Reef Madness...The Sequel

Part II

Page V

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."
Lewis Carroll

Latest Entry

August 10, 2009

On our latest trip to St John, we noticed that there appeared to be more donkeys hanging around the island than usual. What’s going on here, a donkey population explosion? Are they sneaking in from Haiti without green cards?

Green card? We donneed no stinkin’ green cards. We go where we want, when we want, and no stinkin’ immigration laws will stop us. Isn’t that right Curly?” 

“You got that right Larry”

Yep, Coral Bay is crawling with them and they are bolder than ever.  Roll down your car window and they will try to jump in and catch a ride. They poke their heads in sniffing for munchies and then they will belch in your face.

“Dude, please…your breath.”

“Hey, back off. We’re donkeys. We don’t have to brush; we just have to look good. Take a look at my handsome profile; have you ever seen ears so majestic and how about this nose? Pure perfection...”

I have to say, he did look pretty impressive. But, his impressive profile pales against the newest guns in town. A couple of momma donkeys are hanging out together and their progeny are way off the cutie scale. One black baby, one whitish/gray baby, are hanging by the side of the road near Mamey Peak and we affectionately call them Salt and Pepper (I know, how mundane). One look at these cuddly little guys and you just want to take them home and bounce them on your knee. Every tourist (and even a few locals) who drives by them has to stop and snap a few pics. The “awwwwww” factor is incredible.

Of course with all these donkeys parading about, it is wise to watch your step. These are some kind of poopin’ critters and they don’t seem to care where they drop a load.

June something or other, 2010

The Rip Van Winkle Effect!

Yes, I fell asleep and did not blog for 300 days and 300 nights. OK, I am awake now... What is new at Reef Madness, you might ask. OK, even if you don’t ask, I will tell you.  It is pretty much the same as it ever was, only better. Remember, it’s still island time so any and all changes come slowwwwwly… Reef Madness now has a jungle of greenery and rainbow hued flowers that assault our senses and beckon island fauna to our door. (And yes, that includes Larry, Moe, and sometimes Curly)  Our wonderful villa guests have been keeping the feathered, sugar junkies happy, so they have not abandoned us for the very chic Peter Bay designer sugar.  Our pool still leaks…

I have been thinking lately about bucket lists, or more specifically, about an island bucket list. What have we wanted to see, to do, to go to, to munch on, to swim over, to…well you get the idea. Slowly, in island time fashion, we have accomplished some of the items on the list. First of all, we finally were able to go to the St. John Blues Festival and sit both on the field for the close up, in your face perspective, and then later, sit up on the Reef Madness deck and hear the music wafting up Seagrape Hill from the stage below. This was as magical as we had imagined.

We finally hauled our butts off the island and perused Jost and other cool places on a few other cool islands...

We snorkeled through the Hurricane Hole mangroves. It is a bit eerie and unusual, and while I can’t particularly recommend it, I can at least say I did it!

We worked our way through the rocks and the spiny sea urchins and snorkeled North Haulover for the first time – absolutely beautiful!  Actually, our goal is to snorkel the entire coastline of St. John and we are practically finished. I imagine we will have completed our circumnavigation (we call it the "brief reef and bigger bang, blue tang tour") sometime before the end of this century or before we reach 110, which ever comes first.

Of course there has never been a problem with exploring the food and drink side of St John. We have hit every restaurant we’ve had a hankering to chow down at and of course more open all the time. We still have a few bars and hole-in-the-walls out there to visit. Sadly, a few closed down before we had a chance to sample their wares. Now that sucks. Nothing is sadder than missing an opportunity to taste test yet another rum laced blender concoction.

Our next bucket list item to be addressed will be St. John’s J’ouvert or Carnival celebration over the fourth of July.  Never done it.  Never even been to the New Orleans Mardi Gras! I have celebrated Fat Tuesday in Seattle, but that’s not the same. I mean, really. The weather alone in Seattle, in February, is enough to keep a sane person from running around nearly naked wearing only beads and feathers. On second though, would a sane person run around wearing beads and feathers? I think not. Clearly Caribbean insanity is a requirement! So this will be the impetus for our next trip back to St. John during the Fourth of July (and you thought it was all about Independence Day, hah!). Now, where can I find me some feathers!

June, somewhere in the middle, 2010

When the Madness Hits.

