18 October 2011

St John: Last day and parting thoughts (and photos!)

Trunk Bay on our last day
Since we had packed things up the night before, we had enough time to go to one beach on our day of departure.  We chose Trunk Bay for its ease and beauty, so after stopping again at the Deli Grotto for breakfast and beach snacks, we found a spot under some sea grapes on the far end of the beach.  This time the water was a little choppy and there were red flags flying.  The snorkel trail was closed and the lifeguards didn't really want people swimming very far out, either.  In my opinion the chop wasn't that bad and if it were any other beach without facilities or life guards, people would have been enjoying the water more and not worrying.  We got there around 8:00 am and we seemed to be only the second group of people to arrive.  By the time we left around 11:00, more folks were coming in. There was one couple who set up not too far from us down the beach.  They were on a Carnival cruise on St. Thomas and I overheard them say that they wished they had stayed behind and not come all the way to St. John. 
Self Portrait--not sure which beach
Grounds at Gallows Point
Gallows Point was gracious enough to extend us a late check-out, so we returned to our room, showered and put our traveling clothes on again.  I dropped off Casey and DH at the ferry dock with our bags and returned our Suzuki to Cool Breeze rentals.  When I explained to the man that I had looked all over Cruz Bay to no avail for a gas station to fill the tank back up, he asked me how much was left in the car.  When I replied that there was a little more than half a tank of gasoline left, he waved me on and said no problem and that they wouldn't charge extra for it.  Thanking him, I walked back to the ferry dock where we sipped a daiquiri while waiting to book our ferry tickets. We were a little quiet, a little glum on the short 15-minute crossing, and that continued for the rest of the day.  On St. Thomas our driver took us on a different route from Red Hook to the airport than what we took on the way there, so we saw a little more of the island, including that huge Carnival ship in port.  It seemed to dwarf everything around it.  St Thomas is also very pretty, but we definitely saw more crowded areas on that ride than on our first one--it wouldn't be my first choice of vacation spots, or even the top ten to be frank, but it's no longer on my anti-vacation list. 

A resident at Gallows Point

Just cruisin' the pool area
We had expected a madhouse at the airport so we were pleasantly surprised to find it relatively empty--exactly what I would expect when traveling to the Caribbean in early October, and exactly what we never experienced on St. which was surprisingly busy.  Flights home were uneventful and by the time we tumbled into our beds at home around 1:30 am, we were happy to be back home with our dog and cats, with St. John receding like a pleasant dream into our memories. 

Sunset seen from Gallows Point

The snorkel deck at Gallows Point
A few thoughts in parting: St. John is overall perhaps the most beautiful island I've every stayed on, with the minor exception of the Piton region on St. Lucia, which is so stunning in its topography that it's rather jaw-dropping.  Up until this vacation, I would have given that honor to Grenada but it's the infrastructure on St. John that edges it ahead in my mind.  I loved that the roads were both well-marked with signage and in excellent repair--and always wide enough for two cars to pass with ease.  The driving wasn't at all intimidating like it is on Grenada, when you have to worry about crazy vehicular audacity from oncoming traffic on those hilly switchbacks.  I loved the long stretches of light sand, backed by palm groves and then the mountains of St. John itself--the lushness and the topography combined are really, really gorgeous.  My husband still prefers Anguilla's beaches overall, but with the exception of Shoal Bay East on Anguilla, I think St. John's beaches are prettier. 

Here and below: more shots from Maho

This might sound a bit like a broken record, but I was constantly surprised how crowded St. John felt in this lowest of all low season periods.  We generally travel in low season for a number of reasons: work schedules, finances, and not least because there are usually fewer tourists.  This place was more crowded than traveling to Jamaica in January was for us.  I'm not sure I'd be at all interested in going to St. John in high season.  I suppose part of the reason it feels crowded is tied into why so many people love the island: when 2/3 of the island is devoted to the National Park system, the remaining 1/3 is necessarily going to feel a little lacking in elbow room.  I also realize that we only visited the north shore beaches and that we were traveling over a weekend, which are the more heavily traveled areas and times.  I really would love to return again with my husband so that we can explore at our own pace and so that I can do some *real* snorkeling, not just the little bit I did last weekend. 

Possibly Gibney beach? Seen from the main beach at Hawksnest

Annaberg ruins

Epiphyte on a wall at Annaberg

Close-up of a wall at Annaberg. Love these textures!
The weather was perfect for our trip.  Lots of blue skies and white, fluffy clouds during the day, steady breeze off the water, and heavy rain overnight.  We did get caught out in it one night over dinner, and while we didn't especially like dining in the rain with our food getting wet, we rather enjoyed walking home in the rain.  The mosquitos, sand fleas, and no-see-ums were pernicious despite the breeze, so we had to be assiduous about applying repellent.  In fact, we went through one entire bottle of Off in the 5 nights/4 days we were there, and we still each came home with a couple of dozen bites on our bodies.  While we did run the a/c for three out of the four nights on our trip, it wouldn't have been strictly necessary in order to sleep comfortably because the breezes off the harbor, combined with architecture built to take advantage of the winds, kept things comfortable.  We mostly used the a/c because the music in Cruz Bay was so loud that to have all of the windows open would have been to invite the techno melodies into the room in addition to the bass thumps that we heard and felt no matter what. 

