Islands of Dreams Revisited

by Mary Jo

Once again I'm madly busy, having finished going over a copy edit of Once a Laird this evening and in the middle of writing an overdue Christmas novella.  So as I look out at snow and ice, I decided to post a 2011 blog of the warm and sunny Caribbean.  Most of the world has been deprived of travel this last year, but that's starting to change. Here are some islands to dream on!

 

Caribbean! 

Just the name evokes heat and mystery and beauty and treasure.  There’s a reason why the Disney movie trilogy wasn’t Pirates of Long Island Sound! 

Having recently spent a lovely week there, I thought it would be fun to riff on the islands so those who are snow and ice bound can dream a little.

I love the beauty and variety of the Caribbean islands.  There are thousands of islands, some very sizeable like Cuba, Santa Domingo, and Puerto Rico, others not much more than jagged shipping hazards. Some belong to adjacent mainland countries, some are independent, but many are overseas territories of European countries.

Caribbean IslandsCaribbean islands come in two flavors: flat and sandy, or rugged, volcanic, and dramatic. The Virgin Islands are of the jagged volcanic variety, and they're fabulously scenic.  

Looking from a beach on Virgin Gorda ("Fat Virgin"), one can see half a dozen islands scattered around a watery channel that was once called “Freebooters Gangway.”  Later it was later renamed “Sir Francis Drake Channel” because Drake sailed through with some regularity in his career as sea captain, explorer, privateer, and even, sometimes, an unblushing pirate.

We often head to the islands in midwinter to get recharged with sunshine and Virgin Gorda sunsetwarmth. Most often we've visited the British Virgin Islands because they are amazingly peaceful and beautiful.  The American Virgins are equally beautiful, but much busier because until recently, Americans could vacation there without a passport.

When I sent a friend a picture of the place on Virgin Gorda where we stayed, she asked in amazement, “Is the water really that color?”

Yes.  It really is turquoise and indigo and other amazing shades.  I never tire of Virgin Gorda from Gorda Peak
watching the sea there.  The Mayhem Consultant and I have a code phrase for Caribbean vacations: “Rum drinks with fruit on sticks!”

Tourism is the big industry in the area now, and they do it very, very well.  But delightful as it is to walk a sandy beach with the waves splashing over your feet, it’s also fun to look at the history.

Christopher Columbus was the first European to discover the islands now known as the Virgins.  He called the Caribbean islands in general the West Indies because he thought he’d reached India.  Ooops. <G>   At the time, the Carib Indians were the main inhabitants, and the sea takes its name from them. 

The Virgin Islands were named after St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgin handmaidens, all British_virgin_islands flag 3of whom were slain by pagans.  If you look at the BVI flag, you’ll see a maiden with 11 lamps, each standing for a thousand virgins.  (Hard to get all 11,000 on one flag.  Though I did find an account of St. Ursula that said maybe she’d had only a single handmaiden, and the number was inflated. <G>)

In the age of sail, explorers were always landing places and making claims.  For a mainland American example, the state of Delaware was first settled by the Dutch.  A few years after they were killed off, the Swedes moved in and established a colony called, rather unimaginatively, New Sweden.  17 years later the Dutch returned and took over, creating New Netherland. 

A few years after that, the English defeated the Dutch, and it wasn’t long before the territory was being squabbled over by the Duke of York, William Penn of Pennsylvania, and Cecil Calvert, the proprietor of Maryland.  No wonder colonial history is so confusing! 

DSCN0865The Spanish, French, Dutch, English and Danes were always stomping around the Caribbean laying claim to various bits of real estate.  The large islands of the Greater Antilles are nation size.  In fact, Santo Domingo contains two sovereign nations: Haiti and the Dominican Republic. 

The small islands were good strategically for pirates and traders and fortresses.  (But a deadly military post because of the high death rate from diseases.) 

Many went through multiple ownership.  English, French, Spanish, and Dutch are spoken in different islands, along with different creole languages

Though Spain got a good head start ("the Spanish Main"), I believe that the British ended up with the largest number of islands, most of them considered overseas territories of the United Kingdom.

But there are also the French and Dutch Antilles.  The Danish West Indies ended in 1917 when they sold their islands to the US for $25 million dollars.  A bargain at the price since those islands are now the American Virgin Islands.  The principal town is named Charlotte Amalie after a seventeen century Danish queen.

