By Patricia Keegan
It started with friends around the kitchen table, in the dead of winter.
"Wouldn't it be great to escape from winter and 'Monica Mania' to a Caribbean island with nobody around?"
Everyone sighed in agreement with Diana's suggestion, but where would you find such a place?
Seven days later Diana called excitedly, "I have the perfect island, and it sounds ideal."
She had just been in Annapolis where she met John Klein, owner and developer of White Bay Villas on Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands. She was smitten with his description of the island and his custom designed villas. And he had a one week window of opportunity when the main Plantation Villa was free.
Soon we were on his website at www.jostvandyke.com. The site was a great enticement, with its lovely villas overlooking a pristine beach and aquamarine sea. We had found the answer. Five of us, after tallying our frequent flyer miles, struck a week from our calendars and flew from Washington to St. Thomas.
We arrived on different airlines, but the Delta, American and USAir flights all arrive about the same time. We took a taxi to Red Hook, at the the east end of St. Thomas, where we stocked up on a week of provisions. Across the street, a chartered water taxi waited to ferry us to our fantasy island.
It was evening as we made the 12-mile crossing from St. Thomas to Jost Van Dyke. Looking back on the churning sea in the wake of our fast-moving cabin cruiser, the lights of St. Thomas grew ever more distant. Ahead, through the moonlit darkness, we could see the outline of Jost, with hardly a light to be seen. Yes, we laughed, we were far from Washington, but had we been too extreme in wanting splendid isolation away from people - in this case, only 150 full time residents on a rugged tropical island seven miles long.
Great Harbor was quiet, the customs house had already closed, but in the distance we heard reggae music. Our skipper pointed to Foxy's Outdoor Restaurant and Bar, which we would soon discover was the island's epicenter, renowned throughout the Caribbean.
We were driven over a steep, rugged hill to the spacious and inviting Plantation Villa, largest of three secluded, magnificently-situated, Caribbean style villas.
The great room and kitchen are decorated with original murals depicting the island's culture. Three bathrooms and three bedrooms, each with its own verandah and patio furniture, offer a panoramic view of White Bay. We stood on the terrace absorbing the silence of the night; the dark sea, and the sky swarming with layers upon layers of stars. The sole reminder of the world we had left behind were the distant lights of St. Thomas.
What we saw in the darkness of night we liked even better with the arrival of a glorious morning. Spread before us was the blue sea, a sun-filled sky and a trail through the villa's papaya, banana and mango grove winding down to our own white sandy beach.
Fate was kind - among us was one fine chef who did not believe that toast and coffee were an adequate breakfast. For the next six days we not only enjoyed the panoramic view and ambience of dining on the terrace, but sumptuous meals worthy of a five-star hotel. To add to our pleasure, the villa had a CD player, and we enjoyed some of our favorite arias while imbibing the beauty spread before us. The TV was turned on just once and quickly turned off. What we were endeavoring to escape from was on no account going to catch up with us during this refreshing interlude.
From White Bay Villas we hiked down to the main street (just a sandy pedestrian trail) in Great Harbor, to visit the bakery, a small grocery, a couple of boutiques and Foxy's. We also rented one of three rental vehicles on the island.
We piled into our Jeep and set out to explore the Atlantic side of the island. We drove a few miles east, hiked through scrub brush, and reached the edge of the turbulent Atlantic - a dramatic contrast to the calm Caribbean. We had been warned not to climb too far over the rocks near the sea. Some adventurous risk takers had been swept away by powerful waves.
We were in search of the "Bubbly Pool," where 12-foot waves crash through a narrow gap between huge boulders, creating a torrent of effervescent bubbles within an idyllic pool tucked safely behind the rocks. We relaxed in the warm pool waiting for the wave. One moment it was like a small, benign whirlpool, then a wave would come crashing through the rocks, turning us upside down in a surge of bubbles. It was exhilarating for those of us who enjoy child's play.
On the drive back, we were tantalized by the aroma of freshly baked bread wafting our way from Harris' Place at the edge of Little Harbor. The owner, Mrs. Adina Jones, one of the sweetest ladies on the island, was baking bread and coconut cream pies. She invited me into her kitchen where dozens of pies and loaves of bread had just come from the large ovens.
Watching sailboats gliding across the horizon and hungry pelicans diving for fish, we were served crab meat salad sandwiches on warm, crusty bread with pie for dessert. It tasted like a banquet from heaven.
It doesn't take long to realize the island's essence is found in two enterprising characters - Foxy and Ivan. They provide the entertainment. In the morning you might find Foxy playing guitar at his outdoor restaurant with a repertoire ranging from Caribbean to his own, on-the-spot compositions. Described as a wild, warm, wonderful, wacky character; he calls himself the "happiest man alive." He sings about anything that comes to mind - Washington politics, the heat of the day, or the hometown of someone in the audience. He tells his audience how he found his wife.
"I couldn't find a girlfriend around here to save my life! So if a boat sailed in, and the captain had a gorgeous cook on board, I would try to get her to stay ashore with me. This would piss off the captains. One angry captain invited me aboard for dinner. He had one of them gorgeous cooks...anyway he gave me too much to drink, and he said I should stay the night and he would take me home in the morning. When I woke up, we were at sea."
"I asked the captain what's going on.
He said, 'You make everybody so mad trying to find a wife, so I'm taking you to look for a wife.'"
It's a long story. The ship takes him around the world. His audience listens attentively, some giggle, but most look intrigued. He is a master storyteller. Finally, there is an audible sigh of relief. He meets a girl, Tessa, in Gibraltar, sails her across the Atlantic to St. Barth's, gives her "a lobster dinner, two bottles of wine, and a fine time," then returns to Jost Van Dyke.
Foxy's has evening entertainment and several dinner specials, but no one misses the Friday night buffet. The harbor fills with sailboats, so make a reservation. The band starts at 10 p.m. and keeps everybody moving until the wee hours.
A more quiet, rustic hideaway is Ivan's Local Flavor Beach Bar, just a short walk down the beach from White Bay villas. Ivan Chinnery is not only the local herbalist, and a staunch conservationist, but owner and proprietor of this open-air restaurant and beach front campground. Campers from as far away as Australia mingle at Ivan's, share meals and songs, and unwind while immersed in natural beauty. One single mother from Baltimore said she had found "utopia" as she watched her two-year old daughter play on the beach. The mix of hippies, professionals, couples, young and old, seem to get along famously with each other and the ever-present, ever-smiling Ivan. There is always a song and a laugh to be found at Ivan's, especially in the impromptu, evening sing-alongs. In the 70's, Ivan's guitar playing helped make Foxy's famous. Now he enjoys playing and singing in his own place, especially with a fellow troubadour like Freddie, a guitar-playing camper whose singing always got his audience involved.
Strolling home along the beach to our villa on the hill, we savored the stirrings of gentle surf, the soothing din of nature unspoiled by sights or sounds of civilization, and the brilliance of the Milky Way in the inky blackness. It was a time to be grateful for the simplicity of time and place spent with friends at White Bay Villas and the refreshingly real people we met on Jost Van Dyke.
Check out Jost Van Dyke and White Bay Villas on the internet or call John Klein at (410) 626-7722.