Tuesday, December 9 - Travel Day
I know that what you truly want to hear about is my flight down, layovers, car rental, how I packed my suitcase, how many bathing suits I took and whether I prefer a tankini or bikini, carry-on or checked bags, cooler or no, and what I ate at the airport, but I am already pretty darn long winded so how about we just skip all that?
Getting to St. John is a bit of a task, but it’s well worth it. A late afternoon landing on St. Thomas, Jeep rental at the airport, a drive across St. Thomas to the Red Hook Ferry Dock, and a 30 minute ferry ride on the car barge usually gets us to St. John around 6:00 p.m. After fighting a ton of St. Thomas traffic across the island, we pulled up at 5:29 and were ushered onto the 5:30 ferry to St. John just before it pulled away.
The sun hadn't quite set yet, so I could look across the water and see the jewel of St. John sparkling in the distance. I was nearly there. A sense of peace always fills my soul at this point. Once I am on that ferry and the next piece of land my foot steps on is the sweet, soft sand of St. John, I feel like I am home. This little island brings a calm to my soul like no other place on earth. It’s the only place where, for me, nothing else exists. Not work, not problems, not responsibilities. Nothing exists except the golden sun, the sugary sand, the sweet smell of hibiscus drifting on the warm breeze, and the sparkling Caribbean sea.
The few hours of evening were spent getting groceries, having a great lobster dinner at Morgan's Mango, and settling into my favorite villa.
A storm blew in that night and I fell asleep listening to the rain beat on the roof and the wind rushing through the palms. In my dreams, I could feel my toes in the sand at Maho....island time was here.
Wednesday, December 10 - Catamarans and Jello Shots
The storms of the night did nothing more than fill our cistern and I awoke to a glorious, sunny morning. No matter how many times I see it, the view from the villa never ceases to take my breath away and this first morning was no exception.
Today we were meeting friends who were also down for the week to go out with other friends who had rented a Catamaran for the week. You can’t visit St. John 11 times without making some friends down there. It’s just part of the magic.
We arrived in the Annaberg parking lot at 10:00 a.m. as scheduled, met our friends, and off we were to wait for the dingy. Keith showed up minutes later and (after several trips to get all our stuff!) whisked us away to the Cat which was anchored in Leinster Bay, just off Waterlemon Cay, the best snorkeling spot on St. John, in my opinion.
We started off with a snorkel around Waterlemon. Okay, we actually started off with drinks, but saying that we drank that early in the morning and then snorkeled makes us sound irresponsible. So I didn't tell you that. We had pool noodles, people. We were perfectly safe. Anyway, the snorkeling was great, as always. I saw many of the usual suspects: turtles, rays, and a nice starfish party. I also saw a sharptail eel, which was a first for me. Very cool.
Snorkeling made us hungry, so it was time for.....you got it.....Kala's Famous Jello Shots. We had Margarita (garnished with limes and salt no less...), Lemon Drop, Cosmopolitan, and Melon. What did I learn that day? There is ALWAYS room for Jello. Let the slurping begin. Being a jello shot virgin, I had a little trouble getting the hang of it, but I persisted. A Margarita, a Cosmo, and a Melon later....I wasas cool as a cucumber and spent the afternoon laying on the Cat’s trampoline.
Just lying there, looking up into the incredibly blue sky dotted with soft puffs of white, rocking slowly with the boat’s gentle movement, listening to the laughing and chatter of my friends made me feel, at least for a moment, that all was right with the world. However, even the most perfect days must end.
As the sun started to set, we knew we better head out and let these nice folks have their dinner in peace. Keith took us back over to shore and we headed back to the villa to do a quick clean up and head to Lime Inn for all-you-can-eat-shrimp night. The food was good and after a few glasses of water, I think I could actually focus well enough to peel my shrimp.
After taking much longer than should have been necessary to catch a really fast tree frog that had taken up residence in my bedroom (hey, you try catching a frog after a day of jello shots and 3 platters of shrimp.....), it was time for a good night's sleep.
