I am about to take you on a very slow saunter; seven days in the Virgin Islands; complete with inside jokes, photos and names of people you don't know. This is the vacation post I have been waiting to do for an entire year. Sit back, grab a Virgin Islands Summer Ale (if you happen to have one handy), and go on vacation with me. If it's too epic a post, bookmark it and come back (I broke it down by day). If it's too epic a post, all together, then click the red X in the corner and know that I had the time of my life - then email me and I'll send you a link to my photos.
Either path you choose, you can't go wrong! I hope you enjoy hearing about this week as much as I enjoyed relaying it to you.
Vacation tip #1
Spend a few days at a 'neutral' destination, before going on to the 'real' destination.
Best decision I ever made. I took a few days in South Florida, at Mom's, to get in 'vacation mode'. You know, get used to not being at work, wind down from the BlackBerry (and when I say 'wind down', I mean to gradually wean myself! HA!). I flew into Mom's on Wednesday, but didn't actually fly to the islands until Sunday. Thank you, Lord, for blessing me with a wonderful job that earns me great vacation time.
Day One - TRAVEL TO/ARRIVAL IN ST. JOHN
Unlike others in my group, I really didn't research, read, or grasp the notion that getting to St. John would be such a mission. Because I am lazy (No, sorry, I'm not lazy...I'm just 'selectively active', as Elj would say....), I just relied on the education of others. Which was fine. But, oh. The journey.
Tiff, my dear friend since grade school in Cowsimmee, met me at Mom's, then Mom dropped us in Miami. Once we checked in, we needed a pit stop at the bar. Duh. It's vacation time, kids...and I'm. THIRSTY.
Two of the eight women met Tiff and I in Miami, Lisa and Sandy.
Henceforth known as LiSandy or SaLisa. They were born and bred Hoosier girls, so I had NO QUESTIONS.
I quickly realized that I had two mojitos and barely any food. Lisa came through with almonds to curb the hunger. You see? Hoosiers. NO QUESTIONS. Only solutions. I think Indiana should use that as their new marketing campaign.
We boarded our flight - and the fun began.
To quote my traveling companion and friend of nearly 25 years, Tiffany Welch, "When I go on vacation, the entire plane goes on vacation."
And that it did.
There was the grown man that bundled up with his blankie and drank his Diet Sprite with his pinky in the air. Really? There was the couple that were retired military, heading off for a vacation in St. Thomas who loved the party that Tiff and I provided.
We knew it was going to be a good week.
We arrived in St. Thomas - and immediately met up with Laura Jo (my tribe) and Rosalie (also, my tribe), who had been at the airport waiting. We collected our bags, and immediately began the search for a taxi that would take us to Red Hook; Red Hook being the boat dock to catch our ferry to St. John, where we'd be spending the week. We immediately adopted the moniker "SIX FOR RED HOOK", as we sought out a taxi.
We finally procured transportation, and we were on our way. It was a very curvy, very rainy, very stressful ride to the ferry. We finally reached it, and missed our 4pm (intended) ferry, so we hopped on the 5pm.
We arrived in St. John, our final destination, to rain and grey.
We were all sweaty.
We then reached our remaining 3 - Debbie, Alexis and Kim. They arrived in St. John the night before, but were gracious enough to rent our car and wait for us at the dock. We were to meet our real estate agent there, and he or she would escort us to our villa we'd rented.
We waited well over an hour, and no agent from Destination St. John (our rental agency). We immediately sprang into action. "Where else can we stay? How much is the Westin? Why won't they answer the phone?" Turns out - the agent that was to meet us did not show for work that day, and no one had been assigned to cover her clients.
So, then came John.
The two miles from the dock to the house, pitch black, driving on the left, up tall hills and curvy cliffs was...super easy.
(Insert sarcasm here)
I believe I counted four (4) strokes Elj had on the way up there, for fear we would lose our lives before we bore children.
We finally reached the house.
...and it was all worth it.
Hale Lani was incredible. Amazing. Breathtaking. Unbelievable. Four bedrooms, 3 1/2 bathrooms, full kitchen, open air living room and lanai, pool...and a BREATHTAKING view of the Caribbean. From that moment on, there was nothing but fantasy becoming reality. This is the stuff I see on the travel channel! In Conde Nost Traveler magazine! Not stuff I do!!!
Six of us headed out to the famous Woody's - we were all starving and ready to mow down! We did just that, but made it an early night, as we were all just so very tired from the trip. I had my very first Virgin Islands Summer Ale. I love it when - the first night you're in a new place - you find the drink that suits you.
And marry it.
I drank Summer Ale all week long. Like it was my job
The night at Woody's came with a cherry on top when, after a few vodka Red Bulls, Tiff did her impression of Mick Jagger performing.
Day 2 - ST. JOHN
Up early and breakfast in - we were out for our first day at the beach. We spent the day at Trunk Bay. Lazy day, just laying on the beach, snorkeling, noodling, and taking it all in. The water, unbelievable. A turquoise so radiant it looked like a postcard.
But in 3-D.
