Where do you go when you live in a vacation paradise? It's a hard question to answer. Every day I feel blessed to drive home along a road that borders the Sir Francis Drake Channel, a view of islands floating languidly in the distance and a radiant sunset out the front window.
But even so, from time to time a getaway is called for - sometimes to a big city like New York or London - but more often than not, a smaller trip is all that's needed. A day away from home exploring my own exotic isles can be delightfully therapeutic.
Over the years, I have developed a number of great day trips. Trips that take less than a day but can feel like a week-long vacation. After all, I do live in a land of resorts, stunning beaches and some of the world's best sailing waters.
One of my favorite island getaways is to Jost Van Dyke, a small, island just four miles long that's a world apart from the rest of the Virgins. Less than 300 people live here full time, but they are fiercely dedicated to this island that seems like a vacation video played in slow motion.
Ten years ago, Jost Van Dyke had no roads and no electricity. Today it has both, but you will never experience a traffic jam on the unpaved road that snakes its way from White Bay on the island's west end to Diamond Cay at its eastern tip. My latest Jost Van Dyke day trip began at the ferry dock at Tortola's West End. The ferry ride was slow and scenic - a great way to lower the blood pressure and acclimatize to a day on Jost. From the dock, my family and I walked along the beach at Great Harbour, a charming community that is not quite a village. Several beach bars and restaurants hug the sand-fringed bay, there is a quaint Methodist church with views of the sea from its graceful arched windows, a grocery store and several, but not many homes. The road is sand. Wow! How many roads in the world are still sand? This alone makes a trip to Great Harbour special.
As we walked along the beach, we passed the island's laid-back business center. Rudy's Rendezvous is a restaurant with a small grocery store at the back, followed by Corsairs, which is owned by Vinny, a transplanted Harley Davidson dealer from Colorado. This popular gathering place serves Italian food, tropical drinks and fresh sea breezes. Captain Collin's Jost Van Dyke Scuba, specializing in eco-excursions, is next, followed by Ali Baba's and Wendell's World. Finally there's Foxy's, the iconic bar and restaurant known for its raucous New Years Eve parties and its more low key wooden boat regatta. On this particular day, we passed the Fox himself. It was a Sunday and he was dressed in his church-going best, a green and yellow dashiki and matching hat. Carrying his guitar, he was the perfect image of the island troubadour.
At Foxy's my family and I hopped into a taxi to go to Diamond Cay. This was new for me: my normal Jost Van Dyke day trip is to walk the steep hill to White Bay, have a swim in this gorgeous bay's clear waters and cap it off with a drink at One Love, where I might be in time for one of Seddy's magic tricks.
Today, though, I was heading in a new direction - to the east end of the island. The 20 minute trip to Foxy's Taboo, a waterside restaurant looking out at Little Jost Van Dyke and Sandy Spit, has to be one of the islands' most scenic. The road hugs the cliff running along the island's south shore and I got to see new views of Tortola and Sandy Cay. We wound past the anchorage of Little Harbour, home of several popular waterside restaurants, and then drove past the entrance to Sandy Ground Estates. Comprised of a small group of villas overlooking the sea, Sandy Ground basks in its isolation. The only way to get there is by boat or a narrow foot path meant more for hikers than strollers. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones stayed there a few years back and islanders still recount stories of his late night exploits.
I sucked in my breath as the van made its last hair pin turn and pointed its nose downward towards Diamond Cay. Back at sea level, we pulled up to Foxy's Taboo, a spacious pavilion facing out towards a luminous sea and the popular anchorages of Little Jost Van Dyke, Green Cay and Sandy Spit. When the surf is up, the cut between Jost Van Dyke and its sister island, Little Jost, is popular with hard core surfers looking for the ultimate ride. The restaurant was filled with several families who had arrived by powerboat from Tortola and yachtsmen from charter boats. After a light lunch and a couple of island drinks, we headed for the Bubbly Pool.
"It's easy to find", our taxi driver had told us when we had first arrived. He waved his arm northward telling us to follow the beach and go past the "dead trees." As simple as he made it sound, we still took a wrong turn, and although we passed a salt pond with some stumps gnarled enough to pass for dead trees, we ended up thrashing our way up a hill and through catch-and-keep, no path or bubbly pool in sight. We started over again, this time walking past the other side of the salt pond, closer to the shore's edge. We passed elegant groupings of mangrove and dainty shore birds scurrying along the sea's edge. There were dead trees here as well, thank goodness, and eventually the path opened onto a small sea pool enclosed by a white sand beach on one side and large boulders acting as a natural breakwater on the other. But no bubbles. At least, no bubbles at first. A group of kids who had jumped into the pool must have had inside information because suddenly a wave crashed in over the rocks and the pool erupted in froth. The kids burst into laughter and dove under the water before leaping out to scamper over the boulders.
When we returned to Taboo, the taxi driver was waiting for us, obviously pleased that we had followed his directions so well. Our drive back became a social event as the driver stopped here and there to pick up several islanders waiting by the side of the road. Stopping in front of his house at the hill's highest point, a large tamarind tree shading the front yard, the driver made room for his wife and daughter, as well as an impossibly long piece of lumber, which he somehow angled into the now crowded vehicle. As the van lurched forward, its passengers burst into conversation discussing births, marriages and the latest island gossip. The driver's wife handed us some tamarind pods and we sucked off the tart fruit clinging to its seeds as the boisterous bus swayed down the narrow road back to Great Harbour.
Our last stop was Foxy's where a piano player on an island tour was playing boogie woogie and old pop tunes on a keyboard. He was wearing a silly hat and had tee-shirts and CDs for sale. But by now we were in the mood for anything, even a middle aged rock and roller pounding the keys at this sand-in-your-toes watering hole.
Soon it was time to walk to the 5 pm ferry. Yachts were sailing into Great Harbour and dropping their anchors in time for a sunset cocktail. A few children were splashing in the sea in this magical place that they called home. The day had been a true getaway. Hikes, sea pools and boogie woogie. What more could one ask for from a day in paradise?