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...|