Me and Ursula started our trip to Caribbean with a 5 am SuperShuttle to JFK airport and half expected to not make it to St. Croix that day, with the track record American Airlines has with us. We checked in a little sooner than required, luckily enough to find out our flight departure had moved 25 minutes earlier. The flight was overbooked, but we made it to Miami where our connecting flight had also been moved 30 minutes, and took turns sleeping on eachothers shoulders and laps in airport lounges and cramped airplane seats.
There was a shiny-headed bald guy on our flight who sat across from us in the departure lounge in Miami, slightly amused by our antics, and an overly talkative Southerner who sat beside us on our flight. Chris had just finished chemo treatment, and John Boy had left Louisiana to live in Paradise with a job at the Cruzan Rum factory, where his unlimited supply of rum drove him to a life of sobriety.
On the flight over, JohnBoy dictated all the must-do’s and must-see’s of St. Croix, and kindly offered us a lift from the airport straight to Rainbow Beach, where the western end of the island would be the perfect sunset location, accompanied by live music and a barefoot bar crowd all evening. We got a text from our couchsurf host saying that her landlord was being investigated
for cocaine possession so strangers were no longer welcomed into her apartment, so watched the sunset with a a new-found feeling of homelessness.
Instead, we did some impromptu and informal couchsurfing, first with Chris, then on a boat in Christiansted harbour, and then at my step grandmothers Grecian house after hitchhiking a catamaran to St. Thomas. Chris ended up being quite possibly the most interesting man in the
world, but with a big “sketchy” factor, balanced out by his beautiful, Jack Johnson/John Mayer sounding voice. The boat we slept on was owned by Miles, who took us out on a snorkel tour to Buck Island and gave us private, open-bar access to his closed bar the day of my birthday. The catamaran was called the Kindered Spirit, and the captain resembled Brad Pitt at age 30 and the first mate was a massive Norwegian/Canadian/American named Thor who had Vikings tattooed on both his elbows.
By the time our week ended, we felt like locals walking around Christiansted, running into friends we’d made everywhere we went. We spent a couple days on St. Thomas where we hiked the National Park and hitchhiked between beaches with a guy named Adam and his dad. On St. Thomas, we had our own personal driver named Baldeo, who I called Uncle but
Im still unsure of his relationship to my family there. He takes care of my widowed grandmother, who is recovering from some sort of aneurysm and has to have dialysis three times a week. Only one of her daughters, Pam, who shockingly resembles my own mother, lives in St. Thomas now, and is there to help take care of their restaurant until it sells. I found out my grandfather, Freddy, had 2 families on either side of the river in Guyana when my mom was growing up. In the end, he “chose” my step-grandmother Janet and their 5 children and moved to St. Thomas where he died in 1994 after I had only met him once. He was ¾ Chinese, ¼ black, and worked as a land surveyor for the government. They also owned a jewelry store at some point, and as a parting gift, my grandmother gave me a pair of silver earrings and a 14kt gold pendant etched with a map of the virgin islands.
The pendant helped us navigate our way back to St. Croix, but more than that, symbolized the return of kindness that my grandfathers two families lacked for many years. My mother had gone to school in the University of the Virgin Islands for a couple years as a teenager and had been refused the hospitality of staying with her grandfathers other family then. It was fascinating to talk to my step aunties and “uncle” about my grandfather I barely knew, and rediscover some history that would have otherwise died with him if it wasn’t for the unplanned decision to visit St. Thomas. My step-aunty Meg and I have now combined forces to try and trace our grandfather’s history even further back, to finally learn where in China our descendants come from. Perhaps there’s a Chinese princess somewhere in there too…