Wendy and Nils

Virgin Islands Story

     As I was resting at the height of the Andes Mountains with inconsequential muscle pains and mild altitude illness my thoughts were of a future spoiled with mixed drinks and relaxed sunshine.  Peru is an absolutely beautiful place, but it takes a lot of work to maintain yourself on a trip like Wendy and I took.  While absorbing life in the heart of the valley below the mighty Mount Salkantay, I felt my next vacation needed to be a time of rest.  The opportunity came soon thereafter.  Wendy was about to enter her final year and a half of volunteered slavery in the medical field.  Self-determination was not an option for her, as her days would be dictated by her institutions curriculum.  I decided to purchase tickets for us to go on Christmas Day to the fruity drink capital of the world: St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands (VI).  Wendy didn’t complain when I presented her with the tickets on her 24th birthday, as she was not fully aware of my limited financial circumstances.

     In 1982, my dad packed our family of five into the station wagon and forced us to travel across the country with him.  That same year an autobiographical feature film “National Lampoons Vacation” was released depicting our family vacation with an unparalleled amount of accuracy.  A few years later, my parents took us on a compulsory trip thru Europe much like the sequel of “Vacation”.  Then movies started coming out like “Dazed and Confused” and “Half-Baked” which over exemplified my high school and college activities.  I have since come to accept the fact that Hollywood often creates movies, which depict the unforeseen circumstances of my life.  Even with this understanding, I was surprised to be flying to the islands under the shadow of “Four Christmases”, a movie about a couple who attempts to avoid the tribulations of their extended family by conveniently vacationing during the holidays.

     We obliged to attend limited family holiday events on Christmas Eve and slept for a couple of hours before leaving from Boston at about 5:00am in the morning.  Our connection in Charlotte, NC brought us to an airport festive to the occasion of the holidays, which encouraged me to drink a Christmas morning beer, a tradition I hadn’t kept up with since high school.  We arrived in St. Thomas at 3:00pm to an airport reminiscent of Montego Bay, minus the taxi drivers trying to sell you “da lamb’s breath”.  We tourists departed our airplane with cocktails in hand only to find that our car rental reservations were not available.  No car rentals were available for anyone on the whole island.  In any case, we had fun watching angry arrogant tourists attempt to threaten and argue there way into a car rental to no avail.  Our original plan was to sleep on a random beach, but with no vehicle we opted for an actual hotel room at the Windward Passage Holiday Inn in Charlotte Amalie.  The airport taxi drivers in St. Thomas were the most unmotivated entrepreneurs I’ve ever encountered.  We had to hustle to get them off their asses to give us a ride to our hotel!  We settled into our room and then spent sunset jogging along the wharf.  This area is usually overwhelmed with cruise ship tourists, but instead it was pleasantly empty as no ships were in port, considering that it was the holiday.  That night was spent drinking our complimentary drinks at the hotel while overlooking the nearby shanty ghetto and listening to the locals sing karaoke.

     I woke up on Boxer Day ready to celebrate whatever the hell people celebrate on Boxer Day, but first we needed to find a car rental.  After calling every car rental agency on the islands, the company that our original reservations were with (Thrifty) called us to tell us they had a vehicle ready for us.  Driving on the left side of the road even though the steering wheel was on the left side of the vehicle while going up and down the vertically steep hills of St. Thomas was dangerously fun.  We spent the afternoon listening to island holiday music blare out of the local’s sound system at Magen’s Bay while drinking Coco Coladas and wondering how driving on the wrong side of the street with a substantial buzz was going to work.  In the long run everything went well, and we made a PM ferry over to St. John.  We rented a bungalow for the week, and we were told to meet our real estate representative at a bar in Coral Bay.  He showed me how the pros drive on the left side of the road while drinking alcohol (Yes... It’s legal to drink and drive in the VI’s), and we were brought to our completely incredible cottage on the west side of the island which sat under the glow of the stars and looked out at the British Virgin Islands.

     Normally when we go on vacation, we get a hotel room that isn’t outstandingly nice.  We sleep there and wake up early in the morning to sightsee.  This place was different.  It had a spectacular view and that completely changed our typical routine.  We would sit around the cottage and make coffee, breakfast, or lunch and I would strum the guitar.  Our view overlooked crashing waves (unfortunately un-surf-able) and local fisherman bringing in their catch.  Even though the bungalow had two televisions and a DVD player with a library full of tempting X-rated selections, we almost never turned on the TV.

     We walked (hiked) down the center of the island that afternoon on the “Reef Bay Trail”.  This led us to an abandon plantation with buildings that you could walk into that were filled with flying bats.  The trail also brought us to a waterfall and some mescaline-induced petroglyphs.  We went for a swim in the bay while tourists with snorkel masks embellished as they listed what they saw underwater which included a pufferfish, a giant clam, dolphins, an oyster with a pearl in it, a great white shark, a sea turtle, a pirate treasure, a whale, and a mermaid.  After our hike we went to the north side of the island near Francis Bay, checked out a few more ruins, and snorkeled for the first time only to see a minimal amount of minnows no different than what we have in New England.  That night, we ate dinner at a chill bar, which was filled with locals and live music.

