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Monday, February 20, 2012

Virgin Islands: St. Thomas and St. John

Although the header says "Living it Up in London", I'm keeping this blog updated with my other travels. The following is the week I spent in the U.S. Virgin Islands during winter break.

Virgin Islands

This fall, a long-time friend, library co-worker, and roommate of mine, LeAnn, moved to the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Thomas with her boyfriend, Sean, to begin a marine biology grad degree.  Since I hadn’t had the chance to visit her in Los Alamos, my boyfriend Daniel and I decided to visit her over my winter break. The Virgin Islands are definitely pricey, but we were able to stay at their lovely place at a village on top of a mountain. The mountain roads were perilously twisty, often barely big enough for two cars to be on at once. It really reminded me of the steep cliff drive in southern Italy.

USVI Trivia:
*The native peoples include the Taino, Arawak, and Carib tribes.
*The official languages are English, Spanish, and patois, which is a blend of Danish, Spanish, English, Portuguese, and African languages.
*There are four U.S. Virgin Islands: St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John, and most recently, Water Island. You don’t need a passport to go, but if you go to a British Virgin Island like Tortola, you’ll need one. A passport also comes in handy while going through customs.
*The U.S. Virgin Islands are self-governing unincorporated U.S. territories. They have a governor, but they are not allowed to vote in U.S. elections.
*Virgin Islanders drive on the left, but they have American-made cars, so the steering wheel is on the left, too. Makes for a rather surreal driving experience.
*There’s no sales tax on items, so the price you see is the price you pay.
*On a really clear day, you can make out Puerto Rico from the university beach.
*Groceries are mostly imported, and they are costly. A package of Oreos was over $5, for example. A pomelo was $7.99, when they’re $2.99 in the states. Islands are expensive.

The highlight of my trip was learning how to snorkel, as Sean taught me while he was taking us on tour through the St. Thomas mangroves. Although I inhaled saltwater through my sinuses more than once, I eventually caught on and enjoyed the mermaid-like feeling of gazing at coral reefs and beautiful sealife down below. I saw beau’gregories, squirrelfish, queen angelfish, stingrays, flounders, anchovies, rockfish, clownfish, crabs, etc. At the end of the day, LeAnn and I would sit and identify the animals that I had seen. I’m not a biologist, but animal identification really grew on me. It makes me want to know the animals and plants around Wisconsin better. Daniel and I snorkeled at three beaches, the one near the university, Solomon Beach on St. John, and Coki Beach on St. Thomas. Perhaps there’s good snorkeling in Wisconsin?

St. Thomas, for being part of the U.S., definitely has a very Caribbean feel and rhythm to it. Reggae and island music, stray chickens in the streets, modest buildings, touristy restaurants offering pina coladas and frozen drinks, a bustling capital city, Charlotte Amalie, with a relaxing feel behind it. Cruzan Rum is made on St. Croix, and it’s definitely the pride of the islands-they even give you a free shot when you get off the plane. Island perks. A 750ml bottle of rum was only $10, and many other liquors were nearly as cheap. So if you like rum, get thee to the Virgin Islands.
The four of us spent a lot of time in Red Hook, which has shopping, restaurants, and a marina with ferries come and go. LeAnn, Daniel, and I took a ferry to St. John one day and explored the island. Virgin Islands National Park has a beautiful trail leading to the beaches, with tamarind, bromeliad, and other tropical plants along the way. The no-see-ums, however, are invisible insects that leave itchy bites that last much longer than mosquito bites. My bites itched for a week afterwards. After the beach, we ate at the Lazy Dog café, browsed the shops (St. John’s Spice Shop was my favorite) and took the ferry back to Red Hook Marina.

To Sum it Up:
Best foods: curry chicken and rice, fried plantains, Ting grapefruit soda, swordfish sandwiches, mango anything, mussels, johnnycakes, pate. I missed out on conch fritters and goat curry.
If you go: Coral World is a sealife amusement park where you can feed stingrays and pet sharks, and then go to Coki Beach later, after the cruise shippers have left.
Duffy’s Love Shack is a delicious café in the parking lot of Red Hook. Try the volcano drink for me.
Frenchtown had LeAnn and Sean’s favorite pizza place called Pie Hole, which was upscale, only had about seven tables, and had woodfired pizzas and fresh pastas.
Virgin Islands National Park on St. John-simply gorgeous.

Special thanks to LeAnn and Sean. :)

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