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Location: Massachusetts, United States

Saturday, April 11, 2009


As the 757's door opened, warm air rushed into cabin, carrying with it a hint of the sea and caressing my face softly. I smiled. Jen and I had finally arrived: St Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. A step closer to our own little corner of paradise for the next four days.

It had been too long since we had done something just the two of us. Years in fact. And with a new baby at home and hectic opposing schedules, stress and exhaustion had finally caught up with us. It was time, I had decided, for that long-overdue and long dreamed-about Caribbean holiday.
A fair amount of research and conversations with friends and colleagues familiar with the region led to the conclusion that St John was the place for us: a less touristy island of 20 square miles, 80 percent of which is protected as a National Park. By all accounts, the beaches were pristine and the people friendly. A true no-brainer.
Outside the open-air terminal, a lady offered travelers free shots of rum. All around us, happy faces wandered about, cold beers in hand. They too had reached paradise, it seemed.
A quick taxi ride later, we were sipping rum punch and pain killers (the drink, of course) on the patio of Tickles restaurant at the Crown Marina, while we waited for the ferry to St John. The lush mountains surrounding us and the bright turquoise waters all around transported us to a completely different world, far far away from the wintery muck of Boston, the diaper changes and the constant logistical headaches both at home and at work.
We missed Ollie very much but as we began to take this beautiful place in we were happy and began to relax.
The ferry ride was a pleasure, taking us past a slew of private islands that pepper the waters between St Thomas and St John. Less than an hour later, the hotel staff greeted us with yet more rum punch. We were in awe: the palm trees, the lush green lawns bordered by wild pineapple and other tropical plants, the white sand and enticing crystalline water of the Caribbean Sea. We swam, had dinner on the beach and sat in the warm evening, surrounded by tikki torches, gazing at solitary clouds floating high above the palm trees in the silvery hue of the moon light.
Pure bliss.
The following morning, we headed to Cruz Bay to rent a jeep and set out to explore the island, which is essentially an imposing mountain jutting from the sea. Driving on the left side of the road took no time to get used to. Negotiating the extremely steep hills, however, was a little more interesting. But reaching high ground was well worth it.

We were now islanders, so we sipped the obligatory mid-morning mango-banana smoothie while enjoying the view above. We (hmmm, well Jen, really...) decided to walk the almost 3-mile long Reef Bay trail, which snakes through the lush forest past the ruins of old Dutch sugar mills. Along the way, we detoured to see petroglyphs, mysterious carvings etched into rock at the bottom of a 40-foot waterfall in the middle of the forest. Sounded phenomenal on paper. While we did see the carvings, the waterfall was unfortunately completely dried up and the most exciting part of the side-trip was an encounter with one of the thousands of mongooses that inhabit the island. The Dutch brought the little guys from Jamaica to kill rats in the sugar plantations, which apparently failed since mongooses hunt by day and rats are nocturnal. They have since taken over the island.

The winding trail finally opened up to the completely secluded Reef Bay, accessible only by foot or boat, where the shallow and warm water is said to be a nursery for baby sharks. While we sadly did not get to see any, the beauty and calm of this remote beach was reward enough.

The walk back up to our Jeep was, well, brutal: steep, hot, rocky. Never ending. Generally unpleasant. But in hindsight, well-worth it.
Still in pain from the previous day's ascent, we enjoyed a relaxed breakfast on a small square by the harbor in Cruz Bay on Tuesday, where chickens and their chicks ran free in the street.

Cute. But being a chicken on St John can apparently be a hazardous occupation.

Our appetites satisfied, we hopped on one of the island's many safari taxis and headed for Trunk Bay, considered to be one of the world's most beautiful beaches. Along the way, we were treated to magnificent views of Honeymoon, Hawk's Nest and Caneel bays, where Laurence Rockerfeller opened his famous eco-friendly resort back in the early 1950s.
As we walked onto the beach at Trunk Bay, I immediately understood what all the fuss is about.

Aside from its breath-taking beauty, Trunk Bay is known for its excellent snorkeling trail. Wasting no time, Jen and I donned our gear and headed out to see what lay beneath those turquoise waters. We weren't disappointed.

Beautiful coral, a completely different world under the surface and home
to a multitude of multi-colored fish...
Such as the Parrot Fish below, whom I stalked all day long. If we held our breath we could hear him chomping away at the coral.

A sea turtle.

The Barracuda below appeared out of nowhere about two feet away from my face as I was scanning the coral for fish. He scared the crap out of me at first but seemed completely unfazed by my presence (or my deliciousness). I reached for the camera to steal a shot, but a wave carried me above the surface and ruined it. I swam after him for a bit to get a closer picture until it dawned on me that I was in hot pursuit of a carniverous fish. Reason prevailed and this is what I settled for:

After a full day of snorkeling, we found the perfect table in Cruz Bay to enjoy the sunset, dinner and a few deliciously refreshing rum drinks.

Sadly the next day was also our last on St John. We headed further up the coast to visit Cinnamon Bay, which was also breath-takingly beautiful.

While the snorkeling was disappointing compared to Trunk Bay, the weather gave us a perfect final day in paradise and I took the opportunity to sooth my badly sunburned back from the previous day's underwater explorations and relax on the warm sand. Soon enough we'd be back to reality, running around like mad people, rejoining the ranks of the everyday drones that we had pitied so much while lounging on the beach without a care in the world. Tomorrow we'd no longer be happy islanders fuelled by rum and sunshine. Tomorrow we'd be back to being suckers with stupid bosses and bills to pay.
But not before making a new friend. Jen named him Stewart.


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