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54B’s Travel Diary – St. John, Virgin Islands (June 7-14, 2009)

July 13, 2009
tags:

Prologue – Why St. John? Well, because it’s (not) there.

written by 54b

photos by auroraleigh (Mrs. 54b)

Cinnamon Beach

Secret Beach

Sometimes when you cruise, you lose. Six years ago my wife and I, along with three other couples, found that out the hard way, reprising the roles of accidental tourists after the boiler room on the S/S Norway exploded three hours prior to our scheduled departure on a weeklong jaunt around the Caribbean.

Instead of throwing in the beach towel and heading back from where we came, we chose to forgo our passive vacationer status and distinguish ourselves as travelers. Working together we secured a last-second booking for a fantastic villa on the U.S. Virgin Island of St. John and convinced American Airlines to grant us the bereavement rate on a flights to get us there. And despite knowing little about the island, we spent one glorious week on St. John living every day like it was gift rather than a reward.

My wife and I still consider it the best vacation of our lives and vowed to return to St. John again soon. Unfortunately, something or someone–buying a house, having a baby, losing a job, etc.–always seemed to steal our steam and exploit our proverbial boiler room. Life truly is what happens while you’re busy making other plans, particularly vacation plans.

So despite the latest something–a crippling economic recession–my wife and I decided to throw caution (and a mortgage payment) to the trade winds and spend another wonderful week on the tiny isle of St. John in hopes of escaping, at least for a little while, all the worries and uncertainties that mark the everyday grind back home.

Shortly before the trip a friend asked why we chose to go back to St. John rather than, say, go to one of the million other places on Earth we hadn’t visited. Other than the obvious–beautiful beaches and the slow pace of life on the island–I didn’t really have a good answer. But upon further reflection, if I had to answer the question again, I think I’d borrow from a variation of the famous response made by English mountain climber George Mallory after being asked why he climbed Mt. Everest.

Signs

Signs

Why’d we go back to St. John? Because it’s (not) there.

The following is a detailed (verbose) trip diary for the week of June 7 – 14 and the answer to what “it” is and is not.

June 7, 2009 (Travel Day) – St. John is an attitude, not a destination.

4:02 am – There are only three legitimate reasons to be up this early on a Sunday morning: Making babies, having babies, and leaving for the airport to catch a 6 am flight to the Virgin Islands. True dat, mon.

4:49 am – In preparation for the ultra-polite St. John culture, my wife is being overly friendly and practicing her pleasantries on a very groggy and nonplussed TSA Agent at the airport security checkpoint. No doubt he’ll alert the TSA to search our bags for pyramid scheme cosmetics or contraband copies of The Book of Mormon.

6:29 am – Pouring a little bit of my ginger ale into my seat pocket barf bag to pay homage to the travel god “homies” for our on-time departure to Miami. I find that they prefer Canada Dry, but Schwepps will do too.

8:27 am – Actual conversation with the flight attendant:

“Good morning (still practicing my niceness). Since this is the same plane going on to St. Thomas, will we be able to get off during the layover in Miami?”

(Very indignantly) “You have to get off the plane.”

“I’ll take that as a yes. Can I use my same boarding pass to get back on the plane?”

“If you still have it.”

(Turning to my wife) “Wow, if she’s on our plane, who’s running hell?”

STJ TRAVEL TIP: Cordial salutations are NOT always reciprocated with kindly service. And most especially not with flight attendants who are over-worked and under-caffeinated.

10:27 am – Sippin’ Mojitos at Tradewinds Bar in Terminal D at the Miami Airport. Too early for hard alcohol? I always find that it’s good to set a brisk drinking pace early on in your vacation if you want to show your liver who’s the boss.

11:32 am“Excuse me while I light my spliff.” Halfway through Marley’s Easy Skankin’ (Song #17 on 54b’s iPod STJ Chill Mix) when a much nicer flight attendant (yea, shift change) informs me that we have to stow away all approved electrical devices because we’re ready for an on-time departure for St. Thomas…heck yes…and you people laughed at me for sacrificing a little ginger ale to the travel homies.

1:37 pm – Oh the humanity when the first blast of humidity hits you in the face while descending the stairs to the tarmac at the St. Thomas airport. It’s as if millions of sweat pores all cried out at once, “release the pounds.” In fact, I’m pretty sure I lost a dress size walking to baggage claim (if I wore dresses, which I never do, unless of course I’ve got good lighting and nobody judging).

1:39 pm – Waiting for our ONE AND ONLY bag (left the underwear at home, yeah baby) to come down the conveyor belt while downing a couple of free rum shots (okay five or six but who’s counting. Um, the now-frowning Cruzan Rum Rep, that’s who…whoops) when I think to myself, “wouldn’t the world be a better place if the Cruzan people installed a whole lot more of these free rum shot stands all over the place? Like down at the DMV, next to voting booths, at the Proctologist’s office.”

STJ TRAVEL TIP: Do yourself a “flavor” and buy a 5th of Cruzan Rum to kick off your vacation. It’s good stuff, and I recommend the Coconut. It’ll percolate your pallet and make you forget why you ever decided to give up hard alcohol.

2:12 pm – Receiving salvation while listening to a radio evangelist testify for the duration of our taxi ride to the Red Hook ferry, which was appropriate considering our harrowing journey included no fewer than 16 brushes with death by farm animal impalement. Seriously, by the time we got to the dock I was ready to confess all my sins by throwing up all the rum I’d previously been thankful for.

Love City

Love City

3:16 pm – Sitting up top the ferry and switching to guns by sipping on something with a little less toxicity, Red Stripe Beer in a plastic cup (“no glass in da boat, mon”). Cruising ever closer to St. John and thinking, you know, Cruz Bay is kind of like the Disney Land of drinking.

”But 54b, there are no roller coasters in Cruz Bay, you say.” Oh yeah, go drive up and over “Jacob’s Ladder” (very steep hill on South Shore road) after it rains and call me after you’ve changed your underwear.

3:44 pm – Speaking of auto-phobias, I’m now walking reverently to the car rental place exhibiting my best choir boy comportment, humming Amazing Grace, and biting down on an olive branch because I’d read on a STJ travel forum that doing any less would incur the wrath of Conrad Sutton, the meanest mother trucker in the Caribbean.

Conrad Sutton Jeep Rentals

STJ TRAVEL TIP: Conrad Sutton is NOT something akin to the Soup Nazi from the Seinfeld TV series. While it’s true that the man is not the friendliest soul in the West Indies and can be a little abrupt at times (especially when he knows you’re about to take the front bumper off one of his jeeps trying to execute a 19-point turn in his diminutive, vertigo inducing parking lot), I can tell you with no hesitation that he really is a good guy.

We parked in his centrally-located lot nearly every night and he was almost always there to help us and turn our car around making it easier to leave later in the evening. Plus, his daughter Carmen is the epitome of Caribbean gentility and a soft shoulder to cry on after your wife kicks your butt on the Reef Bay Trail. She said it happens to a lot of guys…excuse me (tear drop). Highly recommend Conrad Sutton’s though.

Meritage Cottage

Meritage Cottage

4:05 pm – Taking the tour of the Meritage Cottage from Gus, our villa host with the most. It’s a great little place over off of Chocolate Hole East. Sort of like a Mother-In-Law suite, only without the noisy humidifier and annoying little lap dog. Truth be told, it’s not one of those Travel & Leisure, eight-page photo spread, villa gravity-inducing villas that everyone creams their Keens over. But for a couple on a budget who plans to spend a lot of time out and about, it’s perfect.

And it comes replete with a hot tub and a great view of Hart Bay. And because the adjoining Meritage Great House was unoccupied the owners were gracious enough to let us use their pool. So we had that going for us, which is nice. Thank you Gus. Congrats to you and your wife on the new baby.

BTW, Gus’ wife had the line of the trip regarding whether or not to use the condiments left in a villa fridge.

“Stick a knife in it,” she said. “If the knife falls over, use it. If it sticks, run!”

St. John Spice

St. John Spice

5:21 pm – Stopped in to say hello to Ruth at St. John Spice.

How I meant to greet Ruth after all my politeness practice: “Good evening, you must be Ruth from the forum, it’s so nice to meet you in person.”

