Another stop in paradise.
30.05.2009 - 05.06.2009
For those of you looking for instant gratification, here is the Reader's Digest Condensed Version of my trip report:
Eat, drink, swim, sun. Rinse. Repeat.
The photos are here:
For those of you who are looking for a little bit more, read on.
Saturday: Rum Come, Come Fast.
“OMG…there’s a RUM BAR by our gate,” I screamed excitedly as I made my way through the airport.
“Calm down. It’s 7:00 a.m. It’s not open.”
Really, I didn’t see what the problem with rum at 7:00 a.m. was. I was going to put some juice in it. Maybe an extra orange slice. That’s not a drink. That’s BREAKFAST.
Travel Day was underway.
Short lines, on-time flights, and pain free layovers got us to St. Thomas at 1:00. The thrill never changes, does it? That first step off the plane, when that blast of hot air reeking of jet fuel and salt tinged sea air hits you like a wall, you can’t help but feel exhilarated. As I made my way down the sidewalk, I saw a familiar face on the other side of the glass. Marybeth! A friend of mine was inside waiting for her flight home. We had a virtual hug through the glass and she passed the St. John vacation baton on to me, which I gladly accepted, along with the tiniest glass of rum possible at the rum stand.
Okay, is it just my aging brain, or did we used to get at least a “Dixie cup” sized glass that had some rum and some punch at the airport Rum Stand? I didn’t exactly consider that excessively large, yet someone has felt the need to downsize. What she handed me was about the size of a thimble. And it was just rum.
What the hell. I drank it anyway. Free is free. Right? Although all it did was make me want a REAL drink.
We got in the Budget line and there were about 7 people in line waiting. This couple comes strolling up and just walks to the counter……All the people in line just looked at them, but no one said anything. They were painfully polite and biting their tongues, faces turning purple with anger. That is the beauty of being a redneck from Tennessee. We don’t give a damn. We told her that there was a line and that she was expected to get in the back of it….and she actually tried to argue that there was no line when she got there and she wasn’t moving. That’s when it pays to be a BIG REDNECK FROM RURAL EAST TENNESSEE. By the time we were done with her, she was skulking in the back of the line. Hey, we start off nice, but when you make us mad…somebody is getting an ass whooping.
Oh, and just in case she reads this: Yes, you did so cut line. You did.
We made it through the line at Budget in about 5 minutes and were on our way. Wait…what was that? Our Jeep top was actually removable? Score!
At this point, I had been denied rum once and then had been rum-teased. I was officially on vacation, I needed a drink. We were way early so we decided to stop at Duffy’s Love Shack because it was the closest bar I could think of to the Red Hook Ferry dock on St. Thomas. If you have never been, Duffy’s is hokey. It’s like a really bad (and really expensive) episode of Gilligan’s Island. But I love it. So tacky. So touristy. So yummy. For about $70 we got 2 drinks, but ......we got to keep the glass. I named this one HINA and he became the trip mascot. Why? Because across his green butt it said, “Made in HINA.” Those Hinese can make some cute glasses.
We pulled off the car ferry onto the island of St. John and all the wonderful and familiar sights and smells of St. John drifted through the open windows. I could smell the barbeque at Candi’s waving in on the breeze. Cruz Bay was alive with ladies in tight jeans and high heels darting across the streets holding Presidentes as the music from Cap’s blasted. Dinghies bobbed on the water as the charter boats started pulling in for the day full of laughing passengers.
We followed our villa agent to Terrahawk. After 6 stays in the same villa, Sunnyledge, we had to rent a different villa because we sort of planned this trip at the 11th hour. It’s my own fault for telling everyone how wonderful Sunnyledge is. As for Terrahawk, I will say this: Catered To were wonderful hosts and the house had an amazing location, walking distance to Gibney Beach and a very short hop back into Cruz Bay; a beautiful view of Caneel’s Hawksnest Beach; was very private; and was clean, comfortable, and well appointed. It was however, fairly basic. It is not a villa you want to stay in if luxury and décor are your priorities. For the money, you can get a much nicer villa. It is a great choice, however, if location is your priority. Did I enjoy staying there this time? Yes. Would I stay there again? No.
