Sunday, June 19, 2011

St. Thomas in a Bottle

We finally arrived on Wednesday at lunch time.  The airport is outdoors and the sun is intense.  Our friends, Jessica and Keith, picked us up and we were on our way.  The condo overlooked the bay and was absolutely gorgeous.   
After we changed out of our airport clothes, we jumped in the car to sight see.  St. Thomas is a rollercoaster ride with breath taking views of the Caribbean and lush green forests.  The drive was a little nerve wracking as everyone drives on the left hand side of the road, so this is opposite of what we are used to in the mainland.  Which is not that nerve-racking, really, until one adds blind curves and vertical hills. Need I say more?

Our first stop is called Coki Point and here is where we visit Coral World, a zoo of marine life.  Here is where we rubbed the bellies of Starfish, fed beautiful birds nectar from our hands, watched playing sea urtles and gazed at multi colored fish in an aquarium.
Beautiful birds (forgot their name...Loo Keet-Keets maybe?)

Charlie at Coral World
Yours Truly at Coral World
Next we went to one of the top 10 beaches in the world (#7) called Megan’s Bay.  It certainly lived up to its reputation.   First thing I noticed was a certain silence about the beach.  No air-conditioner humming, traffic or white noise, so it truly felt peaceful.  There were no big waves, so the water was still and a stunning turquoise  blue.  You waded into the water into a soft sandy bottom with no rocks and or debris.  You can even see your toes in neck deep water.  You are protected by mountains and lush tropical forest.  It felt like all the weight of the world fluttered away in an instant.  I was completely content.
Okay, so I mooched this photo from net till I get the actual photos from the other cameras.
I took a day off of working out, unless you can call my attempt at swimming in the ocean a workout.  Oh wait…the elevator was broken at the condo when we arrived.  So we had a climb six flights of stairs, so this means I earned some bonus points. 

On Thursday, to celebrate Keith’s 40th birthday, we all climbed aboard a beautiful yacht and went island hopping for the day. Captain Scottie and our beautiful stew named Catherine took such wonderful care of us.  They started us out snorkeling and for the first time in my life, I was completely relaxed in the water.  All my life, I have been a weak swimmer so even snorkeling has always secretly freaked me out. I used to spend the first 10 minutes hyperventilating until I could finally relax and enjoy the nature.  Not this time, I jumped in the water and was at peace.  I really felt like I absorbed the sea world around me and saw wildlife I had never seen before. It was amazing.

I still don’t like touching stuff though…so I tried to avoid the shallow end.  When I was climbing out of the boat I had a stare down with a 3 foot Barracuda that was hanging out under the boat.  Even though it was creepy, there was no reason to worry since he did not even move an inch toward any of us. 
Our next stop was an island called Tortolla, for shopping and lunch.  This was one of the British Islands.  We ate outside on the dock at a restaurant called Pussers.  I had a homemade veggie pizza.  It was DELISH! 
Almost The Whole Gang in Tortolla (Keith is taking photo)
 Up to this point, we had overcast weather with 70 percent chance of rain, so thankfully the sun was not an intense.  After lunch, the sun slowly plays peek-a-boo behind the clouds.

Just in time for our beach stop.  Sadly, the name of the island was too long for me to remember, but this island is famous for its popular beach bar which serves the famous Vanilla Painkiller, and it truly was the best alcoholic drink I have ever tasted. 

We lounged in the sun, and floated in the water.  I had another feeble attempt at practicing my open water swimming but the surrounding boats kept freaking me out so that was short lived.  I kept imagining I would bonk my head into a propeller.  It was very distracting.

I also was reunited with my old friend Hammock.  We bonded under the coconut trees.  We had a lot of catching up to do.  I miss him already.

Sometimes when you are on vacation, you feel time going by so fast that you want to be sure to stop and drink in every moment.   

Try to freeze time so to speak.   

I sit there and watch and try to use my powers that be to capture the moment in a bottle.  I see laughter as two sons bury their mom in the sand.  My husband is snorkeling around the bay in his own world.  Keith and Jessica’s parents are sitting on the beach half immersed in water with permanent smiles on their faces as they tease each other and joke around while holding their cocktails.  And Keith, probably the friendliest guy I know, is chatting it up with Captain Scottie while the other Yacht Captains eyeball the babes at the bar in sexy bikinis. 

...But it helps me remember... and I need to remember... Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world I feel like I can't take it, like my heart's going to cave in.  
<my favorite quote from the movie American Beauty>

As we head back to St. Thomas again, we were all filled with glee.  In fact, it was the fastest 8 hour day of my life.  And to think, Captain Scottie and Catherine create happy memories like this for a living.  Wow.  What a job!  What a life! 

Now it was time for Keith’s birthday dinner.  Jessica, who has this amazing ability to make a person feel like the most special person on earth, put together a top 40 list of things that remind family and friends of Keith.  I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.  Nothing could touch such a perfect moment, not even the wailing Karaoke in the background, as Keith recited each item out loud pausing for the group to reminisce and laugh over each one.  The Karaoke DJ sang happy birthday and we topped it off with a delicious lemon cake.  It was truly a beautiful ending to a fabulous day.

