The Virgin Islands
Charlotte Amalie Travel Blog› entry 2 of 9 › view all entries
Yesterday was our first port of call, Charlotte Amalie on St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. The virgin islands were purchased from Denmark in 1917 for 25 million dollars in rum and gold, with a bit of arm-twisting from the US (concerned that Germany may have taken them over if they didn't).
Probably more than any other place in the Caribbean, Charlotte Amalie has been shaped by the cruise ship industry. There are only 19 000 residents in Charlotte Amalie, yet every day 7-9 cruise ships pull into the port, each disgorging 3000 tourists eager to buy duty free. Today was a Sunday, which is usually quiet (normally only 1-2 cruise ships), but during the week there is an influx of 25 000 people every day, more than doubling the size of the town.
We started our day in the Virgin Islands by taking the ferry from St Thomas to St John. Our ferry captain told us that the big news in St Thomas at the moment was the opening of their first Hooters the week before. We sailed past Buck Island, where rebellious slaves were sent to fend for themselves during the plantation period (most Caribbean colonies had a Buck Island just off the main island). He also pointed out the islands Big St James and Little St James, which are currently for sale by Kevin Costner (at $30 million), and Alan Alda's and Michael Jordan's houses. Another island between St Thomas and St John was Loveungo Island, so called as it was once inhabitated only by prostitutes, which the pirates used to "love 'n go".
75% of St Johns is part of the Virgin Islands National Park. Most of it was given to the US government in 1956 by Laurance Rockefeller, who's motives may not have been entirely pure considering he kept the rest to build a resort on. When we got into port we drove to Trunk Beach to go snorkling. Before they would give us our snorkel, the guide told us some very important information - it was mandatory to know how to swim if we were planning on going out into the ocean deeper than we could stand. They also told us not to worry about our stuff - even though the Virgin Islands (unlike much of the rest of the US) has only public beaches, they have very tight security and don't let any locals onto it, and sarcastically told us that there was a snackbar nearby if the cruise ship wasn't feeding us enough and we needed something to tide us over.
Back on St Thomas we walked around the downtown Charlotte Amalie, which basically consisted of the Post Office, Emancipation Gardens (over 70% of the population are decended from the black slaves the Danish West India Company brought to the islands, which I am sure is completely independent of the fact that the US Virgin Islands, like Washington DC, has no representation in the US Congress) and a row of perfume, jewellery and souvenir shops.
Back on board we had dinner in one of the three main dining halls. The food in the dining halls was much better than the buffet, the lentil burgers I had were great. In our role as cultural anthropologists we listened in on the conversations around us. Actually, truth be told we had no choice in the matter, we could hear the booming voices "as large as you can fit on the plate" and "if it doesn't come out exactly like I asked I'll send it back". The couple on one side of us kept on complaining about how much tax they had had to pay on their lotto win.
After dinner we went to the comedy show to "watch the antics of Bono the Crazy Frenchman". Bono was a juggler, who amused the crowds by making reference to the fact that since he was French he had to be rude, and by pulling out a man from the audience and kissing him on the cheek.