As we enter the Charlotte Amalie Waterfront, we share an inevitable amazement.
The ferry ahead of us and on which we are about to board looks like something out of some third-rate science fiction.
It is called “QE IV”. Its centered cabin, full of round aquarium windows, is based on four independent floats, the front ones, raised in relation to the rear ones, in the form of large nautical clogs.
We looked at the boat and at each other, wanting to pinch each other. We experience this incredulity when the other passengers start boarding and bring us to reality.
It was the end of October, in the midst of the Antilles and Caribbean hurricanes. As if that weren't enough, the Saint Croix we were heading towards was the only one of the US Virgin Islands isolated from the rest, 70 km south of the Caribbean Sea.
The Smooth Navigation of the Eccentric Ferry “QE IV”
They were reasons to hold back and even to regret. Instead, we climb aboard, settle in, and wait and see.
After twenty minutes, the “QE IV” leaves the protected cove of Charlotte Amalie and the marine shade of the island of Saint Thomas. As we feared, the boat began to face a deep sea. In such a way that, at spaces, through the aquarium windows, we had an almost underwater perspective of it.
Wave after wave, we better perceive the vessel's eccentricity. The “QE IV” went up. The “QE IV” went down. Little or nothing swayed to the sides or was hit by the waves. She sailed with an elegance and smoothness that we thought was impossible.
Many waves, two hours later, we dock. It's five in the afternoon.
The Shelley Family's Provident Welcome
At the Gallows Bay dock, hosts Stewart and Sarah Shelley are waiting for us, a couple of Mormon origin who left Utah and, later, the continental United States, ready to spread their faith and live a Caribbean adventure, with everything whatever came of it, including some of the worst typhoons that the US Virgin Islands passed through.
The Shelleys take us to their semi-lost villa in the middle of Saint Croix. There, they introduce us to Miles and Gabe, their kids, and they offer us a dinner together, where we get to know them and start to admire them all, for the most varied reasons.
The next morning, Stewart had a morning church service to conduct. Give us a ride into the historic heart of Christiansted.
At 8:30 am, we are already discovering the secular capital of Saint Croix.
In its genesis, Christiansted developed colonial, slavery and dark, like almost all the West Indies around.
Christiansted: the Beautiful and Yellow Capital of Saint Croix
On that day, at that hour, it was sunny, beautiful and yellow, the current color of Fort Christiansvaern and, due to some obsession with urban harmony, of several other historic buildings in the city.
When we saw it for the first time from the windows of the “QE IV”, the brownish yellow of its structure contrasted with the dense blue of the Caribbean Sea, which it almost overlapped.
On the second, we find it beyond the sea of trimmed grass that carpets much of the Christiansted National Historic Site.
Palm trees and other tropical trees with massive canopies protrude from it, home to a few elusive iguanas.
As we walked along it, we noticed that there were few visitors.
Those of the fort and, more and more, gave us the feeling, those of Christiansted and even of Saint Croix in general.
The 70 km to the south of the island, diverted it from the route of the cruises that navigate the Antilles, which we saw anchored off Charlotte Amalie – the capital of the island of Saint Thomas and the US Virgin Islands – and which, as a rule, travel the archipelago from top to bottom.
Today, the reality of these places is one of tranquility and Afro-Caribbean peculiarity that dazzles those who have the privilege of visiting them.
Only outsiders most interested in the past learn in a decent way the atrocities behind the monuments and civilization they encounter.
In the case of the US Virgin Islands, the story hides an unlikely protagonist.
The Unusual Presence of Denmark in the Caribbean-Antilles
From the voyages of Christopher Columbus onwards (between 1492 and 1504), the usual colonial powers in the Caribbean were Spain, Holland, France and England.
Less well known is the action of the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway and, later, that of Denmark, both in these parts of the Americas and in the African Gold Coast.
It was the second half of the XNUMXth century when the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway managed to coordinate both expansions.