Many people have told us that their dream is to own a home on St John. As a rule, this temporary insanity passes with the onset of yet another St John phenomenon - sticker shock. Yes sticker shock is a well known cure for the madness that creeps into an unwary, starry-eyed traveler, new to the infectious wiles of St John’s siren call. Hear her call: own me, own me; if you come, you must build; all this Caribbean water can be yours, this sky, these beaches, this mid winter warmth, all yours, just buy, just build; you are mine now… (Cut to the chuckles coming down from the heavens).

For some, this euphoria can carry them past the initial sticker shock cure. In fact, many people are so entranced with this island, that they read all the for sale ads everyday. Every morning, a zombie like glaze covers their eyes as they go online in search of the latest MLS listings in hopes of finding that one gem, that one not to missed bargain that will fulfill their every island fantasy. The good news is that a few people can be content for years with this simple voyeuristic ritual, the dream being that when the kids are grown, after the college loans are paid off, when great uncle Ebenezer finally croaks and leaves his considerable fortune to them, when they win the lottery, when pigs fly, then they will be ready to take that big step and have the wealth of knowledge in the St John real estate market necessary to make an informed decision. Eventually sanity might win – but only for the lucky ones. 

For those unlucky ones, those who actually sign on the dotted line, the exhilaration (depending on whether old Ebenezer actually does kick the bucket or not) will probably be short lived. Truth be told, if one buys an existing house and one does due diligence in determining the health and legality of said house (yes, I know you might be shocked that there could be any non-conforming or illegal structures on our noblest of islands), the exhilaration might last quite awhile. You only have to deal with the USVI government for the consummation of ownership. No sweat, right? It actually comes down to personality type. You say you are a Type A personality? Why that is wonderful. You will last a year; die of a coronary and your heirs will inherit it all. If the heirs are also a Type A, their fate is sealed, their doom is certain. You are a poor parent indeed to pass on this inheritance to some poor unsuspecting son or daughter. They will curse the day you gave birth to them after spending their first of many days in some St Thomas government building trying to make sense out of the USVI territorial laws, tax codes, building regulations and SGBBS (Standard Governmental Bureaucratic BS). If the Type B personality characterizes you best, you have a small (albeit infinitesimal) chance of surviving. Now I am only talking about homes already built; a known entity. If you decide to build, all bets are off. No one and I do mean no one escapes unscathed during the building process. I believe all people who are determined to build on St John should first have to pass a sanity test (which of course they can’t or they would not even attempt something so preposterous!).

Yes my friends, the warnings are out there for all to see. Read any building blog, talk to any formerly sane property owner and their stories will read like an Aesop fable, the moral of which is to say “no” to her hypnotic whisperings, her temptress winds, her call to “own me, own me; I am beautiful; I am peaceful, I am all that you desire,,,”  Listen instead to that eerie laughter coming from the heavens.. Unless Ebenezer really does bite the big one…

June (still), 2010

So now that you know about the seductive peril of our beloved island, let me share with you the sad tale of two very nice people we know. I would hate to embarrass them by using their real names, so let’s just call them…Dara and Andy.  Now Dara and Andy used to be a carefree, happy vacationing couple, contented in the relaxed pace and serene beauty of this amazing island. They would arrive at the ferry dock, hitch a ride on a donkey to their accommodation-du-jour, unpack their lightly loaded, carry-on luggage and in two minutes flat be poolside with umbrella drinks in hand. They would spend their days lazily snorkeling new undiscovered reefs or return to their favored, familiar coral haunts. They would indulge themselves in the pampered confines of St John’s finest restaurants, drinking old, oaky cabernets and crisp, appley chardonnays. They would salivate over the finely prepared cuisine. They had money in their pockets, smiles on their faces, and were as worry free as any couple I know. Then it happened… They started to read the ads.

Oh at first it was merely for a lark, but that’s what everybody says in the beginning. Then, while on a another carefree vacation, they decided to just nose around a bit and see what was out there. Perhaps the find of the century was hidden in the catacombs of St John’s MLS listings.   That’s when the whisperings came; the subtle caressing of the fingers and toes, the gentle winds blowing in the faces of our soon to be doomed couple. Shortly thereafter came the infectious giggles and glaze eyed smiles on their now manic faces. One property in particular spoke to them. It took over their thoughts; it entered their dreams. They had to own it; it had to be theirs. And although everyone tried to warn them of their imminent ruin, it was to no avail. St John had captured yet another hapless victim in her web of seduction and folly.

