Our Second Trip to St. Croix (Days 1 and 2) in July 2006

In the middle of July, H and I decided to make our “pre-move visit” to St. Croix. This was going to be a whirlwind trip since we would fly in on Thursday and fly home on Monday. We had made arrangements to meet with Alexandra Bentley, a realtor I met on the relocation forum, on Friday. She was going to show us different vacant lots on the north and east sides of St. Croix, mostly waterfront. Vacant lots were our main agenda item as our thoughts are that we cannot afford a pre-existing waterfront home.

We chose to stay at Carambola Beach Resort for this trip as we got another great deal with skyauction.com. Carambola is located on the north side of the island and is on the edge of the “rain forest.”

We rented a car for this trip since we wanted to really get out and see all different sections of the island. We rented from Thrifty and were disappointed to find out that their cars were not located at the airport like some of the other rental agencies. When H called from the airport to see where they were located, they said that they had a car on the way for us. It turns out the “car” was also picking up two other couples and a lot of luggage in a minivan. That was a tight ride all the way to Christiansted.

After getting our neon yellow Jeep, we started the drive to the resort which probably took about thirty minutes driving fairly slow. The roads were winding with a few steep hills. The view was incredible though as most of the road follows the north shore, hence the name, North Shore Road. By this trip, H had gotten the hang of driving on the left, and I didn’t have to yell “keep left” like on our previous trip.

Carambola was a beautiful property. Unfortunately, we did not receive an upgrade like we had received at the Buccaneer. Our room was on the second floor with only a sliver of a view of the water. The room was enormous, however, and one really nice feature was the screened in porch. I think I read my book out on the porch every morning. The room also had two refrigerators which was handy with all the water we were drinking down there. The room did feel a little dated, and there seemed to be a lack of light with the very dark wood on the walls and ceilings.

One drawback (and benefit) to the property is that it is in the middle of nowhere. The North Shore Road literally dead-ends into the resort. In addition, there was no cell phone service. H had dragged his laptop computer all the way to St. Croix based on Carambola’s website that mentioned meeting facilities and wireless internet connectivity. (I had emailed them to inquire specifically about Internet service, but I never received a reply. ) When we checked in, the front desk person told H that they had wireless service outside by the bar. H tried to connect everyday but was unable to do so and not a single person that worked at the resort knew what the problem was. They simply said, “It is probably the cloud cover” as it was apparently some sort of satellite connection. He was forced to use the painfully slow dial-up computer connection in the lobby.

Friday was a really long day. Alexandra picked us up in the morning and off we went. We started out looking at properties on the north shore. It turns out that we really liked this area. It was very lush and hilly with beautiful beaches. We had dinner the previous night at the Full Moon Beach Bar in Cane Bay, and it seemed like the people in the area were really laid back.

Alexandra had convinced us that we did not have to buy waterfront to find a great property. I’m glad that we listened to her since we saw some really great properties that were elevated with beautiful views.

One funny thing about real estate in St. Croix is that there are few For Sale signs on properties that are for sale and of course directions to the unmarked properties included very specific landmarks like “the lot south of the house formerly known as ‘Garvey’”. I mean, everyone knows where that is, right? Even with Alexandra’s knowledge of the island, we were often unsure if we were looking at the vacant lot that was actually for sale or something entirely different.

We proceeded driving east (but still on the north shore) and ended up in a gated subdivision called Judith’s Fancy. There were several vacant lots for sale in this area and we were very encouraged by what we saw. The lots were approximately one acre and directly on the beach. Better still, it was a sandy beach. With the position of the property, we would also receive strong ocean breezes (and strong salt spray, we later learned.) H remarked that I would be able to run on the well-paved roads without him having to constantly worry about me, and I thought that these same roads would be a safe place to walk the dogs as well. The beachfront homes were really nice and we thought that any house that we built on these lots would be worth more than our initial investment in no time. At least that is what our optimistic instincts tell us.

