Island Vacation Day 6- People! WaterLemon Cay is NOT a theme park!

Our day started with a beautiful sunrise, pink, yellow and white with the sun bright in our eyes through the villa bedroom window. We talked over breakfast about where we wanted to go. We talked about how on our first visit to St John 6 years ago we had hiked the Leinster trail.
It is a flat 0.8-mile trail that follows the shoreline of Leinster Bay just outside of Annaberg plantation. It leads right past Water Lemon Cay and we had not snorkeled there on our first visit. We remembered our prior hike as a quiet trek we did after visiting a vacant Annaberg. We walked over a wide and easy trail with one boat moored in the bay to visit a peaceful, empty and serene beach six years ago.
So we all agreed a nice peaceful hike and then a refreshing snorkel was a great activity for the day. We packed up our snorkel gear, a cooler to leave in the car with drinks and snacks and grabbed some towels. We needed ice so we volunteered to go pick it up in Coral Bay and meet the rest of our group after.
In Coral Bay we picked up the ice, put it in the cooler and decided to take a “road less traveled” back up Rt 20 instead of taking Rt10. The road goes past the Love City Mini Mart and is paved, until it is is no longer paved. We had a 4 wheeling fun trip up and when we were almost to the end we saw a woman on the road with a very large dog and a pet goat. I’m not sure who was more surprised, us or her, as I am fairly confident that she does not see many cars on this road. The road came out right next to the Columbo Smoothie stand- if you drive by there, it is very difficult to spot where the road comes out, but we popped up and over and right on to the continuation of Rt 20 and over to the parking lot at Annaberg.
Well let me tell you the shock upon arrival! My how things have changed………a lot! The parking lot was totally full with cars double parked and the road lined on both sides with cars. This was very different from any other visit we had made to Annaberg. We parked on the roadside and met up with my 2 brothers and then started our hike.
As we walked we met several groups and couples, I was just in disbelief of the number of people. I commented to one woman as we passed about the crowd saying I thought it was quite unusual. She and her husband were just coming back and said, “yeah it’s like Disney World of St John out there- too crowded to even get a good snorkel.” As we continued we understood what she was saying. The beach was full, every mooring, and I think there were at least a dozen was occupied by a boat and there were tourists clothing, bags, shoes and towels hanging from branches everywhere along the shore. There were people, kayaks and dinghies on the shore of WaterLemon Cay. She was not kidding! We set down our towels, popped on our snorkel gear and dropped in the water to at least try to see some fish. After having 3 people swim into us and fighting a fairly strong current we decided that this is not really the “peaceful” snorkeling experience we are accustom to and after about 30 minutes we decided to dry off and hike back. We watched a large group of 10 file past us, they had beach chairs, coolers, beach toys, noodles, and bags of food and towels. I’m not sure where they thought that hey we’re going to set up, but I don’t think that they realized that this area is not a sandy and open beach. It is a trail, with large boulders, a rocky beach and path that is narrow and currently well traveled by many. By the look on some faces of this group, they were a bit annoyed at whomever had the idea to take that hike.
Back at the parking lot we had a snack and talked about how unusual it was to see so many people. We all needed some peace and quiet so we headed back to the house. Our dinner that night was a beautiful prime rib we had brought from home in our checked cooler. The meal was amazing, and we hit the pillow early as we had a big day of snorkeling on our “lap of St John” planned the next day with an early start.

