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.

Special Visitors

Well gang, we’re back in business. All it took was for the laptop to spend a week with the techies and a new keyboard. Hurray!

Nathan has said, one of the best things about living on the island is having the opportunity to share it with others. Well, it’s been a few weeks since our friends from Washington, Randy and Janneen, came to visit. We had a great time. I’ll share a few of the highlights from the visit.

One of the first things we did was take the ferry over to St John. St John is one of the three US Virgin Islands with 60% of it’s area designated as national park.

Loading onto the ferry is a kick, nothing like the WA state ferry system. The ferries are open and hold about 2 dozen cars, depending on the trucks that may also be boarding. You have to back onto the ferry into a spot. To avoid distractions, my passengers waited on land as I backed the car on the ferry.

Ferry to St John

Ferry to St John

loading on ferry

Even in the rain, when everyone else left the observation deck, the nor-westerners hung on, enjoying a libation from the special V.I. menu.

San Juan and ff 026

St John Ferry Menu

St John Ferry Menu

Once there, we enjoyed the gorgeous Cinnamon Bay Beach, snorkeling, a little shopping in Cruz Bay and dinner at the Beach Bar,

K & D above Trunk Bay

as well as watching the activities on the beach…

Water activities

Beach activities

Not having had enough sun, sand and sea, we set off the next day for Secret Harbor. There we again snorkeled, swam, and Janneen learned to paddle-board. As usual, we hauled our chairs, water toys,and snacks. Another beautiful day in paradise.

Getting onto the board

Getting onto the board

Onto her knees

Onto her knees

And finally, success…what perseverance!!

UP!!

UP!!

Paddling around the boats.

Paddling around the boats.

Reward!

Late lunch at the grill.

Late lunch at the grill.

The next day we were off to San Juan Puerto Rico. It’s a 15 minute flight. We took Jet Blue, which I highly recommend. Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since 1898. Christopher Columbus’ arrival in 1493 brought the Spanish influence to the island and this is still evident today. Spanish and English are both official languages. However, all road signs and other signs/information are in Spanish. Spanish is spoken fluently wherever you go. English is also spoken. We spent our time in Old San Juan, visiting the historic sites, museums, coffee shops and restaurants.

There are two large forts/fortresses/castles in old-town. The fortresses were originally built around the city, San Cristobal Castle on one end and San Felipe El Morro Castle on the point entering the harbor. This is a good website if you’d like more information, http://www.nps.gov/features/saju/001/virtual/. You can click on a picture to  enlarge the image and see them as a slideshow.

We really enjoyed Old San Juan and could have spent longer. There are many, many sculptures throughout old San Juan as well as murals painted on buildings. People were wonderful, food was great. On Sunday night there were two bands playing at either end of the park. The salsa dancers were mostly 70 yrs and older (my guess).  On our return we learned farmacias in Puerto Rico operate as in Mexico, anyone can go in and buy “drugs”. We had rain, yet, it didn’t dampen our fun. While we were away from St Thomas, it rained hard the entire time. Nathan’s cisterns were filled to the brim, as well as the pool almost to the top.

After Old San Juan we were ready for more beach time. A day at Magen’s Bay Beach.

Beautiful Magen's Bay Beach

Beautiful Magen’s Bay Beach

San Juan and ff 150And the visit wouldn’t have been complete without a day trip to the British Virgin Islands. We went to Spanishtown to clear customs (it is the British V.I.) and buy me sunglasses (really, I left mine behind!). Then on to The Baths on Virgin Gorda, snorkeling in some of the most amazing coral reefs, Cooper Island for a wonderful lunch and ending the day at the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost VanDyke, BVI. Again, click on the first picture to see a larger image or view as a slide show

It’s always hard to say “Good-Bye” especially to such Special Visitors. Maybe this has piqued your interest in visiting the Caribbean. See you soon.

Good Bye Special Visitors

Good Bye Special Visitors

Night Sounds

Coming to a new area always brings new experiences. Night time in St Thomas is no exception.

Imagine night has fallen after a full day playing in the sun and water or working around the yard, cutting back jungle, washing windows, or working out.

