St Thomas, US Virgin Islands

Published: November 9th 2014
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Thursday 6th November 2014 Saint Thomas, US Virgin Islands

Christopher Columbus recorded his sighting of St Thomas on his second voyage to the “New World” in 1493. Little more is known of the Virgin Islands until the seventeenth century. In Charlotte Amalie, the main town on St Thomas, there is a commemorative stone with the title “Landing of the Virginia settlers”. These settlers were a company of 144 Englishmen, bound for Virginia, who landed on St Thomas on 4th April 1607 and stayed for three days, before going on to found Jamestown in Virginia. Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in the world, outside the British Isles. As this commemorative stone states, from that colony grew the overseas expansion of English speaking peoples: the Commonwealth of Virginia: the United States of America: the British Commonwealth of Nations and Realms Overseas.

We woke up at 6 a.m. in time to see a stunning sunrise as we approached St Thomas. This newly-found ability to wake up early without the aid of alarm clocks, is due to the turning back of clocks; five times so far during this voyage. We docked at 7 a.m. The sky was overcast, the sea was unusually grey. Within five minutes, torrential rain almost obliterated our view of the shore and Charlotte Amalie.

St Thomas is a territory of the USA. It is self-governed as part of the Virgin Islands Government but falls under US federal law. Hence, we had to queue up to pass US Immigration. Unlike when we docked in Madeira, this was rigorous and involved the usage of a profusion of rubber stamps. We thought we were back in Spain! Spanish bureaucrats just love using lots of rubber stamps! However, we have no complaints about the formalities of US customs. This is how it should be done, especially when one hears news headlines claiming “Jihadists use cruise ships”! The customs officers came on board to do mandatory “face to face” checks on us all and our visas, visa waivers and passports. Even those passengers who chose to stay on board and all crew were checked, because we were in US territorial waters. So be it!

We went ashore at 9.30 a.m. to discover, to our surprise, that everyone was driving on the left! All the cars are left-hand drive, being American, but nevertheless, they all drive on the left! Apparently, all of the Virgin Islanders, in both the American and British territories, drive on the left; a good old bit of Brit influence there! Charlotte Amalie is the only town on the island with a small harbour and downtown area. Ours was the only ship in port. It is an old historic town which has sadly been almost swallowed up by its shopping malls. Tourists are on the receiving end of a fair bit of hassle from “Looky looky” men as well, which wasn´t expected (we hadn´t encountered any in St Maarten). We thought we were back in either Bali or Tunis! Nobody in Charlotte Amalie walks anywhere, so whilst walking from the ship to the downtown area, at least ten taxi drivers stopped us for a fare, with prices ranging from two dollars to eight dollars (for just one mile). Charlotte Amalie is expensive. We got two beers each plus some crisps and a little plastic pot of salsa whilst using the Wi-Fi in a side street bar. That cost 28 dollars. Yesterday we paid 29 dollars for a really good lunch in St Maarten (John had BBQ ribs, Viv had a chicken Caesar salad, plus beers).

St Thomas doesn´t have the Caribbean charm of St Maarten, however, it is steeped in history, which made it a good little town to explore, especially through the “alleys” between the old warehouses, now turned into boutiques, bars and restaurants. Emancipation Park in the centre of town is where, in 1998, a statue was erected to mark 150 years since the emancipation of the slaves on the island in 1848. The statue is simply called “Freedom”. The park is built on the site of the largest slave market in the West Indies. Close by, there is a “Field of Honour” in respect of Vietnam veterans. It is simple, just a row of flags, so it is very moving and also respectful of those who fought in that war.

The weather stayed mostly cloudy throughout the day, which wasn´t a problem for us, having a sightseeing day, but not so good for those who decided to go off on catamarans to snorkel. We decided against the latter due to the high excursion prices. We´ll save our snorkelling for the Florida Keys next week. We did, however, see a fair sized fish, about a half a metre in length, which jumped right out of the water close to where we were walking along the quayside. A pelican spotted this disturbance and immediately dived in for the kill but he was unsuccessful. He wouldn´t have been after the fish that jumped; too big! He would have been after smaller fry disturbed by the big leap!

Everyone had to be back on board by 3.30 p.m. for a 4 p.m. departure, so this was a shorter day ashore than the day before (from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m.). The ship´s departure heralded yet another port “Farewell” party on deck, as we headed off in a NW direction towards Florida. We gave it a miss, just chilled out on our little cabin balcony with a coffee, watching the receding islands and watching birds fishing alongside the ship for several miles out of harbour. We now have two “sea days” and the forecast is for fair weather all the way. We shall reach Miami at about 8 a.m. on Sunday morning.

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