What I blurted out instead: “Me 54b, you ruth, on the forum, meet you nice to, hi, hello.”

Epic fail, mon.

After my incoherent outburst, I thought Ruth was reaching down to grab a can of mace. Fortunately, she came back up with a free “Didn’t I Call Your Mother a Mongoose In Heat On The Forum” koozy instead. Very nice.

Cruz Bay is very lucky to have Ruth as its unofficial greeter to STJ newbies and vets alike, as they walk in from the dock.  And STJ Spice is a definite must visit. We loved the “Kiss of the Jumbie” coffee and the all-in-one grill rub grab bag. It’s like potpourri for carnivores and it’s guaranteed to ward of vampires, vegans, and vegetitus.

Lime N Coconut

So frosty

Beach Bar Beach

Beach Bar Beach

5:47 pm – Time to kill the pain at The Beach Bar. “Hello my little Caribbean aperitif. Don’t be afraid, you won’t be alone for long.” Yes, I like to talk to my drinks. That way, when they start talking back, I know when to stop. Can I get a rim shot, and a rum shot?

Just A Tip: Not exactly a news flash, but try the Lime N’ Coconut. Besides temporary love connections, I think it’s the best thing they make at The Beach Bar.

6:42 pm – Being dragged out of The Beach Bar by my wife so we can make the eight-mile journey up and over Centerline Road Drive so we can hit Miss Lucy’s for dinner and the Full Moon Party. It’s a cool place with great dinner patio view of Coral Bay. And considering my head was still cruising at 30,000 feet and decision-making wasn’t a virtue, I appreciated the fixed menu. Wife had the swine, I had the Wahoo, dig on the plantains.

Miss Lucy's

Miss Lucy's - Pre-Full Moon Party

Unfortunately, by 9 pm, I’d had it (hey, 4 am departure, remember) and the only full moon I wanted to see at that point was my wife’s butt in the hot tub.

Monday, June 8 (Day 1) – Chasing The Rum Runner

July 12, 2009
tags:

CAVEAT VACATIONER

Blanket and Shell

At the Beach

Please be forewarned that I sleep macho, go commando, and do more before 9 am than most people do on their entire vacation. The frenetic pace I set (and my wonderful wife somehow endured) on this vacation is not for the faint of heart nor the lush of liver (unless you were born with the rare ability to sweat liquor like me).

We are well aware that the majority of STJ beach jockeys prefer to sleep in and certainly have nothing against those of you who like to tell island time with a sundial. To each his or her own, and by all means, lime away to your liver’s content!

And while I may not “get St. John” by most Caribbean barometers, as you’ll read below, I got it and had one hell of time doing it.

Meritage Cottage

Rise and shine! Oh, sun's not up yet.

6:09 am – Wide-awake! Why? Because someone (okay it was me) did not close the curtains the night before and our cottage is presently lit up like the Hollywood studio set for the production of “Sleeping On The Sun.” If you’ve ever stayed on STJ near the Summer Solstice, you know what I’m talking about.

6:10 am – After a 16-hour travel day and consuming enough rum and cokes to liberate Cuba, my wife was in no mood for a “jolly rogering” from her frisky pirate husband, “54-Beard.” So I said, “darrrrrrrn,” like an uber-polite STJ pirate would, and decided to let her sleep in by going for leisurely jog. Or so I thought.

6:37 am – Giving birth to my spleen somewhere on the outer loop of Great Cruz Bay Road, also known as the “10th Circle of Hell.” I know this because there was an old man name Dante sitting outside his villa laughing at me as I ambled by semi-consciously mumbling between deep breaths, “get me…the manager…this is no way to run an island.”

STJ TRAVEL TIP: Though it is true that the only thing flat on St. John is your white butt, jogging is neither impossible nor  prohibitive. It can be done, and can be very rewarding at the same time, even for a 6’4”-, 240-pound Texan who looks a lot like one of those unfortunate cement trucks doing an impression of The Little Engine That Shouldn’t on Centerline Road. For the uninitiated STJ runner, the only way I know how to describe jogging on STJ is to liken it to running the hills of San Francisco with the added bonus of New Orleans-style humidity (in August). Good times.

Meritage Pool

Meritage Pool

7:13 am – Simmering in the Meritage pool while miniature, kamikaze tree frogs hurl themselves at my steaming, volcanic forehead. Seriously, what is up with the animal kingdom on St. John? Regardless of size or stature, every critter here is completely fearless when it comes to human encroachment. Even the plankton poop bigger than Charles Darwin here.

Saloman Beach8:34 am – Burning daylight along the Lind Point Trail on the approach to Salomon Beach when what to my wondering eyes should appear…but a jolly old man flashing us with his white, pasty rear. My first thought was, “oh my naked eyes, it really is a nude beach.”

Fortunately, Mr. Sans-a-pants was merely changing into his bathing suit to go snorkeling. Or at least that’s what I told my wife as we scurried to the other side of the beach.

8:37 am – Hooray, Beer! Saluting the “STJ Traveler” who invented the game “Get In The Water & Drink A Beer” while working on the application to submit it as a demonstration sport at the 2012 Olympics. Though I’m sure drinking in the English Channel is not quite as “sportacular” as doing the same in Salomon Bay (especially when you have to go pee…and don’t lie, you know darn well that hot flash in the surf wasn’t caused by global warming).

Saloman Beach

Get in the water - Saloman

10:12 am – Snorkeling around the point between Salomon and Honeymoon beaches (short, fun, lots of fish, decent place to try out your gear) and testing the hermetic seal on my new Aquapac 6000, or whatever superfluous number the company came up with to market what amounts to a $35 Zip-Lock Bag with an adjustable belt.

STJ TRAVEL TIP: Though thefts on St. John beaches are extremely rare, if leaving your cash, credit cards, and only form of ID on the beach while you’re out snorkeling makes your pucker conch up, the Aquapac is a nice piece of peace (and 60% of the time, it works every time provided you don’t try to stuff it like a turkey…my pain, your gain).

10:47 am – Playing “Get In The Water & Drink A Beer” again when the stealth bomber of sea creatures came swimming by about 10 feet from us. It was huge, black with white spots, and as I recounted to the National Enquirer later, I think it had a penchant for beer. I know what you’re thinking, and no, it was not a Catholic Priest.

As we’d find out from our fellow beachgoers shortly after, it was an Eagle Ray, and I’d spend the rest of the week trying in vain to find another. Even without a mask on it was one of the most majestic and beautiful things I’ve ever seen. And I can promise you this (put the earmuffs on the kids), if that thing ever finds Nemo, Mr. Ray ain’t taking that little clown fish to school, he’s taking him to lunch.

Mongoose Junction

Mongoose Junction

11:17 amYummy, yummy, yummy, I got the Deli Grotto’s New Yorker sandwich in my tummy, and I feel like a-telling you…that it’s-a one deliciously good sandwich. Especially after heating it up in my convection backpack for 3 hours, garnishing it with some back sweat from the hike, and serving it on a white, sandy beach. Good tip from the VI-Online travel forum: Stop by the Deli Grotto at Mongoose Junction for sandwiches before heading out to the beaches on the North Shore.

1:11 pm – Driving just past the Hawksnest Beach parking lot when my wife and I channeled Abbott and Costello…

Enter Paradise

Doesn't look like much...don't be fooled.

“Oh sweet, there’s one parking spot left outside the Gibney Beach Gate.”

“Who…what…wait, you’re seriously going to park here?”

“Like a glove.”

“What…why?”

“It’s Gibney, I read about it on the forum.”

“Yeah, so.”

“It used to be private, but Robert Oppenheimer’s daughter hung herself and left it to the children of St. John.”

“Come again.”

“You know, Oppenheimer, the guy that invented the Atomic Bomb.”

“This is his beach.”

“Well, not anymore.”

“Is it safe?”

“Yeah, I don’t think there’s any radiation left.”

Oppenheimer House

Yellow House - Gibney/Oppenheimer

NOTE: Though my wife is probably still confused as to why she said, “I do,” when the priest asked, “Do take this fool to be your husband?,” Gibney Beach ended up being her favorite beach on St. John. Points!