Leinster Bay
I cannot say enough good things about Gallows Point.  The location is outstanding, and even my husband, who doesn't like walking, didn't mind the short walk into town each night for dinner.  We loved that it meant we could drink as much as we wanted and be responsible about it because we could just walk home in the evenings.  The views over the harbor were pretty, and while it would have been nice to have a sunset view, in our case I'm really happy we saved the money and stayed in the less expensive accommodations.  Our "classic" room  of 13C had yet to be remodeled, though I suspect that they got a start with the downstairs bathroom, which looked and felt newer than anything else in the apartment.  The appliances, while not the sleek and shiny new ones in the newly remodeled units, were all in good repair and worked really well.  Casey said that the sofa bed she slept on was pretty comfortable for a sofa bed; our mattress in the loft bedroom was the only thing that I felt really reflected its age.  The towels, both bath and beach, were soft and fluffy, and they also provide soaps, lotions, shampoo, and conditioner.  They also started us out with two bottles of Ting and a gallon of bottled water, which was a nice touch, and they set you up with a few days' worth of coffee making accoutrements.  The little shop on site, Every Ting, had the essentials for light provisioning, including wine, beer, booze, sodas, and a few breakfast items.

Another Gallows sunset
Window shopping  one evening in Cruz Bay
We also really liked the pool, hot tub, and deck areas of Gallows.  There were always places in either shade or sun, and the pool was a great way of transitioning between the day at the beach and going out on the town for dinner.  There are picnic tables, a couple of hammocks, and two gazebos with hammock swings scattered throughout the property so that you can make the most of the gorgeous weather, and I loved the way the buildings were designed so that you could throw wide open the windows and doors and thus bring the outdoors in to your room.  The snorkeling off the property is quite decent, and they have built a metal ramp out over the water for easy entry and exit for snorkeling. 

DH and Casey at Cooper Island, BVI

Casey at the far end of the main Hawksnest beach
The staff were all kind, but some in particular stopped a moment to chat with us about this, that, & the other and we enjoyed making those connections.  The property itself is very well-kept and attractive, with lush foliage and trees that were tamed but without seeming too manicured or fussy, with paths meandering here and there among the buildings, and birds darting from one tree to the next.  There's even a resident cat named Mask who came to visit us a few times, and one morning he even woke me up crying at the back door to come in. He's a sweet and affectionate tuxedo cat who seems to know no strangers. There are even Mask calendars for sale at Every Ting that one of the condo owners puts together each year. 
Taxis lined up at the ferry dock in Cruz Bay
Flying the colors

Waiting to depart St. John

Arriving in Red Hook
I liked St. John very much but at this point I cannot tell whether it will turn out to be a deep-seated loved affair or not.  Clearly only a return trip will help me decide!  I have no regrets about it as our destination for this trip, despite the fact that I would do things differently in the future. Even with the ferry crossing it doesn't take all day to get there, like Grenada, and airfare deals into St. Thomas are easier to find than to other islands, so I suspect we'll return again with the next two years or so.  I'd prefer to go in the summer when the full complement of restaurants will be open, and I think it would be a great place for spending a week or so, plus some time in the British Virgin Islands (which at this point I still prefer over the USVI).  My husband generally prefers contemplating a clean and clear horizon, but like me, he is mesmerized by the views of this archipelago tapering off into the distance on all sides. Until we mark our return, however, I will have to make do with these photos and our memories and island daydreams.
Just another gorgeous view


  1. Enjoyed the posts. We stayed at Gallows about 15 years ago and loved it. An island I would recommend to you is Mustique. It's about 1/100th the size of St. John and best of all, no people.

  2. Sounds like a great trip overall. I enjoyed your perspective on the different islands. Grenada is on my list. Thanks!

  3. I LOVE that first picture on this post! You always have such beautiful pictures and such grand adventures.

  4. Honeymooning there in April so your experience was of great interest ... may I ask what type of camera you have? Great pics and I'm in need of a new camera. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Carol, it's funny you should say that. Most of my low-res photos I simply shot with my phone. I do have an old Olympus 770 that used to be waterproof but some of the casing has corroded so I no longer submerge it. But I used it on this trip for a few shots and for most of my indoor/night time shots.

    Usually my husband travels with his Leica and we have really gorgeous photos but it's also really bulky and he decided not to bring it on this trip. (for which I have seriously nagged him!)


Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)