The Miller clan revisits the Virgin Islands
As our jet touched down at Cyris E. King Airport in Charlotte Amalie (A-moll-yeh) in St. Thomas, my mind went back to our first trip 40 years ago when we taxied ashore on the beach in a 10-passenger seaplane that had skimmed over the waves from Puerto Rico.
What else had changed since we first visited this ruggedly beautiful island thrust in the South Atlantic half way to Africa? We would soon find out.
While Christopher Columbus was busy searching for a route to India in 1493 he discovered these lush tropical islands, and named them ‘The Virgins’ in reference to the legendary beauty of St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgins (it would be extremely difficult to find that many virgins in the islands today).
Columbus called the people he encountered ‘Indians.’ In any event, nothing much happened until the Danish West India Company successfully established a settlement at St. Thomas in 1672 consisting of 113 inhabitants. In 1685 the Danish government established a slave trading post and early governors approved of St. Thomas becoming a safe haven for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” (seems as if this would make a good movie — perhaps with several sequels). Their rationale was that this would benefit the local merchants.
The Virgin Islands remained under Danish rule until the United States purchased part of them in 1917 for $25 million in gold. Consequently, St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix became the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Virgin Islands chain is mountains that rose from the deep, eons ago. St. Thomas has the most precipitous terrain of all and runs east-west for approximately 15 miles and is approximately four miles at its widest point. The south shore faces the Caribbean and the north shore — which is sparsely developed — faces the Atlantic Ocean.
This little bit of paradise is swept by 1,500 miles of trade winds that originate from the west shore of Africa — the same trade winds that brought explorers from the European Continent, pirates of the Caribbean — and one of the most ideal climates in the world.
Year round temperatures vary from the high 60s to the high 80s and the gentle Caribbean breezes keep the bugs at bay. Most of the restaurants and other public buildings do not even have exterior walls.
We rented motorcycles during our first trip and enjoyed exploring the remote bays and inlets. We could park our bikes, don our snorkel masks, and enjoy swimming among the most exotic coral reefs, vegetation, and sea life that exists anywhere. Unfortunately 40 years of development and the resultant traffic makes this all but impossible today. Driving your own vehicle is not recommended. The combination of left hand drives with right hand drive vehicles mostly from the U.S. (the worst of both worlds) — narrow curving roads barely wide enough for vehicles to pass each other — and the crazy native drivers all invite mayhem for the uninitiated.
Our group of 19 was picked up at the airport by a taxi driver, who would become our chauffeur, historian and confidant. Oniel Mullaly is descended from slaves, as are most of the native inhabitants of the islands today. I asked him how he came to be named Oniel — he retorted, “Oh mon, I guess my mama just felt Irish that day.” He showed us the original West India Company building, long abandoned, as our van twisted and turned through miles of mountain roads that led to our rented condos. This was just a dirt road during our first visit.Bolongo Bay is but one of dozens and dozens of bays and inlets that dot the perimeter of St. Thomas. The family-operated Bolongo Bay Resort offers all the activities that our active group (which encompasses three generations) all love to do. We scuba-dived to explore an ancient shipwreck, went on a deep sea fishing venture (one of our young bucks almost snagged a shark), snorkeled in waters so clear you could see a pearl in 30 feet of water, hiked in mountain terrain, and just relaxed on the pristine white sand beaches.
The Miller clan started these bi-annual trips to exotic places a decade ago with the first “MilleRennium” in Jamaica, at the turn of the 21st century. St. Thomas would be our fifth “MilleReunion.” We spent the last night together at the top of a mountain, accessible by cable car. Paradise Point is a funky restaurant and night club that overlooks the bay of Charlotte Amalie. Watching the sun go down and listening to the steel drum band and the native’s boogying down with rhythm and fluid movement just put a cap on our wonderful vacation.
All agreed that St. Thomas was our best vacation – yet – but it won’t be our last.