Tuesday, April 29, 2014

4. Fifteenth Wedding Anniversary Trip to St. John

Brandon and I have been married for fifteen years, now, and although we did an over-nighter to NYC in January, we really wanted a long vacation. And with this crazy winter, we wanted it somewhere warm! With some plotting and planning, we made it work! Plotting = traveling husband who earns a lot of hotel points and airline miles. Planning = my wonderful parents coming to visit and help out.

We left early Tuesday morning (April 22nd) and flew to Atlanta. From there, we flew into St. Thomas! We grabbed our bags and found our rental jeep. Did you know that the U.S. Virgin Islanders drive on the left side of the road, dear reader? Even though their cars are for right-side driving? That took some getting used to and I was glad Brandon was driving! Of course, he spent two years driving in Australia and drove the entire time we were in London, so I wasn't that nervous...

We drove to the marina (a marina? dock?) and got onto the car ferry to take us 4 miles across the water to the island of St. John.

Our hotel was just a short drive away, and we checked in. Unfortunately for both of us, I was incredibly sick. I had come down with some kind of cold a few days before we left, but by the time we landed in St. Thomas (where I silently cried during descent because of the sinus problems I was having), I was feeling the achings of a fever coming on. When we checked into the hotel, Brandon found me some medication and left to explore while I slept. After a little while, I felt much better, so I ventured out to the local pool and beach to find Brandon.

Dinner was at a Thai restaurant, and I was beginning to see how accurate the guidebook I had purchased was: St. John is the epitome of casual! Although it's against the law to wander around in a bathing suit (it's considered incredibly rude), the state of dress was beach casual everywhere. Tourism is obviously their number one money-maker, and I'm positive they sell more liquor than just about anywhere! But isn't that what people do when they go to the Caribbean? They hang out on beaches and drink a lot of alcohol (the songs aren't wrong!). This casual atmosphere did not seem raucous, however. In fact, everything was just slower and very laid back. "Island time" is what they call it, dear reader, and once you accept it as reality, life is very pleasant! Food service is slower, traffic is slower, everything is just a bit... slower...

Anyway, the Thai restaurant was nice. Afterward, we went swimming at the pool for a bit and then retired for the night.

The next day, I felt a lot better, although my sinuses would continue to trouble me all week (and still are). We found Jake's (a fantastic restaurant that serves a great breakfast)...

(The view shows an unfinished building that has sat the same way for 15 years, we were told.)

...and then drove out along the north shore to find a good beach. We stopped at the overlooks long the way to drink in the gorgeous island (although not nearly as green as Hawaii, it's still really nice!).

Trunk Bay beach was crowded (they only have about 20 parking spaces, so if you don't find one, you're out of luck! Come back later!) so we drove on to Cinnamon Bay Beach and we set up camp. We snorkeled and swam and sunbathed and snorkeled and read and swam and slept and read and... you get the picture.

They had a small barbecue restaurant where we grabbed lunch, and then we did some exploring! Right across from Cinnamon Bay Beach there is an informational hike amongst some sugar mill ruins from the 1800's, along with some cemeteries. It was such a perfect little jaunt in the jungle because we were the only ones, so it was practically silent, except for some birds. We saw deer (they were brought to the islands for game in the 1700's) and a lot of lizards, as well as termite nests and all kinds of trees. While we were hiking, though, I felt a overwhelming sense of sadness. These ruins were here because of abducted slaves from Africa. It truly broke my heart.

(Can you see the tiny lizard looking away right in the center? and the one below, we're looking at his side...)

(Large termite nest)

(In one of the cemeteries was this grave --only two years old!)

Wanting to explore more of the island, we drove east and found this view (you can see Tortola of the British Virgin Islands in the distance) and then these school ruins:

Unfortunately, we never did hike to see the hieroglyphics of the original natives to the island. Maybe next time! Next, we drove towards Coral Bay:

We ran into some local wild animals!

In fact, the island has the following "feral" animals: mongoose, donkey, chicken, goat, deer, cat, bats, and many birds, lizards, and insects.

We found Salt Pond Bay Beach and snorkeled for a bit --found a sting ray! It was quite the jaunt to get down to the beach and back up. I wouldn't have minded, but for some chafing (ouch!). Btw, a lot of cactus grows on the island. Here is where it's unlike other islands (especially Hawaii) --there is very little rainfall and the locals have to use some pretty intense water conservation methods, as well as gather rain water.

Then we drove to the east side of the island. We had hoped to find some entrances to the beaches there, but most were blocked by private residences expecting payment to pass. No, thank you! Instead, we just drove back to the hotel, showered, and then went to a spectacular restaurant called The Spyglass. The view was wonderful, and the food was outstanding! Brandon had the full red snapper and I had the crab-stuffed Mahi.

