Running in the US Virgin Islands

One of the reasons that I am so excited about the property we chose on St. Croix is that it is in a gated community, and I will be able to safely run through the community (I hope!) On my last trip to St. Croix, I ran a short distance on the North Shore road just outside Carambola resort, and it was interesting to say the least. First of all, I was running on the opposite side of the road compared to what I am used to at home. I always run facing traffic, but that meant that I was running on the inside of some blind turns. It was a little nerve-racking. There are also hills all over St. Croix. We have what might be considered “incline changes” in Dallas, but nothing like the mountains that I experienced on this brief run on the island.

I started a marathon training class in Dallas today. It was a really great experience (despite the thunderstorm), but as I was leaving, I realized that there won’t be classes like this once we move to St. Croix. It’s a great program that is really well thought out, and involves several hundred people. In contrast, St. Croix’s running program is in its infancy from what I have read.

I hope that running is a hobby that I will be able to continue once we make the move to the island. I’ve already started doing some research on the Internet. One race that I found is called “8 Tuff Miles“. This race runs from west to east across St. John. I saw fliers for the race when we were on St. John last year. I’m sure the race must be beautiful as St. John was one of the most beautiful islands I’ve visited, but it has got some crazy hills! The race climbs from sea level to 999 feet at the midpoint and back down to sea level. Even if you’re not a runner, you’ve probably heard about Heartbreak Hill in the Boston Marathon. I’ve never been to Boston (I’ve only done one marathon so far), but I’ve heard that it’s not the uphill that kills you, but the downhill that tears your legs to shreds. I’m sure I would have to do some serious training to run 8 Tuff Miles, but I am definitely intrigued, and as close as I will be to St. John, I am going to make running 8 Tuff Miles a goal of mine.

Another race that I will have to run after making the move is the St. Croix Marathon. It is supposed to be relatively flat ( ) and almost the entire marathon is along the water. Scenery is very important when running 26.2 miles – it’s good to have plenty of distractions. A big difference in this race compared to the last marathon I ran is the number of participants. The St. Croix Marathon is limited to 50 participants whereas the Rock and Roll Marathon in San Diego had over 20,000! Next year will only be the 6th year for the St. Croix Marathon so I am hoping that’s a sign that the island is generating more interest in running so that by the time that I am there, it will have some great events. In the meantime, I’ll have to find some hills in Dallas to get ready for the island.

Our Trip to Belize

Since we briefly thought that Belize might be a good alternative for living out our island fantasy, we booked a trip there this past February. Of course, by the time that we got to Belize, we had already decided that making a home there would be too difficult so this trip was going to be all about vacation and nothing about real estate. (or so we thought – see previous post!)

We started our trip in Ambergris Caye, a peninsula northeast of Belize City. It was a short flight in a small airplane which flew very close to the water. There were many hotels and resorts to choose from on Ambergris Caye, but we had decided to stay in the main city of San Pedro. We were also trying to keep this trip on the cheap so instead of staying at one of the big resorts, we stayed in a small resort in the middle of town called The Tides. The Tides had twelve rooms and was right on the beach. They also had their own dive shop which was very convenient. The Tides was definitely not the Four Seasons – we had one washcloth, no box springs on the bed, very little light in the room, and it was next door to a school with screaming kids in the morning and band practice with drums in the evening. That being said, the general location was great. We were able to walk to the restaurants in town and never felt unsafe.

One day, we rented bikes and rode up the shoreline and saw some of the other nicer, larger resorts. To ride north of San Pedro, you have to cross a bridge where no cars are allowed. Most people use golf carts. While the accommodations were much nicer up north, I’m glad we chose to stay in town where everything was more accessible.

We stayed in San Pedro three full days. One of the days, we went scuba diving. This dive was probably the most interesting dive we had been on in terms of seeing wildlife. The boat took us out to Hol Chan Park, a national park in the middle of the ocean. As the boat pulled up, I began to see fins circling. “Don’t worry, they’re just nurse sharks,” our dive master said. Needless to say, that did not reassure me, but I did get in the water. Sure enough, the sharks stayed away from us. On our second dive, we went out further and deeper. The dive master had brought some “treats” and large grouper began to follow him like little puppies. They stayed with us throughout the dive. We also saw an enormous stingray which had a wingspan somewhere around 8 feet.

From San Pedro, we flew back to Belize City and drove 3.5 hours south to Placencia. We had planned to fly, but the airstrip was shut down to be repaved. This is just one of the examples of how Third World Belize still is. The drive through the countryside was absolutely beautiful. The land was lush and green, and I have never seen so many orange trees in my life. The drive was uneventful until we turned off the main road. Luckily, we had rented an SUV because nothing could have prepared me for this “road”. It was unpaved and had potholes the size of small canyons. Unfortunately, we had to travel twenty miles on this road to get to our guest house.

We stayed at the Maya Beach Hotel in the bottom floor of a guest house. The house was literally right on the beach, and we had our own pool that was shared with the couple on the top floor of the house. The house was perfect. I felt like we had the beach all to ourselves. The main hotel was next door and had some of the best food that I ate on the whole trip. (Everything that I ate in Belize was excellent, and that’s saying a lot because I am extremely picky).

To go into the main town of Placencia, we had to get back on the unpaved road and travel about ten miles. As a result, we only made 3 trips into town. On the way into town, you travel through a fishing village called Seine Bight. Throughout this area, the road was probably in the worst condition. It was also a little sketchy. People were sitting in the middle of the road, and just expected you to drive around them.

Placencia was also a little sketchy. To get to the beach from the main road, you basically had to walk through people’s backyards. None of the walkways to the beach had sidewalks or decks, and they were all unlit. At nighttime, it was a little unsettling. The town itself was cute, and had a little bit of a hippie vibe. Most of our time in town was spent trying to send faxes, but I think we saw a representative sample of the town.

On the evening of our anniversary, we drove almost all the way into town for dinner at Turtle Inn, a resort owned by Francis Ford Coppola. Turtle Inn (even at night) was stunning. The restaurant had a very South Pacific feel, and the waiters were wearing long sarongs. The grounds were beautifully landscaped, and if the restaurant bathrooms were any indication, the accommodations were incredible as well. Oh well, maybe on our next trip – after we win the lottery.

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, 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.