Friday, June 13, 2014

We are now in St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands

United States Virgin Islands consist of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. St. Thomas is the busiest port among the three islands even if it’s not the biggest. The capital of St. Thomas is Charlotte Amalie, name given after the German wife of Denmark’s King Christian V. What Denmark has to do with the Virgin Islands? I didn’t know its history until I arrived here. The Danes (people from Denmark) arrived in the 16th -17th century, the first colony in St. Thomas date from 1666, attracted by the large size of the island and the conditions to plant sugar cane and tobacco, as well as for the protected harbor. In 1671, the Danish West India Company open an office in St. Thomas then the headquarters moved to St. Thomas from Copenhagen in 1915. During the 17th – 18th Century, the trade was booming after the American War of Independence; St. Thomas becomes a famous port for the slave market attracting buyers from other islands and the American colonies. However, after the First World War, in 1917, the United States purchased the three islands; St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix from Denmark. Nowadays, US Virgin Islands are one of the most famous and fabulous tourism destination and yachting hub in the Caribbeans.

Until today, when we explore St. Thomas, we still can see the street names both in English and Danish, similar to Macau where we have street names in Chinese and Portuguese and both are official languages of the former Portuguese territory. Nevertheless, unlike Macau, here only English is official language. I can survive better than in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico because everyone speaks English! And I don’t need Joao to be my personal translator anymore. The restaurants and bars turn on the English news from CNN or have English music in the background. However, we still can here several different dialects from the different communities that live in the island.

We anchored s/v Dee on the Long Bay, where is the terminal for the cruising ships. Every other day, we wake up with the silhouette of a high wall; it’s the giant cruising ship loading thousands of tourists. We had the chance to have lunch in an Asian restaurant near the terminal that is only opened when the cruising ship arrive, catering for the Filipino crews of the cruising ships. Imagine how busy the terminal is. Actually, the restaurant serves only Filipino food all you can eat for 11.99USD excluding drinks. The restaurant is always full of Filipino people, making us feeling at home, like in Macau on Sunday afternoon! I talked with one of the crew; they arrived with the Disney cruising ship coming from Miami and will head back to the States. Somehow, I feel that the city itself rely on the cruising boats too much. We can see from the days without the cruising boats in the terminal, the city and the businesses in town are empty just like an abandoned place.

In this bay we have the Yacht Haven Grande from the Island Global Yachting (IGY) group. We didn’t check the price but just to have an idea, there are only mega yachts, no sailing boats in the marina! The marina is a luxury one, well maintained and safe with 24hrs security guards. We went to the marina office to ask information regarding fueling, refilling water tanks, mechanics and some other stuff. The staff was nice and helpful even we are not exactly their target clients. We have to pay for the water because our watermaker just decided to stop working. The price here is 25 cents per gallon. I asked the staff where would be possible to refill the water for free. The answer showed me the characteristic of St. Thomas without being surprised “There is no such thing in St. Thomas”!

Talking about our watermaker, we have to fix it before we leave St. Thomas. The labor here is also expensive. For the mechanic to come into our boat and check what went wrong we had to pay 101 USD per hour. Another thing we had to fix was the windlass; the labor to install it would cost 75 USD per hour. The wood work labor 70 USD per hour. To compare with what we paid in the Dominican Republic, around 25 USD per hour. On other hand, I don’t mind to pay more than triple if the work is well done in one time unlike in the Dominican Republic. Ah! The working hours here, it’s Caribbean style! No one work on Saturday and Sunday! So just enjoy the weekend, do what tourists do, drinking coconut juice and go to the beach! Then wait for Monday. The good thing is they start quite early, 7 o’clock most of the boat related shops are already opened and 8 A.M. for the local supermarket.

If you plan to buy a mobile SIM card, please be careful, it’s very tricky! We got one which is supposed to be with unlimited internet access but we were informed after 1 day of buying it that we couldn’t be able to connect the internet because was unlimited for only 2GB! Then, some days after we couldn’t connect to the internet at all, we tried to contact the provider again. The answer was a joke! We are over using the internet! We explain to the person in charge that if it’s unlimited means no limit! We can’t refund even we are not satisfied. So friends, don’t be upset of over advertisement in Asia because even in America it’s just the same. By the way, the provider is H2O, for your information.

I like it here even I don’t have a big wallet. We heard people said it’s pricey but the daily life and food products we got are normal price. There are local, Asian, Western restaurants and supermarket for fresh food. What people said its expensive maybe, from our experience, would be the restaurants. We paid around 90 USD just for 2 sandwiches and a pitcher of cocktail! At least they bring iced water for Noel! That’s what we pay more; it’s called “service”. US Virgin Islands are the paradise for shoppers, its tax free, what you see on the price tag is what you pay unlike in Puerto Rico that they add States and local taxes on top of the price. Just right next to our dinghy dock, there are many luxury brand name shops in the middle of the garden! Many jewelry shops in downtown are calling my name, they are contemporary design with reasonable prices, and unfortunately I don’t need it now or if needed I don’t have the money! Not only brand name shops, local market and brands are everywhere, souvenir t-shirts (3 pieces) cost 10 USD.

The transportation here is mostly by truck (like songtaew in Thailand or jepney in Philippines) which the local call “safari”. It costs 1-2 USD depending on the distance you go. We would like to rent a car to explore the island because of its mountain streets and bird-eye views where the bus doesn’t, but we have to give it up. If you buy a second hand car here and sell it before you leave the island I think it’s even cheaper than renting the car! The price is around 70-90 USD per day.

There’s an hydroplane going from St. Thomas to St. Croix at only 80 USD, few minutes flying. We saw many people taking the ferry to other islands like St. John or St. Croix, which is quite convenient and with acceptable price. Taxi service in St. Thomas, we didn’t had the chance yet since the island is small and we can go wherever we want by “safari”.

Because of being one of the jet setter destinations, St. Thomas has big franchising hotel chains like Marriott or Westin. We saw young fashionable well dressed men and woman, and some even come to the island with leather shoes! We didn’t had a chance to visit any beaches in St. Thomas yet since we have to solve the problem of our watermaker and windlass, reason why we anchored s/v Dee in the heart of the city. Our sailing friends arrived few days after us and anchored outside near the Water Island. They told us that the water there was crystal clear just like in the Bahamas. We hope we finish the boat fixing episodes soon and we can enjoy the nature around us, otherwise our reserve money will be finished and we will not be able to finish our route, let alone visiting paradise places. 

Approaching St. Thomas by s/v Dee

Noel is happy seeing land

First Landed in St. Thomas

Yacht Hevean Grande View

Area around Yacht Heaven Grande

Water in Dingy dock 

Public dingy dock near Yacht Heaven Grande Marina

First day family explorer 

NaE and Joao at Fat Turtle

View in the city

Hill view, seeing our "Dee"

One of the church in St. Thomas

Pap and baby crossing the street

Inside "Safari"

Space for rent

Street market in downtown St. Thomas

Crown Bay Marina

Downtown shops

Downtown Bars and Restaurants

Cruising ship at night from our boat

Public services for dog!


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