Sunday, June 22, 2008

Paradise Found - Part Uno

***Note: I was originally going to do this all in one shot, but it's taking FOREVER to compile! As I know a few of you are eager to live vicariously through my adventures in St. John, I figured I'd break it up into parts. Here it is, folks . . . Days 1-3 of my vacation (which already seems like such a distant memory!)

Let me start by saying . . . if you ever have the chance to go to St. John, USVI . . . PLEASE GO! It is seriously paradise on earth. It is the type of place that is so beautiful, you find yourself taking the same photographs over and over and over again . . . and by day 3 of your trip, your memory card is full! At any rate, I figured I'll treat this kind of like I would a race report, only I'll go day by day instead of mile by mile. Hope you enjoy!


We got up ass o'early to leave for my least favorite airport ever . . . Newark International--double ugh. Luckily, I was so giddy about leaving for vacay, I didn't sleep a wink, so it was quite easy to drag my butt out of bed! (I'm guessing the fact that it was a balmy 95 degrees in our apartment probably didn't help the no-sleep issue either, though). Anyway, everything went smoothly with our flight (there's a first for everything), and we even got in to St. Thomas a half-hour early! We got off the plane and immediately were greeted with free "samples" of various flavors of Cruzan rum . . . yes! This was a smart tactic as Wilson and I immediately proceeded to the duty-free shop to purchase a bottle of banana rum (my fave) and a bottle of tequila. From the airport, we had to take a cab to the ferry . . . and let me tell you, our driver, Freddie (with Dynamic Tours) was quite the entertainer! He got us to Red Hook in time to take the 3:00 ferry over to St. John. The ferry ride was short (maybe twenty minutes) but beautiful and very scenic.

Our ferry boat

Me on the ferry to St. John

Wilson on the ferry

Ah, the Caribbean!

As we got off the ferry in Cruz Bay, a kind fellow by the name of Matt was waiting to show us our villa--but not before helping us pick up our Jeep Wrangler, and showing us to the Starfish Market (which is about 1000 times nicer than my local supermarket) to do some grocery shopping. We definitely had a bit of sticker shock, as groceries are a lot more expensive in St. John . . . but I just kept using the "we're on vacation" excuse and looking past the money being spent!

The drive to the villa from Cruz Bay was only about 8 miles, but took about 40 minutes as a result of the crazy, curvy mountainous roads in St. John. It probably didn't help that driving on the left side of the road took some getting used to (thank goodness Matt was understanding of this--and drove slowly for us!) During the drive, we got our first dose of St. John wildlife as we passed both a cow and a donkey. Both were just chillin', grazing on some grass on the side of the road (but I was apparently too slow/clumsy to get the camera out in time).

When we finally got to our road, Calabash Boom, I about had a panic attack! It was a dirt road full of crazy dips and ruts, and it was STEEP, STEEP, STEEP! I'm not sure why I wasn't expecting this, considering our villa WAS on the side of a mountain! But it totally took me by surprise. Luckily, Wilson did a really nice job of taking it slowly . . . but I definitely still had a case of white knuckles!

Probably a good idea.

Matt showed us around the villa (Astral Ridge), and I really loved it. Now, as an aspiring interior designer, I tend to be REALLY picky about the places I stay in. This was actually the biggest issue we faced in choosing a villa--I just couldn't imagine staying in a place that was distastefully designed! That's not to say that Astral Ridge was designed exactly as I would have designed it . . . but it was tolerable, which is truly saying a lot! The best part of the villa had to be the view. It was TO DIE FOR.

What we saw as we approached the villa for the first time

The lush garden that greeted us each time we returned home

The patio and plunge pool area (AKA nap area 1)
Sun-room-ish area in the villa (AKA nap area 2)
Dining area in the villa

Kitchen and living area (AKA nap area 3)

Bedroom (in a separate hut from the main villa--AKA nap area 4)

Little path from the patio to the outdoor shower

Outdoor shower area . . . so cute!

The view

More views

View at sunset--not so shabby!

After giving us some last minute tips and info, Matt left us to enjoy the villa. Wilson and I couldn't help but immediately start exploring. We literally opened every cabinet and drawer in the place. It had EVERYTHING . . . DVDs, board games, books, every kitchen gadget/appliance you could ever need, first aid kits, coolers, snorkeling gear, beach chairs, extra linens and towels, a stereo . . . everything you could possibly imagine in a dream vacation home!

Once we ran out of things to explore, we decided to relax on the patio with a beer and some plantain chips. It was simply blissful! After we'd sat for a while, we changed into our swimsuits and checked out the pool. It was the PERFECT plunge pool--just an absolutely beautiful place to swim or cool off. I tried some pool running, while Wilson tested out the snorkel gear. It was a blast! Finally, we showered and threw some burgers on the grill, while sipping on some fruity drinks, mixed by our resident bartender (Wilson).

