St. John – Coming and Going…

Caribbean Connection

By Billy Phibbs

St. John – Coming and Going…

Spring break is in full effect and the Virgin Islands is locked into a steady spin cycle of drink, rinse, repeat tourism. For every midday hangover that boards a departing flight back to Boring Town, U.S.A., there is a binge drinking arrival passing them on the tarmac, ready to imbibe lethal doses of rum and ruckus.

Having one of the least difficult entry requirements of all travel destinations in the world, the Virgin Islands has seen a different crowd as of late. Many local and long time visitors have spoken out about this civil unrest and can only hope that this new “party phenomena” will dwindle in time but for now, it is the unfortunate result of low airfares and carelessly spent stimulus checks.

Seasoned island veterans have developed a keen sense and methodology to help avoid these horde like creatures. A “tranquility checklist” of sorts has become a hot conversation topic for many locally dwelling friends and families as well as for visitors looking for time to relax and unwind. It reads much like a monster manual would to ensure safety:

  1. Go early before they awake
  2. Don’t stay out too late
  3. Stick to the lesser known beaches
  4. Don’t make eye contact

The characteristics of this newly defined invasive species are distinct. They are easy to spot due to their bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. Often times they travel in a large group of six or more and have items like Bluetooth speakers and have little knowledge of sidewalks or other socially acceptable behavior. Their garments will be sparse and language foul.

Don’t let this passing nuisance ruin your trip. The real magical roots of St. John are still ever present and everywhere. The benefits of having to go a bit off the beaten path to avoid these beasties is discovering some of the lesser known, more secluded beaches of St. John like Salt Pond, Lameshur, Water Lemon, and Francis Bay.

There are others, but I have been sworn to secrecy as a transplanted yet semi-permanent member of St. John. Uttering these locations would mean exile or death for sure, but feel free to explore at your own risk.

Some other seasonally disparaging aspects that might hinder a May adventure is the growing issue of sargassum. Referred to as the “brown tide”, this dirty brown blanket of macro algae is far from comforting. This growing issue has origins that were thought to be spawning from inside the Bermuda Triangle but, as the St. Thomas Source article reports, it seems a “New Sargassum Sea” is accumulating between Brazil and Africa in the South Atlantic.

The reasons as to why this ecological threat is getting worse are widespread. Increased water temperatures, higher than normal levels of nutrients caused by pollutants, and the increase of algae “fertilizers” like magnesium, calcium, phosphorous and nitrogen are some of the main contributors to its massive size.

The end result of this now 86 kilometer band that is nestled South of Lesser Antilles could be similar to 2018 and 2019 where the translucent, turquoise waters of the Caribbean were stained brown with tons of sargassum washing ashore. It’s vile odor and the suffocating effects it has on marine life make it not only an eyesore but a sincerely icky predicament altogether.

Thankfully, St. John is blessed by its location and currents, allowing for most of the effects of the sargassum to pass by, unnoticed.

One of the main co-conspirators to this pungent mass of blooming brown algae is Sahara dust, another off putting event that wields its dusty head in the month of May.

As the wind begins to change its flow, the trade winds carry soil particles from the Saharan Desert across the Atlantic creating a hazy atmosphere in the spring months. This not only makes for a stuffy air quality around the island in general but causes those with respiratory and allergy conditions to really suffer some sniffly consequences.

Due to last month’s eruption of ‘La Soufiere’ in St. Vincent, many bar room meteorologists had speculated this foggy facade to be from the aftermath of its ash plume. This has since been retracted by resident rain dancers as “the vodka talking” and put to rest by actual weather forecasters as our seasonal dust display.

The Sahara dust is unavoidable. It will linger, leaving behind empty shelves of Claritin and a powdery particle glaze reminder of its passing on just about everything on the island.

“So you mean to tell me, if I come to St. John in May, not only do I have to wear a mask, but I’m gonna be surrounded by crazy drunk people, covered in dust and consumed by smelly brown algae?”

Sounds like my Junior prom but her name was not Algae…

Life is all about perspectives and while these episodic events may not seem like the most inspiring accounts of the Caribbean at the moment, they are in fact the juicy details of what’s happening at the moment.

Jeep rentals are impossible to find, restaurant reservations are scarce and high season is in full tilt. The allure of island life is always apparent but at times a bit tougher to see based on how busy things are. As a metaphor, the hazy atmosphere and deluge of rotten macro algae is sort of representative of the ambiance as of late in more ways than one. What really matters is how you can make do with what you are offered. The USVI and the world in general are experiencing an overhaul of unleashed tourism following this last year of solitary confinement. Everywhere has been a bit wild and as we stumble through the beginning stages of vaccine protocol, things are going to be a bit weird but in the end, all will return to normal and when the dust settles and all the invasive algae disappears, St John will still be the same shiny pristine jewel of the Caribbean Islands it always has been

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