine battery.  This enables you to turn one room into a little oasis of power when the gene is off.  It’s not as powerful as a generator by any means, but is enough to do lamps, internet dongle and charge your phones etc. This means you can read your book at night without the roar of a gene in the background and there will be no argument about who has to trek outside to switch it off.  Also, when you tell people that you’re “yeah, just using a marine battery” you sound like a proper survivalist. To make the battery work you need an invertor (whatever that is), and a kindly vendor who’ll help you work out what to do.
  3. Consider investing in a small solar panel. You can charge the marine battery off this!  Not cheap by any means but running a generator is like a giant gas-guzzling middle finger to the environment. Having seen the utter devastation that mother nature can wreak when she’s feeling cross, it’s nice to mitigate the fossil fuel use by harnessing a bit of solar power.
  4. Don’t throw away all the pot noodles you bought while you didn’t have power. Some evenings you might find you can’t be arsed to run the generator if you get home late.  A little camping stove and basic rations will come in handy then. Man cannot live on crisps alone.
  5. Downsize your fridge.  We have abandoned our big fridge and now use a small one, with a block of ice inside to help maintain cool while the generator isn’t running. A small freezer would be even better. Put the block of ice in a tray (a foil one works well as you can squish it into shape).
  6. Go to a launderette (that’s British for Laundromat).  We go to Village Cay laundry.  This avoids overburdening your gene and also, well, you don’t have to do your own laundry.

Solar panel charging marine battery during the day

That’s it folks.  Will add more tips if we come across them.

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