Tag Archives: St. John USVI

St. John in the 1970s: Jelly Nuts

Coconuts
I was first introduced to green coconuts when I arrived in the Virgin Islands in 1969. At that time there were always several vendors on the Charlotte Amalie waterfront who would set up alongside the seawall with their piles of coconuts, chopping block and sharp machete offering the general public this refreshing treat for the modest price of between 25 cents and a dollar each.

These were not the dark brown, fuzzy, three-eyed, hard-shelled coconuts that I was accustomed to seeing in stateside markets. These were the green slightly immature coconuts that were picked early, before they hardened, turned brown and fell to the ground.

There is a big difference between eating a hard-shelled coconut and a green one. When you crack open a fully mature coconut, you’ll find some concentrated coconut water and a hard white pulp adhering to the shell.

The green nut is quite different. The husk is softer and less fibrous. The water inside is less concentrated and and there is more of it and the meat is soft and sweet like jelly accounting for the popular name, “jelly nut.”

So for a small amount of money, you got a nice drink of coconut water and if you so desired a bit of coconut jelly to boot. Jelly nuts are a very popular item and vendors on St. Thomas had no problem selling out just about as fast as they could open them up and collect the money. Also, the commonly accepted notion that coconut water, especially when mixed with gin, has aphrodisiac qualities, certainly didn’t hurt sales.

Personally, I not only loved coconut water and coconut jelly, but I also loved the cultural experience; the coconut man wielding his sharp machete seemingly without effort, confidently and precisely while holding the coconut in his hand. (At first I was afraid to watch, for fear of the man cutting up more than the coconut if you know what I mean.)

The Process
The first cut would be to slice a thin piece of the outer green husk about two or three inches wide and four or five inches long, to make a spoon used later to eat the coconut jelly. Then the husk on the top of the nut would be cut away exposing the thin shell beneath. The next cut would expertly take off just the tip of the shell leaving only the coconut meat itself to close off the hole in the nut. At this point the coconut could be carried away and the drunk later by simply cutting off the top piece of pulp or this could be done on site and you could drink the coconut water right then and there.

After finishing the water, you could ask the coconut man to cut open the nut so you could eat the jelly. In which case he would either lay the nut on a chopping block or hold it in the palm of his hand, and in one swift motion pass the machete through the nut, chopping it in two. The spoon would be removed from the nut and used to scoop the jelly off of the shell.

Going into Business with John Gibney
I found the whole process to be quite impressive and one day, while eating jelly nuts with my friend John Gibney, I mentioned my fascination with coconuts as a business enterprise. John knew all about it, and said that we could easily do it ourselves and so was launched our one-day foray into the jelly nut business.

We started bright and  early one morning getting our coconuts from the coco palms growing along the beach on John’s property. They were full-size trees, not the dwarf variety that are so prevalent nowadays. This meant that the coconuts were high up above the ground and not so easy to get at.

I had heard that on the island of Dominica, they used trained monkeys to climb the tall coconut palms and throw them down to gatherers waiting safely below. Safe, that, is if one avoided getting hit by falling coconuts. We didn’t have access to trained monkeys, but this wasn’t a problem, because John could probably out-climb the ablest Dominican simian.

John tossed the coconuts down to me, and I chased them and gathered them up. We then brought my 16-foot fiberglass outboard-powered runabout close to the beach and started to load the coconuts aboard. We filled the boat as much as we could, and John and I had to climbed over the coconuts to take our positions aboard. We motored out of Hawksnest Bay headed east to Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas.

I guess we may have let greed overcome common sense because we had put way too many coconuts inside this small craft. The boat was overloaded, we were left with only about twelve inches of free board. That is, the weight of the coconuts made the boat so heavy that we were riding way too low in the water. The run from St. John to St. Thomas can be a bit rough and between the big seas and the small free board we began to take on water. Luckily we were going downwind, so the effects of the waves were moderated, and we were able to control the situation by John baling out water with a calabash while I manned the wheel. We reached the St. Thomas waterfront safe and sound, with no more than a few good scares and a crash course in having respect for the sea.

We set up shop on the waterfront. John was the coconut man. I collected the money.

Now John, notwithstanding the lightness of his skin color, was every bit as good with a machete as any other West Indian. With his long blond hair and tall stature, many native St. Johnians referred to him as Tarzan. But, he was virtually unknown on St. Thomas and the sight of a white boy cutting open coconuts on the Charlotte Amalie harborfront was a little more than some local people were ready for. You could see the nervousness in their eyes as John, albeit skillfully, cut open the jelly nuts with his machete. Sometimes customers even refused to let him do his job, and instead insisted on opening their own coconuts. Nonetheless, we sold out our supply of jelly nuts in good time and motored back home to St. John with some good money in our pockets. But for me, much more than the money, the overall experience was something that to this day brings a big smile to my face when I think about that Virgin Islands morning some forty years ago.

