St. Thomas USVI is best served with a Painkiller

Okay, I know what you are thinking after you read that headline… hmm, she must not have enjoyed it.  She must have needed a strong drink in order to endure.  No, no, no.  Not so.  St. Thomas is such a beautiful place, full of wonderfully friendly people, epic beaches and gorgeous views.  However, there is also a spot in town where you pour your own drinks.  Yes, you heard me right.  The bartender sets you up with the chaser and you pour as much local rum (Bones) as you want until your heart is content.  I chose to indulge in one of the local favorites– a painkiller.  I didn’t have any pain when I arrived in St. Thomas and darn sure didn’t have any when I left, but I was feeling irie.

During my visit to the island I window shopped at several of the hundreds of duty-free stores in town.  The only thing I purchased during the window shopping tour was some coconut water, a shot glass, and two small bottles of vodka.  While I did not journey over to the beach by the Marriott, I do know that if I decide to do so next time, it will only cost $7 to take the ferry over from town.

With respect to food, I dined at a great local restaurant (Glady’s Cafe) where the food is not only flavorful and the portions are awesome, but it is also at a good price point.  The local dish is Fungi, a combination of okra and corn meal (similar to Cou Cou from Barbados), and, although I love okra, I decided not to forgo the experience.  I also sampled their local fish dish which, once again, had so much flavor.  I will definitely return to Glady’s when I make a return visit next year.

Of course a visit to the caribbean is never complete without me visiting the beach.  What can I say?  I am a summer baby and we LOVE sun, sand, and water.  I chose to visit Emerald beach which is located within walking distance from the airport.  The water is one of the MOST amazing colors of blue that I’ve every seen (not exactly like Anguilla, but close).  Just spending time letting the sun bake my already gorgeous skin tone while listening to the roar of the waves.  What a perfect way to spend time on a beautiful island.

Things to note.  If you want to fly from Puerto Rico, it is only a 14 minute flight.  Barely enough time to strap into your seat and recline it.  Taxis are not really expensive on the island.  You can expect to pay roughly $6pp to get from the airport to town where all of the duty-free shops are located.  The shop owners in the duty-free shops always want to give you something free for stopping by (a bottle of water, a soda, a glass of rum or even a piece of jewelry).  It never hurts to look, but if you truly are not interested in visiting a particular shop, a simple “no thank you” will suffice.  No need to be nasty.  Also, shop owners are willing to negotiate.  If there is something that catches your eye, ask for a break in price.

Even though USVI is a US territory, it is definitely more caribbean in nature than US.  The friendliness and vibrancy of the environment sets it apart from any other state or territory.  Definitely one of my top five favorite islands at this point!

Bathing in Beautiful BVI

I recently had the privilege and honor to take a visit the beautiful caribbean destination of the British Virgin Islands.  The flight from Puerto Rico to Tortola is just under 30 minutes and during that short time, you can see some of the most magnificent views of the island and the ocean.  During my journey I had the opportunity to dine at a local restaurant for breakfast in Road Town.  This is one of the major areas of BVI frequented by the tourists and the area where ferries and water taxis are based.

After dining at the local establishment, I set out to find my obligatory shot glass and just take a look around the area.  I found a nice shop owner who gave a me a $2 discount on the shot glass and also gave me some good pointers for navigating the area.  After chatting with the local for a minute, I made my way over to the ferry terminal where I booked a roundtrip ticket to the island of Virgin Gorda, home to the world famous Bathes.  What an experience!

The total travel time to Virgin Gorda takes approximately 40 minutes by ferry and is a pretty smooth ride.  Once you dock, there are taxis waiting to take you to the park housing The Bathes.  The entrance fee for visitors is only $3 and, after paying the entrance fee, you take a 10 minute walk to what can only be described as the most breathtaking views known to man.  The first area is typically the spot where most people set up camp and hunker down, but if you actually venture into the Caves and take another 5 or 10 minute walk, there is a more secluded beach area which is where I headed.

Having trekked through shallow water in the Caves, climbed a few ladders and used a rope to traverse some rather large rocks, I arrived at the spot that would be my little slice of heaven for a few hours.  There were only three other people on the beach at the time I arrived which made it the perfect spot to relax away from all of the tourists.  I enjoyed bathing in the sun and enjoying my life.  Every 45 minutes or so I would take a dip in the ocean and let the salt water just roll off my body before returning to my spot on the beach to soak up the sun again.

I spent only 4 hours at The Bathes before returning back to the dock in order to catch the 3:30p.m. ferry back to Road Town.  The ferry boarded around 3:15p.m. and left promptly at 3:30p.m.  Having spent a few hours lazing in the sun, I was quick to fall asleep on the ferry as the waves just sang me the sweetest lullaby.  Again, the ride only took 40 minutes and I made it back just in time to find a local cab to return back to Tortola.  I would definitely return again to BVI just to relax at The Bathes again.

A few tips for first time visitors.  The one-way tax rate from the airport to Road Town is $28.  Quite steep.  However, the local tax rate is only $5.  Of course the representative at the tour desk will not volunteer that information.  If you decide to visit The Bathes, you actually do not have to go to Road Town to catch the ferry, there is actually a service at the airport that will transfer you to a nearby dock and transport you to The Bathes from that location.  I am not sure how long the ride takes from that location or the cost of the trip, but it is another option, especially if you are trying to stretch dollars.

My card won’t work

So yes, this just happened.  I am on holiday in a very nice, WARM destination in the caribbean with a friend who lives off plastic attached to a bank account.  Well, my friend also happens to live abroad and banks with a french lending institution.  Armed with 300 euros and plastic with a first visit to a US territory, off he goes to do some shopping.  Day 1 all is well because he had a little US cash and had intentions to get to an ATM to retrieve funds later.  Dinner did not cost a lot and it was our only expense for the evening.

Day 2 and we are off to another US territory, so the euros traveled with us.  Well, only one shop accepted the euros.  Everyone else gave the huh, what face.  After having lunch at a local establishment, we hit the beach for a couple of hours, had some food on the road and proceeded to airport to return to destination 1.

Day 3 he is left to fend for himself as I am off to another destination.  Well, this is the day he decides to go to the bank to exchange the euro for US dollars and get some money from his bank card.  Needless to say, that didn’t go well.  Why?  He has never exchanged currency before so his final net was about $40 short of the expected amount returned because of bank and exchange fees (even though the euro is higher).  Additionally, his card would not work when he tried using his p.i.n.  Hmmmm…

Day 4. Armed with only about $200 USD, we set out for the downtown area and to the local mall so he can do some shopping visiting his sister for two weeks and then returning home.  Well, the bus experience is okay because that is only .75 cents.  Lunch was fine because it was only $26 for both of us (and it was delicious by the way).  Then we find a motor bike store which he was desperately seeking to buy bike parts since they were cheaper than back home.  He finds quite a few parts and arranges to have the others shipped to him.  We proceed to checkout, insert the card into the reader and…. yes, you guessed it… it doesn’t work.  The card is tried three times with no success.  So, I pay for the items so we can leave and try to find some way to contact his bank.  The bank, by this time (3p.m.) is of course closed.  The following day is a bank holiday and, well, needless to say, his next stay is a little more expensive to shop than US.

The moral of this story can be taken from the Girl Scout motto: Be prepared.  Seriously, it is great to be able to whip out a card, swipe and go, but you always plan for eventualities.  Especially when you are dealing with a foreign banking system.  This was a sad lesson, an embarrassing lesson and perhaps a painful one, but hopefully he has learned a valuable lesson and will plan accordingly next time.