Tortola was amazing, but not for the faint of heart or the sure-footed impaired! The roads, narrow, steep and uneven, snake their way up hills that peak in a rainforest atmosphere. It is hard to keep a sense of perspective as you travel from one part of the island to another. While your ears tell you that you are going up or down, the extreme and unusual visual cues work to scramble your brain! If you are susceptible to vertigo – or suffer from acrophobia, as do I – the result of your tour of the main island in BVI might be a curious mixture of motion sickness, terror and euphoria! But no matter how you feel – you know you are alive!
Brother H and I spent four nights at Brewer’s Bay, a beautiful secluded beach that is usually calm, I’m told. However, on Tuesday, when I set out to paint on location by the water’s edge I was treated to white caps and surfer-style waves! My senses on overdrive, it took awhile to get settled down to paint. It was then that I realized I left my brushes back in my suite at the villa. Fortunately (or not) my travel watercolour kit had one small, but good quality, brush.
As it turned out, a lack of brushes was the least of my problems. Not only had I not painted plein air for quite some time, I was completely overwhelmed by the unfamiliar, beautiful, and slightly wild landscape before me. I found the odd shapes of Caribbean flora and fauna, coupled with the aqua and azure colours of the sea, totally mesmerizing. Added to this was the sound of the constant pounding of the surf, mist whipping against my face, and the taste of salt on my lips! And if that were not enough, pelicans, with their pterodactyl silhouette, provided even more visual stimuli as they paraded in front of me taking turns diving straight into the ocean. I felt as though my head were on a swivel! Bottom line? I couldn’t settle down enough to focus. I did a few colour studies and then, when the rain started (from out of nowhere), I took it as a sign to call it a day!
On my walk back to the villa, I took pictures of banana plants, palm trees, and the ever present chickens and roosters with their bright colours and iridescent feathers. I realized then that the best use of my time here would be to study and photograph whatever caught my eye, thus taking off any pressure to ‘produce.’ I rationalized this change in plans as following ‘doctor’s orders’ to ‘be kind to myself.’ I decided to wait until I got to Cayman to do any more painting. By that time, I reasoned, I would be more familiar with the landscape and perhaps more confident in taking it on.
So my days were filled with light sketching, reading, and thinking – on the beach, and as I wandered through the meandering streets of Road Town, when brother H was working at his office there. During our four days, he showed me different parts of the island, including the home where where he and his family had lived for several years, and some of the local hangouts. Each night we found a different place to watch the sunset; the sky was amazing as the land masses! Clouds morphed and colours blended one into another within minutes, like a time-lapse animation.
On Friday we needed to catch the ferry for the next leg of our trip. As H got our tickets at the dock, I went to get us some coffee for the ride. H cautioned me that it might be cutting it close timewise and I should keep an eye on my watch. But since it was more than a half hour till boarding, and the coffee shop was not far, I decided to chance it. When I got there a line reaching out the door onto the street had already formed. With little time to spare – and really wanting a latte – I managed to wangle my way to the front of the line, appealing to local generosity and tourist empathy.
Finally, with two cups in hand, and the clock ticking into the last 10 minutes before our ferry was to leave, I ran (literally) back to the ferry terminal. There are no sidewalks in most of Road Town, so I took my chances in the center of the street, maneuvering between potholes and around cobblestones, looking up only once – to see a police car stopped directly in front of me! With a kind and laid-back smile, the officer said, “Slow down, take it easy…no need to hurry.” I agreed with him, but didn’t take his advice. I did, however, make it to the ferry just as boarding had begun! H and I had a pleasant ride sipping our Tortola coffees enoute back to St. Thomas.
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Dr. Regina Coupar
(MA, MTS, D.Min)
Visual Artist and
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