After we got settled in, it was time to go find some dinner. My favorite thing after a long day of travel is to go have a nice dinner and a few drinks to finally just let vacation brain sink in. I had a surprise planned for Matt this evening, though. His sheer predictability made the plan go off without a hitch.
Background: He has been drooling over the same watch for years. We go look at it on every trip to St. John. His birthday was on this trip, so I had pre-purchased the watch (major kudos to Drew at Jewels for helping me make the surprise happen) and had worked up a plan with Drew to surprise Matt with the watch the night we arrived. Matt always wants to eat at Morgan’s Mango the day we arrive and Jewels is almost next door, so I knew Matt would want to walk in there first and visit his watch.
“Where do you want to eat?” Matt asked me. “I don’t know. You?” “How about Morgan’s Mango?” he said. Ding, ding, we have a winner. “How about we stop at Mongoose first and see if they have that watch?” Score two for Vicki. “Whatever you want to do sounds fine.”
We stopped in at Jewels and Drew gave a performance worthy of an Oscar. Matt was surprised, shocked, thrilled. It couldn’t have been better.
Thank you Drew!
After dinner, Matt was too psyched to go home and go to sleep, and I needed St. John Spice coffee, so we headed over to Wharfside Village. There was some sort of festival going on and the park and taxi area were filled with steel drum bands, food and drink vendors, and arts and crafts. Music was playing. Girls were dancing. The smells of island delicacies filled the night air.
I might have gotten a little too “into” the island spirit because I decided to buy a drink from the little Rasta man with a crazy card table littered with homemade pots and a cardboard sign. Yes I did. My drink choices were: “Chlorophyll (WTF? Really?), Sorrel, Beet, or Ginger Lime. Um. There was one obvious winner here. Ginger lime sounded do-able. I went with it. I gave him $3 and he pulled out an unmarked plastic jug of green stuff and poured me a glassful.
It tasted like ground up lawn.
And I’m pretty sure it was not FDA approved.
Sunday: A Jost Kind of Birthday.
We popped awake freakishly early. It was Matt’s birthday and he wanted to go to the island of Jost Van Dyke. Besides, I think he was still all cranked up because of the watch.
With just the two of us, we opted for the ferry. $60 each and a 30-minute ride later we pulled into Great Harbor on Jost. A customs agent was standing outside the small blue building with a clipboard and checked us all through in about 5 minutes. The immigration agent wasn’t there, so she told us we had to leave her our passports and that we could pick them up at 3:00 before we left.
I know….I know….never give someone your passport in a foreign country…right? But this is JOST, people. It’s all good.
We left the passports without even hesitating.
I had called a few weeks earlier to ask Paradise Car Rental on Jost about renting a car for the day, since Matt wanted to go all the way to Sidney’s Peace & Love for lunch. My conversation that day went something like this:
“I’d like to reserve a car please.”
“What day you comin'?"
"Ooooohhhhhh......mmmmmm.....we don' open on Sunday."
"Oh, okay, well, thanks."
"Weeeelllllll......mmmmmm.....maybe somebody come in on Sunday."
"Na, we not open on Sunday."
"But somebody might wan' come in for you on Sunday."
"What time you comin'?"
"In the morning. About 9:00?"
"When you leavin'?"
"Okay. Ya name?"
No credit card. No confirmation. No email. I had no freakin’ idea if I had actually rented a car or not….for all I knew a 3-legged donkey with a cart was going to show up. But that’s just part of the beauty of Jost. It’s all good.
Well, Paradise was sitting there with a Jeep at the ferry dock waiting for us when we arrived. Someone came in on Sunday just to give us the car. I highly recommend Paradise, but I don’t recommend renting a car on Jost if you are uncomfortable with ambiguity. You gotta’ be willing to go with the flow. Trying to discuss how we’d get the car back to them was a lot like the reservation conversation. It went like this:
“Should we bring the car back to the office at 2:30?”
“Nah. No one be here. Jes leave it.”
“Leave it at the ferry dock.”
“What about the keys? Do you have another set? Should we lock them in the car?”
