It has been seven months since the hurricane devastated the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, our favorite vacation destination.
My daughter, Robin, and her husband, Mike, own a timeshare at Frenchman’s Reef and have visited the island every year since 1983. I joined them this year for a nine-day vacation.
As of this week, only three of the five buildings have been renovated and opened, with the adjacent hotel still in need of much repair, as are most of the buildings on the beautiful island.
We were greeted warmly by the staff, most of who had suffered personally from the destruction of their homes, lack of electricity, water and communication.
While many of the beaches have been restored and visitors are slowly returning, there is still much work to be done. Our three favorite restaurants were completely destroyed by the fierce winds and torrential rain, blowing off roofs and ruining interiors. The local people, especially waiters, have plenty of time to share their personal stories, as their customer base slowly finds their way back.
Enjoying the beautiful beaches
Arriving on a Friday afternoon, we picked up our rental car, drove the narrow roads to Frenchman’s Reef, unpacked and quickly headed for the beach.
Saturday morning we were up early to enjoy a week of warm weather, sunny skies, and beautiful beaches. We spent six hours at our favorite, Secret Harbor, swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing. Most of the fallen palm trees had been replanted, and with fewer people on the beach we were able to find shade.
On Sunday we spent the day at Sapphire Beach, again enjoying the three S’s. The storm had churned up the water and it took seven months for it to return to its crystal clear state, where we could again enjoy the variety of fish, one lonely squid, and rugged coral reefs.
Dinner at Mafolie, high in the mountains and overlooking the mostly restored lights of the city and harbor, gave us the chance to enjoy the wonderful mahi-mahi, grouper and snapper dishes that define the island cuisine.
You will find many Rhode Islanders on St. Thomas, and our group grew to nine as we visited a friend who lives high on a mountain near Meghan’s Bay, one of the top 10 beaches in the world. Cruise lines had assisted in bringing the beach back to its original state.
Tuesday was spent at the touristy Coki Beach, which had received heavy damage and was nearly deserted on our morning arrival. In the afternoon, the day trippers from two cruise ships arrived, providing much needed income for the locals, who rented chairs, and beach umbrellas, and sold many rum drinks, included the most popular, appropriately named Painkillers.
We dined at Mim’s, a waterside outdoor restaurant owned by local women who know how to provide island hospitality. After a lovely dinner, we enjoyed Mim’s specialty-the best bread pudding I ever had.
Wednesday, while Rhode Island was prepping for another major storm, we spent the day in 80-degree warmth back at Secret Harbor.
On Thursday we were off to Brewer Beach, a small local beach near the airport and the local medical college, where locals and students party of weekends, but is deserted on week days.
If you are patient, and we were, you may see turtles. We did – three of them, swimming gracefully in the crystal clear waters. Our extra bonus was snorkeling with a manta ray.
That evening nine of us gathered at Duffy’s, the funky local bar in Red Hook, located in a strip mall, where the waitress set up a long table in the parking lot because the open building wasn’t big enough to accommodate us.
Funky Monkeys, Painkillers and other exotic rum drinks accompanied pulled pork, mahi mahi, and other local delights and a good time was had by all.
We ended the week with a ferry ride to nearby St. John, where a drive around the island brought tears to our eyes.
Blue tarps covered homes where roofs had been blown off. Trees were down everywhere. Beaches were destroyed. Robin added to the local economy by visiting the few shops that had managed to recover and reopen. After breakfast at High Tide, we headed to the other side of the island for swimming and snorkeling at two wonderful beaches, where we saw turtles, rays, and a wide variety of colorful fish.
Our final evening was spent at St. Thomas’s elegant Italian restaurant, Virgilio’s, where Caesar Salad is prepared, with crushed anchovies, tableside, fresh minestrone soup is labeled from a pot, and veal marsala is accompanied by freshly made pasta and a sauce (gravy) to die for.
Saturday morning came all too quickly as we packed and headed to the airport.
It was a vacation filled with wonderful memories: Perfect sunny, warm weather; swimming and snorkeling in crystal clear waters every day; sharing experiences and meals with friends; seeing beautiful fish, turtles, rays, pelicans, butterflies and iguanas up close; enjoying Caribbean cuisine and drinks; conversing with many locals and hearing their brave stories of survival; and, in our own small way, helping the local economy recover.
We urge you to consider a trip to St. Thomas, St. John, Puerto Rico or one of the many islands struggling to recover and eager to make your vacation an unforgettable one.