I fell asleep humming...Watch it wiggle, see it jiggle, cool and smoothy.....J-E-L-L-O.....
Thursday, December 11 - Vie's, Skinny's, and Vicki Down Now
Usually Maho Bay on the North Shore is my first beach day because it is simply my very favorite beach on the island, but it was incredibly windy when we woke up, so we decided to make it Vie's on the South Shore, hoping for calmer waters. It was another beautiful day and we headed east after breakfast. The drive over still fills me with a sense of wonder, no matter how many times I see it. The expansive sea views toward Tortola, glimpses of azure waters cupped in the bays curling in toward the road, and bright pink bougainvillea spilling over fences made the drive to Vie's absolutely delightful.
Vie Mahabir has a “snack shack” that is little more than a plywood lean-to surrounded by picnic tables and one incredible shade tree. Beautiful yellow and black bananaquits flit lightly around a birdfeeder hanging from the gnarled old tree and cats, chickens, and the occasional goat weave their way around the tables. This may not be everyone’s idea of paradise, but I think it is simply wonderful. From this delightful kitchen come island treasures like savory garlic chicken, hot and crispy conch fritters, or coconut tarts.
As if that wasn’t reason enough to come, Vie has a private beach across the street. The average St. John visitor doesn’t even know it’s there. A big sign says “Private Beach” and a wire fence with a gate stretches across the entrance to a vacant lot, littered with rusty old gas cans and boat parts, feeding goats, and a small above ground graveyard. Beyond that lot, the azure sea sparkles like a jewel. Those “in the know” simply put $2.50 in the box and earn passage to a beautiful, private, unpopulated beach with plenty of sun or shade, swaying palms, and a fantastic snorkeling reef.
We paid our dues and for $2.50 were afforded a day of simple pleasures. I spent the morning reading a good book under the warm Caribbean sun. It was glorious. The smell of Vie's garlic chicken was wafting through the air and with so few people on the beach, it was still and quiet.
Eventually, the smell of Vie’s food started making us hungry, but I had Skinny Leg's on the brain, so we opted to pack it up in the early afternoon and head out before we ruined our appetites by stuffing ourselves full of garlic chicken and conch fritters.
We made the short drive to Coral Bay, what passes for “town” on the east end of St. John. On the way to Skinny's we passed several lazy donkeys, lots of goats, sheep, and one extremely large goose. I know new things are fun and exciting, but there is such a comfort and ease in the familiar. Skinny's is like that. Skinny Legs is a local institution, no more than an open air burger shack with the menu written on an old surfboard and cats chasing chickens across the floor. I love the smelly bathroom. I love the crazy critters running around on the floor. I love the sheer sloppiness of it. And I love, love, love the burgers. It was a coconut swizzle (or three) and a cheeseburger for me, my favorite.
The food came and it was hot and fabulous. The drinks were cold and delicious. By the time we left, I was feeling fine. Probably "too fine" for what I suggested next, "Hey, let's go to the Tourist Trap and get more drinks." The Tourist Trap was a new food stand opened not too long ago by Larry of Aqua Bistro fame. We headed that way and found it soon enough.
I developed an immediate love for the Tourist Trap. To some, it is basically a shack with a bunch of junk, some liquor bottles set up on an outside stand, and some tables under a tarp. To the St. John addict, it's pretty cool. Lots of neatness going on, good food (the lobstah roll...mmmmm......), and great drinks. I opted for the signature drink, Larry's Drink Right, Keep Left. I probably should have Drank None, Kept Sober, but it was already too late for that. I Drank More, Kept Drunk. That was some good stuff. So good that I didn't even mind using the “Crap Shack,” which, no matter how adorable and clever the sign is, is still a port-a-potty with no hand soap.
I was eventually forced away by my traveling companions and we headed over to Cocolobo so they could do some shopping. That was when I crashed. This photo cracks me up, because read the address sign behind my head, "I Down."
