I started my day, as I’ve finally regained the habit of doing, with about an hour of yoga and meditation, trying out a new sequence I found in a copy of Yoga Journal. Thoroughly yogafied, I grabbed Pip and made for the shore, eager after our previous hike on Norman Island to explore the paths in the opposite direction. Not only is hiking itself a real treat after months on a boat – using neglected muscles and enjoying being surrounded by earth and vegetation – but this was some spectacular hiking to boot. The Virgin Islands are mostly steep, volcanic islands, making for steep cliffs that plunge dramatically into the sea and proportionally vigorous hiking.
Norman Island itself is almost entirely deserted: although technically there are two bars at your disposal if you’re anchored in The Bight, one of them is a barge disguised rather badly as a schooner, meaning that there’s really only one settlement on the island: Pirates Bar. Even then, apparently all the staff but two live in Road Town and commute over by boat on a daily basis. So while there are paths on the island – ATV trails to be precise – they are overgrown and used almost exclusively for the occasional wanderer. The paths wind along the side of the mountains, through the dry forests (not rain forests, as I learned: dry forests, which seem to be much like rain forests, but with cacti, beautifully-scented frangipani and gumbo limbo trees, a tree with peeling red bark and particularly charmingly-twisted limbs) and across the mountains’ saddles, populated by meadows and low scrub more able to withstand the constant wind.
After rambling for about three miles, snapping pictures of the local flora and stunning vistas across Sir Francis Drake Channel to Tortola and the U.S. Virgin Islands, we spied the first human-made structure (apart from the road, of course) we’d seen on the island since the bar: a long breakwater that created a small, idyllic beach in the corner of a harbor otherwise exposed to the northern swell. Excited, we hurried down the path, wondering whether someone had built at one time a small house in the cove and abandoned it, or if pirates had used the cove to smuggle treasure off the island (um, 20th century pirates with the capacity to build sea walls, perhaps drug-runners? We did learn that the name of the place is Money Bay, soooo . . . Of course, as it turns out, the walls were built by another kind of pirate: developers who abandoned their project in the middle (seems to happen a lot down here).
The cove did not disappoint: the two sea walls created a perfectly calm cove and tiny white sand beach surrounded by the clearest water we’d seen in the islands, with nary a soul in sight. For a short time, it was our own private beach, and we dreamed of becoming stupidly rich and buying the land to build a tiny smallholding, far away from civilization. But first I had to go skinny dipping. Of course. (I have been reading a lovely book about the Caribbean Islands, called Spice Necklace, in which the author, in an aside much like this one, remarks on how funny it is that skinny dipping is so much scarier, as if some little piece of lycra is going to protect you from the big bads. I can totally relate: I ‘m normally unfazed by the idea of the denizens of the deep, but got a bit wigged out when paddling around in my birthday suit.)
[If you’re cruising yourself and want to replicate this hike, here’s how: From Pirates Bar, follow the road back behind the bar until it makes a sharp right turn – the ATV path will continue up the hill until the top; when you can see over the ridge it dead-ends into another, grassier path. You can go left or right. The right-hand walk is very nice, but to get to Money Bay, turn left, and when the path goes off to the right, follow it down the hill. You will have to push through a bit of vegetation at the end and cross some overgrown berms to get to the beach.]
The hike back was equally satisfying — backtracking isn’t as boring when the fantastic vistas are totally different – and we celebrated our return to the boat with a quick swim before preparing for Christmas dinner. We hadn’t expected to have a Christmas dinner at all, but the crew of the aptly-named vessel Deliverance, which delivers groceries to Norman and other remote islands, had invited us to join a Christmas dinner over at Willie T’s, the barge disguised as a schooner. Our boat neighbors, Bobbi and Doug, to whom we had shamefully not yet introduced ourselves, were organizing the event and confirmed the invitation when we finally swung by to say Hi and make sure we weren’t crashing a private party.
As it turns out, there were only eight of us, so we felt extra special to be included in the traditional feast of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, carrots – the works. I brought a tropical version of a figgy pudding that I improvised with what I had on hand and made in the pressure cooker, and turned out to be quite the hit of the party: the bar’s staff were stopping by and asking to take some home. I obliged them happily. The recipe is below.
Today, after morning yoga and writing, we motored over to Road Town, not bothering to raise the sails as we needed to run the engine to charge the batteries, and it was straight into 20 knots of wind anyway. On the way, we saw a sea turtle – Philip spotted it and at first, I thought it was a person in the water. But, no, just a MAGNIFICENT sea turtle, paddling along and popping her head up every few moments to make sure we weren’t about to mow her down.
Once at Road Town, we managed to anchor, get another 20 gallons of water and do a big trip to the grocery store before dark, and are currently braving the slight swells and frequent wakes of Road Town harbor, glad that we’ve finally gotten some Bonine into our seasick kitty (poor, poor thing really doesn’t like the bouncy). The best part: showering. For the first time in a week. Now, we’ve been cleaning ourselves, don’t be disgusted, but when on short water rations one merely washes, rather than taking a proper shower. Philip’s just finished his and reports that it was divine; I’m off now to enjoy the luxury of a hot shower, to be followed by a dinner of homemade mac and cheese. Yes, it’s the small things in life that matter.
Figgy (Plum) Pudding
I’ve always been mystified as to why the Brits call this Plum Pudding, seeing as it has no actual plums in it, even in the real English (not HB-modified) version. This pudding has been modified in too many ways to count; traditional plum pudding starts with suet gently rubbed into flour, which gives it its characteristic bubbles and lightess, and involves English alcohols like brandy and sherry. I used what I had, which ended up being much more Caribbean – and pretty damn yummy.
As usual, all measurements are total stabs in the dark, as I don’t measure.
- 2 c raisins, half chopped roughly
- 1 c currants
- ¼ c dried orange peel
- 1 ½ c water
Combine above in saucepan and simmer 20 minutes until water is absorbed; let cool.
Whip or sift together in a bowl:
- 1 ½ c flour
- 1 T cinnamon
- 2 t powdered ginger
- ½ t cloves
- ¼ t fresh nutmeg
- ½ t baking soda
In another bowl, combine:
- 1 c butter
- 1 c brown sugar
Cream above two ingredients together until as frothy as you can get them. Add:
- 2 eggs
And whip until frothy. Add:
- 1/3 c dark rum
- 1/3 c Madeira
Whip until frothy and well mixed. Fold liquid mixture into solid mixture and add:
- 1.5 c chopped pecans
- ¼ c chopped candied ginger
Fold all ingredients together gently and pour into a greased pan. You can bake this like a cake, I suspect, but it’s good steamed as well, which is the traditional way I did it. I used a steel bowl tightly covered in tin foil, placed on a trivet inside my pressure cooker, with a long strip of folded tin foil placed underneath/around it to serve as a handle to lift it out. I steamed it for a good 40 minutes under pressure; it takes up to two hours if steamed on top of the stove. If you want clearer instructions on how to steam a pudding, check the Joy of Cooking.
I then topped it with a mix of about a cup of powdered sugar just wetted down with rum. I suspect the glaze would have worked better if I had waited until the pudding was cool; as was, it just kinda soaked right in, which was fabulous, too.