Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas

When we first arrived in Charlotte Amalie and went ashore, we were horrified over the touristy strip of Rolex vendors and pushy high end jewelers trying to entice us into their stores.   This little part of town caters to the cruise ship crowds, and apparently since St Thomas is duty-free, things like fine jewelry, Rolexes, useless high end crap, cigarettes, and alcohol are nearly half off.  So imagine our dismay when the first impression we have of this place is of people coming from every direction trying to talk us out of our money and sell us things.  That coupled with the thousands of people herding around the streets from the daily cruise ship drop off, oblivious to their surroundings and bumping into you, and the drivers yelling "Taxi? Taxi?" every half a block, it nearly sent us into a manic I-don't-wanna-be-here frenzy.  But after getting off this main strip and exploring some of the backstreets, you discover just how enchanting this little city actually is.  For some reason, tourists don't seem to venture past the busy touristy neighborhood and stay within the "safe" parameters of the stores, and so in just a few short blocks, you start to enter the locals territory.  Small little shacks selling inexpensive local cuisine, like salt fish "pates" and stewed meats with beans and rice.  Houses are painted in bright colors, with the paint peeling and faded out by the sun,  creating a dreamlike dilapidated pastel facade throughout the city that is set upon lush green mountains.  It's very "hilly" and you find yourself exhausted while trekking up each street.  The anchorage at night is my favorite as Charlotte Amalie twinkles like fireflies in the summertime, reflecting off of the water, looking like a sky full of orange stars.  Walking around town, you get a feel of what it was like before it became a cruise ship mecca.  

I sense a bit of contempt from the locals towards the tourists, as people would often ignore Frank and I and disregard our very existence, avoiding eye contact, or any interaction (except when they're hollering at us to take their taxi, of course).  I don't really blame them since I can understand how there is an obvious cultural divide between the sheep-like, capitalistic, buy-buy-buy cruise-ship crowd versus the poorer, yet simpler living islanders.  I find that there always seems to be contention when you artificially place people of extreme opposing economic/financial backgrounds together in the same place.   Though you could argue that there shouldn't be any animosity because since tourism is the only industry here, and their economy is strongly buoyed by the tourists that spend their money.  A Catch- 22, I suppose.  One way or another, I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I really love it here. 

I guess it's been a while since Frank and I have access to things while simultaneously being semi-immersed in a culture.   It's an interesting juxtaposition of being surrounded by an unreachable culture, with its pigeon English (I often can't understand what a local is saying because of their heavy accents), and also being someplace that is so westernized.  Kmart is a walking distance away from the dinghy dock at Yacht Haven Grande,  laundry is inexpensive and easily accessible through the Crown Bay Marina, McDonald's is right around the corner, there's even take out Chinese food. Some markets are stocked with familiar treats such as Sour Patch kids, Smartfoods popcorn, smoked gouda and even Shitake mushrooms, yum.   We're even able to get things shipped in using a mailing service (Mailstop), for a nominal price, as the USPS considers St Thomas american territory (we received a package from Florida in 3 days).   It also helps that getting from one side of the island to the other is a mere safari bus ride away.  For $2, you can basically take an open air "safari bus" from here to Red Hook, which is at the eastern point of the island and about a 1/2 an hour by car, which is a little slower paced and less touristy.   You pick up these buses at any point in their route, and press a doorbell-like button when you want to get off.   What a luxury it is to have things so readily available while surrounded by pretty blue water.    

I love this uphill house
Gee Frank, don't be so thrilled about the cruise ships...

Bye bye cruise ship...

Friday, April 8, 2016

Vieques, Puerto Rico

After spending over 2 weeks in Vieques, out of all the places we've cruised, I would just like to say that Vieques has been our least favorite island.  Don't get me wrong, it's still pretty, but in terms of all the islands thus far, it has been the most touristy and least beautiful we've been to.  We anchored off of Esperanza to spend an additional  week with my sister and her boyfriend.  Since Vieques used to be a military testing/bombing range by the US since the 1940s up until 2003, the island itself is not the lush paradise that you would expect from any given caribbean destination.  Everything has a little bit of a dead, almost desert like feel to it, where you could see that it could be as fruitful as its surrounding islands, but it simply isn't because of the bombings and pollution associated with that.  Even in terms of coral, most places we dove on where you could see remnants of the once lively coral sadly were dead and gray.  There were some spots near our anchorage where there was some live fan coral, but for the most part, the water was murky and devoid of any fish.  It seems though that it is a little haven for hipsters, and I could see why this touristy strip of bars and restaurants paired with its pretty little beaches could inspire pale bearded college kids guarded with their straw fedoras and dressed like lumberjacks to visit here.   It seems most days here are spent drinking yourself stupid and just relaxing, which to Frank and I is not our idea of traveling.  Why bother when you can just do that at home?  But ultimately, we made the most of it and spent a majority of our time just laying around on the beaches, jumping off docks, going on car hikes, and simply enjoying my sister's company.  Since my sister and her fiancé had rented a Jeep Wrangler and an airBnB here, we took advantage of the landlubber luxuries and did our laundry at her place, took unlimited hot showers (I showered almost twice a day, everyday), as well as used her car to run errands such as propane refills and jerry canned-diesel runs. Thanks, Upbe…I miss you already :(  

