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Paradise found

These former New Englanders are laughing all the way to the beach.

By Patricia Borns
March 13, 2011

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Do you dream of chucking it all for an island in the sun? While Massachusetts was up to its earlobes in snow this winter, these expats were congratulating themselves on their bar stools in paradise – and not just for a week. Try not to hate them too much.

Internet pioneer Alex Randall, 59, left everything, including his Beacon Hill parking spaces, for the US Virgin Islands.

Alex Randall: “I had the best Boston had to offer and in 1995 tossed it all for Water Island. A Beacon Hill town house. Season tickets to the Red Sox and BSO. Three parking spaces on Mt. Vernon Square. My company, the Boston Computer Exchange, was among the first to sell products online. If your brain works on the Internet, your body can be in paradise. When the Internet provider on St. Thomas said they had 9,600 bps, I thought, ‘That’s enough for me.’ I was done with the suits: lawsuits, the snowsuits, and the three-piece suits.

“Water Island is the antipode, the other end of the universe: 500 acres with 163 people. The total list of things that happen here: Sunday afternoon, the beach bar has a live band. Monday night, Heidi’s Honeymoon Grill shows a movie. Bingo on Wednesday. Parenting here requires more of the parents – there’s no after-school saxophone lesson or tae kwon do. We bake a lot and do simple old-fashioned things like board games. In Boston, we could walk my daughter Rose and sons Sander and Marshall to school. Grace, 9, and Nina, 8, were born here. Alas, all that walking ended. We start every morning taking a boat ride to Charlotte Amalie, then drive 20 minutes across the island. We have dinner at the dining room table every evening. It is simple when there’s nowhere else to go.

“If you’re going to be an expat, you’re going to have to reinvent yourself. My wife, Beverly, is a neonatologist. She walked into the St. Thomas hospital and was immediately hired. I became “The Good News Guy” on St. Thomas radio, a toy job compared with the Computer Exchange. But here’s the flip side: Everyone knows you. In the rush of the city, everyone is anonymous. In this town, your 15 minutes of fame come up once a month. I’m now the professor of digital media communication at the university, teaching the only class on Web publishing in the Virgin Islands.

“What do I miss? I loved the Sox, the BSO, concerts at the Garden, the caldron of excellence. Once a year we have a music festival: Carnegie-caliber musicians for three nights in my living room. If you want culture, you have to make your own.

“Number one favorite thing? At 6 a.m., you can watch the full moon set over 17 miles of ocean. Boats bathed in moonlight, moonlight that’s bright enough that you can read by it. I never had that experience in the States in my entire life. Number two: the ocean. You can see 20 feet to the bottom, and the water is warm and delicious. As soon as I hang up with you, I’m headed for a swim.”

From Cape Cod to Turks and Caicos, nature photographer David Stone, 61, and his wife, Elizabeth, 56, found richer lives on a small island.

Elizabeth Stone: “Like any human life, you spend the first part building and adding on – go to college, marry, raise kids. Then suddenly you’re at a pivotal moment. ‘Do we continue what we’re doing, or drastically break out of the pack?’ The first time we came here, in 2001, we were awed. The long white sand, the beautiful water. We wanted to whisper, it seemed that reverential. We made a five-year plan. We hired and trained David’s best friend to take over [our photography business]. Our girls are in the States in college. They understand it’s our journey.”

David Stone: “The pace of life is the biggest change. Everyone jokes about island time. It can take you three hours to get through a bank line, a day to get your license. It was a real challenge to adjust. When we first moved here, I had a metal detector that could search underwater. I found men’s wedding rings mostly. I wanted to be able to return them to the owner, so I decided to start a website – Ilostmyjewelry.com. It filled my time. I knew I would need to find other things. Now I’m a volunteer math teacher; a friend and I started a reef fund to protect the marine environment. And I just finished photographing The Lionfish Cookbook. The Caribbean has a problem with non-indigenous lionfish proliferating and devastating small reef fish. Our motto is ‘eat ’em to beat ’em’ – they’re a fabulous delicacy. In retirement, we’re busier than we’ve ever been. I also play Santa Claus on the island.”

Elizabeth: “Providenciales is a scrubby little island, not your typical French Polynesia image. There’s no traffic light and one major paved road. When I come back to the US, I feel assaulted by stimulation. Two weeks ago we were in Florida, where there were five lanes devoted to one direction! It’s the smallness I love. We’ve put maybe 3,000 miles on the car in three years. This whole island thing involves thinking outside the box. When we first moved, I brought everything, and the kitchen sink. Now if I don’t bring it, do I really need it? I’m forever dreaming up ways to accomplish the same thing. I look out at the palm trees. They’re flexible; that’s why they survive the hurricanes. The resourcefulness that people discover in themselves is amazing. The locals know how to fix a car, put on a roof. We see this as a new chapter for us as a couple and as individuals. We’ve been married 30 years, but because we don’t have those routines that we had in the US – like it’s ‘steak night’ – it brings out a different facet of our relationship. I see him in a different light because he’s changing in front of my eyes. No, I don’t miss [the United States]. We’re very happy here. I think we made the right choice.”

