Day 5 – Wednesday, January 30th – A tour from dad of Fort Frederik, in the Virgin Islands
We got off the ship, walking onto a Huge long concrete pier, and my jaw metaphorically dropped at the sheer SIZE of everything. The pier was huge, the pylons were huge, the ROPES were huge, because the Ship was Absolutely GIGANTIC. I was sort of shielded from seeing it from the outside on our original boarding, but now, walking next to it toward shore, I got a chance to marvel at the sheer size of the thing. I took Lots of video, because I was kind of shocked.
Looking toward the shore, there were lots of unfamiliar trees, and low buildings, many made of painted brick. There was one that seemed a bit bigger than the rest- I found out shortly that this was Fort Frederik, which had a cool history, and was even Cooler in person.
Walking onto shore, we were guided by very polite armed, uniformed security personnel to a central walking path, flanked on either side by pretty palm trees, with roads to either side for incoming and outgoing trucks and vehicles, which I assume were supplying the ship. There were tall walls and equally tall gates at these three entry points to the pier, and lots of armed security walking around in their navy blue with their brown leather holsters, pistols on hips. The town had obviously been gentrified in this area, and along the shore to our right was a long thin park, carefully manicured, planted with tame trees and dotted with benches and statues. Staff moseyed along inside it, with clipboards, giving surveys to tourists, asking how we had liked the town, what they could do better, etc. It was surreal.
To the left, there was a tiny market, where a few hand-picked vendors sold overpriced knock-offs to tourists, overwrought (I have to assume) with the fun of bartering on foreign soil for fake Gucci and knee-length sarongs. We skipped this ostensible “fun”, and went on to the red-painted brick fort, sitting on a hill right on the water.
Walking into the courtyard of Fort Frederik, I was immediately struck by how everything was either Way too big, or way too small. Doors were HUGE or tiny, and there was a few links of gigantic chain still bolted to the ground. The flagstones were laid in a time (dad explained) when brick was still made by hand- shoving the mix into the molds by hand, which resulted in a much softer brick, which is why it felt so nice under our feet. The sun was shining down with near-equatorial frankness, and the dusty red brick underfoot looked white in the full sun, dark red in the shadows. Plaques on the walls here and there told us that This room was used as ammunition storage, That room was a prison. There was one small door which was labeled “Solitary Confinement”, and contained a room with damp corners, and a ceiling that I could kneel and still touch with my hand.
We learned about the slave revolution- how the several thousand slaves on the island gathered together and came to the governor of the island- who was faced with the decision of freeing them, or having them burn the town to the ground. He sensibly declared them free, and there are paintings and statues everywhere of the “general” of the slaves, the leader who led the successful insurrection. If the paintings are correct, he was facially (and height-wise) anatomically improbable, and had stolen someone else’s clothes.
There were several rooms we were allowed to just wander in to. One of them a museum to the time period in which this insurrection occurred. I took SO many pictures of a reproduction of a headsman’s axe- which was a very interesting length and construction. I want one!
One room was obviously set up as if it had been lived in by a noble. It had three beautiful hardwood cradles, and it SMELLED like worked wood. Lovely. I took pictures of everything- the writing table, the piano, the four poster bed, the art, everything. So cool.
We poked into all the corners of the fort, even climbing up on top and playing with the cannons pointed at the harbor (they had a great view of any ships coming that way) with Dad talking the whole time about it’s history. Owned by the Netherlands in World War I, bought by the USA to keep it from being bought by the Germans. We paid Millions of dollars for it, and the locals were Not best pleased when the US navy came up and took over their historic fort and started bolting stuff to it, replacing the guns, etc.
After the fort, we took a walk through town, with dad talking about how the town had been burned down by three young women protesting labor issues in the early 1900’s, and that is why this Carribbean town was absolutely Full of Victorian-style houses and architecture. It’s because the last time it was re-built from scratch, that’s what was in style. The town has been flattened by hurricane after hurricane since then, and it’s share of earthquakes too, but continues to be repaired and rebuilt in this Victorian style for some reason, although the outer buildings are mostly brick or poured concrete, with metal gratings for windows, because glass cannot survive the gale-force winds and the debris they carry. They’re still painted gaudy Victorian colors, too. Pink and blue and green and yellow, pale purple and crazy orange. The one thing which was really weird was the cars. You’d see a street lined with buildings that were obviously being repaired with whatever came to hand, a mangy dog panting on the street, an old guy sitting on a white plastic chair renting weird little tiny four wheeled vehicles to tourists, and a café who’s claim to fame was “free air conditioning”, and then there were all these new American cars parked and driving on the street. Expensive pickup trucks, etc. I couldn’t figure out why this was, and frankly, I was a little afraid to ask.
Anyway, after stopping in a kitsch shop to buy a $5 T-shirt from a very polite female shopkeeper, we made our way back to the long unnaturally clean park, and dutifully filled out a survey on a clipboard for a very earnest young lady, then walked back along the water toward the ship, listening to the waves and the wind in the palm trees, and an unusually musical solo by a guy standing in the shade across the street playing the triangle.