Friday, September 24, 2010

The Best Adventures Yet...

As I said in my previous blog, up next was my mom coming to visit for about 10 days. She departed a few hours ago which I am sad about because she is a wonderful person to spend time with and I am very lucky to have her as my mom. We had a blast together and did some of the most fun, exciting, and adventurous things I've done since I've been here which I am happy to have shared with her.  Now I will share it with you...

We stayed in the beautiful villa that my landlord also rents out, so basically we were the only tenants of the whole place.  It had two bedrooms, a huge living area with a lot of wonderful paintings, a nice kitchen, and the best part was the enormous deck that has a spectacular view of the island, ocean, and other islands across the water (and is especially great when viewing sunsets).  We loved staying up there and really took advantage of the deal we got.

So the first few days my mom was here we did a lot of exploring (with me trying to be her tour guide).  We went on a hike to Salomon Bay which is one of the gorgeous National Park beaches, we relaxed on some of the other beaches including Hawksnest and Maho, we hiked up Peace Hill for a view that's indescribable, we enjoyed The Westin and their amenities, we went for walks (well, I consider them hikes because nothing is really a walk around here), we did a lot of cooking, we hiked the nature trail at Cinnamon Bay after watching surfers enjoy the waves (it's heavy here right now due to the storms out there), we went shopping, and probably the best part of the days were at about 6:30pm when we had wine, cheese, and watched the immaculate and always disparate sunsets.

Early on during her stay we also ventured off to the other side of the island and visited Coral Bay and the unique places it has to offer.  Our first stop was Skinny Legs, a must visit for a feel of how Coral Bay life really is.  It is this tiny open-air restaurant/bar that only serves burgers (and a vegetarian burger) and is the most laid back and relaxed place I've been to here.  It's a local favorite with lots of charm and character... bugs, friendly people, humidity, noisy televisions, the most delicious burger you'll eat while on the island (granted that's about my vegetarian burger but I have heard that about their other burgers as well), and donkeys that you'll pass on the way to get there.  After eating we went over to Salt Pond Bay and hiked around the edge of it to get almost to the most southern point on the island.  The draw to this hike of bush whacking and cacti avoiding is the amazing experience of "Coral People" once you reach the end.  People from all over have come to this coral ridden beach to build a unique person of their own with the random coral and debris strewn about.  It's one of the most fun things to do in Coral Bay, in my opinion, because it is so unique and something I've never seen or done anywhere before.  My mom and I built just the head of a silly looking coral man who has coconut husk for his hat and his mustache.  Even though the hike was a bit treacherous and ended with soggy feet for the rest of the afternoon, it was definitely worth it.

The next day was my birthday... and what a way to spend a birthday.  No alarm was set, my mom made me a delicious breakfast, we spent most of the day on Trunk Bay - always considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, then came back to the villa to watch one of the most amazing sunsets I've seen since I've been here while talking with family and listening to my nephews wish me a happy birthday in their sweet five and two-year-old voices.  Later we went to this wonderful restaurant called Rhumb Lines.  It had a very enchanting ambiance and I ate the most delicious vegetarian food that I've eaten in months, along with a guava margarita and freshly made key lime pie on the house.  We came back to the villa and skyped my dad so he could be a part of me opening presents, and then had loved ones on the computer, the cell phone, and in person sing happy birthday to me over one lit candle in the middle of a marble cheesecake.  It was heavenly.  What a great way to start off another year of life.

