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 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.