Feels like I’ve been here for much longer than a year already lol. So I mentioned that I would write my moving story but I wanted to wait until I had been here a year. I am no wordsmith and am a horrible speller but here we are… our story.
The Back story
My first experience with the ocean was a trip to Catalina Island with my family when I was about 12. The water was 55 degrees and still I couldn’t wait to have my first scuba diving experience, shivering and all. After the shallow dive with my dad, a master/rescue/tech/wreck (pretty much every cert available) I was HOOKED. The following years I read everything I could on reefs and the oceans, everything about it fascinated me. At 15 I started my first salt water aquarium and armed with tons of books and research my hobby progressed… rapidly. Over the years I had many sizes and types of aquariums all salt water and all “reefs”. When I turned 25 I was elected to run FRAG (the Fish and Reef Aquarium Group) a 200 person club in Arizona where we would propagate species of corals for trading with each other and we would supply these captive raised corals to display tanks of local aquariums. At this time I personally had a 200 gallon full blown SPS (small polyp stony) corals, that was breathtakingly beautiful with a dedicated bedroom for all of the equipment needed. It was quite the set up and very high tech. Why am I talking about this? Because my absolute love of the ocean, really all things nature that fueled my move to the islands.
I remember the exact moment in time that I decided I wanted to move to an island. My boyfriend and I were on our 4th cruise and one of the ports was the Cayman Islands. We got off the boat and a storm was rolling in, it began to rain and as the other tourists fled back to the boat, ladies shrieking “my hair”, I giggled, grabbed my snorkel gear and headed off to find a reef to explore. It was a fantastic day in Cayman, we got to pet some giant tarpon at Eden’s reef, played with the rays at Stingray City, snacked on Johnny cakes and my favorite, fried plantains. As we took touristy photos in front of the cruise port display of the Cayman Islands map, I had my ah-ha moment and said to my boyfriend… “we should move to an island!” He took one look at my face and knew he was in trouble. He knew that once my mind is set on something, I would not stop until I achieve it. My entire life I have been the “do-er” “the extrovert” and the “planner” in a family of 3 brothers and a sister. I had no idea on what island life would really be like, I just knew that I loved the ocean and wanted to be surrounded by it. Actually, I felt that my soul ached for the ocean, it was quite an odd feeling, a driving force to be living near the sea…. I guess if you’re reading this, you get it. Anyway, when we got home from the cruise we started the planning. We had a list of islands that we had been to and some we had not, and one by one we eliminated them and quickly got down to the USVI. Ironically we had not ever been to any of the USVI’s but it was still the US which would make the transition easier (in theory) so we set a one year goal to plan it all out save a bunch of money and make the move.
During my first couple months of research I stumbled across the VI moving forum. Immediately I immersed myself into it, reading every post I could, up late nights with my computer glowing and my eyes burning; I read. Without a doubt this forum was the single most useful tool in planning this move. Some posts made me laugh, some made me worry, some made me mad and some were filled with invaluable information. We realized that most board members recommended a pre move visit, PMV. So that was it, our next step. We would plan a month long trip to St. Croix and get the best taste of island life that one could in a relatively short time period. Four months after the initial decision to move, we arrived on St. Croix. I was diligent in searching Craigslist (which can be real hit or miss) for a rental for our PMV. We found an ad for a cute studio attached to a private home on the east end that would let us rent for the one month time frame, the owners were both Realtor. Immediately we fell in love with the scenery. It was absolutely beautiful, with lush greenery, aqua colored waters and coming from Arizona, it was a VERY welcome change. We really lucked out and the couple we rented from were unbelievably nice, “showed us the ropes” and we remain great friends to this day. We did as much in that one month as possible, shopped for groceries of course, went to the post offices, snorkeled, banks, beaches, snorkeled, priced out and looked at rentals, snorkeled and tried lots of restaurants and bars…. did I mention we snorkeled? Our new Realtor friends took us to buck island one day and as I flopped into the crystal clear water I thought to myself… that THIS is what heaven looks like! Swimming with turtles, huge schools of tangs and corals the size of VWs. For an ocean junkie like myself, it doesn’t get any better and this could be “my backyard”! We also encountered some of the friendliest people that I’ve ever met and at the end of our month long stay I was more sure than ever that this was the right decision.
The goal was that we would save every dime we could and start setting ourselves up financially to be able to make the move comfortably. Within the first month of planning we realized that there was a possible job transfer for my boyfriend who had worked in retail for his company for 13 years. We saw this as a huge bonus, perhaps…… it was a sign!! We started getting the finances in order by slimming down our spending, cut back our bills, got rid of things we didn’t need and downgrading any services that we could. We started a “St. Croix” fund and we managed to put half of every paycheck away into the fund. We watched it grow into what we felt was a great start for the move of a lifetime. By month 7 of our one year planning period I had a 4 inch binder FULL of facts, information, contact numbers, price lists and things we would need for our move (I am a bit OCD when it comes to planning). The job transfer for my boyfriend was a definite yes to the USVI, however a bit of a wrench was thrown in the works. We received from corporate that he was now needed in St. Thomas instead of St. Croix. Well….. OK! During our PMV to St. Croix we did not go over to St. Thomas so, there we were, a huge move planned to an island we had never been to, a bit of a scary thought. I guess you can’t plan for everything.
