Saturday, January 10, 2015

Paradise Found

We removed our shoes to get that first feel of the sand beneath our toes.  Cool below, yet warmed by the sun, soft yet grainy, the senses offered that Proustian moment of remembering every other time we have walked on a beach.  And the best part – we virtually did not put our shoes back on for a week while we immersed ourselves in sun, sea, and sand.

This took place after a long-ago jump off a sailboat in the British Virgin Islands to swim to the shore with only a few dollars tucked in my swimsuit.  Where would that wet cash be used?  I spent them at the only place they belonged: The Soggy Dollar Bar in Jost Van Dyke, B.V.I.  After my second Painkiller (the signature drink of this establishment), I asked the couple to my left if they were staying at the small hotel affiliated with the bar, called Sandcastle.  They were, and with a place so remote and unspoiled, I wondered what their visit was like.  What they described matched my dreams of the perfect vacation.

I have always longed for a trip where there were literally no decisions to be made.  With the company of very few others in the interest of maximum peace and quiet, I imagined I would find such a place my heart’s delight, allowing me the greatest possibility for serenity and deep thought.  I found that at
Sandcastle Hotel on Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands.  It’s a hotel, for sure, in that there were rooms (only 6) and meals to be had (with 12 others at most), but more important, it provides a haven of island life at its slowest and most beautiful.  The senses are stimulated in all ways: vistas for the eyes, lapping waves for the ears, and the scent of the ocean only interrupted by the scent of warm coffee each morning on our private beach.  As for decisions, we occasionally had to choose between hammock and lounge chair, and our meal choices were few but tempting and took only a moment’s thought. So I found the place that could make my vacation dreams of utter tranquility come true.

Jost Van Dyke is a small island in the chain of British Virgin Islands, a chain better known for Tortola and Virgin Gorda.  People come from all around the world, more by boat than by air, though there is an airport in Roadtown, Tortola.  We flew to St. Thomas, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands.  You then take a taxi to a dock with a choice of getting on either a local ferry to Tortola and then another to Jost Van Dyke, or the simpler option, which is to take a private water taxi from St. Thomas to Jost.  That’s a pricy option, for sure, but a time saver that allowed us to be in New York City at 6 a.m. and on the beach at Sandcastle by 1:30 p.m.!  We are happy with the service at Dolphin Taxi, should you choose to indulge that option, and I recommend it.

Our days started with Clay swimming in the quiet White Bay followed by a little stand-up paddle boarding, while I sipped coffee and watched from the shore.  This is my very favorite time of day at White Bay, before the day-trippers arrive and we have the beach quite literally all to ourselves.  A chance to check in with civilization briefly is offered by wi-fi near the bar, but I was just as happy to turn off for the better part of each day.  A tasty breakfast is served by the friendly folks at Sandcastle, and then we parked ourselves under a palm tree with our various books, podcasts, Kindles, and a bottle of cold water from the refrigerator in our room. 

Around 11 a.m. the tourists begin to arrive, either off of a small cruise ship and delivered by dinghy, or on smaller private sailboats and yachts.  It is great people-watching from approximately 11 a.m.-4 p.m., especially knowing that we have the beach all to ourselves again for the late afternoon cocktail hour and sunset.  Since most of the day-trippers come for that famous Soggy Dollar Bar, we sit a ways down the beach in front of our little cottage and only occasionally feel imposed upon by the revelry. I can hardly deny them their fun when this is precisely how I found this paradise in the first place. If it gets too busy on the beach, we simply go back to the area marked “Sandcastle Hotel: For Guests Only” and we get a portion of the beach all to ourselves!

The hotel has 4 octagonal cottages with ceiling fans, each with an outdoor shower leading to a private bathroom, and there are 2 air-conditioned, more traditional hotel rooms.  We prefer the former since they are closer to the beach and provide the atmosphere that is part of the reason we come, but the hotel rooms are quite nice.  Outside of our beachside cottage are a hammock, lounge chairs, and Adirondack chairs on a small deck. The rooms are not fancy but they are sufficient to the task. We have met friendly people each time we are there, and with only 6 accommodations, that’s easy to do. As we have now arrived three times at the same time of year , we have begun to know the same folks traveling down annually, and the very friendly staff considers us “regulars.” 

We had dinner most nights at Sandcastle, but there are options down the beach or in town.  You don’t come to Jost Van Dyke for the food, but we had a few memorable meals.  After dinner, there is amazing stargazing, then our quiet nights were spent in our cottage watching movies we downloaded before leaving home.  There is virtually no nightlife in Jost, though a favored bar called Foxy’s offers live music on some nights.  Our big jaunt for the week was a taxi ride to the other side of the island to Abe’s where we were only one of two couples enjoying the fresh lobster and generous platter of barbecue ribs.

This is a trip to think small. You only need a couple of bathing suits, shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops.  Any thoughts of even one nice outfit are unnecessary – leave it home. Plenty of sunscreen and some mosquito repellent (okay, nothing’s perfect!), shampoo, and your toothbrush are all you need.  There is a gift shop at Soggy Dollar if you forget anything, but by week’s end you will realize how little of life’s usual trappings you really need to enjoy yourself.

Upon departing there was a big decision to be made.  I was out of practice, having been blissfully pronouncement-free for an entire week, so this was not easy: if you don’t book your next visit to Sandcastle while you’re there, and they only allow you to do that upon departing, you’ll lose your room for same time next year.  Decisions, decisions – will it be a week’s stay again next year or longer?

White Bay, Jost Van Dyke, throughout the day

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