The Virgin Islands

Charlotte Amalie Travel Blog

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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.

The Virgin Islands have only two seasons, Hurricane Season and Tourist Season.

 

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.

The beach was beautiful, nice white sand with just a hint on pink, the sunlight soaked warmth into us, and the water was like a hot bath. We watched the brown pelicans catch fish, then snorkelled with parrot fish and soft corals out in the water. Lydia had a nap on the beach while I did some sand engineering, then it was time to head back. Lydia was very blase about the time, figuring that she could shower and still beat the rest of the tourists, but by the time she was ready they had all left, so we had to get an emergency taxi to hot-foot it to the port before our ferry left.

 

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.

Despite the obvious American flavour of the city, there was a hint of the Caribbean and an obvious influence from the nearby British Virgin Islands, with cars driving on the left side of the road and some locals playing cricket near the cruise ship.

 

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.

The couple on the other side of us were actually really nice (I think it is considered standard cruise practise to chat to your neighbours during dinner) and we spoke to them for about an hour. It was very amusing though when we were trying to decide which dessert to have, and they advised us that "the good thing about being on a cruise is that you can order the entire dessert menu". When we politely laughed they assured us that they were serious, and we should try it.

 

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.

The show was saved though by an audience member Jen, who was picked to help him out in a trick where he juggled two apples and a banana. She was to peel the banana and give it back to him, so he could eat and juggle at the same time, but she accidently broke the banana, ruining his trick.

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Charlotte Amalie
photo by: Andy99