Food in the Virgin Islands

The holiday season is upon us. Many of you are deeply involved in preparations, as are we, such as making the traditional Christmas cookies.

First Christmas cookies with Anya

First Christmas cookies with Anya

As we enjoy the bounty of foods in the Northwest, my thoughts again turn to St Thomas and our food experience there. We imagined we’d be eating wonderful, fresh foods from the islands; fruits, veggies and fresh caught fish. So, we were a bit surprised to learn the islands don’t really produce much of the food eaten there. Oh, there are the few small farms and items you can find at the twice monthly Farmers Market and roadside stands. The roadside stands mostly have fruits naturally available on the island, for example mango, papaya, avocado, and genips (Nate refers to these as Natures Sweet Tarts). You can also find fresh fish being sold in roadside stands. However, we were warned not to buy fish from a vendor we didn’t know personally.

Reef fish in the Caribbean may be contaminated with a toxin called Ciguatera. Therefore, it’s recommended you not buy fish at roadside stands. There is no way to tell if a fish is contaminated and eating contaminated fish could have extremely devastating results. There is no anti-toxin. If you’re interested in reading a bit more about Ciguatera Toxin, here is a link, http://www.emedicinehealth.com/wilderness_ciguatera_toxin/article_em.htm#ciguatera_fish_poisoning_toxin_definition. Fresh fish is available, it’s simply not recommended you buy large reef fish such as grouper, red snapper, seabass, amberjack, barracuda and Spanish mackerel among others.

In addition to not having much locally raised food. The US Virgin Islands have no chain grocery stores. There are 2 Pueblo stores that are part of a chain from Puerto Rico. The other stores are local. All food, and other items, must be shipped in. So, when you think of how long foods may have been in transit getting to the islands, you begin to realize the foods you believe are “fresh” are probably not all that fresh. In other words, if you buy a box of mixed greens, plan to eat it within a couple of days. Literally! Since everything is shipped in, the prices reflect this also.

There were three main stores where we shopped while in St T. I’ve mentioned Pueblo. Inside it was most like the grocerystores we’re accustomed to frequenting. Nicely arranged produce, freezer sections, and the usual other items. There were also familiar brands such as Western Family, S&W, Bush’s, Barilla, etc. The parking lot was a mess, no lines marking spaces, small, very lumpy blacktop. It was a challenge to maneuver!

Pueblo Supermarket

Pueblo Supermarket

I had to take the picture of the Pueblo in Frenchtown which we only went to once. The Pueblo we went to had such a mess of a parking lot I couldn’t get a good shot of the store for fear of being hit by a car.

Plaza Extra was a grocery we went to fairly regularly especially if there was something special  we were after. It’s a bit of a mix between a regular grocery and a box store, meaning you can buy items in large quantities. One of the major brands at Plaza Extra was Goya. This store had tons of different spices and items I was unfamiliar with. They also had a section with Indian foods. I could get frozen shelled edamame here as well as some Washington wines. It is a very old and not well-kept market. The aisles are narrow and the check-out belts don’t move. The check-out stations are so small you load your groceries onto the belt but your cart can’t fit through. Then, since the belts don’t move, you slide your items down toward the checker as you move closer. Just another little adventure!

Plaza Extra

It doesn’t show in the picture, but again the parking lot was a bit of a mess. You can see the cars aren’t parked in the usual straight rows.

The store where we shopped the most was CostULess. This was a Costco knock-off, really! They carry Kirkland brands and it’s a big box store where most things are sold in large quantities. Like Costco, they have a little bit of a lot of things, some clothing, shoes, linens, etc. They also have rotisserie chickens (little ones though) and a small bakery. Membership is not required, however if you’re a member, they mail out rebates every so often based on how much money you spend. There’s no cost for membership.

CostULess

CostULess

The parking lot at CostULess was more organized and in much better condition than the other stores. If you go to the store at the wrong time, you may be quite disappointed. This is what Alisa found one day she went to CostULess.

Bad day at CostULess

Bad day at CostULess

It’s interesting, most every store, not just grocery, has the Costco policy of checking your receipt as you exit. This goes for K-Mart, Walgreens, etc. Every store takes a debit card for credit only which means you’re signing your receipt when you pay. All the stores were very well stocked for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving seemed to be a very big day in the US Virgin Islands as it is in the upper 48.

Although getting good, fresh food wasn’t what we expected, we didn’t go hungry. Restaurants do a fair job, not great, but good. We went to a couple well respected restaurants and paid handsomely for it. The food was good, the ambience great and price high even compared to Seattle. So, until we didn’t have a useable kitchen, we preferred staying home. Nate grills a great mahi mahi (frozen) among other things.

The food situation was a surprise at first but one that is easily overcome. Overall, don’t plan on getting great food in the Virgin Islands. It’s not the food that most people are coming for but the weather and the water and that can’t be beat. Everything else is icing on the cake.

Enjoy your Christmas goodies.

St Thomas Beaches

We’ve been back in the cold Northwest for two weeks now. When we arrived it was unseasonably cold, in the twenties, clear blue skies, crisp, dry air. It’s been quite a shift from the warm, 80 degree temperatures of St Thomas. The weather has shifted to the typical Northwest December, rainy, grey with increasingly shorter days. It’s been great seeing family and friends but we are missing St T.

