Right before December concluded, we flew down to St. Thomas, exited the American Airlines 737, walked a few paces across the tarmac, showed some locals our negative Covid test results on my wife’s phone, and entered the Cyril E. King airport. We’d escaped the continental United States for the first time in 2020.
The next day, we took at cab to the airport to pick up our rental car and headed to Magens Bay, which has been rated as one of the top beaches in the world. It was windy with turbulent waters, so we didn’t stay too terribly long and instead explored historic areas of the island, like Drake’s Seat, the 99 Steps, and Blackbeard’s Castle before enjoying a delicious early dinner at Caribbean Fish Market, putting the children to bed, and then having second dinner and mescal at Agave in the Red Hook ‘hood until it closed at 11pm (thanks, Covid) and counting down the last half hour of 2020 on the beach with a bottle of champagne we’d picked up at the appropriately named Moe’s Fresh Market (right after backing the rental car into a column) with a bunch of drunken millennials on the beach behind our condo at the Elysian. It was 2021. We made it.
On New Year’s Day, we took a ferry from Redhook dock to St John, home of Virgin Islands National Park, checked out the visitor center, and walked a mile through the woods to Honeymoon Beach, and I immediately saw someone I knew.
“Michael! How the Hell are you?!”
And I saw how small the world is.
That afternoon, we parked and walked to Trunk Bay, where we snorkeled the Coral Reef Underwater Park trail, our first national park “trail” that was exclusively under water. We read trail markers at the bottom of the bay that described the fish and coral we were seeing and marked the swimming path.
That afternoon, we had bushwackers at Woody’s Seafood Saloon, a place we learned about from our “1000 Places to See Before You Die” book we always consult before a trip, and its rims were coated in peanut butter, so I had 3 to make sure I had an adequate sample size before catching the ferry back to St Thomas and watching the Alabama-Notre Dame game on my ipad en route to The Tap & Still for perhaps the best double cheeseburger I’ve ever had as we caught the second half of the game.
Saturday the 2nd, we met our instructor from Aqua Marine Dive Center at the dock in Charlotte Amalie to finish our open water diving certification (we did our pool training for our anniversary weekend in November). We had wind and rough waters, so they took us to a calm, safe area by Little St James Island–where Jeffrey Epstein did his lecherous deeds, ensuing I’ll never forget our certification process, ever. We saw turtles, eagle rays, barracuda, octopi, and lots of fish, and we completed our required exercises as the children snorkeled above us. We returned to Tap & Still for more cheeseburgers for dinner.
Sunday the 3rd, we hit Coral World, which is a great place to pat sea lions like Omar.
We returned to Agave for lunch before our final 2 certification dives, and we passed! After displaying our skills on the first dive, we followed the leader through an underwater canyon, seeing more octopi, turtles, a moray eel, and lots of colorful fish before returning to the surface and learning we were qualified to dive alone (which we won’t be doing anytime soon). I recorded some of it with an underwater camera I got from Santa, and I’ll upload the videos here as soon as I get a chance to edit them. We had pizza at Island Time Pub that evening and saw all our dive instructors, which meant we’d picked a good place.
Monday the 4th, we returned (via pedestrian ferry this time) to St John, rented a Jeep, parked by the street, and followed the Reef Bay hiking trail for a couple miles to Genti Bay Beach, where we were completely alone, save the navy blue blazer with functional sleeve buttons we saw folded across a mangrove tree branch at the edge of the deep blue sea. I paused to wonder the story behind said blazer, but not for so long that I didn’t shed my shoes and enjoy the cool water and isolation the location offered.
There were ruins of a sugar factory filled with bees we worked to avoid, and we saw petroglyphs on a short path off the main hiking trail before ascending the 1000′ return to the Jeep and driving to Cinnamon Bay, where we parked to allow the children to swim and the grownups to check email.
We couldn’t leave St. John island without stopping again at Woody’s for more bushwackers, and we gave the children smoothies from a roadside shack called Our Market, where the owner told us about his son’s death while deployed with the U.S. military and his daughter’s completing medical school, and I felt the conflict of delicious smoothies or bushwackers with the news he gave us. He gave us a free cup of ice cream when our order took a long time to fulfill, but all I could think about was his deceased son.
After taking the ferry back to St Thomas, we hit Duffy’s Love Shack, because of all the parking lot bars in the world, I’ve heard it’s the best. It did not disappoint.
The next day, we flew home to Atlanta and back to reality. Being in the USVI is like visiting another country…sure, they speak English, but they drive on the left side of the road, and the place is surrounded by water! What’s more exotic than that?
This was the first time in years we’ve spent New Year’s Eve and Day away from home when it wasn’t to attend a college football bowl game in New Orleans, but I hope it’s not the last such trip, given that the 2 trips to New Orleans Sugar Bowls were losses for the Tide and weren’t nearly as warm as this trip to St. Thomas was. That said, the last time we traveled but were NOT in New Orleans for a bowl game was 12/31/16 to the snow-covered Grand Canyon, where I saw the Tide defeat Washington from the hotel bar, so clearly I need to be at a national park when my alma mater plays a BCS semi-final game.
Yes–that’s it. If you need a trip that ensures an Alabama victory, head to a U.S National Park. Nature and victory await you.
“Nature and victory await you” is the takeaway I needed this morning. ❤️