Sunday, 13 February 2011

Nature's Little Secrets

Hi, I wish i had read your message before we headed off to Tortola on vacation in June. You speak the truth. What a dump. Our stay was just as horrid and we left for St Thomas after 8 days of suffering the squalor of Tortola. (The Bitter end and Biras Creek were fully booked) we had a GREAT 3 weeks at the mariott Morningstar. (I think we would have enjoyed living in our garage after Tortola

I read this review of Tortola today on and it got me quite fired up and angry.

I've visited Tortola three times now and two of my stays lasted around 2 months. During my stays I have experienced both "normal life" on Tortola and being on vacation. I can definitely confirm that it is one of the most beautiful places to visit. I feel lucky to be able to go whenever I have saved up enough money and to stay with people who are practically my family (as opposed to those who must save up their whole lives and have their trip to such a place as the "holiday of a lifetime"). I have become quite fond of Tortola and feel extremely attached to it, as if it were already my home, which I hope someday it will be.

Admiring the beautiful views out to sea...

This is why I feel extremely hurt and angry when people make such insensitive comments on these trip review websites. Sweeping generalisations based on opinion and only a few moments on the island.

I would like to contest some of the things said in this review in the hope that I can provide a balanced, informed and FAIR review of the island of Tortola.

Taking the ferry to Virgin Gorda, see you in while Tola

Firstly referring to the island as a "dump". How rude. Would you like it if I came and marched into your home country and called it a dump? Probably not. You must not forget that Tortola is a tiny island, only about 17 square miles and a population of around 21,000, so just like the UK, USA or wherever you are from, there will be really nice places and there will be places that are not so nice. In your home country you probably don't see so much of the not so nice areas because it is so much larger and more spread out. If you seriously think about some of the terrible places you know of in your country, you can perhaps imagine what a tourist might think.

Floating in the sea just off island

Tortola is a developing community, you cannot expect it to be as advanced as the bustling metropolis you are used to. Lots of people I know that were born on the island tell stories of how just 40 years or so ago there were only two or three roads connecting the entire island and a lot of the local people still traversed the mountains on a donkey. Now most people use cars and there are many, many roads snaking up and down the mountains and even traffic lights and crossings in Road Town. They are slowly but surely improving the quality of the island as the technology and funds become available to them.

Reef life under the Caribbean Sea

Do not forget also, that it is extremely difficult for Tortola to receive deliveries. Since it is so small, naturally some things are not available and must be ordered from off-island. Things take time to get to Tortola because we haven't invented teleportation yet and so progress can be slow. BUT, slow progress perfectly underpins the wonderful laid back lifestyle of Tortolian dwellers. They live a life mostly free of stress because they don't have to rush and it's okay if things don't arrive on time. It's not the end of the world! I 100% believe in this life philosophy and every time I visit I feel a great change in myself and my attitude towards life.

A jumbie - the local personification of "something bad". Kind of like our Western "boogie man". Though they also have a rain jumbie, which will "catch you" and give you a cold if you go out in the rain.

I once witnessed a group of tourists getting extremely stressed out at the ferry dock because the day tripping ferry to Virgin Gorda was ten minutes late. I actually laughed a little, because I realised that I used to be one of these impatient people who just expect everything to occur quickly, smoothly and on time, lest the whole world caves in. That's just the way it is, it's called "island time" for a reason. Besides, if you're on holiday what's the rush?

The famous Bomba Shack where the most memorable full moon parties occur every month.

Refering to the "squalor of Tortola", that statement made my blood boil. The people are not living in squalor. Just because there is not a 400 storey Hilton hotel to please you and just because it does not have the clean glistening streets you may see somewhere like Singapore does not justify such harsh words. It's like people see these places only as a tourist destination and that the islanders and services are their to bow to a tourists every need. Do you forget that people live their lives on these islands. They go to work, they go out for dinners, they attend church and even go to the recently built cinema! They lead perfectly normal, average lives. When you go on holiday you expect that everyone else is living the "holiday" lifestyle too. This is not true, they are working hard and earning money just as any other person would.

