Caribbean Travel Stories: A Pig Tale

Recently, the people of a small village in Dominica mourned the passing of an old man who was renowned in his younger days for being one of the best hunters on that Caribbean island. He was also the only person in his village to ever have been interviewed for a live radio broadcast, the subject of which was his incredible ordeal of survival.

He was one of the strongest men in the village, and by far the best hunter of wild boars. He would often venture into the most isolated and remote areas of the forest, armed with just a machete and some rope and accompanied only by his pack of expertly-trained hunting dogs. He was known to have single-handedly carried pigs weighing over two hundred pounds through miles of jungle slung over his powerful shoulders.

Early one morning as he was preparing to leave on a hunt he came upon another hunter who warned him of the presence of an especially large and dangerous boar that had been seen high up in one of the valleys of Morne aux Diables. It had already killed one dog and had left clear marks on several trees bearing testament to its height and great size. “Don’t go after this one alone,” he was cautioned, “especially without a gun.”

Taking heed of the warning, he decided to stay away from the higher elevations where the pig had been known to frequent. As had always been his custom, however, he went alone, save for his five dogs, and, as always, without a firearm.  Entering the valley at the base of the looming Morne aux Diables, which in English means Devil’s Mountain, he stayed low, following the course of a river that meandered through the forest.

He had been walking over two hours before his dogs caught the scent of a wild boar. He untied the dogs and watched as they bounded up the steep bluff on the side of the river and into the forest of giant tropical trees. Within minutes he heard an ungodly howling and the anguished yelping of his dogs. He climbed up the bluff to learn the cause of the awful commotion. What he saw made his blood freeze.

Scattered about were the bloody, lifeless bodies of four of his prized animals. The fifth dog, still young and not as well trained as the others, was running toward him, being chased by the biggest boar that he had ever seen in his life. Suddenly, the enraged boar, maddened with blood lust, turned his attention away from the fleeing dog, looked directly into the hunter’s eyes, and as if recognizing that this was the real enemy, lowered his mighty neck and charged. Realizing that it was hopeless to flee and impossible to climb any of the massive trees nearby, the man drew his machete from its sheath and watched as the giant bore down upon him. The hunter lashed out with a powerful blow of his machete, but the pig was too fast. Somehow, without seriously harming the boar, the machete was deflected and sent flying off into the bush. Moments later the boar was upon the defenseless man, slicing at him with its razor-sharp tusks.

The hunter defended himself however he could, punching, grabbing, kicking and praying, but as strong as he was, he was no match at all for the great beast. Just when all hope seemed lost the pig, blind with rage, bolted to the edge of the bluff. Using every ounce of his uncommon strength, the hunter shoved the boar over the brink and man and beast tumbled down the precipice and into the river.

The tide had turned. Pigs are not good swimmers and their short front legs, ideal for rooting about in the ground, are a liability when trying to stay afloat in the water. Now the man regained the advantage in this life and death struggle. The hunter pushed the boar under the water, embracing his enemy in a death grip as it desperately struggled to raise its head above the surface.

The battle ended in less than five minutes and the man emerged victorious. He was alive, but barely so. Three of the fingers on his right hand had been cut off and one foot was mangled so severely that two toes eventually had to be amputated. He had been gored in the face, leaving a jagged scar that was to stay with him for the rest of his life and was bleeding from tusk wounds in his chest, leg and back. Using water from the river to cleanse his wounds and his shredded clothing to slow the loss of blood, he bandaged himself as best he could and began the long walk back to civilization.

He was discovered semi-conscious and delirious just outside his village and taken to the hospital in Roseau, on the other end of the island. On the way he told the story of his ordeal to his rescuers, including the exact location of the drowned boar.

On the third day of his recovery, three hunters from his village visited him in his hospital room. They had brought him something delicious to eat – something to revitalize him and to help heal his wounds – fresh pig meat from the giant boar that he had killed.

True story – courtesy of Robert Louis.

