Moving Stories

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Story #7: Story from a New St. Croix Resident!

Pre-Move Visit

I was on St. Croix last week. Found a job in my field (landscaping) after just 3 hours of looking. Even found a possible backup job and maybe a third. Haven't found an apartment yet but have a good contact for that. Could stay weekly at the Royal Danish in C-sted for awhile. Nice owner.

Loved the island from the moment I stepped off the plane. Was greeted by balmy air and trade winds. (St. Croix has the quaintest "international" airport I've ever seen.) Got a rental car and drove to Point Udall, then checked into the Best Western in C-sted. Decent place. Maid kept the room clean. Friendly staff.

Must have put 500 miles on the car while sightseeing and looking for work. Left-hand driving tough only for the first hour, and then only at the intersections. Saw the "rainforest," Whim Plantation, F-sted (needs cruise ships), walked all around C-sted, saw both forts, etc. Neat Danish architecture. Will do Buck Island once I get settled in.

This site (VIMovingCenter.com) was a tremendous help. Almost everything was as I expected. Wasn't prepared for the sort of "hick" atmosphere on parts of the island; crowing roosters in the streets (made me laugh every time), packs of wild dogs running around (don't seem to bite), stray cats in the alleys, geckos crawling around on everything. Makes it all the more fun. On the other hand, there is definitely poverty and ugliness (abandoned sofas, tires, etc.) on parts of the island. Oh well, you get that anywhere.

Despite the eyesores, most of the island is gorgeous. There are places to see and things that happen that are so beautiful they don't look real, like the storm I saw sweeping in from the sea Sunday morning at Grassy Point. Never saw sky and water with so many contrasting, strange, beautiful colors. Getting soaked for that picture was worth it.

Can't wait to get back and start work. On island in early June. No more snow!

Full Moving Story

Good day! I've finally gotten around to writing my moving story. Let me tell you what I can about my beautiful new home, the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I've only been here a couple of months, but I successfully moved my truck and important belongings 2,000 miles, have settled in, am happily employed, and can see a bright future for myself here. I hope you visit here, or better yet, move here. You will love St. Croix. She is a beautiful lady. First, a quick story to explain how I ended up here.

I was born and raised in a small city in Ohio with my parents and eight brothers and sisters. (We lived in a shoe.) After getting my degree, I moved to the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C., where I had a rewarding career as a researcher/writer for eleven years. Feeling homesick, I moved back to Ohio, this time to Cleveland, but soon found that I could no longer stand sitting in front of a computer for 40 hours a week. I was restless.

I've always loved gardening and plants, so after much thought, I decided to take a pay cut (fortunately, I had savings) and work for a company that installs and maintains tropical plants in homes and offices. I also took horticulture classes at a community college, earning all A's and two scholarships that paid my way. (OK, I'm a nerd.) I loved the career switch and got good raises and a promotion.

After three grueling winters in Cleveland, however, I finally said enough is enough. I wondered, Where is it warm year round? I got on the Internet and researched all the U.S. territories and commonwealths around the equator. I finally narrowed it down to the USVI, and then to St. Croix. I thought the more moderate pace of life here would be best. Plus, moving to the tropics to care for plants made sense, since I already had training in how to care for them indoors.

In a nutshell, here is what you need to move here, assuming you're still of working age: a functioning brain, hands, an education (preferably a college degree), job skills, some guts, ambition, patience, flexibility, and a few thousand dollars. If you're missing any of these, you're in trouble! Still, that's the basic formula, but of course there are many details to fill in. I hope I can do some of that for you. This website, particularly the USVI Message Board, can also help. Please post your questions. You'll get good answers. Also, get the Settler's Handbook. It helped me a lot. In short, the more you know, the easier your move will be. Moving here is not like moving to another state on the mainland. It's like moving to another country. But once you get settled in, life here is a lot like stateside-only better! Let me tell you what I did.