What is this? Some kind of girly crap?

Best friends forever

The burgers (and the drinks!) tasted absolutely devine! We quickly devoured them, cleaned up, and then went about testing out the hot tub . . . it was the perfect place to sit and relax while star-gazing. What a great first day in St. John!


We awoke as the sun rose around 5:30 a.m. Since our villa's bedroom faced directly East, we had a gorgeous, albeit early, view of the sunrise.

We made some (Dunkin Donuts cinnamon spice) coffee and we spent the morning sitting on the deck/porch reading and lounging.

Catching some morning rays

Enjoying a cup of coffee

Wilson made some delicious egg and swiss breakfast sandwiches, and then I allowed myself to do something I never get to do . . . NAP! It was short, but magical. After packing a picnic lunch for ourselves, Wilson and I decided to head out to find a beach to hang out at. We drove in the direction of the North Shore without much of a plan, and eventually ended up at a parking in the lot for Peace Hill. As Wilson had done quite a bit of research prior to the trip, he informed me that we could hike down to Denis Bay from there. It would take about a 15-minute hike on an unmaintained trail to get there--and we would have to do it in flip flops, as we hadn't planned on hiking! But we hoped it would be worth the effort, in that it would be relatively quiet. On our way to the beach, we stopped up on Peace Hill, which offered exquisite views and some cool ruins of a windmill . . . as I'm quite the photography-whore, I took about a million and a half photographs. Here are a few.

The view from Peace Hill

Wilson with what's left of the Jesus statue (the rest was destroyed in a hurricane)

Windmill ruins

Wilson hanging out inside the windmill ruins

We finished up on Peace Hill, and made our way to Denis Bay. When we got there, we were pleased to see that there were just a few other people along the entire stretch of beach.

Denis Bay

We planted ourselves under a nice shady tree and after working on my awful runner's tan for a bit, I quickly fell into another refreshing nap.

Working on the tan (with Perkins Cay in the background)

Around 2 p.m., we pulled out the cooler and enjoyed our picnic lunch of turkey sandwiches. After letting our food settle, we decided to set off on our first snorkeling adventure of the day. There were a lot of really cool fish (I'm not even going to pretend I know what they were--besides butterfly fish--I did a report on those in like 4th grade, so I recognized them right away!)

After maybe a half-hour of snorkeling, we headed back to shore to rest a bit . . . until we set out on our NEXT snorkeling adventure around Perkins Cay, which is a little island off the shore of Denis Bay. We saw even more amazing and colorful fish around this area--and I even saw an eel, which, of course, scared me crapless! As we made our way back around the cay to where we had started, I got a horrid cramp in my foot. I told Wilson about it and asked if we could go back to shore . . . he agreed, and attempted to lead me back in, but somehow instead led me straight into some shallow coral and rocks. As floating was no longer an option, I put my hand down with the thought that I'd attempt to stand up. Imagine my shock when I looked down and realized there was a sea urchin not two inches from my hand! Whoops! I was freaked. But I knew there was really no way out other than to continue over the coral and rocks to the shore, and pray I didn't step on an urchin on the way! Luckily, I made it out okay . . . and, of course, angrily tore my snorkel gear off and threw it to the ground. I checked myself out and realized I had a cut on my heel, as well as a decent-sized scrape on my thigh. Nothing too bad, though.
Wilson and I sat down, and waited for the sun to dry us off a bit, and then packed our stuff up and headed back to the jeep. Once home, we showered up and settled in for the night. We enjoyed frozen margaritas, brats and grilled asparagus, all of which were excellent. We spent the remainder of the night lounging around the villa and reading, until we turned in, anxious to see what the next day would bring!


What a crazy day! We spent our morning doing "the usual," bumming around and reading, drinking coffee, and napping. By 11:30 a.m., we were packed up and heading down the dirt road of terror, as I'd fondly named it. The plan was to hike the challenging but beautiful 2.8 mile Reef Bay Trail, with an additional half-mile excursion to check out the Petroglyphs . . . artwork of the Arawak tribe. We saw lots of neat stuff on our way out . . . ruins, various critters (mongoose, deer, hermit crabs, etc.), a ridiculously large and terrifying bee colony, and a tree whose trunk looked like an elephant!!

