People Who Live in Small Places #9: St Croix

Following my previous Caribbean-related Small Places post (about the tiny island of Virgin Gorda), I was contacted by several other Caribbean-island dwellers keen to tell their own stories. To date, only one has come up with the goods – although I am still hopeful I will eventually hear back from the others; I just assume they’re all working on “island time”. So today’s post comes from Marina, who lives on the enigmatically-named St Croix in the US Virgin islands. Marina has her own blog – St Croix Beach Bum; but if that hasn’t sated your appetite for finding out more about this intrepid adventurer, she was also featured in the local island rag. In the meantime, over to Marina to tell us more about life in her Small Place:

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First of all, can you tell me a bit about your ‘small place’
St. Croix, US Virgin Islands is 28 miles by 7 miles and it is actually the biggest of the US Virgin Islands. With 50,000 people who live here, the island is warm, breezy, beautiful and very friendly. Owned by seven different nations, the Danes owned the US Virgin Islands for almost 200 years right before it was sold to the United States in 1916, so there is a lot of Danish history here as well.

And what are the good, and not so good, things about living there?
The people of St. Croix are warm and very friendly so making friends is very easy. It’s hard to walk down the street without having a full conversation with a stranger or seeing at least a few people that you just met. The sun is always shining and the beaches are always beautiful and the water is always clear.

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I’s hard to think about things that aren’t so good but we don’t have a lot of stores so if you need to have a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts in the morning, that’s not happening here because these stores just don’t exist on the island. The same goes for most clothing chain stores and chain restaurants. But there are plenty of local bakeries and local clothing stores.

What to you find to do to occupy yourself in your spare time?
There is so much to do here that sometimes living here is exhausting. There is always a new beach to explore and snorkelling to do. There are also a lot of ruins on the island so I discover new ruins that I haven’t seen before daily. And there is also horseback riding, animals that just stroll on the side of the road and tons of crafting and street fairs going on weekly. Locals and tourists alike think of watching the sunrise (at the Eastern most point of the United States) and watching the sunset on the west side of the island an activity in itself (I do it weekly).

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How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?
My move here was my escape so I just want to stay here and I never feel like I need to get away. But when I want to be awed, I go watch the sunset on the west side of the island and then I watch hundreds of stars shine in a sky not touched by city light.

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?
The locals are extremely welcoming and happy to invite visitors and new residents alike to see the island through their eyes. Even the new locals try very hard to make everyone feel comfortable and happy to be on island. It’s hard not to enjoy island life when the locals are so friendly and helpful.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your (small place – eg island, village etc), or somewhere similar?

Enjoy your new home for what it is and don’t try to make it into a better version of what you left behind. It’s really important to accept the culture and surroundings of the new place because if you can’t do that, the whole experience will become really frustrating quickly. I accept the quirks of this island and I laugh them off because there are so many great things about living here and I can’t imagine not having this experience.

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Can you tell me a bit about yourself (and your family if you have one with you) and why/how you came to be living in your small place?
I was living in Illinois and working as an attorney when I felt a strong need to change my life. Once I started researching, I felt a pull for a better quality of life and St. Croix came up as one of the first candidates in my search. When I came to this island to visit, I knew that I belonged here and I have been having the time of life ever since.

Thanks Marina for this insight into your life on a small island. I hope you continue to enjoy your life – it’ll be interesting to see how things go for you in the coming months and maybe even years! Do come back and check in with us again at some point 🙂

Please let me know if you live in a Small Place and would like to feature in this series. In the meantime, use the People Who Live in Small Places tag to find out how other people live in their Small Place.

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People Who Live in Small Places #4: Seychelles

Today I bring you paradise! I could stare at the photos of those beauiful beaches forever, dreaming of the day we will hopefully visit once we are living in South Africa. However, having lived on a beautiful small island myself (St Lucia), I know that all that glitters isn’t always gold. Here, the lovely blogger Chantelle, who lives in the Seychelles with her son, Arthur, husband Mark and their ever-growing new “bump” and who blogs at Seychelles Mama tells us a bit about her small place.

So, tell me a bit about your “small place”

My “small place” is Praslin island, part of the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.  There are around 6,500 people living here.  It’s the second largest island in the Seychelles at around 38km squared.  When it was first discovered they thought they had found the real garden of Eden! A couple of our beaches (Anse Lazio and Anse Georgette) are frequently featured in top 10 beaches of the world lists.

beautiful seychelles sceneIt’s also only one of two places in the world where the amazing Coco de Mer tree grows naturally (the other on an other near by Seychelles Island) in the Valee de Mai.
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And what are the good – and the not so good – things about living there?

