Gratuity Not IncludedOpinion
You can learn a lot by traveling, and I enjoy a trip to a semi-developed area about as well as the next guy. So when my wife told me we were going to St. Thomas for a week, I was stoked. I said, “Great. Where’s St. Thomas?” She said it was an island someplace in the Caribbean Sea, which is where I last saw Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean XVIW, or something. Who wouldn’t want to go there?
The only problem, as my friend Greg Berlocher knows, is that I avoid sharks. When I tell people, like Greg, that I avoid sharks, they misunderstand. They think I’m afraid of sharks. I’m not. Not one bit. I have absolutely nothing to fear from sharks, until they start growing lungs and legs. I leave them alone by staying on land, and they leave me alone by staying in the water. It’s quite a satisfactory arrangement.
At least until I visit an island where the expected thing to do is swim in the sea. I’m not opposed to swimming, sans sharks, but there are sharks in the sea—especially the Caribbean Sea. I think that’s where they have their annual conventions, or something.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Kendal makes ten bucks a week writing an outdoor humor column (per paper), and he’s a full-time college student, albeit a geriatric one. How can he afford a trip to the shark-infested waters of St. Thomas? Huh?”
Well, a lot of people don’t realize this, but it’s actually really cheap to spend a week on St. Thomas. All you have to do is get someone else to pay for it. That’s typically the route I like to take. My wife’s boss, Brad Haddix, of Park Avenue Insurance fame, told her one day that the agency had won this trip, but that he and his wife, Joy, had decided to give it to us. It was an incredibly nice thing for them to do, and, as a result, I’m seriously considering adding them to my Christmas Card List—if I ever start one.
But if you can’t get someone else to pay for your trip, you’re probably going to need to sell a kidney or three because St. Thomas is a ‘unique’ place. Down here in the Virgin Islands, where I’m actually writing this column in our hotel room to avoid going to the beach, ‘unique’ means ‘expensive.’ Everyone here, from the time you get off your plane to the time you crawl back onto your other plane, has to be tipped. The only way to avoid tipping all the time is to never ask anyone for anything, and never accept anything from anyone, including waiters—especially waiters. I’d advise packing a few apples.
The U.S. Virgin Islands, which consist of St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix (he was one of the lesser-known apostles) used to belong to the Dutch, who are not Dutchish, as you’d expect, but Neanderthals, or something. I’m a little vague there, but those yahoos must’ve left owing everyone down here money, and now the island folks have to make up the deficit any way they can. When you come through the airport terminal on arrival, you see a big poster of John Travolta with a caption that says, ‘Welcome to my world.’ I guess John tips a lot.
Anyway, there are plenty of free activities to keep us occupied down here, such as breathing, and walking around (in approved places), and swimming in the Caribbean Sea, although the hotel we’re in has three swimming pools. These, unfortunately, are in the process of being taken over by the iguanas, who actually may be the original creditors on the outstanding debt. They’re pretty demanding, but you can usually mollify them by throwing a small child at them. So it’s a good thing this is a family-oriented resort.
The name of it is the Frenchman’s Reef Marriott On The End Of A Great Big Peninsula Where The Cruise Ships Enter The Harbor To Dock And Disgorge The Population Of Ohio In Charlotte Amalie. That’s what I call it, anyway. Charlotte Amalie is the name of the main ‘town’ on St. Thomas. Most of it is built on a huge concrete pier because there are only two flat spots on the island, and both of them are full of iguanas.
As near as I can tell, after spending two full days in the Caribbean, the USVI run on a primarily rum-based economy, heavily subsidized by copious tipping and incredible overpricing. Often, while dining at one of the several restaurants in, on and around the hotel, the whisper of the tropical breeze and the gentle susurrations of the Caribbean surf are augmented by the cheerful voice of a patron picking up the check and saying, in a tranquil, laid-back, vacation-type tone, “Good heavens, Margaret, that prawn you just ate cost more than my last crown!”
The island of St. Thomas is magnificently, overwhelmingly, breathtakingly beautiful, with beaches and coves and coconuts and iguanas, and pretty much everything else you could ask for in an island paradise. I haven’t yet run into Johnny Depp, but I’ll keep you posted. I’ll avoid him, of course, because I can’t afford to tip him . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and apprentice pirate who could use some apples, if you have any you could spare. Write to him at [email protected].