The stairway of doom . . . from the road down to the Reef Bay Trail

Reading all about the "elephant tree"

Close up of the "elephant tree"--if you look closely, you can spot an elephant's head in the tree trunk

Wilson and some ruins
Me and some ruins

When we got to the turn-off for the Petroglyph Trail (almost 2 miles in), things started to go down hill. While it had been raining ever so lightly for the majority of the hike, the rain really began to pick up as we arrived at the Petroglyphs.
I think this was supposed to be a waterfall

Also around this time, Wilson got the bright idea to try following an "unofficial" trail to get some better views and check out some waterfalls. Deep down inside, I could tell this was an awful idea, but I didn't want to be a big wuss! So, I followed him as he began up the "trail." It was ridiculous. It was SO steep, and there was very little to grab onto. This combined with the fact that a) Wilson too a "wrong turn"; b) there were huge, disgusting millipeds covering everything we might actually want to grab onto; and c) the rain was now torrential, and making everything a million times more slippery meant I was NOT a happy camper. I think the thought, "so this is how I go" actually entered my mind at one point in time! We somehow made it up without dying, only to discover that the waterfalls we'd scaled a cliff to see were DRIED UP, and the view wasn't even that great! Bummer.

The alleged "waterfalls." At least there's a cool-looking mist, thanks to the ridiculous rain

Cute, cuddly millipedes

So next came the hard part . . . the descent. I was convinced I was a goner. Somehow with a lot of screaming (and possibly tears) on my part, we made it down alive. I gave Wilson quite the tongue-lashing (and gave him another one after the fact when I read that very trail described as "dangerous" in one of our guide books--um, true!)

Hail Mary, Full of Grace . . .
I need a beer!

We took a moment to gather ourselved, and then headed back to the main Reef Bay Trail. By this time, we were soaked and absolutely demoralized, thanks to our near death experience! But considering we were 2 miles from the car, we figured it best to trudge on. We made it to the Reef Bay Sugar Estate Ruins, which were actually very interesting to see.
Plantation ruins
More plantation ruins
Still more
I would eventually lift this iron block . . . but the camera died and did not capture it. Honest, I did!

From there, we had to decide which beach we would head to . . . we chose the shorter path down to a small beach, Genti Bay, where we discovered a mess of gnat-like biting bugs. Ugh. We quickly packed up and headed back onto the trail for aobut a 15-minute walk to Parrot Bay. Sadly, this beach too was "buggy" (we think it had to do with the rain). We jumped in the water to cool off, and almost immediately, the skies opened up again. Our clothing was soaked and we hadn't yet eaten lunch (it was almost 3 p.m. by this point), but we just wanted to get out of there and head back to the villa! Thus, we we packed right back up and headed back in the opposite direction from which we'd just come. We were GRUMPY!

According to all the information we'd seen, the hike was supposed to take 2 hours to complete, but we were booking it out of there so quickly, we made it back to the starting point in just 40 minutes! It was largely an uphill hiked on the way back to the car, which makes it all the more impressive. Ha, let me tell you, I was VERY happy about being in half-marathon shape! There were plenty of times I wanted to slow down and catch my breath, but I was just so sick of being wet . . . we just kept on truckin'! I couldn't help but feel a bit of triumph once we reached the car . . . just like we'd been through a rough race!

We got back to the car, stripped out of our wet clothes and headed back to the villa, where I proceeded to eat everything in sight, and then pass out on the couch for a nice two-hour nap (just like after a nice long-run!). I awoke around 6:30 p.m., showered and got ready for dinner. Wilson and I had made reservations at a restaurant called
Miss Lucy's, and headed over there after relaxing on our porch with pre-dinner drinks.

We split two entrees there . . . the paella and the stuffed shrimp (they were stuffed with crab meat and goat cheese, and served with grilled veggies and a sweet potato mash). It was ALL absolutely delicious . . . and our server was so sweet! A very enjoyable dining experience indeed!

Almost cute . . . except, oh wait! I had to go and close my eyes. Typical . . .

Stuffed shrimp . . . yum!
How can you not love paella?
It's official . . . my belly loves Miss Lucy's! Too bad we had to miss Sunday Brunch!
After dinner, we walked around a little bit (Miss Lucy's is right on the water) . . . and finally, headed back to the villa where we relaxed and read for the rest of the night.
To be continued . . .


Laura said...

Gorgeous picture, and the trip sounds amazing! You should get paid by the St. John's tourist bureau, as I totally want to go.

Also, the villa you stayed in looks so much like the one in the SATC movie when they go on Carrie's honeymoon... at least to my non-designer eyes :)

*jen* said...

Wow, that place looks incredible!! I'm glad you had a great time and didn't break any limbs on the unofficial millipede hike!

Meg said...

How fun, I'm so jealous! Sounds like a really fun and relaxing trip!