Paradise: UNCENSORED

Living in paradise is a lot like living in a snow globe: it’s pretty to look at, but after a while it becomes claustrophobic.

Rock fever (also called island fever) — Look it up, it’s real. I suffered from it. No, it isn’t the medical disease, nor is it the rock band. Urban dictionary does an adequate attempt at explaining it.  I’m cutting through the smoke and mirrors and show what paradise is really like through eyes of a local.

LET ME BE CLEAR: I’m not here to bash my hometown or scare people away from island living. In fact, I truly loved growing up on an island and I wouldn’t change a thing about my childhood. By sharing my personal journey that spans over 19 years on two small islands, I hope to give a brief insight on what it is like in paradise from one local’s perspective.

The Government’s Agenda

Governments all over the Caribbean dole out millions of dollars a year putting together aggressive, glossy marketing campaigns that paints a rosy, but sometimes artificial depiction of their respective islands. Feel free to look at some of the U.S. Virgin Island’s latest marketing endeavors. They’re impressive, seriously. I find myself doing a double take of glamour shots on their magazine covers of places I’ve been hundreds of times.

St. John, VI Aerial Shot

It’s not a bad thing, in fact, because tourism is the primary engine driving the economy, not just in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but everywhere in the Caribbean. The U.S. Virgin Island tourism industry along brings in a whopping 70% of its total GDP and is responsible for more than 70% of employment. If you live in the Caribbean; you either work in the tourism industry, married to someone who work in it, or know of someone in the industry. The bottom line, whether we locals want to admit or not, is that tourism is part of the very fabric of our society.

‘Paradise’ from this local’s perspective (I’ll limit it to three points for length’s sake):

Cut off from society – Not literally of course, don’t start shouting at me. Yes, I

have an airport and yes I am quite capable of traveling stateside or wherever else that tickles my fancy. What I meant is that geographically speaking, I live in one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, yet I still find myself cut off from the rest of society. I understand that, especially on my quiet island of St. John, a large part of its appeal to tourists is to “escape reality,” and “unwind.” But as a restless teenager who’s run out of things to do, the last thing I want to do is unwind, to escape reality. So I did what teenagers do best: complain a lot.

Claustrophobic – Islands are typically small by nature. Sometimes very small. Small enough that I felt claustrophobic. I’ve never actually been diagnosed with claustrophobia nor do I intend to find out. When you’ve lived on an island for nearly two decades you tend to do a lot of the same things, know the same people, etc. As a local, the island felt claustrophobic mentally and physically. Mentally, I was so worn out doing the same things over and over to no end. There simple wasn’t enough choices: I had no movie theater, no mall, no clubs, you get the point. Physically, it was claustrophobic obviously because the land mass was tiny. Nine miles long, five miles wide.

Where are all the girls?! – A common, frustrated, but hilariously true statement blurted out many times by my fellow island boys.I don’t mean to offend any of the ladies, but I merely bring this up to illustrate another glaring reality of paradise: small population. St. John consists of a very small community of several thousand people. Predominately, among the  folks whose families have lived in the Caribbean for generations, it’s seems everyone is somehow related (creepy). Almost. To end off this last point, I graduated with less than ten people. Ten! I can proudly say I was in the top 5 percent of my class. It’s indisputable.

Conclusion — So what is really paradise? The million dollar marketing campaign will tell you it’s filled with pina coladas, palm trees and feet in the sand. I’m apparently telling you that paradise is filled with anti-social, claustrophobic men who have no idea how to interact with a women. The reality of it is, paradise is both: it’s a bunch of socially backwards men running like hell from small spaces who happen to play beach volleyball on Sundays until happy hour at various waterholes. I’m kidding! Sort of.

The real personality of paradise lies not with the expensive, photo-shopped images splashed across travel and leisure magazines, but within the locals. The true essence of what makes my hometown, my ‘paradise’ is the people who lived on the rock with me. Sure, the weather is great all year around, I can go to the beach everyday after school, or legally drink at the ripe age of 18. But what made paradise, paradise for me was the people with whom I shared my experiences with.

Challenge:

I challenge the people who are reading my blog to share a brief statement about where their paradise (home) is and state something interesting about it that only you, the local would know.

Cheers!

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14 thoughts on “Paradise: UNCENSORED

  1. Joey, I have been to St. Thomas and St. John and it is so interesting to hear what you have to say after being there. I can imagine that tourism is a large part of the living there but never realized the intense marketing campaigns the government must put together. It would be interesting to learn about travel marketing!

    • Dom,

      I had no idea you’ve been there! That’s so cool. Tourism really is a big part about everything we do down there: from policy making to zoning restrictions, it’s almost to a fault. Travel marketing sounds like a great blog topic, thanks for the input!

  2. Joey, I’m so glad you are doing your project on the Virgin Islands. I have never been there but, as an outsider it really does look beautiful. It’s neat to get your perspective on what it’s really like to live there. I can relate in a way because I come from a very small town that also relies heavily on tourism and visitors. We have a lot of vacationers who want to “come up to the country” for some peace and quiet and enjoy all the outdoor activities. However, growing up in the area, I see how lonely and quiet it really is when everyone goes back home after the weekend or after the summer/winter. It’s a blessing and a curse to live in a scenically beautiful area, isn’t it?

    • It really is, Kait, it really is. I met a lot of tourists from all over tell me that they would “die” to live my lifestyle. The irony here is that a lot of them say this while staying at a five-star resort. Unfortunately, staying at an all-inclusive resort doesn’t really showcase what life is really like outside the security gates.

      I agree, both a blessing and a curse. I’m glad to see another individual share similar experiences. Thanks!

    • Whenever I at first commented I celckid on the Notify me any time new comments are added checkbox and currently each and every time a remark is added I receive four email messages with the same comment.

  3. Joey, I am so interested in reading about the marketing that goes on in primarily tourism places. 70% of income from tourism seemed like a lot when I read it but then when I thought about it I am suprised it isn’t more. I always thought it would be fun to live in a tourism place during “peak seasons.” Do you guys have a peak season there? If you do, which do you prefer– when the Virgin Islands are packed with tourists or the opposite?

      • Hey there, I just hopped over to your weapbge through StumbleUpon. Not somthing I might normally read, but I enjoyed your thoughts none the less. Thank you for making some thing worth reading through.

  4. Hi Katie — The 70 percent is just a roughly estimate, my suspicions are that it could be higher. We do have a peak season. It runs from November through May. It can be very exciting during this time of year because of the influx of people. My personal preference is the slow season only because it gets really chaotic and congested during the peak months. In addition, we drive on the left side of the road down there, right side in the states, so we get a lot of tourist-related accidents.

    Thanks for your interest!

  5. I’m from Hawaii. I know the feeling of island fever. The locals are mean and hate outsiders. Especially dread lock hippies. They rape and rob and beat people because they got nothing better to do. It is paradise though. But after a decade or so you’ve seen and done all there is to do. Still, it’s not as strict as the mainland. It’s much more laid back.

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