Island Living is Not for the Weak-Hearted

Written by: Chrissann

 

More often than not, I’d describe my typical weeks on my rock as “uneventful”. Well, at least uneventful in the realm of an island woman. Sure, I do get to partake in many things that most people only do on vacation – watch sunsets from the pool with a glass o’ vino, play with toucans, take morning walks on the beach, ride in boats – but on a basic level, I work from home, spend most of my days alone, and nothing too climactic happens. But there are the occasional weeks on my rock when the shit really hits the fan. “Normalcy” takes a nose dive, and I’m reminded of why island living is not for the weak-hearted.

Grab your machetes, ladies...

Grab your machetes, ladies…

This particular week, which I share with you here today, was one for the books. Such a doozy it was that it has taken me more than a month to get over the acute indignation its blatant un-fairness evoked, so that I can even speak about it without feeling my blood pressure start to rise.

I sustained the following island blows within a mere 7 day period, which we shall henceforth refer to as The Island Week From Hell:

The Cockroach Explosion

Cockroaches are a part of island life – that is a just a fact that you must accept. However, from time to time, their numbers suddenly increase exponentially, overwhelming even the hardiest of island women. It doesn’t matter how much killing gel and spray you have coated your house in, they rise above it somehow, and make a final audacious push to take back the world as their own. Such was my life on The Island Week From Hell with the brown “bush” roaches. In what felt like overnight, there were tons of them flying and crawling around inside our house. They were landing on us while sitting on the couch, crawling onto our plates while we ate, and – in a cruel twist of fate – I even almost drank one:

The Cockroach-in-Mouth Therapy Session on FB

The Cockroach-in-Mouth Therapy Session on FB

Even though past experience on island would tell you that this too shall pass, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when your home is literally crawling with bugs as though you live in an abandoned tenement in Bombay. It feels like it will never end and you will have to move. Add any additional life stress (see the following) on top of a roach outbreak and you’ve got a recipe for a justifiable mental breakdown.

The Frying of the iMac

The day after The Day I Had a Roach in My Mouth, early in the early morning, I go to turn on my computer to get to work and am met with blackness. My iMac, barely a year old, does not alight to my touch as per usual and is unresponsive to my cajoling and power button tickling.

I spend the hours before businesses open Google-panicking, then bundle my precious computer in towels and a beach bag and take it on car trips, ferries, and long walks across islands to get to the tech support place in our territory. The unsympathetic tech guys are almost smug, showing me a workshop 8+ fried iMacs deep. Apparently, this is what happens to sensitive baby iMacs when plugged into a wavering island power source. The diagnosis: power surges fried my computer.

The most infuriating part is that this is exactly what I had thought I had so sagely worked to prevent. Just months ago, having noticed the increasing frequency of power outages, I purchased a battery backup/unlimited power supply with surge protector for my computer. The tech men tell me it wasn’t enough protection, I apparently bought the wrong model, I should have bought the one they sell, blah de blah blah blah… The subtext: it’s apparently still my fault, despite my best intentions.

I walk, sweat, fret more, find a stand-in laptop to buy so I can keep working (available on island for nearly double the price it sell for in the states, lucky me!), take more cars and more ferries, and finally make it home by the end of the day.

The Geyser in the Living Room

The very next day, I was getting acquainted with my new computer, working to regain the productivity I lost on The Day of Computer Death and Subsequent Ferrying. It was a grey morning, which I welcomed to match my mood. While waiting on hold with AppleCare to verify my warranty, a downpour started and I breathed a sigh of gratitude, wistfully deciding that after this call, I would treat myself to a break to enjoy the rain and perhaps even make myself a fresh cup of tea. I almost teared up at this gracious gift from the Island, which I interpreted as It clearly trying to make amends for the previous two days.

Suddenly, I hear a crash behind me and turn to see a literal 5ft geyser of water shooting up into the middle of my living room out of the top of the cistern cover. Within seconds, my entire living room/kitchen/office is flooded up to my ankles and rising with every blink of my eye. I scramble in full blown panic mode, turning off the breakers to the fridge, washer, and dryer that are now sitting in water, ripping up electronics/plugs/battery back-ups off the floor, and calling in a crazed SOS to David to rescue me from this complete fuckery.

Does this look like something that belongs in a living room?

Does this look like something that belongs in a living room?

In the midst of the chaos, the electrical outlets that are on the floor make a cracking sound, then burst into a thunderous bang, shooting sparks everywhere. I scream-cry, partially afraid the roof is on fire and the whole house is about to perish.

After taking a monster wrench to the cistern overflow valve that was apparently stuck in the “off” position (why, God, why?), it takes me, David (who had to rush home from work), and our neighbor/maintenance guy 4 hours to clear the water out of the house using buckets, brooms, and mops. It takes another week of outdoor sunbathing for our two wool area rugs to drip dry out, during which our entire house reeks of what can only be described as “wet, moldy goat”.