The biggest adventure that I've experienced since coming here came just two days after my birthday and was one of the best gifts I could have received.  My mom took me on a full day boat trip exploring the British Virgin Islands.   The beginning part of the boat trip was not too pleasant.  Due to all the storm and hurricane activity out there, the ocean was extremely rough and I spent the first hour feeling like I was going to vomit.  I have never been sea sick before but let me tell you, that was one of the worst feelings I've ever had.  Luckily, it went away once we hit dry land and then I never felt sick again on the boat rides throughout the day.  The first stop was The Baths on Virgin Gorda.  What an amazing formation of rocks.  They have such neat markings on them and the way they looked up next to the turquoise water seemed so perfect, it looked fake.  We were able to meander through the rocks and explore the caves while the ocean crashed up against it all and came pouring inside.  After Virgin Gorda we stopped at Scrub Island which is extremely small and has only one resort on it (which is about the only thing on the island) that has only been open for less than a year.  It was immaculate with lots of docks, a huge swimming pool complete with a water slide, beautiful fountains, and modern furniture.  We ate a delicious lunch there and then got to take a dip in the pool and venture down the water slide (I think my mom was the loudest screamer - awesome!)  We had a blast.  Then the boat took us to a nearby island to go snorkeling at a place called Diamond Reef.  The colors under the water were amazing.  I saw more colors of coral than I've ever seen and they were humongous.  There were also a whole ton of brightly colored and striped fish, so many at the time I was getting back on the boat that I thought they might be conspiring a way to get me back in the water for their lunch.  We had another long boat ride to our final destination of White Bay on Jost Van Dyke.  Perfect.  That is all I can say about that place.  I have never seen water the color that is in White Bay and I've never seen a whiter beach.  It was unbelievable.  That was our favorite stop.  There is no way to pull up to the beach so you have to jump off the boat and swim into it.  So, naturally, I jumped off the top of the boat which was a little terrifying but definitely worth it.  Once on shore, there are hammocks lining the palm trees that you are welcome to relax in.  So obviously that was what my mom and I did for the majority of our stay there.  I wish I had better vocabulary to describe the view we had from those hammocks and the amazing colors that we saw.  Again, simply perfect is the best I can come up with.  There are a few little bars along the beach, the most popular being the Soggy Dollar Bar.  It is named that because you have to swim in from your boat since there is no other way to get there, so all the people who pay for their drinks have "soggy dollars" which they will hang on a clothesline above the bar.  They also created the very popular drink of the islands called a Pain Killer.  It has pineapple juice, orange juice, coconut milk/juice, rum, and nutmeg sprinkled on top.  It's delicious.  It was created because people kept coming there asking for Pina Coladas at a time when there was no electricity, so he created a drink to be suitable enough to compare.  I highly recommend trying one if you get the opportunity.  So after buying postcards, putting them in a plastic bag, and swimming with my hand above the water back to the boat, we were headed back to St. John.  It was one of the best days I've had here and is one I definitely will not forget.

The last few days of my mom's stay mostly took place on beaches just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful views.  We went to some of the calmer beaches to float in the water and both of us did a lot of reading.  One of the last nights we went to this wonderful restaurant called Asolare.  It's considered one of the best, if not the best, restaurants on the island.  I can see why.  The menu changes daily based on the proteins that are available and what they have bought fresh at local farmers markets - local being inter-island.  They do not have anything vegetarian on the menu, however the chef will come up with something to make based on the local organic ingredients they have available that evening including the fresh herbs and vegetables from their garden below the restaurant.  I actually watched the host walk down to the garden and pick different ingredients while I was sitting at my table waiting for my meal.  That is how it should be, in my opinion.  The chef made us both port-glazed lentils with freshly cooked organic vegetables piled on top including yellow squash, cherry tomatoes, pumpkin, and snow peas.  Thickly layered around the outside was the most delicious part of the meal... an organic baby carrot and Japanese sake emulsion.  Indescribably delicious.  We had an amazing time sipping delicious wine throughout the meal as well as eating a warm cinnamon glazed pear with vanilla ice cream for dessert, all while enjoying one of the best views on the island.  What a delightful experience and a wonderful evening to share with my mom.

When my mom left it was very bittersweet because I knew it had to come to an end even though my adventure was going to continue.  I was excited about getting to stay here longer, however it was really nice to have the company and to have someone to share my experiences with.  I am so thankful that my mom came to visit me and that we were able to do so many fun things together.  It will always be one of the best and most memorable parts of my adventure here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Relaxation and Exploration...

This week has definitely been a relaxation week.  Lots of laying on the beach, lots of reading, lots of watching tennis (GO RAFA!!!), lots of not doing too much of anything.  I was feeling like I needed to spread my wings a bit though, so I did some exploration of the island during a few of the days.  I visited two beaches I haven't been to before, I took a hike along this designated nature trail which identifies all of your surroundings - plants, animals, insects, etc., I went snorkeling and saw some huge Tarpon, and I explored some of the ruins here on the island.


Watching tennis is a huge part of my life; in a few words... I adore it.  My favorite player is Rafael Nadal and he just won the US Open, which gave him a career grand slam (only the seventh man in the history of tennis to do that).  What an amazing tournament.  It was so much fun to make sure I was home on certain days to catch different, highly anticipated matches.  It was also fun staying in the entire day purely watching tennis.  I know some would disagree with this, but the sport is riveting and I feel blessed to be watching some of the players that are on the circuit right now.  Watching the tournament honestly took up a lot of my last two weeks.  In the midst of this however, I still managed to make it to the beach almost every day even if it was just two minutes down the road to The Westin (yes, I am still a guest there).  I finished the book that I was reading, "Eat Pray Love," and I have since started on my next book "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," which I am already having trouble putting down like a little boy and his nintendo game, "Come on mom, just one more minute."  The final note that truly shows how much relaxation I've endured... my landlord today said that my tan was looking really good, that I'm starting to look like an islander - mission accomplished.


