How much can you really say about a place when you’re only there for six or seven hours?  Honestly, if there’s one big critique I have about cruises, that might be it.  At least stay overnight.  Then again, St. Thomas was the first time I felt that way the whole cruise.  Eight hours in Madeira and Barbados was more than enough for me.  Not that they weren’t beautiful places.  I guess I’m just drained on cultural immersion, so playing the role of tourist just sitting on a beach or whatever was really kind of nice.

Then again, I guess when you make a big move to an unknown culture the way the Peace Corps works, it’s sort of ingrained in you that you have to get to know the culture from the food to the people, and you can’t do that on a cruise.  I sort of scoffed at the idea that anyone would walk away from Casablanca after a few hours there and have the nerve to say, “Ugh, Casablanca.  What an awful place.”  While they may be right about Casablanca, it scares me to think that your entire opinion about a country and its people could be shaped by a few hours (let alone a few months) of visiting one city.  So, that said, while I can always say, I suppose, that I’ve “been to” Madeira and Barbados and Guadeloupe, I haven’t really been there.  I know virtually nothing about those places, and few others on the cruise do either.  Morocco.  I know Morocco.  I know Morocco well.  But those other places…. it was like playing hopscotch from island to island, and that’s all it really was.

Until the Virgin Islands.  Now, there’s a lot about the U.S. Virgin Islands I don’t know.  Many of the natives even speak an English I can’t understand at all.  Then again, I suppose you could say the same of, I dunno, certain sections of Minnesota, for example.  But when the U.S. Border Patrol boarded our ship and went through our passports, I immediately felt at home.  No other country we visited brought dogs on board to sniff out any trouble, y’know?  Home.  Sweet.  Home.  Seeing the American flag never felt so… wonderful.  Or tropical.

For my day in the Virgin Islands, I went on a snorkeling excursion aboard a catamaran that went out to a nearby island about three miles from Charlotte-Amalie.  While snorkeling, I spotted a barracuda (named “Barry,” of course), two sting rays, yellow-headed snappers, parrot fish, two starfish (that I held in my hand), a school of blue fish that were the same kind as Dory from Finding Nemo, and one very lazy sea turtle.  After we finished looking at all the creatures in the reef, our guide took us over to a shipwreck of the U.S.S. Cartanser Senior, 190-foot freighter from before WWII used to transport goods and probably destroyed by the U.S. Coast Guard for “transporting illegal substances.”

As we sailed back in beautiful weather, I had a nice conversation with a few Americans working on the ship who had “gone on vacation and just decided to never leave.”  Tempting.  But seriously.  For half a second, I caught myself wondering how far my $6000 readjustment allowance would last in St. Thomas.  (A week is probably a good answer).

Don’t worry, Mom: I got back on the boat, and I am now making way to Freeport in the Bahamas and am a few miles off the coast of San Salvador.  See you very, very soon, America.

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