“Yeh, we have another set.”
“So, lock the car?”
“Nah. Leave them under the mat. Someone get it later.”
If you think about it, it would be pretty pointless to steal a car on Jost since it's only a few miles long with a couple of roads.
We spent a glorious, sun-soaked morning at White Bay. Matt had the ladies at Gertrude’s giggling like school girls and it scored us free chairs and when it came time for drinks, they just handed him the bottle, “Pour your own rum, Sweetie.” I have no problem pimping him out for free chairs and rum.
9:30 a.m. too early for a drink? Nah. We’re on Jost. It’s all good.
I am always mesmerized by White Bay, and no, it’s not just the rum. The water is nearly electric, the color impossible. The lazy palms trees rise tall and lanky and seem to sway with the rhythm of the ocean. Brilliant white boats rock lightly with the breeze. The sand is deliciously soft, unnaturally white. Colorful tables litter the beach and laughter carries from one end of the bay to another. It’s simply perfection.
After Gertrude liquored us up for breakfast, we headed to the Soggy Dollar. Mic, the man with the most beautiful smile in the Caribbean, was mixing up painkillers. Matt had a second birthday surprise, free birthday drinks from some friends had been left for him on the message board. Thanks, guys!
I planted my slightly...okay moderately...okay whatever... very intoxicated butt on a stool and we enjoyed some painkillers and left a few to pay it forward.
Do you know what happens when a 102 lb. person consumes multiple alcoholic beverages between 9:30 a.m. and noon? She starts getting stupid. To avoid excessive silliness on Vicki’s part, or some embarrassing incident involving me face down in the sand, we headed off in search of food. It was Matt’s birthday after all, and he had his heart set on lobster at Sidney’s Peace and Love in Little Harbor on Jost.
We drove over to Little Harbor and found Sidney’s....beautiful and deserted. The water in Little Harbor is a soft blue-green and paint peeled boats in sunbaked colors are scattered in the dry dusty grass beside the water. Sidney’s sits perched at the water’s edge, a happy yellow open air structure with t-shirts hanging from the ceiling and the scribblings of 1,000 visitors covering every available surface.
We were greeted warmly and asked the only question there is to ask at Sidney’s, “Lobster?” A question that only needs to be answered with a huge grin and a nod of the head. While our lunch was prepared, I was guided behind the bar and shown how to make a Rum Punch.
“Ya got to grate the nutmeg good. Rum punch no good without nutmeg,” she said just before she called me “Sweetie,” patted my back and wandered back toward the kitchen.
We wandered around, bought some t-shirts, and took the beautiful view when I heard a voice calling me, “Come, Sweetie, come come.” She waved us into a dining area where a table was set with two giant steamed lobsters, corn on the cob, and bowls of cole slaw, potato salad, and peas and rice.
Heaven on earth, I tell you.
With some food to soak up all the alcohol, we reluctantly left the peace and quiet of Sidney’s and headed over to Great Harbor to stroll along the sandy “main street” before having to catch the ferry. Main Street, Great Harbor was ALIVE. Boats loaded with smiling tanned faces lined the shore and children played in the water’s edge.
The only bad thing about spending a day on Jost? You eventually have to leave. We headed back to the ferry. When we arrived at the little blue customs building, a worried and anxious little group stood on the porch. I could hear them nervously, “Do they have our passports?” “No one is here?” “What do we do?” You can tell the difference between people who have been there before vs. those that haven’t.
Was I worried? Nah. It’s Jost. It’s all good.
Someone showed up with the passports. We went up to collect ours and, I kid you not, he looked at me and said, “Do you have a photo ID you can show me to confirm this is your passport?”
You can read my mind here, can’t you?
I have difficulty responding appropriately to rampant stupidity and it only intensifies when I am under the influence of alcohol. I could see Matt starting to sweat, picturing me being hauled off in handcuffs in about 2 minutes by an insulted customs agent. However, I did a pretty good job of stuffing smart-a$$ Vicki way down in my pocket, putting some duct tape over her mouth, and cramming a bag on her head.