Something that’s good for us (but would be bad for some) is that life is quiet and pretty slow here. Despite being a tropical island there are not that many dangerous things here on land.  There are centipedes that have a nasty sting but other than that nothing crazy!  It can sometimes feel pretty isolated here, I don’t know what I would do without the internet to be able to stay in touch with family and friends. Power cuts are  also pretty common….

Food is becoming easier to get all the time but there are still times where certain foods aren’t available for a while such as onions, chicken breast, potatoes!!  It wasn’t until I couldn’t get onions that I realised that cooking without onions is really hard….We have friends that have lived here for over 10 years who tell us there used to be a time when things like toilet roll wouldn’t be available!!!!!!!

There is a small but supportive expat community here.

And while we do get rainy seasons there is no monsoon season so you’re never stuck indoors for too long!

What do you find to do to occupy yourself in your “spare time” (if you have any

Being a mum to a toddler, “spare time” is hard to come by!  But, the beach is always a lovely way to pass the time and we’ve definitely got our pick of them here!

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We love to go for walks in the Vallee de Mai!
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Boat trips are always nice, as is heading to another island for the day.  I love going to visit la digue and it’s only a 15 minute ferry ride away.

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?

It depends on your definition of “Getting away” It is fairly easy to get to another island.  Price can often restrict staying anywhere though. We are lucky having resident rates in a lot of places which helps. We don’t really feel the need to get away too often though, pace of life is slow and a trip to the beach is usually more than enough to feel like you’ve been on holiday.

To go to another country is fairly expensive as we are pretty far away from anything here.  We have been to Sri Lanka we also want to visit some other places in Asia as well as South Africa while we are here

What is the local community like? Is it close? Too close? Did/do you feel welcomed?

We have been really welcomed by the expat community here, we are lucky that it seems to all centre around the school that my husband works at. The local community have been very welcoming too, there are also those that like to keep themselves to themselves…the same as any community really.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving to the island?

To be aware of how slow the pace of life is here.  Things take time to get done!!!  Its something that can be difficult to get used to coming from a more built up “westernised” society.  Being such a small place, news travels fast.  Don’t be surprised that as an expat, people know a whole lot more about you then you do about them…

Living costs here are rising.  It’s definitely not as cheap as you might expect. We didn’t really appreciate how expensive it is here until we went to Sri Lanka and saw how cheap it was there!!

 Being a tropical island there is not a whole lot going on.  If you are into a lively nightlife this probably isn’t the place to be!

And finally can you tell me a bit about yourself and your family

I live here with my family.  Myself and my husband moved here 2.5 years ago right after we got married as my husband got a job in the international school here.  We have since had our son Arthur, and are now pregnant with number 2!

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Before I had Arthur I did some volunteering work on a nearby island monitoring turtle nesting.  Now I am a full time mama blogging about our life here.

Thank you so much Chantelle – I think we’ve all just fallen a little bit in love with Seychelles from these photos (packs suitcase). And if you like Chantelle’s blog please also check out her Expat Family link-up where expats from around the world post blogs about their lives once a month.

 And don’t forget you can read about what life is like in other small places here too – Mayotte, Gibraltar and a small French Village.

People Who Live in Small Places #3: Un Petit Village en France

So my last post in this series, about Gibraltar, went a bit crazy. It was shared 456 times on Facebook and viewed 2,474 times. This makes it by far and away my most popular post – but I think it says more about the people of Gibraltar and their loyalty towards their Rock than it does about my blog. This time, I have something a little different – a post about a small village in France. But the contributor, Jacqui Brown (who blogs over at French Village Diaries), couldn’t be any more enthusiastic about her “small place” – after reading this, I was ready to pack ma valise, get in un voiture and head over to the other side of La Manche to join her.

First of all, tell me a bit about your small place.

My small place is a rural village in the west of France, about an hours drive from the Atlantic Coast. It has just under four hundred inhabitants, a boulangerie with sub post office, a hairdressers (from my observations there are as many hairdressers as boulangeries in France), a church, a library and not a lot else, except a great community spirit.

What are the good, and not so good, things about living there?