Yes, I am. I am down. Vicki Down.
Ladies, you now you have had one too many when you don't even try to relax in a ladylike position. This was not Vicki at her finest.
While we were there, I looked up and saw a familiar smile. Kala! She and her husband were stopping by with the in-laws. I had sobered up enough that I was able to give her a hug without drooling on her shirt and we reminded each other that the Jost ferry was at 8:30 the next morning. Yes, we were all headed to Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands the following day, as luck would have it.
We said our goodbyes and headed back to the villa. I needed a nap. Since we were going to be gone to Jost all the next day and night, we broke Vicki's Golden Rule of Eating Out Every Night on Vacation and stayed in for dinner. I learned that turkey sandwiches and Dove bars are pretty good when eaten in front of a beautiful sunset.
Friday, December 12 - Jost or Bust
I always like to do something new on each trip. This trip was to include our first ever overnight to Jost. Since we were paying a tidy sum for our villa for that night, we just couldn't bring ourselves to also pay a lot for the night on Jost, so we had opted for a cabin at Ivan's.
We headed to Cruz Bay early and snagged a parking spot at the National Park Dock. We had time to run into Deli Grotto for breakfast before heading to the ferry. We met up with Kala and Andy and got our tickets for the ferry. The ferry ride was short and uneventful and in no time, we pulled up to Jost and made the quick trip past the customs counter. We had rented a car and it was nowhere in sight. The taxi driver offered to call and someone from Paradise was there in 2 seconds flat. KK and Andy headed on over to White Bay to chill while we went to do the car paperwork. After a quick stop at the Paradise office, we headed to White Bay.
Jost Van Dyke is a tiny island, only four miles long, and is truly a "barefoot" island known for it’s incredibly beautiful beaches and several famous beachfront bars like Seddy’s One Love, Ivan’s Stress Free Bar, the Soggy Dollar, and Foxy’s. It is truly a picture postcard island with impossibly perfect White Bay, a main street that is a beach, and the home of the Painkiller. This island defines “laid back.”
First stop: Soggy Dollar. We found Kala and Andy having breakfast at the SandCastle at White Bay and we stopped for a second before ADHD Vicki had to jump up and start running around with the camera. Matt and I strolled the beach to explore and let me get some photos.
White Bay is an extremely beautiful beach. The water is so blue it is nearly electric. Tall palms line the entire length of the white sand and sway gently with what seems to be a constant breeze.
Colorful beach bars sit tucked back in the trees with aqua picnic tables, bright buoys hanging from the trees, and conch shells lined up on wooden bars, their bright pink lips turning slightly outward, as if to taste the salty breeze.
We all agreed to settle into some rented chairs on the beach. Matt and I went over to the Soggy Dollar for a first round of Painkillers, the drink made famous by the Soggy Dollar. Mic, the bartender, mixed them up just right, with a huge smile and a great laugh. We all settled into our chairs and hammocks and chatted the morning away. A little after noon, we started getting hungry and moved in the general direction of lunch, despite being loathe to move from such a perfect spot.
Second stop: Ivan's. A friend of mine described Ivan’s Stress Free Bar and Campground on White Bay as a few shacks held together by sand, seashells, and spit. That describes Ivan’s perfectly. We strolled in and I saw a gentle gray haired soul standing inside. "Are you Ivan?" "I hope so, I am wearing his hat today." "We are staying with you tonight." "With me?" he said. He looked at me, looked puzzled, looked around at the six of us, then held up his hands about six inches apart and said, "But my bed is only this big." I laughed, gave and received a warm hug, and assured him we’d be sleeping in the campground. Despite the laid back serenity at Ivan’s we were hungry and had to move on, even though the hammocks were rocking in the breeze and calling to us…..
Third stop: Foxy's. We were officially hungry at this point and the chicken roti had my name on it. We headed over to Great Harbor. Great Harbor is what you would call “town” on Jost. A main street of sand that curls around a huge bay, dotted with bobbing fishing boats and lined with tall palms. Foxy’s is a famous bar that sits on one end.