We headed back to the house to shower up and head out for happy hour/dinner/what have you. We had a light meal at the house, but knew there'd be snacks later. Our first stop was The Quiet Mon Pub in downtown St. John.
On to the Beach Bar, home of Doug, our MVP bartender for the week. DougMORE (not DougLAS) was born and bred in Winter Haven, FL. POLK COUNTY, BABY.
Good. Clean. Livin'.
For the most part, we branched off into two groups: Alexis, Debbie and Kim and the remaining (a/k/a 'SIX FOR RED HOOK') stuck together. LiSandy would branch off and do their own thing from time to time, but we quickly found our vibe and knew that our six just spoke each other's language. That first 'night out', however, all 9 of us managed to meet up at the Beach Bar. We told jokes, we drank, we laughed.
Repeat day 2, except we visited Cinnamon Bay, and this beach was even prettier than the day before!
NO WAY! Yes, WAY!
We also decided, that four of us (LauraJo, Rosalie, Tiff and I) would try out Morgan's Mango, as it was to be our 'one big nice dinner'.
And it was. The food, incredible. Atmosphere? Addicting. Well worth the money spent.
Day 4 - ST. JOHN
Today we did a little island exploring.
We drove all the way to the East End, shot many photos of SOME of St. John's 33 beaches, and visited Skinny Legs, one-time employer of my good friend, Gann Brewer. Gann's a Bohemian, live and in-color...I met him in Europe when we were both doing grunt work for the soldiers at the hotel in Garmisch. I climbed the career ladder, while Gann maintained the Buffett-esque theme of "Here's to growing older, but never growing UP." ANYWAY, Gann (sadly) was not in St. John while I was there, but Skinny Legs looked, sounded and smelled richly of him. I got to meet Moe, the owner, and hear good stories of triathlons and how 'giving life the finger' 20 years ago (by moving to St. John) didn't turn out too shabby. The best burger (Yes! We're back on meat, kids!) I've had in years....maybe that's because...OH YES! The very first hamburger I've had, since I can remember!!! We laughed, took photos, hugged and promised Moe we'd return.
We headed back to Hale Lani to do an impromptu birthday celebration for Sandy - henceforth known as SandyKrack, as we all had sand in places even our OB/GYN hadn't been. We had a cake made, played a big 'Happy Birthday' song, and enjoyed a pre-party at the house, as the sun set over St. Thomas in the backdrop.
The cake inscription reads "64RH" as in "Six for Red Hook"
During our little birthday afternoon, there were times I'd look up and think "Is this 'The Truman Show'?" "Are they going to unzip that scrim, so I see the real world, now?
But it WAS the real world. And not the one on MTV with drunk girl.
Back downtown we went, to Woody's - it was sweaty. So sweaty. But, we didn't care. More cocktails, more singing, more fun.
Day 5 - SAILBOAT
Tiff had been to the Virgin Islands before, and she'd had the great experience of taking a sailboat/snorkeling day aboard New Horizons. If it was possible, this day, was better than the one before it. I don't know how this happened, but each day was, infinitely, better than the one before it. I actually saw a tee shirt at a little shop in the East End....even bought it for my Bonus Dad, Dave - it said "No bad days."
I wish I was making this up! Anyway, we enjoyed a great day aboard this boat, we snorkeled for a bit, but....mostly, spent the day, in the middle of the ocean, on our noodles, sipping painkillers, and just trying to figure out when we've had a better time.
Tiff and I racked our brains, and...we couldn't.
We returned from the sailboat, stopped at the grocery, and were treated to a great home-cooked spaghetti dinner by Elj. Man, that girl can COOK. The other beauty to renting your own beach house; a full kitchen at your disposal. We sat on our outdoor patio, listened to Sade, drank red wine and (yet again), couldn't remember a time when we had it SO GOOD.
Okay, really. I have to say (and, I know, this post is all about each day one-upping the other!), this day...by far...SEALED IT. No way have I ever seen a place more beautiful. More primitive. More genuine. More blue - more white - more.....more...
We took the ferry from St. John to Jost van Dyke. Because Jost is in the British Virgin Islands, we had to make a pit stop in Tortola, to show our passports. We did just that, got our stamps, and back on the ferry. We arrived in Jost and were greeted by Oliver. My new boyfriend. He had an old, beat up Ford truck. In the bed of his truck, he put benches and a canopy - but the canopy had no covering, only the rails. Go figure. We hopped on Oliver's truck - and for $10 round trip, he'd show us a few things, then drop us at our destination, Ivan's. Then, be ready by 2pm, ladies! He will collect us at Soggy Dollar, to catch our ferry home.
I'll get there. Don't worry.
For all intents and purposes, Ivan is the mayor. Jost only has 120 people, and I think he's the most famous. The island has only had electricity since 2002, and you don't need a zip code when you send a letter there. To quote Oliver - "Toma, when you mail me that picture of us, just write 'Oliver, Jost van Dyke, BVI'."
Seriously. What ARE your questions?
Ivan, to many Kenny Chesney fans, is a household name. He filmed a video there. He's mentioned in a few of KC's songs.
But that's not what made Ivan - IVAN.