I found out that I'm not that great of a swimmer.  Bummer.  I found this out because I decided I should start swimming to get a little exercise and because I have this humongous thing called the ocean in my backyard (don't exactly have that in Colorado), so I wanted to take advantage.  I walked into Trunk Bay, put my goggles on so that I could make sure I wasn't swimming with a sting ray, and took off.  At first, things were going great even though it was exhausting.  Shortly into my swim I realized I was swallowing salt water and sucking it up my nose; not the greatest feeling.  So I am actually a fine swimmer, I just don't have the whole breathing thing down.  I'm determined to work on it though and get better while I'm here and have the opportunity.  A few days before I had sucked in all that salt water, I went on a few hikes exploring some of the ruins.  They were amazing.  One of the places I went was Peace Hill (I drove past the sign, slammed on my brakes and turned around thinking "I need some peace today").  At the top of the hill you can see multiple different beaches in all directions as well as other islands.  There was also an enormous stone windmill that was no longer in use.  It had been used during the time of the sugar plantations.  It had beautifully cut out windows and doors and seemed to have been built impeccably.  My next stop was the ruins across from Cinnamon Bay.  This included a home, oven, the structure where the sugar cane was pressed, a graveyard, etc.  It was neat to see these because many places around the United States, there isn't the history that there is of, say, Europe.  We tend to tear things down to build something newer and better.  It was nice to see that these have been preserved and are treated as pieces of art.  I also visited Caneel Bay, a resort that is beautiful but is shut down for September and October due to hurricane season (shocking, I didn't think they actually got hit by those that badly here).  It was very nice to wander around the lawns of the resort, at least until I started to get in trouble for wandering off the path towards the beach.  I was called ma'am a few too many times for my liking, though I did still enjoy my day and got some wonderful pictures.  I enjoyed many random adventures through my exploration during the week but it all came together with a bee sting, a frog in my cottage (and another one the size of my palm while writing this), a four foot Tarpon, and a humongous black spider (that resembled a tarantula) crawling underneath my bed as I stood on top of it holding a broom in my hand awaiting the kill.

Up Next...

The upcoming week and a half is going to be a blast because my mom is coming to visit!  She has ever been here before so we are going to live it up going to different beaches, snorkeling, hiking, exploring the ruins, traveling to the British Virgin Islands, eating at fun restaurants, shopping, etc. etc. etc., all while staying in a lovely villa. I cannot wait to show her around this island that I've started to feel at home on.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Hurricane...

Last Sunday I had heard that there might be a hurricane coming through that night and the following day, so I figured I should get some good beach time in before it hit.  I decided to go over to The Westin, one of only two resorts on the small island of St. John.  It's a beautiful resort with perfectly manicured everything, it doesn't even seem like a leaf is out of place.  I basically just pretended like I was staying there and enjoyed all of their amenities for the day.  They had lounge chairs with umbrellas on the beach, a waiter coming around taking drink and food orders, a gorgeous pool with waterfalls and fancy beach chairs surrounding it, bars, restaurants, and live music.  It was quite wonderful to be honest.  I really felt like I was staying there, sshhhh.... I was.  Everything seemed perfect, even the weather.  Hardly any clouds, a slight breeze, just perfect beach weather.  I had no idea what I was about to endure.

Come that night it was getting quite gusty and there were some rain showers off and on, but nothing too special or damaging.  I fell asleep thinking "these weather people are full of it, this isn't going to be much of anything." I unfortunately woke up corrected.

Where I am staying there is an indoor area and an outdoor area.  Inside there is the bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and laundry area.  Outside is a screened in porch that includes the living area with couches and television, and the dining area.  It's very nice to have both because then I have options depending on the weather, but having that outdoor living area has been fantastic.  It's so nice feeling the breeze in the evenings and having to turn up the television because the island noises (birds, insects, frogs, roosters, etc) are so beautifully loud.  In the indoor area, there are no glass windows besides a beautiful piece of stained glass in the bedroom.  Everything else is open air with large wooden shutters that deadbolt closed, including huge wooden doors that do the same out to the living area.  So the night before, I had closed and bolted everything as I usually do to keep the cool air inside.  Because of the bolted shutters, I could not see anything outside; I could only hear what was happening that morning.