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The Secret of Writing St. John Virgin Islands Guide Books

A Hard Day at the Beach, St. John USVI
A Hard Day at the Beach, St. John USVI

A St. John USVI Book Business
As many of you already know, Habiba and I own, operate and manage our own St. John publishing business called Sombrero Publishing Company.

I’m sure that having a publishing business on St. John is quite a bit different than doing the same thing anywhere else, and I’d venture to guess that the St. John experience is quite a bit more enjoyable although quite a bit less profitable. I imagine the same could be said for most other St. John, Virgin Islands, or Caribbean island endeavors.

I’ve broken down the business into the following categories: (1) research, (2)writing, editing and design, (3) printing and shipping and (4) distribution and sales.

Today, I’d like to talk about the first category, which is research for the book. Each book we write demands a different strategy. For now I’ll use the example of our best seller, “St. John Off The Beaten Track.” Guide books need to be updated from time and this book is no exception.

The first edition of “St. John Off The Beaten Track” hit the St. John scene in 1996. Since then there have been two subsequent editions and four printings. I imagine that in 2010 we’ll be ready to present edition four, the preparations for which will begin shortly.

Here’s how we do it. Let’s say we’re doing beaches. First step is to go to the beach, not bad for a day a at work, wouldn’t you say. We’ll try to bring everything we’ll need, which will probably be little different than what any tourist on St. John brings to the beach, picnic stuff, beach blanket or beach chairs, snorkel gear, picnic stuff, sun block and for recording the experience, a land and an underwater camera, a tape recorder and a pad and pencil.

Next we spend some time on the beach and lying there on the sand think of everything about that beach. To help us think, we stroll along the sand, take a swim, go snorkeling, sit back and contemplate our surrounding – things like that. I know you’re thinking: “wow, that sounds tough, I had no idea that book writing on St. John would entail such arduous work.”

We’ll very likely return another day to try to make sure we didn’t miss anything and we’ll also make other trips by boat or kayak for more photos and another angle on the beach experience.

At home we’ll arrange our notes listing what we experienced, and what we thought about. We’ll do the same for all the beaches that we want to write about, as well as the hiking trails, and cool places to visit on St. John and eventually will sit down to put it all together for the book. That’s it. And believe me it’s the best part.

Next: writing, editing and design

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St. John and the Virgin Islands: Islands with Pirate Names


Like other Caribbean Islands, the Virgin Islands, has a considerable pirate history, which has left it’s legacy, at least in terms of the names of some of its islands and cays.

For example, think of the four islands containing the name Thatch, Thatch Cay, Great Thatch and Little Thatch. These islands are thought to be named after the notorious pirate, Edward Teach, or better known as Blackbeard and on St. Thomas we have Blackbeard’s Castle.

Bellamy Cay, he small island in Trellis Bay on the east end of Tortola in The British Virgin Islands is named after the pirate Black Sam Bellamy.

Although Sir Francis Drake was viewed  as a heroic privateer to the English ,he was considered a vicious loathsome pirate by the Spanish. On St. Thomas there is a concrete seat overlooking a beautiful panorama of islands and cays, which is a popular tourist stop called  Drake’s Seat. Here supposedly (but doubtfully) Sir Francis Drake would sit while looking for ships to plunder.

On the south side of the channel between Tortola and several smaller islands, named fter the aforementioned, Sir Francis Drake, lies a small rocky and scrubby  island named Dead Chest. This island was once used by Blackbeard to punish disobedient pirates, who he would leave marooned on this desolate cay with only a bottle of rum in the way of provisions and little chance of survival.

It was Dead Chest Island that Robert Louis Stevenson in his book  “Treasure Island, when he wrote the well known ditty :

“Fifteen Men on the dead man’s Chest,
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.”

Furthermore, the inspiration for “Treasure Island” itself was the Island just to the west of Dead Chest called Norman Island , which was named after the pirate, Norman, whose pirate lair was on the island of Anegada.

Today modern day pirates still inhabit the the Virgin Islands, but in the words of Bob Dylan, instead of a sword, they “rob you with a fountain pen.”

