"You can't call it an adventure unless it's tinged with danger. The greatest danger in life, though, is not taking the adventure at all. To have the objective of a life of ease is death. I think we've all got to go after our own Everest." Brian Blessed
"The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure." Joseph Campbell
It’s our first morning on St. John, and officially, St. John won the first round of adventure. That's okay, we're doing everything we can to settle the score. Last night, we got to our campsite after dark and it threw me a bit. The sounds and unknown got into my head, but I was still fully present in the moment and chose to be enthralled by the adventure of it all. Here's how it went down.
We flew through the night on our first night and landed in Ft Lauderdale at 5am. We weren’t well-rested because a woman on our flight had laughed and talked with the person who sat beside her the entire flight. She fell asleep for a blessed 10 minutes at one point and upon awakening, actually apologized to the girl beside her for doing so. The stewardesses spoke to her about her volume, and she laughed hysterically. I’ve never flown with anyone like her before.
In the airport, we settled in to sleep and there were announcements every few minutes over the loudspeaker…mostly to tell people they’d left personal effects at security. We ate breakfast from our supply of Luna bars, fruit leather, and nuts that we brought with us, then we slept some more and waited a bit longer.
Before our second flight, we shared a m
eal for lunch at a Cuban bistro we’d discovered in that terminal of the airport in July after returning from Cuba.
The flight to St. Thomas was lovely. The water looked like a basket of overturned jewels, cerulean blue and teal. We could see currents of sand and long, white beaches on all the islands we flew over. We were giddy, so we took a bunch of really lovely aerial
pictures and they turned out a lot better than most airplane-to-ground pictures.
When we got to the airport, there were free samples of rum and grinning bartenders
distributing said rum. I thought to myself, Now this is how you greet people arriving at your home city. Then I became stunningly brilliant and thought:
Denver clearly needs to start offering free microbrew samples… Who wants to start that up?
Outside the airport, everyone at the cab station was charging $12 per person and some extra cost for our bags to take us to the port where the ferries go from St. Thomas to St. John. We stood around looking dumb for a little while as we tried to work out all of the information and get our bearings about where the cheap taxis would be. It’s $2 per person (and no bag fees) for the “cabs” that locals use (called Safaris), they just take a little longer and can't come directly to the airport. Despite it being late and us a little nervous about arriving in the dark to a campsite, we asked around for how to get to the nearest $2 Safari taxi and we were told it was somewhere between a 3-mile walk and a 6-mile walk to the station. Wanting to embrace our adventure spirit, we went for it anyway.
The walk ended up being only as long as the runway. Not bad at all, but we watched as the other people were literally taken for a ride right past us.
At the public transit station for the $2 taxi, we waited for no more than 3 minutes. Just a note here, always confirm the price of any given transportation before you get in. This is something we both learned well in Bissau, but it has served us well all over the world. The behemoth “taxi” had five large benches and seated 30 people easily. It was a giant safari cage attached to the back of a very sad old truck. Here we are in the first row.
The open-air design meant that everything was visible and we were also well-ventilated. The way it’s set up, you all pile in to one side and when someone who got on before you in your row wants out, everyone in that row gets out to make it work. It was clunky, but also invigorating and fun.
We’d toyed with the idea of bringing folding bikes for this trip, but read that there were intense hills that were impossible for bikes. Also, there’s no shoulder or bike lane. Our Safari adventure confirmed exactly what we’d read. Some hills were so intense, the engine of the massive truck lugged chugging up the side. By the time we got off the taxi, darkness had crept across the Caribbean for the day.
The ferry ride was $7 per person, and very bouncy, but uneventful aside from the car ferry we passed that had dropped a car in the bay.
Cruz Bay greeted us on the shores of St. John with an idyllic tourist scene. We bypassed the men who load and unload luggage on the ferry for people with too much of it. (Brief aside for a PSA about packing light. On ferries in many locations, we’ve noticed that these bag handlers insist on handling your luggage themselves, and they were heartily asserting that right as we passed them…it always costs a tip in addition, and if you carry your own luggage on your back, you don’t have to have it stowed during the ferry ride. Not bringing extra bags has, so far, saved us $3 per bag on the $2 taxi, $25-$55 per person on the flight, miscellaneous tip money for the ferry couriers plus $7 per bag for stowage on the ferry, and $5 per bag on the taxi that took us to our campground, plus a whole lot of saved time and energy. That totals about $150 in savings so far just by each of us bringing only one bag that we can carry on our backs. That’s a whole lotta spending power often lost to luggage that just causes stress and sore muscles from the effort to lug it around. Ever wondered why it’s called luggage? This brief intermission has been your PSA for packing light. Now back to your regularly scheduled reading material.) A beach with perfect little boats and a small harbor sat in front of us serenely. The surrounding, sandy-looking restaurants and bars each touted a fantastic happy hour deal and great food. We splurged on a shared dinner of chicken strips and one piña colada.
After dinner, we wandered back to the ferry to find a taxi. On this island, cabs don’t have a set route like the $2 taxis on St Thomas, so we had to pay a disconcerting $14 to ride about 4.5 miles to our campground at Cinnamon Bay. It didn't sit well, but at least we hadn't paid baggage fees on top of it.
At the campground, we met Steven, a kind security guard who offered us a map and our lodging details, then we walked in fairly pitch-dark conditions to our tent. We had phone screens for light as we forgot to pack a flashlight. There's always something we forget. Cockroaches and hermit crabs scurried on the ground beneath our feet as we walked, and it made me uneasy that we hadn’t gotten a look at the whole scene in daylight.
