In organizing a box full of my writing over the last 50 years I came across a real treasure, carefully bound with string, my journal from the British Virgin Islands, Dec 10, 1980 to January 12, 1981.
There must be a dozen volumes more somewhere. Oh well.
I always am intrigued handling old things like this, they are like time machines. I feel that knot that I tied in in January of 1981 as I was sitting on the veranda of Maya Cove, and I can imagine the conversation that preceded that act,
“Harry, do you have some string I can use?”
Harry looks up from his new fangled battery operated chess game which he is constantly complimenting for its unexpected moves. “Can’t you see I’m busy? String is in the cupboard. I swear with you if it’s not one thing it’s two.”
But the most wonderful part of finding this is that as long as I can remember I have had the habit of jotting down things people say which amuse me or make me think, then noting them in journals. People who know me remember me as always having 3×5 cards or papers in my shirt pocket plus pens in my pocket protector.
When I was teaching at the high school for bad boys and bad girls one of them once called me a nerd. “Calling me a nerd can’t hurt me! My pocket protecter acts as a shield repelling such insults!” But I digress.
The journal I found is filled with conversation and odd phrases speak to the foreignness, the spice of the adventure. I used one of my favorite finds earlier, Harry describing demanding guests, ““One can’t be too careful, from time to time I have made the mistake of letting a cottage to the type of guest that will have me running around like the Head Bat Snatcher in Buckingham Palace.” That is priceless.
The missing pictures
As you may recall from my first post about moving to the British Virgin Islands, I described our cottage, “Frangipani” as stark. I have only a single picture of the outside.
I must have had pictures of the inside, but in the 40 years since then, living in four cities in the US, two years on a sailboat, and three countries, I must have misplaced them. I would love to retrace my steps and look for them, who wouldn’t? But to help you appreciate the accommodations at Maya Cove Cottages I will have to use a few aged pen and ink drawing I did of our room. I used to have these illustrations mounted on one large cardboard panel but when we were living in Honduras Hurricane Pendejo blew rain right through a closed window and on to my display. I apologize for their condition, a bit of art restoration is in order.
As a refresher of how Harry described Maya Cove, I will include a passage from the advert, as Harry called it. “All our accommodations have living room, kitchen, master bedroom…”
This drawing captures the view as we stand in the middle of the room facing east. The bed in the “master bedroom” in the lower left corner and the “kitchen,” complete with small fridge, gas stove, and a lantern “to be used in the rare event of a power outage.” We lost power several times a week. There are pictures of our friends taped together and hanging down on the walls, and a Frisbee which says, “No Nukes,” a souvenir from my Palo 13 civil disobedience trial where Jack and I got a jury nullification verdict for people charged with trespass at the Palo Nuclear Power plant in Iowa.
Turning 90 degrees to our right we will continue the tour into the living room, complete with chair and table. One of the great features of each cottage was a sliding glass door, seen here on the left, which looked out on the cove.
If you were sitting in that chair you would see this:
With a final 180 degree turn, we see the master bedroom, which consists of a bed with lumpy pillows.
More pictures of friends hanging down in a string, and I would love to know who is in those pictures, and above the bed in every room in Maya Cove was a map of the Caribbean so that if you had a complaint Harry would suggest you pick a place and move there, he couldn’t care less.
So the accommodations were spartan, but guests were paying only $300 a month out of season (April 1st to Dec 1st) and $400 a month in season. I don’t know what they were expecting to get for that pittance, but I am sure none of them expected what they got.
My role as Chief Excuse Maker for Maya Cove Yacht Club and Cottages
To review, Harry placed the following ad in the St Thomas, American Virgin Islands for Maya Cove Cottages as follows:
“Imagine stepping outside your own cottage directly onto a pristine Caribbean beach. Imagine seaside spectacular sunsets from the privacy of your deck. Maya Cove Cottages is a small, unique hotel located on Tortola, British Virgin Islands, family owned & operated since 1961. It has long been synonymous with barefoot luxury. All our accommodations have living room, kitchen, master bedroom, full bathroom and more. Interiors are composed of crisp, clean lines, layers of texture, organic forms and natural materials such as wood and stone. Views are unmatched and completely unobstructed, right on the calm, Caribbean side of Tortola. On site is our highly trained professional staff. There is an in-house, private restaurant serving breakfast and dinner daily. Affordably priced, long term rates available to suitable parties.”
I later found out that he advertised it as “Maya Cove Yacht Club and Cottages” in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
After our first month when Debbie and I had been living off our savings which permitted only $15 a week for food and entertainment, Harry took pity on us and hired us to do things around the cottages – make up rooms when someone left, (a windfall of left behind food and drink,) I would tend bar in the evening and Debbie was given a variety of odd jobs which kept her in Harry’s sight because he was quite smitten with her. One of those jobs was trying to sort out reservations that had made as the busy season approached.
The first time she tackled this job he pushed a pile of paper scraps across the table. He said they had all the information about bookings for the season, but he couldn’t make heads or tails of it. “I don’t know you see,” shuffling through the papers, “Claudette has not posted these in the book, so I had to sack her this morning.”
