Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Moths to a Flame - Part 8, St. Croix


Standing on the deck watching the island emerge in front of us in the breaking daylight was different from Nassau or San Juan. I could not pick out where we were going. There was no sign of a city or a pier or any place to dock. We seemed to be sailing toward green, rolling hills dotted with occasional houses with pastures scattered in between. Coming in on the leeward side of the island was a nice change from yesterday’s rough water approach in San Juan, adding to the peaceful, almost pastoral first image of St. Croix. The cruise since leaving San Juan has been slower, less hectic as St. Croix is less than one hundred miles away. By the time I see light traffic on the coastal road, I can see the single finger pier that juts straight out from the seashore. There is an old, unimpressive red fort off to the left side. After San Juan, two cars and a pickup truck is light traffic.

We quietly docked at eight in the morning, a new, single finger pier that would accommodate two ships at once. While the ship went through the arrival process, Ilse and I went for breakfast. This time we ate at the Oceanview café, the buffet style restaurant aft on deck ten. The selections of different breakfast foods is amazing and again, there are more servers than diners. I made a note to try coddled eggs next time.

There were only a few scattered passengers ahead of us on the pier as we walked to the security checkpoint, not anything like previous cruises. The atmosphere was exactly opposite bustling San Juan. As we walked toward the security tent at the end of the pier, I noticed the water was so clear we could see under the boat. Three young girls dressed in scarlet red local costumes welcomed us with bright smiles and maps of the island, and we were disdainfully waved through security with the priceless, limp-wristed motion famous around the world.

The second thing to catch my eye was they drive on the left side of the road. St. Thomas and St John, just over the horizon, also drive on the left even though they are in the US Virgin Islands, not the British Virgin Islands. The traditional beep-beep greeting between the locals is a common language in every Caribbean island, but the first time I heard it here, I turned around to look. There simply wasn’t any traffic. The souvenir shops in tiny Frederiksted – the town has fewer than a thousand people – all had bumper stickers for sale that said “Drive Left!” Obviously they were for tourists who rent cars and are not accustomed to driving in the islands.

Not that there were more than a handful of souvenir or tourist shops in town. With only a few exceptions, they all seemed to be owned by transplanted Americans. We were on the other end of the island from where the cruise ships used to land at Christiansted, a bustling metropolis by comparison of around three thousand people. The population of the entire island, world famous for its magnificent beaches is only 40,000 people. All the beaches in St. Croix are free to the public.

The pretty bay front park is a nice welcome to cruise passengers, and the backdrop to many ship’s photographs. 

Ilse and I have done package tours on previous cruises, but usually we like to see a place for ourselves the first time we visit a port, especially now with COVID restrictions in place on every island. We decided to avoid the little buses or taxis even though we wanted to visit the nearby botanical gardens, but it was too far to walk so we simply strolled around the small, odd little town. We were once warned in Charlotte Amalie about straying too far off the beaten path by ourselves, but here we are at ease. We are not carelessly unconscious as we always keep safety tucked in the back of our minds. I worked in downtown Miami for many years and old habits are hard to break.

The town itself drops in attractiveness within a few blocks, so we head back to the fort at the end of the pier, buying my first cap of the trip on the way. The people we chat with are friendly, but disappointed in the small size of the crowd.

I walked around the clock tower checking all four clocks after I noticed the two sides I could see were completely different. A perfect description of St. Croix: what you see depends on the direction you are looking, all four clocks show very different times.

We headed back to the ship for salad and pizza and my first Budweiser of the trip. After sitting on our balcony, reading and listening to our own music – we always bring a Bluetooth speaker – I glance at Ilse. She is sound asleep, holding her head with one hand and her Kindle in the other. There is no one on the pier except the ship’s staff idly waiting under the Celebrity Cruise logo sunshade. The three young girls dressed in bright red local costumes have abandoned their post and are all sitting in the shade of the security tent at the other end, chatting and laughing.

The helicopter landing pad on the bow is opened for our departure from Frederiksted, so Ilse and I, wearing the required close-toed shoes, climbed the ladder to the Helipad, wondering how they transport anyone who isn’t ambulatory up there in the first place. It is a wonderful view, especially as several rain showers began to move down the hills toward the bay. Drinks are served as everyone begins to ooh and aah at the rainbows that seem to be a departing touch from the local tourist board. The ship quietly turns and heads toward more rain showers off-shore.

After dinner we headed to the Sunset bar at the stern on deck ten, our favorite lounge at night. The weather is beautiful and the moon is almost full. Tomorrow is Antigua and a full moon. We can’t wait.

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