The Rib Cracker

Two nights later, we’re at Saba Rock for a late dinner and night of entertaining guests. At around 12am (already 3 hours past my bedtime), we head back to Virgin Gorda/home for the night in the Whaler. The docking at this time of night in Gun Creek is overcrowded to say the least, and we have to push through two other small boats to tie off our bow. I have to step from the bow of our boat onto the bow of the RIB (inflatable boat) next to us in order to reach the dock. Only the RIB is not as well-inflated as it appears, and its bow sags beneath my foot. As I’m rapidly sliding for the water, I instinctually try to grab for the dock instead. But it’s just out of reach and it’s all happening too fast, so I end up smashing my side body onto the dock as I go down into the disgusting marina sludge water. Not only am I standing up to my chest with the filth seeping into my fresh scrapes, but my feet are also stuck in 6 inches of algae muck.

My ribs throbbing, I cry pitiful toddler tears over the pain I am in, the infection that is surely imminent, and my favorite gold sandals that are effectively ruined.

The Mysterious Rat Deaths

Most island people can identify the smell of dead animal better than they’d care to admit. It is a scent you dread, not just for the stench, but more for the inevitable search for its origins. A search that is horrific no matter how it ends.

Somehow, even though we thought we had organized every nook of this new place when we moved in, a hidden bag of rat poison remained in the back shed. Those little geniuses had broken into the bag to eat themselves to their deaths, which they succumbed to in various unreachable places on our property – all except for one, who in its death throws, crawled into one of my toucan’s aviaries so that I had to watch its adorable face/repugnant tail take its last tragic, gasping breaths in front of my very eyes. And then I had to figure out how to remove it without dying myself of disgust before my toucan touched it.

*click for image credit

I am vehemently opposed to using rat poison. Not only is it a slow, inhumane death for the rats, but it also endangers other animals that may come into contact with the dead/dying rat. The guilt about our oversight in not removing this hidden bag of rat poison combined with the pervasive rotting stink around our house and the visual of the dying rat haunted my dreams night after night.

Other Notable Grievances (though less dramatic compared to the above)

The pool guy saw me naked; my internet speed was consistently 0.16 Mbps and then went away entirely for days; and I got a flat tire running over a rock in my own driveway.

–   –   –

Weeks like these can make even the most devoted island people start wondering what the hell they are doing here. You catch yourself in your darkest of moments, thinking of how much easier things would be if you weren’t living on a rock where Murphy’s is the Law of the Land.

I wish I could say that I handled The Island Week From Hell like some indefatigable island champ, but alas, I would be lying. Instead, I shed self-indulgent tears, shook many fists to the sky, hosted several pity parties, and increased my daily wine dosage to handle the overload.

But as with everything on island, even in the roughest of times, there is always a bright side to be found. Even if it’s just a faint glimmer, it is there and you must take the time to notice it, lest you lose your shit and move, only to regret it later.

If island living has taught me anything at all, it’s resilience. Life is life, no matter where you make it, no matter how drop dead gorgeous the view. People see my island pictures and tell me I’m living a dream life. And I am, in many ways. But in other ways, I’m still dealing with the same bullshit (sometimes more, sometimes less) that other people have to deal with too. When you live somewhere that most everyone else deems perfect and you discover it’s not actually perfect, it forces you to look inward and adjust yourself rather than wishing your surroundings would do the changing. Island life at its worst makes me a tougher person… And a more appreciative person of my “normal” when it returns.

Besides – it could be worse. All the above could have happened AND it could be snowing outside. So there’s that.

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Chrissann Nickel

About Chrissann Nickel

Chrissann’s home rock in the British Virgin Islands, against all logic, feels bigger to her than it actually is. Though after spending five years on a teensy one acre island, the current 13-mile long rock she’s residing on now IS ginormous, at least by comparison. As with everything in the Caribbean, it’s all about perspective.

Once upon a time she used to care about things like matching her purse to her pumps, but these days, she’s a card-carrying member of the Barefoot Nation. She is utterly enchanted with vinyasa yoga, especially when practiced on somewhat precarious, deliciously Instagram-able surfaces (she's @WomanOnARock) such as paddleboards, boats, cliffs, or even the occasional willing friend’s body. She vehemently believes that toucans are the best animals ever (period.) and there is no convincing her otherwise (though imperious roadside goats come in as a close second).

As the Editor in Chief of this site, she spends a lot of her time working from home all by her lonesome writing, editing, and cultivating content designed to make her fellow islanders laugh. Besides her writerly pursuits, she moonlights as a yoga instructor, and attributes at least a smidge of her insanity to the amount of time she spends talking to drunk people. If you’re somehow still reading this and feel inclined to find out more about this “Chrissann” of which we speak, you can also take a gander at her eponymous personal website, www.chrissannnickel.com

CURRENT ROCK OF RESIDENCE: Virgin Gorda, BVI

ISLAND GIRL SINCE: 2006

ORIGINALLY HAILS FROM: California

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41 thoughts on “Island Living is Not for the Weak-Hearted

  1. Love the rusty machete. I also hate cocroachs and skeeters, along with termite crap raining down on me while sleeping. My new home in Canada has none of these, thankfully. After 60 years on a rock l decided to take a break.

  2. I have been obsessing over your blog while I plan for life on a rock. During my planning phase I have been reading some message boards about living on islands that are sometimes less than positive. I love the way this blog presents some of the more challenging aspects of island living in a positive light.

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