The good things are definitely the people. From the very beginning, almost eleven years ago, they have been welcoming, understanding with my language (or lack of it) and always encouraged me to get involved. I really feel I have become part of the community.

Living in a rural area has meant that as a family we now have a much more outdoor lifestyle than we had in the UK. We are very lucky to be surrounded by open countryside, farm tracks and quiet roads, which is perfect for walking and cycling, especially when the sun is shining. We now cycle over 2000km every year, exploring the back roads and village bars of rural France. The lack of traffic has also given our 14 year old son more independence here than we would have allowed him to have in the UK. He often takes off on his bike or walks the dog without us.

The downside of rural life is that everything is a drive away. Whether it is shopping, an appointment at the doctor or a music lesson, nothing is available on our doorstep.

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What do you find to do, to occupy yourselves, in your spare time?

It has always been important to me to get involved in our community and from the start I have volunteered and made the effort to say yes whenever I was asked to help out. This led to joining committees which in turn led to being elected onto the village council a year ago. This keeps me busy, but I also write about our life on my blog http://www.frenchvillagediaries.com and I am a passionate reader of books on a French theme. I have reviewed almost two hundred books and am often contacted by authors and publishers to review and help promote their latest publications.

I am also a gardener, always trying to keep one step ahead of the weeds in our veggie garden and I love cooking and preserving the potager vegetables and fruit from our orchard.
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How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?

I’m very happy with my calm, quiet village life. I hear more birdsong than car horns and if I see traffic on my daily dog walk it is more likely to be a tractor than a traffic jam. However, every now and then it is lovely to get out and about somewhere different. My perfect escape is to head to La Rochelle on the Atlantic Coast. It may only be an hour and a half away, but it is like another world. The people look different and wear different clothes, the shops sell different styles to those in our local town and stopping for a coffee and a spot of people watching is one of my favourite things to do. As my husband regularly uses the airport at La Rochelle I’m lucky to be able to get my chic fix a couple of times a month.

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?

I have felt welcomed, but I think this has to do with the fact that I have always put myself forward to help out. This started with the village magazine, then helping to organise events and run the library and now I’m one year into a six year term on the village council. In the beginning I was way out of my comfort zone, in a village where everyone knew each other and my level of French was very poor, it was hard, but it was worth it. I’m lucky to live somewhere that already had a group of energetic people happy to put on events, as getting involved by helping out is easier than trying to organise something from scratch. Living in a rural village that doesn’t have an active social scene can be lonely and feel very isolated.

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What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your village, or somewhere similar?

Do your homework and research your new area, as a great summer location may be quite desolate out of season, especially in a rural area.

Learn the language if you are moving abroad as even if you aren’t fluent you will find it easier to get involved in your new community if you can speak a little of the language. The more involved you get the quicker your language will improve.

If you are moving to a French village make sure you pop down and say hello to the Maire (mayor). He (or she) really is a very useful person to be on friendly terms with and should be able to help you with the official and administrative side of settling in.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself (and your family) and why/how you came to be living in your village?

We are an English family with one son who moved from a town in the south of England to a village in France in the summer of 2004. I was an accountant, commuting to London on a daily basis and my husband is a freelance IT trainer and consultant whose work has always taken him away from home. Family time together was rare, but my husband’s work means that as a family we can be based anywhere in Europe with good airport access and here we have six within a two hour drive of home. France was always our holiday destination of choice and with cheaper property prices it was possible to choose to live a simpler life, working fewer hours, earning less money, but have less expenses and more time together as a family. Whatever happens in our future, nothing can take away the fact that for the last ten years our 14 year old son has had both parents at home for the two months of his school summer holidays.

Thank you to Jacqui for this insight into life in your small village in France. Anyone joining me in ma voiture? Don’t forget to read the earlier People Who Live in Small Places posts – Gibraltar and Mayotte; and please let me know if you live somewhere small and would like to feature in this series.

People who live in small places part 1: Mayotte

Back when I first started blogging (which feels like years ago but was in fact just a few weeks…) I was intrigued to find that one of my viewers came from a tiny island in the Indian ocean I had previously never heard of called Mayotte. This discovery inspired first of all this post and now a whole series of posts which I am calling People Who Live in Small Places.