Today, they are mere shadows of their former selves. With sunken eyes, and nervous tics, they no longer hear the softly caressing voices calling their names, only that eerie laughter from above. They are now in the construction phase. Now they pack multiple, stuffed to the gills checked luggage along side their distended beyond capacity, carry-ons. (The donkeys refuse to carry them anywhere.  They tell them, “Dude, do I look l look like The Incredible Hulk to you? What am I, some sort of beast of burden?  Even if Curly and Moe helped out we couldn’t heft that shit up these hills.”)

They no longer luxuriate in the pool. They can’t afford to rent a place with a pool. They have no time for their beloved beaches. They jet down, race madly about chasing after their builder and crawl back aboard the returning plane with the thought echoing in their brains: what was I thinking! Burgers and dogs have become their fine dining staple. Up north, their two-car garage is filled with things to be packed in a container, while their cars sit outside and are ravaged by the harsh Mid-Atlantic climate.  The glazed look in their eyes is now caused by the sticker shock of their ever mounting invoices and bills. You can see them visibly flinch as if in pain by the words concrete and stonemason.  This is déjà vu all over again. Yep, their villa, when island time allows its completion (I think sometime two years ago was the first target date), will be beyond awesome. Once the nightmare is over, it will be a dream come true. Until then, we will pray for their health and sanity. The road they travel is such a slippery slope (because of the fact that they too, are building on a slippery and very steep slope).

Have I mentioned how expensive concrete is?

Here is a recent picture of Dara and Andy’s gorgeous downfall

This is a recent shot of Dara and Andy celebrating his 29th birthday! This ordeal has been hard on them!

Dara and Andy

Damn, where did June,2010 go?

Recently over heard on a popular travel forum:

Lassie from Tallahassee:
So I have never traveled to the Caribbean. Is the water really as blue as they say it is?

RM on SH:

Lassie from Tallahassee:
Just blue?

Fountain Lips:
Kind of an azure blue

Azure? No way. Azure is more like the Mediterranean. This is a blue-green.

Polly Cracker:
Ah, that would be would be turquoise, right?

Yeah, whatever.

You got to be kidding, turquoise? The color is aqua. Aqua blue

Same difference

No, you axwaddle!!! Turquoise has too much green in it. Its aqua; you know, like, more bluish -less greenish

Who you calling an axwaddle?

Fountain Lips:
I agree with Polly Cracker, its turquoise, definitely turquoise.

Polly Cracker:
Maybe it’s more of a cyan color

What kind of a peckerwood name is that, cyan.

Biff :
Now who’s calling someone a peckerwood name, you troll?

I’m not calling anyone a peckerwood. But you gotta admit, cyan sounds like a color Boy George would die his hair.

Biff :
Listen axwaddle, you need to start showing people a little respect!

Get your butt on over here and I will show you all the respect you deserve!

RM on SG

July (barely)

Have I mentioned we will be at Reef Madness for Carnival? Wait, its Carnival now! Adios mis amigos, until we get back and we decompress, detoxify, get through donkey and bananaquit  withdrawal and pick up our quivering lower lips from underneath our left arches. Adieu.  Trip report, soon come.

July 16thBack again...sniff

A friend asked if we could pick up some island art at the Smoothie Stand. We of course said yes because well…any reason to go to the Smoothie stand works for us. As the famous philosopher Diogenes Donkey once stated, “One does not go to the Smoothie Stand for art alone” I think he was also the same guy who carried a lamp around and said that he was looking for an honest mongoose (he’s still looking). So we bought art at the Smoothie Stand and had a creamy Colombo confection. Yum.

Of course there are always plenty of tourists at the Smoothie Stand. We enjoy interacting with them because it makes us feel very smart and superior. We give our opinions freely (even if they don’t ask) and are always willing to give directions. Some tourists have been coming down here for a lot longer than we have and then they get to be smart and superior. We get all puffed up with some generally known island information and they nail us back with some esoteric information about when they first came here and the Arawaks had a soccer tournament with the Taino natives. We did get to impart some complicated directions to someone who was looking at a map of St John while ordering a smoothie.
“Excuse me” they asked.  “How do you get to Skinny Legs? This map is so confusing.” Not knowing where Skinny's is was our second clue to their newbieness (the silly map being the first clue).
“Ok, you’d better write this down. Ready? You stay on this road right here by the Smoothie Stand and go straight until you come to it”.
Ah yes, we are so very smart and superior…

July 22, 2010

I had a serious conversation with Rumsfeld (Senior). He told me that he is grateful for his lessened retirement duties. He said that though he takes pleasure in looking out over the great room making sure that all is well with Reef Madness and he enjoys giving Rumsfeld (Junior) tips on the proper way to serve Cruzan, he does on occasion miss his duties as the rum sommelier. He said he feels incomplete when he has nothing to present. Poor Rummy. We will have to give him more company and something more to do.
Did I mention we stopped at the Smoothie Stand and bought some island art?

