Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tall Tales from My Honeymoon

My wife gasped when I told her I was going to do a blog about our honeymoon. She hasn’t been too crazy about some of my tell-all blogs in the first place so it was hardly surprising that she really wasn’t enamored with the idea of our three weeks in paradise, the islands of course, being revealed to the world. 

Folks seldom talk in detail about their honeymoon. They usually play it safe and share where they traveled to and what tourist sites they visited. They seldom talk about what they did when they were there. Of course, nowadays so many young people have already hooked up or are living together that the honeymoon has pretty much lost its mysterious allure that it once had for virginal couples.

Our honeymoon covered three Caribbean Islands; St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. Johns. I like to reminisce that we migrated from a fancy resort to a nice hotel to a tent in just three short weeks. But a lot more ground was covered than just the miles traveled and the islands hopped.

The Virgin Islands are the western island group of the Leeward Islands, which are the northern part of the Lesser Antilles, and form the border between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The U.S. Virgin Islands is one of the five inhabited insular areas of the United States, along with American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico.

I don’t think we knew that much about the islands at the time. We just wanted someplace we hadn’t been to before, someplace on the ocean and someplace warm.

Each of the islands was unique and different, just like our experiences there.

St. Croix is the largest of the islands in the territory. It measures twenty-eight miles long by seven mile wide at its widest point. St. Croix was once an agricultural powerhouse in the Caribbean but ten years before we arrived the island began a rapid change over to a variety of new industries. Tourism was one of the new directions the island was heading in when we arrived. There weren’t a lot of resorts or fancy hotels on the island but we managed to bag one of few on the island.

The resort was big and ostentatious and expensive but we were young and dumb and didn’t know any better. The island could have been a mecca for shopping but that didn’t interest either one of us. So we spent our time counting starfish on the beach, hiking the challenging hills surrounding downtown and pretending to be somebody in our fancy resort restaurant overlooking the bay each evening. I even inquired into a seaplane ride between the islands but it was too expensive. Rumor had it that the husband of movie star, Maureen O’Hara owned the flying boat company.

After a week of residing in luxury, we flew to the next island and a step down in our accommodations. It was a nice hotel on St. Thomas. It was by the beach but it didn’t have an expensive restaurant or our own stretch of private beach.

St. Thomas has a land mass of 31 square miles and is the territorial capitol of the Virgin Islands at the town of Charlotte Amalie.  Almost half the population of the Virgin Islands lives on St. Thomas. Population meant people so we chose to spend as much time on the beach as we could away from the crowds.

We snorkeled for the first time in our lives and stopped counting rainbow fish after the first dozen or so. We tested tough skin by walking over rock and coral – very carefully and lived most of the day either on or under the water.

We hooked up with another couple and rented a VW for an afternoon spin around part of the island. I did most of the driving since he couldn’t handle a stick too well or adjust to driving on the left side of the road. Driving on the left when the steering column was on the left side just like back in the states drove me crazy. Adding to the challenge was navigating the cows and chickens and occasional animal wranglers we encountered along twisting and turning back dirt roads.

There was supposed to be a nudist’s beach nearby but that idea was quickly squashed. There were many coral outcroppings that provided interesting but potentially dangerous outings in our canvas shoes. But what I remember most about that island were the beaches and Sharon’s total emersion in, over and under the waves. We spent most evenings exploring the downtown and the restaurants there. It was a step down from the resort but still provided a pleasant diversion from the real world. Our next step took us even further from the real world.

Located just four nautical miles from St. Thomas, St. Johns Island is actually part of the U.S. national park system. It was first established as the Virgin Island National Park from the Rockefeller trust in 1956. Almost sixty percent of the island is protected as a national park. It’s rough and primitive and the few people who live on the island like it that way. The only way to get to the island is by ferry.

For some brilliant reason we decided it would be fun, fun being a relative term, to camp out for a week on St. Johns Island. And much like the couple in the book ‘Castaway’ we were left on our own for that week. The ferry dropped us off at the park and wouldn’t return for seven days. We were left to our own survival skills which were sorely lacking on both our parts.

Not only did tent-living remove any traces of privacy in our newly established lives, it also diminished any chances of intimacy for that week. My wife HATES bugs and they lived right alongside us in and out of that tent.

My biggest mistake was to bring along several cases of pop instead of water. By day three, I realized my mistake but with the exception of some water for cooking, I was left with coke and little else to quench my thirst.

We survived our week in the tent with only minor bug bites, a much deeper appreciation for real sleeping accommodations and no desire to return to tent-living ever again. And we haven’t.

Back from the honeymoon, our new home was the top half of a duplex. Our landlady was some crazy lady who used to hit her ceiling with a broom if she thought we were making too much noise. I could add a line about thin walls here but I won’t.

Our honeymoon brought us closer together and whetted both our appetites for more travel. Together we managed to build a life and a family and piled up a lifetime of memories. It’s been one heck of a trip for two kids from modest means and less than pedigree backgrounds.

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