Thursday, November 4, 2010

British Virgin Islands - Sept 20-25

After a quick trip to Toronto to visit family and to attend the Comrie wedding we were off to spend 5 amazing days in the British Virgin Islands. Originally this was a trip planned to spend time with my Dad down there, but unfortunately he wasn't able to travel due to a nasty broken ankle. Thanks to the inflated airline tickets, and the equally inflated penalties for changing/cancelling flights, we were locked into the trip - Dad or no Dad.

Even without him there, Dad turned out to be a great tour guide. He told us all the places to visit with details like best restaurants, best views and little known, out of the way beaches that would be great for swimming/snorkelling or just hanging out.

I kept a daily journal with the details of the trip and kept them on my blackberry for uploading to my blog when I got home. Unfortunately I found out the hard way that my blackberry only stores items for 30 days before deleting them. Even drafts. So all my entries up until arriving in Vietnam will have to be summarized by my best memory. Probably best anyhow.

We arrived in Tortola without any trouble and got checked into the resort we'd be calling home for the next few days. We even got upgraded to an ocean suite because is was low season. We were happy to take it, but didn't realize until dinner time exactly what "low" season meant.

In the islands there are three seasons - high season, low season and no season. The islands are 100% dependant on tourism and even local holidays function around it. During high and low season, all operations run at either full or half speed respectively making the most out the tourist that are still visiting come July and August. But come September, the locals take the only time during the year that they have to take a holiday themselves, get off the island or close down shop completely for renovations, repairs etc. All of this in preparation for the season that will start up again come mid October. This short period in between seasons is called "no season" and we arrived right in the middle of it.

We were grateful for the upgrade but soon realized that is wasn't luck or just good karma we had. In fact all of the 6 guests (us included) were given rooms close together and ocean side. The resort was huge, probably 2-300 rooms, and there were no more than 6 of us there. Sounds ok right? No rush for poolside seats, no waiting for a table at dinner, taxi's at our beck and call for where ever we wanted to go? Not quite.

The restaurants operated at minimum capacity - limited menu, limited hours. The poolside bar was open only for a few hours during the day and we had to make a point to tell the front desk that we would be up there. And with no one else at the resort, there wasn't much in the way of night-life to entertain us after 8pm. It wasn't just our resort that was operating this way, the entire island (and as we discovered as the days past) and all the other islands, were all in the same position. Restaurants, if they were open at all, served only a limited menu and usually opened the kitchen just for us. Ferry's from island to island operated as they wished which made day trips a little sketchy because we were never sure that a boat would still be running later in the day to take us home, plus, everywhere we went we were (practically) the only ones there.

To add insult to injury, none of the cost of things deflate with the season. Everything here is very expensive and it being "no season" made no difference. The taxi's all run on a per person flat rate meaning that the 5 min ride from the ferry dock to our resort was $15. PER PERSON. One day we ventured over to another beach on the other side of the island - a 15 minute ride that cost us $20 EACH. Thankfully we caught a ride home with a guy that lived close to our resort and recognized us.

The costs of things were a bit of a downer, but it wasn't all bad. We spent some good time at a beautiful beach called Smugglers Cove where the sea was calm, the water turquoise and a local opportunist named Steve set up camp using a few plastic chairs, coolers and ran his blender off his car battery. Steve made a mean rum punch and we kept him company as long as the ice was cold.

We weren't the only ones that discovered Steve. There were two other couples that arrived sometime in the afternoon. We befriended them as it turned out they were also Canadians and were from the Kingston Ontario area. Funnily enough, one our new friends was actually a member of our beloved Tragically Hip. Small world. :)

Besides our sharing cocktails with Canadian Rock Royalty, the trip was pretty uneventful. We did venture out to the Bomba Shack which is the proud host of the islands infamous Full Moon parties. In regular season thousands would flock to this collection of floorboards for the cheap drinks and mushroom tea, unfortunately this time it was us and the other 6 tourist from our resort plus the 5 or 6 locals it takes to run the show. We had one drink and took our second to go.

At the end of 4 days, we decided to take a ferry to St Thomas a day early so that we wouldn't miss our morning flight. We were worried we might get stuck on Tortola because the captain of the ferry would haphazardly cancel the sailing or just sleep in not expecting anyone to catch the early morning ferry during "no season" (actually happened to us while trying to visit one of the other islands earlier in the week).

So while we were sad to see the Caribbean islands go, we were happy to say goodbye to the $40 ferry trips, the $20 five minute taxi's and $25 cheeseburgers. We were on our way to Vietnam where the real adventure would begin.


In transit: 40 hours to Bangkok

The trip was a long one. We left St. Thomas at 8:15 on Saturday morning and connected in Miami where we had a six hour layover. We then flew to Los Angeles were we spent a few hours in the airport before one last connection through Hong Kong before arriving in Bangkok. By the time we got there, we had no idea what day it was, what time it was or if we wanted to eat breakfast, dinner or lie down for a good nights sleep.

The lay over in Miami was actually planned. I've been to South Beach a few times now and it's a great place to spend a few hours. We checked our bags right through to Bangkok so we headed into South Beach for a few hours of sun and checking out the beach.

When we got there, it took only a few minutes before I knew exactly how we'd be killing time. Segways. That's right - cruising around Dr. Evil style (or mall cop, but I prefer to think of them as Dr. Evils transportation of choice).

These things were so much fun. We got to see way more of South Beach than had we been stuck walking around. Plus we got to have Segway races on the boardwalk. I highly recommend this if you get the chance. So. Much. Fun.

All the photos of the BVI's and Miami can be viewed here:

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