Sugar mill ruins
A little car hiking….
My sister and her fiancé

PS-As if there weren't more reasons for us to dislike Vieques, just FYI, there is a lot of petty theft here in Vieques.  We had heard about this from other locals, but took it with a grain of salt until we had our dive gear stolen out of the back my sister's rental.  Yup, a couple hundred dollars worth of masks, fins, etc. They even took Frank's swim shorts, which is completely absurd.  So, if you do plan on visiting, just be sure to lock your dinghy and keep a good eye out for your stuff. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Being Aware of Wares, Where, Wear and Tear, and just how Little I Wear….

After spending only a week on the mainland, we skipped along the southern coast of Puerto Rico to Vieques to meet up with my sister and our good friends Sean and Shea.  This was the first time anyone has come visit us on this trip, and the first time we've had anyone else on the boat aside from Ashley.  There's nothing like having visitors come and live with you, and inviting them into your world,  that makes you realize just how different your world has become.  I guess it never dawned on me just how much things have changed, how I have changed, because every time I go home, I'm transported back into my old life, my old world, and quickly re-adapt  One of the biggest things that has changed, is that I've become more aware.  Sounds a little silly, but living this lifestyle, you have to be hyperaware of everything.   Something as simple as being aware of a hatch being open, or even something left on deck.  Being in the hands of nature, you start to see that there is a direct consequence for everything that you do… or don't do.  You leave a hatch open, chances are you ruin anything under that hatch when the daily tropical rainstorm comes along.  You leave something unstrapped on deck, odds are in favor of you losing it when the wind picks up, or when the waves build and rock your boat.  Having guests over makes you realize just how much you subconsciously do to avoid these little "inconveniences."  (Hmmmm….ironically as I'm writing this post, I'm hearing a pan-pan from the coast guard on the vHf of someone's 51' sailboat being thrashed on the rocks on western Culebra because his mooring ball drug while he was having lunch down below, shit…)  

Explaining to your guests things that need to be done and fearing that you are sounding a bit like a neurotic control freak when you're telling them how to properly flush your Lavac toilet, not to throw toilet paper in the bowl, not to leave things on countertops in case it gets rolley, to put everything away from deck before going to bed, and to shut off fans when you leave the room to save power.   Keeping things neat and orderly has become a priority for us as there has been more than a night or two where we have been nearly  thrown out of bed at 3am because of a sudden onset of a violent squall with stuff we left out, like dirty dishes, flying all over the boat.  Realizing that we are now so much more subconsciously hyperaware, that we wake up at any unusual sound or movement, and tripping over our guests sleeping soundly as we get up instinctually to check for the source of the mystery sound.  It's funny, we are so much more in touch with nature now that we are even able to gauge the windspeed just from the sound of our wind generator with incredible accuracy.   We have routines in which we get up every morning, shut off the anchor light, check  our power consumption, go up on deck, look around and see our surroundings to see if we dragged, check on the dinghy…so on. Being responsible for all these little things as well taking ownership of your actions and inactions deeply changes your perspective and relation on things.  You start think about things more thoroughly, not just in terms of your living space, but you start to apply that notion to other parts of your life as well.  In a way, you simply take more direct responsibility over your life.  That's not to say that this is necessarily a good thing as it can just as well turn you into a paranoid, anxiety ridden nutcase. I suppose, just like everything else in life, there needs to be a moderate balance of awareness, as well as care-freeness.  Speaking of care-freeness, having guests on board also made me realize just how often I am naked without even realizing it.  Oops, haha.  I suppose that's just another side effect of living on a boat

Aside from all that deep philosophical stuff, we had a great time with our friends and my sister.  Sean ended up staying for about 10 days, while Shea was only allowed a brief 4 day stay.  My sister was with us for close to 3 weeks.  In that time, we took Sean and my sister to Culebra as well as St Thomas, where Sean flew home from, and my sister stayed on an extra week, while we sailed back to Vieques to meet up with her boyfriend (now fiancé…he proposed on the trip :)  We took them on some dive adventures where they got to got see coral that they wouldn't have been to access without a dinghy.  We showed them what it was like to sail from island to island.  We did some spearfishing and found some conch.  It was awesome to see my sister  adapt to this life so quickly, and take to it.  She really loved the simplicity of our life as well as being surrounded by nature, and says that she already misses the boat.  I'm happy as that means that she will be wanting to join us again in the near future.  Yay!

Sailing to Vieques…
Shea and Sean
Sister sister...
Goofing off in St Thomas...
Island hopping
Diving under the pier in Vieques
My sister the mermaid
First pic of Frank and I both spearfishing
Sean spearfishing
Octopus Frank speared and I cooked…(first time ever
preparing octopus!)