Thursday, January 19, 2017

1979 (6) - British Virgin Islands

Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

We had survived the hustle and bustle of commercial St. Thomas, relished the peaceful quiet of St. John's national park, and then fell in love when we reached Tortola.  Tortola is the largest of the British Virgin Islands, and is about fifteen miles long.  Back in 1979, it was still a sleepy little place.  If I ever pictured an "outpost of the British Empire," Tortola was the kind of place I would have envisioned - slow moving, easy-going, friendly, and a little seedy.  It was a tropical landscape looking out onto blue sea, with dignified black policemen in their tailored uniforms and white helmets, a British flag flying from the post office, and land rovers cruising through the streets.

After anchoring Tropic Moon in Road Harbor, Ed and I rowed in to shore and walked to the town square to clear Customs and Immigration.  From the center of town a road, Main Street, runs in either direction, with marinas at both ends, and several stores along the way.  After wandering around the classier marinas at the opposite end of Main Street, we passed back through the town square to find a steel band performing there for the passersby.  Not being on our way anywhere in particular, we sat down on the pavement and listened for about an hour.  A steel band is comprised of what look like oil drums, with the shortest barrels producing the highest notes.  We enjoyed the music, as we hadn't heard much of it since leaving Grenada.

We happened, quite by chance, to visit Tortola at the time of the annual BVI Festival.  We overheard several people talking about a parade on Monday.  When Monday came, we rowed in during the late morning, both of us guessing that an island parade wouldn't start before noon.  We reach the street to find lots of people milling around.  I stopped one person to ask when the parade was supposed to start, and was told 10:00 a.m.

"Did we miss it"?

"No, it will probably start around one o'clock."

We had drinks at the Pub, waited a while until our curiosity got the better of us, and headed off in the direction from which the parade was supposed to come.  We found the parade organizing itself around the next corner. 

We did see a parade - a really nice one - and, as a matter of fact, we saw it four times.  We wandered through it at its point of origin.  When it finally gathered itself together to head toward town, we walked back to the Pub and watched the parade slowly, very slowly, pass by.  Then we decided to walk into town, less than a mile distant, to see what was happening there, and we saw the whole parade for the third time as we overtook and passed it.  What we found in town were a lot of people patiently waiting for the parade.  We made a stop at the ice cream stand, then found a spot in the shade to watch it again.  Most of the parade had passed the town square by 3:00 p.m. when we finally headed back to the marina.

The parade had the usual beauty queens, as well as cowboys, Indians, baton twirlers and bands.  The marching Indians were great, wearing lots of war paint and long braids, looking fierce, and doing a war dance that must have been straight out of Peter Pan.  There were some beautiful butterflies, the larger ones having layer upon layer of net wings in magnificent colors, two with costumes so wide they took the full width of the two-lane street.  There was also a group of women dressed in oriental costume who did their routines with large lacy fans. 

Mocko Jumbie

Interspersed between most of the groups was a truck bearing a steel band. All of the paraders danced or performed to the music.  Then there were the Hopper's Boppers, which I suppose I could best describe as male and female go-go dancers with a West Indian beat.  The dance we've seen done to the steel band music was something of a shuffle, moving forward, leading with the pelvis, with hands raised and opened near the head.  We also saw our first Mocko Jumbie.  These are the West Indians who perform on stilts about fifteen feet in the air.  It's amazing to see them walking on those stilts, but it was unbelievable to watch them dancing up there.  Their costumes were bright silk outfits with long pants that covered most of the stilts.

As this was a festival for the people, many spectators joined in with the dancing, kids rode on the fenders of trucks, and people ran through the streets offering cold drinks to the paraders.  And everyone moved with a beat that came partly from the music, but I think, also, partly from the heat of the bright tropical sun.

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