After researching St. Croix for perhaps 100 hours through the Internet, travel guides, and related materials, I went to AAA and made arrangements for a one-week pre-move visit. If you have done at least this much research and definitely want to move here but are really strapped for cash, you can probably just move without visiting first. I feel I could have, although my pre-move visit did give me the best vacation I ever had! Go with your gut feeling. I found nearly everything to be exactly as described. Anyway, I saved a ton on airfare through AAA over what I was finding on my own.

Once I arrived, got a rental car, and got settled in at the hotel, I spent the first two days simply driving around to get a sense of how the island is laid out, where stores are, where the sites are, and that sort of thing. On the third day, I began my job search. By now, I pretty much had the map in my head, so armed with the phone book, resumes, references, and examples of my school work, I got in the car and began going to garden centers, nurseries, resorts, landscape companies, any place where there were plants to care for. Nearly everyone stopped and chatted for a while and gave me names, numbers, leads, and ideas. I also did some preliminary checking into apartments, but finding work was my main priority. One employer offered to hire me.

So, it was back to Cleveland for two weeks to enjoy my favorite places for the last time, sell heavy furniture to help finance the move, pack, and say good-by to former employees, friends, and family. I love Ohio (except for the weather), but after two weeks away from this beautiful island, I was ready to swim back!

I began the move to St. Croix on May 30, 2004, driving my truck for three days from Cleveland to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, where it was put on a barge a few days later. I then took an inexpensive commuter train to Miami and flew down to the island on June 3. The truck arrived at the Container Port on St. Croix a few days later.

On the way down, there was a two-hour stop over and plane switch in San Juan, Puerto Rico. With great reluctance, I boarded a tiny, eight-seat propeller plane (I'd never been on one). At first it was scary being buffeted all around on that little plane, but I got used to it and actually had fun. The islands are gorgeous from the air. They are deep green and surrounded by white sand, reefs, and shimmering turquoise water. They play hide and seek as you look down through scattered puffy white clouds. I think I'll learn to fly a plane around these islands some day. First, I'm going to get a kayak.

I live in the downstairs apartment of a house. The person who was to have been my employer (another story) hooked me up with the upstairs owner, who also grew up in Ohio, eight miles from my hometown. This isn't too surprising. I've met or know of about a dozen former Ohioans here and, of course, many other former mainlanders. You already know why we moved here. We were tired of freezing our . . . knees off!

More on logistics. I found that the phone company and the post office would not help me until I first showed them a signed lease. I had merely paid my landlord a month's rent. So, after the landlord and I both signed a phony lease I had procured, I was able to get a PO box and have the phone line opened. A realtor I met advised me to get a cell phone for local and long-distance calls, as the phone company here is less than reliable (same with the electric company; have a flashlight and spare batteries in your place for when the power goes out, which actually isn't so often). Then I needed car insurance before I could get my truck out of the port, so I paid for that. You also need to pay the government road tax (11 cents per pound of vehicle) before your car can be released, plus lots of miscellaneous fees to get plates, a VI title, and proof of registration. Most places will take a major credit card, but have your bank debit card handy if you need to take out cash.

I hope you're beginning to see that all this takes time and perhaps more importantly, a lot of money. There's more. Back on the mainland, you'll have to pay a shipping company a few hundred dollars to have your car sent here. You'll also have to decide what belongings you will ship here and whether to use the post office (for small moves) or a moving company (for big ones). Also, you need to open a bank account once you get here, then you can write yourself a mainland check to move funds, but it will take a week or two to clear. Wiring money is another possibility. (I still haven't gotten a V.I. driver's license. You have 90 days to do that. That takes another day.)

Having a passport to show when you do all this helps speed up the process. You can get one through the U.S. Department of State via the post office. It takes a few weeks to arrive in the mail. In any event, give yourself a week to do all the running around. Expect that some things will go wrong, like a computer breaking down. Relax and chat with people, or have something to read, rather than get mad. Losing your cool is considered a wrong thing to do here.

