Real World: St. Thomas

As I am sure many of you have heard by now, the Real World is here and filming. For the moment, we are the center of the MTV production world while the 27th season of the thought-provoking, soul-searching, and endlessly entertaining reality show plays itself out around St. Thomas. Technically speaking, the show should be called Real World: USVI as they are not actually living on St. Thomas, but rather on small Hassel Island in St. Thomas Harbor. The little island is predominantly Virgin Islands National Parkland with some historic buildings and ruins, and was attached to Frenchtown by a small isthmus until 1865 when they widened the harbor. Also on Hassel Island, there is of course a luxury villa large enough to accommodate the 7 lucky young folk and the entourage of those monitoring their every move (this luxury villa is for sale, should anyone be interested; price available upon request, so it’s most likely very reasonable and within your budget).

View of St. Thomas Harbor, with Charlotte Amalie in foreground, Hassel Island in the middle, Frenchtown on the right, and Water Island beyond.

Much of their time is spent on St. Thomas when they are not carousing, creating drama, and co-mingling in their lovely villa. Evidently their first night in the villa was spent hooking up with each other; by night three, they were fighting like cats and dogs. They also frequent Duffy’s Love Shack on Wednesday’s Ladies’ nights – free drinks for the girls (always a plot helper). Early on, one of the guys (described as tall and tattooed – think he was in the newspaper the first official day) evidently had a slightly (or more) inebriated emotional breakdown to a waitress outside the bathroom, bewailing the extreme stress of being followed by cameras 24-7. What did he think he signed up for?  Maybe he’s setting himself up at the sensitive one. Who knows? (Who cares?) I also heard they skipped out on a bill or two – ballsy, and not a little stupid considering the size of this island and the long memories of people here.

I had my first run-in with the Real World a couple of weeks ago, when we were leaving the Butterfly Farm near the end of the West Indian Company (WICO) dock in St. Thomas harbor. This is where most cruise ships dock, and there are only a few things all the way at that end: a gym, Señor Frogs, and the Butterfly Farm (pretty sure they weren’t headed there, although it is a extremely lovely corner of the island). We were about to pull out of the parking lot when I noticed two guys who looked straight out of central casting for the Jersey Shore (Bingo! I thought) with athletic-looking people toting large television cameras running around them (Eureka!). I fumbled my phone out of my purse, took a 2 second video first by accident, then as I was waiting for them to come into decent view again, one of them looked over at me (actually think it was the tattooed one again, unless they all have tattoos) and shot me the dirtiest look ever. As in, ‘how dare you take a photo of me?’ To which I responded silently with, ‘look doofball, you’re the one who signed up to have umpteen cameras follow your every move for months. Let the housewife take her photo.’ I think they were headed for the gym, and I probably would have followed with the car to see, but I have no desire to end up on TV looking like a stalking crazed housewife in her dirty mommy car (or ever, for that matter).

BG at Butterfly Farm.

BB chasing BG at the Butterfly Farm.

I haven’t seen the show since I was home bored one summer when they had the first Real World (New York) marathon on TV, which was – gulp – almost 20 years ago (now I feel old, at least in MTV years!). At any rate, I know with absolute certainty what I will be watching this summer.

Athletic camera people.

Two of our Real World friends.

Postscript:

This blog was all ready to go a while ago– I only needed to put in some photos. I should have gone ahead and just posted it as now it is seriously out of date. The title of tomorrow’s post: Hiding From The Real World At Coral World.

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Frustrating Food Update, Sort Of

It turns out that I could have been wrong (twice in two days? inconceivable!) in blaming our fishy strawberries on either the store or the shipping process. According to this blog that my Mother found, it might have to do with GMOs.

http://thebyrdfeeder.blogspot.com/2010/05/why-do-my-strawberries-taste-like-fish.html

And they aren’t listed in this group of certified non-GMO brands.

http://www.nongmoshoppingguide.com/brands/fruits-and-vegetables.html

But, they have been members of this since 1997.

http://www.ccof.org/

All of this being said, Driscolls swears up and down on their website that they don’t use GMOs. I feel like they would have been found out if they did, and evidently you can figure out what field your berries were grown in just from looking at the packaging (too late, our box is in the dumpster already). At any rate, I hope that someone on island grows strawberries so I can taste something divinely local and fresh soon (maybe the Rasta Farmer’s Market at the end of the month?). Until then, I am going to try some other berries for a while, and just imagine that my old box of strawberries was strategically placed under a box of fish for the ride over from Puerto Rico.

