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Published: December 31st 2017
St Johns Virgin Islands
This morning is the last day of 2017 and we are in Charlotte Amalie, which is the capital of St Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands. It is only 18 degrees here, or at least that is the latitude. We were told it is due south of Bermuda and 40 miles directly west of Puerto Rico. The temperature was predicted to go up to 83 degrees F and it seemed to have done that. There were occasional clouds with a gentle breeze, but nothing that would embarrass the tourist centers.
We got up and had a quick breakfast from the International Café. The ship docked about 8:15 and we left soon thereafter. Our tour group met on the pier beside the ship and then we walked to the end of the pier and jumped off. Actually we climbed off and onto a ferry to take us over to the island of St Johns. It is the 2nd
inhabited island in the group of Virgin Islands, with St Croix being the 3rd
. There were actually 4 different tours on our ferry so we all took the 45 minutes ride together, hearing a lot of information along the way.Hurricane Irma (Sep 7)
made a direct hit on the Virgin Islands with winds speeds clocked at a max of 268 miles per hours. At that point the weather station blew down so there is no indication whether there were any faster winds or not. Once the hurricane was done there were virtually no leaves left attached to any of the trees or bushes – the islands all looked brown. Shortly thereafter Hurricane Maria (Sep 21) came through and did less wind damage but dropped 26 inches of rain. So this was quite a one-two punch. The reporters described it as “the second storm drowned what the first couldn’t destroy”. But the islands are slowly recovering and rebuilding, and for at least the past month the cruise ships have been returning. There were 3 ships in port today. Our excursion today was on a ferry called the Island Girl and this was just the 12th
run of the ferry since the hurricanes.
The guide on the ferry said he had been without electricity for 110 days until they restored it for him a couple of weeks ago, Our guide on St Johns said he had been without electricity for more than 2 months,
but since his house blew down he has been staying with relatives. Since all the houses use cisterns to store rain water, they have had plenty to drink and wash with, but they had no electricity to pump it into the house so they had to hoist 5 gallon buckets with a rope whenever they needed any water – which weighs about 40 pounds per bucket. There were so many individual generators running that the island government established a curfew to shut down all the generators at 11:00 PM so people could get to sleep. Before Irma they were paying about $5 cents per kilowatt hour which is 4 or 5 times what we pay at home. Now the price has gone up to 53 cents per kwh and is likely the highest rate in the world. That’s because it all has to be generated from still limited power stations.
Our ferry took us to the capital of St Johns, which is Cruz Bay. The population of the whole island is only about 5,500 so the town is fairly small in the first place. We got on an open-air tour van and were driven through town and then around
the island. We saw some really picturesque beachfront scenery but also some really devastated building, boats, and homes. FEMA is apparently still working with the residents because we saw many piles of debris along the side of these narrow roads. We were told that FEMA would haul it away but not if it was back inside the property – it had to be hauled and sorted into 3 types before it would be removed. One type was “wood” (lumber or trees), one was “metal & building materials” and the 3rd
was “fabric & other”. In any case there is still a lot to be collected and then eventually it gets hauled to St Thomas where there is a landfill.
We are glad to have gotten to go on the excursion. When we were here in 2012 we did an island drive on St Thomas and saw Blackbeard’s Castle, the Amber Museum, and a lot of beautiful scenery. This time we wanted to go elsewhere. There has been significant regrowth of the leaves on the trees since they have warm weather and plenty of moisture all year, and largely the hillsides are green again. Only when you get up closer
do you see a lot of broken limbs and toppled trees lying back from the roads. There are many houses with blue tarps on their roofs and a lot without any roof to cover with a tarp. But there is clearly a lot of rebuilding underway. We were told that it would have gone even quicker if the only Home Depot on the islands hadn’t been destroyed – so there is practically nowhere to get building materials. What they do get has to be shipped in and distributed, but they are somewhat in competition with Puerto Rico for these recovery materials. But everyone was happy to have tourists returning to provide a supply of money to sustain their economy, and they assured us they will rebuild again. However there are some of the larger projects which already aren’t being expected to be rebuilt until 2019.
There is one elementary school on St Johns (K-5) and one Junior High (6-8) but all the high school students have to take a one of the commuter ferries to St Thomas each day for school. Then they ferry back each evening, So if your kids thought their school bus ride was long, then
tell them how lucky they are.
During the island drive we saw donkeys and chickens alongside the road, and we heard there were plenty of goats too. There were a couple of places where the driver had to slow down to get pat them. They drive on the left hand side of the road on these islands even though they are US possession. The roads are pretty narrow and in some places they have pretty much washed out during the storm (just a gravel path for the time being). Seeing this firsthand and hearing how much improved it is today, really gives us vivid idea of what the conditions must have been like right after the storms.
We caught the ferry back to St Thomas and heard more stories about the islands and various pirates (mostly Blackbeard). We returned to the pier about 1:30. Janet got a tuna sandwich from the International Café with iced tea and David got a hot dog and fries with one of our complimentary Coca Colas. Then we settled down for a little rest before we prepare for a social event on New Year’s Eve.
One of the perks of being Platinum
Status is that on formal evenings (like tonight) we can have a tray of canapés delivered to our cabin. So we ordered them last night and had them delivered at 4:30 today. We got three “salami w/ deviled eggs” and three smoked salmon”. We opened the bottle of wine we had brought from Florida and had a small pre-celebration before getting into our fancy outfits and going to dinner. Janet had been knitting a scarf to go with her purple dress for tonight. She finished it the other day and got to wear it tonight.
We are going to stop here and post the blog early because tonight is likely to be a busy and late evening. We will begin tomorrow’s blog with any highlights from tonight. We hope you all have a Happy New Year!
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