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Trinidad, Cuba - Beef Island, British Virgin Islands
19 - 21 April

We made an early start for our departure from Cuba.  For once we weren't sure where we would end up that evening.  We knew we would have to land in Santiago de Cuba in the south-east in order to clear customs and immigration.  But our final destination would depend partly on the weather and partly on whether (forgive the pun!) we could get fuel in Santiago.  Flemming had checked the NOTAMs over the web at an Internet café and Santiago airport announced that they would have no Avgas available as of that very same day! In addition, since months, both main airports in Turcs and Caicos had NOTAMs out that no Avgas was available.  If that were to prove true, we would have to land at Great Inagua in the Bahamas to refuel and spend the night.

The landing, parking and handling fees in Trinidad amounted to US$ 177 - quite a lot for just a two-night stay, but just wait until you hear what we had to pay in Santiago!  It was a two-hour flight to Santiago that took us alternately over agricultural land and the sea.  There the fee was only slight less than it had been in Havana, the difference being the parking fees since we only stayed for about an hour.   Dare I say it?  We paid them another US$ 253!  So our little 2-night jaunt to Trinidad cost US$ 430 just in airport fees!  It made me feel quite sick in the stomach.  Much as we had enjoyed our stay in Trinidad, it wasn't worth that amount of money.  We would have done much better to leave the plane in Havana for two more nights and taken a two-day car tour to the west with Felipe.  Well, we live and learn - or do we?

But as the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining.   Santiago de Cuba airport still had enough Avgas left to get us as far as Tobago.   Also, it was cheap at US$ 0.53 a litre. We decided to drop Turks and Caicos that didn't seem to have much to offer apart from diving and snorkelling and headed straight for the British Virgin Islands.  There were CBs and storms overland to our right as we flew just north of the Haiti/Dominican Republic and Puerto Rican land masses. There was some turbulence but it was bearable and I was make good use of the 5-hour flight to write the last pieces on Mexico for the web site.

After San Juan Center, we were passed on to Saint Thomas approach. Busy, busy busy - just like the Bay area or San Diego. The poor guy had loads of VFR and IFR traffic and was busy talking all the time. The sky was overcast on our approach to Beef Island, so we had to make an NDB approach.   Nevertheless, we could  see all the other little islands dotted around and understood why the British Virgin Islands are so popular for sailing. 

The airport apron at Beef Island airport is in a mess as they are building a new apron and terminal and removing the old terminal.  We had to carry our bags a long way over rubble and mud, avoiding bits of barbed wire, to reach the terminal building.  The immigration officers weren't very friendly to begin with.  And since I am British and these are the British Virgin Islands, I found it strange that I was required to fill out a disembarkation card.  Since we hadn't arrived by airline and therefore hadn't been supplied with these cards, I was sent to an office to pick them up.  The immigration officer was busy shovelling peanut shells into the waste paper basket and told me to wait.   After such a long flight, I had hoped the formalities would be quick so I could visit the loo (situated beyond Immigration and Customs).  I finally asked to do just that before filling out the card and my wish was granted.  After that, the officials became more friendly and the customs officer even phoned a hotel to make a booking for us. On the positive side, the landing fee was only US$ 10.12 and the arrival cards were US$ 8.00 - a lot cheaper than Cuba.

The hotel was probably the most reasonably priced one in town, but it was expensive for such a poky little room.  Nevertheless, it was too late to go searching for something else and we were in dire need of a drink and a meal.  The hotel receptionist recommended the Pub, down by the marina, and we splashed out on mango daiquiris, mahi-mahi in mango sauce and a bottle of good Californian Chardonnay.  That at least was money well spent!

Actually, the British Virgin Islands don't seem very British.   The local - mainly black - population has inherited a certain British reserve, but otherwise it is just like the US.  The street signs have the same design as in the States and they even use US dollars.

We were staying the night in Roadtown (Tortola Island) - and did we know it!  The hotel was just next to the road and the traffic didn't stop until around 3 a.m.  I got about 3 hours' sleep.  Flemming was also anxious to get the hell out of the place as he was allergic to something in the mattress.

Malu and Jorge Cornish (our Mexican friends) had been to BVI and recommended we visit Virgin Gorda Island. For some obscure reason local regulations prohibits single engine aircrafts from landing at Virgin Gorda. I booked us into an apartment there and we took the ferry across - 20 minutes.  My mood improved when I saw our apartment.  For US$ 70 + 12 % tax, I wasn't expecting much of a place (Our poky room in Roadtown had cost US$ 65), but we were pleasantly surprised.   It was an enormous and pleasantly furnished duplex set in a garden of hibiscus and bougainvillea.  There were a few other apartments in the building but I think we were the only occupants.

On the other hand, the weather wasn't very brilliant.  We hardly saw a ray of sunshine the two days we spent there.  Still, the temperature was warm and we enjoyed some quite good snorkelling from the Baths beach.  There was also an interesting walk to Devil's Bay Beach taking one through caves which entailed clambering over rocks and wading through shallow water.  Both these beaches are part of a national park.  The rock formations are beautiful and the beaches are clean and free of litter.

Clearly the best way to visit the British Virgin Islands is by yacht and we already have plans to return there about the same time next year and do some sailing with cousin Kirsten and her husband Bill from California.  And, just in case you're wondering, we'll fly there by airline next time!

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Departing from Trinidad, Cuba

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On the approach for Beef Island (BVI) - looking for traffic behind
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On final for Beef Island. Dog Island and Virgin Gorda ahead.
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On Baths Beach, Virgin Gorda Island
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Cave on the trail to Devil's Bay Beach
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Another cave on the trail
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Devil's Bay Beach
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A large prickly cactus
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A smaller cactus, but just as prickly!
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