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Coming To St. John: Another Perspective

The following is an account of a blog reader’s experience of coming to St. John in the late 1990s. He promises to have more installments soon:

Empire State Building, New York City
Empire State Building, New York City

From the big city to St. John
When I was in my early 20s, I was living in down town Manhattan. A friend of mine from high school had opened up a bar. It wasn’t very much to look at, very simple in fact, pool table, juke box, some tables scattered about. Pretty much your typical dive bar, cheap drinks, fun bartenders and good music.

Well for the first couple of months it was pretty much empty. Maybe some people from the surrounding neighborhood would stop in for a beer or a quick game of pinball and that would be it.

Then as if out of nowhere some how, this dark, little nothing bar became the ”place to be” and there was now a line outside and it went down the block. Besides the three bouncers, it even had its own beat cop permanently placed out front. Inside on any given night you could find various examples of New York City’s glitterati: movie stars, television stars, sports stars, supermodels, famous and up and coming authors, performance artists and drag queens. Even the people you didn’t recognize seemed to be “somebody.” Whether they were fashion designers or make up artists or future dot com multimillionaires, they all seemed to gather at this no frills watering hole. I imagine it was similar in many ways to studio 54 in the seventies.

The club was soon listed in all these, “where to go and what to do in New York” publications and before I knew it, there were people from the hinterlands of the United States, Europe and beyond were lining up to get inside. We had become a “must do” stop on the tourist trail.

Things continued like that for several years. Very long story made very short, the lifestyle became all too much for me. I was up all night and sleeping all day, spending my money as fast as it came in and suffering many of the other nasty side effects that go along with this type of career choice. After a while, I had had enough. I decided I needed to quit, or at the very least, take a long vacation.

I got rid of my two bedroom New York City apartment, which I had personally renovated and went to St. John with really no plan in mind.

Arriving on St. John, I moved into what was described as an eco tent, which was basically a small wood framed structure that was screened in to keep out the hordes of mosquitos. There it sat in the middle of a lush dense beautiful tropical, garden, set amongst the soursop trees and bird peppers. There was an outdoor cold water shower and an outdoor composting toilet. I had no vehicle, no television, no computer, no radio and no phone, cell or otherwise. There was a light bulb, however, and I had lots of books.

It was about a two mile walk to town, half of which were on small trails through the brush, and if you chose to take that walk on a moonless night you had best bring a flashlight just to see what little path there was. More than one night I had over stayed my daylight welcome only to stumble back to my glorified tree house in the bush, blind as a bat all, alone, no sidewalks, no streetlights, no fabulous New Yorkers cheering on my every move, just the occasional creepy mongoose glaring at me with is beady eyes. as if it were thinking “what on earth are you doing here?”

When I finally made it back home to my eco cottage, I would douse my self with the highest amount of deet insect repellent that was legal. I would read and sometimes sketch by the 60 watt bare bulb. Outside you could here the insects hitting the screen walls in a desperate attempt to get inside. There was blood in that tent and they knew it.

I would finally fall asleep at around 9.30, which was the time I would be normally be getting into the shower to go to work and I would wake up at the crack of dawn, which was the time I would normally be getting home.

There was no Starbucks coffee, no New York Times, just some homemade bush tea and the local weekly newspaper that was as about as informative and exciting as a high school newspaper in a make believe high school.

My mind clearing, chakra aligning, Buddhist monk retreat was starting to feel like a visitors pass to Guantanamo Bay…

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St. John Beach Guide: Still Banned?

I’m new to the blog writing game, so I just discovered one of its benefits. It focuses you on a subject. Specifically in this case it focused me on the St. John Beach Guide and the relationship with the National Park, which has been stormy, starting with that ridiculous banning of the first edition.

The thing is that I wrote in the blog that subsequent editions of the St. John Beach Guide have been approved by the Park Officials and that the book was for sale at the St. John National Park Visitors Center. Well, I have to take that back.

