The Virgin Islands
Liz Drayton & Family
"All I want for spring vacation is a tan," the poem read. I looked up at my 14-year-old daughter, Maggie, who was floating dreamily on a raft across the crystal blue waters of our villa's backyard swimming pool built into the cliffs. "That's it?" I said. "That's as far as you've gotten on your assignment?" "I'm still thinking, Mom," Maggie replied and drifted across the pool again. I was about to drift off myself when a huge splash interrupted our dreamy state.
"Tsunami!" shouted my 9-year-old son, Henry, leaping into the pool and creating the perfect wave to drench his lounging sister. The unprovoked assault started a splashing war, which I could see was not going to go well for me, and I retreated to the relative safety of the villa.
Three days earlier, as our plane approached the U.S. Virgin Islands, Maggie, Henry and I spotted what looked like a tiny emerald shining in the vast aquamarine sea below us. We set down on St. Thomas, let the warm balmy air embrace us, grabbed our bags and met up with Sheila who escorted us to our rented jeep. It was great to be back in St. Thomas after 14 long years and I was amazed at how familiar the streets seemed as we downshifted into first gear to the crest of Skyline Drive. As we descended down the back side of the mountain the glint of the pure aqua blue waters of Magen's Bay glistened through the enormous leaves of the under brush. The kids gasped as we headed down the narrow road with no side rails to save us from (what they were sure was going to be) our impending death. I let loose with an inspired pirate's laugh as we rounded to bend to the perpendicular drive of our friends Billy and Frannie Newbold's house in Peterborg. I just love driving in the islands! Adrenalin can be intoxicating. We were met at the door by Billy and Fran's canine welcoming committee, and Fran promptly escorted us right back into their jeep to head out for an afternoon cruise on their boat. I couldn't have been more delighted. There is no better way to enjoy the true splendor of the islands than from water. We headed from the Yacht Club on the southeast coast out to the sweet little island of Little St. James where we dropped anchor for a late afternoon cocktail and some curried shrimp. The Newbold girls, Emily and Sophie joined Maggie and Henry on the transom to delight us all with a jubilant series of flips and twists into the sparkling afternoon waters. I took in the view of the lush hillsides plunging down into crystal coves and let myself be swept away by the simple pleasure of watching the frigate birds soar high overhead in the pink twilight.
Pineapples and Pirates
The next day Maggie, Henry and I set out to explore St. Thomas. We criss-crossed the interior to get the lay of the land, frequently darting off the main roads and bumping along narrow, rocky paths to find what lay beyond. The best part about being on an island is that you always end up at the water's edge, and we found ourselves at cove after marina after beach. Each bend we rounded seemed to reveal its own surprise - a tiny fruit stand with piled high with pineapples and limes; a Rasta man with his beehive of dreadlocks tucked under a tri-colored knit cap; a black and white goat seeking shade beneath a palm tree. As we explored the neighborhoods along the north coast and central interior, it seemed to me that little had changed since my last visit to the island 14 years earlier. Although St. Thomas is known for its duty free shopping and the remarkable beauty of it's renowned Magen's Bay, outside of the bustle of Charlotte Amalie, Red Hook and its other little town, we discovered numerous pockets of undeveloped land and glorious open green hillsides and cliffs cascading down to the fringe of white waves breaking on the shoreline.
The view of Magen's Bay from Drake's Seat nestled into a verdant clearing halfway up the mountain is one you can't help but return to time and again. According to legend, British privateer Sir Francis Drake watched ships passing through what is now known as Drake's Passage from this spectacular lookout. St. Thomas' history is stockpiled with stories of pirates and buccaneers and Maggie and Henry collected these coins of history like participants in an enchanting scavenger hunt. At Drake's Seat, our new friend Aluba, with his pet goat Snowball, regaled us with his stories of St.Thomas' history. The kids climbed the big old Flamboyant Tree, well rooted in the rock, to get an even better view of the majestic scene far below with Jost Van Dyke in the distance followed by the chain of Virgin Islands fading into the horizon. For our remaining days we would always stop to say hi to Aluba and Snowball whenever we saw them walking along the road, and we'd wonder where they were headed.