Gerald Singer
www.SeeStJohn.com

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Rain, Water and Water Conservation on St. John

SeeStJohn.com
St. John has been having a lot of rain this last few weeks. Some of it has been associated with tropical storms and some just plain rainy days.

The guts are running cisterns are filling up and mosquitoes are hatching. My cistern is actually overflowing. Time for a nice long shower, wash the clothes and do the dishes. Looks like more rain coming.

Notwithstanding these wet rainy days, in general St. John is a dry place. When I first came to the islands in the 1970s the attitude toward water was one of serious conservation.

It wasn’t so easy to get water in those days, so people really conserved. If you ran out of water, you might have to wait a while before you could get a truck to bring you more. On St. John, the situation was especially critical. Although there were some wells that could provide limited amounts of water, most water for delivery came on a barge that arrived every once and a while from Puerto Rico.

It wasn’t fun to run out of water. No flushes meant things could get quite stinky, as was the case with no showers and the kitchen sink could fill up with dishes in no time at all.

To conserve water, you took a shower by turning on the faucet just long enough to get wet and then quickly turned it off. Then you’d soap up completely after which you’d turn on the water just long enough to get the soap off. Same with brushing your teeth, shaving or washing dishes. You didn’t run the water while you were doing something else.

Flushing the toilet was only resorted to when absolutely necessary. It was hard to find bathrooms in guest houses, restaurants and other facilities frequented by tourists that didn’t have some sort of message posted begging the user to save water, especially in regards to flushing. Some were pretty cute, I remember, like “On this island in the sun, we seldom flush for number one” or “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”

These measures could be very effective and people rarely ran out of water, even during prolonged dry spells.

Nowadays the situation has changed radically. St. John has become a place dominated by large luxury homes, most of which are rented out short term to tourists. With prices often more that $1,000/day there’s not much use in telling visitors not to flush or to take short showers. These homes often use more water in a day than native families and residents who still live in modest homes use in a month and probably more water than most of the world’s population uses in a year.

Years ago, the idea of building a swimming pool for your home would have been greeted with laughter. “Why would you build a swimming pool on an island with so many world class beaches?” Today, a swimming pool is just about obligatory (as is air conditioning) for that vacation rental or second home. Given the great surface area of swimming pools, the amount of water lost to evaporation is considerable and is another factor leading to the demand for water.

Today, however, there is a water desalinization plant to provide water, which supplies areas serviced by water lines and which can be delivered to homes in large water trucks. Rainwater is supplementary, but no longer is the source of most water used on the island’s large homes and hotels. Most of the time people can get water delivered when they need it, but not always.

The problem is that as more and more luxury homes come on line the demand for water is ever increasing and WAPA can barely meet demand on St. John today. Rationing at the water plant is already quite common during dry spells or when there is a problem with the water makers at the Caneel Bay Resort or the Westin so it looks like we’d better start thinking about water conservation once again, because it very well may not be there for you, if you run out.

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A St. John Virgin Islands WAPA story

by Gerald Singer, www.SeeStJohn.com
Back in the 1970’s when I first arrived on St. John, power outages were quite common. Everyone kept candles and flashlights handy to use when the lights went out. As time went on the electrical service became more dependable.

Recently, however, perhaps due to today’s far greater demand, there have been a significant amount of blackouts and brownouts on St. Thomas and St. John.

The following story is about a St. John family and an unusual side effect of a WAPA power outage. The family, a husband, wife and little girl, came to live on St. John about three years ago and have adapted well to life in the Virgin Islands.

About a month ago there was a power outage that occurred during a thunderstorm and the lights went out for about an hour.

The following morning, the family noticed something unusual had happened. Although they had subscribed to a basic cable option from Innovative Cable TV, the morning after the power outage they began to receive all the stations available on the cable system.

For about a week, the family was glued to the TV set watching everything from animated specials for kids to movies and the latest cable productions on Showtime, Home Box Office, Cinemax, Disney, you name it – everything! No action was taken by any of the parties involved and the TV situation returned to normal.

Two days ago there was another thunderstorm causing some brownouts, which were followed by a short power outage.

When the lights went back on, one of the first things they did was to check the TV, just in case.

To everyone’s delight, there were all the wonderful programs once again. Gratis for as long as it lasts, thanks to Virgin Islands WAPA and Innovative Cable TV.

“Yes!” said the husband. “Sometimes I just love Caribbean inefficiency!”

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Tropical Storm Hanna brings large surf to St. John

Storm damage Great Cruz BaySeeStJohn.com
A sloop washed up onto the southeastern shore of Great Cruz Bay during the night, the result of large waves generated from Tropical Storm Hanna, which passed by to the north of us.