“Isn’t my picture in the passport?” was all I said. “Oh, ya, here you go.” It was time to head back to STJ.
It was all good.
After some down time at the villa we were hungry for a little something so we headed down to the Beach Bar for some snacks. The jazz was still playing when we got there and we had some drinks and a light dinner while the sun set over Cruz Bay.
Monday: Drinking Right, Keeping Left.
Because of our location, we decided to spend the day at Hawksnest, since it was so close to the villa. It was a beautiful morning and we had the beach entirely to ourselves for about an hour. It was a perfect morning, bold blue sky dotted with white clouds gracefully drifting above calm turquoise waters.
It was a quiet day. Even when the beach got “crowded” there weren’t more than 15 people on it. My toes were in the sand, I had a good book to read, and the island breathed a calm into my soul.
The snorkeling was pretty good that day. Shortly after I got in the water, I happened upon a baby turtle. He was very curious and just kept swimming along with me. That was sort of cool. To me, there is nothing more calming than a long snorkel, with nothing but the sound of my own breathing in my ears and the underwater world swaying gently below me.
After about 5 hours of beach time, we opted to head back and have lunch at the villa. Ham and gouda on ciabatta bread with chips and salsa and ice cold pineapple and watermelon with a million dollar view can’t be beat.
It was a gorgeous afternoon, so we yanked off the top and cruised on over to Coral Bay. Let me clarify, we yanked off the JEEP top.
We decided to drive out to the East End and it must have been buy-one-donkey-get-one-free day. They were everywhere. My favorite was this guy. He stood in the middle of the road and wouldn’t move. No matter how close we got, he didn’t budge. Not even when we drove past him. He made it clear that it was his damn road and that we would like it. What a stubborn ass.
After donkeys of all shapes and sizes, immovable donkeys, and donkey trios, we headed back toward Aqua Bistro for a drink. I love Aqua Bistro in the afternoon. There is always a colorful collection of locals drinking the afternoon away. I could sit and listen to their conversation for hours. The last time I sat and listened I got a story about a guy making everyone mad at the St. John Hobo Camp because he just stuck his hand in the spaghetti pot. You never know what you’re going to hear there.
With a Drink Right, Keep Left to cool me off, I just sat and soaked the calm and ease of Coral Bay in.
We spent the afternoon at the villa and a heavy rain blew through, providing a soothing soundtrack to read by and filling the cistern. After the rain, the world was a magical place of sparkling water droplets strung like jewels across the palm leaves as a delicate rainbow arched across the sea.
Matt decided to play bartender at this point and concocted what I call the “Watermelon Vomit Drink.” You have to understand, Matt gets creative in a very bad way. The last time we were on St. John he mixed up something that had a whole banana in it and at least a teaspoon of cinnamon. All I know is that it was thick and brown and required chewing. I forbade him to use the blender after that. Well, while I was distracted by a great book, he whipped out the blender and made something “special.”
“Here. I made a drink. Try it,” he said.
“It looks like someone ate watermelon and threw it up in a glass.”
“No really, it’s good, try it,” he said.
I tried it.
“It tastes like someone ate a watermelon and threw it up in glass.”
Matt was once again fired as villa bartender.
It was Monday night on St. John and in Vicki World and that can only mean one thing: the Caneel Buffet. In case you haven’t picked up on a trend here, I am all about food. My idea of vacation is: Eat, swim, do some stuff, Eat, read, Eat, take a drive, Eat. The Caneel Buffet never disappoints. The setting is beautiful, with tables right at the edge of the sand facing the sunset over Caneel Bay to the soft sounds of a steel drum musician playing rhythmically in the background. The food is fantastic. They had cracked crab claws with drawn butter, cold shrimp, oysters, salmon, and tuna. Salads in every flavor, fruit and cheese, made to order lobster ravioli, grilled fish, vegetables, bisque, prime rib, and my favorite: grilled lobster. After 3 plates full (Yes, I eat like a truck driver) I hit the dessert bar. Four desserts later, I walked out doubled over ….but I didn’t care.
We walked it off along Caneel’s many winding paths, the little mushroom shaped lights glowing softly, the night sounds a lullaby in the dark.