At that time, a significant share of the slave trade came from the Gold Coast of Africa where, from 1452, with the foundation of the fortress of São Jorge da Mina, the Portuguese paved the way for future colonial rivals.
The Triangulated Trade: Denmark – Gold Coast – Danish West Indies
At the same time that they took possession of part of the current US Virgin Islands, the Danes-Norwegians seized Osu Castle (later Christianborg Castle) from the Dutch and Carlsborg Castle, today, in Accra, the capital of Ghana.
Between 1680 and 1682, the first still passed into the possession of the Portuguese. In an initial phase, the two fortresses assured the Danes-Norwegians the success of the transactions, mainly in gold and ivory.
When competition proved too much and these amenities became scarce, the Scandinavian kingdom joined the slave trade. At the same time, in the Americas, it consolidated its own West Indies.
For almost 250 years – from 1672 to 1917 – the Danes filled them with plantations of cotton, coffee and, above all, sugar cane.
Forced Labor on Caribbean Plantations
The manpower was provided by other Danish and Nordic companies, dedicated to the supply of slaves, but not only, which carried out over sixty expeditions of triangular trade.
It is estimated that part of the “goods” transacted, the Danes-Norwegians and the independent Denmark transported from Africa to the Caribbean, around 120.000 thousand slaves.
In large plantations such as La Grange and Bethelem de Saint Croix, an island that is flatter than the rest, due to the execrable conditions of survival and tropical diseases, more slaves always died than were born.
This was the case until, in 1848, faced with a revolt against a newly deliberate phased abolitionism, the Danish colonists were forced to grant the slaves their freedom.
Immediately, plantations and commerce, hitherto highly profitable, became unviable. How unsustainable the maintenance of the distant Danish West Indies proved to be.
The Danes left. The ex-slaves stayed. As in the rest of the West Indies, their descendants make up the majority of the inhabitants of each island.
When we end our wanderings through the fort and walk along Kirke Gade (Church Street), we soon witness a religious expression of what his life is today.
Gospel Rhythm Mass at Christiansted Old Lutheran Church
Among the successive colored wooden houses on the street, the tower of the old Lutheran Church in the city, the current Steeple Building, stood out.
As we saw it from outside the arcade that once provided shade for the wealthy owners, a flag Stars 'n Stripes rippled, inverted by the warm wind.
We were photographing their blue-red frenzy as young Afro-acolytes dressed in white dresses and albs and red sashes clustered at the entrance.
We crossed the street. Let's make conversation.
We learned that a mass was about to begin.
In its genesis, the church may have been Danish and Lutheran. The ceremony would take place in the Baptist-Pentecostal rhythm characteristic of the southern United States.
We went up to the choir. We admire the vehemence of the pastor and the gospels contagious chants sung by the faithful who complemented his already half-sung sermon.
Back on Church Street and around Christiansted, we come across American families.
Ubut with holiday homes in Saint Croix, others, like the Shelleys, fully resident, committed to a simpler, smoother or more adventurous existence than that provided by the continental USA.
More than a century later, the capital of Saint Croix retains its Danish name and Denmark's Caribbean collapse continues to favor the Americans.
The Abandonment of Denmark and the Opportunist Takeover of the United States
In 1916, the result of a national referendum dictated that 64.2% of Danes were in favor of selling their West Indies.
The United States agreed to pay $25 million in gold. The transfer of the islands became official in 1917. Ten years later, the natives of the newly renamed Virgin Islands gained US citizenship.
Saint Croix is part of the Organized and Unincorporated Territory of the USVirgin Islands.
As we walk through boardwalk of the city, the distinct eras of Christiansted continue to insinuate themselves.
An old sugar cane mill tower that withstood the destruction of hurricanes Irma and Maria, harks back to the Danish times of slavery.
Right next to the The Mill Boardwalk Bar and Shupe's Boardwalk, Americans in tropical mode, downing beers watching football on TV.
Here and there, distracted by the pelicans diving along the esplanades of the establishments.