Sunset & Full Moon over St. Croix

The moon has been close to full all of this week and with relatively minor cloud cover the reflection off the water is simply incredible. I am not a photographer, but fiddling with my digital camera I was able to take a few photos that I thought were pretty cool. All of these were taken at night time, meaning it was pitch dark outside except for the moonlight.

I also took a few sunset shots from Off The Wall Beach Bar at Cane Bay last weekend. Those are below.

Our Second Trip to St. Croix (Days 3-5) in July 2006

On Saturday, we decided to spend the day getting a second look at some of the properties that we were most interested in buying from what we had seen Friday. But before we started that trip, I decided to give the roads of St. Croix a try with a morning run. I started out just by running around the Carambola Resort property, but soon realized that the property was not as large as it appeared. So I decided to venture off onto the North Shore Road. What better way to get a feel for living on the island than by running on the roads where I might be living and running all the time.

Running in Texas had not prepared me for running in St. Croix. The roads were much steeper than I was used to and it was very humid. Still, the backdrop of the ocean as far as the eye could see more than made up for my burning quads. There are no shoulders on this road (or many other roads on the island from what I saw) so I had to jump in the ditch a few times to avoid being hit by oncoming cars. They probably thought I was nuts running out there anyway.

I also ran along a trail that was cut through some brush at Davis Beach. We had looked at some properties there the day before, but because the road was not completed, we could not get a very good idea of what the lot was like or where the boundaries were. Running along the trail made me realize that these lots were probably too expensive for the building challenges that they presented. They seemed to be fairly steep and the beach appeared rocky from my vantage point, but with so much brush it was a little difficult to tell. I finished out the run back at Carambola. I decided not to tackle “The Beast” on this trip even though it was clearly marked and I ran past it. The Beast is one of several obstacles facing competitors of the St. Croix Half Ironman. It is a 600 foot climb with an average 14% grade and up to a maximum 18% grade. It was fairly difficult making it up the incline in our rented jeep. I couldn’t imagine the trip on foot.

After breakfast, we started out to explore the island and look at the vacant lots that we were most interested in a little closer. We took pictures and videos of some of the locations so we would be able to remember them after we got home.

We stopped in Christiansted for lunch at the Fort Christian Brew Pub where they actually brew their own beer. We ate outside on the dock and enjoyed watching the boats coming and going in the harbor.

We continued our drive around the island and attempted to drive out to Point Udall, the easternmost point of the United States. When we turned onto the road heading out to the point, we were stopped by the police. Apparently, the point was closed for a private event and were told we would have to come back the next day. We turned around and started down the Southshore Road. We had never been on the southeatern side of the island, and were a bit surprised at how undeveloped it was. Of course, the Divi Carina Casino is on the south side as is the Hovensa Oil Refinery; but otherwise, the south side is bare compared to the very populated north side.

Another reason for traveling this direction was to get back to the center of the island where the animal shelter is located. I had hauled down a pet carrier filled with lots of different pet items for an organization called Pets from Paradise. This is a great organization that is trying to do its part to correct the island’s pet population problem in a humane way. The shelter rescues animals and then transports them to sister shelters in the states where they have a better chance at being adopted. I was able to bring the carrier filled with treats, toys, bowls and other items needed by the shelter as checked baggage. Unfortunately, because of our return travel arrangements, we were unable to fly an animal home with us, but I hope to be able to do so on future trips.

We finished out the day by the pool and had dinner again at the resort. Of course, I had not learned my lesson from the day before and had two more banana coladas. As a result, I was only able to eat French fries for dinner. I really learned my lesson this time though.

We started out Sunday by diving with Cane Bay Dive Center. One reason we chose this dive center was that it was right across the street from the beach at Cane Bay and they offered beach dives. On our previous scuba diving trips, H got a little seasick so this dive was going to be a beach dive. I had gotten us seasickness patches which are supposed to be really effective in fighting seasickness, but H thought we should give the beach dive a shot since it was so convenient.

The beach dive was probably not a very good idea for me though. It took me so long to swim out to the reef because we were swimming against the waves that I was exhausted before we ever went underwater. (I’m sure my hilly run the previous day didn’t help either.) The reef was incredible though. Cane Bay is on a “wall” that runs along the north shore. It drops off to 3200 feet so there is a lot to see. I saw an eel which I had never seen before. It looked very menacing, but it didn’t pay any attention to me. We also met a very friendly sea turtle. The divemaster that we dove with tickled its fin, and it seemed so happy. It didn’t even try to swim away.

The dive was beautiful and it just reinforced our decision to move here. We would be able to dive or snorkel any time we wanted to, especially if we decided to live on the north shore. Getting out of the water was not very easy for me. During the dive, I had become buoyant as I used up my air. The divemaster had given me extra weight during the dive so getting out of the water was a major chore. I not only had all the heavy equipment strapped onto my back but I also had an additional 18 pounds of weight. When a big wave washed onto the shore, I was knocked completely over. Not very graceful, but it was a fun and exciting dive nonetheless.

We decided to have lunch in Frederiksted that day. On our previous trip to St. Croix, we just made a quick drive through the town. I wanted to see it from a closer vantage point and at a slower pace. Of course, I forgot that we also learned on our last trip that nothing is open on St. Croix on Sunday. The town was shut up like they were expecting a storm. At least some of the restaurants weren’t closed. We ate at The Sunset Grill which is just north of town. It was on a beautiful beach at Sprat Hole. We had heard that the beaches on the west end were amazing sandy beaches and we were not disappointed. We enjoyed the food, and the atmosphere was very laidback with two guys playing reggae/jazz music.

We finished up the day again at the resort by the pool. H laid in the hammock on the beach. I only had one drink that day so I was able to actually eat dinner that night. I had a really flavorful pasta dish, but as is classic island service, it took probably thirty to forty-five minutes to receive our meal.

On Monday, our last day, we checked out of the resort after breakfast and drove into town. We walked around Christiansted for a little while just to see what the city was like on a regular workday. It was fairly busy, and we had a little difficulty finding a place to park, but not overwhelming like a metropolitan area.

We had lunch at Luncheria. If I was going to live on this island, I had to know that I would not have to give up Mexican food, my favorite type of food. Luncheria is a restaurant that you would never find if you did not know that it existed. It was down a little side street and then tucked away in a little garden area. The ambience was very relaxing, but the fact that little chickens were running around influenced my menu selection. The food was very cheap – something we had not found anywhere on the island. Of course, in exchange for a lower price, you gave up some of the nicer things like silverware and real plates. The food was really great though and it would serve to satisfy my weekly cravings for Mexican food.

We finished up our trip armed with a lot of information and pictures of our future home. We were determined to make the move – now, how to pay for it.

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 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.

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, 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.