We found some seats, ordered up some drinks, and chicken roti. While I ate my delicate pastry filled with tangy chicken and curry washed down by a cold, frozen concoction, Foxy came over to introduce himself and Taboo, his black lab, and tell us some jokes. My friend Kala tells this joke best:
Foxy asks in his gentle West Indian accent, "Do you all know what kind of dog this is?"
"Sure. He's a black Labrador retriever."
"Nooooo. Nooooo. Noooo," Foxy says. "Dis here is an ISLAND dog."
"Do you know what makes him an ISLAND dog?" Foxy asks.
"Ummm. No…” We want to know where Foxy is leading us.
"Well 'tree tings make 'im an ISLAND dog," Foxy says. "First off he's black. Second, he sit on his ASS ALL DAY doin' not a ting. And Lastly, he don' know who he father is! Dat what make 'im and ISLAND dog!"
Not sure whether we were allowed to laugh at this totally non-Politically Correct joke, we all burst out. Foxy laughed his rich laugh and strolled away.
Sadly, after lunch it was time for Kala and Andy to catch the ferry back to St. John. We dropped them off with well wishes and goodbye hugs. We then headed back over to Ivan's to check out our cabins.
We were shown to our cabin, a plywood building with a painted wood floor, a bed with 2 pillows and a sheet, and a light. Of course, it was the farthest cabin from the bathroom. Well, what are you gonna' do? The cabin was basic, but decent, and we plopped our stuff inside. There was no lock and the door wouldn't even shut all the way but not once did I feel unsafe about leaving my stuff in there unattended. It's just that kind of place. That’s what you have to love about Jost. You aren’t here for a resort. You are here for the unspeakable beauty of the place, the lovely local people, and the truly laid back attitude that greets you at every turn. No one cares if you left a credit card or $20 bill in your cabin. They care if you want another drink.
We then headed back over to Foxy's just to watch the bustle of early evening activity as it started to course through Great Harbor. People were starting to mill around, glasses were clinking at the bars lining the sandy lane and people sat in hammocks with cold beer, Taboo ran up and down the road with her tennis ball, and music started drifting on the breeze. When we started to get a little hungry, we headed to Sidney's Peace and Love.
I had heard rumors of the lobster at Sidney's, so I had to go. Wow. Was this THE PLACE. The open air building sits right on the water. This was the night of the full moon, so the moon began to rise bright and beautiful in the sky directly in front of the restaurant. When we walked in, a lovely lady asked if we were there for the lobster.
Does a one-legged duck swim in a circle?
She pointed us toward the bar and told us how it worked. "Pour your own. If you can drink it, you can keep it. Write it down on the pad." I got behind the bar and mixed up Vicki's Painkiller and after everyone took a sip, I was promptly fired as head bartender because they tasted very much like gasoline with nutmeg. In what seemed like mere minutes, she came back out with HUGE platters of lobster for each of us that had been caught that day. Then she returned and brought out bowls of creamy potato salad, spicy peas n'rice, and tangy cole slaw for the table. It was incredible. The view, the kind people, and the meal made it simply a perfect night.
Sufficiently stuffed, we headed back to Ivan's to do our best imitation of sleep. As uncomfortable as the beds were, that was simply the best we could hope for. I lay there awake for at least 2 hours before I started dozing fitfully. I'd sleep for about an hour and then wake up. This went on until about 4:00 a.m.
That's when I had to pee.
I lay there considering my options. I could lay in the bed and hope my bladder could endure another 2 hours, or I could try to make my way down the looooonnnnnggggg sandy path, littered with sheets of plywood and old boat parts and big rusty things that looked like a tetanus shot waiting to happen, in the pitch black dark (no lights out there), not really remembering which building the bathroom was and not knowing where the bathroom light was. I opted to lay in bed. I waited. I waited. I waited. I waited.