Copper Mine Virgin GordaThe Virgins were discovered by an Italian, Columbus, who sailed for Spain.  (The picture to the left shows the ruins of a 19th century copper mine on Virgin Gorda.)

The first European settlers were the Dutch.  They didn't manage to hang onto the Virgins, but they were great sailors and retained their share of islands.  They found the Caribbean a convenient midpoint between the Dutch colonies of Surinam and New Amsterdam (modern New York City.)  They also ruled what is now Indonesia.  They were seriously good at the colonial game! 

Sint Maarten--St. MartinThe Netherlands Antilles include the island of Sint Maarten/ Saint-Martin, an island that is shared with France.  The Spanish got to the island first, but later both France and Holland claimed the island. 

It’s said (this may be folklore) that territory was divided by choosing a Frenchman and Dutchman to start walking from the same place in opposite directions.  Where they met on the other side became the opposite end of the dividing line between the territories. 

Perhaps the Frenchman had longer legs which is why the French section is larger. At the time, the French said the Dutchman walked more slowly since he refreshed himself with fierce gin rather than civilized wine, like the Frenchman.  The Dutch said the Frenchman cheated by running part of the way.  International diplomacy is often not polite.  <G>
 
Sint Maaren/St. Martin is the smallest island in the world to belong to two different nations.  We stayed there once.  It’s one of the flat sandy islands, with great beaches.  It was fun to move from the Dutch area to the French territory and back again. (Luckily most people who worked in the tourist sector spoke English.)

Salt Cay 075_edited-1The Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos Islands aren’t technically in the Caribbean since they’re further north (and not quite so reliably warm in winter), but they have plenty of beautiful beaches and frozen rum drinks.  The very small T&C island of Salt Cay was once the world’s largest supplier of salt, which was produced with evaporation ponds.  We’ve stayed there, too.  <g>  The donkeys were inhabitants of Salt Cay.

Salt Cay 054I was fascinated to learn that singer Jimmy Buffet of “Margaritaville” was the grandson of one of the salt ship captains, a man also named James Buffet.  So when Buffet did an album called “Son of a Son of a Sailor,” he was entitled!

So many islands!  So many tales!  So many frozen fruity rum drinks!  Have you visited a Caribbean island?  Would you like to when travel opens up again?  If so, which one?  Share the sunshine!

Mary Jo

75 thoughts on “Islands of Dreams Revisited”

  1. What a fun post, Mary Jo, and what lovely pictures.
    I lived in Jamaica for a year as a teen when my father managed a hotel in Kingston, the capital. Kingston was not really a tourist destination, but we did occasionally travel a very windy road (can you say carsick?) to the very scenic Ocho Rios. It was an educational year; it was the first time I really recall seeing poverty.

    Reply
  2. What a fun post, Mary Jo, and what lovely pictures.
    I lived in Jamaica for a year as a teen when my father managed a hotel in Kingston, the capital. Kingston was not really a tourist destination, but we did occasionally travel a very windy road (can you say carsick?) to the very scenic Ocho Rios. It was an educational year; it was the first time I really recall seeing poverty.

    Reply
  3. What a fun post, Mary Jo, and what lovely pictures.
    I lived in Jamaica for a year as a teen when my father managed a hotel in Kingston, the capital. Kingston was not really a tourist destination, but we did occasionally travel a very windy road (can you say carsick?) to the very scenic Ocho Rios. It was an educational year; it was the first time I really recall seeing poverty.

    Reply
  4. What a fun post, Mary Jo, and what lovely pictures.
    I lived in Jamaica for a year as a teen when my father managed a hotel in Kingston, the capital. Kingston was not really a tourist destination, but we did occasionally travel a very windy road (can you say carsick?) to the very scenic Ocho Rios. It was an educational year; it was the first time I really recall seeing poverty.

    Reply
  5. What a fun post, Mary Jo, and what lovely pictures.
    I lived in Jamaica for a year as a teen when my father managed a hotel in Kingston, the capital. Kingston was not really a tourist destination, but we did occasionally travel a very windy road (can you say carsick?) to the very scenic Ocho Rios. It was an educational year; it was the first time I really recall seeing poverty.

    Reply
  6. I love the arm chair traveling the Wenches bring to me. Keep it up! They appear to be interesting places. Much more interesting the my fictional visits would indicate.

