Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Love Boat, Day 4

Day Four of our continuing journeys to explore strange new shopping haunts... to BOLDLY GO... where plenty of shoppers have gone before...

The cruise ship was pulling into the port of St. Thomas (US- Virgin Islands) when we awoke so we scrambled to get pictures of the island. I'm sure our neighbors were grateful for the protective barrier between balconies so all they could see was the camera flashing them instead of me. Today was going to be different than Day 3 because this was the first time we had full on planned excursions set. We readied ourselves, slammed on our hiking boots, and raced upstairs to the cafe for a quick breakfast.

By "quick breakfast" I mean "load up with as much food as possible because who knows when we'll next eat." One thing I'll give My Fair Lady on exploring is when she starts her day she likes to load up on a massive breakfast so she doesn't have to eat the rest of the day. My body and blood sugar regrettably doesn't have that luxury but at least this would postpone my need for eating for longer than normal. Combine that with relentless sinus attacks and the more food I eat the better off I feel. Away we stumbled down more flights of stairs and prepped ourselves for exiting the ship the second it docks.

Anyone notice a theme thus far on how quickly we want off the ship at the first opportunity?

As soon as we hit the docks we found the tour bus that would take us to the one and only Blackbeard's castle. Again, it's important to note that streets on islands do not go in a straight path. They wind and curve and follow the island's topography instead of the other way around. Now, hop onto a bus with no doors on the side and hang on for dear life as the driver guns it up and over and all around the curves of said island.

Naturally for the first leg of the trip I sat in the middle while My Fair Lady sat next to where a door would normally be. I could always tell when she looked down because her nails would suddenly dig into my arm. We hit one scenic view after another and snapped many pictures to boot. One thing that cannot be said of St. Thomas is that it's ugly. The beauty of the island is difficult to put into mere words so accept that while we were on a stunningly beautiful vista you weren't.

Interestingly enough the tour guide was very proud of all the government housing on the island. I found it curious as to how proud they were of such housing compared to how most Americans tend to look down our noses at such projects. The things you see and learn when you leave home I guess. We made sure to get our picture taken with a mule at one of the stops because the mule looked ready to party at Mardi Gras.

You really had to be there to appreciate the randomness of it.

We eventually get to the top of this mountain where Blackbeard's castle was and we're told to disembark. We hop off and as we walk forward we see a massive bronze statue of the fabled pirate and behind that was a tower we could walk up. Only eight people at a time were allowed in it though, ostensibly due to the weathered nature of the iron stairwell, and looking out from the top of it we could see yet another magnificent view. When we went back downstairs we discovered three things. The first was that the tower was all that was left of Blackbeard's palace as the rest had been claimed by age. The second was that Blackbeard himself preferred to hang out on the docks waaaaaay down the mountainside because those were his kind of peeps.

The third was simply me doubting that Blackbeard had two pools installed in front of the remaining tower.

We walked through the encampment though and were treated to a good few hours worth of information on the pirates of the island in general. Eventually we made our way down to a series of homes that were built in the 17th century and were still owned by the same family. The living family rep gave us an extensive tour which was equally fascinating. Walking through living history like that thrills me regardless of where I am. All of these homes have underground cisterns that collect water from the extensive rains so they are rarely without a fresh supply of water. They also pointed out a particular type of tree that can hold up to a gallon of water PER branch.

Bear in mind the trees in question were huge with extremely long branches. Another tree we saw has been dated back over 3000 years and is now home to an iguana. He and I regarded one another casually.

"'Sup?" I asked.
"Nothin'," he replied. "Just hangin' out, havin' a bud."
"Cool," I said.

When the tour was over we hiked about looking through yet more shops. It struck me then that we'd seen almost an exact carbon copy of these stores in Old San Juan so I began to wonder about the chains in that part of the world. All the same people kept flocking to the stores though, which also struck me as odd. How could one be so blinded by the phrase "tax/duty free!" that they will obediently buy things from the same store again and again? Is it because it's on a different island? If so, then someone needs to calmly explain to these people what the phrase "chain store" denotes because they ain't getting new stuff every time.

When we finished our window shopping of the exact same stores readily available in Dallas (also known as a Mall Mecca), we headed back towards the ship to see what else was around. Near the wharfs was a mountain top restaurant called Paradise Point which we figured would be nifty to see. So we hop on board the ski lift to head up and My Fair Lady immediately chats up the couple sharing the ride with us. I'm busy shaking my head wondering whether these people want to just leap off the ski lift to get away from Madame Perky but they were nice enough to go along with it. Turns out they were honeymooning on the opposite side of the island where the massive resorts were. They were married the day before on the island and this was the first day they'd had in a while to be alone.

So naturally what's the first thing that happens to them? They wind up trapped in a ski lift with an animated Chatty Cathy and her husband.

At the top of the mountain we get off the ride, look around, then head towards the restaurant. Imagine our surprise to find a country & western bar/restaurant on the top of a mountain in St. Thomas. My Fair Lady, hailing from Lubbock, TX, naturally sits down and starts bopping her head about to the tunes. Meanwhile I'm looking over the menu while trying to guess how the Dixie Chicks and Kenny Chesney feel about their tunes being on a jukebox in the Caribbean.

Right about then it started raining, and raining hard. We look around and there is plenty of sunlight on the rest of the island, however circling above the restaurant is a dark cloud of rain. We look at one another, click our plastic cups together in celebration of deciding to eat under a roof instead of under an umbrella, then watch as the rain proceeds to move to the inner part of the island and the wharfs.

"Isn't right down there where the open air market is?" I asked.

"Yup," replied My Fair Lady who promptly takes a sip of her margarita. "You happy we're not shopping down there anymore?"

"Yes, and not just 'cause of the rain," I said.

"You didn't find anything you like?"

"Well, it's not that. It's that I know if I do find something I like I'll be able to grab one on any of the other islands since they all have the same stores."

"What about that one pirate store. That was unique, and you got that t-shirt there."

"True, but only because we didn't have a baby to dress up with all the mini-pirate paraphernalia. Nothing cuter than a six month old with an eye patch. Unless you're social services."

This last drew a punch in the arm. In hindsight I wish it had gone towards the person who decided how expensive the food was because the double-take the bill induced caused whiplash.

"It costs $60+ bucks to have some weak cheddar fries, a burger, and a frickin' Coke in St. Thomas?" I was damn near in tears. The view was one thing, but if the food was a hell of a lot better maybe I would be able to swallow the bill too.

"You think we can make it out of here without them noticing?" My Fair Lady asked.

"Not sure yet. The only sure-fire escape route is over the railing and down the side of the mountain. The catch being we're on a mountain without snow so it's going to hurt like hell sliding down it," I said.

"So what's going to hurt more? Paying that bill or face-planting down the side of a mountain?"

I was silent for a minute as I thought about this.

"I'm leaning towards the mountain right now, but the ship might suspect something is amiss when we show up bloody with the cops on our heels."

So after paying the bill we descended down the mountain in the ski lift yet again with the honeymooning couple who were again assaulted by My Fair Lady's relentless cheeriness. After a little more shopping we headed back to the docks and boarded the ship yet again for more fun and frivolity.

At dinner that night we were missing the Duo from LA, yet the Missing Missus From Seattle appeared. We all speculated how long it would take to get a full table, but she was a more than welcome addition to group. My Fair Lady and she hit it off very well and we had plenty of fun talking to everyone. Afterwards, we hit the stateroom and blacked out again ready to start day five. It would prove to be the biggest and best day of the entire trip so that one may take two posts to get everything in.

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