Island Vacation Day 5 – Island Exploration and Brown Bay Trail

Driving to remote areas has never bothered us, in fact we love the challenge and adventure around discovering what might be hidden in the geography of St John USVI around us. This morning was no exception.  We decided to take a ride south and east of our villa to see the areas were were overlooking each morning.  The view was stunning from up above,  the vegetation looked dense and the roads were narrow lines that were barely visible from out 1150 foot perch on Bordeaux Mountain.   We headed out after surveying a couple maps and pointing our finger saying “let’s go there!”
We wanted to see if we could reach the far East end of the island.  We dropped down from Bordeaux Mountain into the village of Coral Bay.  After passing Skinny Legs bar and Grill, the road follows the water and there are many bays with a different environment at each one.  Some were rocky, some sandy, one was mangrove, and as we traveled the road started to climb bringing gorgeous views of both USVI waterways and British Virgin Islands.   We passed through Hansen Bay and saw the small food stand called “Vies”- apparently the food is wonderful, but she was closed on Monday, so we could not try the western Indian specialties served here.  A few day later we ran into travelers that said they paid the $5 to get on the beach and we’re glad they did, as it is a gorgeous clean and quiet beach.
The road lead us to the art studio of Sloop Jones.  You must be a little bold when visiting as it looks like you might be walking in to someone’s home when you pull up to the closed gate.  The sign tells you that the gate is closed to keep the goats out, take our word for it- people are welcome!  The artist, Sloop Jones has been creating “wearable art” for over 25 years, I had read a bit about him before visiting and was impressed with the beautiful articles of clothing in his shop.  The woman that helped us was very informative about the way he creates the paint from pigments, mixing colors by hand and using a custom method that allows the clothing to hold the color after many washings.   She told us that they have customers that have purchased items over 20 years ago and they are still wearing these pieces.   Prices are not cheap, but to have a one of a kind piece of signed Sloop Jones wearable art seemed like a good buy to me, so I purchased a top for me and a dress for the daughter.  She was also a great source of information about snorkel spots and recommended we try Haulover bay that day because seas were unusually calm and we would be able to do both south and north with calm seas.

Sloop Jones Shop Sloop Art


After leaving, we knew the road to the east had ended so we headed back from where we came and toward an upscale housing development we had spotted toward the north of where we were.  We drove the curvy road that climbed up past several sites that were for sale as well as past a few homes that were simply spectacular.  This road, though still paved, started becoming narrow with vegetation overcoming the road on either side of the jeep. As we passed various bushes we noticed several with large burrs and thorny spikes and joked about keeping our arm off of the window ledge!  As we made a curvy turn we were surprised by 2 people taking pictures of the beautiful bay below.  They waved and said with a smile-  “you know the road ends?”  We said yes, and we would be looking for a spot to turn and go back down- another 20 yards and we reach the end of the road for the second time that day.

We contemplated the Haulaway North snorkel, but we were really interested in the Brown Bay hike so we opted to head over to the trailhead for Brown Bay that starts next to the firing range just about a mile east of the Moravian Church in Coral Bay.   We started up the trail knowing that there would be steep inclines.  Because I have a past ankle injury that left a plate and screws in my ankle, hubby was concerned that it would not be a good idea to continue after the first ridge, but my stubborn Dutch girl took over and something inside me would not let me quit.   The hike to the beach took us about an hour.  I won’t lie- this was a loose rocky, gully of a trail that had both of us looking down most of the time to decide where we would place our next step.  But once we got to the beach we were able to hop in the water, cool off and take in the surrounding area.  There were 2 boats moored in the bay, and an empty dinghy on shore.   We looked around the very shallow bay for a bit, spotting several conch in the sea grass under the water as well as small fish.   A couple that owned the dinghy appeared from the trail and we had a brief chat, learning that they lived on their sailboat and would come over the trails a few times a week in order to get some physical activity, walking one of the trails.  They looked to be in their 60’s and were strong and lean.   Must be something to this life!
We decided against a snorkel here as we had just one bottle of water left and knew the hike back would require stamina, so we headed back, determined to beat our one hour time by at least 10 min.  It took 50 minutes and I have to say I had a moment of feeling pretty proud of hubby and me, it was tough but we did it!  We ate our fruit and wraps from the cooler in the car, rehydrated with some water and headed to our reward a stop at Maho beach to take a dip and a rest and then head back to the house for a great
dinner with family, sharing stories of our separate adventures of the day.

Island Vacation 2015 Day 4

St John is full of trails and beaches. There is a number of places to rent snorkel gear for the week so we headed to Coral Bay to check out Crabbys.
Crabbys Coral Bay
It’s a small shack of a shop that sells and rents various kinds of water sport gear. A woman fitted all of us, and we paid $40 each for the rentals and we were on our way in 20 minutes.
We headed out to find a beach and a spot to snorkel where we may see some turtles.

