Monday, June 22, 2015

Olympic Day and Beautifiul Sunsets and People

St. Croix is  a pretty small island by mileage but it has so much going on every single day. And because it's fairly small, it's possible to see and do almost everything that is worth doing. I knew that the US Virgin islands held an Olympic Day run before I left Chicago. I was so excited about the run because I love the Olympics and we never really had anything like this back home that I could participate in. I am also not a huge runner so anything above a mile is not realistic for me but I was fairly certain I could at least try to finish the mile and I did. And not only did I finish, but I ended up in the local paper as the frontrunner in the picture in my time group which was the slowest group. This is all possible only because on this island, those who want to do things, do them and it's easier to stand out in that way, and it's also easier to pursue the things you really like to do.

This weekend, I was also invited to go to Buck Island by two really wonderful people on the island who I met last time I was here for a visit. We went to the island and snorkeled with some of their friends and then I was invited to go to a BBQ over at the friends' house, who are extremely generous and welcoming, where I met even more really wonderful people. It was really a nice welcome to this island and everything it has to offer. The beautiful sunset off their front waterfront porch was an breathtaking site as well.

Over time, I realize that there are some thing that don't exist on this island such as merging on roadways or cold days. Rain days are also considered a blessing rather than an inconvenience. The pace of life is much slower and the Caribbean Sea provides a background that never gets old. Tomorrow I have a phone interview for an event coordinator and fundraising manager position. I hope that I have a chance at this job because it would mean that I can stay here long-term potentially and I would be on track to doing something I really like doing with an amazing organization. I was also offered some freelance work that I am also probably going to accept in order to supplement my income if I do get offered the job as our salaries here are much lower than in the states but the cost of living is about the same as in Chicago, although maybe slightly lower because rents are so low here.

Things have been working out and I hope it continues!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Cruise Ship Day

Today is cruise ship day which is a big day around here on St. Croix. In the summer, the cruise ship schedule is very sparse, so it's a big deal when a cruise ship is in town. The cruise ship port is on the other side of the island in Frederiksted which on a regular day isn't really a place to hang out except at some of the beautiful beaches on that side of the island. So when a cruise ship is in town, vendors put up tents and it becomes a really lively town. I went out there and there were a lot of vendors and it had a craft fair type of feel to it as vendors put out there products to sell to tourists. It was fun walking around knowing I was not a tourist and that I got to stay here even after the cruise ship left port. The Fort Frederik beach was very nice and I walked down the coast line feeling extremely relaxed.

I also had a chance to go to Fort Frederik as it was right next to the beach. This was very similar to the fort at Christiansted but there were more exhibits inside of this fort like the sea shell exhibit put on by the St. Croix Sea Shell Society. I am amazed at how much history this island has and it will probably take me a lot longer to tour all the sites.

After my trip to the west side, I came back to the east side and went to Tamarind Reef Resort to have lunch. A lot of the locals were there and I sat out on the beach in a Tiki hut for a little bit watching the snorkelers in the water.  As I was laying on the lounge chair half asleep as the sun was still shining down, I realized that I was in living mode. Usually on a vacation, I'm in tourist mode. For me, tourist mode is half relaxed and half trying to make sure I fit everything I want to do and see into the time I have at my vacation spot. Last time I was here on vacation, I also had to keep checking my email and messages because that was my life for a long time. This time, I was just in living mode. I was enjoying the moment and I wasn't checking email and I wasn't trying to fit everything in before I left. If I didn't see something today or this week, I still have time to do it because here, the temperature is constant and the scenery doesn't change. I want to live the rest of my life in living mode and I think I can do it here. I followed up lunch with a trip to the grocery store and got a bunch of mini chocolate cupcakes. For some reason cupcakes taste better here than anywhere I have ever been (might be because the fresh air makes you forget how hungry you are) and now I can't stop eating these cupcakes!

Even though I am really enjoying my time here just hanging out and relaxing on the beach as any good beach bum would, I do need a job if I want to stay here. Starting tomorrow, I am going to put the job search into gear. I spent the first two weeks getting settled and seeing the sites and now I am going to get more serious about applying to places. I think I may also join some clubs in order to meet more people as well.  I'm feeling really positive and now that I know what living mode is, I am going to try really hard to not forget how to enjoy life while also making a living.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Saturday Morning Farmer's Market, Cupcakes and Mango Trees

This morning I joined a few hundred other people and went to the Saturday Morning Farmer's Market in La Reine which is one of the biggest and popular ones on the island. I tried to make it there by 7:30 but my body and alarm clock snooze button failed me so I made it out there by 8:00. These markets are big business down here and you have to come early to get the best produce and fish. I wanted fish. And even though I don't really cook often, I had a big plan for my future fresh caught fishy. During the week, I did go out to one of the farms and I did get some fresh fish but I was surprised that it was frozen. It makes sense that you can't keep fresh fish without a freezer but I really wanted fresh fish.