Your body is ready to rest. As you fall into bed you feel the cool breeze off the ocean, the support of the mattress, the release. Ahhhhh.

You settle in.

Your body is feeling heavy, letting go.

Your breathing slows.

Then it starts.

At first it sounds like birds singing early on a spring morning amplified by 10.

yellow belly bird

Yet, you know birds don’t sing at night. The sound is right outside your window.

It’s the call of tree frogs, lizards, geckos, chameleons, iguanas, crickets, bats and more. The jungle comes alive at night.

geck on stepHard to believe thesiguana at beache little guys can make so much noise!

green iguana close

Follow this link and you’ll hear tree frog sounds and get an idea of what we’re experiencing; http://www.hear.org/AlienSpeciesInHawaii/species/frogs/coqui_at_lava_tree_20001003_long.mpg.

The sounds are intensified after a rain. It seems to rain a little most every night.

In the early, early morning, as the night slowly turns to day the jungle sounds begin to subside. Should you awaken, you notice the absence of the night sounds and know you have a couple more hours until full daylight.

You fall back into the blissfully deep early morning sleep.

Shortly thereafter, the feral rooster begins to announce the start of a new day.

Welcoming the day

Welcoming the day

The beauty is, it doesn’t take long to become accustomed to the songs of the night and sleep again comes quickly and deeply.

In fact, there are nights after dinner where we sit on the deck in the dark just to listen to the songs of the jungle as we watch the moon and clouds.

moon and clouds 4

The Boat

Doug had always dreamed of having a boat in retirement. It fit his goal of living in Mexico and fishing whenever he wanted. It’s a good dream.

In spite of the fact that Doug has always said boats are a bottomless pit, this is still his dream. Those who’ve owned/own a boat know about the expense and time involved. We had a ski boat back in the Blackfoot, Idaho days. We had lots of fun with that boat. And maintenance and time.

Dream Boat 2

Dream Boat

Nathan has a 17 foot fishing boat with a 60 hp Johnson. He and Doug were looking forward to doing some fishing. First there were a couple boat related things to take care of.

So, Nate took a couple days off work to spend with us and get the boat squared away so we could do some fishing. It’s a long, long weekend considering Columbus Day on Monday. The goal was to get the boat in the water for some fishing over the weekend.

Nate's boat

Nate’s boat

The past few days have been spent preparing the boat to launch.

Buying the parts and building a bimini top to protect from the sun.

Charging the batteries.

Connecting the new radio.

Making sure fishing gear is ready and in order.

Things are looking good. Sticking with the plan to take the boat for a ride Sunday AM. Pick up the batteries charging at AutoZone at 8 AM and we’re good to go.

Saturday the weather is a bit sketchy. Cloudy and windy and even some rain. Hopefully it’ll be okay tomorrow for a little boat ride.

thunder clouds 001

Sunday comes. Weather still sketchy, water looks a bit rough, more wave action than we’ve had to date. Yet, weather changes quickly in the VI.

Re-load the boat. Safety equipment. Anchor. Ladder. Fishing gear. Cooler. Gas Tanks. Check, check, check. Hook up the newly charged batteries. Check.

Run a motor check. Nice. Sounds good.

Switch off the engine.

Re-start.

Nothing.

The wind is still blowing strong. It’s looking pretty bleak out over the water, blue-grey, hazy, even some rain.

Now what’s with the motor?? Mechanical? Electrical?

Ahhh, the joys of boat ownership. Let’s watch the Seahawks and eat wings.

loading up the game

Boat ownership, what a dream! Must be worth it.

The weather wasn’t cooperating to take the boat out anyway.

Calling in reinforcement!ReinforcementsThere will be another day…

Nate's boat

Nate’s boat

Ramblings of an Old Man

Anyone who knows us realizes that “Kris & Doug’s Retirement Adventures” has been the sole effort of only one of us to date.  I have been a bit reticent to participate.  Heck, I can always shoot you an e-mail or give you a call and actually talk to you!!  Truth be told it has always been a difficult task for me to put thoughts to paper and while I always feel better after having done so, I will avoid it at all costs, kind of like working out.