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Frustrating Food Story

Innocuous-looking box of strawberries.

This morning for breakfast I washed and put on my family’s plates some beautiful big Driscoll’s strawberries. They looked perfectly ripe and not at all moldy or mushy – a normally overlooked plus you learn to appreciate here, given the extra distance they travel on hot cargo ships (ok, so they’re probably refrigerated, but I bet the fruit has periods of hot dock-sitting). Anyway, Husband ate one then asked me where I got them in a tone that implied the answer should be ‘the dump.’ I answered ‘Marina Market’ (which usually has good produce that lasts a while – and they had better, at those prices). “Well they taste like fish.” What? “Impossible” I replied (although in the back of my mind, I realized that was not at all impossible considering our lives.) Husband does exaggerate sometimes, so I dismissed it, and even put a few of the berries in BG’s lunch. Five minutes after Husband walked out door with BG to take her to school and go to work, I cleaned up breakfast and popped an uneaten strawberry in my mouth. Sure enough, it was like how I imagine a fish market might taste if you took a bite out of it. And not a nice sushi bite either– a days-old fish oil-soaked-wooden-counter-type bite. Nasty, and it continued with a long oily aftertaste. I immediately called Husband and told him that he was completely right, I was sorry I doubted him, and to please throw away BGs strawberries when they got to school. This story is frustrating on several levels: one, I had to admit I was wrong after I told Husband he was wrong (and implied he was ridiculous); two, I had to throw away a 6 dollar box of strawberries; and three, I had to eat a fish-tasting strawberry. I think I would rather have had a strawberry-tasting fish.

The cargo docks where all our food arrives on Sundays, including our fishy strawberries. I do wonder how it happened...

 

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Friday Dilemma

There was no school today (Professional Day for Teachers, or some such reason) and this morning a bunch of us (mothers and children) hit Coral World, which is sort of like an indoor/outdoor aquarium. It was great fun, but hot and exhausting running after BB who is a whirling dervish and a possible future Olympic sprinter. At one point today he was in a little ‘cul de sac’ type area by the sea turtles, with high walls, other children, and another mother. I was standing at the ‘open’ end while I looked down for maybe 10 seconds to read a text message. I look up, and he is on the other side of the TWO ropes, about to descend the steep uneven stone steps into the turtle pool. Or at least he looked like he was contemplating it (feet or head first, I don’t know which). I can sprint pretty fast too, by the way.

BB sprinting to the Undersea Observatory Dome at Coral World.

BB with fish.

On our way out of Coral World, where the access road meets the main road, there are stalls and vendors and pick-up trucks parked backwards, selling everything from fruit and vegetables, to fish and coconuts. I was incredibly thirsty, actually on the correct side of the road for easy drive-up access, and I couldn’t help myself. I pulled over, punched on my hazards, said ‘Good Morning, how are you?’ and ordered ‘a coconut with a straw, please.’ That was the actual order for my first ‘drive-up’ experience on the island. He introduced himself (goes by the name of ‘Coconut’ evidently, which begs the question: nature, nurture, or nickname?), machete-d the big green coconut open, and handed me a straw in paper wrapping. I gave him 3 dollars, shook hands, Coconut thanked me for me for ‘drinking something fresh and unprocessed’ and I was on the road again in less than 3 minutes. It was very good (and healthy!).

Coconut in hand, getting heavy. Probably not legal either.

Perched on dash at home (but thrown away two minutes later - I bet ants LOVE coconuts).

Which brings me to my dilemma. Where on earth do you put an open coconut while driving a car? It certainly didn’t fit into the drink holder and it was incredibly heavy. I eventually put it between my legs (after I couldn’t hold it anymore) and shared the rest with the babies at home.  Happy Friday.

(And Part Two of the Chartered Day Out will come very soon!).