July 28, 2010

We have noticed a peculiar phenomenon on St John that I believe references specifically the wave function of quantum mechanics, and in general, the entire space time continuum. Time here is not a constant. The sixty seconds that make up a minute and the sixty minutes that produce an hour is in a constant state of flux. Now I realize that time according to Einstein is not a constant but rather moves faster as an object approaches the speed of light. Trust me, nothing in St John moves anywhere near the speed of light. I don't think light approaches the speed of light unless one is on Maho as the sun is going down and the mosquitoes are on a rampage. Time on St John should be by our meager human reckoning, pretty much unvarying. But alas, time has a mind of its own when oriented on this small island.

Consider this: a traffic circle that would take the city of say, Los Angeles (do they have traffic circles in LA?)  one month to build, would take three years to build on St John. Conversely, order a rum drink in any bar on island and it will arrive five times faster than any bar in LA.  
Explain this; why does every clock (if you can find a clock) on St John tell a different time? Now don’t give me that power outage malarkey. We have power outages in Maryland and our clocks all display roughly the same time. When we got to Reef Madness on our last trip, the microwave clock said 2:23, the oven clock said 4:15. The upper bedroom said 1:37; the downstairs bedroom said 2:45 and the clock in the car read 9:05. The time on my cell phone was an hour earlier and my blackberry wouldn’t give me the time at all. Very mysterious. When we arrive on St John, time moves slowly and so do we. As the days go by, time moves faster and faster and next thing we know, it’s time to leave, but we just got here!. What happened? Where did that time go? What is affecting time on this island? Why is it not a constant? Who is manipulating the space time continuum? Enquiring minds want to know!

August 6th (ish)

We have become good friends with a small island lizard or anole who has taken up residence on our front porch. Outside Reef Madness, there are lots of miscellaneous reptilian creatures scampering about and we seldom take too much notice of them with the exception of when they put on their humorous displays of aggression. They look right at us and begin their body building pushup routine, up down, up down, up down…see how in shape I am? And if that doesn’t make us appropriately intimidated, they puff themselves up like some prehistoric balloon: see how big and mighty I am? If all those impressive displays of ferocity do not create fear in our hearts and turn us into quivering Jello, they beat feet toward the nearest dark cranny screaming, “run away, run away!” However this newest friend of the Park Service (I hear she is quite the social activist) is bold, brazen and beautiful. We call her Merry Beth. I have only seen Merry B run for cover once. That was when a Gray Kingbird landed on a wall sconce not ten feet away from her and sang its little Kingbird heart out. I think Merry Beth thought that song was a call to breakfast. Merry B, being a pragmatic sort, thought that she might just be on the morning menu. She scampered under the seat of my chair without pausing for either pushups or puff-ups. I think that she could not help but notice that these two very large non-reptilian creatures under which she was hiding did not seem at all impressed by the Kingbird's presence. These non-reptilian creatures must be gods as they are fearless of the most horrible of beasts and appear to be small reptilian friendly. If I remain close to the non-reptilian gods, I too will be safe! Since that time, she has stayed very near us on our front porch thrones. She never behaves skittishly but rather seems to enjoy our companionship. She maintains her post on the chair arm not moving an inch as we sit, stand, or reach for coffee mugs. We live together symbiotically; we protect her from hungry birds, she protects us from hungry noseeums. Have I mentioned that we are quite fond of Merry Beth?


Still August-Wow, I lost a week!

Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, nothing remains quite the same… Have I ever mentioned that I hate shopping? Shopping falls on my list of things I hate to do somewhere between having a root canal and watching reality TV. Everyone knows that there is only one true form of reality TV…sports. Football, baseball, hockey, basketball, now that’s reality, not a bunch of people living together in grass huts eating maggots and worms.  As much as I hate to shop, there is one exception to this I hate shopping rule. If what I am shopping for has an engine, then it is OK by me. Car, truck, power lawn mower, chipper shredder, it’s all good. Of course the best is looking at cars. Buying a car is nearly a religious experience, particularly once you get that honey home. People show me pictures of their new babies and I whip out a picture of my new car. She is perfect; she is beautiful; she has that intoxicating new car smell. Nothing rattles, nothing squeaks. Yes she is perfect and I want all the world to know she is mine! Then that dreaded day arrives when some jerk dings her door. You can be assured that I practice the Kubler-Ross model of grief:

  1. No, it can’t be. I just left her for a little while!
  2. That ass-hole, I’ll kill em – whoever he is!
  3. Let me start this day over and park somewhere else; I will give up beer for a month…ok a week!
  4. I am so sad; I need a beer…ok, five beers.
  5. She will never be the same. The bloom is off the rose, but it was bound to happen sooner or later.

