• Shainna M. Callaway

St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands

Updated: Mar 2

St. Thomas is an island full of soft sand beaches, dense tropical vegetation, and volcanic mountain landscapes.


This photo is from Hassel Island in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands in 2010

First off, I would like to say that I felt blessed the entire time I was exploring the area. The weather was perfect and the people choosing to live there were welcoming and easy to befriend. I really felt at ease in this laid back atmosphere, and this trip was one of the best times in my life. If I can return one day, I would want to genuinely thank everyone I met for the wonderful memories I have taken with me.


The actual main island of St. Thomas (there are several other islands as part of the collective) is surrounded with treasurable beaches that sit inside their cradles of mountains and greenery. As a whole, it is a great destination that deserves to be more than a pitstop for cruise lines. I could write for days on all the differences between the beaches and the memories of the people with whom I spent my time. For now, I only want to describe two of the offshore islands I explored during that week.


My friend, Trevor, took us out on a pair of blue ocean kayaks from close by Charlotte Amalie's cruise ship harbor to the preserved Hassel Island that was filled with a rusted over past life and surrounded by ship wrecks. I had no idea the historical significance of the area I was playfully exploring or even possibly the legality of trespassing on it, but I was happy just witnessing the magical way a world was eroding with time and the desperate acts of preventing total decay. There were stone steps leading into the water on the side that faces the mainland and remnants of a railway that used to exist connecting the islands. A brick building that was breaking down still housed enormous gears and an oven for steam power engines. The tendrils of encroaching vines playing their parts of reclamation being held at bay by the new support beams trying to keep the remaining walls still standing. There was a skeleton of an automobile nearby in a graveyard of what might have been a collapsed section of industry. Amongst the rusty wreckage, were all sorts of cranes and barrels. The way the items were arranged appeared as if someone was considering what could be salvaged for it’s appeal in this “museum” of the past because the layout did not seem a natural way of when time stopped here. I noticed a few large agaves just beyond the sight line that seemed to be competing to stay relevant in the rebuilding process. There was also a complicated, thick and thorny vine growing bare without leaves as if it was a natural barbwire trying to protect the efforts of nature trying to take back the territory.

This thorny vine was found in several areas. It had no leaves, flowers, or fruit that I could see in autumn months.

After we finished our examination, we hopped back on our kayaks and circled around the southern edge to view the many abandoned ships that ranged from sunken and decayed to the newly wrecked and ransacked. There was a massive conch refuse pile hidden in a thicket of plants where someone has obviously been enjoying the delicate meats for a while now. The tropical fish finding their ways in and out of the underwater ships were tempting us to join them. We parked our vessels to go snorkeling deep underwater to see the lobsters hiding beneath the rocks. On our return, we learned that the trick to catching them is to use a mop because the spikey lobsters would get tangled and trapped without much effort or skill.


These photos were from Cas Cay/ Mangrove Lagoon in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands in 2010

AJ showed me that the hermit crabs could be found filling the entire coconut. He pulled them out and there were dozens inside.

My friend, AJ, took me for a dinghy ride out to a hermit crab paradise. This place, a nature preserve called Cas Cay/ Mangrove Lagoon, is a short ways away from about a hundred sailboats docked in the quiet waters between it and the mainland. The exterior appeared to be all roots and trees at first. Steering us a little farther around, we saw a line of bright yellow kayaks parked along one rocky beach side and then a pair of empty folding chairs romantically taking in the view towards St. James. Once we entered, the whole place felt almost spiritual from the sounds the thousands of crabs make in the darkness of the mangrove woods. I was afraid I would step on them and tread lightly because of it as they were finding their ways to the fallen coconuts. So many of the plants on this island intrigued me. Seeing the photos of them now makes me happy to know I had the sense to document them so one day I can learn their names. One such vine (also seen on Hassel Island) found in many different places had massive thorns and not much else to it. Another plant I saw all over the island had orbital leaves with varying colors as if it was a wild tropical species of croton petras. The mangroves just starting to show up along the shores on the eastern side were so picturesque like tiny bonsai sitting in the water. This view with the young mangroves peeking out of the water, the breaker line in the background, all the volcanic rock formations nearby, and St. James in the distance was my favorite sight from the entire trip.


These photos are some of my favorite unidentified plants from Cas Cay/ Mangrove Lagoon.

AJ pointed out the pinkish tones coloring the amazing volcanic rock formations and explained it was the tinting of rust from past shipwrecks, if I am recalling correctly. There were so many different kinds of coral and crushed stone paths. I have a habit of photographing the ground if it catches my attention and on this island alone, I found areas that were so different from each other either in texture or color. He brought me to this carved out spot in a little cove of rocks and surf. There was a hole in one of the rocks that would spray a burst of white waves through it every few minutes. I loved it and am grateful to have been brought there to see it. I remember as we were leaving wishing I could linger longer and regretting the timeline of my travels.


I would love to return to this little island and really explore every inch of it. I would love to see my children witnessing the blow hole and the hermit crabs. I would love to just sit in those watered down lawn chairs and stare off into the distance for hours on end.


I am truly grateful for what I was able to see of St. Thomas that week from all the kind people who were so proud of this place they call home. I hope to one day find my way back to it.


Much love and kind regards, Shainna 🌼

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-Shainna Mathilda (Dusoe) Callaway