At this point, Judith’s Fancy seemed perfect. One problem: the lots were a lot more than we planned to spend. When we were down on St. Croix in February, it seemed like there were even some waterfront lots in our price range. Now, unless we wanted to buy a parking lot in the middle of town, most of the lots were almost twice what we spent on our home in Texas. Still, we would not be discouraged. This is our dream, and we will find a way to make it work.

We continued east of Christiansted. We drove through Shoys which is where the Buccaneer is located – very beautiful homes here. As a result, most of the lots were smaller and not waterfront, but still more expensive.

We drove further east. The island’s landscape had been changing slightly as we drove east. Now, it was almost like a desert. It was still beautiful but a stark contrast to the west side. The vegetation was more like brush and everything just looked drier. Not really what you think of when you think “Island Paradise”. It was also a bit warmer on this side of the island.

We looked at several lots in Solitude and some in Grapetree Bay. We also found one close to the yacht club that we liked. On this end of the island, most of the lots that we looked at were not waterfront but were slightly elevated with great views. These have become options for us.

The opinions vary widely as to whether or not you should live on the water. The thought of walking out our back door and directly onto the beach is so appealing to us. However, we have been told that when you live on the water, the salt spray absolutely ruins all electrical appliances in no time at all. A lady told us that when she first moved to St. Croix, she lived on the water and went through three TVs in four years, not to mention all the microwaves, computers and cable boxes she also had to replace. And of course, there is the increased danger of damage to your home should a hurricane ever hit the island due to the water surge. It was a lot to think about, but if definitely kept the off-water properties in the running.

We finished off our afternoon with drinks back at Carambola. The banana daiquiris were to die for, and the happy hour special was actually a “special” – half price drinks. Carambola has a huge “Pirate” buffet on Friday night that is all-you-can-eat. I think H was really looking forward to it since he loves seafood, but the daiquiris had really upset my stomach. I watched him eat some quesadillas and we looked in on the people enjoying the buffet. The resort had a DJ and everyone was having a lot of fun dancing. Oh well, we’ll try it next time.

Book Review – Life in the Left Lane by Emy Thomas

I picked up this book at the store at the Buccaneer our second day on the property. I flew through it in one day. Life in the Left Lane is a very easy read. “Life in the Left Lane” is a metaphor that describes what Emy calls Crucian Confusion. Driving on the left side of the road is just one of the many things that initially frustrate some Americans when they move to St. Croix. She says that for statesiders who are accustomed to efficiency and timeliness, moving to the islands can be quite a change. Emy says that those people who “enjoy life in the left lane are a special breed: adventurous, adaptable and accepting, with a good sense of the ridiculous.” Sounds a bit daunting, but it definitely made me want to read more.

Emy came to St. Croix through, what I would consider a non-traditional route. She had sailed all through the Caribbean and Pacific islands for thirteen years during the 60s and 70s. She was drawn to St. Croix and decided to build her home there. The fact that she was able to live on a boat for that number of years just shows how adaptable she is – I’ve never even lived without air conditioning.

Emy seemed to have a very pleasant experience building her home. She moved into it in less than a year. I’ve heard horror stories about building in the islands: workers just don’t show up one day, materials are hard to come by, and conditions for building can be less than optimal.

One thing that disappointed me about this book was that if left me wanting more. The chapter on building her home is only three pages. She has such a breezy style of writing that I just wanted more details, especially since we plan to build on St. Croix. That being said, she really covers a wide variety of topics in the book from Island Cuisine to “Precious Water”.

Reading this book was the first time I had ever heard about a cistern. St. Croix is not an island with a real rainy season. It does not have high mountains that collect and attract rain. As a result, unless you live in town, you have to build a cistern underneath your home. It’s like a basement full of water. The gutters on the house collect the rainwater and direct it into the cistern. (This was one of the first things I looked up on the Internet when we got home.) If too much time goes by without rain, you have to have water brought in by truck and pumped into your cistern. From what I have heard, this is not cheap. Of course, the water needs vary depending on what area of the island you are on. The east side is much drier and therefore, does not get the amount of rain that the west side receives.

