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What You Want to Know but Are Afraid to Ask About the Virgin Islands

What You Want to Know but Are Afraid to Ask About the Virgin Islands

Virgin Island transplants get a lot of questions. Most are easily answered with, “The beach is that way,” or “You know, working hard, mom.”

Too much sunAnother type of question, that is not so simply answered, revolves around moving to the islands. If you already live here, these queries come from cyberspace like meteors. You’ve got mail *bing* from a high school friend that you haven’t heard from in decades, or a sibling, or a friend of a friend. They write, “Hey, I’m thinking of moving to St. John, can I stay with you for a couple of weeks?”

During my first few years here, I would answer with naive gusto, “Of course, join us in paradise!”

As the years wore on, however, I realized that this off-hand, one size fits all reply was actually causing harm. Friends and acquaintances would arrive ill-prepared for a large dose of the feast to famine economy of tourism.

Some friends thrived. I mean, seriously thrived. Once you figure it out, you can have it all – the palatial villa on the hill and the private yacht. But it takes hard work, grit, perseverance and especially, time. That is unless you arrive with a fortune, which doesn’t describe anyone I know.

There’s a saying, “If you want to be a millionaire in the Virgin Islands, then you better have two million in the bank when you get here.”

Before hanging up that new career that years at Yale earned you, realize that the following questions have been whispered to me again and again by desperate friends when the couch surfing has dried up.

The Questions You Are Afraid to Ask

Can you camp on the beach?

Yes, but it will cost you. If you want to camp for free, your site will be a guerrilla one. I’ve known people who have camped for months on a tucked away corner of a *secluded beach but please don’t try to poach a site in the National Park. The fines are steep and you will be caught.

* Really, you shouldn’t poach at all, but it’s true that some do camp for free, illegally.

Cinnamon Bay Campground
Cinnamon Bay Campground

Mainstream camping ranges from Glamping at an average rate of $200 a night at Concordia Eco-Resort on St. John, to $35 per night at the Reef to Ridge Organic Farm on St. Croix. Some other popular campgrounds on St. John are the Cinnamon Bay Campground, starting at $95 per night, and the newly open Hansen Bay.

Can you eat the “wild” chickens?

Yes, but you need to be absolutely certain that they are not owned by anyone, so ask around. Chickens are a pest in the VI. We don’t have a lot of rats, but we have mountains of chickens. Some restaurants, overwhelmed with birds jumping up on diner’s tables, will have round-ups. During round-up days, you can keep as many as you can bag, no charge, provided you butcher them yourself.

Tip: Instead of turning to the chickens, you may want to opt for a taco from High Tide on St. John ($4) or Taco Hell on St. Thomas ($2). A local street food, pate, meat or fish wrapped in flaky fried pastry, can be found almost anywhere for around $3.

This does NOT extend to the goats and sheep or any other farm animal. Don’t catch goats or sheep. They are owned! Livestock, for the most part, is free range. Very free range. They can wander at will through town or even into businesses on occasion. You shouldn’t even touch them. Once a lamb or kid has the scent of human on them, they have a chance of being abandoned by their mother.

It’s a sad mistake. Dozens of tourists pick up lambs and baby goats and bring them to the Animal Care Center assuming they have been abandoned by their mothers. This is not the case. Leave baby animals where you find them.

Fun Fact: Goats and sheep look the same in the islands, at least to tourists. Our sheep are short-haired. The way to tell the difference is the goat’s tail points up, and the sheep’s droops down.

Is it safe to hitchhike?

Virgin Island CarsHitchhiking is as safe as any other form of transportation in the Virgin Islands. It’s a part of the culture and a common way to get around. For visitors, it may even be safer than renting a car. Some tourist just can’t get used to driving on the Left.

The procedure is simple. Stand on the side of the road that is safest, i.e. the largest shoulder with a straight line of vision. This may not be the direction of the traffic so use common sense. Use your forefinger to point in the direction you are going. It helps to smile as cars pass.

If a pickup truck stops, you are often expected to ride in the back. It can be a beautiful open-air ride, but sometimes it’s terrifying, depending on the driver. Knock on the cab window when you want to get out.

Use your best instincts. Drinking and driving is not legal here, but it is a tolerated and common practice. If you suspect the driver is intoxicated or something feels off, refuse the ride.