    Reply
  7. I love the arm chair traveling the Wenches bring to me. Keep it up! They appear to be interesting places. Much more interesting the my fictional visits would indicate.

    Reply
  8. I love the arm chair traveling the Wenches bring to me. Keep it up! They appear to be interesting places. Much more interesting the my fictional visits would indicate.

    Reply
  9. I love the arm chair traveling the Wenches bring to me. Keep it up! They appear to be interesting places. Much more interesting the my fictional visits would indicate.

    Reply
  10. I love the arm chair traveling the Wenches bring to me. Keep it up! They appear to be interesting places. Much more interesting the my fictional visits would indicate.

    Reply
  11. My husband and I loved Nassau in the Bahamas and went there quite a few times back in the 1970’s when it was popular but not as touristy as it is now. Loved to watch the policemen directing traffic with their white shorts and white pith helmets. The traffic was mostly scooters instead of cars. Beautiful beaches and the hotels were wonderful and seafood was amazing!

    Reply
  12. My husband and I loved Nassau in the Bahamas and went there quite a few times back in the 1970’s when it was popular but not as touristy as it is now. Loved to watch the policemen directing traffic with their white shorts and white pith helmets. The traffic was mostly scooters instead of cars. Beautiful beaches and the hotels were wonderful and seafood was amazing!

    Reply
  13. My husband and I loved Nassau in the Bahamas and went there quite a few times back in the 1970’s when it was popular but not as touristy as it is now. Loved to watch the policemen directing traffic with their white shorts and white pith helmets. The traffic was mostly scooters instead of cars. Beautiful beaches and the hotels were wonderful and seafood was amazing!

    Reply
  14. My husband and I loved Nassau in the Bahamas and went there quite a few times back in the 1970’s when it was popular but not as touristy as it is now. Loved to watch the policemen directing traffic with their white shorts and white pith helmets. The traffic was mostly scooters instead of cars. Beautiful beaches and the hotels were wonderful and seafood was amazing!

    Reply
  15. My husband and I loved Nassau in the Bahamas and went there quite a few times back in the 1970’s when it was popular but not as touristy as it is now. Loved to watch the policemen directing traffic with their white shorts and white pith helmets. The traffic was mostly scooters instead of cars. Beautiful beaches and the hotels were wonderful and seafood was amazing!

    Reply
  16. Thanks for reminding me about the wonderful Caribbean Islands. My husband was a scuba diver in our younger traveling days so we saw many Caribbean islands in the 80s and 90s. Off the coast of Venezuela, my favorite was Bonaire still part of the Netherlands, with an arid but warm climate. Great diving for him and I enjoyed our Jeep trips around the island and the wild goats. I could enjoy the tropical fish from the volcanic beaches and even got to pet a parrot fish. This was the first trip where he was able to do some underwater photography and we have several of his fish and anemone portraits still displayed. Obviously the restaurants served delicious seafood and the warm weather was a wonderful respite from cold Pennsylvania winters.

    Reply
  17. Thanks for reminding me about the wonderful Caribbean Islands. My husband was a scuba diver in our younger traveling days so we saw many Caribbean islands in the 80s and 90s. Off the coast of Venezuela, my favorite was Bonaire still part of the Netherlands, with an arid but warm climate. Great diving for him and I enjoyed our Jeep trips around the island and the wild goats. I could enjoy the tropical fish from the volcanic beaches and even got to pet a parrot fish. This was the first trip where he was able to do some underwater photography and we have several of his fish and anemone portraits still displayed. Obviously the restaurants served delicious seafood and the warm weather was a wonderful respite from cold Pennsylvania winters.

    Reply
  18. Thanks for reminding me about the wonderful Caribbean Islands. My husband was a scuba diver in our younger traveling days so we saw many Caribbean islands in the 80s and 90s. Off the coast of Venezuela, my favorite was Bonaire still part of the Netherlands, with an arid but warm climate. Great diving for him and I enjoyed our Jeep trips around the island and the wild goats. I could enjoy the tropical fish from the volcanic beaches and even got to pet a parrot fish. This was the first trip where he was able to do some underwater photography and we have several of his fish and anemone portraits still displayed. Obviously the restaurants served delicious seafood and the warm weather was a wonderful respite from cold Pennsylvania winters.