Some of the information in this book was a little disconcerting, especially the chapter on crime, but the overall feel of this book made me want to move here so badly that I just wanted to look for an apartment and send for the pets to join us. Emy has such a great attitude and humor that permeates the book. I would recommend it even if you weren’t looking to live on St. Croix. It will expose you to a way a life that you likely have never fathomed or contemplated, but you will definitely appreciate after reading this book.

Our trip to St. John and St. Thomas

We flew from St. Croix to St. Thomas via Cape Air in order to catch the ferry to St. John. (Not on the seaplane, but I definitely want to try that at some point.) We walked around Charlotte Amalie and had some lunch while waiting for the ferry. I think there were 6 or 7 cruise ships in port that day. There were people everywhere. I think we walked around maybe five minutes before I realized that I did not want to live on St. Thomas. One of the reasons I wanted to move to an island was to enjoy a slower-paced way of life. Crowds are not appealing. I am positive that you could get away from the crowds if you wanted to, but it probably takes some effort. Luckily the ferry came quickly and 45 minutes later we were in Cruz Bay.

If H and I were independently wealthy, we would live on St. John. This island was laid back, and words cannot describe how beautiful it was. We had decided to stay at Estate Concordia on the far southeast end of the island, which is the complete opposite side of the island from where the ferry arrived. I’m so glad that we made this decision as it forced us to travel across the island. We rented a car and started out on the “short” drive from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay. I think the actual distance is 8 miles, but it probably took us at least thirty minutes. These were the craziest roads I have ever been on. The hills were so steep that I thought we wouldn’t make it up them at points. The curves were so sharp that I was sure we were going to die before we made it to our room. And don’t forget – they drive on the left side of the road. I yelled “keep left” more than a few times on that drive as I was not driving.

Concordia was really cool. We stayed in the studios, not the tents. I felt really good to be staying in an environmentally friendly resort but not good enough to stay in a tent. The tents really didn’t look anything like my definition of a tent, and it probably would have been just fine, but I was freaked out by the compost toilet, and that sort of thing. I haven’t ever done any actual camping where I didn’t have a toilet and a TV so I was too afraid to try the tents. The hermit crabs that were our “natural” garbage disposal were close enough to nature for me.

Our studio had a kitchen with a microwave, refrigerator and stove. We were in a partial-view studio, and I guess if we squinted, we could see a little slice of blue between the trees. I wish we would have sprung for the full-view studio, but environmentally friendly does not come cheap.

Salt Pond Bay was just down the hill from Concordia. The snorkeling there was some of the best we have ever experienced. We saw so many different fish and our first sea turtle. The cool thing about Salt Pond Bay was that even during the “busiest” part of the day, there were only a handful of people there as it involves a slight downhill ½ mile hike to reach the bay from the parking area. Another very intriguing aspect of this particular bay is a hiking trail called Ram’s Head. It was a gorgeous hour hike to the top of this peak, but well worth it. The views from the top were breathtaking as you could see some of the BVIs to the north and St. Croix to the south. We only saw a couple of people on our hike so it felt like we had the whole island to ourselves from this vantage point.

We also snorkeled at the world famous Trunk Bay early one morning, and it was truly spectacular. There is an underwater trail, but it is obvious that many people have snorkeled there before you as we did not see the variety of wildlife that we saw at the more secluded Salt Pond Bay. Also, Trunk Bay has great facilities, changing rooms, showers, food, etc., and as a result, the park got crowded fairly quickly.

We made our next stop at Cinnamon Bay which is also a campground. It had a lot of facilities, but it did not feel as crowded as Trunk Bay was becoming when we left there. I didn’t get in the water here – it was a little cold for my Texas blood, but H got in and thought it was great – so great that he was distracted and lost our underwater camera with our Key West and St. Croix scuba diving pictures. Oh well, we’ll just have to take more.

