Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Note to readers
      I took a year off from travel but here we go again, and not too soon for me.…….
Summer 2019
St Thomas USV
  As many of you know, I lived in the US Virgin Islands for many years during the 60s. 
After I left, I still considered it my home, and would return almost every year through the 1990s.
      Then, because I began more international travel, St Thomas seemed to get lost in my venues of visits.  It was Europe, Asia and the South Pacific that drew me, and I moved on to 
Eastern Europe, Greece, Egypt, China, India, Southeastern Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.  
   But this July at the invitation of a dear friend, I returned to St Thomas and had a very pleasant visit.  In 2017, St Thomas experienced a major hurricane from which much of the Island has not recovered.  My friend Paul’s condo association had just finished the exterior repairs on his unit and he had to go down to check it out.  Would I like to go?  I jumped at the chance.
      Paul’s condo, which is very high in the Frenchman’s Bay area, had minimal damage next to many properties on the island. Located on the bottom floor of a three-story condo building, it lost its hurricane shutters and broke the floor to ceiling glass windows.  Of course, water flowed in, and so did the rats, which ruined the furniture.  
View from the condo

      But his neighbor Jason did not fare as well.  His condo on the main level, was in direct line of the storm.  He described sitting in the bathroom with his partner, and their dog, wrapped in a mattress.  “The storm broke through the shutters and the glass windows and blew out the front door. Water gushed in everywhere. The wind was clocked at 245 miles an hour. We have sold out, we are moving to Savanah, Georgia.” Unlike Jason’s damage, what I saw left over from the storm seemed minimal. But I was not in all the nooks and crannies of the island; on all the back roads of residential areas. 

View of West End
      As for Paul and me, we spent part of the week, checking out new furnishings, and the interior changes needed, then it we vegged on the beach and behaved like tourists. Paula, who is the son of a dear friend of mine, grew up on the island and really knows his way around.  So, as an excellent tour guide, he drove me around the whole island, West end – Fortuna Bay, the North side, Petersburg, Frenchtown and the East End.            
Frenchtown restaurants and marina
St Thomas McDonalds

Old Russian Consulate in Frenchtown

     Although the view from Mountain Top was beautiful as ever, the current owner(s) (I understand one of the Armor Bothers??) had changed the building, and it is now a large junk shop. The charming curved venue where one could observe much of this beautiful island is gone.  Years ago, tourists could sit at the bar drink banana daiquiris and view most of the beautiful St Thomas vista.  Ah! The gentile days!  
    The same is true in downtown Charlotte Amalie.  Shops like Riises, Little Switzerland, and Caron’s (a shop owned by the Actress Leslie Caron’s father-now, I think defunct) are now, only jewelry, liquor, and perfume stores.  Many years ago, a traveler found liberty cottons, lovely linens, 

china and silver from all over Europe, waited clocks from Spain, miniature Teddy bears waited, to do summersaults with just a nudge from Switzerland; a multitude of items to feast to the eyes and nudge the pocket book.  Now of course the market is geared to the grab’em and stap’em day trippers from cruise ships.  I am sure they are lovely people but not purchasers of fine European goods, rather lots of cheap liquor, etc.
    Charlotte Amalie has few buildings still boarded up from the hurricane. The location of the old Sebastian’s Restaurant on the waterfront for one.  In addition to the hurricane, Drakes Passage is also closed because of a restaurant fire within the passage. On Government Hill, the Hotel 1829 is boarded up as well. But I was told this was done after the previous hurricane, prior to the one in 2017.  By the by, the tour books claim that the name of Hotel 1829 came from the year before it originally opened, but I have it on the authority of an ‘old St Thomian’ that the name is actually derived from the barometer settings when a storm is eminent.  
Charlotte Amlie main street


Where I lived on Black Beard's Hill

A cruise ship in the harbor
  Although I have lamented the changes I found from my old St. Thomas days (and I realize change is always inevitable), the most dis-hearting change was Yacht Haven, the big marina on the edge of town.  It was once a marina for small (from 25 to maybe 80 ft. long) power and sail boats with a long pier with lots of small finger piers reaching out to “T” piers at their ends.  Now, it has a long pier and two very long perpendicular piers.  One running along the shoreline, the other quite far out. These have been built for mega yachts only.   The hotel has been turned into condos and the rest of the buildings are full of international designer’s shops.  
Condos at Yatch Haven

 I remember when very day at 2 o’clock sharp, Francisco Coxcal’s  black standard poodle would rush from his boat at a 

gallop and splash into Yacht Haven Hotel’s pool to the shock of any guests taking a swim.  When ‘Bird’, a young Blue 

Heron, and his little black cat friend, ‘Patrol Cat’, would arrive together on the hotel terrace every night at dinner to cadge 

food from the guests.  Oddly ‘Bird’s’ favorite food was chicken.   When Ellie Stein would get ‘three sheets to the wind’ 

and go sailing in the harbor in her families’ 45 steel hauled sailboat waving to all as she passed (she is probably one of the 

best sailors I have ever known).  
    As my friend, Phoebe King said when I told her about Yacht Haven, “But Bobbie, that was a family community. Kids played on the docks, there were dock parties among the residents. How could they ruin that?  Where did the smaller boats go?”  She asked.  
   “Red Hook, anchored out, where ever they could.”  I answered.
   Besides St. Thomas, we also spent a day vegging in St. John, at Trunk Bay Beach and in the village.  It was as if nothing had ever happened in St. John. It was its old perfect self.  

Trunk Bay Beach

We stopped at the quaint shopping center, Mongoose Junction, and an acquaintance told me, that as soon as it was safe, Michael Blumberg of Bloomberg News hired 1500 electricians and sent them to St. John, while the singer Kenny Chesney helped locals with finances to repair their homes.  Mr. Chesney is quoted as saying, he would not repair his own home until everyone else’s is fixed.  Nice people!
Ferry Boat between St John and St Thomas 

Along the harbor of St John

 I understand that the British Virgin Islands are still in great disrepair.  Also, that the magnificent pristine White Beach on the Island of Jost Van Dyke has condos on it.  Baa Hum Bug!
    Back at St. Thomas, we spent many evenings dining at Balongo Bay Beach Club, and having leisurely afternoons swimming in their pool.  By and large my St. Thomas visit was lovely and the company grand. 

Paul and me by the pool at Balongo Bay Resort

The old St Thomas Fort which survivied many hurricanes
Old Bandstand which also has survived many hurricanes