Test the Water!
by Vivian Williamson-Bryan
Well, Carnival is now over (actually we’re really in the final throes as I write this – the parade is on Saturday the 29th) and it’s time for the whole island to recuperate after all that jumping up and all that food. The abuse that we shower on our poor bodies – sleep deprivation (the music in the Village is good and you just don’t want to leave), over indulgence in all the foods that are oh so tasty (so, of course, you know they’re bad for you), over indulgence in the liquid refreshment department (it’s Carnival so it’s forgivable – besides it’s thirsty work walking around the Village and especially going to the Food Fair and the parade – high noon in the tropics – think about it!). So what’s the traditional way to recover from all those excesses? You got it – it’s off to the Beach!
There is nothing more restful than lying on warm, powder-soft sand, letting the sun’s rays bake out any aches or pains that you might have (no, I am not promoting frying one’s self – a good slathering of sun block is essential). And there’s no place better to do this than on the gorgeous beaches of St Thomas (isn’t it convenient that we live here?). Since you might not be familiar with our beaches I’m going to take you on a mini tour of them and tell you about two particular favorites.
Probably our foremost beach is the world-famous Magens Bay. This one has been rated by National Geographic Magazine as one of the world’s top ten. It’s rather busy (by our standards – Jones beach or Coney Island it’s not) on weekends since it’s very popular with the locals. During the week, though, it’s wonderfully quiet. The mile-wide bay is filled with turquoise water that shimmers in the sun like a piece of beautifully crafted Baccarat. Lots of water but not lots of people in it – a real treat for most people. Sometimes – many times – I’ve been in that water and have had the company of less than a dozen people in that couple square miles of sea. (I’m not a sand sitter – if I spend 3 hours at the beach I’m in the water for 2 hours and 55 minutes of that time. Not necessarily setting swimming records – often I’m just bobbing along in a peaceful reverie, contemplating the surrounding hills and the sky. Can you think of a better way to unwind?) One thing Magens isn’t is a good snorkeling beach – that nice sandy bottom makes for kind of boring snorkeling scenery. If you do insist on snorkeling, though, go straight out to the buoys, just about center bay, and you might be lucky enough to see one of the turtles that often hang out there.
There’s lots happening at Magens other than just vegging out on the sand or water. Over the course of a day you might find people there walking the roadway that separates the beach from the parking area (it’s one of the few flat areas available for exercisers) or jogging along the water’s edge (a detour of just a few feet can keep you cool while toning those muscles); families having birthday parties for their children (fairly quiet) or themselves (not so quiet) – people here treat the beach like an extension of their living rooms; get togethers of various groups – like Carnival troupes celebrating their win (these can get really loud); swimming classes; commercials or movies being shot (lots of fun to observe – I watched them shooting scenes from Weekend At Bernie’s 2 – they’ve also shot for Kawasaki jet skis, Doublemint gum and Monsoon perfume among others. This will give you a hint as to how gorgeous Magens really is if all those big time ad agencies have picked it); and, if you’re lucky, you might see a wedding. Magens Bay has become quite popular with people who want a different, more casual venue for their ceremony. You’ll often see a bride and groom in full wedding regalia (sans shoes), along with their witnesses and the minister to make it official. It’s quite entertaining to watch the whole event from your unobtrusive but ringside vantage point in the water. One wedding that I watched was especially memorable since the bride and groom, looking absolutely gorgeous in gown and white tuxedo, celebrated with abandon by jumping hand in hand into the water. So, for anyone even vaguely interested in his fellow man, there’s a lot to keep you pleasantly diverted other than reading, sunning or swimming.
The other beach I’d like to tell you about this week is not on the tourist path nor is it very crowded with locals. The beach is Hull Bay and it’s primarily used by the Frenchie fishermen for mooring their boats and landing their catches and also by St Thomas’s small group of die-hard surfers (surf is a rare commodity in the VI and Hull has what little there is of it – winter only and pretty feeble by Hawaiian or Australian standards). This is a good place to go for a little local color, great photo ops (all those fishing boats, nets hanging to dry, etc), a quiet beach to sunbathe, and nice swimming if you don’t insist on sandy bottoms (it’s mostly grass here). This is a real working beach, as I said, and maybe you’ll be there at the right time to see the catch being landed. The fishermen here work in the same tradition as their fathers and grandfathers – no mechanized anything (being somewhat of an animal rights enthusiast I find this method of fishing fair – they pit their wits and skills against those of the fish and it’s anyone’s bet who will win – not so with long-liners and trawlers that indiscriminately scoop up every living creature within their grasp) – and most people find it fascinating to watch them at work. And if by chance you’re staying someplace that you can do your own cooking, by all means buy a fish from that boat (if necessary the fisherman will tell you how to cook it) – it will be the best you’ve ever tasted – guaranteed.
It’s extremely peaceful all week long here until Sunday afternoon when the beach bar starts hopping. Most Sundays have a live band – usually Frenchie (I’m going to tell you about the Frenchies in a future VI In-Depth) – with dancing and food and drinks. Very family oriented. Hull Bay is not on the tourist track but if you make the detour, do sit at a picnic table, have a burger or a meal (good chef – makes great soups), listen to the music and do some people watching. Most of the Frenchies are quite garrulous and like nothing more than an audience for their stories so it could be quite an interesting, different vacation experience for you.
As a tourist I like to get away from hotels and tourist attractions (and other tourists) and into situations where I meet the locals – that for me is the real vacation experience. Through this page I will endeavour to give you a little more insight into a local’s viewpoint of life in the VI and maybe inspire you to come and find out more about us on your own. See you next week!