I’m not going to lie, life isn’t easy living on a island that has just been destroyed by a Category 5 hurricane, however it’s not the worse thing in the world.
When I told family and friends I was returning to live in the British Virgin Islands with my 4 month old daughter, they were a little hesitant. Thankfully I have an amazing husband who flew out a couple of months prior to us, to make our new home as comfortable as possible.
We decided to move out of our home in Cane Garden Bay for many reasons. Firstly, however amazing it is to be located right by the waters edge, when living on an island prone to hurricanes and with a risk of tsunamis, we decided it’s better to be up on a hillside. Our apartment also had a river running right behind it where mosquitoes were breeding ten to the dozen and the lack of a working sewage plant in the area caused a stench in the hot, muggy air which became unbearable. When Gavin first returned to the island he thought there was absolutely no way we could live back in the BVI as there was no work for us, so we decided to sell a lot of our furniture and belongings in the house for an extremely reduced price to what we paid for them. We sold over half of our goods when the company we worked for told us they were going to rebuild and we should stick around. We moved to another apartment and decided we could just buy new furniture with the money we saved from selling.
We moved into a nice 2 bedroom apartment in Carrot Bay (or it would be nice once there was a lock on the front door, new balcony doors as ours are currently windowless and if we had power and running water)! Gavin had moved all our remaining furniture to the new place and had set up a few lights around the apartment which were running from boat batteries he had been given from work. He later bought a generator whereby we could run the fridge for a few hours a day, have internet connection and run the odd appliance here and there. He also hooked up a hosepipe and a boat pump to the cistern located underneath our apartment so we could have access to water and cold showers.
Once I arrived, I gave the apartment a good old clean, washed all of our clothes and bed linens, we stocked up the house with long life food products and re-arranged the furniture. I wanted to buy a few new pieces of furniture as we had sold a sofa, table and chairs and bedroom cupboards etc. I knew we had to be responsible with our money at the moment as work was limited, however I knew we still had a couple of thousand dollars which we had made from selling our stuff in the first place. I asked Gavin if we could go and buy some new furniture and he told me he didn’t want me to get upset, but the money we had made from what we had sold had been stolen from us. I was gutted and so was he. He had gone to work with the money as he didn’t trust leaving it in the house because of the previous looting which had been happening on the island and the opening hours at the banks were limited so he hadn’t managed to get there to deposit the money. We felt betrayed that somebody from work could’ve done this to their colleagues, however we would just have to live as we were for the moment until we start working and making an income again.
Living on generator power was loud and overbearing. We used about a tank of fuel a week to run it for 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the evening. We tried to charge our boat batteries enough when the generator was running so they had enough power for us to run a fan in the bedroom at night and sleep peacefully. It worked most of the time, but the odd occasion they would run out of power and we would start to overheat during the night. If you didn’t have your generator running you could always hear your neighbours vibrating on the balcony above or one down the street waking you up when it was running out of fuel in the middle of the night. I have definitely learnt a new skill learning how to use generators and how to work batteries and inverters, something I never thought I would need.
Living in an apartment with broken external doors welcomes lots of unwanted guests from cockroaches, to geckos, mosquitoes and my favourite, rats!! To my disgust, we caught a few rats in a trap which a guy loaned us from work until we managed to board the doors up with some plywood and mosquito netting. I have definitely become a lot more tolerant of bugs and rodents whilst living in a ‘tropical paradise’.
General day to day living took a little more time than usual, we needed to cook everything on the stove as our electric oven did not work, we boiled water to wash the dishes or to give Léna a bath. I didn’t have a hot shower for two and a half months, Gavin for 4 months…and we were using a hosepipe to shower with. It wasn’t difficult, just a little more time consuming and irritating when you just wanted to brush your teeth with running water coming out of the tap.
Queues in town were even longer than normal, waiting in line for the bank, to pay your internet bill, grocery shopping or waiting in line at the post office for something you ordered online could take hours, but you just needed to patient if you wanted to get things done.
Our car was the only other issue when things packed in after driving over the dirt tracks instead of roads or getting damaged bouncing over the huge cracks in the tarmac, as parts were hard to come by on the island. We broke down one day at the gas station and found out we needed a new part to start the car, so another new skill I learned was how to pretty much hot wire the car with a screwdriver to get it started.
Life on the island was easy once you got into a routine and got used to doing things a slightly different way than you are used to.
The only other downside you need to get used to now until the tourism picks up again is how quiet the island is. As half of the residents have left the island for good, cruise ships have stopped dropping guests off and there is a lack of tourism due to a minimal amount of charter boats available, the island is extremely quiet. I used to love going down to the beach to sip on a cocktail, take a dip in the sea and do a spot of people watching. Now unfortunately if you’re lucky there may be a handful of people on the beach on a weekend, other than that you’re pretty much alone. There are also a limited amount of restaurants to eat at now due to the lack of them back up and running.
Daily activities in the BVI from my personal opinion, nowadays, can be one of two things. Get fit and stay active by either hiking, running, swimming or surfing, or as I’m sure many of the residents have done… turn into an alcoholic and drink the days away.
After many months, the island is slowly getting back to normal. It took us 5 months since the hurricane to regain power and water, charter companies are working hard to get boats back in the water, hotels and restaurants are anxiously waiting for insurance payouts so they can get to work on their properties and tourists are slowly starting to trickle back on to the island.
There are many homes still without roofs or windows and doors, a few still without power and water, roads are still in a state and the amount of waste on the island which needs to be removed is unbelievable, but the people of the BVI are resilient and one day the islands will get back to the way they were, hopefully in the not too distant future.
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