Sunday, February 17, 2008

What You Need to Know When Visiting St. Croix

When we gathered the first morning for Orientation, our wonderful leader, George Marshall, had us break up into groups of dancers who had never been to St. Croix before and veterans of the Tropical Dance Vacation.

New dancers were asked to come up with questions they would like answered about St. Croix and vets were asked to pass along something they wished they had known on their first visit.

In that vein, I am asking those of you who visit this blog to offer your comments on what visitors to St. Croix should know. Just use the comment box below. Thanks!! Love, MJ

Tropical Dancers in St. Croix

If you have any photos to add, please email them to me.

The ones below were quite a surprise to me. I wasn't moving, but had the camera on some setting that made the lights quite interesting ...

Searching Watch-O for Chaney

When I learned about the pretty jewelry made from old blue and white crockery shards (called chaney*) combed from the beaches & ruins of St. Croix, I decided to look for a pair of earrings for a dear friend at home to say thanks for getting me to and from the airport at home. Unfortunately, the jewelry was outside my budget and I decided I would at least like to find a piece or two to take home – maybe I could get it made into earrings later for Diana's birthday.

Doug Frank, who grew up on St. Croix, sent me to an area on the south side of the island, once owned by His family, to scour the hill there. The high craggy hill is called Watch-O for its incredible vistas, and while . I didn’t find any chaney, but I did enjoy the views.

And I did finally get a piece of chaney; Jote kindly gave me a piece she had found. I will have to find my own next year.

*According to Whealan Massicott of Ibdesigns, the name is derived from the words ‘china’ and ‘money’. When local children found them, he says, they would round them out by pounding against stones and use them as play money.

More Views from Watch-O

To the east:

The views to the west are of Hovensa, Hess Oil's refinery in St. Croix.
There is no tax on crude shipped from Venezuela to St. Croix and once refined it's on US soil and can be shipped to the mainland without taxation.

We also met a Senepol along the way:

What was your most interesting adventure in St. Croix?

Back to the Real World - Can You Ever Go Home Again?

They say you can never go home again and for some of us the return from St. Croix seemed to prove it. My flight to Orlando from San Juan was delayed several hours and I would have missed my connections. I was rerouted through Miami to Charlotte, NC. Wouldn't you know it, that flight was also delayed and I spent the night in the Airport Days Inn in Charlotte, NC. I have to say, the personnel in the hotel were just as friendly and accommodating as they can be, but the room was terrible. My first room had no heat and I was moved to a second one that had some warmth (eventually) but was very shoddy, otherwise, right down to a blanket full of holes. The hotel is undergoing renovations at the moment, but I say they should have started with the linens.

I was also very well treated by the gate and ticket staff of American Airlines in San Juan and Charlotte, who worked cheerfully to solve my travel glitches.

I'm happy to report that I remained cheerful, too, and took the delays and even the “holy” blanket in stride. I reminded myself that it is a miracle that we can travel so easily ... it might take a full day - or even closer to two, but modern travel really does get us from Point A to distant Point B awfully quickly and with relatively little effort on our parts. It was also a lot of fun to run into dance buddies in the airports ... I enjoyed seeing Linda Eastman and John Brady again in Miami and hanging out with sisters Ann Tidwell & Mary Lynn Dobson and Jim Felling & Bev Cowdrick of Charlotte, NC. Bev’s business is nursing home administration and we talked about the possibilities for intentional retirement communities for folk musicians and dancers.

My travel woes were hardly the worst ... Sarah Jane and Steve Bye left Sugar Beach at 5:30 am and had still not left San Juan nearly 12 hours later when we boarded the flight for Miami.

How was your trip home?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Diving St. Croix

St. Croix is said to have the best diving in the US Virgin Islands. “You’ll have to come back and dive with us in the summer,” said Michelle Pugh, owner of Dive Experience, the ‘official’ dive shop for the Tropical Dance Vacationers. Even Michelle thinks it’s a bit cool for diving now and said she’s been wearing a 5 mil suit this season.

Bruce Henderson and I were in Christiansted for lunch at Rum Runners overlooking the harbor and a little shopping when we stopped by Michelle’s shop to say hello.

There’s a wide variety of dive sites around the island. Many of the most popular sites are along the Wall that lines the north shore and there are wrecks and many accessible shore dives, including Fredericksted pier where you can expect to spot seahorses.

Visitors shouldn’t miss a trip to Buck Island, a national treasure and underwater park just off St. Croix. Snorkelers will be particularly pleased by the underwater trail with markers to guide and identify many of the more common underwater fauna and flora.

The Dance Is The Thing

I came early to St. Croix, thinking I would dive and sightsee before the dance began, but found the water too chilly (79 degrees F) for this Florida baby and the body too lazy. Not to worry - the dance is the the thing. Aside from my fascination for my work as an SEO and copywriter, contra dancing *is* my life. It’s why I move to Asheville, and it’s my greatest source of pleasure. Yes, the dance is the thing.

But there is so much else to do in St. Croix. Endless beaches with great snorkeling and beachcombing; quaint plantations and sugar factory ruins with marked by the stubby remains of windmills and the taint of wretched slavery that supported a grand lifestyle for the planters.

The end of slavery in the 1860s brought little to improve the lives of former slaves; they were nominally free, but working conditions and compensation was miserable, I learned at Estate Little Princess. Conditions only improved with the advent of tourism in the 1950’s.

