Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tour of de Island

This is the start of a fabulous tour Ethan, Frances and I got to go on with the kids at the terminal school. No, not for the terminally ill children. For the children of the oil terminal employees. Since Jan we are attending the school full time, although the kids take most of their courses online and I am their spanish teacher. The guide is Gaye. She is reportedly Al Gore's cousin. She's got a photographic memory and I say, she knows something about everything!

Ethan and Frances are standing on a cistern. Since there is no fresh water supply on the island, inhabitants built lots of these to hold rain water. This one is around 300 years old. Some of them are still being used today.

We are looking different kinds of bricks. You can see that some buildings have been rebuilt because they were destroyed by hurricanes. So, the buildings have different kinds of brick.
The history is told in the layers of bricks.
It's really me.A view of the main drag on the strip of businesses along the shore Sorry about the morning shade

The Old Gin House. This is a great hotel, probably the nicest on the island. They used to have Wednesday night BBQ night and lots of people would come out to the outdoor dining and bar and eat and drink and there was a live band. Mr. Dennis Amajan, the wonderfully gifted leader of the culture (music) department has invited myself to play with him and his band a few times and Connely and Ethan have played with the band as well. It was a great experience. Now they have quit having BBQ night and locals are not happy.....Wed nights will never be the same.

Old Gin House is named after a cotton gin that was brought to the island, not the drink. The island used to grow lots of cotton. The gin cost the island a great deal of money at the time and vastly improved the ability to make cotton (obviously). The hotel is restored and in beautiful condition. seriously they have the coolest website. It makes this place look so hip and modern. Really it is nothing like it at all, but it is worth checking out the aerial photo. It is spectacular. Sometimes I like to fantasize that the whole island really does look like what that website advertises. And since you are in america, this only takes a second to go to (takes about 5 min here to pull it up) so GO!

OK, Gin House photos are fantasy. This is reality. This is Dive Statia, one of three dive shops on the island. The beach side of it is one of the only places in the last year that has had sand enough to use for swimming. Recently a lot more sand has been brought in so we are pretty happy because there is more beach.

OK, here is my least favorite part of the tour. This is in the dirt parking lot across the street from Dive Statia. This hand belongs to Sammy, 13 year from Texas. It is supposed to be a picture with MY hand in it. Because this is the blue bead in Sammy's hand that he picked up on the ground, sitting right there on top of the dirt, between Sammy's left foot and my right foot. And because I was paying attention to the tour guide, Sammy bent over and got that blue bead first. Oh sure, I am happy for Sammy. Since he is leaving the island soon I guess I can be happy that he found it first, But WAH WAH WAH! I WANT a BLUE BEAD TOO!!!

Blue Beads are an important part of Statian history. People on this island wear their blue beads proudly on a necklace. Basically, the more blue beads you sport, the cooler you are. Slaves wore them to show their value, and there are blue beads to be found still if you have a lot of luck and search in the ocean right after a big storm. Or if you just happen to be standing in the middle of a dirt parking lot and the gods are on your side that day. This is the plaque I would like to take home and nail to the dining room area where one enters my kitchen.

The path was not actually build FOR the African slaves, but BY them. It is a very very steep shortcut to town from Dive Statia if you can handle the 95% grade.

This is a cool achiterctual structure build to take the water to the cistern. It reminds us of an Aztec temple. From the top of the slave path. You can see Saba in the background. There is a good medical university on Saba, like most of the Caribbean islands. Now there is an island I am glad we didn't go to. Saba is beautiful , but a giant ROCK. There are NO beaches at all there! I cannot fathom going to the Caribbean for 1 1/2 years and not being able to swim in the ocean. It would have been pure torture. Just standing there, sweltering on a gigantic rock, staring into the clear blue waters for 16 months. SO even though Saba has a really good reputation for a Caribbean university (and that is still not saying a lot) I vetoed it .
Wrong direction, Ibrahim!