    Reply
  19. Thanks for reminding me about the wonderful Caribbean Islands. My husband was a scuba diver in our younger traveling days so we saw many Caribbean islands in the 80s and 90s. Off the coast of Venezuela, my favorite was Bonaire still part of the Netherlands, with an arid but warm climate. Great diving for him and I enjoyed our Jeep trips around the island and the wild goats. I could enjoy the tropical fish from the volcanic beaches and even got to pet a parrot fish. This was the first trip where he was able to do some underwater photography and we have several of his fish and anemone portraits still displayed. Obviously the restaurants served delicious seafood and the warm weather was a wonderful respite from cold Pennsylvania winters.

    Reply
  20. Thanks for reminding me about the wonderful Caribbean Islands. My husband was a scuba diver in our younger traveling days so we saw many Caribbean islands in the 80s and 90s. Off the coast of Venezuela, my favorite was Bonaire still part of the Netherlands, with an arid but warm climate. Great diving for him and I enjoyed our Jeep trips around the island and the wild goats. I could enjoy the tropical fish from the volcanic beaches and even got to pet a parrot fish. This was the first trip where he was able to do some underwater photography and we have several of his fish and anemone portraits still displayed. Obviously the restaurants served delicious seafood and the warm weather was a wonderful respite from cold Pennsylvania winters.

    Reply
  21. Thanks for a great post Mary Jo! I would love to visit almost any Caribbean island. I hope to get the opportunity within the next few years. I love walking on the beach and long to see turquoise waters in person!

    Reply
  22. Thanks for a great post Mary Jo! I would love to visit almost any Caribbean island. I hope to get the opportunity within the next few years. I love walking on the beach and long to see turquoise waters in person!

    Reply
  23. Thanks for a great post Mary Jo! I would love to visit almost any Caribbean island. I hope to get the opportunity within the next few years. I love walking on the beach and long to see turquoise waters in person!

    Reply
  24. Thanks for a great post Mary Jo! I would love to visit almost any Caribbean island. I hope to get the opportunity within the next few years. I love walking on the beach and long to see turquoise waters in person!

    Reply
  25. Thanks for a great post Mary Jo! I would love to visit almost any Caribbean island. I hope to get the opportunity within the next few years. I love walking on the beach and long to see turquoise waters in person!

    Reply
  26. We have dropped in on islands from cruise ships. We have actually stayed on two islands for vacations in the past. First was Roatan, which belongs to Honduras. The second was Tobago which is almost in South America! They were both interesting and relaxing. I find I’m not really cut out for lazing in tropical locations. I hate the heat (I get enough at home!). I don’t lay in the sun. My snorkeling attempts have had mixed results and I could happily live without doing that again. I forgot. We also spent time on Key West one December.

    Reply
  27. We have dropped in on islands from cruise ships. We have actually stayed on two islands for vacations in the past. First was Roatan, which belongs to Honduras. The second was Tobago which is almost in South America! They were both interesting and relaxing. I find I’m not really cut out for lazing in tropical locations. I hate the heat (I get enough at home!). I don’t lay in the sun. My snorkeling attempts have had mixed results and I could happily live without doing that again. I forgot. We also spent time on Key West one December.

    Reply
  28. We have dropped in on islands from cruise ships. We have actually stayed on two islands for vacations in the past. First was Roatan, which belongs to Honduras. The second was Tobago which is almost in South America! They were both interesting and relaxing. I find I’m not really cut out for lazing in tropical locations. I hate the heat (I get enough at home!). I don’t lay in the sun. My snorkeling attempts have had mixed results and I could happily live without doing that again. I forgot. We also spent time on Key West one December.

    Reply
  29. We have dropped in on islands from cruise ships. We have actually stayed on two islands for vacations in the past. First was Roatan, which belongs to Honduras. The second was Tobago which is almost in South America! They were both interesting and relaxing. I find I’m not really cut out for lazing in tropical locations. I hate the heat (I get enough at home!). I don’t lay in the sun. My snorkeling attempts have had mixed results and I could happily live without doing that again. I forgot. We also spent time on Key West one December.

    Reply
  30. We have dropped in on islands from cruise ships. We have actually stayed on two islands for vacations in the past. First was Roatan, which belongs to Honduras. The second was Tobago which is almost in South America! They were both interesting and relaxing. I find I’m not really cut out for lazing in tropical locations. I hate the heat (I get enough at home!). I don’t lay in the sun. My snorkeling attempts have had mixed results and I could happily live without doing that again. I forgot. We also spent time on Key West one December.

    Reply

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