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

July 13, 2009

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.



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.

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