Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Trip - Cruise Day 3 - US Virgin Islands

Today we were up bright and early for our excursions in the US Virgin Islands. The ship pulled into port in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, right on time. They like their pirate ships around here.

My mom and FM signed up for a handicapped-accessible tour of St. Thomas, and my friend and I were signed up for the Best of St. Thomas tour, but she and her mom stayed up late last night partying, so they cancelled their morning tours. My mom and I split up for our tours.

This was my tour guide and driver, Campbell. He explained a few things right at the start, especially that they drive on the left, because England once owned the islands, and when America got them, nobody bothered to switch. But if we liked, he could single-handedly change to driving on the right for us. We said no, stay on the left.

He did. And he used another technique common to the islands because of their steepness. He honked the horn at every blind turn, and they were all over the place. The road makes hairpin turns that climb up the side of the mountain at the same time. We kept our mouths shut about it and made sure we didn't fall out of the open-air bus.

Partway up the hill we stopped to look around and got a view back over the Caribbean side of St. Thomas and the harbor, where our ship patiently waited for us.

At this stop a man played the steel drum for us, and a scruffy-looking man had his scruffier-looking donkey dressed in a dreadfully tacky outfit, hoping we would pay him to let us pose for a picture with the poor beast. We didn't.

Instead, I posed with the island, and Campbell took my picture.

Campbell said that the US Virgin Islands are made up of 43 islands, only 5 of which are inhabited. The most populated are St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John. St. Croix has most of the industry, and St. John doesn't even have an airport, so access there is by ferry boat.

Our next stop was overlooking Magens Bay on the Atlantic side of the island.

Campbell said that the water was churned up some, and that made the National Park Service cancel the beach tours over on St. John. We were signed up for an afternoon island (not beach) tour on St. John, so we weren't cancelled.

I got to talking with three ladies on our bus, and they said they're from Indiana, and when I pressed for specifics, they said Muncie. I told them a good friend of mine is from there, well actually, Yorktown. Then they really perked up, because that's where they live. It turns out that not only do they know my friend's parents, but her mom does their taxes. What a small world!

On our way back down the mountain, Campbell told us about home construction. They have to bring in heavy equipment to flatten the owner's piece of hillside enough to fit a house on it. Then the next order of business is to build a cistern, about 20,000 gallons, to hold rainwater. There isn't fresh water on the islands, so they have to catch the water when it rains. When they have a dry year, they either have to get some from the desalinization plant (which burns oil or coal) or they have to import it. The old wives' tale is that if they get a lot of rain over the first twelve days of the year, then the year will give them enough rain. This year, they had more than enough by the 12th of January, so they should be good to go.

Campbell got us back to the pier in time to reboard the ship, grab a sandwich from the coffee shop in the mall (The Royal Promenade), and get back out to the pier for our St. John tour. We caught the Island Girl ferry and settled in a shaded seat to watch the islands go by. This bird, a booby of some sort but not the blue-footed sort, stayed with the ferry most of the way to St. John.

We passed the part-time homes of the rich and famous: Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson (his house is pale purple), Alan Alda, and Madonna (who has cheap plastic patio furniture on her beach). Plus we passed Kevin Costner's place. He orignially had it as a vacation home, but it was destroyed by Hurricane Marilyn, so he rebuilt it as a resort you can stay at for only $10,000 a night. Such a bargain.

At St. John, our driver/tour guide was Chris, a more imposing figure than Campbell. He also explained about the driving on the left side of the road and told us to leave it to him to keep us safe. Then he gave us his expectations of what we were to say:

CHRIS: What time is it?

US: Time to go.

CHRIS: Where are we going?

US: Forward!

We went forward. And upward. And looked down over the harbor.

And down at the beaches.

And when we got down to beach level, we looked across at the beach.

Chris told us that St. John has to import everything, even water when there's not enough rain (the desalinization plant is on St. Thomas). And they export only one thing: garbage, which they ship to a landfill on St. Thomas. So house prices for a cheap dump down in town start at around $500,000. No bargains on St. John, but it sure is pretty.

The booby was back with us on our ferry ride over to St. Thomas, and the wind whipped our hair into a frenzy. It was a great day.

Tonight we got an elephant. He didn't even break the bed he was sitting on.

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