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A Chartered Day Out With Children, Part 1

Captain Ocean Peterson picked the six of us up (Husband, Babies, visiting Mother and Sister, and me) at the dock at 8:30am in the chartered motorboat; he was taking us out for a day tour around the neighboring British Virgin Islands (BVI). We had been out on a boat several times before with the babies, so I managed not to pack eight billion bags of ‘just-in-case’ stuff for them this time. One still needs diapers, wipes, snacks, sippy-cups, life vests, dry clothes, sunscreen and towels with two little ones, just not several bags of each. Of course I am sure we could have managed without half that, but in my experience, the minute you don’t have something, you need it (the chances that someone will have diapers in your child’s size – or at all, for that matter – at a restaurant reachable only by boat are pretty slim). And, I am almost ashamed to admit that we try never to leave home without our iPad when there is a meal involved. Almost.

Captain Ocean on Jost Van Dyke. An incredibly experienced mariner (he literally grew up sailing around the world), he is also a fabulous story-teller and is wonderful with all ages (the Babies love him, and visiting family friends in their 70s were equally impressed).

At the grand old age of two, BB rarely sits still, usually wants to sprint in the direction of danger (bodies of water/narrow docks/feral animals/massive iguanas/steep rocky coastlines) and wails sadly when he doesn’t get his way. He sounds like a bit of a nightmare, but he is actually quite charming 95% of the time; you just have to head him off at the pass, be prepared to take long walks with eagle eyes and cat-like reflexes, and know that he naps beautifully on a boat after crying for three very looooong minutes. He loves being on boats and sits still on our laps for the most part, but the second he hits dry land, he is off like a shot. The iPad guarantees us that we might get to finish most of our lunch – selfish, but true (and we only use it for meals and long car trips – that is ALL I am admitting to). One day, perhaps we will wean him (let’s see how this year goes). BG on the other hand, is patient and obedient, as well as a natural boater. She always wants to go faster – she actually enjoys sea spray on her face; and, she too sleeps brilliantly on a boat.  But I am getting ahead of myself…

The iPad, with the most important accessory - the car seat strap holder thingie. Not only can you use it in a car, but you can wrap that strap around heavy table centerpieces, around chair backs, etc. etc.

This was our third trip with Ocean (yes, his real name) and even though we didn’t have a plan in place, I knew he would come up with the right islands to motor around, the perfect spot for snorkeling (you have to take into consideration currents, waves, and Lord knows what else), and the best place for lunch with the Babies (as opposed to places where people happily drunk on rum flash each other – that will be another post about a chartered day out sans enfants). First stop: 30 minutes away on Jost Van Dyke to clear customs. Jost Van Dyke is 4 miles long, with a sandy main street bordering the water and hammocks in palm trees alongside. Besides being a beautiful and charming island with fewer than 200 full-time inhabitants, Jost is also famous for other things, among them: having the largest New Year’s Eve Party in the Caribbean (or, as it’s called there, Old Year’s Night); being the birthplace of the ‘Painkiller’ (a very rummy and incredibly tasty drink); and two pilgrimage-inducing bars– Foxy’s and the Soggy Dollar (there are obviously many other terrific things on the island that do not include alcohol, but those will have to be for future trips).

Jost, looking from Foxy's end to the other.

Main Street.

The dock in front of Foxy's.

We cleared customs, sat at Foxy’s, listened to Foxy himself strum the guitar, and sipped Painkillers. I don’t care what time it is – when in Rome…though the Babies had pineapple juice. BB found a brand new spin on his favorite activity of throwing rocks into the water: he would throw them, a very friendly playful black lab would bound into the water and try to catch them, then wait for BB to throw another. Seriously, it could have been hours of entertainment for both Baby Boy and Dog – I wanted to take the dog home with us. BG discovered an empty hammock stretched between two palm trees overlooking the rock-throwing, so she amused herself climbing, swinging, and watching pelicans dive for fish. Mother and Sister fell in love with the Painkillers and spent the next week trying to recreate the perfect Painkiller. There are all sorts of different recipes on-line, and as a result, when they left I inherited the most random tropical selection of drink ingredients ever. It is quite difficult to recreate Foxy’s, though they did a masterful job.

Foxy's sign.

Foxy with guitar. Besides being an incredibly interesting, successful, and friendly person, he tells great jokes.

Great sign over the bar at Foxy's.

BB throwing rocks.

BB still at it, with Husband keeping tabs.

BG chilling out.

BG would have stayed there all day if we had let her.

BB checking out other seating options.