Doug on deck

So, a few thoughts;

In an attempt to overstate the obvious, the tropics are hot and humid.  The weather has taken a subtle shift to the cooler side of things since our arrival in St. T three weeks ago, but it is still very possible to just stand in place and sweat like a teenager before their first prom date.

This place is a contradiction in many ways.  You go from the stunning beaches with their turquoise blue waters that are everywhere to the inner island which gives you the sense of being in an industrial area in decline, like South Seattle.  There are poor neighborhoods everywhere, the roads are narrow with no shoulders and full of man eating pot holes.

Island time is pervasive here.  I am sure some of you understand the concept, but for the uninitiated, things aren’t as regimented as they are in the states.  Waiting becomes an art form here.  Island time applies to most everything here with the exception of driving.  Put a local in a car and they become a NASCAR driver 3 days late to their own funeral.  I don’t get it, the island is only 15 miles wide, the roads are steep (we’re talking mountain goat terrain) and full of curves and yet most of the drivers seem to have a death wish.

st thomas 002

This place is a jungle!!  Vegetation encroaches everywhere.  It is full of wildlife, mostly birds, tree frogs and lizards ( including pick-up sized Iguanas).  One of the more challenging things I have had to adapt to is after enjoying the beauty of the daily sunsets, the jungle symphony starts.  The lizards and frogs become very vocal at night.  Some of you who know me have accused me of exaggerating from time to time, something I just don’t understand, but it is difficult to describe just how loud the night time is.  I have actually resorted to using ear plugs at night.  Something I have never done before.

This place is an island and it is easy to see how “rock fever” could settle in after awhile.  There are only so many places you can go, supplies are limited and expensive and if you want to have something shipped, forget it.  The time and cost are both something you can’t afford.

Enough of me for now.  I’ll try and weigh in from time to time but I am still transitioning to my retirement and that requires the majority of my focus for now.  Speaking of which, I need to pack a cooler and head to the beach.

Kris' iPhone pix 087

Night Hunt

We had the welcome opportunity to go with Nate on a night dive for lobster. Night diving for lobster means snorkeling, yes, free diving, holding your breath as you dive into twelve foot plus deep water, then using your little flashlight to hunt around under the ledges of coral and rocks. And, when you spy one of the spiny buggers deciding if you have enough room and time and air in your lungs to reach into the dark mini-cave before the critter escapes.

The night was dark with a sliver of a moon. The surf was calm with the waves slowly and methodically reaching for our toes as we sat waiting in the dark on the beach. It’s true; Nate and his buddy went without us. We enjoyed God’s light show while sipping our “painkillers” as the hunters were at work in the deep. Occasionally we would see the flash of a small light about a quarter of a mile off the beach toward the end of the reef. After about two hours the light slowly began approaching the beach. We heard their voices before we could see them approaching in the dark of the night.

Success! They had bagged 10 lobsters, 1 spiny and 9 slipper lobster. It’ll be a good dinner tomorrow.

lobsters 10-8

Maybe, maybe, maybe if I practice diving deep in the daylight I’ll go out on the next night dive. Do I have the courage??

mom n lobsters

St Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Kris' iPhone pix 011

St Thomas is a mountainous island. The roads are two narrow lanes that wind around the hillsides. There are many blind corners. One routinely hears the mantra, ‘shoulder to the shoulder’ or ‘elbow in the brush’ or ‘stay left and you’ll always be right’ as they drive on the left. It takes a bit to get used to and can be a bit freaky, especially for the front seat passenger.

Kris' iPhone pix 019

Our ‘home’ in St Thomas (thanks youngest son) is on a hillside with incredible views of the sea and surrounding islands. The decks surround the house and the living room is flanked with sliding glass doors. So the view is with you everywhere. In the early morning as you sit drinking tea in the living room the breezes bring in the scents from the frangipani (plumeria) at the edge of the pool on the lower deck.

100_2585

It gets dark early. Dinner is always on the deck with lights. Lovely.

Kris' iPhone pix 030