3:20 pm – Quintessential Limin’. Picture a secluded beach, nobody to the left or right of us for at least 100 yards, just my beautiful wife and I under some palm trees nursing a couple of cold ones with our eyes closed listening to the surf… Perfection…

And then Cousin Eddie and his brood showed up in their floating RV to re-populate the beach. Nearly a quarter mile of open coastline to work with and where does the cast from Lord of the Flies choose to park the S/S Platypus? Yep, right in our kitchen.

Gibney Beach

Limin' at Gibney

MY “DON’T BE A DINGHY” PSA: Hi, I’m 54b, you may remember me from such St. John educational films as: “Drinking and Driving on the Right Side of the Road Can Kill a Buzz” and “Mongoose Road Pizza – Delicious But Deadly.” People, we all know ugly-American beach invasions via inflated dinghys are as certain as short hairs on a bar of soap. But please respect those beachgoers who came before you, and if possible, please don’t make your dinghy encampment a permanent fixture on their horizon.

Woody's

Deceptively strong libations at Woody's

5:39 pm – Tubthumping Woody’s murderers row drink list–He drinks a Painkiller, He drinks a Bushwacker, He drinks Lime n’Coconut–when God decided to give Cruz Bay a bath. And apparently we were pretty dirty because a man name Noah came by wanting to know if we had any spare Kapok lumber.

Crazy Crackers

Crazy Crackers

6:43 pm – Though we got knocked down by the Cold-Cock Trio of frozen goodness at Woody’s, we were still able to get up again and stagger over to Crazy Cracker’s for a dinner that included their oft-mentioned Sashimi appetizer and Mahi Fish Tacos. And due to the monsoon, we had the entire upstairs deck to ourselves because nobody else wanted to sit outside. Silly tourists, they should know by now that in St. John, when it rains, it pours (more drinks). Write that down.

Tuesday, June 9 (Day 2) – I’ve Got Soul But I’m Not A Soldier Crab

July 11, 2009
tags:
Deli Grotto Breakfast Sandwich

Breakfast of champions

7:36 am – Willfully emasculating myself for the purposes of purchasing the scrumptious “Sunshine Day Dream.” No, it’s not a Vitamin D-deficient Care Bear. It’s the breakfast sandwich of Reef Bay hiking champions found only at the Deli Grotto. It’s like an Egg McMuffin, only the secret ingredient is love, not corporate fascism.

LEGAL DISCLAIMER – 54b is not a paid spokesperson for the Deli Grotto (even though he loves them unconditionally and they look the other way when his 15-minute Internet time limit has elapsed).

8:00 am – Peering down the 20-step stone staircase at the Reef Bay trailhead–also known as the express elevator to hell–and appreciating the National Park’s sense of humor. It’s like some Ranger said, “you’re about to descend 1,000 feet to the ocean. Enjoy the first 10. From then on you can kiss your Gluteus Maximus good-bye.”

8:23 am –Inspiring a new Caribbean cocktail called the “webwacker” as I unwittingly clear the trail of all hidden spider webs with my face. Oh, how I love the taste of “spider meringue” in the morning.

Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs

8:47 am – Solving the mystery of the Petroglyphs by scientifically surmising that the 2,000 year-old rock carvings are actually a Pre-Columbian comic strip about a bulbous-headed, socially inept Taino Indian, his unsupportive networks of friends, and his precocious dog. Apparently my esteemed colleague (and really cool wife) concurs–“wah, wah-wah, wah, wah-wah.”

9:02 am – Frosting the path less taken by hanging a left onto the Little Lameshur Bay trail instead of going on to Genti Bay. Much to our amusement almost every other step is met with a close encounter of the third phylum. That’s right, the Winnebago of the animal world: The Soldier Crab. How these little Sisyphean scavengers manage to haul their heavy shells up these steep hills is beyond me, so I decided to lean over and ask one.Reef Bay Trail Waterfall at the Petroglyphs

Reef Bay Hike Sign

Sign of the Apocalypse

I knocked on his shell but received no answer. Apparently, Herman’s hermit knew I was not up to something good. So I knocked again and said, “housekeeping.” This time the little bugger poked one claw out and shot me the middle pincher.

9:29 am – Charging up the steep ascent on the Little Lameshur spur noticing that hiking uphill is not nearly as fun as down hill…and uttering these karma butt kicking words to my wife: “Come on sweetheart, it’s not that bad, imagine there’s a Skinny Legs’ Bleu Cheeseburger at the top.” Let me just assure you now that dumber words could not have been spoken while walking through “the valley of the foreshadow of death.”

10:18 am – Snorkeling out to and around Yawzi Point (peninsula between Great and Little Lameshur Bays). Very nice, lots of little coves and a ton of fish. Plus, it was the perfect excuse to rock my skin-

Little Lameshur

Little Lameshur

tight rash guard. It hugs the body good and makes me feel sexy even though my spandex-incased love handles make it look like I’m trying to shoplift a Butterball Turkey.

11:59 am – Starting to feel lightheaded standing at the crossroads of Reef Bay and Little Lameshur trails deciding whether or not to keep going on to Genti Bay or head back to the car. Apparently the fact that I’m almost out of water, drank like a sailor on shore leave the night before, and had been perspiring like a pack mule on meth was lost on me because we proceeded to the bay without delay.

12:15 pm – Crashing at the Reef Bay Sugar Mill Ruins like a diabetic at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Fear Factory. Even though the big mill wheel that used to crush sugar cane hasn’t been operational for almost 100 years, it now looks to me like it’s spinning again and  those mushrooms I found on the trail are beginning to seem like a bad snack choice.

Reef HikeRegardless, I refused to turn back and walked the last 30 yards past the Ladybird Johnson Memorial Crapper (she came to STJ once and wasn’t a fan of the lack of restrooms) out to Genti Bay where low and behold, Charon the Ferryman was waiting to take me across the river Styx…actually, there was a boat going back to Cruz Bay.

But did I do the sensible thing and explain my delicate condition and plead for a ride back rather than hike back 2.4 miles (ascending 1,000 feet) with my gas tank on empty? Of course not, I’m a man. We never ask for directions, help, or a doctor.

1:11 pm – Sucking wind slumped over on a rock completely exhausted (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) about a mile from the trailhead contemplating becoming a permanent fixture on the Reef Bay Hiking Tour – I figure they have a placard pointing out the Wandering Jew, why not a sign for the Wheezing Catholic.

1:13 pm – Bonking hard less than 100 feet from our last stop trying to catch my breath again while sharing this exchange with my wife:

“ Sweetheart, if I don’t make it, tell my wife I love her.”
“Hate to break it to you, honey, but I am your wife.”
“Oh good, okay, give it to me straight…how am I looking?”
“Like Brad Pitt on a spit.”
“No seriously, is it bad?”
“Well your pupils are about the size of bb’s, your gums are turning white, and if you don’t keep moving, you’re going to completely cramp up.”
“Sounds promising…oh, hey, sweetheart…”
“Yeah…”
“If I don’t make it, tell my wife I love her.”

1:30 pm – My “iron-woman” wife, who is relatively un-phased by this cardiac-arresting journey through the “heart of darkness,” is no longer amused with my impromptu rest stops and is now yelling at me like a drill sergeant, literally kicking my butt up the hill. Even more pathetic, she’s carrying my backpack too. Can my self-respect and pride possibly sink any lower than this?

1:37 pm – Yes, yes it can. Taking another break while a family of four with two young kids passes us like Lance pleasure biking on Alp d’Huez. One of the kids, who apparently sprained her ankle minutes before crossing a stream, actually stopped crying after seeing a Soldier Crab kicking dirt in my face. Parenting 101: “Never ask your kids what could possibly be worse, but never miss an opportunity to point it out to them.”

1:43 pm – Psalm 23-B: “Yea, though I hike up the gut of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil: For my wife art with me to comfort me and pay me back with encouraging words like, “Skinny Legs just called, they’re naming a cheeseburger in your honor…it’s called the Flopper.”

Reef Bay Hike Stairway

Stairway to Heaven

2:00 pm – Oh, thank God. Nearly six hours and 15 pounds of water weight later, we’ve finally arrived at the stairs at the Reef Bay trailhead…or as I now refer to them, “The Stairway to Heaven.”