Fun Fact: It’s common knowledge that the hitchhiker’s thumb should not be used in the VI because it’s a rude gesture equivalent to flipping the bird. This is not true. A thumbs-up means agreement here, just like anywhere else. We point to indicate direction since we can’t always stand where the traffic is flowing for safety reasons.

For more information on dollar buses and taxis, visit our Transportation Page.

Is pot legal?

After digging for nickels under the couch cushions for a few weeks, you might ask yourself, “Is pot legal?” The answer is NO. However, it was decriminalized in 2014. Penalties for possession of an ounce of cannabis or less were reduced from a year in jail and $5,000 fine to a civil offense punishable by a fine of $100-$200.

Alcohol, of course, is legal. Many “easy life” hopefuls do turn to the bottle for solace. After all, rum is much cheaper than orange juice and in the case of the cheapest rum, even less expensive than bottled water. This is not the recommended path if you’re shooting for the villa on the hill with the infinity pool, however.

Fun Fact: The Virgin Islands have no legitimate nude beaches. The closest sanctioned one is the Orient on St. Martin.

The Simple Life

I’ve done my time and had my indignities here. It takes a certain type of person to make it in the islands. The ones who do stay tend to be smart, resourceful and persistent. A dose of thinking outside of the box helps a lot.

If you can make it past the insecurities and hardships, paradise indeed awaits. You don’t need that villa that I keep mentioning. The simple life, the path I’ve chosen is at it’s best in the land of balmy breezes, once you figure it out. For me, it’s perfection. So give it a try, if you dare…and stay away from the rum 😉

Larry dies.

He arrives at the Pearly Gates where St. Peter greets him warmly.

St. Peter looks down at his book, shrugs his shoulders and looks Larry in the eye.

“Listen, Larry,” he says, “I could go either way on this one. It’s about 50/50. So, tell me, do you want to go to heaven or do you want to go to hell?”

Larry thinks about this and asks, “Can I see my options?”

“Sure,” says St. Peter.

In an instant, Larry is standing in a misty land. Harp music tinkles in the distance. A buffet stands before him covered in luscious fruits and vegetables and Larry feels peaceful and at ease.

In the next moment, Larry is in the middle of a luxury Las Vegas casino surrounded by beautiful women. Everyone is laughing, drinking and gambling. Larry feels full of desire and energy.

Finally, Larry stands back before St. Peter.

“Well, where do you want to go?” asks St. Peter.

“I’ve made my decision, I want to go to hell.”

“Very well.”

And with that, Larry is transported back to hell where he finds himself chained to an enormous, fiery furnace with a shovel in his hand. A pile of coal stretches up to the sky. It’s so tall, Larry can’t see the top. He is engulfed in searing, painful flames. When he starts to shovel, the fire abates.

Dismayed, Larry asks a passing demon, “Hey, what happened to the casino and the girls?”

“That’s easy,” says the demon, “The first time, you were a tourist. Now, you live here.”


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Catherine Turner
Catherine TurnerCatherine Turner is a freelance writer and editor formerly based in the Virgin Islands. Her contributions have appeared in many publications including the St. John Tradewinds, Caribbean Travel and Life, Onboard Online Magazine, and the Elephant Journal. In a former incarnation, Catherine was a nightclub owner and a resort showgirl. A lifetime ago, she spent a decade chained to a desk as a computer programmer/data analyst. Catherine recently completed her first novel Carnival Carib. See more of her work at catherineturner.media
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5 thoughts on “What You Want to Know but Are Afraid to Ask About the Virgin Islands

  1. Rena

    Great info. Amusing post. Looking forward to more from u. Thx

    2 years ago

  2. Catherine Turner

    Thanks! Plenty more where that came from 🙂

    2 years ago

  3. Lisa

    Great story…..got a good laugh and still smiling!

    2 years ago

  4. Harold O'Dell

    Great read. After several visits to st croix my wife has the illusion of the casino but I don’t have 2 million in the bank. Your information is reality. Probably will stay a tourist for a bit longer

    2 years ago

    1. Catherine Turner

      If you can make it here, New York’s a piece of cake! Kidding aside, I’ve never regretted my decision to move to the VI – wonderful people; tightknit, caring communities; and the beauty of where I live never fails to take my breath away. Well worth the little skids and bumps. If you make it to St. John, drop me a line 🙂

      2 years ago

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