St. John is so laid back that there are animals everywhere. I’m talking goats crossing the street and wild donkeys grazing on the side of the road. One of our meals at Miss Lucy’s was complete with goat families and chickens. Miss Lucy’s is supposed to be a must-do restaurant on the island. It’s local food and outside on the water at picnic tables – nothing fancy, but charming nonetheless. However, my chicken sandwich was hard to eat with its relatives walking around.

We had a really incredible meal at Aqua Bistro in Coral Bay. It was not cheap, and again was outside on patio furniture, but the food (I had pork chops with garlic mashed potatoes and H had some type of fish) was something that could be served at any fancy restaurant here in Dallas without the snooty airs. Coral Bay was really cute and quaint. There is a shopping center where the restaurant was located that had little shops with all types of offerings. There was also a VW bus that was converted into a shop for bikinis – otherwise known as the Bikini Bus. The bikinis are homemade, hence the name 3 Virgins (islands – get your mind out of the gutter) Homegrown Bikini Company. I got one, and it is still my favorite bikini.

We finished our trip in St. Thomas – not a lot to report here. With our first experience in Charlotte Amalie, we had already decided that St. Thomas was not the island for us so we took the opportunity to get in some relaxation time to complete our whirlwind vacation. We stayed at the Frenchman Marriott. It was very nice and comfortable and felt like the Ritz since we had just left Concordia which had no air-conditioning and one towel per guest for our 3 night stay. We hung out on the beach everyday, and never left the hotel. To go along with our wildlife theme, we took tons of pictures of the iguanas that were all over the hotel. I am not talking little lizards here – some of these guys looked like they could have easily weighed 30 pounds. They looked very menacing but honestly, they could not have been less bothered by all the guests.

Our first trip to St. Croix

This past February we decided to visit the US Virgin Islands. The thought of moving to a US territory would be like moving to an island with training wheels. We would have the support of the United States federal government, relative stability and infrastructure, but we would still be living in a beautiful environment. I’ve heard stories about Americans who purchase (or in actuality, lease) land in Central American countries, and then one day, the government revokes their land lease and they lose their property and their investment.

We visited each of the 3 Virgin Islands for a few days a piece. (There is actually a 4th Virgin Island, Water Island near St. Thomas, but it is very small.) The first island we visited was St. Croix. It was absolutely beautiful. It is also the largest of the three islands, and its size is a great benefit. St. Croix and St. Thomas have roughly the same population, but because St. Croix is approximately twice the size of St. Thomas, the people are more widely dispersed. As a result, the island feels less crowded. In doing some preliminary research before our trip, we were already leaning in favor of St. Croix. It has all of the relative creature comforts – it has 2 K-Marts and a Wendy’s for crying out loud. It also has several major industries which would provide more employment opportunities.

We stayed at The Buccaneer thanks to a winning bid through skyauction.com, otherwise we likely wouldn’t have paid their normal high season rates. This resort is arguably the nicest place to stay on St. Croix. It is fairly close to Christiansted, and the property is enormous. We were upgraded to an ocean front room which had a little 1-2 foot brick wall around our patio so we could literally hop over the wall and head to the beach. There is a golf course on the property that is supposed to be fabulous, but I don’t play golf, and H plays maybe once every three years. One thing I liked about the golf course was that it provided a safe and protected place to run. Since I was training for my first marathon (Rock n Roll Marathon in San Diego), this was a nice amenity. The roads on St. Croix don’t really seem to have shoulders, and there are a lot of blind curves so I was afraid to tackle a run on the roads for this first trip.

The Buccaneer had very good service for dinner, but breakfast service was not as attentive likely due to the fact that breakfast was a free buffet included with your room rate. We were there the night of the Super Bowl, and despite the fact that we had a “reservation” for the Super Bowl showing, we watched most of the beginning of the game huddled in a corner waiting for a table. This one glitch in our stay would not prevent me from staying there again. In fact, I would definitely recommend the Buccaneer.

