Faces of the Virgin Islands

Doc I the latest resident featured on the Faces of the Virgin Islands Facebook page. Images by STJ Creative Photography

Doc is the latest resident featured on the Faces of the Virgin Islands Facebook page. Images by STJ Creative Photography

Hello everyone and happy Friday! Today we’d like to tell you about a great new Facebook page that we think you should all check out. It’s called Faces of the Virgin Islands, and its goal is to profile residents here in the islands, as well as people who have come to our aid following the storms. Here is what the page has to say about themselves:

As the rebuilding efforts on St. John and and across the Virgin Islands continue, we want to provide a platform for people to share their stories. Irmaria reminded all of us of how intertwined our sister islands are. We want to share the stories of the people who came to the aid of St. John between the storms, the stories of people who’s first instinct after the storm was to head out with a pen and paper and start writing down names, the stories of people flying down from the states to help bring power back, the stories of people on a barge every other day delivering supplies. We want to share the stories of the love spreading across the Virgin Islands.

The page is relatively new, it just launched last month, and features photography by Anne Bequette, owner of STJ Creative Photography. Anne is also the photographer who captured all of the great images in our story earlier this week on Kenny Chesney’s Love For Love City Foundation.

So far, the page has featured three residents: Collette, the owner of St. John Scoops; Donna, creator of Valley Doll hot sauces; and Doc, one of our coolest residents here on St. John. Here is what Anne had to say about Doc, pictured above:

As I was documenting some foundation work being done, I caught a whiff in the air of something delicious. I followed the smell down the steps, past ducks and chickens, and found this handsome face on his porch cooking up ribs and meatballs for the guys working on a destroyed roof above. He invited me inside, so I sat, and we chatted.

Meet “Doc”. Born in St. Kitts, he came to St. John in 2000 to work on, and in, restaurants in Cruz Bay. One of them was Rumbalaya, which is now High Tide. He has worked in kitchens for 51 years and went on to tell me stories of playing soccer for the Virgins Islands and the St Kitts national teams. He showed me many pictures of his life, hung on his wall, grateful they survived the storms. He boasted about his garden that surrounded the remains of his wooden deck, as he pulled off leaves from his basil, mint, and thyme bushes, all used in his recipes and homemade teas. The smells were divine! Random facts about Doc: he loves to read, doesn’t drink coffee, and never drinks soda.

As he finished up the ribs on the grill, it was time to say goodbye. Before I left, I asked him what he thought of how the island is progressing after the storms. He emphatically stated, “People need to go to work. If you don’t work, the island won’t get good. Everybody has to chip in, everybody has to give a hand.” How does Doc give a hand? By doing what he does best… cooking up yummy ‘tings for the elderly at St. Ursula’s Episcopal Church in Cruz Bay. If you see him, say hello. He’s the sweetest!

Please click here to check out the Faces of the Virgin Islands, and please be sure to give it a “Like.”

The Soggy Dollar Bar is Waiting for You!

soggy dollar

Soggy Dollar Wednesday afternoon

Hello everyone and happy Thursday! I had the opportunity to hang out at the Soggy Dollar Bar yesterday for the first time since Irma hit, and it was such a great time! So today I wanted to quickly let you all know that they’re open, and they’re waiting for you all to visit!

Sadly, the only thing that survived the storm was the bar out front. The rest of the building has been rebuilt including the sitting area and the store, which is now much larger. The kitchen is still being worked on, but they are serving lunch with the use of a grill. Lunch is served daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For those of you who’ve admired the police and fire patches that lined the bar, no need to worry … they’ve all been saved! The staff removed each patch prior to Irma and all have been relocated in the new space.

The drinks were cold, the food was great, the staff was lovely and my company was amazing! So what are you waiting for? Hop on a plane and come visit us!

Can’t visit just yet? Well we have the next best thing… Soggy’s webcam is live and streaming. You can check it out at www.soggydollar.com/webcam. You can listen to Soggy Dollar Radio at the same time, so it’s kinda like being there, right??? :)

The Soggy webcam Thursday morning

The Soggy webcam Thursday morning

And I just wanted to extend a big thanks to Southern Hospitality for giving us the lift over there yesterday. You may recall how we introduced you to Southern Hospitality’s owner Bruce Twyon back in November. Bruce has donated countless hours and boat trips to help with the recovery efforts. He’s a great guy, one I’m happy to call my friend. Click here to read all about Bruce and his great work.