MY PAIN, YOUR GAIN – For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Web site “Map-My-Hubris,” we hiked over 10 miles in sauna-like conditions. Even with two big bottles of water and several Cliff Bars as well as being in pretty decent shape, I simply bit off more than I could chew and underestimated the humid conditions. And while most people reading this may deem my folly the height of stupidity, it’s definitely a good example of just how fast one can turn a pleasurable Virgin Islands experience into a dangerous situation. My hyperbole above aside, there definitely was reason for concern and I’m sorry for putting my wife through that ordeal.

That being said, I don’t want to make the Reef Bay Hike out to be some sort nature trail to hell. If I’d been properly hydrated, eaten when I should have, and known my limits, I would have been fine. Despite the bad experience I got myself into, I will definitely hike it again (probably won’t add the Lameshur side-trip though).

Smoothie Shack

The Smoothie Shack. A place for hydration.

2:07 pm – Cramping up something fierce while buying bottled water from the Smoothie Shack on Centerline Road like I’m hosting a hurricane party. To give you an idea of just how dehydrated I was, it took seven bottles of water before I had to pee again. My wife was literally threatening to drop me off at the Medical Center near Gift Hill for an IV and a lecture for the physiologically impaired.

5:33 pm – After several more bottles of water and a body temperature-lowering siesta back in the cool waters of the Meritage pool, my vital signs had returned like a rebooted Mac. Unfortunately, my wife’s good mood and normally pleasant demeanor had not. Apparently in the pantheon of bad husbandry, taking unnecessary risks with your life on vacation ranks right up there with leaving the toilet seat up, forgetting anniversaries, and missing the funeral of an elderly in-law to attend a football game. Who knew?

Lime Inn

Lime Inn

7:32 pm – Call it male intuition or female insinuation, but somehow I just knew that suggesting we go to a bar to watch Game 4 of the NBA Finals was not in my best interest tonight. Fortunately for me, nothing says you’re sorry quite like grilled Caribbean Lobster, Brie en Croute, and Key Lime Pie from the Lime Inn. Thanks to Rich (another host with the most) for seeing to it personally that we had a great night. And giving me scoring updates on the Lakers/Magic game on the sly.

8:17 pm – Reassembling the two halves of my lobster to look more like it did when it was less dead and less red in a feeble attempt to melt my wife’s angry heart by playing the part of the contrite ventriloquist and having Mr. Lobster croon a few bars of Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight.” Ah-ha, either the brie is giving her gas or it’s working because my wife is smiling again.

Lime Inn Lobster

Lime Inn Lobster

Over ten miles of soul searching hiking, some aesthetically pleasing snorkeling, some conscious-appeasing culturally significant sites, a fantastic dinner for two, and one little brush with death later, some people would call that quite a day. I call it Tuesday.

Wednesday, June 10 (Day 3) – Stay thirsty Yost Van Dyke

July 10, 2009
tags:
Visitor Center

Visitor Center

8:29 am – Just sitting on the dock of Cruz Bay wasting island time when the “Dos Equis super spokesman” showed up in a dinghy to take us to our charter sailboat…

Customs agents often detain him because his passport includes a stamp for the lost city of Atlantis.

His ponytail alone has diplomatic immunity.

He uses a sea urchin for a loofah.

The Sea is a cruel and fickle mistress because he refuses to tie the “naut” with her.

Every island gets renamed “Lovango” after he’s been in port.

Sharks study him because he’s never been sick.

He has no tolerance for tan lines, not even on the soles of his feet.

The most potent Painkillers are made with nutmeg ground on his funny bone.

If he’d been cast in Waterworld, the move would have made money.

Captain Joe and 54b

Captain Hollywood Joe (left) and 54b

He is Captain “Hollywood” Joe – The Most Interesting Man In The Caribbean.

8:47 am –“Chill-limin” (even better than “Chillaxin”) on the deck of a 60’ ketch–the incomparable Treazzure–endearing myself (read: making walking the plank seem like an attractive option) to our fellow travelers (a cool couple from NY celebrating their anniversary) and getting acquainted with Captain Joe’s First Mate, Danielle, the consummate hostess and drink aficionado.

Danielle: “What do you think? What would be the perfect drink with this morning sail over to Jost?”

Captain Joe: “Mimosa?”

Danielle: “No. If the dew point were higher and the wind were coming out of the south, right on the money, but for this sail? Bloody Mary.”
54b: “What’s going on?”

Captain Joe: “Danielle can pick out the perfect drink for any Caribbean sailing voyage. Go ahead. Challenge her.”

54b: “Challenge her?”

Danielle and Jack

Danielle and Jack

Captain Joe: “Go on.”

54b: “Okay, Virgin Gorda.”

Danielle: “Lime-n-Coconut with a dash of Sprite. Don’t waste my time.”

[Offers to put a pink umbrella in my drink as if to throw down the gauntlet.]

Danielle: “Come on. Push me.”

54b: “Anegada.”

Danielle: “High tide?”

54b: “Low tide.”

Danielle: “I’m with ya.”

54b: “Moonlight sail. Malfunctioning mizzen-mast. 80% chance of precip.”

Danielle: [Pauses to think] “Dark & Stormy.”

Capatain Joe: “YES!”

FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY LIVER…I really want to thank Danielle. My wife and I didn’t have the cash to charter our own boat to JVD and we really wanted a little more intimacy and flexibility than the canned trips on the bigger boats could offer. Danielle took it upon herself to find another couple to go with us and even promised us a flat rate even if my wife and I ended up being the only ones going that day. She’s good people and if you ever find yourself in the same boat we were in (aren’t puns fun), I highly recommend you contact Danielle at (www.sailingvirginislands.com) and upgrade yourself to a yacht.

10:11 am –Riding shotgun with Captain Jack–The Most Interesting Cat In The Caribbean (or at the bravest one anyway). This all-black bilge rat chaser has never spent a day of his nine lives on dry land. He’s friendly, fearless, and prefers that his leeward litter box be kept duty free.

One cool cat

Every yacht needs a ship's cat

Seriously, this feline’s more chill than Chester the Cheetah. Plus he helped me locate Treazzure’s precious cargo…multiple cases of iced-down beer right under the seat cushions. Rrrrrreeeooooowww!

10:34 am – Anchoring in Great Harbour, JVD while playing “Bobbing For Beers” (also known as “Dodge-Beer”). What’s that you ask? Why it’s only the latest drinking craze sweeping the Caribbean. How do you play? I’m glad you didn’t ask…

STEP 1: Dive off a sailboat while yelling, “Beer me!”

STEP 2: Someone on deck tosses a 12-ounce can (16oz for professionals) in after you hopefully avoiding your head.

STEP 3: Locate said beer before resurfacing and chug it.

54beer

54beer

It’s fun for the whole family. And here’s the best part: even when you lose, you still win, because canned beer floats. (LEGAL: Void where inebriated. Not recommended in contiguous United States. Please drink and dive responsibly.)

10:46 am –On the way to customs, Captain Joe drops us off on the beach in front of the Jost Van Dyke Police Station. No doubt Great Harbour’s Finest felt the disturbance in the force long before I made landfall, but it does beg the question, “do they really need cops on Jost and do they walk their beats barefoot?” Inebriated minds like mine want to know. I figure even with idiots like me on the loose, there hasn’t been a better gig than being a Jost Cop since Barney Fife regulated Mayberry.

11:47 am – Testing the elasticity of my swimsuit while inhaling Foxy’s Chicken Roti…seriously, I could not have stopped eating that Caribbean burrito to attend the Apocalypse. It’s that good. Got freaky with a Friggin in de Riggin and chased it with one of Foxy’s home brews too.

White Bay, Jost Van Dyke, BVI

White Bay, Jost Van Dyke, BVI

12:52 pm – In a moment of shear poetic irony, the Aquapac 6000 succumbs to poor packing practices and its promise to keep its precious cargo dry is compromised on the swim into White Bay thus keeping alive the tradition and “joie de vivre” of the Soggy Dollar Bar. There’s just nothing like paying for a round of Painkillers with a bunch of wet dollar bills. Now that’s what I call “making it rain.”

1:27 pm – With an array of tropical cocktail confectionaries dotting a postcard-white sandy beach replete with narcolepsy-inducing hammocks overlooking crystal clear blue water made of unicorn tears, White Bay on Jost is quite possibly the most stress-free place on Earth…and how am I choosing to spend my time in Tranquil Town? Having a conniption fit trying to make a ring on a string (hanging from a tree) swoop over and catch on a tiny hook. It was like going to Chuck E. Cheese’s to do your taxes. Epic fail mon.