We took off via Rt 10 headed toward Annaberg, this road goes up and over the center of the island and while Coral Bay is on the south side the north side beaches are easily reached in about 20 min. We landed at Maho, the first beach you reach when coming from Coral Bay. There is a parking lot, but if that is full, there are cleared areas between the trees where it is easy to pull off and park. The beach is just a quick hop across the road, so bringing chairs, coolers and other items is quick, easy and requires very little effort. We found a shady spot under the low hanging sea grape trees and set up our chairs and cooler and set out to enjoy this beautiful beach.

The beach was populated but not crowded, there were several boats attached to the buoys and the bay had a number of snorkelers already floating with their tushes peeking out of the water. It was easy to tell where the underwater life to see was by watching where the snorkelers would dart off to next. Some of our group stayed on the beach to take in the view, a couple others donned snorkel gear to explore.

The underwater world was full of sights! We saw several Sea Turtles, a large Sting Ray and a variety of tropical fish. The best part of snorkeling is the feeling of being in an actual aquarium with the fish that I’d watch for hours as a kid.

Then it was time for some football! The first playoff game started at 4pm local time so we all headed down to Skinny Legs Bar and Grillfor a burger, beer and big screen. This place really demonstrates the St. John vibe. Relaxed, friendly, and you immediately feel at home. The benches were a bit hard and had no backs, so we decided to finish watching the games back at the villa. Another good day on the island.




Island vacation 2015 -Day 3 Why rent a home or “villa” for an island vacation?

Day 3 was dedicated to decompressing from travel, sunning on the deck, taking in the gorgeous views, using the grill to make burgers, and enjoying island cocktails with abandon.
We have rented homes for 9 vacations. We love the convenience of more space than a hotel room, a kitchen where we can make breakfast or a snack, and the feeling of living in the places we visit versus just being tourists. There are many websites advertising and offering homes for rent for vacationers. It is a must to do your homework and follow some simple guidelines when renting on sites such as Vacation rental by owner (VRBO or Home away) or local real estate or property rental companies. First rule to follow is to have a list of questions and ask those to a person, avoid emailing or voicemail tag. You want to make sure that the rental is a legitimate rental, we did have one “owner” respond via email, with no phone number, just email. The price was extremely low and that is usually the first clue that something is fishy. Most owners will work with you if you have a budget, but if you get an offer that is much lower than the asking rate you should not get a “I won the lottery” reaction- you need to be wary and extra careful as there are scammers who will ask you to wire money as a deposit. Ours asked us to send it to England, which we did not do.
As we were looked for this house on St John we scouted several sites and looked up forum posts on TripAdvisor to get insights and info from other travelers who had experience with the island. We saw several discussions on the forum boards with this same type of experience. So as the saying goes- “buyer beware”. In the end! those insights and on line discussions provided a fairly easy path to figure out where we wanted to stay.
For this trip our choice was a house up on Bordeaux Mountain because it was remote, quiet and on past visits we have stayed closer to the water and wanted the experience of being up high, but still close to some restaurants, trails and beaches. We had rented from this owner for one of our trips to St Thomas and found them to be responsive, helpful and priced within our budget. The houses have both been clean, well stocked and the villa on St John exceeded our expectations.
Day 3 was a relaxing and fun day and as we hit the pillow that night we had a beautiful steady rain shower to lull us to sleep.