Well, the job I thought I had fell through, so while I was settling in, I also revisited possible employers I had met on my pre-move visit, letting them know I was here and willing to work. I also checked the ads in our main local paper, the St. Croix Avis, early every morning. This eventually led to a job in my field even better than the one I thought I originally had. It's a dream job, really. There is also another horticultural employer I've worked for a little who will likely hire me part-time very soon. Through contacts I've met, I can also get odd jobs on the side if I want them, and I'm seriously thinking about opening two small businesses on a very part-time basis.

All this has taken close to two months to materialize, and there were many long days when the phone never rang. This is why you must be patient, flexible, have money in the bank, or be willing to work for a time outside your field. If things are not currently working out, go to the beach for an hour and look around you and remember that you blessed to be in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

A word of advice: Don't be discouraged by people who say you won't find work in your field here because the economy's bad or it's off season. There are jobs in your field even in the worst economy-maybe not today or tomorrow but next week or next month or in two months. I had a very good job in rust-belt Cleveland. I simply walked in the door and they hired me three days later. Keep your eyes and ears open at all times and don't lose hope. Things will work out if you put forth effort.

Another word of advice that a very wise, elderly lady gave me one rainy morning when I was feeling somewhat discouraged while looking for work: Go to the top. Find a way to meet people like the bank president, the top realtor on the island, and the wealthiest doctor. They are the ones with the important connections and the ones who ultimately have to power to hire you. I did what that smart lady told me, and one day soon I will return to thank her.

Let me tell you a little about St. Croix. We have a picturesque, historic town of 5,000 called Christiansted, built by slaves owned by Danes who owned the island in the 18th and 19th centuries. Other than another smaller town called Fredericksted and a congested shopping center called Sunny Isle that reminds me of Cleveland without snow, most of the island is suburban to rural to remote. We have cattle, goat, horse, and pig (oink!) farms, fruit orchards, and some manufacturing. The island is covered with the ruins of Danish sugar cane and cotton plantations (St. Croix was once 97 percent farmland and called the Garden of the Caribbean), including stone walls, manor houses, and sugar mills that look like big, upside down flower pots, where slaves crushed sugar cane to make molasses that was often turned into rum. The terrain is remarkably varied, often gorgeous, and sometimes stunning and includes flat arid plains, salty wetlands surrounded by mangrove trees, white sandy beaches with tidal pools, rocky barren seaside cliffs, rolling hills with lush stream guts, and towering green mountains. The east end is dry with cacti, scrubby growth, and waving grass. The west end is wetter with a subtropical rainforest. Most importantly, we have the Cruzan rum distillery that makes the best damn rum in the world!

It's hick here! For example, the department of motor vehicles looks like a large shed with employees dressed in business attire. Reminds me of Eddie Albert on Green Acres doing farm work in a suit. Similarly, you might see a well-dressed man talking on a cell phone downtown, and standing next to him on the sidewalk is a crowing rooster.

I love the solitude of much of the island. Usually when I go to a beach, I have it all to myself. I like to climb up to the top of remote mountains and look out for miles over the valleys and the Caribbean Sea. (One time, one of the mountains wasn't so remote. I caught a couple making love in the bushes. They must have been cheating, because they quickly got dressed, got in their cars, and sped off! I did manage to get in a "Good afternoon" before they left.) One of my favorite places is Point Udall, a jagged rocky outcropping that is the easternmost point of the United States in the Western Hemisphere. On weekend mornings, I climb out there, sit on the rocks, and watch the rising sun shine through translucent blue waves that crash thunderously against the rocks, sending white spray 50 feet into the air. One time, I hacked my way through a dark, mini jungle on a two-acre property (with permission, of course). To really enjoy the island, you have to get out of your car and crawl all around and get all cut up and dirty!

