Tamarind Reef Hotel

5001 Tamarind Reef
Christiansted, St. Croix
U.S. Virgin Islands

"Hotel" is too staid a noun when alluding to Tamarind Reef. The word does not suggest its quaint oceanfront tranquility, its incessant balmy evening breezes nor the splendid view of nautical miles of sparkling emerald waters surrounding neighboring Buck Island's pristine beaches.

Most Philadelphia lawyers carry tire chains, window scrapers, flares, a small shovel, jumper cables and a bag of rock salt or sand in their largest briefcases through March. I have alluded to this Virgin Island secret treasure before. I've returned often, most recently for a 2006 vacation. Tamarind Reef, an East End resort adjoining Green Cay Marina, has grown in sunny beauty, although its new owners seem content to establish a business person’s retreat as full service, and a vacationer’s resort as partial service. Minor cosmetic repairs and maintenance are continuously needed, especially when all the rooms are twenty yards (if that) from the ocean. Nevertheless, the sight of it will thaw the most hardened, chilled, legally strained mentalities.

To clear one's vision of life, the first day there should be spent wallowing tush-deep in an anchored old inner tube near the reef just off the beach. The yellow donut contraption bobs luxuriously every time a senile pelican smashes head-first into the shallow waters, stilled by protective rocks and coral. The bird emerges with its mouth full of golden green sunfish and attempts to colander the riff from the raff. You begin to doze to the beat of the head dives, and the spray and sway they cause. TUBING or not TUBING? That is the question. One's sensibilities revel and reach resolve.

Exercising one's options the next day leads to kayaking. Tamarind's water sports and beach director, Gerald (“Jerry”) Johnston, an expert teacher, environmentalist and self-professed "stressless beach bum," demonstrates adroitly throwing himself from five feet of water directly into the minuscule seat within the kayak. He gives a few rudimentary lessons so that you can sit and stroke correctly, and so that you can regain an upright position if the tiny craft overturns.

"I used to date a girl in Philadelphia in 1964,” Jerry says.

"I'll never get out of here," I insist, noting the distance from my waist to the middle of the dingy.

"That's what she said, too," admonishes Jerry, "but look what's happened to the price of real estate in Philadelphia; eventually she didn’t have to… you do."

Once you've mastered the technique of extraction and of a modified double "J" stroke with a two-edged paddle, you're able to glide and slice through the choppiest waves. You angle against the wind toward a secluded island (actually more a crescent-shaped groundswell) about a half-mile out to sea. No one can observe you along the inside of the crescent, so tan lines are wont to disappear.

By midweek your body is bronzed and supple. A long snorkeling excursion is in order. The finest underwater scenarios occur at Buck Island which is a U.S. National Park. Private yachts, sloops, catamarans and trimarans can be inexpensively chartered to deposit you and your gear above snorkeling trails. From the water's surface one spots brilliant neon coral and fish, whose colors and stripes are shockingly gorgeous. Thousands of exotic schools swarm below as you turn tickled pink.

Tamarind Reef's own snorkeling area, about 200 yards long just beyond its boulder-blockaded-beach, is made simple to navigate. Every morning the staff places buoys, one every 50 yards, so that swimmers can rest and feel safe. And if a snorkeler is still too frightened or simply a neophyte, Jerry will tie a float to himself and you, from which you may be dragged. Do nothing but peer, extending your hands to those fish who wish to cross your palms and caress your arms. This treatment leaves you spoiled to the gills.

Appetites flourish. Continental breakfasts are spent under an outdoor gazebo near the Deep End Bar. Fresh baked banana muffins, hot coffee and fruit bowls are submitted buffet style. Everyone gathers to compare notes on the culinary escapades of the evening before. Tales abound of huge pasta platters at "Tutto Bene" in the heart of Gallow's Bay, or gargantuan cheeseburgers served with mayonnaise at "Cheeseburgers in Paradise" down the road near Southgate. Rum Runners' Bloody Mary's and Eggs Benedict are particular points of conversation for delicacies at Sunday brunch in town. Alexander Hamilton spent his youth, I suspect, on such fare.

In St. Croix, beer is drunk from the bottle, to wash down what's not stuck to your lips and chin. What is stuck probably will remain, even through a shower or two.

Lunches and dinners at Tamarind can be devoured most inexpensively at the aforementioned Deep End poolside bar. Tuna steaks, wahoo filets, chicken breasts or even meatloaf wedges are grilled over charcoal and inserted into huge Kaiser Rolls for two-hand balancing. The fish is often purchased from boats arriving in the marina. The seadwellers had been alive just minutes before.

I won't describe the taste and girth of the meatloaf sandwich except to say that you may not swim in the Olympic size pool until two days thereafter. If you are too impatient, when you slide yourself (there’s no easy way into or out of the pool) into the four and a half foot high water, its level surface rises two inches. A visible ring of meatloaf garlic juice appears to surround the sides of the pool when it lowers at your departure. It's not a pretty sight. If you attempt to swim a lap, you invariably sink like a rock to the bottom of the pool, belly-first and belching for help.

I can't relate how graciously Tamarind’s staff receives and treats its guests. I spend one to two hours each morning for a week traversing the island, 28 miles long by 7 miles wide, stopping in at every hotel and/or resort facility with road signage. There's nothing equal to Tamarind Reef even at double the price. Bring nothing formal: no jacket, not even long pants. A small half-empty carry-on case of sundries is all you'll need. The laundry facilities at the marina will suffice to keep your change of underwear in tow. Snorkeling masks and long fins are free.

You may hear a story or two about Eastern District Court judges who are assigned "duty" at the Virgin Islands Federal Courthouse, but if you keep your head under water, you'll rarely see any. "Keeping your head above water" is categorically unimportant here.


Copyright 2006 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back