Trip Dates: Friday, September 28th, 2018 - Monday, October 1st, 2018
I’ve been perfecting the best work/adventure balance during the months of September-November and now that things are calming down - just in time for Winter Break - it’s time to provide you all with a recap! Originally, my next post was going to be all about our impromptu trip to Petrified Forest and Saguaro National Parks but I’ll save that for another time. For now, I have to share about my solo trip to Virgin Islands National Park - truly a gem and one of my favorite parks to date!
As you may know, I’m on quite the mission to visit all of the National Parks in the United States. I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking when I decided to book a flight by myself to St. John in the US Virgin Islands back on August 6th but it must’ve been a mindset of adventure and curiosity (what else is new?!) On Friday, September 28th I boarded a plane at LAX and woke up at JFK on Saturday, September 29th to board another flight destined for St. Thomas! Finally arriving in St. Thomas around 12:30pm, I immediately felt a multitude of emotions - I was nervous as I was by myself about to navigate around my first US territory, I was relaxed as I took in the Caribbean scenery, I was taken aback to see the after effects still present from Hurricanes Irma and Maria a year later, and I was melting from the humidity! But, walking into the baggage claim area, I was offered two sample shots of Cruzan rum and just like that, I felt at ease and excited to explore.
I'd say getting my rental car was a breeze but apparently I was in shock of being in such a beautiful place; I put my belongings in the trunk
of a Hertz rental car only to get in and realize the key didn't fit in the ignition. I went back to the rental counter and tried to explain what had happened when the Avis employee informed me of my mistake... Thank goodness the key to the Hertz car was at the Hertz counter and I was able to get everything figured out right away. I stopped and said a quick prayer because such a minor mistake could have really impacted my entire trip, especially because I needed to be on the other side of the island driving onto the car ferry shortly after I got the rental car! After I drove out of the airport parking lot, everything car related was just fine, even driving on the other side of the road went a-okay!
Unfortunately the ferry ride wasn't anything to write home about, largely due to the industrial trucks that accompanied me and my Toyota Yaris on the boat. Alas, docking on St. John and navigating to my Airbnb was purely magical. I marveled at the lush greenery and gorgeous flora that lined the stairs to my one bedroom home-away-from-home which just so happened to be complete with an outdoor shower. If you're looking for a viable option near Virgin Islands National Park, especially since the
campgrounds are still under under repair, check out Susan's guesthouse listed on Airbnb here. Although I easily could have stayed in the Airbnb all weekend, the day was still young and I knew I needed to venture out to start exploring the National Park!
I headed to the Visitor Center and, despite it closing early due to a volunteer event, I was so taken aback because it was the perfect reminder for how vastly different each and every National Park is. The Visitor Center was right in the marina and had palm trees growing in front of it - so fitting for the Virgin Islands! I ended up hiking along the Lind Point Trail which starts right behind the Visitor Center. I stopped to take photos at one of the overlooks and I hiked down to Solomon Beach. Almost deserted, there was only one other person in the area. Well, one person in the water and one massive iguana on the trail which nearly gave me a heart attack! Right as I got to the sand and took off my boots it started to rain. It was in this moment I just stood still, looked out at the water, and let the rain fall on me. I was so happy. I was so happy that I had made it to my 30th National Park. I remained in that spot for a few minutes, cherishing the moment; being present and mindful of my happiness.
The happiness certainly continued as I hiked out, saw crabs and a deer, and found the best restaurant on St. John (debatably in all of the Virgin Islands?!) - The Longboard Costal Cantina. I honestly don't know what was better - the poke bowls, the "Painkiller" drink, or the fact that I could get the drinks to go!! I loved this place so much I could have eaten there for breakfast, lunch, and dinner had they been open for breakfast! Eventually finding my way back to my Airbnb, I utilized the outdoor shower and got some rest before waking up with the sun for another epic day in paradise.
Day two (Sunday, September 30th) was a typical "Krista-goes-on-'vacation'-and-tries-to-fit-in-as-much-as-possible" kind of day that started with a hearty breakfast at Cruz Bay Landing. From there, I checked in at the Visitor Center and formed a game plan. Naturally, that game plan entailed touring the entire island and nearly every beach I could get to in a 12-hour period. The first stop on my driving tour was Maho Bay where I timidly went snorkeling and excitedly saw my first sea turtle!!! If I wasn't such a rookie with my GoPro, we could have enjoyed epic photos and videos of a sea turtle but, alas, I'm the worst at GoPro. Instead, here's an unedited photo of a beautiful view. When the beach started filling up, I drove onward to Annaberg Sugar Plantation, one of 25 sugar producing factories on St. John that operated as far back as 1780. Molasses and rum were also produced at the factory although now only the ruins remain. Protected by the National Park Service, a trail leads through factory ruins, slave quarters, windmill and other remains. There are placards and signs along the trail that describe how sugar was produced and even discuss plantation life and the history behind sugar plantations. I took some photos and was on my merry way.
By 11am I was starting the Reef Bay Trail, one of the most popular trails within the park at three miles one-way. I passed through a moist tropical forest, saw more sugar plantation ruins, and petroglyphs! Once I finally arrived at the beach I just stood there sweating as I realized how gigantic and unsafe the waves were. I didn't stay long because of the humidity and eerie isolation. Just a note: prior to the category five hurricanes, the National Park had a guided ranger led hike in which a Ranger would guide you down the trail and concluded with a boat ride back to the visitor center. It would've been great if this was an option because I ran out of water on my way back up and had sweat dripping down my face... But I survived!
Heading back to the Visitor Center, I urgently filled my water bottle and then retraced my path as I drove back towards Trunk Bay Beach. I so desperately wanted to do the underwater trail but was informed the waters were a bit choppy and the Ranger told me the surf was dangerous, especially if I planned to snorkel the trail by myself. Disappointed, I wound up at High Tide but the obnoxious girl having a grand ole time forced me right back to paradise, errr, I mean The Longboard where I indulged in more refreshingly delicious Painkillers and delectable food.
Day three (Monday, October 1st aka mental health day) was another day filled with adventure. I woke up early to complete my Junior Ranger book and then drove back to Trunk Bay to do the underwater/snorkel trail. Alas, there was another "Dangerous Surf" warning, no lifeguard on duty, and no one at the beach yet... I decided to save this trail for next time and ventured on to explore some of the areas affected by the hurricanes... then it was back to St. Thomas via the car ferry. I drove up to the "World Famous Banana Daiquiri" and took some more photos before returning to the airport.
All in all, National Park #30 was a wonderfully spontaneous solo trip where I reminded myself to live in the present moment, to marvel in the beauty of my surroundings, and to be grateful for the experiences - good or bad! I highly recommend Virgin Islands National Park and hope to revisit this area in the near future!!