Thursday morning was Trunk Bay Beach morning. We were determined to go! It is consistently rated as one of the best beaches in the world, after all, and we knew the snorkeling would be great. So, we headed to Jake's a bit earlier, and then drove out to Trunk Bay, where it was... full. ARGH! But we felt lucky and so we waited. We only had to wait about 15-20 minutes and then a couple left! Huzzah! We were able to park and go right in. It's $4 a person (adult) to use the beach (it's in the National Park. Actually 3/4ths of the island is in the Park!), but it was worth every penny! Not only was it one of the most beautiful beaches, ever (perfect white sand, turquoise water), but it had coral reefs everywhere, a cay (little island) that helped keep/form the reefs, a lifeguard, bathrooms, and a snack hut. And because the parking is limited (most people come in bus taxis), it's not too crowded (there must not have been a cruise ship that day, either). We had a wonderful time snorkeling! There was a lot of different corals to see, and hundreds of thousands of minnows in schools, as well as all kinds of fish and anemones. The best part is that there are spaces between the reefs with just sand, so you can swim, too!

From the beach, I saw a structure up on the hill and wanted to see it, so we stopped on our way out to see what it was. After a very steep (but short) hike, we came to the ruins of a windmill! The Dutch owned St. John (and other islands) and sold them to the U.S. last century. So most of the ruins on the island, aside from native finds, are Dutch. It was really cool! There was an enormous beehive inside of it, which was particularly interesting to see (and not nearly as scary as you'd think it would be). The view was really nice, too!

Then we headed back to the hotel and decided to sit by the pool for a while. I'm glad we did, because this big guy decided to join us! He was a fast swimmer and dived right into the pool. There are these large square planters in the middle of the pool --apparently, the iguanas live there most of the time.

Dinner that night was at The Beach Bar, which was, of course, right on the beach in Cruz Bay, and right at sunset! It was beautiful.

Friday morning had us at Jake's again (seriously, their breakfast was wonderful. Wednesday I had the veggie omelet and potatoes, Brandon had the regular (toast, fried eggs, potatoes, and bacon). Thursday, I had the regular and he had the breakfast burrito. Friday morning, I had the American pancakes (filled with strawberries and blueberries) and Brandon had the potato cakes (fried hash browns into pancakes) with a side of corned beef and potatoes. Saturday (yep, we went again!) I had the veggie omelet again and he had the regular again). Then we headed out to Hawksnest Bay Beach! This is the beach where Jodie Foster meets her "alien dad" in the movie, Contact. Once again, it was a gorgeous beach and this time we set up camp under the trees, since the beach was much smaller (width-wise. Length wise, it was a very large beach, but between the tree line and the water, it was narrow). The snorkeling here was also pretty amazing!

Brandon had signed up to do a scuba dive, so while he went diving, I took a loooooong shower, read my book, and took a nice long nap. It was wonderful (if you forget the maid who knocked on the door and the man who came to the wrong hotel room and knocked on our patio door).

(scuba tanks)

That night we just ate dinner at the hotel (it was really good! I had paella) and then after getting gas/cleaning out the jeep, we went for a walk on the beach by our hotel. We stretched out on the chairs and looked at the stars... Sigh...

Saturday was travel day. Breakfast at Jake's, shopping for gifts for the kids, and then we headed to the ferry dock. We didn't fit onto the 9:30AM ferry, but we were (gratefully) the last car on the 10AM ferry! If we hadn't, we would have waited until the 11:30AM ferry, and that would have created mild panic about our flight...

Since we had made great time (the dock is about a 30 minute drive from the airport), we found a local Latin restaurant for lunch and then headed to the airport. I had heard them mention, when we had landed, that when we came back, to allow 2 hours before our flight. It's a good thing we listened! Because after we checked in, we had to get into a customs line with our checked luggage. After customs, we had to get in a line to give them our checked luggage. After that, we had to get into the security line. Although the lines moved fast, every single person flying out were in those lines! Although there were several flights leaving the island every 30 minutes or so, there was only one large terminal where everyone congregated.

We flew to Atlanta again, and then onto Philly. My sinuses were much kinder to me this time, thank goodness! My dad picked us up around 10PM. We grabbed dinner at Taco Bell and came back to our kids and our lives. The kids were pretty excited to see us in the morning --or was it because we brought gifts? Ha!

All in all it was a fantastic trip! We had a chance to focus on our relationship and just enjoy being together, which is the point of our vacations like this. I fell in love with my husband again (not difficult!), and I loved every minute I spent with him! Honestly, we adore beaches, hiking, history, good food, and the ability to run our own schedule. So, it's easy to conclude that this trip was a roaring success.

The kids did well with my parents and the best part: the house was clean and the laundry finished! My parents are amazing. So grateful to them!

Up next, our Sunday morning surprise...


Mother of the Wild Boys said...

Cheryl, no kidding, you look absolutely RADIANT in these photos! I am so happy to see you so happy. Love you. <3

Julie Allen said...

Those trips make all the difference. Amazing place!

Courtney N said...

What an amazing trip! I'm glad the two of you were able to get away and be together for a few days. You both deserve that! I am so ready for a trip to a magical tropical place especially after the nasty winter we just went through. I'm thinking Peru :-)

Courtney said...

Your trip looks fantastic. Cheryl you are so tan and have a beautiful beautiful smile. Glad you enjoyed yourselves.