January 2003by Barbara, Deirdre & Michael
Just a few miles east of the U.S. Virgin Islands lie the enchanting islands of Tortola, Peter Island, Jost Van Dyke and Virgin Gorda. For those looking for a slower-paced alternative to the bustling Charlotte Amalie, the British Virgin Islands offer a laid back paradise of white sand beaches and funky, local color-- all just a ferry ride away from St. Thomas' International Airport.
Who would have guessed we could escape a mid-August heat wave by flying to the tropics? While the thermometer climbed to a record high in Providence, we flew to the islands and found the islands a welcomingly cool escape from the New England summer! A taxi whisked us from the airport to the ferry dock in Charlotte Amalie, and we boarded the boat for Tortola. Salt Air! Sunshine! The sea breeze picked up outside the harbor, and the fresh air and sunshine seemed just the right balm for our tired souls. From the deck of the boat, the sailboats moored in St. John's Cruz Bay seemed to slowly approach our bow and then disappear in the ferry's wake, followed by the golden sand along Caneel Bay, Hawk's Nest Bay and Trunk Bay. The crystal blue water sparkled in all directions, and the green shores of numerous tiny islands beckoned. To the north lay Jost Van Dyke; to the south Norman Island and Peter Island. The boat drew past Little Thatch Island and Tortola's Frenchman's Cay, the leaf-shaped isthmus where we planned to stay the night. As the late afternoon sun lit up the docks, the boat chugged into West End, and we arrived in the BVIs refreshed, relaxed and ready to explore.
The Virgin Islands resemble a handful of beach pebbles tossed in the air and scattered across the meniscus of the Caribbean. The sandy shores of the nearly 50 islands and islets that make up the BVI form a speckled border between the jade green Atlantic and the aqua of the Caribbean Sea. Tortola is the hub of the BVI, but where other islands feature all-night dancing at the Hard Rock Café, Tortola's buzz more closely resembles the amiable tinking of a steel drum and the quiet swishing of palms. Three quarters of the BVI's population lives on 14-mile long, 2-mile wide Tortola, while the remaining "crowds" live on Virgin Gorda (with only 2,500 people), Anegada and Jost Van Dyke. Peter Island is a private resort island, and the remaining isles and islets are mostly uninhabited.
Casual is the name of the game in West End, and Deirdre and Barbara quickly found a local joint serving spicy West Indian barbeque ribs and rum drinks drenched with lime, a great happy hour combo for sunset in the tropics.
Frenchman's Lookout, our home Friday night, was a fantastic villa on the crest of a mountain on Frenchman's Cay. The two-story plantation house opens up to a 15-foot wide center hallway with a two-story foyer, lending the entire place an open, airy feel. Each bedroom has two French doors that frame a breathtaking view of Sir Francis Drake Channel, and a wrap-around porch overlooking the water surrounds the entire villa. Each corner of the house comes equipped with a hammock, the ultimate way to really kick back and relax. The villa has one of the biggest pools on the island, but the best thing about the villa was gazing out across the water Friday night and seeing the lights twinkling on the neighboring shores. 'I loved the feeling of looking at all those little lights and imagining someone out there looking at me, looking at them,' Deirdre said.
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