Weston native Sam Treadway, 26, used to be a bartender at Boston’s Drink. Now he’s serving cocktails in Honolulu.

Sam Treadway: “A bartender from Miami called me out of the blue and said, ‘Hey, you want to bartend at this new hotel that’s opening in Hawaii?’ I had three weeks. I put in my notice, moved out of my apartment, and flew out with two big bags.

“Hawaii has been an ongoing experience of surprises from what I naively thought versus what it is. Before I came, I was looking at ads for a cabin on the beach for $600. North Shore? No problem. In reality, that would be a three-hour bike ride over a mountain range. I imagined Honolulu as a resort-style city, but it’s more like Miami, with lots of cars, offices, every modern convenience. It amazed me to find so many people in the middle of nowhere. There are statistics that say Oahu is the most remote inhabited island on the planet.

“I didn’t want to buy a car, so I found a place with roommates on Craigslist on the 27th floor of a luxury apartment building close by. I don’t have to be at work until 4 p.m., so I head to the beach. I had never surfed before and really like it. On my first go out, I was able to stand. Recently, I biked about 8 miles down the road, went on this big hike up to a volcanic crater, and was able to hike back down, cross the street, and jump into the water. Stunningly beautiful.

“It’s very easy to meet people because I’m working in a hotel with lots of employees. The cocktail culture is pretty small. Coming from Boston where I was just another bartender, suddenly I’m a big fish in a small pond. What’s nice is that I’m slowly getting people more interested in cocktails.

“My mom sends me pictures of this huge icicle that’s continuing to form outside my childhood bedroom window. It started at 4 feet, and it’s a 12-foot icicle now. In five months I’ve acclimated to the point where the other day I was going to leave my apartment and I was like, ‘Hmm, it’s a little chilly.’ The temperature was 72 degrees.”

Braintree natives Terrie and Mark Hayward, 41 and 42, fulfilled their dream of running a guesthouse in Culebra, Puerto Rico.

Terrie Hayward: “Mark and I met at Braintree High. We love Boston, but the whole gray winter thing . . . When we applied for the Peace Corps, we had one stipulation: No snow. They placed us in a village in Papua New Guinea. We got what we asked for!

“We loved the South Pacific but wanted to be closer to family. In our Peace Corps interviews, when they asked about future goals, we had said we wanted to own an inn in the Caribbean. We moved to Tortola first and applied several times for business licenses. We had influential people helping us and everything, but it wasn’t moving. Then we found the Palmetto Guesthouse for sale on Culebra. Everything just seemed to fall into place.

“Culebra is a US territory, so it was easier to buy property and start a business. That’s ‘easy’ in quotation marks – nothing really is easy! But we’re not shoveling snow. We can be at the beach in a minute; there are four beaches within a 2-mile radius of us, and we see the beach from our back porch. We enjoy running, swimming, walking our dogs. The outdoors is available to us all year.

“Puerto Ricans are familiar and inviting. They might be having a big, loud party next door, but at least you’re invited. It’s a small island with only 2,000 year-round residents, so you can write ‘Terrie’ on an envelope with a ZIP code and the letter will reach me.

“What do we miss? I take pictures of the yogurt aisle in the US, it’s so vast. We don’t have access to a giant grocery store. If you have to have that brand of cereal, you could be disappointed. There’s no gas on the island, so we wait until the gas truck comes on Wednesday. Our car is put on the ferry to San Juan for repairs. Once you know that’s life, you adapt. When visitors ask, ‘When does the bus come?’ we say, ‘When it comes.’ ”

Patricia Borns, a frequent contributor to the Globe’s Travel section, lives on Amelia Island, Florida. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.

  • March 13, 2011 cover
  • March 13 cover
Read more from this issue.

Sam Treadway created “La Geisha” – the most popular cocktail in the Lobby Bar at the Waikiki Edition hotel in Honolulu – by combining fruit, Asian alcohols, and French liqueurs. Here’s his recipe:

La Geisha

2 strawberries

1 ounce TY KU Soju (a rice-based Korean spirit)

1/2 ounce St-Germain

1/2 ounce fresh guava juice

1/4 ounce Green Chartreuse

Ice

Hou Hou Shu Sparkling Sake

Muddle one strawberry in mixing glass. Slice remaining strawberry and set aside. Add all the liquids except sparkling sake. Shake well with ice. Double-strain into a champagne flute. Top with sparkling sake. Garnish with a slice of strawberry.