White Bay Beach

Unicorn Tears

1:58 pm“But there’s booze in the One Love Bar blender, and soon it will render, a frozen Bushwacker that helps me hang on…hang on…hang on…” Keep drinking like this and I’ll have to declare my liver when I go back through customs.

2:13 pm – Typically my wife cuts me off before “Frank the Tank” hits defcon floor, but the governor’s currently in a coma swaying in a hammock in front of Soggy’s. You know what that means. Fasten your seatbelts and return your tray tables to their full-upright positions–next stop, spirit world. ”Hello dark rum, my old friend. I’ve come to drink with you again…”

Soggy Dollar Hammock

Soggy Dollar Hammock

2:44 pm – Gathering our things before making the swim back to the boat and enjoying this lovely interrogation…

“Hey Sweetheart, how was your nap?”
“Wonderful. I see you had another Painkiller?”
“Who me? No, never-never…okay, how’d you know?”
“You have nutmeg in your nose hairs.”
“Doh!”

NOTE TO SELF: When downing a Painkiller like a juice box, don’t breathe through your nose.

Treazure Mast

The Treazzure Mast

4-ish pm –Mooning the Caneel Bay Resort ferry to avenge the honor of the Treazzure, whose main cabin was flooded this morning thanks to an overzealous Caneel Bay ferryman that was rooster tailing through the no-wake zone off of Honeymoon beach. “Not cool mon.”

5ish pm – Passing through customs armed with enough liquid courage to storm the Bastille and wondering aloud why they were so strict with their hours of operation. Seriously, I thought we were all on island time? This whole deadline thing is really harshing my mellow. Then my wife reminded me that if I didn’t shut up I’d probably be spending the rest of the night with Homeland Security getting interviewed by Dr. Jellyfinger.

Cafe Roma

Cafe Roma

8:03 pm – Still in the spirit world discussing the meaning of life with the bartender at Café Roma while waiting for a pizza. He used to be a lawyer in Cleveland until he decided to trade that bar for this one and move to St. John. I consider him a role model for the times and not just because he slipped me a Red Stripe on the house.

So I cried on his shoulder and told him how even on St. John I didn’t feel like I could completely escape the worries about the recession and my job back home and how I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. He said if you think that’s heavy, wait ‘til you get a load of this pizza. Seriously, no lie, I think that pie weighed 20 pounds. And holy pepperoni was it good. Especially after drinking in the sun all day.

And you know what, he was right…it’s hard to worry about things you can’t control when the pizza you’re carrying is about to give you a hernia. That’s wisdom St. John style.

Thursday, June 11 (Day 4) – Eastbound And Down For Fritters

July 9, 2009
tags:
54brrrrrrnnnttt

54brrrrrrnnnttt

8:17 am – Driving the North Shore out to the Leinster Bay Trailhead while compromising the integrity of our jeep thanks to about 20 pounds of Café Roma mozzarella causing a traffic jam in my colon. Like most men, I’m immature (even at age 35), and still intrigued by my body’s magical ability to expel odoriferous emanations.

My wife however, who was in the passenger seat making the universal sign for death by suffocation, was not impressed and certainly wasn’t amused when I coyly asked her if she happened to catch a “Whiff of the Jumbie.” He-he.

8:45 am –Stopped in our tracks out on the trail to Waterlemon Cay playing chicken with a gang of imposing donkeys protecting their turf near Leinster Beach, also known as “Playa del Muchos Burros.”

Donkeys

Donkeys in charge

Even though I speak fluent “jackass” (according to my wife), my attempts to establish my “trail cred” with “El Buro Loco 340” went unreciprocated. El Guapo, the lead donkey, didn’t even blink when I asked him if he knew what a “plethora” was.

In fact I’m pretty sure a couple of the donkeys had done time in the pen because they had visible tats of horseshoes under their left eyes. So rather than play by prison rules we opted to bushwack around them.

9:23 am – Snorkeling around Waterlemon Cay–the aquatic equivalent of a merry-go-round menagerie of serene sea life–when my wife tugs on my fin to have a meaningful conversation and share some STJ trivia with me while treading water. Unfortunately, I was not in good head space for sponging up useless knowledge, as you’ll read below:

Waterlemon Cay

Waterlemon Cay

Mrs. 54b (excited): “Hey did you see that big parrotfish nibbling on the coral?”

54b (daft as ever): “Oh yeah, Polly was gettin’ his cracker on.”

Mrs. 54b (unenthused): “Okay…anyway, did you know that after it digests the coral, it poops out sand and that sand makes up a lot of the beaches here?”

54b (incredulous): “Seriously?”

Mrs. 54b (excited again and hopeful): “Yes, I’m not joking. Isn’t that amazing?”

54b (insensitive and ignorant): “Wow, I guess that means the parrotfish over at Cobblestone Beach are constipated.”

Mrs. 54b (thoroughly defeated): “Yeah, just like you this morning, Mr. Café Aroma.”

Coming soon to the NYT Best Seller List, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and I am from Uranus” by 54b.

Vie's Snack Shack

Vie's Snack Shack

11:12 am – Rolling eastbound and down for Vie’s Snack Shack, where the culinary mantra is, “don’t knock it ‘til you’ve fried it.”

Vie’s famous garlic fried chicken–which I’m pretty sure was pecking the ground near the picnic tables not long before coming to its final resting plate–is sublime and comes with a Johnnycake just in case you need to slap your heart and put some stank on it.

Add the palette-cleansing artery-clogging Conch Fritters and you’ve just hit the Tri-Fried-Fecta. They’re awesome, and Vie, who’s been at this for 30 years (yeah 30 years), doesn’t fry her fritters until they end up like hard, little hockey pucks like a lot of places do. Hey, don’t hate the hushpuppy, hate the game.

Besides not wearing shorts with a forgiving elastic waistband and popping an anticoagulant, my only lament after experiencing the connubial fusion of all-purpose flour and partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil that is Vie’s Snack Attack was not trying one of Vie’s famous tarts. I won’t quadruple bypass it by next time, I can assure you of that.

All joking aside, Vie’s Snack Shack was my favorite eating experience all week. She’s authentic and makes no apologies for serving unfashionably good fare in a world that’s become increasingly dependent on food for affirmation instead of enjoyment.

Vie’s Snack Shack isn’t a St. John institution. Vie’s Snack Shack is St. John.

(Cue slow clap sequence, increase to mad applause, whip into frothy lather.)

Sloop Jones' Place

Sloop Jones' Place

I feel powerful yet vulnerable…hold me but don’t judge me.

12:07 am – Continuing our journey to the Far East (side of STJ), also known as the Goat Coast, and making our way up the hill to the artist colony and lizard refuge of Sloop Jones. Seriously, leaping lizards abound. Or maybe I picked the wrong week to quit inhaling paint fumes.

Anyway, there’s no way to do Sloop Jones or his colorful couture justice using the written word other than to have you imagine what a t-shirt would look like after having a paintball war with Tommy Bahama, Don Ho, and Rainbow Brite.

Lizard

A Lizard

Unfortunately, we did not get to meet Sloop himself, but Mrs. Sloop (I think) was kind enough to finance a couple of one-of-kind t-shirts for us that were good for the soul and the local economy. They ain’t cheap, but they’re worth it. And like Sloop Dawg never says, “paintin’ ain’t easy.”

1:13 pm – Double dating with two affectionate turtles swimming in Salt Pond Bay. Mr. Turtle had a good job with the VI Tourism Bureau and Mrs. Turtle recently quit her gig as a postcard model to stay at home and start a family. Like us, they were new to the neighborhood and wanted to make sure the local schools of fish were good before settling down.

Mangrove Leaf2:47 pm – Taking the air on the Rams Head hike solo while my wife relished a rare chance to spend some alone time with “Sir Reginald’s Quivering Sword” (trashy romance novel) back on the beach. After bonking on the Reef Bay trail to hell on Tuesday, I wanted to redeem myself and prove to my wife and my maker that come hell or high water, I am a hiker damn it.

