March 13, 2005 - ST. CROIX - You can come here just
to sit on the nice beaches, but that would be missing
this U.S. Virgin Island's interesting history, underwater
wonders, colorful characters and beer-drinking pigs.
Beer-drinking pigs? Yes, they exist
and they are located at Domino Club near the rain forest.
Pay the barkeep at the shanty $5 for a can of nonalcoholic
beer and he'll take you out to the pigpens where giant
black JR or one of his swine pals will crunch the beer
can to get to what's inside. JR showed great enthusiasm
for the task.
``It's a job I've always wanted, just
drinking beer all day,'' commented our cabbie, Luthbert
Not far from Domino's, you pass the
home of George Rawins. You'll know you're in the right
spot when you see the barbed wire and American flag.
Rawins has taken junk sculpture to new heights, his
interesting/scary/provoking creations, which take up
his entire yard, feature items he's found such as water
bottles, Raid cans, plastic doll heads and a dead and
dried out mongoose.
Some might proclaim it art. Others
might just think 84-year-old Rawins has lost his marbles.
The sculptures are not for sale, but donations are gratefully
Rawins wasn't in much of a mood to
talk on our visit, but did say he started his projects
in 1989, a significant year here as it's when Hurricane
Hugo blew over, leaving a path of destruction. St. Croix
locals are just now declaring themselves recovered.
My escort to Rawins' place was New
York photographer Christophe von Hohenberg, who has
vacationed on the island for years (his mother now lives
on-island and owns a perfume store, Violette, in Christiansted).
Von Hohenberg said he likes St. Croix, the largest of
the U.S. Virgin Islands, because, ``It's real, and friendly.
When you meet someone, they say, `Good morning, how
ya doing.' ''
My companions and I met Von Hohenberg
at the outdoor bar at Savant, a gourmet spot with a
Caribbean-Mexican-Asian fusion menu. Tom Miller owns
the impressive venue. He said he chose the name because
Savant ``is all-knowing and sounds pretentious.'' Inside,
Savant has a New York vibe, but the outside patio is
the place to be, all island funky with a sculpted rock,
grotto decor and a sailcloth cover if the weather is
Miller's wife designed the space.
Her name is Kate Bartoudlus and she has experience -
she also designed sets for movies including ``12 Monkeys.''
We met up again with Von Hohenberg
(even at 82 square miles the island is not that big)
at St. Tropez, a lovely French bistro with a playful
barkeep/owner, located in Frederiksted, the island's
second city and a funky place with rustic buildings.
Sleepy Fredericksted is very different
from Christiansted, about 50 minutes to the east. In
Christiansted, visitors will find impressively preserved
Danish colonial buildings in pretty pastel colors. Shops
including wonderful boutiques and galleries are located
under delightful archways. Buildings of note include
the Customs House, Scale House and Fort Christiansvaern,
part of a National Historical Park.
In fact, St. Croix has three areas
operated by the National Park Service - the others are
Salt River Bay, where none other than Christopher Columbus
landed in 1493 and where there are prehistoric and colonial-era
ruins in a tropical ecosystem; and Buck Island Reef,
an underwater National Park located five miles offshore,
a must-do snorkeling and beach destination.
Like St. Thomas and St. John, St.
Croix has been an unincorporated U.S. territory since
1917 (when the U.S. purchased the three islands from
St. Croix has a fascinating history
that includes occupation by seven nations (you can see
the flags of each when you arrive at the airport). Cruzans,
as the locals are called, don't vote in U.S. elections,
but they do send a nonvoting member to Congress. Some
25 percent of high school graduates here join the U.S.
The Dutch arrived in the 1600s and
brought African slaves. The Danes came for the sugar
trade and eventually ended the slave-trading practice.
The island continues to have close
ties to Denmark. Christiansted and Frederiksted are
named for Danish kings, and March 31 is celebrated as
Transfer Day holiday.
They've been making rum here since
the 1700s. And Cruzan Rum has been made at its current
location for a century. George Washington was said to
be a fan.
Other industries include one of the
largest oil refineries in the western hemisphere and
farming including cattle.
The No. 1 place to stay on St. Croix
is The Buccaneer, pink on the outside and charmingly
Old World on the inside. The word genteel applies; the
hotel is comfortable enough for families (there is a
children's program) but also elegant enough for royalty.
Buildings on the property have foundations
that date to the 17th century. American Patriot Alexander
Hamilton lived here briefly as a child. In more recent
times, The Buccaneer has been operated by the same family,
the Armstrongs, since 1948 - it was the first property
in the Caribbean to have screened windows, hot water
The Crown Prince of Denmark has stayed
here. So has actress Kathleen Turner. Michael Jackson
brought his entourage in 2000. Repeat island visitor
Ted Kennedy has been known to dine and golf at the resort
(he stays at the private home of a friend).
The Buccaneer boasts an 18-hole Bob
Joyce-designed golf course, tennis courts that have
been named among the best in the Caribbean by Tennis
Magazine, fine dining including a lavish breakfast buffet
and a spa.
General manager Elizabeth Armstrong,
a distance swimmer, conducts nature tours of the grounds,
lush with tropical plantings. Sea turtles nest on the
resort's beaches. Egrets, herons and mourning doves
are commonly sighted.
Other properties on the island include
the Divi Carina Bay Resort, which has a small casino,
and Carambola Beach Resort on the North Shore, which
has a Robert Trent Jones golf course. There are also
small inns and guest houses and rental villas.
Tourism is not as developed a practice
here as in St. Thomas, 40 miles to the north. Think
of St. Croix as more of a boutique destination.
Come for the beaches, but enjoy
by Fran Golden, Boston Herald