What a day. We arrived in Tortola, the main British Virgin Island, nice and early, and before long I was on a ferry (YES, A FERRY!!) heading over to St. Thomas, which is in the US Virgin Islands. On the way over, I got chatting with a British guy named Oliver. He was heading over to St. Thomas so he could renew his entry stamp to the British Virgin Islands, the joke being that as a Brit, he can only stay in the BVIs for one month, but he can stay in the USVIs for three!
Tonight on Tortola is the full moon party at Bomba’s Hut on the beach. Everyone gets wrecked on (legal) mushroom tea and then all the girls take their clothes off. At least that’s what it said in the Lonely Planet.
It sounded great!
Oliver said I could crash at his friend’s house, so I had a plan. I would see if I could get transport to Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic from the US Virgin Islands. If not, I would hightail it back to Tortola in the BVIs and dance the night away hallucinating my head off.
First I head to the ferry companies – any ferries running to Puerto Rico? Nope – there’s one that runs twice a month, which you can get next Saturday. Bah! So then it was a long walk to the Cruise Ship harbour and Lorna Brookes in the UK making frantic phone calls to try and get me on board a ship that was heading for the Dominican Republic. The girl at the PR company said yes. WOO!
I just had to wait for the captain to okay it. I waited. And waited. And waited.
Eventually, I went over to the ship to ask someone to ask the captain to check his emails. Eventually, he did. Eventually, somebody came off the ship to tell me what was happening. Eventually, they said no.
They said there wasn’t enough time to clear security (having my eyeballs scanned and my fingerprints taken by US immigration is obviously not enough to prove I’m not Osama Bin Laden!). If the captain had checked his emails earlier, I’d be on my way to the Dominican Republic by now.
I watched the ship pull out the harbour into the setting sun and looked at my watch – 5:30pm. I checked the ferry times back to the BVIs. The last one had left…at 5:30pm.
Oh for crying out loud!
I ran as fast as my legs could carry me (and my bags) to the ferry dock. But the last ferry had indeed gone. As had my chance to go to the full moon party, as had my place to sleep for the night. I went to a bar on the harbour side, frantically couchsurfing everyone on the island. By 11pm, I’d still had no replies.
The cheapest (!) hotel was $100 a night, and it was full. I had nowhere to stay, nowhere to go. I wandered the streets for hours until I eventually found a hotel and sat in the open-air reception area. A cute American girl named Val asked what I was doing – the hotel was full. I explained my situation and she said I could sleep on one of the nearby sun lounges. I stuffed my bags under it and fell asleep, praying that all my stuff would be there in the morning. I was lying just a few metres in from the main street and there was no gate.
A heavy dew had formed on me and my bags in the night. I prised myself up off the sun lounger and headed for a nice hot cup of tea. The Beans, Bytes and Websites café was just what I needed – Internet access and hot drinks. I may have missed the boat and the full moon party, but I was getting off this island today!
Or so I had convinced myself.
But as the day wore on, it became more and more obvious that I was to spend a second night in the US Virgin Islands. They’re not even a proper nation, for heaven’s sake! Over 40 days in and I was still trying to get on a boat to travel all of 60 miles or so. Luckily for me, the staff of the Beans, Bytes and Websites café took me in. Monique and Sarah offered me a couch each, as did Solomon, a BB&W regular. We grabbed a Roti for lunch and as the day drew on and my hopes became more and more dashed like biblical babies on the rocks, I went and got my beard trimmed because I was sick of looking like Herman Toothrot!
I dropped my stuff off at Sarah’s and we went out for scrummy dinner with a couple of her mates. Like in real life!
St. Thomas has a pretty bad rap – it comes bottom of a list of ‘most beautiful islands’ published by National Geographic in 2007. However, the old town (where I was staying) is really quite pleasant – although the plethora of jewellery shops that adorn the old arcades is rather crass. The streets still have their old Danish names (the yanks bought St. Thomas from the Danish about a hundred years ago) and still retain a lot of character. The concrete shopping malls down the promenade, though – urgh! Someone – please – stop this madness!
Do folks really come to the Caribbean to admire the way it’s exactly the same as home? Or do they come here because they want to get away for a few days. The world is becoming a much smaller place – but that doesn’t mean that the homogenisation of human culture into a big concrete hamburger is a good thing.
Maybe tomorrow would offer something new…
Got on the Internet as soon as I could and there it was – a message from Lorna, my guardian angel, bearing the heading ‘Costa cruise sorted for today’.
I was sorted on a CRUISE SHIP to the Dominican Republic. A cruise ship!! Leaving that day.
Oh. Hell YEAH!
The Costa Fortuna. I had just hitched a ride on a Cruise Ship!
A wonderful guy named Donald Ferguson, a representative for Rooster PR had gone out of his way to sort it out. What a legend. THANK YOU Donald! Excited, I headed down to the port to meet the very lovely Roberta and Rosa, who added me to the passenger list and gave me my Costa Card. I was in! I’d be in the Dominican Republic in the morning.
I returned to Bytes, Beans and Websites to pick up my stuff and say goodbye to Sarah and boarded my behemoth of the high seas. I was given a cabin and a ticket for dinner, but better than that – I was allowed to go up to the bridge to watch the ship disembark with the captain.
Now the Costa Fortuna is an Italian ship – none of that stiff-upper-lip Britishness here! Bearing that in mind, the captain instructed me to watch out for the signal as we pulled out of port.
Well, the ship gives three long blasts, then the lovely ladies who work in the harbour-side sushi bar come running out and they lift up their tops and that’s the signal so we can depart.
I thought he was joking!!
But no, this is an important maritime tradition amongst the crews of the Italian Liners and the girls of the sushi-bar. A time-honoured tradition that I for one was proud to be part of. And happy to get on tape…!
The captain, Claudio, was an absolute top bloke – he even presented me with a die-cast model of the ship, which I’m going to Fed-Ex to Australia to sit on the mantelpiece awaiting my return.
After that, I had the run of the ship. So I did some investigations – the upper deck, filled during the day, was now quiet and everyone was down below preparing for dinner. There was the usual cruise ship stuff on deck – sun loungers, swimming pools, Jacuzzis, a super-happy-fun-slide… but it was just nice to catch the breeze and watch St. Thomas disappear into the distance.
Down below was a multitude of restaurants, bars, slot machines – my dinner was surprisingly good (hurrah for the Italians!) and afterwards, I attended a Greek party night(!) with the staff who had so warmly welcomed a half-crazed ginger beardy traveller who had somehow managed to hitch-hike onto their multi-multi-million dollar cruise ship.
Check it out!!