Unfortunately, today, God chose door #2 to humble me and opened up the skies drowning my arrogance just as I made it to the Rams Head point just in time to get a front row seat for the much bigger can of weather whoop ass coming our way.

By the time I made it back to the Salt Pond, there was only one person remaining on the beach trembling under a tree that had more thorns than foliage. Let me describe this lucky lady for you…

She had our cooler, two drenched towels that weighed about 20 pounds each, her prized chick-lit paperback that now resembled a pile of used moist towelettes (I think Sir Reginald might have intimacy issues, he-he), and a look on her face that could make my “Husband of the Year” nomination entry form spontaneously combust.

On the arduous, muddy climb back up to the parking lot I drew inspiration from The Turtles and tried to assuage my wife’s frustration with a fun hiking song sung by happy campers (feel free to sing along):

54b and you and you and b,
We knew the day they tossed the rice, it had to be,
The only one for 54b is you and you for b,
So happy together
How is the weather?

Wait, don’t answer that…

So happy together…

Good song choice? Not so much. Only one thing can save me now. Yep, alcohol – the cause and cure for all of life’s problems.

Thank you, Homer Simpson.

Tourist Trap

Tourist Trap

4:22 pmDrinking Right and Keeping Left at the one St. John establishment that not only accepts sopping wet patrons, but actually expects them: The Tourist Trap. A couple of their signature drinks and awesome Lobster Rolls (think seafood hotdogs) later and I’d completely forgotten about being drenched. My wife took a little longer to thaw (understandable), but she came around after putting some type of hot sauce found at Shipwreck Landing on her roll. Apparently it makes your taste buds secrete endorphins because my she was now looking at me like I was Sir Reginald. Tallyho, govna!

From zero to hero just like that.

What a day, what a place. My wife can certainly attest to the fact that I’m no saint, but even I can pull off a miracle every now and then on St. John.

BONUS: For those of you who never learned to carry the one (because you were told there would be no math), that’s two fantastic culinary experiences in one day from two places that probably wouldn’t be caught dead in Bon Appétit.

This got me to drinking (I mean thinking) because I remembered all the forum posts I’d read about how hard it is to keep a restaurant in the black on STJ and the number of places that had been shuttered because of the recession. So I figured I’d apply what little I learned over the past 10 years as a marketer (think snake oil salesman) and provide “pro 54-bono” my…

TOP 10 SECRETS TO OPERATING A SUCCESSFUL RESTAURANT ON STJ

10. Create a signature rum drink (use Everclear instead of rum though) and name it after a particularly virulent wild animal found on STJ or just make a pun out of a popular island landmark like everybody else. Examples (no charge, they’re on the house): Donkey Punch or Chocolate Hole Milk of Amnesia

9. Make sure your food tastes better than your restaurant looks. I can’t stress this enough. In retail, exceeding expectations is typically more important than creating them.

8. Develop t-shirts, hats and bumper stickers that wax poetic about your signature appetizer or entrée. People are superficial, elitist tchotchke-whores and can’t hardly wait to provide the world with tangible proof that they “ate the infamous Reef Bay Gut Buster at the Beached Whale Café on St. John.”

7. Hire a friendly, attractive waitstaff with questionable morals and emotionally unavailable fathers. And start a rumor that your hostess was an extra in the last Kenny Chesney video.

6. Hang 8×10 glossies of B-List celebrities on your walls and forge barely legible notes from them about the time they got drunk and played strip poker at your restaurant ‘til sunrise with Erik Estrada, Maureen McCormick, and Gary Coleman.

5. Two words: Drink Specials. Because when you’re drinking, every hour is happy hour, even 9 am. I don’t care if it’s the same price you always charge, make it “special,” damn it!

4. Allow patrons to prove they “were here” at your restaurant by encouraging them to write stupid non-sequiturs on your tables and bathroom walls. It will give them something to do if the service is slow, and trust me, it will be.

3. Whenever possible, challenge your customers’ manhood. All-you-can-muscle conch fritter nights, special t-shirt offers for drinking every type of beer in the house, Jell-o shots congealing small fish, mosquitoes, and no-see-ums, etc. If it works on a frat boy, it’ll work on a tourist. Same mental state of mind, both are on vacation.

2. Bribe locals to eat dinner at your bar, get drunk, and tell any tourist who will listen about how your restaurant is the only thing that reminds them of the way St. John was before the greedy developers showed up. Nostalgia is basically emotional blackmail in the retail industry. Write that down.

1. And finally, don’t be open everyday, tell people your commodes are eco-friendly, and whatever you do, don’t piss off the Vegans. Just put some tree bark on a plate with a sprig of mint and a watercress and call it a “Salade” (with an “e”).

Trust me. I’m in advertising.

Friday, June 11 (Day 5) – Watcha Gonna Do With A Trunken Sailor

July 8, 2009
tags:

Peace Hill Ruins7:47 am ­- Meditating in the shadows of a picturesque 18th Century windmill on the crest of Peace Hill as the warm Caribbean trade winds tickle our noses with the smell of fleeting frangipani and whisper-sweet reminders in our ears of the precious impermanence of life…is what my wife desperately wishes we were doing right now.

Unfortunately, she married Lieutenant Spaz. And if you’ve suffered through this entire trip report, you know full well that I don’t mediate in windmills, I slay them like Don Quixote on acid.

So naturally, instead of enjoying breakfast while experiencing all the solitude and tranquility Peace Hill has to offer, I conscripted my wife into using its tactical vantage point (overlooking Trunk Bay) to plan our assault on St. John’s most famous attraction.

Me: “Trunk Bay. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”

The Mrs.: “What…oh please no, it’s too early in the morning for movie quotes, especially Star Wars. Can’t we just relax and enjoy life for once?”

Fragile FlowerMe: “Every man dies, not every man really limes.”

The Mrs.: (rolling her eyes) “Not when they go on vacation with Brave-fart they don’t.”

Me: “Have rum will travel reads the card of a man, a wife without ardor on a Virgin Island…”

The Mrs.: Oh I’m excited to be here all right, just not at wartime.

Me: (marching in place) “This is my snorkel, these are my fins, this is for breathin’, this is for…swims?”

The Mrs.: Very nice, Sweetheart, now can we just finish breakfast in peace? It’s Peace Hill after all, not Hamburger Hill.

Me: (Sniffing) Well I do love the smell of Napalm in the morning.

The Mrs.: “Well that explains why you added jalapeños to your Grotto Deli Sunrise Surprise?”

Me: “Mount up, it’s time to go storm the beach.”

The Mrs.: “God help me.”

Me: “And may the Force be with you.”

Trunk Bay Vista

Trunk Bay from an overlook

8:21 am – Bypassing the entrance to Trunk Beach without paying the $4 cover charge thanks to my celebrity status. Actually, there was no one at the gate. I think the bouncers slept in.

So we proceeded down to the lifeguard stand on the beach, but Mr. Trunk Baywatch didn’t have change for a $20, or, as my wife noted, room for much else in his uniform (the Hoff would have been proud). Regardless, he didn’t really care that we hadn’t paid and much like a loan from Countrywide, we got some premium beachfront property all to ourselves for no money down. You think we bit off more than we could crew? No, never-never.

9:01 am – Snorkeling around the cay at Trunk Bay and coming face to jaws with a four to five foot barracuda give or take a fang. It was just hovering above a rock and quite honestly I thought it was a fake at first–perhaps an attraction on the underwater snorkel trail. So I swam even closer to it. Sounds ridiculous now, but that’s what happens when you augment the most important meal of the day with liquid courage. Hooray Beer!

Trunk Beach

I love blue

Of course, I almost turned Trunk Bay into Brown Bay when the barracuda opened and closed its mouth repeatedly as if to say, “I know what you’re thinking. ‘Are these jagged teeth as sharp as they look?’ Being as I’m a barracuda, one of the fiercest looking fish in the world, and I could probably bite your hand clean off (or at least break the skin and cause a very bad rash), you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

As I’d find out later from the lifeguard, “it” was most likely “Charlie,” and my run-in was hardly unique. If you too would like to get up close and personal with the business end of a barracuda, I think you can find “Dirty Charlie” protecting his turf out just beyond the second buoy (the red one if memory serves) on the left side of the cay at Trunk Bay.

