Published: January 15th 2011January 15th 2011
Blackbeard's Castle Tour
Our tour guide (dressed as a pirate) stands in front of the life-sized statue of Blackbeard. Blackbeard's Castle (built 1679) is in the background.
We spent a lazy morning playing in the sand at the beach. When Oliver napped, Andrew swam and I read. We followed up our lazy morning with a busy afternoon downtown.
Cabs (again, vans) stay parked in the hotel parking lot. They easily hold our group, so we made the short (5-10 minute) ride to Blackbeard's Castle with ease. I'd read online that the castle is frequently closed; it's really only open when cruise ships are docked. We were lucky today, though, because they were open when we arrived, and we started out the only visitors (more came later).
Blackbeard (Edward Teach) was a pirate made legendary by his crazy antics. Apparently, he was a large man (6'3", 230 pounds), especially for his time (early 18th century), and he had a full, black beard that he braided and tied with tiny bows. He wore half a dozen guns strapped to his chest, and when he "attacked" a ship, he'd light his hair on fire by tying it into pigtails and attaching something through the ends. Most people were so terrified by the sight of him, they'd surrender without a fight.
Anyway, Blackbeard's Castle was actually a Danish castle
(Saint Thomas used to be under Danish rule) that was built in 1679. According to legend, Blackbeard used it as a lookout when he sailed in the Caribbean in the early 1700s.
We arrived at the gate and were led in by a woman dressed as a pirate. For $12 each, she told us the history I just recounted now. We then got to climb up the castle and were rewarded with incredible views of the island and water. We climbed back down and stopped along the way to peer through the firing holes. It was strange to imagine that they'd actually been used; in the past, men stood there and fired their weapons at others and fought off attackers. Andrew noted that the castle had charred marks on it. We weren't sure if someone tried to burn down the stone tower or not, but it seemed like a wasted effort to try.
All around the castle were bronze statues of pirates. Apparently, the historic landmark also boasts the largest collection of life-sized pirate statues in the world. I guess that's a claim to fame. Anyway, there were a few statues of Blackbeard (including one of him being
View from Blackbeard's Castle
This is the view from the top of Blackbeard's Castle.
killed in hand-to-hand combat), Jack Sparrow, Captain Hook and many others.
Once we finished the pirate tour, we moved on to the rum tour and tasting. Our guide explained that the rum is actually made in Saint Croix from sugar cane. It's shipped to Saint Thomas as a clear, strong alcohol (I think she said something crazy like 120 proof). In Saint Thomas, they age it with wood chips until it comes down to about 50 proof. Then, they infuse it with different flavors, pump it into bottles using a vacuum, seal the bottles, and dip them in wax. She did a wax dipping demonstration for us.
The rum tour ended--where else?--in a gift shop with a tasting. Everyone enjoyed sampling spiced rum, banana rum, coconut rum, mango rum, and half a dozen other flavors. I tried a sip of pineapple rum. It was strong, but it was very sweet and flavorful. My mom picked out a bottle of mango rum to bring home, and Andy & Erin chose a spiced rum to bring back to their friends who are dog-sitting back home.
We sat at the nearby outdoor bar for a while, giggling at the pool
that now exists on the back side of Blackbeard's Castle. Andrew and I shared a frozen mango smoothie that was made with a little pineapple rum and topped with nutmeg. Serendipiously, we struck up a conversation with my brother about the bar. It was made with a beautiful, dark wood. A few minutes later, we (somehow) found ourselves on a tour of an old, native home nearby, and the historian who gave the tour explained that most of the wood and furniture on the island is made with local mahogany. She was very proud of the Virgin Islands wood and explained that it's so hard, termites can't eat it. The original homes on the island were built only from that mahogany and a local stone, and she claimed that hurricanes can't destroy those old homes. We got to walk around the home, and then we were led to a location that boasted the world's largest amber waterfall. Like the life-sized pirate collection, the honor seemed a little odd, but it was cool to see nonetheless. In fact, we got to learn a bit about amber by walking through a short, self-guided tour. Apparently, amber that comes in contact with volcanic
Jack Sparrow and Me
Their world's largest life-sized pirate statue collection wouldn't be complete without a statue of Jack Sparrow!
ash takes on a green hue, and amber that has stayed in contact with salt water turns opaque. Most amber dates back to the Cretaceous period. I remember that part of the walk because of the large, random, animatronic Tyrannosaurus rex.
We concluded our tour with lunch, and then we caught an open-air taxi back to our resort to meet Julie. Oliver's currently passed out on the bed, Andrew's sitting on the shore, letting the waves roll over him, and I'm enjoying some quiet time.
There are more photos below