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.