Bomba created the shack for all to enjoy
Bomba created the full moon party for all to enjoy
Bomba created bomba punch for all to enjoy
Bomba created the waves for all to enjoy
Bomba created the beach for all to enjoy
Bomba created bomba for all to enjoy
—SIGN OUTSIDE BOMBA'S SURFSIDE SHACK
William Blake notwithstanding, the road to excess leads not to the palace of wisdom but to the palace of excess. In the British Virgin Islands that palace is perched on pylons a few feet above the surf at Capoon's Bay beach in Tortola. Presiding over this pleasure dome from a driftwood throne is Bomba Callwood, a portly, majestic man whose rumpled, spacy air suggests he has just fallen out of bed—and wouldn't mind climbing back in. His rheumy eyes are always soulfully adroop, and white whiskers fringe his chin like the salt rim on a margarita glass. Those eyes—although wild and unfocused—seem filled with an old, old knowledge. "Time and me's one big ball," says the owner and proprietor of Bomba's Surfside Shack, arguably the most famous beach bar in the Caribbean. "I haven't kept track of time in many, many years."
Having spent his childhood in Tortola and misspent part of his adolescence in the Bronx, Bomba speaks in a lilting patois, a blend of Victorian formality and American street slang. His words run together softly and sound like water flowing over stones. "Don't ask me when my shack opened," he burbles, "or how old I am or when I got married or when I got divorced or when I remarried or when I got redivorced or when I had kids or where my kids are. I really don't remember where or when or who or whatever."
To attain that state of blissful forgetfulness is why as many as 2,500 revelers converge on Bomba's Shack for its almost fright-eningly hedonistic full-moon blowouts. The predawn skinny-dipping that often follows the imbibing of Bomba's rum-spiked punch and his free magic-mushroom tea have become part of Tortolan folklore. "All over the world, anytime the island comes up in casual conversation, Bomba's comes up, too," says longtime BVI resident Anita MacShane. "Tortola was once synonymous with pirates and ne'er-do-wells. Now it's synonymous with Bomba's Shack—which may be the same thing."
A FULL MOON PARTY IS A GROUP OF PEOPLE DANCING AND EATING AND DRINKING AND HAVING SOME FUN AT THE SHACK, KISSING, HUGGING ON THE BEACH, PARTYING TILL SUNRISE IN THE SURF
It's the night of the full moon; the sun has long since slipped home to sea, leaving behind a cool lavender haze. A breeze stirs the tops of the palms and sea grape trees. "All kinds of people will soon be floating in on the tide," says Bomba. "Some who want to drink until they're sick, some who want to drink until they're blind. You're not sheltered at the shack. You can do whatever you want."
The charter boats anchored in Frenchman's Cay and Cane Garden Bay disgorge well-heeled yachties, office drones and sun-cured, wire-headed technogeeks. These would-be Bombadiers stand five deep at the shack's bar. Many hold a bottle of beer in one hand, and a red plastic Bomba Cup of Bomba Punch in the other. They follow swigs of brew with long swallows of punch. Normally the punch is three dollars a cup, but women who hand Bomba their recently removed intimate undergarments get one drink for free or a T-shirt, whichever they prefer.
Another swell of carousers stand three deep at the Bomba-que pit, where one of Bomba's helpers grills ribs, corn on the cob and joints of chicken on tire rims. Clouds of pungent smoke waft through the shack, mingling with the salty musk peculiar to churned-up sea.
The prevailing mood is Dionysian rapture. A half-dozen locals with cardboard boxes and paper bags mill around outside selling hallucinogenic mushrooms plucked from nearby cow pastures. Goats bray and rummage in the garbage. The air is split with the plangent thunka-thunka of the live band—the Blue Haze Combo—covering Bob Marley tunes. The singer wails, "You've got to lively up yourself...." It's hardly necessary. The shack is plenty livelied up already. Dozens of revelers dance barefoot on the shack's sand floor.
"Life's a waste of time," shouts the singer, "so let's get wasted and have the time of our lives."