Phones scarce in St. John Caribbean paradise
-MALCOLM ANDREWS visits St. John, an island in the sun
No member of the general public – least of all any journalist – has the slightest idea as to the real worth of the Rockefellers, America’s richest family.
Are the Rockefellers, now in their sixth generation since achieving renown in oil exploration and production and the banking industry, secret about their immense wealth? Well, is Julia Roberts a ‘pretty woman’?
There are so many billionaires among the Rockefellers that it would take researchers decades to work out just where all the money is located, although we are sure the tax man has some idea.
One of the lesser-known members of the family was Laurance Rockefeller. Like nearly all of his family he gave back much of his immense wealth to the community as one of the world’s great philanthropists.
In his case he has been variously dubbed ‘Mr Conservation’, the “Father of Eco-Tourism” and the “President’s Man”, having advised all 10 American leaders from Dwight D Eisenhower in the 1950s to George W Bush (who held the reins when Rockefeller died in 2004 at the age of 94) on issues involving the protection of the wilderness.
Indeed, in 1991, the latter’s father, President George H W Bush, awarded Rockefeller the Congressional Gold Medal for his heritage work. It was the first time in the medal’s history (since its instigation in 1777) that it had been awarded for efforts in nature conservation. And largely thanks to Laurance Rockefeller’s efforts St John, one of the US Virgin Islands, is universally regarded as one of the most stunningly beautiful and least exploited tourist destinations in the world.
Laurence owned property at St John on which he and his wife (childhood sweetheart) Mary used to escape the hurly-burly of financial life on the US mainland. In 1956 they donated almost 70 hectares to the government to be used as a national park. More land has been added so that almost two-thirds of St John is part of the national park. In deference to Rockefeller’s view of life there are few television sets or telephones. And there is certainly no airport.
So if tourists want to enjoy the beaches around the largest settlement at Cruz Bay that are regularly voted among the best dozen in the world they have to come by sea. Not by mega-cruise ships with thousands of passengers. The intimate St John which is only 50 sq km in area with a population of around 4,000 could not cope with such hordes.
No, it is a case of come in by ferry from nearby St Thomas or on board intimate boutique cruise vessels such as the award-winning SeaDream I and II, with their maximum of 112 guests. They ply the Caribbean Sea from November to April each year before heading off to the Mediterranean for the European summer. SeaDream passengers have regularly voted the stop-over at St John as one of their favourite destinations.
They may not arrive in the massive numbers such as are attracted to other Caribbean islands such as St Thomas – but they are vital. In the 18th century, the economy depended almost entirely on the export of sugar cane, which grew in abundance in the hot climate and fertile soil. This was cultivated by slaves from Africa or the indigenous tribes of the Caribbean. At one stage, slaves outnumbered free citizens to the tune of five to one. But the industry collapsed when slavery was abolished in 1848.
The tourists and the world’s rich and famous who have holiday homes on the island love it for the outdoor attractions such as snorkelling from one of the seven faultless beaches around Cruz Bay or hiking along trails within the national park. There is also the fun of shopping for unique gifts in the architecturally picturesque Mongoose Junction shopping precinct. Maybe they are just happy to sip the island’s unique Virgin Islands Tropical Mango Pale Ale at one of the quaint bars. Or settle back on the pristine whiter-than-white sand while contemplating the Caribbean adage: “It is beautiful to do nothing … and then rest afterwards.”
At least, the locals on St John claim it is an old Caribbean maxim. And who are we to argue, even if we suspect we’ve heard the expression somewhere else in the past!
- Malcolm Andrews is an Australian author and travel writer. He has been a regular SeaDreamer since his first voyage in 2006.