Edition Three
St. John Beach Guide -Third and Latest Edition

The St. John Beach Guide was updated and reprinted in early 2006. At that time I submitted the book for approval to be sold by the National Park. In January it will be three years since I made that first request and the book has still not been approved.

Unlike the first edition, there was no official reason given for the lack of approval. All I’ve been told is that the approval process has not been completed and that it takes time.

But come on – three years! In my experience with other books sold at the park, including St. John Off the Beaten Track and Tales of St. John and the Caribbean, the approval process was completed in about one month.

The newest St. John Beach Guide is a combination coffee table book and guide book, which will certainly by helpful for visitors to the island as well as providing a great keepsake of their visit and one of the only ways of conveying to friends and family the beauty of the St. John experience. I promise that there’s nothing controversial printed anywhere in the book, not even any half naked ladies or good-natured donkeys.

We now have six titles, St. John Beach Guide, St. John Off the Beaten Track, Tales of St. John and the Caribbean, St. Thomas, Vieques and the translation of the Pedro Juan Soto Novel USMAIL. Sales are brisk and we have many outlets so a whole lot of attention has not been given to the approval of the  St. John Beach Guide‘s by the park.

I can’t say I know what’s happening, only that writing about the first St. John Beach Guide jogged my memory about the situation of the newest edition and I intend to follow it up to see if I get some kind of definitive answer, which I’ll share with the blog readers.

So come on National Park. Please approve the St. John Beach Guide.

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The (Controversial) St. John Beach Guide Part Two: Donkeys

Banned Beach Guide
As discussed in our previous post, the first edition of The St. John Beach Guide was banned by the National Park on St. John. The reason for the banning was that someone in power at the St. John National Park found fault with two illustrations in the book.

(note subsequent editions of the St. John Beach Guide have not suffered the same fate, and the latest one can be found for sale at the National Park Visitors Center in Cruz Bay.)

St. John Beach Guide – First Edition

Edition Two
St. John Beach Guide – Second Edition

Edition Three
St. John Beach Guide -Third and Latest Edition
Promotion of Nudity
Promotion of Nudity

Promoting Nudity

The first one was the drawing of a young lady sunbathing on the beach. She had apparently taken off the top of her bikini and as she raises (back turned) from her beach blanket, she sees a pelican flying off with the top half of her swimsuit.

Possibly, because nudity at Salomon had been an recent issue, someone took a hard line and found the whimsical illustration to be “promoting nudity.”


Donkey with a Positive Image

The Offending Donkeys
The other offending illustration is of two donkeys in a field and to understand how this benign picture could be problematic we will need to provide some background information.

At the time of the writing of the St. John Beach Guide first edition (1994), the National Park was taking an aggressive stand about the many donkeys that were roaming about St. John. The park ‘s position was that Donkeys were a non-native species and their proliferation in the wild would be destructive to the environment and dangerous to humans.

Others  took the position that donkeys have been around for a long time, that they are cute and had formed part of the cultural landscape of St. John, pointing to how often tourists take their pictures and express such fondness for the creatures.

When there was talk about the “evil park” reducing the numbers of donkeys by shooting them, “donkey lovers” expressed an emphatic opposing view.

A war of letters to the editors and coconut telegraph messages over the donkey issue began to be commonplace.

Bad Donkeys
As an example of “Donkey Bad Press, the folowing was posted on the bulletin board at the Cinnamon Bay Campground:

“Many visitors call them cute. Others refer to them as a curiosity. By the end of their stay some visitors have vowed never to return because of them. As charming as they may seem and as approachable as they are, the donkeys, which roam Cinnamon Bay Campground, are a nuisance and a safety hazard. At certain times of the year donkeys become very aggressive and will kick and bite without warning. Other problems include forcing their way into tents, eating campers food, travelers checks and even air line tickets, rummaging through trash cans causing sanitary problems and unsightly messes and damaging campground property….”

