Friday, August 15, 2014

Feet, Fins and Four Wheel Drive

10 Reasons to LOVE St. John USVI

Vacation and travel are all about seeking activities outside of your everyday life and pushing yourself to venture beyond your comfort zone. St. John is the only place that we've returned to over and over again. Like NYC it has a one of a kind energy that transcends the definition of a place. It is a feeling, a vibration and a sensory adventure that is to be experienced. Part of me wants to keep this diamond in the rough a secret, however I know that this place and feeling is meant to be shared. I hope that your experience in St. John will be as life changing as it was and continues to be for me. The true experience lies within yourself, and the island like a mirror, reflects the love, hopes and dreams that you already carry in your own mind and heart. What you bring to this island it will give back to you, that is the only way I can explain my mystical relationship with St. John.

#1 Swimming & Snorkeling 

Photo by Steve Simonsen
My #1 favorite thing about St. John will always be its warm crystal clear bath water. It is my natural habitat. When we visit, my goal is always to be submerged in nature as much as possible and in the water more than I'm on land. Not only does the salty water make you weightless it will also heals all aliments, like soaking in a Epsom salt bath. 

Deciding what beach to go to can be over whelming since there are over 30 glorious watering holes, each with their very own personality. For me it depends on my mood and I like to change it up everyday. Here are a few of the beaches I go back to time and time again without ever tiring of their beauty and individual character.

Salt Pond - The last time I was here I swam around with a sea turtle for an hour and pet some donkeys on the beach.

Waterlemon Cay - Swim from Leinster Bay and snorkel around the cay, afterwards take a rest on your very own private little island.You can usually see large numbers of starfish and stingrays.

Hawksnest and Trunk Bay -  As obvious as it may sound these are two of my favorite beaches on the island. Trunk Bay being one of the most recognizable and picturesque beaches in the world. Hawksnest is gorgeous as well and easy to get to from the road,  the coral comes right up to the shore.

Trunk Bay - Photo by Fiona Conrad
Hawksnest Bay - Photo by Fiona Conrad
Maho Bay - I swam with some barracuda and a baby nurse shark. I like snorkeling on the right side of the beach around to the old Maho campgrounds. There are usually a large number of pelicans diving into the water to grab lunch, which means large schools of fish.

Denis Bay - A tiny beach that you have to hike to from Peace Hill, it's very private and I liken it to a miniature Trunk Bay. It's a little bit harder to swim here, you must beware of  sea urchins when getting into the water. Right off the beach is Perkins Cay which has some lovely snorkeling.

Last three photos by Steve Simonsen

 #2 Moon Bathing

We've gotten to a point where we schedule our trips to St. John according to the moon cycle. My favorite time to go to the beach is hands down during a full moon, it's other- worldly to see the shore lite up by the moon light. Being in St. John during a full moon is so special that it is more than worth it to plan a trip in correlation with the moon, and you know after the full moon is over the sky is perfect for... 

 #3 Star Gazing

Georgia O'Keeffe Starlit Night 1917 - Credit
The sky is ripe with millions of visible stars, right after a full moon is the best time to spend on your back staring at the sparkling ceiling of night. 

#4 Just Ride

Renting a jeep and just driving around the entire island with the top down is an absolute must. It's an experience on to itself. During this past trip we listened to Thievery Corporation's "No More Disguise" morning, day and night as we cruised around the island, and we made the video below to capture the experience. I love the Henry Mancini vibe of this tune. Enjoy the ride!

#5 Hiking

One of the most popular and rewarding hikes on the island is most definitely Rams Head Trail, it takes you to the southern most point of the island, with sweeping ocean views, I love watching the swirling white froth that is created as the waves crash on to the rocks below. When you reach the edge of the cliff you feel something mystical, the lure of a cliff and knowing you shouldn't get to close to the edge but wanting to anyway,here we flirt with danger and the idea of being engulfed by something more powerful than yourself or simply curious...

Rams Head Trail is also spectacular to hike during a full moon, as we experienced for the first time on this past trip. We hiked out during the sunset and then watched as the moon rose over the ocean.  

Reef Bay Trail is also quite lovely with its forest canopy to protect you from the beating sun, this trail provides a lot of variety with its sugar mill ruins, petroglyphs, waterfall, and beach to snorkel at the end of the trail. 

#5 Kayaking 

During our stay we usually head to Cinnamon Bay on a calm day, rent a kayak and do a large circle around Maho and Francis bay, snorkeling and swimming along the way and winding up at Whistling Cay where we stop for a break on the shore and have lunch in the ruins of the old customs building. There is some pretty amazing snorkeling around Whistling Cay for those who are good swimmers, last time we saw a shark...slightly terrifying, yet exhilarating. I remember snorkeling around the back tip of Whistling Cay and when I turned from the coral to look back at the open sea I saw the darkest wall of water, a massive drop in depth that made me feel like I was looking into an abyss. Moments like that force you to face the
Paddling boarding at Cinnamon bay is quite fun as well. Not only is it a beautiful way to experience the island it is also a great full body workout!  