The Longboard Reopens!

the longboard

Well folks, one of our favorite restaurants has finally reopened for regular service following the hurricanes, and we could not be more excited!

The Longboard reopened its doors Friday after being officially closed for the past few months. As you may recall, The Longboard’s owner Clint Gaskin actually flew to St. John the day before Hurricane Irma hit, so he could be on island and help feed people after the storms. Well Clint ended up doing just that, serving thousands of Red Cross meals for the first month after Irma.

After the Red Cross contract ended, Clint and his staff took a much-needed break. They also took that time to spruce up the restaurant, installing new tables, stools, fans and more. They changed up their menu a bit too for the reopening. Check it out:

Click to see larger image.

Click to see larger image.

LONGBOARD_MENU_WEB_DRINK-page-001

Click to see larger image.

The Longboard’s kitchen is open from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily. The bar is open from 3 p.m. till the last customer leaves. :) Happy hour is daily from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. They have great specials including a $6 frozen Painkiller (one of my personal favorites!), $11 Frose, a variety of island craft cocktails for $6, and $1 off all beers.

So the next time you are lucky enough to be on St. John, be sure to stop by The Longboard. We’re pretty sure you won’t be disappointed.

Have a great Wednesday everyone! Cheers!

island cocktails

One of The Longboard’s island cocktails.

How the Love for Love City Foundation Continues to Help Our Islands

The Love for Love City Foundation crew poses for a pic on Jost Van Dyke. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

The Love for Love City Foundation crew poses for a pic on Jost Van Dyke. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

Back in October, we introduced you to the Love for Love City Foundation, a not-for-profit organization created by Kenny Chesney before the last winds of Hurricane Irma even left St. John. As many of you may know, Kenny owns a home here on St. John and has visited the island for years. So when he learned that his home-away-from-home and many of his longtime friends needed some major help, he quickly sprung into action, conducting interviews to spread the word on our plight, as well as setting up the Foundation which has been instrumental in the recovery efforts here on St. John.

Many people have asked me how St. John is doing so well following two extremely destructive category five storms. The answer, in my opinion, is simple. 1. The people who live here are incredible and resilient, and have done whatever it takes to get our home back to the new normal. 2. We have the unwavering support of all of you. 3. We have two private citizens who have gone above and beyond to help us – Kenny Chesney and Tom Secunda.

(Mr. Secunda is the co-founder of Bloomberg L.P. He too owns a home here on St. John with his wife Cindy. The Bloomberg Foundation dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy back in 2012 and brought that expertise to St. John. They can be credited for helping restore our infrastructure among other things. We will have more on the Bloomberg Foundation’s efforts later this month.) 

When we first spoke of the Love for Love City Foundation back in October, they were still in the emergency relief phase, delivering much needed supplies to St. John and Jost Van Dyke, our neighbor over in the British Virgin Islands. Since then, they’ve moved into the recovery phase. To put it simply, they’re fixing things.

One of the best parts about the Love for Love City Foundation is that you can see exactly where your dollars are going. Drive into Coral Bay and you will see that Skinny Legs has a beautiful new roof. The Love for Love City Foundation helped with that. Cruise around to the corner to Coral Bay Caribbean Oasis and you will notice how Karen’s damaged building has been repaired over the past week. The Love for Love City Foundation fixed that themselves.

Karen and the Love for Love City boys

Karen Granitz, owner of Oasis, with Connor Masterson, Kyle Eckhoff, Benny Wolfe and Seth Bettinger, four amazing employees of the Love for Love City Foundation. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

Hop on a boat to Jost Van Dyke and you will see a brand new dock in Great Harbor. The Love for Love City Foundaiton built that. Wander down the beach and over the new bridge to Foxy’s. The Love for Love City crew built that too.

The Love for Love City Foundation rebuilds the dock on Jost Van Dyke. Image credit: STJ Creative

The Love for Love City Foundation rebuilds the dock on Jost Van Dyke. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

The new bridge near Foxy's in Great Harbor. Image credit: STJ Photography

The new bridge near Foxy’s in Great Harbor. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

They even transformed into elves at Christmas time, personally wrapping more than 1,000 gifts which they handed out to children both here on St. John and over in Jost Van Dyke.