The St. John Beach Guide Takes the Heat
So into the mix out comes The St. John Beach Guide and instead of an image of snarling donkey holding up tourists on the side of the road demanding food, money and airline tickets, we have those innocuous looking animals minding their own business without revealing a clue as to the evil that possibly lurks deep in their hearts.

Was Gerald Singer making a statement about Donkeys?

For the record, I honestly never thought about the implications of the illustrations, believing them to have no political implications whatsoever.

Newspaper Article written about The St. John Beach Guide controversy

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The (Controversial) St. John Beach Guide Part One: Nudity

The Original St. John Beach Guide
The Original St. John Beach Guide

First Edition St. John Beach Guide
The first edition of The St. John Beach Guide written by (the self proclaimed) “the world’s foremost authority on St. John’s beaches,” me, Gerald Singer and illustrated by my good friend and well known St. John artist, Les Anderson was published in 1994.

The St. John Beach Guide was a cute, informal little book that gave directions and descriptions and commented upon “all the beaches on St. John.” I believe I counted 52 of them.

Action Notes
The book even had what I called “action notes,” which were suggestions for beach workouts and athletic challenges. For example, the “Action Note” for Klein Bay was, “Swim along the shoreline from Klein Bay to the sandy beach at Ditleff Bay. The world’s record is 13:30. (Actually set by Jen Cambell who set all kinds of personal records and who beat me in a race up the Reef Bay Trail, and I did say “up,” and, did I mention that she was carrying her young son in a backpack, and that I was determined not to let her beat me. Well, as my friend, Foxy, says, “Such is Life.”)

The one thing I never suspected, though, was that The St. John Beach Guide would be controversial. But it turned out to be, so much so that it was banned by the Virgin Islands National Park.

How did this happen?

Beach Guide Banned by National Park
There were two issues, and neither one of them had to do with the text, the controversy centered around two of Les Anderson’s illustrations. Now those of you who know Les are probably thinking, “sexy ladies sans clothing.” Close, but no cigar.

First, some background. For many years, the beach at Salomon Bay was informally proclaimed a “nude beach,” and that it became. Because, I imagine, of its relative inaccessibility and the fact that there are plenty of other beach choices that those offended by nudity might choose and possibly because there were no federal statutes prohibiting nudity, the clothing optional status of Salomon Beach was tolerated.

Enforcement of Territorial Anti-Nudity Laws
Enforcement of Territorial Anti-Nudity Laws

But beginning around the time of the writing of The St. John Beach Guide, the Virgin Islands National Park started to step up their enforcement of Virgin Islands territorial laws prohibiting nudity.

Promoting Nudity?
Promoting Nudity?

In writing a guide to the beaches of St. John, I needed to decide how I was going to treat the issue of nudity. Before going on, I consulted with Chief Ranger, Harry Daniel, who was in charge of law enforcement for the National Park. He told me that he would prefer that I didn’t mention nudity at all. And I didn’t. I did, however, mention that “the world record running from Salomon Beach to the parking lot is one minute and 42 seconds.”

Unfortunately, the Les Anderson illustration that appeared following the Salomon Bay chapter was viewed by park officials as “promoting nudity.”

The result was the banning of The St. John Beach Guide in the National Park. (Note: The misunderstandings have been straightened out and both subsequent editions of The St. John Beach Guide are available and for sale at the Virgin Islands National Park Visitors Center.

Stay tuned to learn what was the second controversial illustration…

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Modeling at Sandy Cay, British Virgin Islands

me with model
me with model

Sandy Cay has always been one of my  favorite destinations in the BVI. It’s this picture-perfect icon of the deserted Caribbean Island. The white sand beach, the palm trees, the view – it’s no wonder that Sandy Cay has been featured in so many commercials and photo shoots.

The above photo is me in one of those photo shoots. A team of photographers were shooting in the Virgin Islands and had hired me to take them to Sandy Cay for a shoot. At the time, I needed some photos for my brochure for my boat charter business, so we traded services.