It's the honor bar. Take what you want, write your name in the book - and pay me what you think you own me at the end.
It's his daughter, Darlene - who will cook you another fantastic islands burger in the outdoor kitchen that's right on the sand. It's his other daughter, Natalie, who will take your photo as you pose with her Dad behind the bar....then reminds you to laminate that photo, send to her Dad, so he can proudly display it in his bar. It's how Ivan hugs you as if he's known you his entire life - then tells you he loves you and asks if he can do anything for you. If not, then he'll go and pour some concrete for a new project, then come back to hug and kiss you goodbye. When he tells you he can't wait to see you again, and that you'd better return.
He means it.
For the first time - in my life - on a vacation...
I felt LOVED by a host. Actually, LOVED!
Yes. I realize. Hoky. But, I did.
After Ivan's - we decided to walk the beach, less than 1/4 of a mile, down to the Soggy Dollar, home of the original Painkiller.
Ivan told us to watch our step, and to stay on the path, which we did. We stayed on the path, but parts of it were rocky and unsteady.
A lot like life.
I was walking next to Elj (and I know this story will make it in her blog - if it hasn't already), and we had a small, maybe 10-foot patch of rocks-over-water-then-back-to-sand situation en route to the Soggy Dollar. I look to my left, and Elj has lost her flip flop. As she reaches down to grab it, up comes a wave, and....
...down she goes.
Beach bag and all.
In the water. Completely submersed, contents included digital camera, cell phone, vacation journal with 5 days' writing, and books (one of, which, belonged to the Nashville Library).
it was funny for about.......20 seconds.
Then, it wasn't.
For about.......2 hours.
We reached the Soggy Dollar - and, like it or not, Elj needed a cocktail.
"I don't want one! MY CAMERA IS RUINED! MY CELL PHONE IS DEAD AND RUINED! I CAN'T READ MY JOURNAL!"
I'm pretty sure that her head did a 360 and she vomited pea soup.
As we rounded out our hour at the Soggy Dollar - under my breath, I was thanking the engineer and creator of the Painkiller; because...slowly - glacially - Elj wasn't feeling the pain.
Hence the name.
Because we had walked to the Soggy Dollar in our bathing suits and long tee shirts/cover-ups, our 'clothing', clothing was in our respective beach bags.
Remember, just a few lines ago? What happened to Elj's beach bag?
Um-humn. You guessed it.
Because she's a girl who is breezy and elegant. Because she's beautiful. Because she can laugh at herself and, eventually, find the humor in the situation, she promptly wrapped herself in Rosalie's beach towel, took the ferry home, went through immigration....
And wore no pants.
DAY 7 - ST. JOHN
We spent the morning on the East End, complete with another lunch at Skinny Legs (Hey - when we say we'll come back, we mean it), then we completed our last day on the beach (complete with many hours of noodlin') at Mahoe Bay. We did a long snorkel this day (I even saw a sea turtle!), and rounded it out with one of my very favorite photos of the trip. Appropriately titled...
Our last day to soak it in.
The Redneck Snorkel
By day seven, we had it down pat - and why vary from the norm? Only this time, we skipped the shower. Beach - straight to happy hour - straight to dinner. I was still in my bathing suit at 10pm.
We met up with some ladies from Seattle (Leslie in pink and Doris in orange) that we'd met at Skinny's, earlier that day. They continued to dinner with us at Margarita Phil's. We were approached by our hostess/waitress, Laura. She could pass for Sandra Bernhard's double.
Again, by day 7, we were professionals. See? Bathing suit still on, tank and sarong on top.
Bro, I do this like you read about.
However (pause for effect). Sandra Bernhard was a nun compared to ole' girl.
Let's just say she was insistent on showing the entire table her new tattoo.
On her foot.
On the table.
As she tore off her bloody band-aid, and placed her foot on the table, we were all privy to seeing the new ink, along with her 'Britney' (and when I say 'Britney', I mean her lady parts).
Ahem. "Grossed out? Paging 'Grossed out'? Grossed out to a white courtesy phone..."
I'm really glad we left this for the last night. Because really - entertainment. She placed a cold beer on the table and proceeded to drink from it every time she came 'round.
..so her boss wouldn't know she was drinking on the job.
Like school on Saturday folks...NO CLASS.
Do you need a visual? Ok. Here it is. This is Laura the waitress(standing)...MOLESTING...Laura the tourist(sitting).
We all pretended that we just KNEW she washed her hands before handling our food.
DAY 8 - LEAVING ST. JOHN
This really isn't part of the vacation, and no one wants to hear how I had to sit on my suitcase to close it, how we grew more sad as St. John shrank in the distance, as we rode away on the ferry. We left paradise - returned from whence we came...turned on the cell phones, checked our email, had a few tears at the airport and went back to our lives. I made two new sisters, Lisa and Sandy - and two new friends, Doris and Leslie. I took photos, but the snapshots in my mind will last forever.
When you go, tell Ivan I sent you....and don't forget your bug spray.
Until next time - keeping the island state of mind...pants or no pants!!!
Toma's Favorite Song of the Day: 'Manana' by Jimmy Buffett