A beautiful sunset view from Skyworld. A delightful restaurant situated on the highest point of the island.

Maybe more of an outlook of visiting someone else's life and experiencing their culture would be a better way to address your holiday opinions rather than expecting it to be like a little piece of your imagined heaven.

Just a ten minute ferry away, Marina Cay is a beautiful resort to stay at.

I notice that the person writing the biased review stayed in a Mariott on St Thomas, a large scale commercial chain of hotels. Here's one thing about Tortola, they pride themselves on being as self sufficient as possible and believe in using local trade before seeking alternatives. I think they do fantastically this way and have enable Tortola to stay a beautiful tranquil haven rather than a commercial, franchised money machine like some of the US Virgin Islands have become. If you're going for a holiday of a lifetime on a small island in the Caribbean do you honestly prefer to stay in a huge commercial hotel chain, or to stay in a locally run family business? I know which I'd chose.

Frolicking in the sea...

I have noticed a lot of people complain that they have stayed in a hotel and the toilet has blocked and that is why you should not visit because it is disgusting and clearly shows that they don't want to spend money fixing the problem. This are just ridiculously unthought out statements without considering where they are on holiday.

It is an island in the middle of the sea, surround by only salt water. The fresh water does not come from some giant reservoir, as you are used to. It has to be taken from the sea, de-salinized  and then pumped to the houses. This an expensive process and since the island is still really only just developing, the network of water pipes is still being modified in order to suit the new increased demand for water. Those living in the mountains do not get what is referred to as "town water", instead they collect rain from the hurricane season in giant tanks and use this as their water supply.

Festival grounds - where the main festival celebrations and concerts are held.

The way water is supplied in Tortola and the ongoing work to the system means that they are often blockages and water shortages and such things, this is just while they iron out the kinks to get a good water supply to everyone on island. Almost everywhere I can think of in the main town area is advised to not let ANYTHING other than what comes out of you go down the toilet as it can easily cause blockages in their sensitive systems! If the toilet blocks, you get a bloody plunger and unblock it. I don't see the issue here? If the plunger doesn't work drain-o usually does. If that fails you just wait until it fixes itself. At a hotel or resort, just ask the manager to give you a plunger if there isn't one? I'm sure they'd oblige. What would you do at home if your toilet blocked?  Complain that it is cheap and obviously means you are living in an area of squalor? No, you'd probably get a plunger, some Drain-o or call a plumber... I think I made my point here.

Carnival - one of the most colourful and fun things I have experienced to date.

Another thing I think that is key to mention is to remind people that from about August onwards the Hurricane season begins, where most holiday makers have packed up their bags for home already. A lot of time, funds and efforts are spent in order to protect people and properties from the damages of the hurricanes. Just after I left in the summer there were floods which destroyed a lot of the road surfaces and a rather large hurricane that destroyed many buildings and tore off many roofs. We get American television in Tortola and the weather channels often take only two minutes to mention what the weather is doing over the Caribbean islands and seems to be unaware/have disregard for the destruction that occurs on all of the islands during the Hurricane season. As a result, they have good years and bad years depending on how much damage is done during autumn.

My favourite thing of all about Tortola is that all of the people are so open and friendly. When you walk into a building, office or shop most or all of the people will quietly bid you good morning or good day. It is so friendly and polite, such a warm and welcoming atmosphere. It beats the snobbish and un-accepting airs and graces of the Western world that I'm used to. Coming back to the UK and getting back to the lifestyle of no smiles on the street, no exchanges between strangers and no air of friendliness has made me quite sad. 

I hope this post has given a balanced and informed opinion that has made you consider visiting Tortola and keeping an open mind about what to expect. All of the photos in this post have been taken by me on my various trips and are a selection of my favourite ones that hopefully portray both the tourist life and the "real" life of a Tortolian.

*VI for life* :)



  1. GREAT review of Tortola! Makes me want to go there! Snooty, impatient people are SO frustrating.

  2. :)
    I think maybe another time when my feathers aren't so ruffled I'll write some about the great touristy things to do there and of course the best beaches!

    Glad you liked it, thanks for the kind comments x


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