Sandy Cay Palm Trees
Sandy Cay Palm Trees

The male model didn’t show up. The shoot was for a  “mature” couple on the beach. Now “mature” means “old” and old in that world means over 35. The qualification for the male model was simple – over 35 and “no paunch.” Luckily I fit the bill and I was asked to fill in for the absent model.

It wasn’t as easy as I thought. I looked nervous, I was nervous, I was walking funny. The “mature” female model helped me out and eventually, I kind of got the hang of it. Let me tell you though, I had a lot of fun!

About Sandy Cay
Sandy Cay is a six-acre island located just east of Jost Van Dyke. At one time the island was owned by  Laurance S. Rockefeller, who kept it as a sort of private botanical garden. For many years, Nippy from Jost Van Dyke had the enviable job as caretaker of the island. Shortly before his death, Rockefeller donated Sandy Cay to the BVI and the island is now a nature preserve.

There is a nature trail that encircles the island from which you can enjoy dramatic views. The trail is relatively easy and the walk arount the entire island can be completed in about 20 minutes.

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The Bubbly Pool, Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands

Bubbly Pool Jost Van Dyke BVI
Gerald at the Bubbly Pool-Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin islands

The Bubbly Pool is a small cove located on the north east of Jost Van Dyke. Because of its orientation to the north and west, it normally would be completely exposed to the large breaking waves, we call ground seas, generated from storms and low pressure systems that come from the North Atlantic in the winter. It would be exposed if it weren’t for a line of large rocks that block the entrance to the inner cove such that when a large waves comes rolling in, it steepens as the cove entrance narrows and then breaks over the line of tall rocks. The full power of the wave is broken and a rush of bubbling white water from the wave top enters the pool filling it with white, foaming, swirling jets of sea water, a natural Jacuzzi , so to speak.

I fondly remember the very first time that I went to the Bubbly Pool. I was operating a small boat charter business taking out small groups on “off the beaten track” boating adventures.  On this day I had a special group of clients I really wanted to impress, Tisha Campbell, Thomas Mikal Ford and Tichina Arnold costars of the then popular TV comedy series, “Martin.”

The day of the charter, was cloudy and cool and the ground sea was particularly strong, which wasn’t favorable for snorkeling or exploring remote beaches. I could see that my guests were not too happy about the weather and I decided that perhaps I could take them to Jost Van Dyke and spend some time with Ivan at his campground on White Bay, so off we went.

Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea after all, I thought, upon discovering that White Bay was just about deserted and the bay was all churned up and the skies were cloudy and threatening. Ivan was there, however, and he suggested a trip to the Bubbly Pool as the conditions for that experience were almost perfect. He gave me detailed instructions on how to get there and off we went.

Meanwhile my charterers were getting grumpy and even talking about calling it a day. There we were on the trail to the pool, which was overgrown with scratchy moran bush and I could see that my guests were getting more and more doubtful about the day and about me.

Then we got to the Bubbly Pool. It was wonderful! The waves were very big, but not so big as to be dangerous. This was a new experience for me as well as for them and we all got totally into the spirit of children at play.

The rest of the day went well also. We had a delicious lunch at Abe’s – Lobsters and conch, and then went to Great Harbor and hung out with Foxy.

Some weeks later I got a package in the mail from my new friends – a complete set of “home-boy” outfits from California along with a nice letter thanking me for what trned out to be their best day spent visiting the Virgin Islands.

In those days, the Bubbly Pool was really a secret as you would rarely, if ever find other people there, but now the Bubbly Pool is a British Virgin Islands  National Park and although touted as one of Natures Little Secrets, is not quite so secret anymore.

To get to the Bubbly Pool, go to Foxy’s Taboo at Diamond Cay on the East End of Jost Van Dyke. From there walk along the water’s edge until you reach the mangroves where the trail to the Bubbly Pool begins. It leads you through the mangroves and then up a small rock face to a field of maran bush.  If the pool is bubbling that day, that is if the ground sea is up, you will hear the roar of the waves entering the pool from the trail as you approach the pool.


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