I parked and headed to the men at the end of the market with the fish coolers. You could tell these were caught this morning as there was almost no fish smell but just what looked like fresh bright colored fish on ice. I picked out a Parrot fish for $5 and I asked to have it cleaned. The seller gave it to a school aged boy to go to the back stalls to have it cleaned. I went with him and he started descaling the fish. The fee for this was $1 and I was happy to pay it. He descaled the fish and put it in the bag. I asked him to cut off the head because I didn't want that fish looking at me as I prepared it. He did so much work that I gave him $2 because this seems like a hard job and I went off to shop at the market.

I got some star fish that I remember buying at a supermarket in Chicago but I hoped they would taste different here. I also purchased a couple of mangoes as you can't leave a farmer's market here without mangoes. Four starfish were $2 and four mangoes were $2. These prices are far lower than the supermarkets here and the food is much fresher as these are locally farm grown. I then stopped by Sweet Sue's booth who makes homemade baked goods and jellies. Last week I purchased a piece of raspberry rum cake which was amazing and this week I decided to go for the salted caramel cupcakes. I really wish Sue had a store or something so that I didn't have to wait until Saturday to get more goods.

I was done with my purchases and on my way back home and it wasn't even 9 yet.  I decided I would fry the fish and cut up the star fruit. I had purchased some coconut oil last week at the market so I poured some into the skillet and proceeded to make my fish. I've never really fried a fish before so I decided that salt and pepper seasonings would be enough and it was. The fish came out amazing even though there were a few bones still in it so next time I will probably ask them to clean it out a little better but it was so fresh and light, and felt perfect to eat for breakfast on a Saturday morning. I cut up the star fruit which was juicy and had a sweet tart taste and I poured myself some carrot juice that I purchased yesterday at the grocery store. I decided to eat on my balcony as today like everyday was so warm and breezy. I finished off my meal with the cupcake I purchased from Sue. It was amazing and I never liked cupcakes that much back home. The frosting as well as the cupcake itself melted in my mouth and I could taste the salted caramel and not just the butter cream. These were the best cupcakes I have ever had.

As I ate outside this morning a breakfast that I had just made from the ingredients I just purchased, I realized that I would probably never do this back home. I would never wake up so early because I would have no motivation to do so and I would never eat fresh made fish for breakfast. Here, I can't wait to do this again next week and I can't wait to get more cupcakes. I followed up my breakfast with a walk on the beach. I found a family playing with their puppy in the water and he looked like he was having a great time. On my way back home, I decided to park my car and take a walk around my apartment down to the grocery store below my house (much farther than I anticipated even though it looks very close, you do need a car here!) . As I was coming back from my walk ready to rest as I jut finished walking up a hill, I found a mango tree and now I have my first hand picked mangoes!

I realized as I was resting from my adventures this morning that St. Croix is very much a natural environment with all the first world luxuries that we're all used to. It's not glossy like some five star hotels or manicured neighborhoods in Chicago or New York but it's real. People here work really hard and the kids here enjoy the nature around them. There is sand and dirt here because the beach and undeveloped areas have those things and most of this area is a beach or somewhat undeveloped. And that is what gives St. Croix its charm. We can go to any store here and obtain any product that we have in the states and I have high speed internet, but I also have raw nature and places that are not touched by the glossiness that we are so accustomed to and that makes us think something is unkept if it is not that way. I am learning that some of the best things exist in a place that doesn't care so much about how something looks but cares a lot about the experience of its inhabitants.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Bugs, sunburns and one chill island

It's been almost two weeks now and I am in love with this place. The people who have lived here for many years are so lucky. Even when things aren't going as planned, when I look out onto the waves of the sea, I remember to make every moment count and everything is well again. So overall, this is one pretty chill island. It's almost therapeutic, especially for people who are very type A and are always on the go and putting out fires. St. Croix slows you down, especially in the supermarkets where the lines can last far longer than seems necessary. But unlike a big city where an impatient customer will make a scene and ask for a manager, here everyone is very calm and even tempered because St. Croix moves slower than a big city and most people here appreciate that. And when the alternative is to move back to the expedient lifestyle that many people who live here have chosen to leave, waiting a few extra minutes isn't really a big deal.

I went to a going away party yesterday for two individuals who have worked in St. Croix for a while and have made a very large impact on this island and are now leaving to pursue other career aspirations in the states. The party itself was at a resort with the most beautiful sea and palm tree backdrop, it was exactly what you see on postcards but here it is the backdrop of every place you go. I have never seen these two individuals before but today I saw them twice in different places on the island and that is exactly what this place is about. Yesterday, the atmosphere was very relaxed and extremely friendly. The residents of St. Croix spoke out with heartfelt emotion for these people who made a difference in their lives and it really does say something about not only the island itself but also about the people who live here. 

