It was February in the Northeast. Frosty, gray, and unfriendly. “St. Croix,” my friend said. “We can swim and sleep a lot.”
New Jersey or St. Croix. Crystalline seas or ashy snow. With a smart, handsome man. Oh, the struggle.
Usually, being sleepy sounds boring, especially on a beautiful island. St. Croix changed that. Flying over the swirls of blue, green, and turquoise water framing the semi-mountainous island, the place actually looked asleep. There is none of Puerto Rico’s over development, none of St. Thomas’s cruise ship traffic, and none of St. Bart’s yachtification. Everywhere we went through its 22 by seven-mile stretch, people were few. For those we saw, the pace was slow. The soporific, lullaby winds and waves were the only things to touch the silence on the island’s east end and we succumbed to it. Somehow, every day, we would need a nap after breakfast. And maybe one after lunch. Definitely after snorkeling.
For many of the island’s residents, this hush is anything but romantic. It started when the Hovensa oil refinery closed in 2012 and it’s 2,000 employees left the island. With them went the cruise ships and people that used to bring life to St. Croix. As one resident recently said, the closing devastated the public sector and the private sector is “barely hanging on.”
Now, the refinery stands on the island’s south coast like a ghostly relic. The possibility of the plant being purchased and reactivated is whispered about year after year. Instead of waiting for the rumor to become truth, many people are hoping the island’s small but deep pockets of talent will find ways to grow from the inside out.
Tina Henle helps form one of those pockets entirely by herself.
After watching the sunrise at Point Udall, a savasana-based yoga session on the terrace, a 10-second swimming race in the crystalline Caribbean, and a quarter-mile walk back to the Reef Condominiums, my traveling partner decided his high point of productivity for the day would be climbing upstairs to “relax.” Mine was finding a massage.
Enter Tina. Her small, strong form will carry her massage table into your home or hotel, bringing you a really good massage and a history of St. Croix her pale skin and red hair don’t belie.
Born on island to world-known photographer Fritz Henle and his wife, Maguerite, Tina’s view of the St. Croix is vast, nostalgic, and varied. As she works, she will – if you’d like – tell documentary-worthy tales. The love and devotion she has for her birthplace becomes part of the massage without distracting from her precision or your relaxation. While she offered not to talk, I continued to ask questions. Tap into the matters of one’s heart and every interaction will be strong and true. That’s why after our one-hour session, the tension in my neck was just about gone and my brain was full of fascination for the island.
Massage is just one of her skills and talents. Tina also runs a gallery in downtown Christiansted, along with her brother, that houses her father’s photography, her own photography, her late sister’s art work, and works by other local artists. It is also where you can take her yoga classes or schedule a private session with her.
While St. Croix’s economy continues to struggle, people like Tina, the owners of Art Farm, the artisans at the new monthly art walk, Captain Llewellyn of Llewellyn’s Charters, and the food and staff at Savant restaurant reminds you that the island’s quiet is actually rich with people who know how to show you its beauty. All you have to do to find them is relax.