Holy sh*t. I waited too long. Knowing it was do or die time, I bolted out of bed. Having no time to spare, I ran out of the cabin barefoot, in a tank top and my underwear, in the dark, and it was RAINING......I bolted at lightning speed toward the bathroom wondering how the heck I was going to find the light in time (you know, to make sure the seat was down, there were no frogs on it, etc.), when I rounded the last curve and TA DA!!!!! A gazillion motion lights blared on, showing me in all my wet t-shirted and underweared glory. The good news is, I don't think anyone was awake. The bad news is, this would not be the only time I got inadvertently exposed during the trip.
Saturday, December 13 - Goodbye to Jost, Chillin' at the Beach Bar, and a Dose of Jumbie
Everyone got moving pretty early, because no one slept well. We were out of Ivan's before 8:00 a.m. and headed into Great Harbor to hit Christine's Bakery. The fishermen were loading their boats from the creaky wooden piers. Pelicans perched on the tops of boats that rocked with the morning waves. A little boy ran exuberantly down the street, flying a blue kite that fluttered in the morning air. Everyone I passed waved and smiled and said, “Good morning. How are you today?”
We walked inside the bakery and there was Ivan. He showed me where the coffee was, and I have to admit, I thought, "This ain't no Starbucks." There was a coffee pot, some very damp sugar, and a can of condensed milk on a table. However, I am no princess, so I poured my coffee. If it's good enough for Ivan, it's good enough for me. I had to bang the sugar on the table to break it loose, but you know, that was, quite honestly, a damn good cup of coffee. Damn good. Add to it the smell of the freshly baking bread that was drifting out of the impeccably clean kitchen. I got a huge hunk of moist banana bread and we all sat outside on the breezy porch and had breakfast until it was time to take the car back. We turned in the car, headed to the ferry, and made the trip back to St. John.
Our friends wanted to do some shopping, so Matt and I parked it at the Beach Bar in Cruz Bay, an open air bar right at the water's edge. It's nothing fancy, but it simply can't be beat. Two tuna down nows, a shared mahi sandwich, and a couple of lime n'coconuts later.....we headed to the beach.
Not sure which beach to stop at, we headed down the North Shore Road. Most of the parking lots were a little crowded for our taste, but as we came around to the tiny, 4 car parking lot for Jumbie, we saw only one car and decided it was a Jumbie kind of day. We did some snorkeling and a little lounging on the nearly secluded beach before heading in.
Evening took us first to Island Blues where I ordered a painkiller that was simply enormous. Not only was it really huge, I watched her pour the giant glass full of rum and then put a splash of juice on top. Wow. It took me an hour to drink it. After nursing that drink for far too long, mostly to take in the view across Coral Bay that Island Blues enjoys, we headed over to Shipwreck Landing, one of my standing favorites, for dinner. A friend who had just gotten to St. John that day, Lesley, joined us. After hello hugs, we had crispy fried planks of mahi mahi with fries, a platter of hot conch fritters, and a very good frozen lime n' coconut that brought a very full day to a close.
As I sat there listening to the breeze coming off the water of Coral Bay and rustling the palm trees overhead, I had to ask myself, "Do the days get any better than these?"
Sunday, December 14 - Aaahhhh.....Maho, BB Jazz, and a Woody's Southern Exposure
Usually Maho Bay is the first beach I hit on any trip to St. John, but because we had "plans" this time, Maho had to wait. St. John just isn't St. John for me until I hit Maho. Maho is a long beach, with wide soft sand fringed on one end with sea grapes and on the other with a cluster of tall, reaching palm trees. The water is very calm and clear. It is never very crowded and seems slow and quiet. The first thing I always do when I get there is drop my stuff and just walk. I walk from one end to the other and just soak it all in. The beauty of this beach never ceases to amaze me.