Sister and I then took a walk down the beach to the other end of the main beach/street, and happened upon a cool tire swing shaped like a horse. We went back to get BG (BB not being a fan of swings) and ran her back there. She was in absolute heaven. It was time to go soon after, and back on the boat we went…

BG sprinting down the beach to the swing.

The ingenious horse tire swing.

BG happy on swing.

We had to promise that we could come back soon to use that swing.

Church at the quiet end of the beach.

Possibly the most peaceful place on the beach on Jost. Every cemetery I have seen in the VI and BVI is above ground.

A perfect little boat, though not ours that day.

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Six Month Statistics

In the six months since we moved here:

We have had ONE hurricane (so low-grade that some people scoffed at it, but as it turned from a tropical storm into Hurricane Irene directly over us, it counts).

Husband has had ONE low-grade case of Dengue fever. He also stepped in ONE fire ant nest last month (at the Tot Lot – shocker). The children, thankfully, have hardly been sick at all – hurrah for Vitamin D!

We have found ONE place that delivers food to us (pizza – twenty dollars, one size, cash only).

I have put on TWO long sleeved tops: one shirt and one sweater (I am sure those acclimated or from here have put on many more, but I enjoy the slight ‘chill’).

TWO people collaborated to write instructions to get me to the distant Tot Lot (toddler-friendly playground) for the first time. The instructions were TWO pages long and I got there on the first try (after many slightly wrong turns).

It took TWO weeks to get my car serviced (that is evidently quite quick, and involved getting parts sent from off-island).

Husband has bought TWO ‘island cars’ – ‘island cars’ being ones that are so beaten up that more dings or cracks or duct tape won’t show. The one missing the speedometer needle with the big windshield crack actually works, while the one held together with duct tape stopped working the week after he bought it (even after getting it ‘fixed’).

Husband has been in TWO car accidents within 24 hours of each other (minor things, no one hurt) – both while riding on Safari Taxis when his “island cars” were being fixed. These were his first TWO taxi rides.

The Orkin ‘Professional Killers’ exterminators have visited us THREE times.

I have had FOUR flat tires (two on my car, two on a rental car).

We have eaten at Cuzzin’s FOUR times (looking for reasons to go more often).

I have paid over FIVE dollars for a tiny jar of Nutella.

I have had to buy SIX new tires for my car.

We have been to SIX birthday parties on the beach (one of which was BBs).

There was a SEVEN-week waiting list for highlights at my salon before New Year’s.

We have seen SEVEN cockroaches: three alive, four dead. To be fair, the last four we saw after one jumped out of the box from Oriental Trading Company. I am currently awaiting a call from the manager.

There are SEVEN screens at the Caribbean Cinemas – the only movie theater on island. We have yet to go.

The daily temperature is more often than not in the EIGHTies. And by more often than not, I mean almost every single day.

I have run into people EIGHT or NINE times around town right when I was thinking I needed to get in touch with them. (‘Hmm, I should order cupcakes from VI Desserts for BBs birthday.’ We pull into the Tot Lot and I see the VI Desserts van. Bingo – ordered them at the picnic bench right there. Same with a chartered sailboat trip – ran into Rumbaba’s co-owner at Island Latte’s coffee shop an hour after I sent her a text message.)

A bottle of rum (decent stuff, too) costs NINE dollars. So can a carton of organic milk.

We have been out on TEN boat rides (one sailboat, five motorboats, and four round-trip ferries).

We have had ELEVEN guests (some repeat, some staying with us, most staying right next to us). People tell us this won’t happen again after the first year, so we are enjoying it while we can.

We have been to TWELVE beaches in the USVI and the BVI.

For THIRTEEN dollars, a friend can get me 80 diapers (Pampers or Huggies they are not, but they do the trick).

It took THIRTY tries to make a phone call one afternoon because the reception was so bad (we don’t have a landline and evidently ATT lost a couple of towers during Irene). I finally got through perched on some rocks at the edge of the beach by our house.

Our electric bills have totaled over FOUR THOUSAND dollars thus far (they are getting better, but still…).

And to be filed under the MANY to COUNTLESS section:

New friends we have all made. There is something about island living that makes just about everyone super friendly.

Times we have really missed our family, friends, and neighborhood back home. Luckily, many have come or are coming to visit and we will be back to see them soon!

Times I am blown away by the view as I round a corner in my car or, well, almost anywhere on this island.

