Many people dream of living on a Caribbean island. They go on vacation and swing in their hammock on the beach, basking in the sunshine whilst sipping on their Pina Colada thinking ‘this is the life… I could stay here forever’!
Whilst I am not complaining about the life I am currently living, I would like to give you an insight into the realities of island life compared to the fantasy many of us have.
Island Time – Need to take a quick trip to the bank to deposit a cheque? Think again… When you want to run a few errands in town you need to take time out of your week and plan a full day, if not two to get these easy jobs done. Queues in the bank, paying your electricity bill, internet bill or going grocery shopping, on average will take you at least 30-45 mins just before you even reach the counter. Then when you finally think it’s your turn to step on up, the cashier decides she needs a toilet break, a local pushes in to say ‘hi’ to their cashier friend for half an hour, or their mobile phone beeps and they need to respond to a text before they attend to you! However tolerant a person you are, real patience is a new skill you must acquire if you want to live here and not go crazy.
Bugs – Killed a mosquito or 10 today and it’s not even 9am? Well another 20 are just around the corner, lurking in the background, ready to pounce, just waiting to suck on that tasty blood of yours with the possibility of giving you Zika or Dengue Fever. Every day is one constant itch and your body is always full of scars from scratching the hell out of your bites. If it’s not the mosquitoes, it’s those pesky ‘no see ums’ hiding under your sun lounger whilst trying to relax on the beach. If you’re one of the lucky ones who manage not to get bitten on a daily basis, don’t worry there are always the cockroaches, spiders, moths, mice and lizards to contend with. Once you get used to wearing long trousers in the heat, swatting mosquitoes all day long with your zapper, sleeping under your sheet in bed or stamping on cockroaches it’s not too bad.
Heat – Sunshine is a wonderful thing and I for one never thought I would complain about the heat, however just for once it would be nice to have a day or two of cooler weather or a bit of rain just to give you a break from sweating non stop, having 5 showers a day to cool off or being able to look reasonably decent without your hair being scraped back with a hair tie or being able to wear a small amount of make up.
Infrastructure – Electricity outages happen on a regular occurrence often taking anything up to 24hrs to come back on. This is frustrating when your air conditioning goes off and you are left in the sweltering heat or those recent groceries you just bought are defrosting in the freezer. The roads here are full of potholes which damage your island car that is already falling apart, and be prepared for any matters you may have within the government buildings to go slowly with a lot of teeth-sucking!
Communication – Internet in the BVI is one of the most expensive and unreliable in the Caribbean according to reports. It is very difficult to work from home or have an evening watching Netflix with intermittent signal.
Shopping – Grocery stores are limited on stock and new items are usually delivered by ship. If you are looking for a particular item and you cannot find it in the main grocery store, chances are you won’t find it on the island until the next week or two when the next delivery comes in. There are also a limited amount of clothes, electronic or household stores on the island. You won’t find many big brand names or designer clothes. This is something you need to wait for on your next visit to the mainland.
Expense – Because everything on the island is imported and has added tax, it is extremely expensive to live here. From general groceries, household essentials, cosmetics, medical expenses, electricity, internet and accommodation. This is not an easily affordable place to live unless you have a good income or want to live an extremely simple life.
Animals – You will find sheep, goats and cows all roaming along the roadside, or chickens and dogs hanging out at your favourite restaurant under the table looking for food. There are also many stray dogs and cats on the island causing many of the expats to adopt or foster several of them at a time.
Mail – There are no home addresses in the BVI. If you order something for delivery on the island or need to explain to somebody where you live, you need to either give them a precise description or draw them a map. Your orientation skills will definitely improve. An example of finding someones house normally sounds like this… Turn left at the post office, take a left at the generator in the fork in the road, pass the sheep tied up on the right, take two switchbacks and pass the dumpster on your left. We are the peach house located on your right… If you do order anything online to be delivered to the island, it is expensive and can take weeks to arrive. A friend posted me a gift once for Christmas and it didn’t turn up until March the following year.
Small Town Living – Living in a small community everybody knows everybody, and everything about everyone. Nobody can keep a secret and a lot of gossip and lies are passed through the rumour mill on the island.
Tourists – Cruise ships arrive and the tourists come in droves. Buses are loaded to the brim and they take over the island. The beaches and the bars are jammed packed and there is no escaping them until 3pm when they return to the ship for their onward journey.
Major Weather Threats – Hurricane season comes annually in the Caribbean and it is not to be taken lightly. After the recent hurricanes of Irma and Maria, you can see the seriousness of how strong mother nature really is and what weather can do to destroy peoples lives. Islands are prone to being hit and can bring strong winds and flooding.
Island Fever – Living on a rock is a great place to be, however it can get extremely claustrophobic at times. Island fever kicks in on a bi-monthly basis for me… when you’ve had enough of seeing the same faces, you’re constantly eating chicken and rice, fed up of the rude hospitality and the painstakingly slow pace everybody runs at, it’s time to book a flight and get back to civilisation. Even if it’s a different rock for just a few days, a change of environment definitely clears the mind and prepares you for your return to your little island you love so much!
The peaceful, remote, easily living life is not for everyone. Maybe the islands aren’t suited to you or maybe you’re not suited to the islands. However, the beautiful beaches, the wonderful island vibe and close community definitely makes it easier and more enjoyable to live in paradise!
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