20 March 2015

St. Thomas


by R.T. Lawton


Overlooking the harbor at St. Thomas
With February comes icy winds and blowing snow to the mountain ranges in the state where we live. This becomes a time for us to seek bright sun, warm sand and salt water breezes. Often, that means somewhere off the continent where internet access is limited, non-existent or highly expensive. In any case, I still wouldn't blog from those places about those places because such activity also advertises to potential burglars that I would not be at home, 9mm in hand to greet unwanted intruders (this does not apply to you guys). Thus, any photos and travelogue you get here are a few weeks behind actuality.

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Columbus sighted the island of St. Thomas in 1493 during his second voyage to the New World, but he kept on going. The Dutch West India Company subsequently established a post in 1657. A few years later, the Dutch conquered the original inhabitants, the Arawaks, and turned the land into sugar cane plantations. Along came the U.S. in 1917 and bought the island for $25 million as part of their defensive strategy to control the Caribbean and the Panama Canal during World War I. Ten years later, U.S. citizenship was granted to the island's residents and they were given home rule in 1970.

I quickly found out that the U.S. Virgin Islands are the only place in the U.S. where vehicles drive on the left side of the road. This practice was inherited from the Dutch, however most vehicles on the island are of American make, thus the driver sits on the left side. It was explained to me by a local that this way the driver could better see how close his wheels were to falling off the edge of their steep and twisty mountain roads. Since I was seated behind our driver on the left side of the vehicle, I could see his concern. There were no safety rails on the road and it was a long ways down. We'll skip over the hazards of oncoming traffic at hairpin turns.

Blackbeard's Castle, his statue is behind the camera.
Further inland, there's an old stone tower built high up on a mountain ridge, It overlooks the harbor which serves the city of Charlotte Amalie. Locals refer to the tower as Blackbeard's Castle and there is a larger than life statue of Edward Teach on a plaza in front of the tower. On the statue, you can see the ten firearms (eight flintlock pistols and two blunderbusses) he carried strapped to his body for battle, a cutlass in one hand and a hatchet in the other, plus you can picture the burning cannon fuses he wove into his hair and beard to make him look like the devil himself. In truth, the Danes built the four-story structure they called Skytsborg Tower in 1679 as a watchtower over approaches to the harbor. And, while Blackbeard did sail the Caribbean, there is no historical proof that he ever set foot in said tower.

Coming down from the tower is a foot route known as 99 Steps, which leads through several old buildings more or less maintained as museums of the old days, complete with period furniture and other items of the past. Once you descend to the city streets, you are free to shop as a tourist. Since the harbor in St. Thomas, known for being a deep water harbor, is referred to as Taphus, which roughly translates to rum house or tap house, we skipped the Rolex and high end jewelry shops and instead went in search of libation to quench our thirst on this warm tropical day. In one of the many alleys, we found a small place called Greengo's Cantina. Here we indulged in a couple rounds of beers and an excellent platter of nachos to be shared by the four of us sailing companions. If you ever find yourself in St. Thomas, USVI, I definitely recommend Greengo's Cantina and their nachos.

Next, we're off to Dominica and a story about 1970's mercenaries. That's two weeks for you, but a one-day cruise for us. See ya.

5 comments:

Eve Fisher said...

I love round towers, good cantinas, hairpin turns, and sunny beaches. Congratulations on achieving all four of them on a good, good day!

Dale Andrews said...

I love St. Thomas, and even more the British Virgin Islands, just off to the left. The greatest way to visit the British Virgin Islands is to eschew the puddle jumper flights to Beef Island and instead take the ferry from Charlotte Amalie to West End Tortolla. Sit on the top deck, sip down a Red Stripe, and watch civilization fade away with each nautical mile. And I love Dominica -- so looking forward to that next installment. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Count me as one of those who loves the islands! Enjoyed the article.

Leigh Lundin said...

I very much enjoy the Caribbean too, RT. There's so much more in history and landscape than those casinos and duty free shops!

Jeff Baker said...

Oh my gosh! My cousin lives on St. Thomas! I didn't know all this (especially about Blackbeard!) Thanks! Have a fun trip!