Delivering gifts on Jost Van Dyke. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

Delivering gifts on Jost Van Dyke. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

A little girl received a new bike for Christmas thanks to the Love for Love City Foundation. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

A little girl received a new toy for Christmas thanks to the Love for Love City Foundation. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

They’ve built docks, bridges, roofs and buildings. They’ve helped repair schools and clinics. They’ve cleared debris from people’s homes who couldn’t help themselves. They cleared brush over at Oppenheimer. They set up lights in Cruz Bay along with the Bloomberg Foundation before the power was restored. They handed out hundreds of generators – from ones large enough to power grocery stores to smaller ones that helped the elderly power up their homes. They handed out more than 1,000 Engel coolers so people without power could keep their food and drinks cold. They handed out plywood before Hurricane Maria hit, so people could protect their homes and businesses. They’ve given books to the three schools here on island and donated laptops and desks to the Christian Academy. They helped rebuild the Christian Academy. They cleared out classrooms at Julius Sprauve. They cleared debris from Gifft Hill, so the school could reopen. They evacuated more than 1,000 people on private planes. They’ve transported more than 700 cats and dogs from St. John and our neighboring islands to rescues up in the States.

Jeff Quinlin, operations director for the Love for Love City Foundation, clear brush at Oppenheimer.

Jeff Quinlin, operations director for the Love for Love City Foundation, clears brush in White Bay. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

Lighting up Cruz Bay - Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

Lighting up Cruz Bay – Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

students enjoying books on st john

Students at Christian Academy enjoying their new books. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

Students at Christian Academy enjoying their new books. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

Three students at Julius Sprauve check out their new books. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

Volunteers help load cats and dogs before their journey to the States. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

Volunteers help load cats and dogs before their journey to the States. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

stormy before heading to st louis

Stormy looks pretty happy to be headed to the Stray Rescue of St. Louis. Image credit: STJ Creative Photography

It’s all pretty amazing if you ask me.

Many people may be wondering who exactly the Love for Love City team is here on St. John. Well they’re your bartenders, boat captains, cooks and chefs. They’re photographers and former business owners. They’re simply people who want to help. They’re some of our island’s heroes if you ask me.

Four months have passed since Hurricane Irma hit, and our progress has been remarkable. But we still have a long road ahead. So if you would like to and are able to help with our recovery, I encourage you to support the Love for Love City Foundation.

The Spirit of St. John

Maho and Francis bays - Jan. 14, 2018

Maho and Francis bays – Jan. 14, 2018

I came across the following article yesterday, and it truly brought a smile to my face. It’s short and sweet, but it really speaks to the spirit of St. John. I can tell you all day long that the island is ready for visitors, but it’s also nice to add another voice to our story. Please take a minute to read the following article written by Hannah J. Farrow and published by Alive Tampa Bay.

The Spirit and Beauty of St. John Beckons
By Hannah J. Farrow, AliveTampaBay Correspondent

The hurricanes took away a lot of things—roofs of houses, car windows, taxi drivers’ passengers. It didn’t, however, take away from the beauty of the island or its people.

St. John, the US Virgin Islands has been a vacation destination for my family since before my birth, a home-away-from-home if you will. We rent a pick-up truck with bench seats in the bed, pile in the beach chairs and cooler, and take off one the left side of the road, through the mountainous, lush, tropical botany, with a “road beer” in hand.

We were anxious this year, gambling on the state of the island and questioning if vacationers were even wanted. I imagined locals rolling their eyes and shaking their fists as tourists with their money vacation on their destroyed land. We were even told time and time again by our travel agent not to expect the island to be how it used to be. My biggest fear was that everything I loved about St. John was gone.

To my pleasant surprise, I found that my family and I were welcomed with smiles and laughter as we reserved a table for 18 at various restaurants. What’s usually a pain to any waitress with a full section, with restaurant wait times over an hour long, was now a blessing to fill the empty seats.

We took a break from the relaxation of the pristine beaches and ventured on a hike called Ram’s Head Trail; only this hike was on the side of the island that took the hurricanes head on. I saw photos of stripped palm trees and heard stories of mudslides, leaving only my imagination to picture the state.

The beginning of the trail started off rocky, literally, and only indicated a similar three miles to go.

I was wrong.

The rough start turned into a calm bay where the water lightly lapped at the sandy beach. It continued on through the rocky waterside edge, up through cacti ridden bush, to what felt like the edge of the world. The clearest water rolled in waves, one after the other, crashing into the rocks below. The sun smiled down at us, and as I looked around, all of my fears of the island vanished.

