“Here’s the secret,” she responds. “You only have to remember this: When you’re driving at home, you’ve got concrete — pavement — on your left. But here you’ve got grass. So just think: grab the grass. Reach out of your car window and grab the grass because that’s where you’re supposed to be.”
Grab the grass. I look at the shoulder of the road, green with shrubbery and grass. As I follow the written instructions to my hotel, I grip the steering wheel and repeat, grab the grass.
That was the first time I got lost.
One day I decide to tour the island, to go where the road takes me. The island is only 28 miles long and seven miles wide, so how lost can I get? I’m puzzled by the lack of signage. Would it hurt to nail up a couple signs that point east and west, to Christiansted and Frederiksted, to the turn for Road 69 or Cane Bay?
The road is lined with blooming trees and shrubs, the same ones I see in Miami: the red-orange poinciana; pink and scarlet hibiscus; bougainvillea in pink and purple; clusters of tiny pink flowers that I don’t recognize. But the island is mountainous, the winding road often high above the sea, and the scenery reminds me more of Hawaii than of Florida.
Once I come around a corner, and on my right, I see a long grassy slope above me where goats are grazing. I pull onto the shoulder to shoot a few photos of the bucolic scene.
Suddenly several dozen goats are coming toward me, running, loping, skidding down the hill, bleating and crying raucously. I hurry back into the car, worrying whether the fence at the bottom of the hill will restrain them. This must be how they get fed —someone pulls up in a truck and throws a bale or two of feed over the fence — and they are expecting food from me. By the time I drive off, the first wave of goats has made it to the foot of the hill, and they stand there crying at me. Fortunately, the fence holds.
A few turns later, I come unexpectedly upon the Divi casino, the island’s only one. I like to play blackjack, and more than that, I like to observe other players. I like the laughter, the stories, the impulsive decisions, the rueful remarks. But these gamblers are serious. No laughter, no stories. I move on.
One day I go to St. George Village Botanical Garden, where more than 1,000 varieties of plants grow among the ruins of a Danish sugar plantation. Here also, many of the plants are familiar — orchids, bromeliads, palm trees, mango trees, heliconia, gingers — and there are rare and endangered species of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as well. The ruins and crumbling walls have been incorporated into the gardens. Workers’ quarters, blacksmith’s shop, water wheel, sugar factory, lime kiln and other structures have either been restored or are partially overgrown by plants.
From there, I go on to Frederiksted, which is where cruise ships dock. Although it is the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Croix is not a busy cruise destination even in winter. In summer, it might be weeks between ships, and there are none during my visit. The waterfront has been spiffed up to make it more attractive to cruise lines, and I’ve read positive comments about some of the shops and restaurants. The Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts is here. Fort Frederik, built in the 1750s to ward off pirates, and Emancipation Park are just down the street. But many businesses are closed when there’s not a ship in port, and on the day I visit, the streets and sidewalks are mostly empty. I get a fancy grilled cheese sandwich for takeout from Polly’s at the Pier, then sit on a bench, looking out to sea while I eat.