Cheers to the Fabulous Birthday Boy: Keith
Friday was a recovery day.  We rested, swam and played at the beach at our condo in Marriott Frenchman's Cove.  Later we took a ride up to Paradise Point for dinner which usually has a ski lift to take you to the top of a mountain.  Unfortunately it was under construction so we had to make the long scary hike via rental car.  Once at the top, the view was amazing.  We enjoyed dinner and a fire show by a local entertainer dressed as a pirate.   
Fire Dude
 He ate fire and did an amazing dance routine with fire sticks.  There was only about 10 of us up there but you can tell he gave it all he had especially for the kiddos.  Another moment I just wanted to capture and save in a bottle to bring a smile when times are tough.
The view of the island was breathtaking after sunset.

Saturday morning I woke up early.  I could not leave here without capitalizing on conquering the open water swim.  Here I had the perfect opportunity, a quiet bay, protected waters and floating buoys to practice my sighting.   

First I go down and just stare back and forth…first at the pool and then at the ocean.  I want to do the pool swim so badly.  It is in my comfort zone.   
But it is now or never so I slowly make my way down to a beach chair and proceed to watch the people already in the water like a hawk.  I want them to get out.  I don’t want them to see me flail when I have my little panic attacks.   

One by one they drop out of the water like flies.   

Finally my moment arrives and the water is mine.  I slowly wade into the water.  There is a trampoline and giant floating mountain.  I decide to use these as my targets instead of the buoys so I could stay near shore.  Since there is a slim possibility I may get a cramp and drown since no one will hear me from shore.   

Yes, I actually have these weird thoughts.   

So my goal is to do 5 laps.  First one, I start out relaxed and feel pretty good until I round the corner around the floating mountain and I see seaweed. Suddenly I freak out, and have to stop to catch my breath.  Why?  It is only seaweed, more like sea grass. 
You know how powerful the imagination is?  When I was a kid, I was afraid of sleeping with the closet door open (damn Poltergeist!).  So if I ever forgot to close it and I was already comfy in bed, I would try to forget and ignore the fact the door was open.  But after a few minutes every sound and shadow would freak me out so much that I would leap out of bed and slam the door shut and fly back into bed. 
So I see the sea grass and think of creepy deep sea creatures and even worse, sharks.  This causes me to breathe heavily and have to stop and catch my breath.  I have lost all logic now.  I was all at peace 2 days before when snorkeling in the deep sea.  What is so different about this moment?  

I try to calm myself down and I continue on to complete the first lap.  I get back to my home base in the shallow waters and stare back at the floating mountain who is now taunting me.
See the trampoline?  Now see the floating mountain? Can you see the evil seagrass in the water? 
I have come to the realization that my freestyle swimming skills are just fine.  I am kicking butt.  It is the mental monster in my head that I have to deal with.  And so I do, each lap at a time.  And although I want to quit at 3 laps, I force myself to do 2 more, and eventually do them without stopping every time I see the ugly seagrass.  

It is now one little victory at a time but at least I know now what I am truly up against. It’s my mind. 
I finally picked out a swimming song.  It came to me today while swimming.  It has the lyrics,  “Let’s see how far we have come” except I have changed the words to “Let’s see how far you’ve come”.  Yes, I am referring to myself in the third person.  (*goofy grin*)

After my swim, it is time to pack up for the return home.  The trip could not have happened without the kindness and generosity of the Baxter family.  We will forever be grateful for including us on such a special celebration 

Unfortunately, traveling for free has its downside. We were denied our flight home due to an unexpected  weight restriction.  So here we are flying to Charlotte, to hopefully get home tomorrow.  Luckily, I have an absolutely amazing husband who rarely stresses when traveling.  So we are both able to take it in stride and make the best of every adventure.  We made friends with a pilot and his wife who were on the same flight as us.  We pooled our resources together to help us find alternate routing. 
Note about the Immigration and Customs at the St. Thomas airport.  Make sure you allow enough time.  It is a long process and Charlie and I were so grateful we did not check our bags.  Because of our carry-on only status we got to go down a hallway with our own private security with no line.  That saved us at least another half hour of standing in line.  The reason I have to mention this is because it was here where we met the neatest TSA guy ever!  He called Charlie and I by name and made us feel so comfortable despite the stressful security process.  I have traveled quite a bit and rarely receive this kind of treatment.  And bonus points  that he remembered us the second time we went through. 
We were super lucky to meet Senida, the gate agent that helped us find our way home.  She also went above and beyond her job to explore all flight alternatives.  It is the kindness of strangers than can truly make or break your trip.  St.Thomas truly has some gems working at their airport. 

All right, enough of my mushiness.  Sunday is recovery and Monday is back to business again.  I am so grateful for the break.   Whenever times get stressful again, and they will with no doubt, I will just have to pull out my memory bottles from St. Thomas.   

Happy times.