Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Travelogue: Saint John

If you should ever find yourself planning a trip to the Caribbean, and looking to maximize your experience of nature, then you might want to consider St. John's US Virgin Island.  I was there, and here's some peculiar things of note.

The most important thing you might want to know is what to drink on St. John.  When in Rome, do as the Romans is always a safe axiom to follow.  Here the thing to drink is rum, and the rum to drink is Cruzan.  Made in nearby St. Croix, Cruzan is both cheap and easy.  I bought a fifth at the village market for around 5 bucks.  Cheap!  And it goes down easy.  It is a far better than your usual cast of Bacardi and Captain Morgan.  I drank the stuff aged for maybe 2 years in oak.  Maybe not quite as good as Rhum Barbancourt, but at 5 dollars a fifth it is a definite "buy".

Another solid island drink is the mojito.  The airport in Puerto Rico makes a very solid mojito, worth the horrible airport prices.

Now you might think that Mr. Booze was drunk the whole time.  Sadly, I was not.  I was shocked to learn that they don't have a subway system on the island.  Not even some sort of commuter train.  Instead, one had to drive a jeep through winding mountain roads.


Now a great portion of the whole island is a national park.  If you really want to be in "the nature", the Estate Concordia offers a unique "in the nature" setting.  The whole lodging system is built on stilts and connected by stairs in the middle of the nature.

If you are lucky you'll wake up to this:


However I was less fortunate.  It rained nearly every day the whole trip.  Though I suppose luck is a matter of perspective, for the rains were caused by a hurricane that hit nearby Haiti.  After the hurricane landed the winds dispersed the rains throughout the region.


Rains can be beautiful, but after a while one wishes to see the sun just a bit.  Apparently December is the dryest month.  I wish I would have known that, and planned my trip for December instead.


The nature was as picturesque as you could want, despite the rains.  Just to compare though...


This was the first day and then not again until the last day.  For real.

 One of the advantages of the lodgings is that being in the midst of nature is that there was no division between yourself and the wild, but still retaining all the amenities of civilization.



Lizards slunk around, and we were often greeted by a black and green hummingbird I name The Green Flash.  Most impressive to me, however, was the nighttime symphony.  At dusk the piping frogs began to sing their tune.  No bigger than my thumbnail, they blew a mesmerizing tune.



During the day they hid, and I could not find a single one in the light of day.

Not only was the staff of the Estate Concordia excellent, they had some of the best eating on the island at their cafe.  I wish I could say the same about the rest of the journey.  However I felt that the locals were looking to sink their hooks in my wallet at every chance available.  Definitely be on your guard, especially regarding transportation.  Ferries, taxis, and car rentals all proved treacherous.  This was the case when getting from the airport on neighboring St Thomas to our lodgings at St John.  The taxis, ferris, and car rentals all seemed to be looking for a quick buck, so watch out.

Of course one of the main attractions of the island is the snorkeling.  Again the rains put a damper on things as the runoff from the island clouded the waters, making visibility low for some of the dives.


For me personally, seeing a sea turtle was a highlight.  I have to say that the experience of being face to face with a large turtle underwater was surreal.  I tried to be as non-threatening as possible.  The turtle, for his part, seemed a bit curious at first.  Though keeping his distance, he did not shy away at first.  Eventually he left.

Another memorable moment was seeing the squid.  The locals call them reef octopus, but as you can see they are clearly squid.


Or should I say were squid, as nature's cruel vicissitudes were on display.


While I was trying to swim closer to the squid, a camouflaged fish sprung up from hiding.


Yada yada yada circle of life.  A split second before the bite the poor squid sent out a jet of ink, to no avail.  Such is life on the coral.

Life on the coral is easy to find.  When diving you simply follow your ear to the crunching noise of reef fish feasting on the growth.


Swimming in the ocean was a new experience for me.






As you can see, the view from the water was fantastic.

Overall it is hard for me to say much more about St. John.  Sadly I haven't much experience with the Caribbean.  I found it to be a trip full of ups and downs, both figuratively and literally as the roads on the island were mountain roads.  Overall I think that if you are seeking a Caribbean experience that involves staying in nature, then St John is a good bet and the Estate Concordia is as much in the nature as you can get without pitching a tent.

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