My life has become a non-stop carousel of airplanes, luggage and hotels. Work, work and more work through countless meetings in a seemingly endless rotation of cities and states. Some places are easier to travel to than others and some places are downright difficult emotionally, physically and spiritually. Everytime I think of the US Virgin Islands, part of my business travel circuit, “me da un calor-frío” as my Puerto Rican mom used to say. An exact translation is somewhat hard to get at [I get a hot cold sensation], but it’s the equivalent of the heebie jeebies; the willies; or feeling like someone is walking over your grave. The US Virgin islands are a beautiful set of islands (St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John along with the much smaller but historically distinct Water Island, and many other surrounding minor islands) that seem to always be encased in darkness (largely due to constant electricity outages).
When I first went to the Virgin Islands, I had to wait over an hour at the airport (along with all the other passengers) because everyone’s luggage was lost. Apparently that is a common occurrence and the aiport personnel tell you to just wait till the next plane arrives. Mind you, the flight there from San Juan was a bit harrowing with the flight attendants actually praying in a corner. Sigh-I should have taken that as my first sign of what was to come. Anyway, while you are there at the airport, they offer you free rum. They are very proud of their rum and I was even given a tour of their rum factory while there on business. So, by the time you get into a cab for your hotel you may be a bit more predisposed to other-world sightings and apparitions.
As we got into the cab, we noticed the island was dark. No lights on anywhere. Odd noises that were not the typical sounds of the coqui that you hear in neighboring Puerto Rico followed you all the way to the hotel. My colleague and I looked at each other and wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. Once we arrived at the hotel we realized that the island had lost all electrical power. Luckily our hotel had its own generator (which-because of the constant outages-most hotels do have in the Virgin Islands) but everything around us was dark with random people walking the streets holding candles. I felt like perhaps I was in the middle of the book Dies the Fire (author S.M. Stirling), a show like Revolution, a comics like the Walking Dead or perhaps just a random ghost tour that occurs in Old Town, Alexandria.
When I went up to my room, while it had light, the outside was fairly pitch-black. While unpacking, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something moving. I headed over and there were two huge cockroaches-those that are called water bugs (or in my household we used to call grandmother roaches-that’s a whole other story). Oh that was so not cool. Since I was already creeped out by the eeriness of the island, I was super paranoid (ok, it could have been all the free run at the airport). I started flashing back to that X-Files episode in which Molder believes that the roaches are otherworldly and sending signals (Episode: War of the Coprophages). That episode still gives me the heebie jeebies! I ran down asking for housekeeping to deal with the situation and I was immediately moved room. When I returned to the original room all the roaches had disappeared-even the ones I had manage to slaughter. Where had they gone? We were starving (yes, even after that horrifically icky scene) and went out in search of food. We were handle a candle to explore. We roamed, like zombies, in search of something to eat and there was nothing, nothing at all. Eventually we came across this one restaurant in which the owner took pity on us and came out with two cans of tuna and handed it to us. We were a bit perplexed as to what we were supposed to do with it considering that he did not give us a can opener. At some point some other kind individuals offered us “hash” brownies that we politely declined. What a night that was! I was hungry, yet stomach filled with rum, and I may or may not have been hallucinating ghost cockroaches. What was it about this island?
The US Virgin Islands has an interesting history that does lend itself quite well to being an environment of apparitions. As of the United States 2010 census the population was 106,405 mostly composed by those of Afro-Caribbean descent. Formerly the Danish West Indies, they were sold to the United States by Denmark in the Treaty of the Danish West Indies of 1916. The Virgin Islands were originally inhabited by the Ciboney, Carib, and Arawaks indians. All these populations suffered greatly and many disappeared. There is no doubt in my mind that their spirits are haunting the islands. I wanted them to realize that not only was I sympathetic but I come of similar background. Hispanics of any race represent 22.3% of the total population. Of the Hispanic community, 57% were racially mixed, 27% were black, and 16% were white. The Hispanic population is predominantly of Puerto Rican descent.
Race-wise, I should feel comfortable there. Yet, that sense of “color frio” never left me. At one point we went to Gallow’s Bay which used to be an area where criminals (slaves as well) were hung on the gallows or dragged to their deaths. While there, I couldn’t help but feel the “calor frio”; an eeriness creeping up through your arm. I couldn’t shake the sense of when I was a kid and I thought I heard Native American drumming or felt the spirits moving along with me. I kept thinking it was a shame my mother wasn’t there as she would have had a great, superstitious rationale for what I was experiencing.
Throughout that trip, I did manage to ask the individuals I was meeting with (during lunch) about their island experiences. At one point, we were at the Rum factory at lunchtime so I felt empowered to ask about whether any of them had experienced ghosts on the island. My business companions looked at me, looked at each other and smiled what seemed to be a secret-code smile. I am a social psychologist afterall, I can read those cues! They looked at me and stated that the island has much history and they were happy I was getting to know the island since doing business there is very hard as an outsider. I tired another shot of rum and congratulated myself on getting on the road to cultural competency. Perhaps the ghosts were friendly and just wanted to help me fit in and be successful. Later that night, near the water, I did see a mysterious bright shining light but I took it in stride.