Day 1 and 2 Traveling to St John-getting everyone to the villa

Our flights were from Chicago and Rapid City SD. We chose to fly to San Juan and spend the night on Thursday then fly to St Thomas Friday morning. We landed in San Juan at 3pm, checked into the Embassy Suites San Juan, 5 min by taxi from the airport. We waited for brother and sis in law to come in at 7:30. A visit to the pool to pass the time and a few beers at the hotel cocktail hour and then they walked in tired, but happy to be there. We had asked the bartender at the pool for a recommendation for dinner and the hotel desk gave us directions to La Playita, a restaurant on the water near the airport. The restaurant was was all they raved about and more. We were seated on the deck, with the waves lapping just below us. Coco loco drinks came in a real coconut and the beer was cold and refreshing. For dinner we ordered 2 Mofongo’s one with shrimp and one with steak, an avocado and shrimp salad (bartender recommended) and the skirt steak with chimichurrie sauce. It was a fantastic meal in a restaurant with true Caribbean ambiance. The hotel attached to the restaurant was La Playa hotel a small, 16 room boutique hotel tucked away on a quiet street,oceanside, quiet, with friendly staff that told us rooms cost $160 with a continental breakfast included. We taxied back to the hotel ready to fly over to St Thomas on Friday morning.
We arrived at the airport early, settled in to Terminal A to wait for our flight. We saw the aircraft loaded and realized that we were on what I call a “toy” airplane, a Cessna 402 prop aircraft that scared the crap out of me- but how would I get to STJ if I did not bite the bullet and get onboard. So Vagablond swallowed the fear and boarded the cute little plane. It was not a bad flight and once the borrowed Xanax pill kicked in. :0)
St Thomas airport was not busy, making us decide the coming in on a Friday morning was a very good time to arrive. We had rented two 4 door jeeps from Amalie Car rental on St Thomas, we have used them for 3 years and their cars are clean, well maintained and the service is top notch. One jeep was so new it did not have tags yet so they asked us if we could wait for about 2 hours until the car would be ready. We told them that was fine and we are on #island time so we set off on our way to one of the nearby beaches to grab a beer and hang out. We landed on Brewers Beach. There were 2 local food trucks and we bought beers and parked ourselves under a shady spot to take in the view. There was a quiet beach with a few swimmers and snorkelers, and several boats moored on buoys. After a couple of cold beers, a local tour guide walked past us, his name was Garfield and he had just brought a small group of 6 people from the cruise ship to the beach for a swim. He was headed to the food truck to have lunch and we asked him for a recommendation- he said to have a Pate- it is a pastry filled with the meat of your choice of beef, chicken, shrimp, or veggies and it is a local favorite. We spent time chatting with him for about 20 minutes. He shared local history, some observations about cruise ship passenger behaviors and told us some stories about his own family. It was a joy to learn, socialize and share with this great new friend.
We grabbed another beer and a pate and then headed over to get our jeep.
Trying not to forget that USVI drives on the left, we followed each other to the Plaza Extra grocery store for groceries including, produce, liquor and other food for our villa. We headed to Red Hook to board the car ferry for the final leg of our transport to St John. Ferry ride was about 30 minutes and our villa escort was waiting at the ferry dock. We stopped for ice and was on our way up to our villa up on Bordeaux Mountain.
The villa was gorgeous, well equipped with an awesome kitchen, outdoor grill and lots of technology for music through the house and pool areas. We unpacked, poured ourselves cocktails and sat back to watch the sunset before we had to pick up our youngest brother,the last person arriving via people ferry. We had a brief delay due to his luggage not making the flight from his connection in Miami, but they promised to bring it to the Cruz Bay people ferry dock first thing in the morning, so he jumped into a taxi to Red Hook and took the passenger ferry to Cruz Bay on St John where we met him and made out way to a little Mexican restaurant where we had margaritas and appetizers. We left Cruz Bay and headed to the villa, it was dark but we found our way with no problem. Our first day ended with all of us together, sharing good times and hitting the pillows early.

Island vacation 2015

January is a great time to escape the cold Midwestern winter and find some Caribbean happiness and sun. The Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands (USVI ) are a perfect tropical destination. It is easily reachable from Midwestern cities, most mornings you can wake early, board a plane and be walking on the beach by dinner time. This is our 6th trip and we are headed for our first weeklong stay on St John, having stayed on St Thomas on past trips and visited St. John for day trips, we are really excited to stay on this beautiful island and explore hiking trails beaches and the people of STJ.

Our group is 5 adults – three are siblings- and two spouses. We are all over 45 and we are renting a home near Coral Bay. We have varied backgrounds, interests and professions (real estate broker, property manager, engineer, marketing director and lab technician) I will be bringing all of those to these posts.
I will be blogging daily to share experiences insights and interesting stories. I am hoping readers will find some sense of adventure in reading about ours and plan a week of their own!

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