Now let’s fall down the St John rabbit hole and see things from the other side of the wonderland mirror. When we first came to St John, we rented a car that had 200 miles on it. It did not have a scratch on it– my kind of car. The more we came to St John, the fewer of those cars we found. We also noticed that there were some of the most god-awful pieces of junk driving down the road we had ever seen. The change came gradually. It occurred to us that the pristine shiny cars with only a few dents were in fact all being driven by tourists.   The pieces of crap that were being held together with bailing wire, spit, decals and bumper stickers, were in fact true local cars. These cars have personality, these cars have character, these cars have seen things, been places, had stories to tell.  They are pirate cars and they are way cool. Now when I come to the islands and rent a car, I ask, “Don’t you have something a bit more beat up? Maybe with a few more miles on her?”

…if we couldn't laugh we would all go insane.

August 24

Occasionally, someone who actually lives on St John decides to tempt fate and build a house/villa on St John. These people are a bit saner than those of us who have struggled through this unimaginably difficult process from afar. Saner being a relative term would indicate on-islanders have more control over the building process. More control is also a relative term. Our friends Ron and Ruth who run St John Spice thought that life was altogether too uneventful, so they decided to build themselves another place in paradise. Surprisingly, their labor of love is almost completed and they are still married! I am not sure how they pulled it off –running a shop full time and building a house, but they did it. They are my heroes. I worship them. However I fear that perhaps they made some sort of deal with the devil (or the jumbies) to pull this off – on time- on budget- no way a mere mortal can do this without divine intervention!


"The Grateful Shed"

(Our newest competitors...oh wait, they are on the Cruz Bay side!)


September 10th OMG

July in the Caribbean… hot and humid comes to mind. Temperatures in the high 80s to low 90s, humidity…well right up there like a big, fat, warm sponge, but what the heck, we go to the Caribbean expecting it to be warm, don’t we? Well maybe not. This year on the East Coast, we reached triple digit temperatures several times and mid to upper 90s for most of June and July. Who would ever believe we would travel to St John to cool off! The trades, while not quite as blustery as in January, still blow in off the water and that water is absolutely astounding. One can snorkel for hours and not get cold. However our purpose for coming to St John in July was not to escape the heat or the cold, but rather to experience the St John Festival .

St Johnians take their Carnival very seriously.  In fact all of the Caribbean takes their Carnivals seriously in a most unserious way. We met with some friends to watch the Fourth of July fireworks over Cruz Bay. There we learned a valuable lesson. If you want to eat in Cruz bay in a restaurant where you can sit and watch the fireworks, you had better make reservations well ahead of time or you will be disappointed. Were we disappointed? Yes…and no. Forget ZoZo’s. They have been booked since 2006. Any table with a water view, anywhere at Wharfside Village – forget it. We had just about an hour before the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air were to begin and there was no room at any waterfront inn. Hunger was causing our insides to churn like an island blender. We were just about as wretched as any tourists could be. We did not know the ropes and were too embarrassed or stupid to ask those in the know for tips on enjoying all that St John’s Carnival and J’ouvert had to offer.

As a desperate last resort, we ducked into Rhumb Lines and they had an available table for four. Forget that you can see nothing from Rhumb Lines. Forget that if it rains (did I mention that it had been raining a great deal) Rhumb Lines affords little protection. Well, the rain took a break, we were served quickly, the food was great, the atmosphere was conducive to camaraderie and conversation, and we were in and out within an hour! Record Island Time!!! Since Rhumb Lines is close to the ferry dock and the beach was right there, and the fireworks display was to be right off the beach, we moseyed  over to an empty spot right next to a comfy tree with built in arm rests, cupholders and camera stand and staked out a spot to view the  festivities. Life is good, even for us unknowing, stupid touristas!

Do you have comments about Reef Madness? We would love to hear from you!