I was lucky enough to be able to not only track down Curtis, my visitor from Mayotte, but also to pursuade him to be the first person to contribute to this occasional series. Having lived in a few small places myself (Gibraltar, St Lucia), I was intrigued to hear how Curtis coped with life on such a small island so I asked him a few questions. This is what he told me:

First of all, can you tell me a bit about Mayotte?

Mayotte became France’s 101st daprtment in 2011, making it now a part of France in the same way as Martinique or La Réunion – or Normandy. It’s in fact two islands: Grande Terre and Petite Terre, with a total population of just over 200,000, and growing fast. About a third of the people live in the main town, Mamoudzou, the rest being scattered among other small towns and villages.

It’s surrounded by a coral reef, making it a prime destination for divers, or simply for those who like to hang out on one of its many beaches, gazing at the lagoon, taking a dip in the water that’s always warm.

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The beautiful aquamarine sea around Mayotte

You get the picture: beautiful tropical island. There’s a downside, though. Just 70 kms from the Comoros Islands (one of the poorest countries in the world), Mayotte attracts illegal immigrants keen to get to an island that’s now officially part of the European Union. They make the crossing daily in small, unstable boats called kwassa-kwassa. It’s estimated that over 12,000 people have died in the last 20 years trying to reach Mayotte.

Another estimation: these immigrants make up almost half the population of Mayotte. They live in shanty towns, and often break into the homes of the rich, white population to steal whatever they can. The police call this ‘survival delinquency’. But although it’s rampant, violence remains rare.

Mayotte's capital Mamoudzou

Mayotte’s capital Mamoudzou

What are the good, and the not so good, things about living on Mayotte?

So there you have the best and worst of Mayotte: picture postcard beauty, but a serious problem of immigration, insecurity and poverty. Despite this, the atmosphere is relaxed. The people are very friendly. 95% Muslim, they are moderate in their religious views and women play an active role in the community. You lie on the beach and watch the locals (the Mahorais) enjoy their voulé (huge barbecues), and it’s pretty blissful. Especially when you think what the weather’s like back in Britain.

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The traditional “voule” – what we would call a barbecue.

So what do you find to do with yourselves in your spare time?

Apart from the beaches, not a lot. If you’re fit, and don’t mind trekking in the heat, there are many walks to go on (a Naturalists’ Association provides guides). But Mayotte is small. If you do feel the need to ‘escape’, that means travelling to nearby countries like South Africa, Mauritius or Madagascar.

Mayotte is less developed than other overseas French departments like Martinique or La Réunion. You can find everything you need, more or less, but it’s definitely not for shopaholics. Fewer shops and less choice – no malls or fancy High Streets. Activities are maritime: if you like fishing or diving, or you have a small boat, you’ve come to the right place. Same if you’re a fan of flora and fauna – it’s not Madagascar in that respect but dedicated walkers can find plenty of interest.

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A beautiful Mayotte beach

What is the community like?

The white population, almost exclusively from metropolitan France, are mainly there to work – teachers, hospital staff, police. There’s no real animosity, but neither is there a lot of mixing with the local population of Mahorais. Consequently, word gets around the white community quickly. So if you don’t want something to be known, best be careful what you say!

And what advice would you offer anyone thinking of visiting or even moving to Mayotte?

There aren’t many tourists as yet, the island still lacking in infrastructure, and competing with other islands like Mauritius, which is much better equipped. But a tourist could easily stay for a fortnight without getting bored, no doubt longer if you’re into diving and snorkelling. Any stay longer than that means finding some activity to keep you busy. If you don’t actually have a job (which is my case), then another activity is essential. Could be botanical, or helping out in an association educating young children, or learning the language (shimaoré), or writing. As I’ve only just retired, and writing is a passion of mine, I have more than enough to do to keep myself busy!

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Preparing a voule

A bit about Curtis:

I was a university teacher in France until a few months ago, then followed my wife to Mayotte, where she works as a school inspector. We’ll stay two years, which seems about right to get to know the place well. But any more might be difficult in such a small place. I’m very happy writing (and blogging!), and fortunate that I can do that anywhere. Right now I’m learning as much as I can about Mayotte, both through observation and research, to make it the setting of a current work in progress. Because of the complexity of the island’s population and history, it offers a rich, and little-known, context to have as the background to a novel.

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Thank you so much Curtis for your fascinating introduction to the small place where you live. You can read Curtis’s blog Journey of a Squivelist here and in the meantime if anyone else who lives in a small place (including small islands, rocks, even small towns) would like to feature on my blog please let me know!