Sunday August 20, 2006

Sunday August 20,

I was up early because I hadn’t slept all that well the night before. I was still coming down off the excitement of the trip, I was hammered, and I was in an odd bed in an even odder room.

Let’s talk about the house. Before the 2004 trip, like all first timers to St John, I was blown away by the dizzying selection of houses to rent. You have to choose a location on the island. You have to choose amenities. You have to choose size. Pool? Hot tub? And, most importantly, cost. Through my adventures on several message boards, I was guided to Pocket Money Villa. That’s where we stayed. It’s got what we think is a great location, has a big pool and has AC in the bedrooms. It looked good and the price was also nice so we took the plunge and stayed there. After the trip, it was decided that I could stop looking for places to stay, we’d found a little island hideaway.

The house sits on a hill just above the town of Cruz Bay. Cruz Bay is the main town on St John and serves as the main harbor for ferries and commercial vessels. It has most of the restaurants and stores. This is all crammed into a space about 3 blocks deep and maybe a ½ mile wide. From town, you go towards the Centerline road and veer off, straight up the face of a steep hill. You make a left near the top and the house sits just off that side street. Of course, when I say street, I am using the loosest of interpretations of the word. Sure, there are no trees in the way, but it’s unpaved and rather bumpy.

The house is shaped like a right angle. You walk in at the point. Straight ahead is the living room. There are 2 couches and a chair that sit in front of the new TV. There’s a portable stereo hooked and the living room area is wired up for surround sound (new since the last visit). The TV also gets satellite TV. This was a nice addition. Going forward of the living room is a bedroom. This is where MerlotMan and ChurchBomber stay. The room is simple enough; bed, dressers, closet and a door to the large full bathroom. All along the inside wall of the living room and bedroom are double French doors opening out to the pool deck. But, back to the entrance. To the left is the dining area/kitchen. There’s a big table and a sturdy enough kitchen. It’s a little old-school, but has everything you need. Walking past the fridge (and the ever-present blast of hot air that comes from its back) is the other bedroom. It’s a little larger than the other and has all the basics. Off of it (looking out on the driveway) is the other, smaller full bathroom. Like the other side of the house, the dining area and bedroom open to the deck. The deck fills in the middle of the angle formed by the house and is mostly taken up by a large pool. One side (the living room side) is under cover and in the shade, and the open side across from it has the lounge chairs and the sun. The pool is large for a villa (or so I think) and quite deep. In 2004, I unknowingly wandered off the bottom step and found myself in water over my head. I’ll add that I kept my beer high and dry the whole time. There’s a grill out there as well as the washer and dryer.

The depth of the pool is not a problem for me, JewelrySlut or ChurchBomber. For MerlotMan, it poses a whole other set of issues. When he was little, he was washed under while down the shore in NJ and has never really liked the water nor has he learned to swim. In 2004, I found a big inflatable tube in one of the closets, and thus the Legend of the Woobie was born. MerlotMan and his Woobie were never far apart for the last trip. That was fine and dandy at the house, but on our one snorkel adventure, he’d needed a life vest. He never felt happy about how it fit and didn’t really feel confident with it. Taking matters into her own hands, ChurchBomber bought him a PFD (personal Floatation Device) for the trip. It looked a bit bulky and excessive (think of what a water skier wears), but MerlotMan seemed happy in it. Watching him gear up to enter the pool was an amusing part of every day. In fact, since he’d never walked off the infamous pool steps, he walked off them later in the week. As he momentarily submerged, the 3 of us watched in a mixture of horror and wonder to see how he’d fared. All was well as MerlotMan bobbed back to the surface.

So, that’s the house. I didn’t sleep well because it’s totally open to the outside. There’s not a pane of glass on any of the windows. You close the shutters and hope to keep most of the hot air out when you turn on the AC. Of course, our AC unit and I have a past. In 2004, I could not get it to work until the middle of the 2nd day down there. We’d spent an utterly sweaty and sleepless night on the island last time. I was not prepared to do that again, so I was very attuned to the noises of the AC. So, all night, you hear the tree frogs, the bugs, the wildlife, the rattling AC unit, and anything else that would wake a lunatic like me up. Plus, there has been an increase of crime on STJ lately, and there have been some attacks on villas. Not that I was worried about it, but at the slightest noise from outside, I was wide awake. Like I said…long night.

I was up before 7:00 and got the coffee started. Trying not to wake up ChurchBomber and MerlotMan, I went about my business as quietly as possible. I still had some unpacking and settling in to do. But, what I really wanted to do was get out on the deck and look at the view. The house, as I mentioned, is up on a hill. You can’t see much of town, but you have a great view of the channel that sits between St John and Red Hook, St Thomas. All day, boats scurry back and forth. At night, the sun sets over St Thomas. It’s like staying in a postcard. As I soaked it all in, I was abruptly reminded that “progress” is coming to St John.

BANG

BANG

BANG

BANG

Oh…that must be SirenUSA, the ridiculously large and expensive condo project that’s going up 2 hills to the left.

BANG

BANG

BANG

BANG

Great. And this is Sunday.