     Is this where I get to complain about the locals?  There are two types of locals in the VI’s: black and white. Now the black people are native to the islands and seemed to be fully on laid-back on island time.  The white people on the other hand were all born on the mainland.  Each of them felt obligated to justify their existence by explaining how many years they had lived in the VI’s for.  I sensed a juvenile immaturity from these people as they expressed a level of arrogance depending on their residential status.  It seemed much like the social hierarchy found at your average American Jr. High School.  I’ve seen this ridiculousness everywhere I’ve lived: Canadians don’t like Americans, people in Colorado think Texans are stupid, Hawaiians don’t like Mainlanders, people in Massachusetts think they’re better than New Yorkers, people in New Hampshire think they’re better than the people in Massachusetts and Maine, people from Vermont and California think their better than everyone else.  Anyone who takes this point of view is completely missing the point of life.  I have traveled all over the world and I have met assholes who were born and raised in every location I’ve traveled to.  Just ‘cause you are from somewhere, it doesn’t mean you’re not a jerk.

     Back to St. John..... We certainly met plenty of nice people in the VI’s, I just had to complain a little.  Surprisingly, the live entertainment had a notion of in-authenticity.  The bands that performed to the tourists on St. John were American bluegrass and classic rock bands.  The selection of music seemed to come right out of New Hampshire.  The radio played plenty of island style music like dancehall reggae or Latin grooves, but we didn’t get that in our live entertainment.  Besides this odd selection of music, the restaurants/bars also have a habit of charging you “extra” for your meal.  This trend was verified by the fact that we were overcharged on three out of five occasions when dining out.

     Wendy’s sister had given us a “coupon” to do something hazardous like skydiving or shark hunting while we were on vacation.  The next morning, I let Wendy drive the rental car on the left side of the road, so our unsafe activity of the day was already accounted for therefore we opted to use the “coupon” for a moderate day of windsurfing at Cinnamon Bay.  I had never windsurfed before, but I managed to pick it up quick and I had a blast.  The only odd thing about that afternoon came from one of the instructors at the rental outfitter who continually argued with us that we needed lessons.  I was riding in every direction that I wanted to and I wasn’t falling off my board, but this guy still argued and insisted that I needed lessons.  Very strange.....  After windsurfing, we went to the south side of the island to play tackle football on the beach, but there were more no-see-ums then I’d ever seen, so we didn’t last long there.  Instead we went for a jog to a peaceful location on the Southwest corner of the island called Ram Head Point.  We had dinner at our cottage and went out to a local bar where they apparently make really disgusting Martinis as one of the locals complained, but if you ask me, I don’t see how you can make vodka olives and vermouth taste good no matter how you mix them together.

     Every morning, I took full advantage of my legal right to drink beer while driving.  This morning we drove to the local convenience store where they sold pirated DVD’s of movies that were still playing in the theater, but they didn’t have any R rated movies, which means they didn’t have any good movies.  Then we picked up the oldest hitchhiker I had ever encountered, and he took us on a tour of the east side of the island.  By now I had finished my beer, so I didn’t need to keep driving.  We decided to go snorkeling on the north shore of the island at Leinster Bay.  While snorkeling, we happened upon a very excited group of foreigners who I couldn’t understand because they didn’t speak English, but they kept yelling and pointing.  When I looked below, I saw a big fat shark taking a nap or something.  I figured the foreigners must know something about safety and swimming with sharks that I didn’t know, so I copied them and made noise and followed my verbal actions with a few quick sudden moves.  After snorkeling, we visited an abandoned sugar plantation that usually has a $5 entrance fee, but when it rains I guess it’s free, so we didn’t have to pay.  Since the weather wasn’t perfect, we figured we could spend our evening shopping and dining out in the tourist town of Cruz Bay on the east side of the island.  The highlight of Cruz Bay for me was the Margaritas that were made out of fresh lime.  I think the best part of Cruz Bay for Wendy was the guy at the jewelry shop who fixed her watch for her.  Man.....  We are simple people.

     On our final full day on the island we realized we hadn’t really checked out the beaches near our cottage, so we woke up and went snorkeling in the area.  As Wendy attempted to name the fish that we encountered (not people names like Jim, John, or Nancy – but by type “It’s a Pinfish, Trumpetfish” etc.), I preferred to refer to them by there appearance “the blue and yellow one with the orange head”, but since I was underwater it sounded more like “bla blew uhn bla-blow bluhn blath bla blorange blahd”.  By the end of our trip, we had seen lots of wildlife including flying bats, sea turtles, donkeys, stingrays, deer, and a shark, but we still hadn’t seen the mermaid or any Snorks or anything.  We also didn’t eat the mushrooms that we found in the cow poop.  That evening we celebrated the legend of Tom Robbins at a local bar called Skinny Legs and witnessed an almost bar fight.  Then we had dinner and watched a talented band play Taylor Swift songs while an older couple danced to the music.

     The next morning was the final day of the 2009 (New Years Eve) and our last day on the island.  We went for a jog to Salt Pond and Ram Head Point and then prepared for our return to Boston.  On our drive to the ferry, we picked up a two hitchhikers who happened to be the couple who were dancing at the bar the night before.  They spent many of their vacations on the islands and gave us a good understanding of how confused VI society is with its conflicting influences of mainland and island culture.  We drove them to the airport in St. Thomas where we intended to drop off our luggage and then go out on the town, but you had to actually go thru customs to drop your bags off.  Why we had to go thru customs to travel from the United States to the United States seemed confusing, but we took this requirement as a positive symbol of good old American bureaucracy.  We decided to spend the afternoon drinking Mai Tai’s at a bar in Charlotte Amalie while keeping and eye on our luggage and also watching patrons from the nearby cruise ship fatten themselves up on the local cuisine AKA deep fried ocean meat.  The real New Years Eve highlight came on our flight home.  We were in the air flying over New York City at the stroke of midnight, so we were fortunate enough to watch the NYC fireworks go off while sitting in the airplane..... Very cool!!!

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