Mornings, afternoons, or evenings spent at one beach or another.

Times I think wistfully of all the cute winter clothing I bought the Babies during the sales last year, before we knew we were moving. (And times I have thought of my winter clothing, for that matter.)

Evenings I have spent standing on our balcony looking at the view, feeling the breeze (when there is one), and thinking how lucky we are.

Hues of blue and green you can find in the Caribbean Sea (and Atlantic to the north).

Mornings I have woken up and thought, ‘wow, what an absolutely spectacular day!’ (Ok, so perhaps not countless, but well into the 100’s).

Number of potholes I have driven through by accident because they weren’t there the day before (or I just became inured to them).

Ants. Period.

Times I have exchanged ‘Good Morning,’ ‘Good Afternoon,’ or ‘Good Evening’ pleasantries with people here and everyone means it.

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Medical Longings

We used to have a wonderful, sweet, old-school, top-of-the-line pediatrician on the mainland. He was part of a small practice – all members of which I adored – and there was a 24-hour number we could call with whatever concerns or dumb questions we had (and we had plenty). There was an onsite lab so test results were immediate, they had Saturday hours, and would even open for you on a Sunday if need be. These doctors, nurses, medical assistants and secretaries were the people who gave my Babies their first check-ups in the hospital when they were born, helped keep them healthy and happy, and made them well when they weren’t. They watched BG, and then BB, grow from newborns to toddlers, and I spent hours and hours there with my Babies between ‘well visits’ and countless sick visits over the last three snowy, bitter winters. A week before we left town, I went in to pick up BG’s and BB’s medical histories; I burst into tears when I told the secretaries there we were moving. Twice.

Ah, Rockwell. Close, but their old pediatrician was younger...

When we came to St. Thomas, we found out that most people at BG’s school didn’t have a pediatrician. Rather, they went to the highly rated Red Hook Family Practice. One of the doctors there is the father of BG’s classmate, and during the second school day drop-off, he very kindly introduced himself and gave me the precious 24-hour clinic hotline number. There is also a pediatrician on staff at the clinic, who I’m told is excellent. All that being said, I really didn’t want to have to go to the ‘best medical practice in the Virgin Islands’ – I was still in mourning for our old pediatric practice. I tried very hard to keep my children healthy: they ate well, took vitamins, slept well, and got plenty of fresh air and exercise. We avoided: unknown and untested allergy-type foods; leaving the house when they had a cold (once until this week); and especially sick children and places where their germs ran rampant. The one time we had to go to the clinic was to get a medical form filled out and they had to send a simple test somewhere else; between the normal mailing time, a Sunday, and Three Kings Day (closed), it took a week – not their fault at all (they send their lab tests to Miami), but I couldn’t help but wistfully compare.

Beautiful Conch shell

Beautiful Conch fritters on almost every menu here, which I worry BB might be allergic to.

So imagine my dismay when this past week, not only were both Babies sick, but BB developed some weird hives out of the blue. All is okay with both Babies after staying home, over-the-counter meds, a baking soda bath, and cream, but I am now petrified that she will develop bronchitis (which I hear is going around) and he will develop some bizarre deadly allergy to palm trees, no see-ums, coconuts, or conch. This is on top of my current daily worries of Dengue fever (which Husband got our first month), weird biting insects, and crazy iguanas (I know they don’t normally attack, but I have heard stories).

Fever? Rash? What child doesn't occasionally have these? Freaks me out.

I want our old pediatrician so I can call and ask what to do, or just voice my concerns so he can tell me not to worry so much. I want a CVS that most definitely will carry what I need instead of having to settle for what is available. I want to know that if I have to take my Babies to the hospital in the dead of night, I won’t frantically drive off a cliff by accident, we won’t have to wait behind gunshot victims (have heard this is not out of the ordinary), and they will have all staff, equipment, and supplies at the ready. We are fortunate enough and grateful to have health insurance that covers emergency airlifts to Puerto Rico and Florida, and credit cards to cover anything else. I have met countless people who grew up here and are ridiculously healthy and happy. People assure me that island children are healthier and taller than mainland children, and I have heard wonderful things about many doctors here. But still, but still, I miss the kind of medical and emotional insurance that familiarity brings. I miss Dr. P.

The closest CVS, store #3236 in Key Biscayne, FL, is 1100 miles away from us.

 

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