The US Virgin Islands, Part II

the three virgin islands

St. Croix

Christiansted was our main hub, a quaint town full of ruinous stone buildings and colourful houses hugging a boardwalk speckled with boats and bars. The seaplane terminal is there, as well as private boats to charter and tour boats that take you on scuba and snorkeling trips. I’d recommend the Kindered Spirit for charters, a Buck Island snorkel tour, and Brewpub for some delicious micro-brews and 2for1 drinks on Tuesday eves.

Frederiksted is a cross between a deserted colonial town and one big souvenir shop, since the islands only cruise ship harbor is there. Frederiksted beach is nice, with Coco’s beach bar serving Big Beard Pale Ale, an island local. Rainbow beach is even nicer, Rhythms bar grilling shrimp kebabs which always seem to run out.

Cruzan Rum distillery

Between the two cities is the Cruzan Rum factory, where I went on a distillery tour whose main attraction is the unlimited rum tasting that follows. Estate Whim, the islands main historical attraction, is an old cane plantation turned museum which closes on Tuesdays, when you can still walk freely around the plantation grounds without paying the $10 entrance fee. There’s also a gas station on the main road through the island, but they’re out of gas, as of last Wednesday, yet still open… bizarre.

It was the weekend of AgriFair when we arrived, the year’s biggest event, comparable to a state fair but with much better food. Goat curries, kalaloo and roti competitions are held between vendors, but every stall seems to serve the same, scrumptious menu.

The east side of the island, Point Udall, is the easternmost part of the United States. It’s

Point Udall

commemorated with a strange stone statue that kind of looks like a large sundial or metaphorical compass, but nearby is the hiking trail to secluded Isaac and Jack’s bay –beaches  well worth the hike to see and bathe topless in privacy.

On the north side, we visited Cane Bay, yet another beautiful beach, and Salt River Bay, the landing point of Christopher Columbus in the 15th century that fills with bioluminescent water after dusk. We hiked to the Carambola Tide pools, a seductive little lagoon nestled in black rock boulders that protect you from the splashing waves. The trail head pointed us 2.1 miles to the “falls” which we couldn’t figure out where to find or how to spot in the dry season, but once a few big waves hit the lagoon wall, the rocks poured down water above our heads, turning one side of the lagoon into a narrow cave.

Carambola Tide pools

St. Thomas

We landed in St. Thomas in the east harbor, Red Hook, and flagged down a safari bus for the $2 trip to Charlotte Amalie. They’re called safaris because they’re 350hp+ trucks whose flatbeds have been turned into rows of bench seating, resembling a typical, African safari jeep. We went to a beach somewhere near Red Town whose name I never learned, accompanied by our Uncle who admitted he hadn’t been to a beach in 10 or 15 years. We met 3 Americans there who didn’t think it was weird to try and ‘charm’ me and Ursula despite his presence. Though we expressed some awkwardness, they insisted on buying shots and buckets of coronas, while blaring techno from their portable boom box. Our uncle took the opportunity to make a new friend nearby instead of trying to keep refusing their offers for a drink.

We went to Morningside beach for another day of sun, an extension of the Marriot Resort in Charlotte Amalie where my uncle decided to have my celebratory birthday meal. He also took us to breakfast one morning in Frenchtown, and then stuck by our side for a night out at the Fat Turtle where he sat quietly near by while we danced and drank with crew from Donald Trumps

Estate Whim plantation

private yacht (it probably wasn’t really Trumps boat, but it sounds nice). My uncle then took us on a 1 hour driving tour at 1 am through the pitch black roads which prevented us from actually seeing anything he was talking about. He really liked escorting us around, or so it seemed.

The day we left St. Thomas, we spent the afternoon at the airport-side Emerald beach, where we watched plane after plane take off, and met a South African captain and Quebecois chef from some other private boat. We drank painkillers and bushwhackers, and I indulged in the free wifi at the bar to start reading the flood of birthday wellwishes starting to come in.

St. John

Most of St. John island is a national park, but Cruz Bay is a little town with a pretty nice beach and everything you would ever need including $1 happy hour and amazing barbeque ribs from Candies o   little shack. We met a guy there who had been backpacking the tiny island for 4 weeks, and he gave us a map circled with all the important points of interest we had to see in our day or two there. We hitchhiked to all the trail heads, hiking through the rain forest to see some ancient petroglyphs, snorkeling at Waterlemon Bay and bodysurfing waves at Cinnamon Bay.

me and Ursula at Cinnamon Bay

We ferried between St. John and St. Thomas, and had to fly between St. Thomas and St. Croix since they’re about 80 miles apart. We went back to St. Croix for the eve of my birthday, and on the 26th I had to swap Ursula for Matt, another friend from NYC who landed at the same time her flight departed. Me and Matt then spent a couple more days on St. Croix at his friend’s apartment, before flying back to St. Thomas where we boarded a 45 minute ferry to Tortola, to begin a long weekend of island hopping the British Virgin Islands.


St. Croix, part I

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.

Chris' serenades drawing a crown on Cane Bay

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

the view from my grandmothers house

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

me and Ursula on Christiansted dock after securing our boatride to St. Thomas aboard the Kindered Spirit

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

Hiking to Waterlemon beach on St. John

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.

on the way to Buck Island. This picture is not a dramatization, the water is actually this blue.

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…

Status Update

I just arrived in St. Croix, USVI, on a one way ticket with nowhere to be til mid April. My college roomate and best friend Ursula spent the last week with me getting into all sorts of trouble.

We met nearly everyone on the island in a matter of a few days, and made it to St. John for a couple days. Then we visited St. Thomas for a few days where I investigated my grandfathers’ life and history that I had never known. He was born in 1921, his middle name was Archibald, and he was a quarter black. That makes me a sixteenth black and I have 5 other aunties I know nothing about, much less their children, my cousins.

My 25th birthday was on Sunday and we rang it in at midnight on Saturday with a big bang. I had a boneless chicken-stuffed roti for dinner at Singhs restaurant in Christiansted, and Mr. Singh himself came to The Courtyard club at midnight to buy us a birthday drink after treating us to oxtail and doubles for dessert. The Courtyard owner did the same, and invited us out for a boat cruise, snorkel tour and unlimited rum punch the next morning. So I turned a-quarter-of-a-century with a big fat smile on my face.

I was anxiously awaiting my Phd interview results from Copenhagen and just got my rejection letter about 45 mins ago. I placed 14th out of 22 interviewees in which only the first 11 were offered paid research positions. Im a little disappointed, to make an understatement, and now have no idea what my plan or purpose is for the next 3 years. I just spent half an hour talking to a corrections officer/ dog trainer who has been been to jail 3 times in 3 different countries, and he’s convinced me that life isnt a bowl of cherries all the time, so Im gonna chew up this sour grape and spit out some wine.

Cheers 🙂