Now, there are a lot of bugs on this island. I was actually a little concerned because when I came here back in March for a pre-move visit as they call it, I stayed in a first floor apartment and I had some unplanned meetings with a few small lively small moving critters. When I saw a spider in the shower, I remember thinking that if I wanted to live on an island, I would just have to deal with it so I picked up some toilet paper and took care of the situation. However, this time around I live very high up on a hill on a high floor of a condo building and there are virtually no bugs that are able to climb this high apparently. My apartment has screens covering all the windows including a magnetic screen at the entrance. I have heard people who have salamanders end up in their bathtub but I haven't seen as much as a fly (although now that I wrote that, I am sure there will be a giant lizard in the bathtub to greet me tomorrow morning, but that's all a part of this adventure :)). There, are, however, lots of mosquitoes at night and some during the day. I have a ritual now of putting on sun screen and mosquito repellant every morning and when going out at night. I think if someone invents a sunscreen with mosquito repellent in it, that would be genius.

Speaking of sunscreen, the sun is really strong here and you can now see it in my face as I forgot to put sunscreen on my face when going to the beach this last Sunday. The sun is not as much of an issue on a daily basis but it's ruthless at the beach. But apparently aloe works miracles because my face has stayed intact for the most part with minimal peeling. I will wear lots of sunscreen from now on. Surprisingly, while it does get very hot here, most people don't use air conditioning very much. I turn it on for an hour or so each day at night, but otherwise, I think my body has become used to the heat and now I actually sleep with a comforter and I do get chilly sometimes with the ceiling fan. The only time it gets very hot is when I am trying to clean or do something and then my Chicago roots hit me and I become a mess and the air conditioning goes full blast, but otherwise, it's not really highly utilized.

I love breathing the air here. I rarely had my windows open back in Chicago because it was either too cold or too hot. Here, the windows don't actually close. Most people have paneled windows of thing rectangular glass panels that are able to be repositioned if it rains. So even when the air conditioning is on, the windows are never fully closed. The fresh air is amazing and refreshing. It also makes me less hungry for some reason even though I am walking around a lot more and climbing a lot more stairs than I am used to.

Overall, the last two weeks have been great and I am hoping it continues. I am now looking for a job even though I would love to have some more time off before I actually get one. It's hard to think about but I need a job if I want to stay here and make this my forever home but I also want to enjoy my extended vacation in what really does seem like the land of perfect.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Week 1... in St. Croix!

It has almost been a week and I am finally somewhat settled in St. Croix. I found all the stores and have gone to all of them multiple times.  I am slowly figuring out how to get around and trying to remember to wear sunscreen every day. Today was the first time I went to the beach since I arrived and I did burn so I need to do a better job with the sunscreen but hopefully the burn will turn into a tan.

On a good note, I did buy locally farmed produce at one of the Saturday morning farmer markets and I did find a car so I have fulfilled most of my week one goals here. The view from my window is amazing and any time something doesn't go as planned, the view makes up for it.

People here in St. Croix are very nice and personable. They will look you in the eye and they will have full conversations with you on the street. It is very much a small town feeling but at the same time there is a lot of area here to wonder and discover. Everything is a little slower here and things do take longer to do because you have to go to many different locations to get everything you need at a given time, but for now it's a good trade off to some of the nuisances of a big city such as a traffic and congestion.  A traffic jam here is when there are 20 cars waiting at one of the four traffic lights on the island.

So far this is exactly as I imagined it and I am meeting some really great people on this little island that many people don't even know exists.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Day 1 in .... Puerto Rico!

So I did land on an island today, just not the one that I was actually aiming for.  I am now in San Juan, Puerto Rico at the hotel airport waiting for a flight to St. Croix tomorrow morning. I missed my flight due to a really tight connection time so I was half expecting it, I just wasn't expecting the substitute flight to be the next morning.

It kind of feels like Amazing Race but much more relaxed, complete with luggage porters and meal vouchers.  If this had happened a year ago in my life, it would be extremely inconvenient because it would either cut short a vacation or delay my ability to work and I would be extremely stressed out at this point. But today I had the opportunity to just walk around the airport and discover what it feels like to relax. And I realized that really relaxing and not having a plan is an extremely amazing feeling. It also made me feel like I was in that movie where the guy can't leave the airport for a year, it's kind of funny to walk around all relaxed and vacation-like while everyone else is running to their flight. It also helps that at this airport, most of the food places are outside the terminals.

I think working is very important and people who find jobs they love are very lucky. I actually saw something today that said that a person who puts in a lot of hours doing something they don't particularly love creates stress, and doing something you love creates a passion. But relaxing and taking in the moment of the day is important as well, and I hope that when I do find my next employment calling in life, that it is something that is a passion.