When I got near then other end, I spotted a local guy sitting in the water's edge in his underwear rubbing sand all over his arms. It was kind of weird. Just then I noticed that in a chair pretty close to him was my pal Lesley with a look in her eyes that said, "Thank God, I am being rescued....." She said he just strolled over, stripped down, and started rubbing. Neat.....I guess.
Hours were spent searching for turtles in the middle of the bay, talking to friends as I dug my feet in the sand, floating in the clear water, and dozing in the sun. Of course there were the usual beach chickens everywhere and they were mighty bold this time. Yes, beach chickens. Wild beach chickens. Maho is home to a pack of crazy chickens that hide up in the sea grape trees and dart out whenever you try to pull out a bag of chips or a sandwich. Some people don't really care for them, but I think they just add more wonderful color to this already brilliant place.
When we were sure we were getting crispy, we all headed back to our villas for showers, agreeing to meet back at the Beach Bar around 4:00 for jazz. With a backdrop of a beautiful Cruz Bay sunset, we had good food and cold painkillers with the fantastic company of some island friends. The evening drifted along at a wonderfully lazy pace and pretty soon the moon was high in the sky and everyone was hungry again.
We headed for the Banana Deck., but unfortunately, our friends became mesmerized by the bright and shiny neon of Woody's Seafood Saloon, and we were quickly derailed. Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike Woody's, they actually have pretty great food, it's just not my scene. Woody's has loud music, bright lights, and the highlight of the evening is when some drunk young thing decides to bare herself on the bar with her belly button full of whipped cream. I guess I am the quieter type.
However, we had a nice table outside and it was a pretty quiet night. The food at Woody's is also pretty good and the drinks are strong. We ordered some bushwackers, shark bites, grouper fingers, and seafood platters. Things at Woody's were pretty calm, so it was very ok.
A couple of bushwackers later, I really had to go. Woody's has a single unisex bathroom with a door that faces out into the restaurant, although partially obscured by a very short hall. There was a BIG sign on the door, BIG, that said, "PLEASE KNOCK. LOCK IS BROKEN." BIG sign. The door was open, so I headed on in.
I was just sitting there taking care of business when the door was suddenly thrown open. It was one of our friends. I looked up and could see Woody's patrons from my seat, realizing that those patrons could also see me in my less than delicate position. What would most people do if they just opened a bathroom door and saw someone sitting on the toilet? Most would immediately shut the door, right? Nope. She stood there asking me questions and saying, "I thought there were two bathrooms. Where's the other bathroom?" All while I screamed and waved my arms, "Shut the door! Shut the door." She just kept standing there with the door wide open. Finally, she realized it and shut the door. Thank G- just then the door opened back up. She started talking again! Aaaaaauuugggghhh!
We headed back to the villa. It was late and everyone was tired. When we got home, everyone turned in even though it was only about 8:30. I was too full to sleep. One too many shark bites, I think. I stayed up and watched Casablanca with Pouncer, the villa cat as the moon rose higher in the sky, illuminating Francis Bay below, dotted with the tiny lights of sailboats moored in the safety of its harbor. It was a perfect end to an (almost) perfect day.
Monday, December 15 - All Good Things Must Come to an End
The weather had been perfect each day of our visit, but on travel day, we woke up to gray skies. After a brief rain shower, we were blessed with a beautiful rainbow stretching across Francis Bay. It was like a sweet goodbye.
We got packed and headed toward Cruz Bay. We stopped to visit some friends who had arrived the day before, did some last minute shopping, said "goodbye" to our friends in town, and had one last meal at the Banana Deck. After a dark and stormy and mahi wrap, we headed to the car ferry.
After a short wait, we were on our way. We got to the airport at 4:00 and, with no checked bags and online check-in, we breezed through in about 10 minutes thanks to no line at security. I saw the 60 people piled up in the US Air check-in line and remembered why I do carry on only.
It was finally time to leave. I'm always a little sad when it is time to go home, but I have a peace in my soul knowing that St. John isn't going anywhere. It will still be there when I can come back. It's just a matter of time before I'll be here again.
That thought always makes me smile.