A day in Tortola

Well, this day didn’t turn out as we had imagined. This is a story about why it’s important to keep visiting Countries which are putting their lives back together following natural disasters.

I woke to an excited hubby, quite giddy about the fact we were awaking to a new destination for the first time. He rushed me outside on to the balcony to experience entering port. Knowing our tour was a little later in the day I grabbed the opportunity to visit the gym and boy was it one with a view. I would work out more if my outlook was crystal blue waters, green mountains punctuated by vibrant coloured habitats every day. It certainly encouraged me to stay on the treadmill for longer. It was then a quick change and off for breakfast in the main canteen. Hubby and I found a quiet spot at the next door bar where we could have our grub but also have a little space from the crowds in an inside/outside setting. We were excited and decided before the tour we would disembark and wander around the capital Road Town. We were expecting paradise, quaintness and general vibrancy. What we hadn’t appreciate, was how scarred they were by Irma and Maria. Quite frankly we got a shock. It’s not that I don’t appreciate it takes a long time to recover from natural disasters. It’s just that I didn’t really think about it. It tends to be all consuming on the news for a few weeks and then you don’t hear about it. And you forget – sad but true. Hubby and I strolled into the centre in search of our pre imagined experience, only to met by torn down buildings, rubble and decay. I felt sad and worst of all, voyeuristic. How do you find the essence of the place when it’s so damaged? I tell you where. You find it in the faces of the people. I mean it. We walked streets with local people hanging out, sometimes dancing, mostly chatting. They were welcoming and polite.

We made our way to our tour meeting point and immediately fell in love with our tour guide – Mr Styles. With a personality bigger than the island and driving a truck with an open trolley at the back. We quickly got to know our tour group, hard not to when you’re sat that close together. We went from introductions and “where do you live” enquiries to the state of Brexit in a nano second. But that was cut short as Mr Styles started our somewhat bumpy tour. It was playful and light hearted and as we drove out of Road Town I started to breathe easier. He stopped us at a good vantage point, overlooking Necar Island and proceeded to climb over the road barrier, hanging over a hill edge to pick at some leaves. We then got a short lecture about the benefits of soursup. For those of you uneducated in the ways of all things herbal (as I was) I will tell you it’s a leaf you can crush and sniff to give you a sedating effect. Said leaves were found on several points in the journey and handed out for sniffing – let’s just say we had a good time!

Our first proper stop, soursup tutorials notwithstanding, was at the Good Moon Farm. This was equally an education. Hubby and I are still feeling a bit low from our morning, but not for long. Our host was Aragon, a BVI born land owner/farmer, sometimes speaking in clipped English from his education, sometimes speaking in the local twang. We started with a tumeric tea, some local fruits and a talk about the island. I’m not going to be able to do his engaging talk justice, he talked us through the history of the island. I’m going to pick up on a few points. Firstly he put us at ease about visiting. He was clear that tourism was much needed in the Caribbean to help the continued rebuilding programmes. We still felt terrible for the hardship we saw, but he helped us to see past it. He also helped us to understand there are different histories when it came to what happened post emancipation. He spoke about the culture, religion, the government. It was a fascinating, but all too short a talk.

We then strolled down the terraces to see his organic farm in action. He described the loss of connection that the people had with the land, which has led to much ill health on the island. He is leading the work on creating farmers markets and gardens for schools. I will say he is restoring his cottage on the farm (the roof was lost) and it will be ready next year, if anyone fancies an agriturismo with a difference – and a cracking view. 

Then it was back on to the truck, we drove on to a little beach area to have some rum punch. We would have liked to stay longer, that’s the downside of a tour. It was a vibrant area full of bars and overlapping Carribean beats. But back again on the truck and on to the Rum Distillery. It was a tad disappointing as it was very commercial and our “talk” lasted all of five minutes and was more a gateway to sales of rum with a little tasting thrown in. My favourite moment was the disgusted look on one of our groups face when the host described a particular rum as “one to make the panties drop.” Made the stop totally worth it. We ended with a tour of the island, Mr Styles style. He narrated the coastal highlights beautifully, with a voice I could listen to for hours. We were slightly unnerved by both the steep hills and bends but also the fact we were running late and needed to get back onboard. But he distracted us with tales of pelicans (a prolific bird in the Caribbean) and local food. 

So please, if you do get a chance to visit, look past the physical damage that has been done. There’s so much more to the island and it’s people. Just ask for Mr Styles.