The Good Life on St. John, USVI (written by MR)

I keep waiting for it to be warm. Where I live, February is not warm. Pinkham is not warm. Boston is not warm. When we land in Puerto Rico, I think I’m home free but the airport is air conditioned to a chill and my layover is too short to justify an exit. Finally I’m on the ground on St Thomas and the airplane crew pops that cabin door --WHOOSH. I’m eagerly peeling off my layers even as I walk the tarmac towards the taxi line. Other travelers are giving me strange looks, especially when I stop to attack the laces on my boots and banana-peel off my socks to swap them for the flip-flops in my pack. Ha-ha! I think. I am someplace new and different, and I have a whole week to explore what most people call paradise.

Cinnamon Bay - Home to our Crews
The taxi ride to Red Hook takes me though St Thomas. Lush grasses and brush grow from every patch of soil, they encroach on the bright purple funeral home, the splashy billboards advertising rum, the sullen, abandoned cerement husks of homes.  Once on the ferry to St John I’m struck by the views. The water is a color I’ve never seen before in real life: aquamarine. Of course! The sky is a deep blue dotted with white fluffy clouds, and lumpy green islands spot the sea.  The whole place is vibrant with ridiculous color.

Threading through the busyness of Cruz Bay, over the crazy hills and curves the taxis lumber against, the tourists snapping photos off the viewpoints, I finally arrive at Cinnamon Bay, my home for the week. The rest of the crew is out exploring but I will meet them soon. Our humble camp is lovely; I am immediately at home in my cozy cot and airy tent, surrounded by green.  There’s a constant low din from the forests as all manner of small things sing their songs. An idyllic beach is just a few minutes’ walk from my tent, and at night, it’s virtually abandoned. Walking the beach every night, I find bioluminescence plankton washing up in the surf. Little green flakes floating around my feet, glowing on the sand, reflecting the stars.

Using the Grip-Hoist to Move Boulders
There’s an immense satisfaction in hard, physical work – as any gardener or hiker knows. Many of us can’t really see what we do, on a daily basis. Work all day and our accomplishments are visible only by a time-dated trail in the outbox, or discretely updated files. So it does feel like a vacation to spend all morning moving dirt and rocks, and walk back up to the van over newly rehabbed trail – a well-designed rock step, a sturdy waterbar. These improvements will likely outlast us, a quiet legacy. And of course the company is fantastic. Monday I collect fill with Carol. Tuesday Sue, Steph, I work the grip hoist together and haul a dozen monstrous rocks ever closer to our construction site. Wednesday, rocks go airborne and, with our crew leaders’ patient help, send those rocks down tensioned cable to the project site. We are all giddy! Thursday and Friday we set the flying rocks into the permanent home on the trail. It is exhausting, inspiring, and so rewarding to hike back up over our work site each day at noon, stepping on staircase, traversing our check steps, anticipating a well-earned lunch back at camp, and an afternoon of exploring.

Reef Bay Ruins
With my free afternoons I go hiking, snorkeling, and swimming. The hiking is spectacular – while St John is mountainous, many of the trails were once Danish roads so are well-graded and easy to walk. There are ruins to admire and a rich, tragic past to explore, and I find myself wishing I’d brought a history book to learn more about the place. The water is pure indulgence. That brilliant Caribbean blue and cold enough to be refreshing and warm enough to stay in for hours. The abundance of life is striking! I see more fish than I can count and describe, manta rays, urchins, and intricate corals. Hermit crabs are everywhere on the beaches and in the forests, as are friendly brown lizards and white-tailed deer. Trees and flowers cover the landscape – everything from cacti on the southern, drier areas of the island, to lush ferns and flowering brush on the northern end.

The Crew Enjoys Lunch on Honeymoon Beach
We celebrate our last day on the island with a hike from L’esperance to Genti Bay, and back via Reef Bay and the petroglyphs. Last swim in warm waters, last ruins to ponder. Later, looking over the water, sipping my last fancy island cocktail, I’m looking forward to my walk on Cinnamon Bay beach tonight, watching the light wane and the stars appear, the bioluminescence shine, feeling my toes in the warm sand.