Our campground was a tent that’s held off the ground on a wooden platform, and it contained four cots and the sealed-up, freshly washed bedding for two beds. We moved two cots to be beside each other and put the blankets we packed as well as three of the sheets and the supplied towels under us on the plastic-coated cots.
Sleep didn’t come last night. The surroundings were more of a vibrant jungle than the palm-tree oasis we'd envisioned from pictures and we counted at least 11 different sounds occurring simultaneously as we lay awake on our cots. The jungle chorus was lovely, but having no idea what was out there, it wasn't restful. Having not seen the inside of the tent properly gave me the jumpies.
As the night wore on, new sounds exchanged for old ones as animals and insects changed watch for the night. Several times, we awoke to the sound of drenching rain which did not come into the tent. The rain was actually very enchanting to listen to. However, the unwelcome presence of creepies in our tent or even our bags or bed was not. A line of ants marched into and out of Jason’s fully zippered bag even though we’d properly stored all the food in a sealed container, a lizard scaled the mattress beneath me in the night and landed on my feet. (In case you don’t know, I am a lizard magnet. They all seem to love me. They chase me down and physically launch themselves at me to show me their rather forceful love regardless of how I feel about it. Lizards are not scary to me, but when it’s night and I can’t see them, and when I’ve already once experienced a lizard jumping on my face while I’m sleeping in Puerto Rico, I suppose I have to admit, I’m a bit lizard-shy.) I spent the night coping with the grand scale of our adventure. As I mentioned in a previous post, I tend to struggle a little with adventures when they come at me in the dark. I'd experienced this feeling before when I landed in Dakar around midnight.
What small terrors we faced at night melted away in light of the stunning beauty that greeted us when the sun showed us where we'd passed the night. Silence fell and the sound of the nearby ocean came to the forefront as morning dawned and we were surrounded by a green oasis with a winding path from our campsite to the ocean.
It was an absolute tropical wonder. A sense of success washed over me as I walked around the campground smiling at the results the of the previous nights’ heroics. I smiled all the way to the beach as I found out what we’d missed without daylight to illuminate it. Then I waited (somewhat impatiently) for Jason to wake up, too.
I read the beginning of the first book of Harry Potter, which I’m a bit ashamed to admit I’ve never read before. And when Jason woke up, we feasted on cashews, dried fruit, and Luna bars from our bags. With daylight as our new favorite friend, we also took note of the mold that graced much of the inside of our tent and we understood the reason for our coughing and hacking. We were also a bit puzzled by the tie-system for closure of the tent’s door.
It did absolutely nothing to block insects or even lizards from entering the tent. We decided to try some different techniques to keep the tent bug-tight, but so far nothing has worked. The insects that had paraded through Jason’s bag in the night left absolutely no trace of their deliberate little march, but it still gave us both the creeps to know they'd been there. We were abundantly graced with a new smattering of mosquito bites, and began to realize that it would have been smarter for us to bring our own tent. We thought we'd been saving ourselves from roughing it, when in reality, it would have been far more comfortable and half the cost. Alas, the point of adventure is to learn, and we are doing that.
We bought some water from the commissary, perused the other supplies available, and then spent some serious time setting up our hammock to try sleeping a different way tonight. During the setup, we were rained on frequently, and our oldest and most faithful Doublenest ENO (Eagle's Nest Outfitters) hammock ripped on the edge. I stepped on it as I fell out on one of our failed attempts to get into it together, and I tore a hole in it with my foot. Through bouts of rain storms, we finally got the hammock set up complete with rain fly and bug net. This is what it looks like under the rain fly.
We plan to try sleeping in the hammock tonight in our campsite next to our rent-a-moldy-buggy-tent, that way if we can’t hack it, we can figure that out without spending a night being with the roaches on the ground. While the rent-a-mold-filled-tent is bad, I have to believe it's a step above being on the ground. This hammock is also a Doublenest, which means it's made to hold two people at a time. It's not as comfy as the old, broken-in hammock, but a hammock-camping adventure should do the trick. Tonight will be a grand experiment, but at least we know our surroundings and we won’t be touching the ground.
After we battled our way through hammock set up, we slathered on our Solar Sense Sport zinc oxide sunscreen and headed a few steps to the beach. (This sunscreen, by the way, stays on through everything, and it entirely prevents sunburns...being Irish, I have searched hard for good sunscreen, and this stuff is the bomb!) We surveyed the beach for a way to camp outside the campsite, and were a bit dismayed to find that there was no space that was passable that wasn’t part of the campground. The jungle is so thick, we're not sure about going into it without some idea where we're headed. And meeting a real vagabond this morning, we were told to avoid camping outside campgrounds on this island. He says he's done so the world over, and that this island is one of the most hostile environments he's encountered yet. Go figure. So we found a spot to enjoy the beach and set out our sarongs. I’m actually writing from the beach at Cinnamon Bay.
When I'm done, I'll go buy a flashlight from the commissary for tonight’s masquerade in the dark and stow my phone and computer in a locker on site (the lockers cost only 50 cents). I’ll be keeping the camera and my watch with me because they’re both waterproof and have a purpose. My phone’s water proof, too, but I can’t justify having it when it doesn’t attach to me and I can use the camera.
More to come on the outcome of the great hammock adventure! Signing off as yours truly from adventure fantasy island: St John.