Estate Little Princess, located a short stroll down the shore from Sugar Beach Resort, is under restoration by the Nature Conservancy. There are many other picturesque plantations to tour on St. Croix. The best known is the Whim Plantation.

Dinner at Tina’s

The Monday before the rest of the dancers arrived, I was included in a dinner party at Tina Henle’s. The daughter of famous photographer Fritz Henle. Tina lives close to our resort on Little Princess in her family home. We dined outdoors on deck perched on the mountain side. On the menu: jambalaya (yes, I cooked), salad, garlic bread and sour orange pie for dessert. Sounds mouth puckering, doesn’t it? But if you like key lime pie, you’ll like this. Legend has it that the original key lime pie was made by Bahamians with sour oranges. When Bahamians emigrated to Key West in the 1800s they found no sour oranges and so substituted the local limes. I found sour oranges when George and I stopped by Rita’s Vegetarian Rasta CafĂ© in Fredericksted. Rita, who caters one of the Tropical Dance Vacation dinners, had them on hand to make into a juice she sells.

Tina Henle carries on the family tradition as a wedding photographer for couples who marry on this tropical island. She is also a Kripalu yogini and leads some of the morning yoga offered to the dancers.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fredericksted and Surfing the Leeward Side

I had a lovely Sunday brunch (Florentine Omelet with spinach, cream cheese and Portobello mushroom)at the Blue Moon cafe overlooking the Fredericksted pier. I strolled the pier afterwards which offers a great view of the fort and the Strand.

It's hard to believe that such a lovely place is so quiet ... I had the pier and the Strand almost entirely to myself.

After wandering around the town's picturesque arcades, I stopped in on an exhibition opening at the Caribbean Arts Center and then drove up the west coast and visited the factory ruins at Butler Bay and watched surfers.

From there I drove through the Caldonia "rain forest" -- St. Croix has seven eco systems in its 84 square miles -- and stopped off at a beach in Judith's Fancy on the north coast.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Good Morning, St. Croix

Good Morning, St. Croix Feb. 2

I read 4 guide books before coming .. all mentioned the occasional crimes, hostility and even violence toward tourists … but there was hardly a mention of a simple custom that visitors can follow to show they respect the local culture. Crucians always greet one another before doing any business. So, just take the time to say hello, good morning, George told me, and the people will know how are you … and then ask for what you want.

It was a good morning at the produce market with Beth and Annalise… star apples, carambola (star fruit), egg fruit which tastes like custard, breadfruit which doesn’t, papaya, sour sop, and of course, key limes and grapefruit … lots of hot sauces for sale, local honey, lettuce, Annalisa sipped green coconut milk as we wandered around the adjacent fish market … women cleaned fish in the back of a van … which was not going to be good when it comes to resale, Annalisa quipped. Shark, colorful Queen trigger fish and bright stoplight parrot fish rounded out the expected mahi mahi and snapper.

Friday Afternoon in St. Croix

I had a driving tour with George Marshall this afternoon … errands included a visit to Fredericksted to see Rita, one of the caterers for the coming dance week. She had just finished jury duty that day and was still shaken from the responsibility of convicting a killer.

Fredericksted is where tourists come for sunset … the smaller of St. Croix’s two towns, it’s also the most “Caribbean’ in feeling. Colorful old buildings line the narrow streets. And it's the leeward end of the island, popular for snorkeling when the north is windy ... Fredericksted's piers are also popular dives and famous for their seahorses.

Tropical Dance in St. Croix - Preview Week

I left Asheville at 7:30 am Thursday, bound for St. Croix. Four flights later I arrived - without bags. Not to worry, I’d been told this was likely, and when I reported the bags, Karen, who took my claim said most flights have at least one luggage-less passenger. So, I was prepared with a change of clothes and a few necessaries in my carry on …

Not to worry … but I did a little. The prospect of that much shopping was not attractive … but the worry was for nothing, as I am told my bags will be delivered within the hour.

I arrived at the Sugar Beach condo complex bagless, but not friendless. George Marshall and his stage crew are already here, pitching the tents and building the dance floor … in a few days, 150 or so contra dancers will gather for a Tropical Dance Vacation - a week of dancing to Wild Asparagus.

George and friends were expecting me for dinner … and made me feel welcome with smiles and gourmet leftovers - Doug and Jane had made Rosemary Chicken, roasted vegetables and green curry vegetables. Scrummy!

Matece and Gary were recently married and we watched the wedding slides - why does it feel so different now that we watch on laptops rather than the slide projector I remember from my childhood? Dis showing slides became so boring and outdated that it feels new and fun because the medium has changed? The message is the same and I love seeing the memories then and now.

Also on hand: Annalisa from Portland, who, with Beth, cooks for the crew, Bruce from the NC coast, Beth and Jote and Robbie. Soon after I arrived, Matisse led a yoga class … the couch and chairs were pushed aside and yoga mats laid out and positions were assumed. To the strains of Deva Parnell we held our Yin Yoga asanas for 3 minutes at a time.

Bruce took me for a walk on the beach to show me the grounds, pointing out the edges of the property, the water breaking the reef, Buck Island a shadow under a moonless sky …

It's my first morning in St. Croix, and I am waiting for my luggage ... hopeful.
I think I will stretch a little now, and perhaps my bags will arrive while my head is resting on my knees.