In the cold grey of the Northwest it’s hard to imagine that there are people in St Thomas going to the beach, sitting under the blue skies, soaking up the sun and enjoying the warmth of the crystal turquoise water. I think of the beaches every day and it occurs to me I haven’t written a blog post about the beaches.

Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert on the beaches of  St Thomas, however, we did visit a few. Beaches, like cities, have their own unique personalities. I’ll share a bit of what we learned from our adventures.

Magen’s Bay Beach is about 5 minutes from Nate’s house. It is the most well-known beach on St Thomas and is often listed as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The beach is a mile long and the park includes 15 acres of mangroves and wetlands, 5 acres of coconut groves, a 2 acre campground and trails. Many of the “cruisers” (people off the cruise ships) catch a safari cab and spend the day at Magen’s when in port. It’s the first beach we visited and the one we went to most often. It is one of only two beaches that charge entrance fees. The fees help to keep the beaches clean, pay for the facilities (lifeguards, gear rentals, bathhouses, group shelters, chairs, paddleboards, kayaks, paddleboats, and gift shop). The facilities are nice and well kept. There’s a restaurant-bar with one or two waitresses that work the beach.

Magen’s beach is a great place to walk since it’s long and flat, and since it’s close to the house we found ourselves going there fairly regularly. We witnessed (not officially) many beach weddings from the simple to the more involved with lots of people and lasting most of the day.

Magen's from the view point

There are nice Sea Grape Trees around picnic tables at the edge of the beach which are great for making your day-camp in the shade.

You drive past the St Thomas Dairy on the way to Magen’s and must, of course, stop for some ice cream after a long, hot day in the sun. Take a look at the most inviting menu. Yes, there is alcohol in those shakes.

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Hull Bay

Hull Bay is a “surfer’s beach”. There is a restaurant-bar with decent food and live music at least once a week. Doug and I went to yoga Monday and Wednesday mornings at Hull Bay. We also spent a few days hanging out. There are trees and old, broken picnic tables at the edge of the beach so it’s easy to find shade. Small, private fishing boats are moored at Hull Bay. People bring their dogs to this beach. The beach has a bigger drop off which means it’s good for swimming without having to go a long way out. There are big boulders and coral reefs close in which also makes it good for snorkeling without having to swim a long way. This is where Nate dove for the lobsters. Not a ton of people come here so that’s nice. It was the perfect place for me to learn to use the Stand Up Paddleboard. No lifeguards or beach waiters at Hull Bay.

Koki Beach

Koki Beach is an interesting and colorful beach as well as a great place to go snorkeling. There’s a marine center, Coral World, at one end of the beach and the fish are accustomed to being fed. In fact, whether you snorkel or stand in the water, you will see fish up close. Dog biscuits are the preferred fish food.

Parking is next to a cemetery which was sort of weird. The walk to the beach is a bit of a haul so if you have lots of stuff, chairs, cooler, water toys, etc, it can be a challenge. There are wait staff that cover the beach and offer more than alcoholic drinks to get your buzz on. The beach has a gentle sloping, sandy bottom with snorkeling mostly on the far ends. So sorry I don’t have a picture of the beach to share, however, this link, https://www.google.com/search?q=koki+beach+st+thomas&rls=com,  will give you a good taste of Koki Beach. Just hit your back arrow button to return to the blog. I’d planned on returning… Here’s a shot you won’t see on the link.

Parking by the cemetery at Koki Beach.

Parking by the cemetery at Koki Beach.

Mandahl Bay

Mandahl Bay is just below Nate’s house, however, not visible. We only made it to Mandahl once since it’s a beach requires a truck to get to. It’s a good place to fish and watch for sea life. Nate and Alisa report seeing quite a bit of sea life when at this beach. It’s rocky and you’ll see lots of coral and some shells.

Coral on beach at Mandahl

Coral on beach at Mandahl

Mangroves at Mandahl

Mangroves at Mandahl

Mangroves at Mandahl

Mangroves at Mandahl

Old boats on beach at Mandahl

Old boats on beach at Mandahl

Frenchie Camp at Mandahl

Frenchie Camp at Mandahl

Frenchie’s are folks of French heritage on the island who pretty much stick to themselves. Mandahl is a place where they’ve set up a fishing/party camp. It’s all public.

Carat Bay Beach

Nate drove us to Carat Bay Beach one day in his truck. This is on the northwest end of the island, the farthest beach for us and a bit of a drive. We went about a mile down a steep, dirt road with lots of switch backs. The view was amazing. The road ended in the jungle where there were ruins of a large home or sugar plantation with graves just before you leave the jungle walking out onto the beach. This was another incredible experience.

The beach was deserted when we arrived. By the time we left there were three other small groups/couples on the beach. Still, it was as if we were alone. It felt like we were on Survivor. Nate managed to wrangle down some coconuts for us. Click on the small pictures to enlarge them.

We visited other beaches that I don’t have pictures of. Another of our favorites was Secret Harbor. However, the post with our special visitors has pictures from there. You get the idea, St Thomas has many, many gorgeous beaches, take your pick, follow your fancy, your needs, personality or how you feel on a given day. There’s a place for you in the sun, just waiting…