The move has been a multi stage process and, even now, three months later, it is not quite complete. Boy has it been an adventure.
On May 30th, Cindi, Aston, Kiersten, and I set out from Houston, TX with everything we had left packed into the car, toward upstate NY. After a long few days and a lengthy period in the state of West Virginia (ask Cindi about my navigation skills), we arrived in Glens Falls, NY. There, we hoped to tie up some loose ends and send out a "scouting party" to the Islands within a week or so.
As it turned out, It was June 15th before we got on a plane, and the "scouting party" was everyone except Uncle Mike. Mike stayed behind to finish a job he was working on in Vermont and planned to follow us in a week or two. Cindi, the kids, and I flew to San Juan, PR. There we visited the beach and had some dinner while we waited for our commuter flight with Cape Air to St. Thomas, USVI.
We took off from San Juan at around 8pm and it was just getting dark. The flight to St. Thomas is only about 40 miles and takes about twenty minutes. Cindi does not like small planes. Five minutes into the flight, we flew through a thunderstorm. Because the plane was so small, Aston actually sat in the "co-pilot" seat and I sat right behind him. I guess I was more excited than Aston. I watched all the gauges and dials as the pilot worked them. Aston slept. Cindi prayed for it to be over.
There wasn't much to see flying into St. Thomas after dark. After some debate about ground transportation (don't expect much luck using a debit card to rent a car), we just took a taxi to a close by hotel, Best Western Carib Beach Resort.
Our basic goal on this "scouting mission" was to pick one of the three islands to live on, and find a house or apartment. Mike would send the crate full of our belongings as soon as we had a shipping address. About an hour in the daylight was enough to convince us St. Thomas was not the destination for us. You never hear anyone say this, at least I haven't, but St. Thomas is a filthy mess. One of the biggest reasons for leaving Houston for a tropical island was a cleaner environment. There may be no air pollution, but there are trash, dead cars, and demolished houses all over the island. I guess if you arrive by cruise ship and only stroll around downtown Charlotte Amalie (pronounced ah-mall-ya), you might not see what I'm talking about. We rented a car and took the ferry to St. John.
St. John was simply beautiful. It was all that I imagined a tropical island might be. I didn't realize how steep the elevations would be though. At times you feel a little like a mountain goat. The roads are narrow and steep with sharp switch backs, and you want to be careful of the taxis. They move right along. Did I mention you drive on the left in the USVI? We stayed at a campground in Cinnamon Bay. We took a cabin near the water. This has to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Things are pretty quiet there during the summer. The Cabin was nothing more than two concrete walls, a roof and two screen walls with doors in them, one facing the beach, one facing the woods. There were four cots and a little kitchenette. I should tell you that the island is populated with Wild Donkeys. You seem them all over, and they are truly wild, so petting and feeding them is not recommended. We stocked our kitchenette and settled in to enjoy a few quiet days in this lovely solitude. We went out to the beach on our second day. When we came back to our cabin, Cindi discovered that we had visitors. Two donkeys had come in the back door, which I left open, to help themselves to our food stores. Cindi shoed them out the back door, but it was too late. They had cleaned us out! I guess they enjoyed what we had, because they hung around our back porch the rest of the day. We knew we liked the setting on St. John, the question was, could we afford to live there? The economy is based solely on tourism. Cindi was offered a position at the Westin Resort. We discovered, however, that everyone who "worked" on St. John, lived on St. Thomas and commuted on the ferry (it's four miles between islands). We didn't want to live on St. Thomas. There was not much in the way of housing opportunities, unless you are a retired millionaire, or a young couple with no children. We knew it just wasn't going to be feasible.
We returned to St. Thomas by ferry. We had now been in the islands for six days and the week was almost up on our rental car. It was time to head for St. Croix. We spent the night and got on another commuter flight with Cape Air the next morning.