(This sacking of Claudette had a pattern, sack her today in a rage, and the next morning Harry would send me to fetch her with a rehire offer. When Claudette heard the Moke coming up her drive, she would step out her door, get in without a word, dressed and ready for work, she knew her recurring role in this particular drama.)
“So there is really no way of telling. I do recall that February is completely booked. I won’t overbook, no! Overbooking is not for me. Overbook once and as sure as Bob’s your uncle I will hear nothing but screeches! I’m not like St. Thomas hotels where they will take every reservation which comes over the transom, and then have to turn people away after a long flight. The horror! The absolute horror!”
I knew I had my work cut out for me when Harry called out, “Bob, could you pop round to the airport and collect our new guests?”
I still have a cold stone in my stomach thinking about this, because it meant stepping into my role as Chief Excuse Maker. Half the time Harry wouldn’t know the names of the people flying into Beef Island Airport, there would just be a notation on the desk size calendar page he used which said, “2 Guests arriving.” He would point to it with disgust, “Bloody Claudette!” Which meant I had to drive the Moke over to the airport and try to identify the people who seemed most lost, approach them and ask them where they were staying. As soon as I heard, “Maya Cove Yacht Club” I would introduce myself and start preparing them for the worst.
“I believe you will come to love the rustic charm of the island of Tortola, and particularly of Maya Cove. And I hope you are up for an adventure because the Cottages is the only establishment on the island which offers an authentic West Indian experience. We don’t believe in providing the type of accommodations you could find at any chain hotel, no indeed. Why stay in a hotel room which would look the same in Miami, London, or Toronto? At Maya Cove you will have the once in a lifetime opportunity to live as Tortolans live.” This was true, block walls, thin mattress on wooden planks, broken concrete walkways, power losses, mosquitoes, the occasion cow or goat loitering in front of the sliding glass door and blocking your view of the Caribbean Sea. The real Tortola.
When the Moke pulled into Maya Cove the visitor’s spirits would still be high, the unique experience of holding on for your life with the wind whipping through their hair, punctuated with breathtaking vistas of tropical shores as we rollercoastered over hills and around turns which guaranteed an overdose of adrenaline.
After zipping uphill on the driveway, I would lead them toward the veranda as I tried to distract them with chatter to avoid having them look too closely at their surrounding, “Oh look, over there a Man-of-war, oh you just missed him, my favorite bird, I have watched them soar for hours without ever flapping a wing. Here we are at the veranda.” The enchantment would begin with the veranda, and its beautiful view of Sir Frances Drake Channel.
My rendering of the veranda in pen and ink, watercolor, with special effects provided by Hurricane Pendejo.
As we strolled in Harry would cry out, “Welcome to Maya Cove Yacht Club and Cottages.” And the new arrivals were mesmerized by this view:
Technically speaking, everything Harry said was true. That’s Maya Cove alright, and there is a Yacht Club down there, it is just not Harry’s Maya Cove Yacht Club. And as we know, “cottages” was a stretch, too. I once mentioned that we might want to tone down such blatantly false advertising, and he dismissed me with a wave. “You bloody barristers never change.”
As Harry chatted them up at the rail and pointed out highlights, I would blend some extra strength, pain killing bottomless margaritas. “No charge for the drinks,” I would say with a smile as I refilled their glass. “Just our way of welcoming you to the island.” I wanted them slap happy when they saw their rooms for the first time.
When I first suggested this practice of free margaritas while guests signed in Harry was against it on principle, he had a reputation for never giving anything away for free. And from time to time he decided to put his foot down and tried to stop the practice. “I see no reason whatsoever why I should suffer the financial burden of dispensing free alcohol! They never yell at me when they see their room, you are the one that takes the lashing, Bob! I think you should pay for the drinks from now on!”
At which point Debbie would cock her head, put her hands on her hips and say with a scolding tone, “Harry.”
And he would wave us away. “Fine, fine, have it your way. Two against one. Every time, it’s two against one!”
The funny thing was, no one ever just bolted and left us when they saw their room through drunken eyes. Oh sure, for the first few days they complained and made angry noises but eventually as they slowed down, took a few deep breaths scented with frangipani, and put away a lot of alcohol, the charm of the place seduced them, and they began to run on island time.
People who were initially absolutely beside themselves with the insult of us offering them accommodation in what appeared to be a furnished tool shed, soon learned to go with the flow.
“Harry, there are lizards running all over our walls and ceiling.”
“That is a service we supply at no charge to keep the mosquitos at bay.”
“Hmm. What a clever idea!”
They would spend hours on the veranda looking across Sir Frances Drake Channel which never changed, and was never the same. This is the view from Tortola of Jost Van Dyke over the Sir Francis Drake Channel in a time lapse:
And finally, this:
The sound track for veranda drinking was music wafting up on the breeze from a locals only bar at the bottom of the hill which had the new album “Uprising” by Bob Marley and the Wailers on repeat. The track we heard the most in that winter season was “Coming In From the Cold.”