#6 Island Flavor 

Most of the time we enjoy cooking, however when we do venture out for a delicious dinner with a gorgeous ambiance we head to Asolare, an added bonus is getting to visit with our friend Kim. You can find her behind the bar concocting the most delicious and inventive island cocktails.

Favorite spots to grab a tasty sandwich for the beach:

- Sam & Jack's (in Cruz Bay) 
- Pickles in Paradise (in Coral Bay)

While you're here you absolutely have to indulge in two of St. John's iconic island beverages, Lime N' Coconut & Dirty Monkey. I love the Lime N' Coconut at Shipwreck Landing in Coral Bay. Chateau Bordeaux, is the perfect lunch spot with spectacular views, they make a killer roti to wash down with their signature drink, The Dirty Monkey. 


#7 Floating

It can be so easy to get consumed by the under water world, that one forgets to lift their head and look back at the island. It is a true feast for the eyes to drift from shore and take in the view above the water, the dreamy colors of the sky meeting the trees and the white ombre effect of the sand meeting the water. Watching the pelicans diving into the water for a quick snack and the seagulls landing on them momentarily in hopes of some scrapes. A scene so striking you almost wish you could hold it in your palm and caress it like a living, breathing being.     

#8 Making Friends

#9 Sunsets

There is something about looking at rolling hills jetting out of the water that is zen for the eyes. As the sun begins to set these perfect little mountains become back lite and your left with nothing but the shapes that compliment the quickly changing clouds and colors in the sky. St. John sunsets are surreal and magical, like nothing I've ever seen in my travels.

#10 Discovering Your Inner Child 

After a few days filled with hiking, water sports, cruising and snorkeling you're left looking like a child in awe of the wonder and charm of St. John, washed by the salt water, sun-kissed, freckled, sand in every crevice, and a permanent snorkel mask mark on your face. You're soul has officially been cleansed. What could be better? 

St. John reminds us that being inquisitive, playful, adventurous and most of all opening our hearts to love knows no age or boundary. 

For more information on the endless adventures and beauty St. John has to offer check out my favorite book, Feet, Fins, and Four Wheel Drive, written by native St. Johnian Pam Gaffin. I never travel to St. John without it. Off The Beaten Track, written by Gerald Singer is also a great resource.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Life Aquatic

St. John decided to smile for us with this gorgeous rainbow just like on our wedding day at Hawksview Estate, which can be seen in this photo half way to the top of the hill.  

The first time I floated out in these crystal clear waters and gazed back at the rolling green hills was the instant St. John grasped me in its wondrous palm; the moment the spirit of St. John and my soul intertwined and I became enamored with its pristine charm and natural beauty. During my inaugural visit to the island in 2010 I stayed with Trinidad Charlie in one of his eco-cottages in the middle of the tropical forest. It was the perfect way to be introduced to St. John, sleeping in a simple screened in room with an outdoor rain water shower and compost toilet. Not to mention I had the pleasure of hearing many of Trinidad Charlie's stories from the island and beyond and watched him make and bottle his infamous hot sauce.

Since that time I have experienced the most unforgettable and joyous moments of my life in this unearthly sanctuary. It spoke to my infatuation with non-verbal communication and relationships that go beyond humankind, a desire to connect on an ethereal plane. Love in every sense of the word.

The more interaction one has with pure, uncorrupted nature the more open the heart becomes, stripped of all distraction the mind is able to wander and discover, the senses heightened. A time to explore the courage it takes to be alone with your own thoughts, to bare yourself emotionally and physically through the influence of this magical environment.

The eye catching shades of electric neon and iridescence of the under world captured my imagination and childlike curiosity. I can't imagine anything more profoundly stylish than the fascinating colors, designs, patterns, shapes, textures and movements under the sea. It reminds us that there is always more than meets the eye, you have to be willing to search for it.

My inspiration for this shoot comes from the desire to be a part of St. John's spirit, being draped in greenery and flowers to somehow capture its primal essence and the exhilarating feeling of wanting so desperately to be a part of another world that lures and seduces below the surface, the longing for life aquatic.

Photos / Steve & Janet Simonsen
Further editing / Samantha Angelo

Flower bikini / Jessica Aubain - RosesToo
Metallic Bronze Swimsuit / Gucci
Google / Speedo
Sequin Dress / Parker 

Location / Trunk Bay, St. John USVI