St. Croix is 40 miles south of St. Thomas, so it was the same duration as our flight from San Juan, less the thunderstorm. This time we could see. It was just awe inspiring to see the islands from the air. The water was the most amazing turquoise. We arrived on St. Croix at lunchtime. We rented another car at the airport and drove east toward Christiansted. Before we had gone five miles I was saying to Cindi, "This is the place!" Even from the air, when we flew in, you could see the difference in this island. There was actually some flat agricultural land on St. Croix, as well as hills. It appeared there was not the complete reliance on tourism we had seen on the other two islands. This island had thriving commercial activity as well as tourism. There was a terrific diversity in terrain, from arid scrub country at the East end, to lush rain forest on the West end. All we needed to do now was find a place to live and jobs. Sounds easy enough.
We spent our first night on St. Croix at the Frederiksted Hotel. We called Mike to let him know that St. Croix was the destination, and then we started hunting for an apartment. It is not so easy to find a three-bedroom or four-bedroom house or apartment. It seems that not many families come to live. Most of the people we have met who moved here from the States are single or couples without children. We spent almost a week staying in hotels. Then we found a temporary apartment outside Frederiksted that was more affordable, while we searched for permanent housing. This was definitely not a place you would want to stay long term, but it had a beautiful view of the sunset over the ocean and a lot of exotic fruit trees. While we were there the children met and befriended two children living downstairs. At this point, having been two weeks traveling and staying in hotels, our children were definitely ready to play a little. Cody was six and his sister Holly was ten, and they were as thrilled to make friends as our children were. We hunted the newspapers, real estate guides, local posting boards, yellow pages, and real estate agents. In our experience, the real estate agents were not helpful, and we tried several. Finally Cindi found a listing in the paper for a large two-bedroom apartment in Christiansted. We went to investigate. It turned out the apartment was downstairs in a home of a woman who was leaving the island to care for her sick husband in Miami. She was also looking to rent the three-bedroom upstairs. We took the upstairs and helped her pack. Finally we had a place to call home and an address to give Michael for shipping our things. Mike booked his flight and was to arrive six days later. Our "scouting mission" was finally over. It was not easy and if I had it to do again, I would not do it with the children. It was really more than they could handle.
The next Friday Mike arrived. Taylor and I went to the airport to pick up Daddy. Boy was she happy to see him. I don't think she let go for three days. Mike had arranged for delivery of our crate of things with Mullin Movers in Glens Falls and we awaited its arrival in two weeks. The house was fully furnished, but all we had of our own where the things we had brought in suitcases. Cindi and I had been doing the job hunt thing, she on foot, me on paper. Cindi found a job with Rum Runners. At first there were several things in the paper which looked promising for me, but I didn't receive responses from any of them. Then all of a sudden there weren't any more jobs in the paper that fit my qualifications. I got one call from a tour company that liked my resume but could not hire a non-resident at this time. Resident is defined as someone who has lived on the island for at least one year. Cindi worked, Mike and I played Mr. Moms and hashed out entrepreneurial ideas. Finally our crate arrived. Now it felt a little more like home with the kids' toys and the rest of our clothes and things and our bicycles. We were still renting a car. We had hoped to ship Mike's mini-van from NY, but it turned out that because it was a lease, the bank would not approve its leaving the continental US. So we started the search to purchase a car here.
By the way, all this time, our dog Cedric and cat Tiger were staying with Grandpa Bob in Vermont. The airlines have a shipping embargo for pets during the summer months because of the potential for heat exhaustion. We would have to wait until October to ship the pets.
We found a used car. We now had almost everything resolved in the move except the pets and my employment. The same tour company that had called me earlier called again. One of their non-residents had left and that meant they could hire me now. They were looking for a Marketing and Promotions Manager. We met several times and they offered me the position. I turned them down. I had decided to concentrate on starting a home business. This would provide me the flexibility to continue as Mr. Mom while Cindi worked.
As I am writing this, we still do not have the pets. It is the first week in October and we are working on the arrangements now. I will let you know how that works out.Matthew