There was also damage at Chocolate Hole where a catamaran and several small craft washed up on the beach and a vessel at a mooring was submerged. www.SeeStJohn.com

Storm damage Chocolate Hole Storm damage Chocolate Hole

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St. John Tuesday: First day of School

Jacob and Oliva get ready for their first day at the Gifft Hill School
Jacob and Olivia get ready for their first day at the Gifft Hill School
Staring the first day with Miss Val
Starting the first day with Miss Val

SeeStJohn.com
It was the first day of school today for Jacob and his “Boo,” Olivia, who began preschool at St. John’s Gifft Hill School.

All went well!

Gifft Hill School, St. John Virgin Islands
Gifft Hill School, St. John Virgin Islands
Gifft Hill School, St. John Virgin Islands
Gifft Hill School, St. John Virgin Islands
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US Virgin Islands Holidays

SeeStJohn.com
It’s Labor Day weekend, an official holiday celebrated throughout the United States, its commonwealth’s and its territories. In actual practice, the holiday, which purports to commemorate the struggles and achievements of American workers, is celebrated as an end of summer ritual, characterized more by backyard barbecues than by marches with banners and bands.

On St. John and in the Virgin Islands, Labor Day is celebrated in much the same way. As native Virgin Islanders and long-time residents already know, the Virgin Islands seemingly enjoys more holidays than anywhere else in the world.

We have all the US holidays like Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and Presidents Day and Virgin Island Holidays like Three King’s Day, Transfer Day, Hurricane Supplication Day, Bull and Bread Day and Boxing Day.

As most official USVI holidays are celebrated on Mondays, it appears as if every Monday is a holiday.

Follow this link for a list of all US Virgin Islands holidays and their explanations.

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Lunch at the Waterfront Bistro – Cruz Bay, St. John Virgin Islands

Waterfront Bistro Wharfside Village, St. John Virgin Islands
Waterfront Bistro Wharfside Village, St. John USVI

by Gerald Singer seestjohn.com
Habiba and I have a three-year-old boy so we don’t go out to eat that often.

From time to time, however, we do appreciate a nice lunch in a St. John restaurant.

A friend recommended the Waterfront Bistro, located at Wharfside Village where the Panini Beach restaurant used to be and we decided to give it a try.

The restaurant is right on Cruz Bay Beach a picture-perfect view of the St. John waterfront.

A light breeze of the bay and an overhead fan gave us some respite from the rather warm Virgin Islands noonday summer sun.

Chef Craig Sullivan at the Waterfront Bistro Cruz Bay St. John
Chef Craig Sullivan at the Waterfront Bistro Cruz Bay St. John

We enjoyed an excellent meal prepared by the experienced and talented chef, Craig Sullivan.

Habiba had already tried a white gazpacho made with melon and crab meat on a previous visit. She wanted to have it again, but it wasn’t available that day – no melons – ah, life on St. John. So we had fish tacos – excellent – mahi mahi in steamed corn tacos with shredded cabbage and a mango fruit salsa.

Our son, Jacob had chicken fingers like always and he liked them – finished the plate – a good sign

The important thing is: We’ll be back!

View of Cruz Bay Beach from restaurant
View of Cruz Bay Beach from restaurant

If anyone has their own restaurant reviews, we’d all love to hear from you – post a comment…

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St. John Stories – Mom’s phone call

by Gerald Singer seestjohn.com

Stories from St. John Virgin Islands in the 1970s
I present here some short anecdotes. Little stories of my life on St. John, which I hope will serve to capture something of the feel for the island life on St. John during the 1970s, at least my take on it.

Mom’s phone call:
I was living at the top of the hill on Centerline Road just outside of Cruz Bay in a small apartment I rented from Captain Jurgins, a colorful St. John old-timer with a heart of gold.

It was late afternoon, we had finished pulling the fish pots,selling the fish and putting the boat away, when I heard, “Inside.” Then a knock on the door. Not the normal, is anyone home knock, but a authoritative knock … bap, bap, bap! kind of loud and insistent.

“Who is it?” I asked

” ‘afternoon, open up, I want to talk to you.”

It was a policeman.

My pulse quickened, “What did I do?” I thought to myself. I couldn’t think of anything, but I was nervous anyway.

I opened the door.

“Look here,” said the officer. “We just got a call down at the station and it was your momma. She’s worried about you. She wants you to call. What’s the matter with you boy? You need to respect you mother. You need to call.”

In fact, I hadn’t called in about a week. But, in my defense, I didn’t have a phone, the pay phones worked sometimes, but often were out of order. My mom had no way of getting in touch with me outside of writing me a letter, so she came up with the idea of calling the Police Station

OK officer, I’ll call today. Thanks for stopping by.

“Don’t make me come up here again,” he said and he flashed a short, friendly smile as he turned to walk up the driveway.

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