St John has been a quiet little place, across the water from the busier St Thomas for years. It still is for the most part, thanks to the Rockefellers, but it’s getting popular. Kenny Chesny hangs out there and people with money are flocking there in his wake. Enormous houses can be seen dotting the hillsides of the North Shore. And since most of the island is a National Park (again, thanks to the Rockefellers), there’s not a lot of land to build on. Where the land exists, building occurs. Projects like SirenUSA are scaring people. Multi-million dollar condos are going up all over the place. They’ll bring cars, congestion and infrastructure problems to this little island. I just hoped the noise wouldn’t be that bad for us. I’d heard about it and was told the worst of it (the blasting) was done.

I went inside, grabbed some coffee and got started vacationing as only I can; I opened up a map. I do love me a map. JewelrySlut emerged a little after me, as did MerlotMan. We would not see ChurchBomber for a while. I started making up a shopping list. We needed to hit the supermarket. It was MerlotMan’s birthday and we had to get cracking on dinner. JewelrySlut had to make her famous potato salad and we needed to bake a cake. Are we insane? You betcha.

JewelrySlut and I took the Jeep into town to go to the store. We managed to avoid passing out in the Starfish Market when we saw the prices. When you have to bring EVERYTHING that you consume in on a boat, prices run high. Like over $3 for a head of lettuce. We bought supplies for the week, loaded them into the cooler (ever the Boy Scout am I) and went on a little drive. I was in an exploratory mood. We took the South Shore road up some insane hills and passed the Westin resort. At some point (the road may or may not have been ending) I hung a left up a series of lunatic hills. This is when we realized that the Jeep had 4 bald tires. I skidded out on more than a few of the hills, both in the up and down directions. Mind you, I’m driving an American car, on the wrong side of the road, and these are very steep hairpin turns. I also only had on my flip flops. Not a good idea. I had little control of the brake pedal. I finally made my way back to Centerline Road and we headed down towards town, and missed the turn for the house. Only I can get lost and miss turns on an island with 4 roads. We got back tot the house and JewelrySlut started drinking.

ChurchBomber was up by now and we settled into our routine of sunning for a while and then hobbling to the pool to cool off. The ants in my pants were, for the meantime, settled.

However, by 3:00, the ants were back. I gathered the crew for our first road trip. It was beach time. We gathered up towels and snorkel gear and headed out. Down to town, right on the North Shore Road and off to Trunk Bay. You all have seen Trunk Bay. If you’ve seen a picture of St John, in all likelihood, it was of Trunk Bay. It’s often named among the top 10 beaches in the world. It’s in the National Park and offers an underwater trail to snorkel along. It’s nice, but can be crowded. We learned that 3:30 was not a good time to be there. By our standards, it was teeming with people. There were maybe 40. But, in 2004, we’d once had the whole place to ourselves, so we were spoiled. We swam around a little bit and I snorkeled out to the trail. I tend to wander off while we’re away so I am instructed to keep a yellow bandanna on my head at all times. It served as protection for my balding head and is a big beacon that shouts out “NoGoodDaddy is still afloat”. I saw some fish and a fairly large stingray. Nothing too exciting. (Listen to me). The rest of the crew puttered around some other rocks and saw some fish.

After about an hour, we were ready to go back to town to JJ’s to start MerlotMan’s birthday fiesta. Settling in at our table, Caribs flowed and conch fritters were consumed. Our waitress form the night before was off so we had a very strange woman waiting on us. She was scary. But, the Yankees were in the process of taking their 4th in a row from the Sox so I cared very little. I made a quick rum run at one point because we’d already wiped out 1 ½ bottles from the night before and we were thirsty. We enjoyed our Cruz Bay happy hour and headed up the hill again.

MerlotMan got to celebrate his birthday, St John style. Like I had done 2 years prior, I grilled up some massively juicy steaks. We had JewelrySlut’s potato salad and some grilled vegetables. And we drank. Then we had birthday cake. And then we drank some more. MerlotMan and I had a bottle of wine, and I think we also polished off most, if not all, of another bottle of flavored rum and made a major dent in the regular rum. Our booze consumption was way up on this trip. We felt we deserved it.

JewelrySlut and I have been on the run for over a year. Ever since we got back from St John in August of 2004, we’ve been in motion. We got home, decided to move, had her Mother’s Memorial Service in NJ, listed the house, dealt with that mess, packed, moved, had chaos, I started hitting the road, we flooded twice, I seriously hit the road, and now have to deal with my parents’ move here. It’s been a brisk 2 years. We needed a week away from it all and several rum drinks.

Last fall, MerlotMan’s mother passed away. At the same time, his Aunt (in her 90’s) was battling cancer. No sooner than his Mom passed that his father (just turned 90) started really losing it. His wife of almost 60 years was gone and he was lost. He’s got dementia or Alzheimer’s and MerlotMan has become nearly a full-time caretaker for him. He REALLY needed a week off of sun, water and rum.

We’d gotten through our first full day on the island, I’d snorkeled and driven around the rock, and we’d all started relaxing.

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