It sounded like someone was banging on my door over and over again with a baseball bat, it sounded like branches snapping and crashing on top of things, it sounded like my bamboo blinds were getting the ride of their life, it sounded like furniture screeching across the tile floor, and then there was this piercing loud whistling I had never heard before.  That was all the wind.  I didn't know if it was raining, I didn't know if there was flooding, I didn't know if things were broken, I didn't know anything... I could only listen.

Luckily, not too long after I had woken up, the guy I am renting from came down with his son to help move everything to a little bit of a safer position and to bring the most breakable and valuable things indoors.  He raised the bamboo blinds, pushed as much furniture against the wall as he could, took all the paintings off the walls, brought the wind chimes inside (because lets be honest, those would have just become annoying during a hurricane and they're meant to be pleasant), as well as brought in the television and all the electronics that go along with it.  In the mean time, I am getting blown over and demolished by the rain that is flying into the porch, the screens are already ripping off of the edges and flapping in the wind, and there are shreds of wood scattered across the tile that happen to be bits of the deck breaking off.  Folks, apparently I was in the middle of my first hurricane.

The rest of the day actually went pretty smoothly, for me anyway.  I was very fortunate to have a laptop and a ton of DVDs to take my mind off of the island that was getting demolished around me.  I watched "Pirates of the Caribbean 3," "The Russia House" - some Sean Connery film from the 90's, and "Chicken Run."  Honestly, watching "Pirates" was pretty fun.  Had I not seen it during a hurricane I would probably think that it was not that great of a film, but because of the amazing sound effects I had going on all around me, I felt like I was actually there.  Plus with the power going on and off throughout, it was pretty awesome.  By the time I was done with my third film though, my computer was about to die and the power had been out for about an hour and a half.  I was getting the impression that it wasn't going to come back on this time.

I have never had to go without power for an extended period of time unless it was by choice (camping, etc).  This one was a doozy.  When the power goes out, I forgot about all the things that go out with it.  Obviously there are no lights, I couldn't charge my computer or my cell phone, I couldn't watch television or any more films - those are just the entertainment woes.  Then there are the necessities - there was no water which meant that I couldn't wash my hands, brush my teeth, take a shower, wash my clothes, flush the toilet, etc.  I had no idea how much I take those things for granted until I didn't have them anymore.  Since then  I seriously say a little thank you in my head every time I can flush the toilet, and I thoroughly enjoy every shower now and make it a good one (just in case).  It was a struggle without power because I am so used to it; I rely on it every day to make my life go the way I want it to go.  I can't imagine what it would be like to not have power all the time or to only have select parts of it.  I am sure that you would get used to it, especially if that is the norm in the part of the world you live in, but it still is quite a luxury that we all are blessed to have and should not take it for granted.  I met a very sweet girl on the beach on the Friday after the storm (remember that power had gone out on Monday) and she and her family still did not have power yet.  She was at the beach to take a bath.  They were hoping to get it that night, but if not it wasn't going to happen until later that weekend... if they were lucky.

The next day, after the storm had passed and there weren't noises of demolishment all around me, I went outside to assess the damage.  I was not prepared for what I was about to see (and I was lucky based on the damage some people experienced).  All the screens on the porch were ripped to shreds (some of them literally shredded into little pieces), the pieces of wood that was scattered all over from before was still there but there was more of it and there was some off the sides of the porch and in the driveway, the huge armoire that I can barely move had been knocked over and luckily landed on a strong table or it would have been ruined, couch cushions were strewn about and sopping wet since they were laying in inches of rain water that had collected on the porch, there were leaves and pieces of plants covering the tile and furniture, some of the bamboo blinds had broken off and been thrown about, the blades from the ceiling fans were scattered across the floor, the strings from the blinds had been wrapped around the ceiling fans and were essentially trying to tear the fans out of the ceiling (they were all crooked and bent and the strings were so knotted up that the my landlord almost had to take a knife to them), then on the steps going up to my place and in the driveway there were plants and trees broken and fallen everywhere, there were trees that had been completely uprooted, plants that used to be full and thick that only had a few leaves barely hanging on to the now barren sticks, and pieces of random debris everywhere.

Luckily I have an amazing landlord who was already working on my porch within hours and was planning to build brand new screens that were more reinforced within the next few days.  The debris was all cleaned up by all of us and things were starting to look somewhat back in order.  What was strange was looking at the landscape.  I noticed things now that I hadn't seen before because they used to be covered by beautiful, thick foliage.  Now things looked more brown and barren because the leaves were all inside my porch and in the pool and on my driveway (and I'm sure scattered across the island and into the ocean as well).  I finally left my cottage and went back over to The Westin just to get out and see what other damage had occurred, as well as take a break from all the cleaning and fixing of everything.  The Westin was hit hard.  There were uprooted trees and broken branches everywhere (including covering and destroying cars), the tennis courts looked like they belonged in Harlem, and the most horrifying and depressing thing I saw were the multiple enormous boats that had been thrown up on shore from the storm.  Seriously, there were boats strewn across the beautiful beach I had just been at three days earlier.  I had never seen anything like that before.  It was depressing because I know that some of those were probably people's homes and I know that fixing boats, especially at that magnitude, would cost a fortune.

