Virgin Gorda

lounging on Saba rock, Virgin Gorda, BVIs

On a bed of rippling turquoise sheets lay a large, green, curvy woman.  This was Virgin Gorda, named thus by Christopher Columbus because of the island’s resemblance to a woman lying on her back.  As we approached, I sort of had to unfocus my eyes before I saw the verdant lady.  It was sort of like looking at a Magic Eye.  But, as we got closer and closer the island looked less like a woman and more like an island.

We would be spending a few days in well-protected Gorda Sound, which was an extremely welcome change from rocky Road Town harbor, Tortola.  Going in to Gorda Sound was a bit treacherous because of the abundance of coral reefs jutting out into the entrance.  We all had to look carefully for a change in water color, for it could be a sign of a reef below.  Inside Gorda Sound there was hardly a ripple over the water, except for the few we made slowly plodding along.  Once the anchor was down and we were completely stationary, the water turned to glass.

Virgin Gorda was mainly a resort island, with many hotels and, obviously, resorts, and few other settlements as far as we could tell.  There were two main resorts in the vicinity of where we were staying.  The first was a very posh establishment that was home to the Bitter End Yacht Club.  For a hefty price, one could participate in a number of water-related activities such as wind surfing, snorkeling, and sailing by either renting a laser or going for a cruise on the Lynx.  We had crossed paths with the Lynx before in St. John, and it had recently been built right in Rockport, Maine.

In addition, there was an elaborate boardwalk heading to a rock swimming platform with good snorkeling nearby.  There was also a semi-artificial beach; it being semi artificial because extra sand had been added to the natural stuff so you could walk out in the water farther.  On the beach, there were luxurious covered beach chairs that we took advantage of at one point of our stay.  We half expected to see some famous face lean forward to adjust their awning.  Instead we saw iguanas roaming freely along the beach.  Iguanas are pretty docile, plant-eating creatures, but there is something a bit odd about strolling along the beach beside a 3 ft. long lizard.  This was a get-away for the well-to-do and we felt a bit out of place here.  The fact that a box of cereal in the resort convenience store was over $9 alone showed the type of people this place catered to, and it wasn’t us.

The second resort was in a rather strange location.  It had been built right on top of a large, mostly dead coral head named Saba Rock.  The resort on Saba Rock was separated from the rest of Virgin Gorda by water on all sides, like a moat-ringed castle.  There were numerous hammocks on the premises for lounging that we tested out.  Both of these places were very nice, but they were both practically deserted.  They had been hit hard by the after effects of September 11th.

For four days we lounged around sunning ourselves on resort beach chairs or hammocks, or went snorkeling or swimming.  Swimming off our boat in the motionless water was like floating through air.  The lively fish-filled mangrove tree roots lining the shore made for interesting snorkeling.  But it would soon be time for us to be moving on.  But our last day would be the grand finale.

The Baths on Virgin Gorda are world famous rock formations, so of course we could not leave without seeing them.  We had waited till the last day because they were notoriously difficult to get to.  We had to leave Gorda Sound and go around the corner to an unprotected cove before we were a reasonable dinghy ride away.  Our travel guide had said there would be a dock visitors could use to tie up their dinghies, but when we got there we didn’t see anything that remotely resembled a dock.  So, we landed our inflatable on the beach, which wasn’t an easy task taking in to consideration the huge rollers pounding the shore.  The first thing we saw on shore was a sign authoritatively stating in bold letters, “Do Not Beach Dinghies.”  Not knowing what to do, we asked some random person what one was supposed to do with one’s dinghy if it could not be beached.  He pointed out towards the water, and sure enough there were a few inflatables all tied to a buoy.  Our guide book had used the word “dock” in the very loosest sense of the word.  We would have to push the little boat back into the water, and my father would have to go out and tie it to the buoy and swim ashore.  We had known there would be a chance that we would be getting wet since this was a beach, so fortunately my father had worn his bathing suit.  Swimming ashore wouldn’t be terribly difficult since the waves were rolling towards the beach, but swimming back would be an entirely different matter.  But, we’d deal with that later.

Looking around, we saw that the rocky shoreline had been carved by the elements into moderately interesting configurations, but it wasn’t close to impressive enough to warrant international notoriety.  So, we wandered the beach looking for friendlier signs than the ones we had met earlier, and hoped that this was not all there was to see.  We eventually stumbled upon a picnic area carpeted with coarse grass, with a few open-air venders with their wares lying out on blankets, and, low and behold, an information booth.  Apparently, there was much more to see.  We had just gone in the wrong direction.  The person in the booth pointed us in the direction of the trail that went though the baths, and off we went.

We had only gone a few hundred feet or so before the “oohs” and “aaahs” started.  The first thing we saw was a bunch of boulders about the size of elephants that looked like a giant had molded them with his bare hands.  These were interspersed with desert-like vegetation along the sandy path.  The trail gradually led upwards and in between a decent sized opening between two cliffs.  Inside the crevice were wooden stairs and a rope handrail for easier access.  The crevice suddenly widened and bloomed into a lofty cavern.  In the back of the cave was a very narrow crack that allowed water in, for we were right on the ocean.  A few columns of light squeezed in between a couple of rocks, yet the remainder of the beach-cave stayed dimly lit.  A few people were swimming in the small pool, for it was four or five feet deep in places.  We could even make out a few lethargic fish in the somewhat murky water.  The spelunking continued as we exited this cave by climbing up a slanted rock face with the aid of a rope.  The trail continued to go up and down ladders and through the maze of gargantuan rocks.  Eventually the labyrinth led into an open beach. Right outside the opening was a mammoth windswept cavern.  You could see the lines on the walls where it had been carved out by wind and sea for eons.  A little way down the beach we saw a sign naming this spot “Devil’s Bay”, along with a bunch of warnings, mainly because of undertow.  Just by looking out over the water it was easy to see how this spot had earned its name.  Enormous rollers violently crashed upon the sand in an explosion of white foam.  Just wading out to about your ankles you could start to feel the strong tug of the undertow.

After a short rest far above the high water mark at Devil’s Bay, we headed back into the maze of rock sculptures that Father Time’s steady hand had chiseled in to the breathtaking formations before us.  As we left the Baths on Virgin Gorda we were humbled by nature’s power and beauty.  The gorgeous Virgin Gorda possessed beauty of both natural and man-made varieties, but the beauty made by man could not hold a candle to that which nature has created.

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