On our second day, and first full day, we went scuba diving in the afternoon with St. Croix SCUBA whose dive shop is downtown Christiansted. I can’t say enough good things about them. They were fabulous. Kalen was our guide, and he was so friendly. He really put us at ease since this was only our second time diving.

On our third day, we hired a cab driver (Phillip from St. Lucia) to drive us around the island. Our first stop was the Cruzan Rum factory. The tour wasn’t so much of a tour as it was a brisk walk through several buildings. We finished the tour with some rum-tasting which of course led to rum purchasing. We next drove to the west side of St. Croix, checked out the Fredericksted pier, then headed into the rain forest to see the much hyped beer drinking pigs at the Mt. Pellier Domino Club. Upon arriving we purchased a non-alcoholic beer and followed the waitress across the parking lot to the pig pens. I handed the can of beer to a pig the size of horse standing on his hind legs with his front feet prooped up onto the stall. He crunched into the can and sucked out all the beer before spitting the can on the ground. Fascinating, but I couldn’t get over the feeling that I was helping exploit these animals. Our next, and final stop, was to Christiansted where we did some shopping and had some lunch.

During our drive with Phillip we got a feel for the island, and we felt like our preliminary research had been accurate. There was such a varied topography – everything from a rain forest to an arid, almost desert-like area, to mountains (or at the very least, large hills). We felt like we could definitely live here, but we still had two other islands to visit on this trip. On to St. John.

Early Island Travels – St. Lucia, Madeira, and Turks and Caicos

My Husband (“H”) and I have dreamed of moving to an island to live for several years now. Our first step was deciding which island. We have visited several islands over the few last years. We were married in St. Lucia which was absolutely incredible. I think our positive experience was influenced by the wonderful resort where we stayed. (Ti Kaye – highly recommended). We really didn’t see that much of St. Lucia other than in and around our resort, but I think that may have been when we first got the bug to move to an island.

The next year we went to Madeira, a Portuguese island. Madeira was very different from St. Lucia. First of all, a lot of people could not speak English. I can’t say enough about how friendly and helpful the people were, but the language barrier can be a bit difficult to overcome. Also, the beach was very rocky, and when I say rocky, I’m not talking pebbles. These were actually boulders that you had to climb over to get into the water. There may have been sandy beaches on another area, but we didn’t get to see them.

The following year, we traveled to Turks and Caicos. We stayed on Provo, the main island. We stayed at the Alexandra Resort. The resort was located on Grace Bay Beach which has been voted the World’s Best Beach, and it was incredible. The sand was so soft – not grainy or rough at all. All of the resorts were right on the beach so you could just walk for miles and pass each resort. There were a couple of times when H and I were walking for probably thirty minutes without even seeing anyone.

The Alexandra Resort was not really that great though. Most of the resorts on Provo are also condos. We felt like the “regular” guests did not receive very much attention. Also, the resort was building a new condo building so there was a lot of construction going on during our stay. Additionally, the staff just didn’t seem very “with it”. There was a shuttle bus that made the rounds picking up guests at the different resorts and taking them into town. One morning, I bought a pass for the bus. I waited for thirty minutes before asking the concierge where the bus was. She had “forgotten” that the bus didn’t pick up until 9:00 on that particular day. A lot of good that tidbit of information did for me at 8:00 a.m. A lot of the problems we had with service probably would have been alleviated if we had rented a car. (We have learned that lesson on subsequent island vacations.)

Anyway, ten days of the view from our resort confirmed that we did still have the island bug. We talked to some different people about what it would be like living on Turks and Caicos. These islands are a British Crown Colony which would present some challenges for foreigners moving to the islands. Foreigners are allowed to purchase land which is often a problem in Latin America countries, but there is a hefty stamp tax that is paid to the government on these purchases. I also believe that you continue paying US income taxes even if living full-time on Turks and Caicos. With some of these challenges, we decided that we might have an easier transition to island life on a US territory.