The Climb

Several days a week, I visit the hotel-bar-restaurant (aka “The Club”) below us to hang out and commiserate with friends about the realities of island life. When we first moved here, I always drove down, like a true American, even though it’s barely a stone’s throw away. But about a month ago, the hassle of driving finally started to get to me.

First, the road where The Club is located is just one lane wide. So if you meet oncoming traffic, one of you has to back up and let the other pass. Typically, being the less aggressive party and clearly a “non-belonger”, I tend to be the one to give first in this game of chicken, which means that I have to back up the road, into a three-way intersection, with a blind curve to the left, and a steep downhill drop behind me. Fortunately, the road is mostly residential and dead-ends at the beach, so there’s not a ton of traffic. But even if I make it there without encountering this harrowing experience, coming home presents another challenge in the form of parking.

We’re lucky that our building has designated parking and we don’t have to park on the street, unlike many other places here. But squeezing our Jeep into our parking spot is like fitting a hippo into a coach seat on an airplane. Then there’s the fact that you’re backing into the parking spot coming from the opposite side of the road, with blind corners in front of and behind you. Yes, it’s every bit as nerve-racking as it sounds. And yes, I pretty much just close my eyes and pray every time I do it, even after six months of practice. If we ever move back to the States, I will never complain about tight parking spaces again. Ever.

Parking 2_WWLOR

I finally came to the realization that we moved to the island to have less stress rather than more of it, so I started walking to The Club instead of driving. I can even avoid setting foot on any “public” roads by taking the stairs to the bottom of our building and walking down a series of driveways that lead from our building’s lower parking area to The Club’s back entrance.

Compared to the driving and parking scenario, you’re probably wondering, “Why is walking so bad?” Well, for starters, the hill leading from our apartment to The Club is so steep that it’s not paved with asphalt. No… asphalt would just flow down the hill like lava. As is the case with many roads and driveways here, it’s paved with cement. Take a look in the pictures below. See those lines in the cement? Those are to help your tires (or your flip-flops, in my case) gain a little extra traction. Without them, you would literally slide down the hill. When our friends visited a few months ago, their rental car couldn’t even make it up this hill!

60 paces_WWLOR

Then there are the corners. Because the hill is so step, there are two switch-backs between The Club and our building. Coming up the hill, the first corner isn’t too bad, except that if you’re walking in the dark and miss the turn, you run directly into a set of concrete steps leading up to a guest house (take a guess how I know this).

The second corner is killer though. It’s in the second-steepest portion of the road, and apparently, it’s been patched a few times, because rather than being rough-surfaced, it’s as smooth as river stone. In the Jeep, if you don’t have enough momentum and don’t hit this corner just right, you have to back up, put it in 4×4, and try again. Walking it is like trying to ice skate, uphill.

The Second Turn_WWLOR

Then there’s the stretch just before you reach our building. The steepest part. Fortunately, at the bottom of this stretch is a clearing that’s perfect for stargazing on a clear night. Using this as an excuse gives me a chance to stop, catch my breath, and get mentally prepared for the next leg of my journey. It’s not a long stretch – approximately 60 paces at my stride. But it’s so steep that you’d better have some momentum, because if you stop midway, you’re going to tumble backwards and roll into the bush, where you’ll be fair game for the wild chickens and lizards.

Making it up this last stretch to the apartment building is an accomplishment, but the feeling of achievement is short-lived. Technically, you’re home, but there’s one more obstacle between you and the shower: the stairs. We live on the top floor of the building, which I like because it gives us more distance from the ground and the critters that dwell there. It’s only three stories – 51 stairs – from the ground to our door. But when your calves are burning, you’re already panting, and sweat is dripping into your eyes, there might as well be 151.

apartment_WWLOR

Every time I make The Climb, I think about how it’s a perfect metaphor for living on a rock: It’s tough, it can be a pain in the ass (or the calves, as the case may be), but it makes you stronger. And in the end, it’s totally worth it.

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Danielle Collins

About Danielle Collins

When Danielle and her husband first visited the Virgin Islands in 2007, if someone had told her that they would eventually live here, she would have given them a list of reasons a football field long, complete with graphs and charts, as to why that was ridiculous: it’s too expensive; their families would freak; they have big, important careers; and on and on… But seven years later, here they are – residents of Tortola, BVI. And their move happened in the most unusual way – they actually planned it! From traveling around the world for her job to traveling across the 13-mile island in search of decent toothpaste; from fancy suits and high heels to bathing suits and flip flops; from fast cars to a (soon to be very beat-up) Jeep – she’s loving her island girl transformation. Except for the mosquitoes. And the unwanted roommates. And the heat. To read more about Danielle’s realities of moving to a rock, check out her personal blog, www.keysintheconchshell.com.

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5 thoughts on “The Climb

  1. You must be living on Tortola. The hills there are like none I’ve seen on any other island. And the driveway of the villa I rented on my first visit was like driving up a wall. Trying to describe the experience to people at home really doesn’t do it justice. Nor do the photos. This post comes the closest; I will direct doubters here from now on.

    • Hi Sandra, you guessed it – we are on Tortola! I wonder what method the islanders used to determine just how steep you *can* make a road/driveway before it’s impossible for a vehicle to climb? There’s probably a “no way they really did it that way” story behind the answer 🙂

  2. I live on Virgin Gorda and REFUSE to drive on Tortola. I know the dangers of walking here –mainly after a rain when the mud becomes like an ice-skating rink .I could slip-slide down a hill but the momentum would make me fall or crash. So–I stay put inside and wait for the mud to dry –which usually does not take long.But otherwise VG is manageable on most roads–barely on some.

    Please let us all know why the dangers you endure walking or driving to the Club make it “worth it”. I love Tortola (when my husband or a friend is at the wheel and I close my eyes on certain sections of the roads) but what makes the experience worth it for you?

    • Hi Mary! For me, the things that make the harrowing drive or exhausting walk worth it are the awesome atmosphere and great people. Kind of like living on the island in general. In a lot of ways, it feels like we moved back in time to the 1950’s when we moved here. But when it comes down to it, the people we’ve met and the experiences we’ve had make all the frustrations worthwhile 🙂

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