Jane and I have moved to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands to be near our son and his wife, and our granddaughter.
This is quite a change for two people who have lived their entire lives in the Midwest, mostly in Indianapolis. Especially two people in their sixties. We are not adverse to change. We have traveled extensively, worked for the government, corporations, and started our own business, so we know how to roll with the waves. But, this is a little different from anything we have done before.
A little history of St. Thomas, the Virgin Islands in general, as well as the entire Caribbean archipelago, is useful as Jane and I settle into island life. The culture here is remarkably different than what we have been accustomed to in Indiana. But it is worth knowing that both locations were populated thousands of years before Columbus, and both populations were decimated in a similar fashion over the course of just a few years.
However, after Columbus the history of the two places diverge in remarkable ways. St. Thomas quickly became a focal point for several countries vying for power, or trade, or both. As a result, it is much more cosmopolitan than Indianapolis. Indeed, the island is probably more similar to New York in the complex mix of cultures that have descended over the past 500 years.
In some ways, the Virgin Islands are a nexus for the world. Billionaires and millionaires like to spend time here. Some have a home here as well. Others bring multi-million dollar boats to survey the scene. Every year millions of people from all over the world fly here for vacations or travel here on cruise ships. And the British Virgin Islands was #2 on the New York Times 52 places to visit in 2020.
The people who live here are from Africa, Europe, South America, the Mideast, China, other Caribbean islands and North America. It is a unique melting pot with a history as an important port for trade for hundreds of years. It is a little like Indiana in that it has been a crossroads, but for the Caribbean and the countries bordering the Atlantic ocean.
Visitors are seduced by the turquoise waters and white, immaculate beaches. Locals live here for various reasons, some nefarious, some involuntary, too poor to leave. Many find living in the middle of the ocean a thousand miles away from America a dream of retirement.
Jane and I intend to make a new life here. If you are curious, you can follow me as I post my observations, trials and tribulations. I consider our move an adventure, which is my preference for vacations. This one just happens to be a little longer than our usual week-long vacation sailing around these islands.
This is a place where Jane sometimes cannot watch Purdue basketball on TV no matter how hard she tries. Cable, satellite, Hulu… the only thing she could find was radio on the internet. Better than nothing, and, the play by play is pretty good.
First Things First
Getting off the plane at the Cyril E. King airport in St. Thomas means walking down steps to the tarmac to make your way to the terminal. It helps if it isn’t raining. To paraphrase Dorothy, it is immediately apparent we’re not in Indianapolis anymore.
Inside the terminal, we are greeted with a free shot of rum, which is unlike every other airport I have visited. I think more terminals should do something like that.
After getting our bags the first thing we have to do is procure transportation. If you are staying here for a while that means renting a car, which means you have to actually drive a car on the island. This is problematic for several reasons, most of all because they drive on the left side of the road. This takes a little getting used to, especially at intersections and parking lots.
It can be done, but it was initially a daunting task. It helps that we rarely go faster than 35 mph because of potholes, curves, and tourists who don’t really know how to drive on the left side of the road.
The islands are in the process of installing a uniform labeling of street names and numbers. That means the address of the apartment we will live in is not recognized by anything or anybody. Not even on Google maps… it shows the address as someplace besides where our apartment is.
You can use Google maps, and sometimes it works. But, many times it seems that Google has no idea where I am or how to get where I am going. Often the directions are spoken too early or too late.
There are forks in the road, and it can be difficult to ascertain which one of the forks is the road you are on, and which fork is another, different road. For me, the road not taken is usually the one I should have.
Almost every vehicle you see on the island will have a dent. Even a really nice Lexus. And there are certain parts of the year you will find cars upside down on the road. You think to yourself… How can you turn your car over at 35 mph?
Other drivers are often really nice. If you have to turn right across traffic, you usually don’t have to wait long for the driver in the other lane to stop and let you cross. A thank-you tap of the horn all you need to do.
I still haven’t gotten used to the stoplights, which are placed above your head where you stop instead of across the street where you can actually see the light. Hard to figure out when the light changes, so I just watch the cars going in the opposite direction and move when they do.
We just purchased a used Toyota Rav4 with four-wheel drive. There are some hills so steep that cars without front- or four-wheel drive will spin their tires and be unable to get to the top. When it rains it is difficult for almost everyone. And some of the potholes are so deep that a sedan will bottom out when you run through them. Best to get a truck or SUV with four-wheel drive.
We are staying with our son and daughter-in-law until we get our apartment painted and made comfortable for a couple of old folks. In the meantime, I will make some posts about what it feels like getting used to living on an island. If you are curious, I set up an email notification system to let you know when I make a new post.
Welcome to St. Thomas.