Obviously, the park officials would have relocated the Tooth-scary long ago if he actually posed any real threat, but I can promise you this much, Charlie ain’t no tuna and he don’t want to be part of the petting zoo either.

10:30 ish – Rush hour at Trunk Bay. One second you have the beach to yourself and the next, it’s Spring Break on the Jersey Shore. Don’t these people know that I called dibs on Trunk during a very audible and incoherent public address announcement at The Beach Bar last night? There’s just no honor amongst drunks anymore.

Crab

Crab with an attitude

Oh well, since the plethora of prepubescent pirates surrounding us didn’t seem the least bit empathetic towards my hangover and deemed my invitation to play the “Quiet Game” as an act of sedition, we decided to bolt.

Nothing against kids or noise, but after a few days on St. John, you get spoiled knowing you can almost always find another postcard beach that’s practically empty and devoid of “distractions.” Plus, my wife and I felt guilty because the little ones reminded us of our own precious 4-year old pirate who was back in Texas with his grandparents. But we’ll bring him to STJ one of these days, and mark my words, Trunk Bay, like MacArthur, I shall return.

Annaberg

Annaberg Ruins

10:55 am – Eavesdropping on the guided tour that was circling the ruins at the Annaberg Plantation just as the guide was giving the group a solemn idea of what a day in the life of a slave was like here. It’s been said many times, but it really is hard to believe such a beautiful place was home to such atrocities.

And it’s not like we were completely clueless about St. John’s sordid past, but given all the other things St. John is known for–beaches, bars, booty, I mean beauty, etc.–I don’t think you really absorb it until you actually walk in their footsteps and feel the heat of the sun on the back of your neck while imagining yourself naked, working nearly 18 hours a day with no relief and no hope.

Flamboyant Tree

Flamboyant Tree

Of course that didn’t prevent me from sticking my flip-flop in my mouth and whispering to my wife, “They didn’t land on Pelican Rock, Pelican Rock landed on them.” Fortunately, the frown on my wife’s face said it all and we walked the rest of the ruins in reverent silence as if visiting a cemetery.

Even if it’s inconvenient, I’ll always choose to learn the truth versus remaining ignorant, but it’s hard not to feel guilty when you’re walking a crime scene in a bathing suit. Regardless, Annaberg is a must-stop when on St. John and this was not meant to be an emotional curve ball, just a tip for those of you who, like me, don’t always remember to leave their “happy-go-drunky” mindset in the glove compartment.

And speaking of appeasing my conscience…

We never did pay the Trunk Bay tax, but we did put $10 in the lockbox at the Annaberg entrance, which apparently works as admission for both places. Hey, when it comes to rules and karma, I play a “bend but don’t break” defense.

Skinny Legs

Skinny Legs

11:43 am – Singing my Ode to Skinny Legs’ Cheeseburger in Paradise (Jimmy Buffett style)…

Tried to avoid my carnivorous habits
Made it nearly seven long days
Losin’ weight hiking Reef – eatin’ Cliff Bars that taste like “sheet”
Snork-lin’ round
Waterlemon and soakin’ up rays

But at night I’d have these eatable dreams
About an
East End infamous treat
Not sashimi, mahi-mahi, or fish ‘n frites
But a bunch of bleu cheese on a big hunk of meat

Blue Cheese Burger at Skinnys

The Cheeseburger in Paradise

Cheeseburger at Skinny Legs
Heaven on earth with a cold Red Stripe
It’s served on island time, so try to be nice
Skinny Legs’ cheeseburger in paradise

Heard about the Cruz Bay chi-chi crowd
They eat the same thing again and again
Goat cheese salad they say can raise the dead
It reminds me of the menu at the stuffy Westin

Times have changed for tourists these days
When on
St. John I get what I need
Not just fritters or painkillers or mahi-mahi
But that
Coral Bay creation on which I feed

Burger at Skinnys

54burger

Cheeseburger at Skinny Legs
Medium rare with cheddar’d be nice
Heaven on earth with a cold Red Stripe
Skinny Legs’ cheeseburger in paradise

I like mine with all of the fixins
Sittin’ under flip-flops, danglin’ in the wind
Surfboard menu waxing specials on beer
Well tell me Pam Gaffin which way do I steer

For a…

Cheeseburger at Skinny Legs
I don’t care if the waitress isn’t nice
It’s worth drivin’ blind on Centerline
To eat a cheeseburger in paradise
Skinny Legs’ cheeseburger in paradise
I’m just a cheeseburger in paradise

Shoes at Skinnys

Shoes at Skinny Legs

Do yourself a flavor, next time you’re Coral Bay way, stop into Skinny Legs and ask for a Skinny’s cheeseburger cooked medium with a slice of pepper jack and a slice of cheddar completely melted. Ask for all the fixins, a couple of avocado slices if they’ve got’em, and a side of mayo with black pepper mixed into it (you’ll probably have to mix it yourself as the waitress will be ready to put you on the grill by this point).

And I almost forgot the most important part: spend the morning working up an appetite by hiking or swimming or gallivanting around on a beach. If you really want the “best cheeseburger in the world,” you gotta earn it. Trust me, I know a guy that knows karate.

Dennis Beach

Treasure awaits

3:11 pm – Spurring off the Peace Hill trail and hiking down to Denis Bay, another lesser-known (or at least lesser-visited) St. John treasure. No doubt the locals who frequent it would like to keep it that way and probably consider talking about it tantamount to revealing how a magic trick works, but what’s the point of a trip report if you don’t give readers more than they can find in the National Park Welcome Brochure?

Plus, there was also a woman sunbathing topless in front of the private property at the end of the beach and since Melanie Griffith’s family used to own it, I figured it warranted swimming down there to investigate. My wife, however, said, “put your snorkel away big boy.” My first 311 involving a female all week and the Admiral puts me into dry-dock. Damn it.

7:36 pm – Sitting couples-style (hip to hip) at Rhumb Lines restaurant downing sparkling mojitos like Capris Suns after scarfing some grimace Pupu Platter proportions. They’re really tasty but a tip for those of you who are considering the Szechuan Noodles, when they say, “spicy,” they mean “better coat your tongue in candle wax” spicy. My eyes started watering and I singed my napkin trying to blow my nose. Regardless, we really enjoyed Rhumb Lines and will go there again. I also recommend the Shrimp & Corn Fritters, and the Mrs. swears by Scott’s Sesame-Encrusted Tuna.

Beach Bar

Beach Bar bliss

9:34 pm – Grooving at The Beach Bar to the melodic tones of the very provocative lead singer of “The Ish” while watching in amazement as a local carpenter periodically regained consciousness just long enough to restart his unsolicited toast for two newlyweds who were sitting across the bar and had just arrived from getting hitched on Hawksnest Beach. After consuming three or four Lime N Coconuts, I wasn’t exactly Wally Cleaver either, but I’d estimate this dude’s blood alcohol level at somewhere between a .26 and Cooter Brown.

On behalf of every other man at The Beach Bar that night, I want to thank Mr. Toasty for setting the “bar” so low and making the rest of us look like superior breeding stock. I’d also like to honor him now by asking everyone reading this to raise your glasses as I recite Mr. Toasty’s last barely coherent soliloquy just before the bartender asked him to leave…

Hey…yous guys got married? Con-(yirp)-gratulations! I was married once…best six months of my life. Try to beat that!”

Here-here.

Saturday, June 13 (Last Full Day) – Once More Unto The Beach, Dear Friends, Once More

July 7, 2009
tags:
Feet at the beach

This is my happy place

This is my happy place

Using my own unique way of explaining life through beer colored goggles, I’d say the last full day of a vacation feels a lot like the moment right after the bartender yells, “LAST CALL!”

Even after the harbinger of buzz kills makes that unwelcomed announcement, most of us are still happy because we know there’s at least some time left on the clock to rock. But a few of our brain cells–the ones we didn’t manage to kill drinking–register foreboding blips on our emotional radar warning our fragile psyches that the end is near and nothing’s waiting for us on the other side of tomorrow but a long, soul-sucking journey straight back to reality.

And, it’s times like these when even the most enthusiastic traveler amongst us could use a little inspiration. So hear this, “LAST CALL FOR ST. JOHN Y’ALL,” time to get busy Limin’ or get busy leavin’.

