We woke up at 5:00 Sunday morning and headed for the Fort Lauderdale airport. It was my first time leaving the continental U.S. so that was sort of exciting. We headed for San Juan, Puerto Rico first before boarding a propeller-driven puddle-jumper (my first time on one of those, too). It was a short flight to St. Thomas, where we met up with my folks and took a taxi to the ferry. They took us to the ferry a lot farther away and charged us quite a bit more than what they originally said. My dad initially refused to pay the extra money, until the driver started to call the police. Apparently this is a common practice down there.
After the ferry to St. John, we picked up our SUV rental from a guy named Conrad Sutton, who had paintings on his wall fashioned out of different shades of deer fur. Everyone there drives a Jeep or an SUV because the roads go up and down and around and left and right and whatever else you can think of, with cliffs and curves and inclines that seem to approach ninety degrees. After an hour, we reached the Concordia Estates, a collection of “eco-tents” which are basically small cabin frames with canvas over them instead of wood. They’re solar powered, with “composting toilets” and a shower supplied by a large iron tank that sits in a window, getting hotter as the day goes on. Dani and I had two mattresses on a platform about eight feet off the ground, with a ladder that reminded me of a bunk bed. It took a considerable amount of work getting to our tent because the whole camp was built on the side of a steep hill, with a maze of stairways and raised wooden walkways that reminded me of the Ewok village in Return of the Jedi. The only particularly good feature of the place was the view. Our balcony overlooked a great, green peninsula with two large hills in the distance. To the east, waves crashed against a rocky beach opposite the calm, clear-blue waters of the cove to the west. We spent a good portion of our time on the balcony, reading or admiring the view. It was even better at night. The stars looked like they were 100 feet away, which blew Dani away (you don’t see a lot of stars in South Florida), leading to discussions about astronauts and an ever-increasing fascination with black holes. ( Pictures of the tripCollapse )
Most of the “natives” on the island were pretty rude, and made it clear they wanted you to fork over your money and get out. Everything was extremely overpriced on the island, costing about 3-4 times what it does here. Most of the restaurants charged anywhere from $15-45 per entrée for pretty mediocre food. The only thing cheap was rum. We drank pina colladas and “painkillers”, daiquiris and rum punch, followed by rum and Coke and the occasional beer. The drinking age is 18, so Dani got her first legal drinks. The best meal we ate was at a “fancy” (there were still bugs flying around and toilets that hardly worked) French place, the Chateau Bordeaux. We arrived wearing T-shirts and shorts because we had tried to go somewhere else, but it turned out to be closed. Everyone else was wearing nice clothes, and the staff was hesitant to let us in. The food was good; for the price, it had better be. When we were getting ready to pay, we heard the waiter call the police and say that one of the tables couldn’t or wouldn’t pay for their meal. There were only two other parties, and it seemed like he was talking about us, but I guess we’ll never be sure. The credit card went through and we left. The other memorable place we ate had a lot of goats running around, one of which was standing on its hind legs reaching for leaves in the trees, and later jumped halfway onto our table trying to reach the Sweet ‘n Low in the middle.
We saw a lot of goats running around wild, some chickens, burros (wild gray donkeys) and hundreds of hermit crabs. I also saw a mongoose or two, later finding out that almost the entire population of snakes on the island had been wiped out since the mongoose was introduced. I also saw a lot of fish and sea urchins, mostly while snorkeling at Trunk Bay and in the cove to the west of our balcony. I couldn’t wear my glasses, which meant I couldn’t see everything too well, but it was still fun. There was a huge school of tiny fish at Trunk Bay that grouped together in the shape of a 3-4 foot-wide ribbon that seemed to go on forever. The ribbon would curve once in a while, but they always kept a perfect formation. I scraped my knee on what might have been “Fire Coral”, which made my skin sting and tingle for the rest of the day. Despite that, it felt good to get in the water and go swimming. I don’t do it very often.
On Wednesday, we drove back to Cruz Bay on the north side of the island and prepared to catch the ferry. Dani got an anklet for her mom from one of the many street vendors. We said goodbye to my family and boarded the ferry, headed for the airport. Back in San Juan, we got a bottle of Captain Morgan and some other rum I’ve never heard of for $8 each at the duty free shop. Then we came home, back to plumbing and electricity that works, toilets that don’t come with warning signs ("#1 rule of the sun...we do NOT flush for #1!"), and streets that don’t make you feel like you’ve been riding a roller coaster for an hour and a half. It was a good time, and it was definitely worth going, but I’m glad to be back. When you get down to it, I guess that’s what vacation’s all about.
The lady and I went to the Virgin Islands over the weekend. St. John, mostly. My parents were going, and we don't see them much, being 1,500 miles away and all, so we mostly went to see them. Luckily, they helped us out with the $850 plane tickets.