St. John, in 35mm. Endless breeze, relatively endless sun and a drink that's always full. The most blue and green waters I've ever seen - the kind of colors that inspire the names of crayons: Caribbean Green, Aquamarine, Sky Blue, Sea Green. Buzzing with the most beautiful sea life - starfish, stingrays, barracuda, conch, lobster, sea turtles and bright, colorful synchronized schools of fish. With 70% of the island preserved as National Park, there are endless things to see and explore. But if you only make it to the beaches and a couple of really great eateries, you won't be disappointed. If the climate and scenery aren't enough to immediately relax you, the contagious carefree - slow down mentality will grab a hold of you in no time.
Ben and I went on a guided hike with the National Park of the Reef Bay Trail. The history of St. John, though quite humbling, is recorded throughout the island in the ruins that remain from old sugar refinery plantations. Ancient Petroglyphs adorn the rocks and enrich the island's history even more.
Our adventures continued on the British island of Jost Van Dyke. It's only accessible by boat; the population is around 150, but that doesn't keep hundreds of people from visiting the legendary line up of good eats and unique bohemian bars every day - some people in VERY big boats. I've heard legend of these places -- Ivan's, Sydney's, Foxy's -- from the Glass family and Kenny Chesney alike, for a few years now so it was exciting to get to experience them for myself.
The Soggy Dollar Bar (so named because when you have to wade in from your boat, your dollars get soggy), was one of our first stops and is the home of the popular V.I. Painkiller -- a mix of pineapple and orange juices, coco lopez, rum and topped with nutmeg (affectionately known as "Caribbean Viagra"). De-lish. My favorite thing about the Soggy Dollar was their "share a drink" program; they had a stack of 5 or 6 large white poster boards on which were 5 columns recording someone's name and a drink order already paid for by someone who had already visited, some as far in advance as 4 or 5 months. The giver lets you know that there's a 12 pack waiting for you at the Soggy Dollar and you simply let the bartender know that you're here to finally collect it.
A short hike past Foxy's Taboo (another must-eat owned by Foxy's son on the opposite end of the island), and you'll find yourself at the Bubbly Pool. Along the row of beautiful cliffs, the rising tide rushes through a tapered opening in the rocks, filling a small pool with endless bubbles. The more cautious island visitor can take a seat toward the beach and keep cool while being entertained by the younger ones holding on for dear life at the opening of the pool. For the majority of our visit Ben was the younger one, facing the oncoming waves head on. Every now and then an adventurous little boy would paddle his way up to Ben, take hold of the same rock according to Ben's advice and against the onlooking mother's wishes. Eventually, there was a mob of small children welcoming the waves, each looking to Ben for a report of the oncoming waves' size. You'd hear hollars of "incoming!" as they desperately hung to anything they could find - even Ben's body. One little boy, also named Ben and celebrating is 8th birthday, found his safe place attached to Ben's leg.
Sydney's is another must-eat on Jost Van Dyke. Boaters will spend all day on the beach at White Bay and then motor on over to Sydney's for a delicious lobster dinner. The bar is a self-service; make what you want and then record it on your tab. There are also permanent markers and a huge staple gun available for the customers to leave a piece of themselves, or their shirt, or their poem on the walls. Ben wrote a verse of his poem, Learning to Pray, on the column next to our table. The walls are painted at the end of each year, however, and seeing as they were quite full only three months into the year, it seems like a good idea. But for 9 more months patrons will be able to simultaneously enjoy a delectable Caribbean supper and the poems of Ben Glass.
And then there is Foxy's. A native of Jost, Foxy opened his legendary bar years ago and is now known around the world. In fact, it's become so popular that you need a reservation for their Friday night BBQ buffet. But don't be put off by the need for a reservation; while the tables may be full, the atmosphere still manages to make you feel that you're as far away from home and stress as you really are. Foxy hangs out around the open restaurant with his aged dog, sipping on a beer in between photos with patrons and occasionally stops to play a song for his guests. It's a place where people from all walks of life -- retired businessmen, sailors, grad students, yacht owners -- can sit down with sand beneath their feet, sip on some Foxy's Fire-Water Rum and truly feel no different from one another, relishing the fact that you are one of 300 people on a Caribbean island.