5 ish am – Dreaming of quitting our jobs, selling our house, and chucking it all to move to St. John permanently in a feeble attempt to avoid waking up to the fact that today is our last full day on the island. Okay, actually, that was my wife’s dream. I was having that nightmare where you’re running late for a big test at school and you walk into class naked holding a jar of peanut butter…perhaps I have shared too much and half of you are thanking your lucky stars this trip report doesn’t contain ALL the pictures from the trip.

6:59 am – Plugging iPod into speaker, turning the volume to “wake to the #*$& up,” and cueing song mix entitled, “Carpe the Diem!”

7:00.00am“Over? Did you say ‘over’? This vacation isn’t over until we decide it is. Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? (Germans? Forget it, I’m rolling). Was it over when they said no beer bottles on the beaches? Was it over when I barfed up my spleen on the Reef Bay Trail? Was it over when the National Park rangers said clothing was no longer optional on Saloman?

Hell no! And it ain’t over now. Cause when the limin’ gets tough…the tough get limin’. Are you with me? Let’s gooooooo.

Meritage Cottage Living Room

Meritage Cottage Living Room

7:00 am – Covering head with pillow, Mrs. 54b opts to communicate non-verbally by extending middle finger, thus thwarting my attempts to inspire her by running out of the villa wearing only a smile (don’t worry, the jar of Jiff remained securely in the cupboard…for now).

7:01 am – Returning seconds later much less enthused, wearing only a frown and sporting some unfortunately-placed mosquito bites that decorum prevents me from describing in any further detail. (BTW, does peanut butter soothe mosquito bites…he-he.)

7:01.15 am – Itching indiscriminately but undaunted, I continue my motivational speech.

What the fritter happened to the girl I used to know? Where’s the spirit? Where’s the love, huh? This could be the greatest day of our vacation. But you’re gonna let it be the worst. Not me.”

Once more unto the beach dear friends, once more…

JJ's Texas Cafe

JJ's Texas Cafe

8:03 am – But first, “Yo quiero los burritos desayunos de Tejas.” If you thought a couple of Lone Star Staters were going to spend a week on St. John without moseying on over to JJ’s Texas Coast Café, then you thought wrong, pardner. Like every good Southwestern cantina, JJ’s features Tex-Mex that is hot, beer that is not, and an ambiguously gay picture of legendary Dallas Cowboy quarterback Troy Aikman hanging over the bar. Why Troy is inexplicably wearing a duster in the picture is beyond me, but apparently it was raining men that day.

9:17 am – Receiving the gift of humility and perspective from this exchange with a local Samaritan setting up some tents near the yellow house on Gibney Beach:

“Hey there, is it cool if we go hang on the beach?”

“Oh yeah, we’re gonna have a “Save the Tatas” party later to raise money for our friend who has breast cancer. There’s going to be live music and food and beer for sale. You’re welcome to join.”

Now that’s St. John for ya. I’ve yet to read a book about the island that captured the local perspective on life better than that response right there. In fact, it inspired me to write this poem in my trip diary later that morning (it’s cheesy and I’m no John Keats, but hey, at least it rhymes, right):

Last Day SkyThe St. Johnian

It’s not about yesterday or tomorrow,

It’s about today, for come what may –

Sun, rain, or hurricane –

We’ve only time for a smile, none for sorrow

We never did meet the guest of honor, but I felt comforted knowing she has so many good friends even if fate doesn’t turn out to be one of them. I’m sure someone reading this knows of her and if so, I hope they thank her for reminding me how ridiculous it is to waste time lamenting something so trivial as the last day of a vacation. We should all be so fortunate.

Secret Beach

Secret Beach

10:43 am – Recreating the beach scene from the movie From Here To Eternity at the hidden cove located about a 100 yards up the coastline from Gibney. This mini-beach for two is only about a five-minute snorkel away. It’s surrounded by a wall of chocolate-colored rock, extremely secluded, and, as far as I know, hidden from just about everything but Google Earth. Mrs. 54b thought it was romantic but felt my kisses were a bit salty. Do they sell Listerine flavored snorkels? Get me Ron Popeil or that Slap-Chop guy on the phone, stat.

Uncle Joe's BBQ

Uncle Joe's BBQ

1:06 pm – Idling near the National Park dock while my wife procures that Cruz Bay culinary delight known simply as Uncle Joe’s Ribs and Chicken. So good you’ll lick your wife’s fingers (that’s hot). A word to the uninitiated–though Uncle Joe’s looks like a Grab N’Go Snack Shack, it will most likely take longer than a Snickers commercial before your order is up. In fact, I’m pretty sure Uncle Joe played Father Island Time in the Pine Peace School production of Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Mongoose. Needless to say, you won’t be going anywhere for a while. But oh is the wait worth it.

Wave4:37 pm – Leaving Francis Bay as the rain clouds rolled in and making the slow Drive of Woe back to our villa. What’s the Drive of Woe you ask? It’s the drive back from the last beach you visit on your St. John vacation. Every time your foot hits the cold, steel gas pedal (unless you’re in a Toyota) it just reminds you of how long it will be before you feel the sand between your toes again and you start humming a few bars to, “Sometimes When We Touch…”

4:37 pm – Suffering from St. John separation anxiety already when the rain clouds miraculously disappeared. So we did what any St. John lover would do and pulled into the parking lot near Cinnamon Bay. Yep, back to the beach again. Just enough time for me to snorkel around the Cinnamon Cay like Michael Phelps (after smoking doobie) while Mrs. 54b transported herself east of Eden on a sultry beach of sinful cinnamon sand via her trashy romance novel. Sir Reginald strikes again!

Quiet Mon Pub

Quiet Mon Pub

7:02 pm – Making the Pub Crawl of Woe (are you starting to sense a trend here). We started at the Quiet Mon, which I’m pretty sure is the tavern at the beginning of Treasure Island where Billy Bones was delivered the Black Spot after committing a party foul. Today, they probably would have simply texted him his guilty verdict, but regardless dead men tell no tales and neither does the Quiet Mon, which explains why the walls are black and the décor, death warmed over. Dig on the balcony though. It’s good for watching all the chicanery over at Woody’s.

NOTE: My memory gets blurry from here on, but I know we hit Woody’s and then the string of bars over in Wharfside Village ending with The Beach Bar to kill the pain one last time with what else,  a Painkiller. It cures what “ales” ya. Drinking is sport on St. John and win or lose we still booze.

9:46 pm – Raiding the fridge for dinner “a la leftovers.” It looks eerily reminiscent to my icebox back in college. Let’s see, we have some expired condiments, a bottle of mostly consumed rum, and a half eaten Skinny Legs’ bleu-cheese burger. Sounds like Surf & Turf to me, baby!

11:17 pm – Setting two alarm clocks, our cell phones, and anything else that might make noise to wake us up in time to make the first ferry off the island.

4:32 am – There are only three legitimate reasons to be up this early on a Sunday morning: making babies, having babies, and leaving for the airport to catch a 6am flight to the Virgin Islands. Unfortunately, we’re experiencing the 4th reason now, and that is catching the 6 am ferry back to St. Thomas to fly home.

Leaving STJ

Sunrise on our last day

6:00 am – Making the walk of woe to board the ferry of woe to catch the taxi of woe so we won’t miss the flight of woe back to the world of woe.

Epilogue – If you’re not looking for it, you’ll find it on St. John.

Most veteran vacationers, especially those who’ve experienced St. John, would be quick to to accuse me of trying to do too much, and missing the point of a vacation. For those folks, treating a seven-day Caribbean vacation like a scavenger hunt is akin to spending all day staring at a Monet painting trying to count the lilies.

Well, if doing more before 9 am than most people do on their entire vacation is a crime, then I’m guilty. No doubt the frenetic pace I set–and that my wonderful wife somehow endured–on this vacation is not for the faint of heart or the lush of liver (unless you were born with the rare ability to sweat liquor like me). My wife and I are well-aware that the majority of St. John lovers–and vacationers in general–prefer to sleep in, relax, and tell island time with a sundial. And to that I simply say, “to each his or her own, and, by all means, lime it your way.”

But while I may not “get St. John” by most Caribbean barometers, I did find what I was looking for, an escape from the “it” that always seems to prevent us from really living life. Why St. John? Because it’s (not) there.

Leaving STJ

Until next time, STJ