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Traveling Off the Beaten Path in the Virgin Islands

<i> Bornn, a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is a free-lance writer living on St. Thomas</i>

For the visitor who treasures retreats off the beaten path, there are plenty where the sky meets the sea in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

But don’t expect such retreats to be listed by telephone number. You must learn the secrets from someone who’s been there. I have--and I have secrets to share.

The Kite is my favorite hangout on St. John. It’s a clean roadside shack with a tiny bar and a deck that hangs above a pair of turquoise bays and powder-white beaches.

At the Kite a laid-back, personable St. Johnian named Victor Hall serves his delicious version of the pina colada and strums a 12-string guitar to the accompaniment of an electronic rhythm box as he sings.

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Boats sail by while board sailors do their fancy stuff in Cinnamon Bay below. And suddenly you’re part of Hall’s band, playing whatever you grab from behind the bar--from drums and congas to tambourines and maracas.

Hue of Fire

The sun sets in a hue of fire. As you look to the horizon you can see a chain of emerald cays ringed with white sand set in an active passage between the British Virgin Islands and the U.S. Virgins.

Although Hall opens the Kite when the mood strikes him, a great time to visit is in the afternoon after a session on the beach.

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The light-green shack that houses the Kite is on Northshore Road between Cinnamon Bay and famous Trunk Bay in Virgin Islands National Park.

For great charcoal-grilled burgers, try Bryan’s Bar on St. Thomas. Everything is excellent. The menu is simple but the fish is fresh and the prices low.

You can dine at a picnic table under a mango tree with the light from the moon to illuminate the moment. You can also chat at the bar with a French fisherman or shoot a breezy game of pool on the veranda overlooking Hull Bay.

Bryan’s Bar is off the beaten path on Hull Bay Road, not far from the beach by the same name. To find it, consult a map. Dinner is served only from 6 to 10 p.m. After 10 p.m., only sandwiches.

Steel-Band Music

Should you happen into Long Bay on St. Thomas, don’t be surprised to hear the sweet pang of steel pans. Follow the sound to Vitraco Park and you’ll come across the popular Rising Stars Steel Orchestra.

Made up of more than 100 young people, the Rising Stars create a smorgasbord of music. You may hear the steel-band versions of pop hits and classical symphonies, as well as calypso. Return in April for the Virgin Islands carnival and you’ll hear the Rising Stars at their best, in and around the streets of Charlotte Amalie.

If you’re a jazz lover, check out the nautically-appointed, air-conditioned tavern called Sparky’s Waterfront Saloon. Although it has been around for long time, changing hands and names, Sparky’s has always managed to attract a crowd of both residents and tourists. The food hits the spot and the bar is a good place to meet islanders after work.

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You might even run into Grammy nominee (for “Lady Love” and “Rashida”) Jon Lucien, a native of St. Thomas, who might just show up to play a set or two.

Sparky’s is at the waterfront in downtown Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.

Quiet Corner

For those in search of a quiet corner, the Seaside Inn will prove a find. Its character is West Indian. Its decor is rustic and colorful, and its clientele 99.9% native.

The best thing about Seaside is that you can select a fish--a plump trigger fish, local lobster, conch or whelk--from a bucket containing the day’s catch. Ask for it broiled, smothered with creole-style gravy and served with plantain, rice and boiled sweet potato.

The Seaside is on Estate Frydenhoj on the lagoon between Virgin Islands Pleasure Boats and La Vida Marina on the way to Red Hook. It is open evenings. If you’re in the area, stop in early to check out what’s cooking for that night’s dinner.

For calypso and reggae, try Hillside Club. Dance to island melodies played by Sammy Watts and his combo. A St. Thomas native, Watts has played with soul great Isaac Hayes. Join him for happy hour while viewing the harbor.

On Wednesday nights the Hillside Club offers a West Indian show including limbo, dancing on broken bottles and fire eating. The club is crowded on weekends, which makes it an ideal time to mingle with locals.

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Hillside is on St. Thomas on Mafolie Road on the way to Magens Bay from town. It’s open every night except Monday, from 10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 10:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m.

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Looking for accommodations on St. Thomas? Island Beachcomber is a favorite of islanders for friends who want to stay in a beach hotel with simple amenities and satisfactory dining. It’s in a quiet bay adjacent to the airport, just a short ride from downtown Charlotte Amalie. Rates $85-$90. Reservations: toll-free (800) 982-9898.

Carib Beach is one of the island’s oldest hotels. It has a tiny beach, pool and two restaurants and it is convenient to the airport, making it popular with airline crews and spur-of-the-moment travelers. Its romantic setting and simple accommodations attract honeymooners and young couples. So does its good West Indian entertainment. Rates $120 to $125. Reservations: (800) 223-4936.

Ramada Yacht Haven & Marina is well known and convenient to town and yacht chartering. It has fully appointed rooms, two restaurants and snack bar, meeting facilities, a lively marina bar, a pool and a sea-level view of the picturesque harbor and Charlotte Amalie’s red-roofed skyline. Rates start at $125. Reservations: (800) 2-Ramada.

Windward Passage, downtown on the waterfront on St. Thomas, has all services, a pool and a lively courtyard cafe, as well as meeting facilities and a shuttle to Magens Beach. It is known for simple accommodations, convenience and moderate prices. Rates $105 to $118. Reservations: (800) 524-7389.

Galleon House is a convenient in-town location on a quiet hill. Although the rooms are quaint, some are fully appointed. It has a tiny pool and personable management. It is adjacent to three excellent restaurants, one moderately priced. Rates $45 to $95. Reservations: (800) 524-2052.

Harbor View is what the name indicates. Overlooking Charlotte Amalie harbor, it is set in an historic estate house with a pool. It has one of island’s best restaurants. Rates: $75 to $95. Reservations: (800) 223-5695.

High Above Town

Mafolie is high above town with a panoramic view. Convenient to Magens Bay, it has fully equipped rooms, a pool and a popular restaurant known for grilled steak, chops and seafood. Rates $62 to $74. Reservations: (800) 223-5608.

Villa Blanca has a spectacular view of Charlotte Amalie and sunsets and features quiet, Latin hospitality and comfortable accommodations. Although it is convenient to both the east end of the island and town, a car would be helpful. Rates $100 to $105. Reservations: (809) 776-0749.

Miller Manor is a distinguished West Indian manor overlooking the rooftops of Charlotte Amalie and the harbor. Under $65. Phone (809) 774-1535.

Danish Chalet, which overlooks town, is run by a friendly couple transplanted from the United States. Under $65. Phone (809) 774-5764.

Bunker’s Hill View is a few blocks from Main Street at the foot of one of the main roads that lead into the heart of town. Under $65. Phone (809) 776-8056.

For camping accommodations, try St. John for the most comfortable, least-expensive accommodations available.

Rates from $65 for a top-of-the-line, fully outfitted tent-cottage at serene Maho Bay, to $10 for a bare site at Cinnamon Bay Campground in the midst of Virgin Islands National Park. There also are large conventional tents at Cinnamon. For Maho Bay call (809) 776-6226; Cinnamon Bay, (809) 776-6330.

For more information, contact the U.S. Virgin Islands Division of Tourism, 3460 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 412, Los Angeles 90010, (213) 739-0138.


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