Thursday, August 1, 2013

Epic Journey Part III: Getting to St. John Virgin Island

St. John was really the highlight of our journey -- and was so much fun, that it requires several posts!

Getting to St. John was no small feat.  It all started out fine.  We caught the subway out of NYC right before 9 AM on Wednesday, July 17th.  We transferred at Penn Station and caught the train to Newark.  Our first flight was on time -- we were heading to Chicago.  Once in Chicago, we had a 4.5 hour layover, but our flight to Puerto Rico (via Orlando) took off close to on time, so all was well.  I can't even remember if Kai slept on the flight.  I feel like she must have.  In any event, she was in high spirits the whole time (which, in case you haven't picked up on yet, is a theme for her throughout this entire journey).  We arrived in Puerto Rico at about midnight.  Of course, the airport was abandoned. Kai was intrigued by the fact that the announcements were all in Spanish.  We made our way to baggage claim and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  I think our bags were the last to get off the flight.  We finally left the airport a bit after 1 AM and headed to our hotel for a nap before we had to be back at the airport for our 8:50 AM flight.

The next morning, we woke up at about 6:30 AM and headed to the airport by 7 AM.  We were at the ticket counter by about 7:30 AM, only to be told that Seaborne Airlines (the little hopper plane we were catching from Puerto Rico to St. Thomas) had changed our flight to 7:30 AM and we had just missed it.  We were beyond irritated and asked when the next flight was.  1 PM.  We argued with them and asked them to let us fly with another airline.  They agreed in theory, but couldn't find any other flights leaving for St. Thomas before 1 PM that had room. Finally, we resigned ourselves to the fact that this was all part of traveling and set up camp in the airport bar.  And then, at about 11 AM, we heard huge clapping sounds that shook the building.  Thunder.  Eric went over to the windows.  Lightning.  We looked at the weather radar on our phones and saw massive storm systems as far as the radar could scan.  We were screwed.  There was no way we were leaving Puerto Rico any time soon.

Kai, of course, stayed chirpy and happy throughout our extended airport stay.  We got lots of snacks. Played games.  Watched the storms.  Eric and I were bummed that we were missing a precious day in St. John... but, we tried to follow her lead and stay in a good mood.  Besides, the weather was totally freaking me out.  I didn't want to get on a 10-seater plane in this madness!  And, I figured it was probably stormy on the island as well.  So, we hunkered down and waited it out.

Finally, at about 4:30, they said there was a "pocket" that they thought we could get through.  After all, it's only a 30 minute flight.  So, we all scurried on the plane and took off into ominous looking skies. I was glad to be going but not really to psyched to be going in the "pocket" of massive thunderstorms.  But, I also didn't want Kai to know I was completely freaked out.

We hadn't really discussed with Kai how different a 10-seater plane is from a normal commercial airliner.  We didn't want to psych her out -- and she is easily psyched out about such things.  But, upon boarding the plane, Kai looked at me and said, "this is really small".  I think the pictures speak for themselves in terms of her general reaction to the plane:

She was hamming it up a bit, but -- she was also scared.  She clutched my hand the whole time.  In turn, I clutched Eric's and tried to keep a smile on my face.

We finally arrived in St. Thomas and took the longest cab ride ever to the ferry terminal to catch the ferry to St. John.  Seriously -- you have to really work for it when you're trying to get to paradise!  We got to the ferry terminal and waited another 30 minutes for our ferry -- finally arriving in St. John about 6:30 PM on Thursday, July 18th.  In case you're keeping track -- that's nearly a day and a half of traveling or sitting around airports and ferry terminals (with about 5 hours of sleep thrown in).  We caught a taxi to Concordia Eco Resort, which is on the east end of the island in a very remote location.  By this time, Kai was asking us when we were EVER going to get there and telling us she was HUNGRY.  But, at that point, I understood the slight whining.  And, once we boarded the taxi, she just played pretend with her mermaid doll and marveled at the donkeys that were walking along in the road.  Donkeys!

We got to our hotel right as the restaurant was closing -- but, this place is amazing.  We walked in with our packs and the resort manager came over and said, "you look like you've had a long day!"  We told him we had a hungry 5-year old and he handed us menus and told us they'd keep the kitchen open.  They even made a grilled cheese sandwich for Kai, even though it wasn't on the menu.  They brought us tasty cocktails and told us to make ourselves at home.  We were in paradise.  And we were.

(OK - that isn't a picture from that evening, but you get the idea!  The views from every vantage point in St. John are just phenomenal).

After eating, we made our way up to our eco tent.  We had to climb the stair:

And walk along a long pathway to the far end of the resort.  We were on the best side of the resort, where the trade winds come through all day.  We walked into our cabin and just started giggling.  It truly was our idea of paradise.  There was a fully functioning kitchen -- which, when we had stayed in the sister property at Maho Bay many years ago was not true.  The water for the kitchen came through a rainwater collection system -- so, you couldn't drink it.  But, you could get potable water from stations around camp, and you could use the water from the sink to wash dishes, hands or boil for food.  There were three twin beds downstairs and then a loft that went up to another sleeping area upstairs.  The deck off the tent had ocean views to the left and the right.

The place set Kai's imagination on fire.  She immediately started going up and down the stairs to the loft telling us about the explorers we were.

Eric looked at the map and lamented how far away the bathrooms were, but then when we opened our door he said, "what's this go to?" as he grabbed the handle of the door that was directly across from our front door.  We opened it and there was a bathroom -- with a compostable toilet and solar shower.  This place had everything!

It took awhile to get Kai to sleep that night, despite the grueling travel days we had just endured.  Once we we fell asleep -- listening to the ocean and trade-winds -- we were all so very happy.

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