OK, I'm exaggerating, but let me tell you a secret. The most beautiful places on St. Croix are not the beaches at the posh resorts and the touristy places like the boardwalk in Christiansted, as nice as those are. They are places that are remote and that you won't read much about in travel guides or on the Internet. To get to them, you must hike up and down steep, washed out dirt roads and trails, scale rocky seaside cliffs, and duck along dark dry streambeds. This is where you'll find a gorgeous, pristine, deserted beach with white sand, a deep tidal pool with calm aquamarine water, or an old sugar mill buried in the forest. With effort, you can have these places all to yourself. I hope you have time to find some of them.

So, it's very beautiful and a lot of fun here. Still, you will likely confront some problems you're unaccustomed to, mostly little things, for which you just use some common sense. For example, my first night at the apartment was rather unpleasant, as lots of insects were getting in around the front door. The landlord was absent, and I didn't feel like driving around in the dark, trying to find a place that sells bug spray. I watched three bees swirl around inside a lamp shade until they were exhausted, then they fell to the floor and were carried off by an army of hungry ants. The next day I put weather stripping all around the door and checked the window screens. Now almost nothing gets in. Similarly, the first night, the insects outside sounded almost deafening, so the next day I bought a fan to create white noise. Now I sleep soundly.

You see, the windows here and at many other houses stay open day and night year-round. You generally don't need air conditioning, although many people use it, at least from time to time. We simply let the near-constant trade winds blow through and act as a sort of fan. Despite our proximity to the equator, it rarely gets unpleasantly hot here. That's because the winds blow across year-round 80-degree ocean water and keep the temperature almost always between 70 and 90. Seventy-five to 85 is the norm. It's cooler here during the summer than in Miami, 1,100 miles to the north! We joke about our four seasons: early summer, mid summer, late summer, and next summer. The forecast usually does sound like a broken record.

Most people here are very friendly. The majority are Caribbean-born, of African origin, descended from slaves, and very proud of their heritage. Many have moved here from other islands in the Caribbean, seeking a better life in the U.S. We also have a lot of Puerto Ricans. The remainder are mainlanders from the U.S., Europeans, Middle Easterners, and people from just about every other place in the world. It kind of reminds me of my days in Washington, except the weather's always nice.

People are usually very helpful, too. For example, one morning my truck got stuck on a wet sandy road near the beach, and three guys came along and pushed it out. Later that day, I returned to the same beach and they were still there, this time with their families and friends. They asked me to join their picnic!

People, even those whom you hardly know, will also look out for you. For example, one time I hadn't been to the laundromat in a couple of weeks, and when I finally showed up, the lady in charge seemed concerned because I hadn't been around. Find the right people to associate with, and you'll be fine.

Life is very laid back here. We like to stop and chat and meet new people and see old friends. Most people are not in a hurry for anything, though you do sometimes see signs of impatience, such as tail-gating and extreme speeding. We work hard, but at a slower place! We call it Island Time.

Personally, I have had to do very little adjusting to life here. I'm independent, live very simply, and can generally figure things out for myself, but if you don't know something, ask around. Having the support of a spouse and family can help, too. If you can learn to live with some unpleasant little things, like the power going out from time to time, long lines at the bank, and not having the best selection of merchandise, you'll be fine. Be flexible, have something to read while waiting, and make do with the next best thing.

A final word of advice, for whatever it's worth. I've heard stories about people who moved here, said they didn't like it, and moved away. My impression is that they were actually unhappy with something in their lives-their work, relationships, where they were headed in life-and not unhappy with St. Croix itself. This, I think, is confirmed by the many other stories I've heard about people who used to live here but had to move for job- or family-related reasons and now miss it very much. I'm saddened by such stories because I know how much I have here and how much they've lost. Anyway, if you're unhappy, don't fool yourself into thinking that moving to a beautiful place will make you happy. Sort your problems out where you are now, then move here. Otherwise, you'll just bring your troubles with you.

On the other hand, if you're already happy, you'll be even happier here because the scenery is beautiful, the people are wonderful, and the weather is fantastic. This is not a perfect paradise, but I think it comes pretty close. Every day on St. Croix is for me a half-real, half-dream-world adventure. If you're like me, your only regret in moving here will be that you didn't do it sooner!

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