This is at the top of the fort. There are several cannons there. During the latter part of the 18th century, St. Eustatius was the major supplier of arms and ammunition to the rebellious British Colonies in North America and the subject of conflict among the most powerful seafaring nations of the time.

For a while, Statia was the only link between Europe and fledgling American colonies. Even Benjamin Franklin had his mail routed through Statia to ensure its safe arrival.
This is where the cannons fired the famous first shots, making Statia the first country to recognize the USA as a nation!On November 16, 1776 the American Brig-of-War, the "Andrew Doria", sailed into the harbor of Statia firing its 13-gun salute indicating America's long sought independence. The 11-gun salute reply, roaring from the canons at Fort Oranje under the command of Governor Johannes de Graaff, established Statia as the first foreign nation to officially recognize the newly formed United States of America. ok, so I actually stole this part from the brochure, so what?
Statias are super-proud of this tidbit of history and the fact the they housed the revolutionary ammunition here as well as food and supplies for the revolutionaries. They have a really cool place in American history that we americans don't hear about often.

This sundial is from the 1700's and can you believe it still works?

Slave path winding up

This is part of the remains of the Jewish synagogue. There were so many on the island at one time that they have their own graveyard. In 1718 someone burnt the whole building down. There were two Jewish groups, the Sephardic and Ashkenazic, were very different in religious beliefs and life style. They continually squabbled and fought among themselves. Frequently the militia had to be called to settle disputes. There were around 350 Jews at one point in the 1700's. Here is a link for more info:
I love this photo. It looks like there is something holy about to happen. Wait, could it be student loans finally came through???Ahhhhh, (angelic music in the background)
Drat, a nasty mirage.We got lucky at the end of the tour because Grant, the island archeologist, was there doing an excavation of a micvah. A micvah is a Jewish bath or baptisimal font. The women would bathe in it to "cleanse "themselves once a month.

These are some of the little slave beads that Ethan has discovered after hundreds of hours scavengering through the ocean. When Statia was flourishing in the 1700's the value of a slave was known by how many beads they wore. The island has beads all over it and in the ocean still, but you have to get really lucky or look a really long time, and they are quite valuable.

Did you know Thirty Statian blue beads were used by the Dutch to purchase New York's Manhattan Island from the Indians? How much of Saks 5th Avenue would I own if I had that blue bead in Sammy's hand? Huh?

The law on Statia says that you cannot take any artifacts off the island except for beads. So these are coming home! Ethan has also found a blue bead, of the color black (I know, it doesn't make sense, but blue beads come in many different colors. The ones that are not blue are more valuable)
BTW, Sammy, the legend goes that if you give away the blue bead, more will come your way. Want me to hold that for you?

In case you were wondering who to vote for, her's de woman. You go, guhl!!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Venus Bay

It was time for another weekend hike and campout to Venus Bay. Ed takes the kids every few months for a short hike and campout on the other side of the island. I decided to accompany them this time, at least for the hike part. It turned out to be a spectacular place on the island rarely visited! View of the quill from the opposite side of the island. Yep, that's it. that's the entire island!We have many choices...all lead to water.....
Note the sign Ed stands by, one announcing the presence of the Antillean iguana. These are rare iguanas only found on a few islands, and Statia is one. We see them occasionaly around the island or at the dive shop.The start of the hike to Venus BayCharles wants us to follow him to see his new treasure

What is it, Charles? Eeeeeeeeew, again?Arrival at Venus Bay. There is nothing there except the bay itself. Ed and the boys strung up some fisherman's nets that washed ashore the last time they were there and made hammocks out of them. Otherwise sleeping on those rocks is pretty brutal. I don't sleep there....I hike back home, have a hot shower, curl up with a good book, and sleep in my own bed.

Sophia and Guenie search for treasures not of the bovine type.
I got a little crazy with the camera and took some individual photos
The corner of the bay there were some wicked waves that nearly tossed us off of the rocks.
A little calmer here

To build a fire
All the girls and friends too
Aaaaar, me buckos!

What is this girl doing?
Three amigo-pirates

Shucks, it's already time to go home.