I’ve always had respect for the island and its people, I’ve always felt welcomed, and I’ve always wanted to return. The houses are in repair and BBC electric works tirelessly to bring shining new wires to the island. I was devastated to hear how bad St. John was hit, but beyond relieved to see that its spirit wasn’t.

And on Day 127, News of St. John Gets Internet!!

nanobeam

Connected to the internet! That’s my beautiful new nanobeam in the background. :)

Honestly folks, I feel like I hit the lottery yesterday. One hundred and twenty seven days after Hurricane Irma hit St. John and wiped out all of our communications, I once again have internet here at News of St. John headquarters (which is a fancy way of saying my apartment) … I could not be more ecstatic! And you know what, I owe it all to a group of residents whose sole purpose these days is to reconnect the island. They’re not a big corporation or even an internet service provider. They’re simply a group of residents who decided to fix things. There’s a lot of that that’s been happening here over the past four months, and it’s pretty darn cool.

But before I get into what transpired yesterday, you may be wondering how I’ve been able to keep up with the News without internet. The short answer: it hasn’t been easy. Here’s the long answer…

In the days following Irma, I was able to post with the help of my father up in Connecticut. I would type up a story on my computer, Airdrop it to my cellphone, walk over to the “cell tower” at Ronnie’s Pizza and wait patiently for a connection before texting it to my dad. He would then post it to the newsofstjohn.com.

After I returned to St. John following Hurricane Maria, I did whatever I could to get internet. Sometimes I used the same method of writing a story on my laptop, Airdropping it to my phone and then searching for a bit of signal so I could upload it to the internet. Sometimes I would get lucky and would be able to connect to the free wifi here on island. Other days when AT&T was working well, I’d be able to tether my computer to my phone and work that way. I was very lucky in that the owner of Ardisia read about my troubles back in November and offered me the use of his amazing villa, which has satellite internet. And yesterday, I camped out over at Grande Bay and was able to use their internet.

I was sitting at the Lime Inn yesterday afternoon when I received the text that would end my communication woes. Love City Community Network was on its way over to install my nanobeam (which is a fancy little device that connects homes and businesses to the island’s new network). I literally jumped up and ran home to let them in! (True story, and thank you to Annie of the Soggy Dollar Bar for picking up my tab. :) )

Love City Community Network is a not-for-profit organization that’s been working since September 7 to reconnect St. John. And what they’ve accomplished since is nothing short of extraordinary. They’re the group that was responsible for setting up the first hot spot over at Ronnie’s Pizza, a spot that became a lifeline for those of us looking to connect with loved ones in the States, and all of the subsequent wifi hotspots around the island. They’ve connected numerous businesses over the past four months, so they can reopen and accept credit cards among other things. The Love City Community Network is even responsible for getting wifi out to Coral Bay. Like I said, it’s all pretty amazing.

Matt Gyuraki is one of the founders of LCCN. Here he installs equipment on Christmas morning.

Matt Gyuraki is one of the founders of LCCN. Here he installs equipment on Christmas morning.

So how are they doing all of this? Well it’s taking a lot of hard work and donations. This is where I hope some of you may be able to help.

Because the Love City Community Network is a not-for-profit, they rely solely on donations. As you all know, connectivity is huge, especially on this tiny little island in the Caribbean. It allows all of you to communicate with villa owners, car rental agencies, restaurants, shops, boat charters and your favorite blog here on island. It allows residents to work and it gives us a sense of normalcy. This network is so strong that I am able to stream television at my house, something I couldn’t do pre-storm. And as many of you may know, the island hasn’t had cable since Irma. So it’s pretty amazing to be able to watch what’s happening in the world once again.

So if you would like to help St. John continue to build its new network and help connect more businesses and residents, please consider making a monetary donation. You can do so by visiting Love City Community Network’s website at lccn.vi and click the Donate button on the right-hand side. That will bring you to a secure PayPal donation page.

If you prefer to help boost the network by purchasing much-needed equipment, you can do that too. The Love City Community Network has created an Amazon Wish List that you can view online. Items needed range in price from $9.99 – a network cable connector – to $3,000 – a radio that can link locations more than a mile apart. This radio would help them upgrade their network to Bordeaux Mountain which would then bring better connectivity to Coral Bay. Please click here to view their Amazon Wish List. 

This group truly deserves so much praise. They have been able to do what our local internet companies have not. They’ve reconnected St. John and for that, I am forever grateful. So if you can, please help this group out. It will in turn help all of us.

Thanks everyone and happy Friday!