While I was at The Westin, I mostly hung out at the pool because the beach was closed off.  But I did decide to venture down there, as did a few other people.  While I was down there a girl looked at me with this horrified face, pointed out to the ocean and said, "Do you see the tornado!?!?"  Yep, that's right, a humongous tornado was out in the water not far enough away for me not to get freaked out.  It was HUGE!  The pictures don't do it justice because I have never seen anything like it before.  I have never seen one that wide and that goes from the clouds all the way down to the ocean.  It was crazy and I was freaking out!  Apparently they are called water spouts when they are not over land and are over water, but I think that is a wussy name for such a massive, destructive part of nature.  So I am going to keep calling it a tornado... it sounds better.  The clouds around us started hanging colors and the wind started picking up and the tornado started to appear larger.  I wasn't sure if that meant it was getting bigger or moving closer.  I wanted to run away, but something kept me there staring at it in awe.  People were running down to the beach taking pictures and other people were running away from the beach for safety.  Apparently, locals who have been here for who knows how long have never seen one that size and rarely see them at all.  Finally, it just disappeared.  It didn't suck back up into the clouds though, it literally just started spreading out and then it was gone.  It was amazing to see, but absolutely terrifying at the same time.  When I fist saw it I thought to myself, "Ok God, you didn't get me with the hurricane... so is this it?  You're taking me out with a tornado instead?"

Needless to say, it has been an interesting week.  I wouldn't say it was my favorite, but it was definitely one of the weeks I will always remember.  I have never experienced weather like that.  I have been in blizzards and crazy lightning storms, but that's about it.  Nothing like what I just went though.  It was a learning experience, that's what my mom would say anyway.  I just hope that I don't have to go though any of that again while I'm here, or ever to be honest.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Beginning...

My name is Kate and I decided to travel to The Virgin Islands for a couple of months. I have been here for about a week and a half and am loving every minute of it.  

Island life is nice, I could definitely get used to it.  The island I am on is St. John.  It is the most laid back and down-to-earth island of them all.  The daily life is easy (probably since I have no job), the food is good, the scenery is unbeatable, and for the most part the company is good (except when you're driving the wrong way and get honked at a lot).

I am staying in a cottage on the south side of the island.  I rented from this awesome guy who actually lives here in one of the villas.  There are two villas and my cottage that all share a pool.  I have a beautiful view of the ocean, the hills of St. John, and parts of St. Thomas (the island you have to fly in to, then you take a boat to get to St. John).  

Two-thirds of the island is National Park, so there isn't a lot of building going on except in the designated areas.  It makes for nice views, wild animals (donkeys, roosters, cats, and goats to name a few), and a lot of great places to explore.

So far, I have pretty much done as little as possible here.  That was my plan.  It's worked out well.  I've seen a lot of gorgeous beaches (slept on most of them), read a lot, gone snorkeling, hung out by the pool, journaled, gone out for drinks, written letters and postcards, learned how to drive on the left side of the road and up and down treacherous hills (anyone who's been here knows what I'm talking about), slept a lot, cooked every night I've been here which has been extremely rewarding, gone jogging, done yoga, meditated on the beach, floated in the ocean, and seen some of the most gorgeous views I think I will ever experience.  

Today I am red and am staying indoors (hence me finally starting this blog). Yesterday I fell asleep at the beach without wearing any sunscreen, not smart.  I definitely learned my lesson, though it's a painful one.  I am happy to say that I am finally unpacking as well (so far it has always seemed like work, something I did not want to do while I was here).  Trying to do as little as possible is great, though I think I'm starting to get used to it which could be bad for my future but for now it's heavenly... which is exactly what matters. "LIVE IN THE MOMENT"  -  that's been my mantra here, something I definitely wanted to live by.  I don't want to be here thinking that I have to get this done or that done, or go to this place or that.  I just want to do whatever it is I feel like doing every time my eyes open in the morning. It's been a learning curve, that's for sure.  I've always been so go, go, go with work and well just life in general that making yourself not go, go, go can take a little getting used to.  But trust me, it's well worth it and so wonderful when you do.