Sunday, December 27, 2016: A Day of Bliss
Our second day on St. Thomas happens to be Daiga’s birthday. My wonderful daughter, Megan, scheduled a massage for Daiga at 9:30 AM on the beach at Magen’s Bay. A massage, outside, at one of the island’s more famed slices of paradise? Who would argue with that. The public nature of the massage, when she learned of her surprise, did give Daiga a moment’s hesitation. She only confided this to me much later. Anticipation of this pleasure quieted any misgivings.
Beaches in the Virgin Islands are publicly accessible. If you can get to them, they are, mostly, free. Magens Bay Beach is an exception. It charges admission ($2 per head). This morning the popular destination, a crescent of white sand that is three-quarters of a mile long and in a calm, C-shaped bay centrally located on the north side of the island, features a long back up of cars waiting on the one-person gate. The beach and surrounding park are run by Magens Bay Authority. The park service rents snorkel gear, paddle boards, kayaks, beach chairs and runs a snack counter and bar and provides life guards. All of this creates jobs for locals and is paid for by that fee.
Alex warns: here you must learn to be patient. Rachel, the masseuse, texts. She is caught in the same back-up. No worries. The local West Indians go at their own pace. They will not be hurried and they punish impatience with an even slower pace. Be cheerful, Alex suggests. Wish them happy holidays. This is their home, after all.
The beach fronts Magen’s Bay with Peterborg Peninsula forming the arm of the “C” to the east, Tropaco Point to the west. Outside the gap is the open Atlantic. In the protected bay, the water is serene, deep aqua verging on teal, and crystal clear. Sir Francis Drake is said to have frequently anchored here between plundering expeditions. The pale, fine sand is backed by a park filled with swaying coconut palms and mangroves. The water laps. The air is balmy. The sky a bold blue. (Partly it remains pristine and lovely because cruise ships can’t pull in here.) Tarpon and the occasional turtle can be seen swimming in the shallows, but snorkeling isn’t optimal. We’ll save that for another day.
No sign this morning of rain squalls. Perfect weather for a beach massage. Megan helps us slather up with the correct, reef-safe sunblock. These islands are dotted with coral reefs that are harmed by commercial sunscreens designed to hold together in water. Off in the distance, a white yacht anchors. Nearby, two lines of buoys demarcate a safe swimming area with a lane for paddle boarders. Alex’s is off to concessions to rent a paddle-board. Lifeguards with whistles and megaphones sit in shaded mini-towers. They let you know, I soon discover, when you’ve swum out too far. No jet-skis or motorboats in sight. It is quiet but for the squawking of birds and the susurrating of the breeze through the palm fronds.
Rachel, lithe, long dark hair braided and tied up, has the look and demeanor of many American ex-pats if they stay here long enough: skin deeply tanned, tending toward leathery, age a bit uncertain because of it, but, friendly. She baked banana granola chocolate-chip cookies. She shares them with us out of a plastic bag while setting up her massage table under the shade of palms.
The massage takes place at the west end of the beach, away from the concession-area hubbub. Here the beach is not busy. People do wander by. Rachel helps Daiga step out of her swimsuit and into a loose cottony sarong. For the next hour and a half, Rachel rubs Daiga with oils, kneads and pounds on those knots of tension that work stress and family generously provide. Rachel even climbs onto Daiga’s back and digs elbows into her stiff shoulders. The freshening tropical breeze lifts and ruffles the light sarong in a manner that invites Daiga to relax, nevermind how much of her might be exposed. Listening, eyes closed, to the swash of the placid tide, succumbing to the knowing work of Rachel’s fingers, Daiga is in rapture. When she finds Dain and me lolling in the shallows, she says, “I am in bliss! This was the best birthday ever!” Rachel, Daiga later gratefully muses when she finds a chocolate chip in the bra of her swimsuit, treated her like she was royalty.
The experience looks pretty appealing. Two groups of women separately approach Rachel and ask if they could sign up. She can’t hand out business cards or promote her services. “I’m just doing this for a friend,” she tells them.” The island prohibits conducting business on the beaches not promoted by the park service or a local establishment. A protection for tourists, it can make life tough for the ad hoc small businesses that depend on tourism and make up much of the local economy.
While Daiga is slipping into bliss, Dain and I swim in the uber-salty, buoyant water, or toss the football in the shallows. Alex cruises on a rented paddle board. Megan had her workout swim at the home pool. She relaxes in a beach chair, minding their two dogs to keep them from barking.
It’s great to spend the day outdoors, enjoying the balmy water, but Dain and I are antsy for more action. He wants big, curling waves so he can body surf. I want to sample the local snorkeling. Out at the edge of the bay small chimney rocks catch the glow of the sun. Swimming toward them, I remind myself to enjoy these bucolic surroundings. Today is Daiga’s special day. Our days will come.
By early afternoon, the fabled tropical languor sets in. No one is in a hurry to leave. We are learning to slow down, to enjoy without seeking. A vacation in the tropics is good for this. To live here might be another story. Alex’s tax law work keeps him busy. This time he is generously spending with us around the holiday is causing his boss to text and email with a barrage of urgent worries. Megan? My big city daughter makes daily use of the pool. She gets her work done on-line when not traveling for research. Afternoons, she has her favorite dog walk down by West Caret Bay, where they are not bothered by the roaming wild dogs. The first thing I would miss is newspaper delivery. They get the news streamed by National Public Radio on their laptops or they go to on-line news services. Okay. That makes me an anachronism. Maybe the lesson is, if you can be internet connected, you can theoretically live anywhere, right? Why not on a rock in a lovely tropical sea?
Late that afternoon, wanting to shop for wine and a few food items at Gourmet Gallery in Charlotte Amalie by the marina, we leave Alex home to work on his laptop. We drive down that tricky road into town. Megan drives. We are happy to let her.
To catch the sunset, we detour into a bar at the Yacht Haven Grande marina (you wouldn’t know from the photo, but it has slips for 48 yachts with side-to berthing for boats as big as 450 feet). The open-air bar and restaurant is across a grassy walkway from tied up yachts. Rum drinks in hand, we watch the scarlet afterglow catch fire beyond the yachts on the rock islands in the Caribbean to the south. Boobies dive for fish. Black frigatebirds circle and swoop. From a distance these birds, common in the tropics, look like giant finches with their forked tails. Their exceptionally long – compared to body mass – pointed wings allow them to stay in the air for days on end.
Dark descends suddenly. We order a second round of drinks. Dain slurps virgin daiquiris, essentially syrup sweetened fruit smoothies, like he’s on a bender. We nibble fish tacos, pizza slices. The food is nothing special. We’re here for the ambiance. Yachts lap against their hawsers. The water turns a deep marine blue. Though this is the busy tourist season, there are no crowds here.
We finish the night by their pool. Jumping in, tossing the football, sipping wine, playing cribbage, reading, listening to the symphony of “ko-kee” and crowing and whirring and clicking. Dain consults his star chart app on Daiga’s I-phone. While doing all this, we remember now and then to look out over a view so vast you can feel how big the world must be.