In our last month in Arizona we started to sell off everything… our trucks, our boat, and all of the furnishings of my but Arizona home including my 200 gallon reef tank. It was a huge undertaking. it was actually quite freeing to cleanse your life of possessions, but at the same time, it was TERRIFYING. There was no turning back at this point. A week later and we were having our going away party with a huge rowdy crew of all our family and friends. The very next day, we boarded a plane for a one way trip to St. Thomas with 2 cats and 4 suitcases.
We arrived in STT exhausted, after a long 13 hour trip with two hungry kitties. Grabbed our rental car at “Dollar” and drove to Megan’s Point Resort for an affordable week long stay. Glad to finally be on the rock we got the cats fed and watered and went to the bar to have a celebratory Cruzan banana and coke (our fav). The next few days were mostly spent driving the island, learning (the best we could) the roads, and what goes where. I will admit… at one point i was literally in tears, telling my boyfriend that I would never be able to drive on these steep hills! I look back now and laugh at myself for my minor freak out… if you haven’t been here yet…. just wait, dem hills are no joke! So where was I? Oh yes, driving on STT. Its a lot like STX – NOT. Yes stay left but blind turns, washed out roads, hills so steep I thought I would have to bail out of the car all seem like nothing now after our fantastic year.
We had the help of a Realtor to show us a few places but unfortunately they wanted to only show us east end homes and I knew I wanting something greener, more spread out, something like… North side. Just driving through the north side of STT I knew this was where I wanted to be. We found a few for rent signs up at four corners. Called one and on the other end a man I could barely understand says yes its still available. After looking at a dozen places, on our 6th day in STT we decided this was the place for us. We moved in the very next day and didn’t have power up yet. So it was pizza from “Thirteen” (a fab. restaurant) by candlelight and a bed that the landlord had delivered for us that morning. I remember that first night and I was amazed at how loud the frogs and crickets were and how beautiful the stars were. Heaven.
I had planned on renting a furnished place and would recommend it if you can. We just couldn’t pass up this house so the next day it was off to get groceries and furniture. I was aware that it would be an expensive day and sure enough, it was. $500 to stock the fridge $500 in plates, pots, pans, $2k on furniture – TV – sheets and stuff. I think we spent all in all about $3k our first couple days in our new place. It was a whirlwind of debit cards. I though they might actually catch fire and we had to notify our bank that of course we’d be spending like it was our last day on earth. Ahhh but so worth it. We made dinner and hung out on the patio enjoying the frogs and distant waves over the ocean. My boyfriend was able to start work with his transfer a couple weeks after we moved to St. Thomas and I was able to find a job as an Scuba/Snorkel/Boat tours with a small family run company which I now love and consider family. My income is about 1/4 of what it was in the states but we make it work and live much simpler and without so much “stuff”.
So its a year later, do we still love it? YES… actually HELL YES! There are some real challenges, such as the BMV (getting anything done really) traffic on days with 6 ships in but overall this place is simply magical to me. Some will say “she’s still in the honeymoon phase” and that’s probably right but hey.. nothing wrong with that! The best way I can put, for me, living in St. Thomas is… “The juice is worth the squeeze.” Will I stay here forever? Who knows. Could I and will I go back to Arizona? Nope. I can’t imagine not being close to the ocean…. and a udder delight milkshake ;-D
My top 10 pieces of advice to people who are looking to lime on da rock:
- Bring 15K (double if you have kids) – This will set you up with everything you will need (generally). Can you do it for less? Absolutely but IMHO the less stressing about money at first the better and you will be prepared if you can’t find work right away. I would also suggest enough money for one way tickets back home… we call ours the “O-SH#T fund”.
- BE NICE!!! Be kind to everyone you meet, even if they are not to you. I’ve REALLY noticed that even if someone is being a jerk to you, make a joke, smile, wish them a great day… it makes the WORLD of difference and people will really open right up to you.
- BE NICE!!! Yes I am putting this twice.
- Do a PMV. This is up for big debate but IMO it is a great idea. You will read horror stories about crime and the cost of living but until you actually see it in person you will never know if island life truly for you. A PMV is the best way to get a little glimpse into what life can be like in the USVI and can potentially save you A LOT of money.
- Don’t try to change anything. I still struggle sometimes with this as I am a work smarter not harder kinda gal but guess what?? The stateside way of doing things doesn’t apply here, just give in and go with the flow. If you are not or can no become a patient person, don’t move here.
- Be open minded / flexible and toss out that “comfort zone” thing. Try that local dish, talk to a random stranger at the bar, take that road less traveled (with 4wd only lol). You never know who you will meet or what you will find.
- Be RESPECTFUL. Smile… god day, good night, hold the door for someone and let people in when sitting in traffic, smile at everyone.
- Get to like bugs and critters. Luckily for me I love them all! I don’t mind any critters and have some beautiful spiders happily living in my bathroom eating all the mozzys.
- Drive Slowly. Its scary on these roads and you gotta pay attention – don’t even think about using that cell phone either lol.
- Get in the water! When you’re stressing about spending your savings up or about finding a place – take a dip or explore the beaches. We still find new cool secluded beaches all the time. Its just as easy to find yourself in the rat race of work here, even in the islands, so make it a point to explore the island, find a secluded beach or my personal favorite… island hop!
In my opinion if you don’t think you can do these things… best stay put. big grin
Thanks so much to all of my fellow board members who helped to make my dream a reality… even if some of ya make me nuts ;-D