While traveling with my friend around southern Florida felt like being in vacation mode on what is fundamentally a vacation from my usual life, hopping over from Fort Lauderdale to visit St. Croix was just a straight up vacation. My friend Delyla is pretty much the craziest workaholic who is in demand and takes full advantage by selecting posts in some pretty sweet locations. She is also a ridiculous hostess who goes overboard and plans a million wonderful things to do whenever anyone visits, and I love getting to see her the few times a year I get to, so what better place to spend a birthday vacation week!

I got to do that fun tiny plane runway experience, beat Spirit baggage fees by shoving it all into my backpack, and was welcomed to the US Virgin Islands by successfully crossing the street to my friend’s car remembering that the cars drive on the other side of the road. Delyla took me into Christiansted for dinner and trivia night (our mini-team of three came in first, no big deal), and I got to take in the gorgeous view from her place.

The next day she had work, but her friend Julie was kind enough to give me an extensive tour of the island. I got to meet and know Julie when we were all in Wisconsin this summer, and she was not only a wonderful tour guide but is also a fascinating and wonderful person. She spends winters in the USVI and summers leading Grand Canyon rafting adventures while living in her own van (vanlife buddies!), is super chill and open, and is learning to sail because why not. Plus she makes a good drink.

We drove all over every corner of St. Croix, which shifts between rainforest, dry windy areas, and everything in between. Julie had heard of this old plantation with a labyrinth which we checked out, and got to see the remains of the old sugar cane works and distillery.

After consuming a delicious amount of cheese we visited Point Udall, which is the easternmost point in the US Territories. Weirdly enough, the westernmost point in Guam is also called Point Udall (thanks for that craziness, Wikipedia), but this one was here and had a statue that’s supposed to look like two Ms intersecting- something to do with the first sunrise of the new millennium in the country, which is pretty cool.

That night there was a street festival called Jump Up with food stalls, drinks, performers, and music in town. There are these amazing performers called moko jumbies who dance on stilts dressed as protective spirits (my best understanding but perhaps not super nuanced). One even walked over my head between crazy dance moves and balancing on one leg. We stopped in a fancy tiki bar that was randomly having a singles mixer for pre-Valentine’s so that was hilarious. We took off after our frou-frou drinks but before the weird games began. Fun start of the weekend!

The rest of the weekend we spent at a beautiful hotel on the western end of the island in Frederiksted, the other big town on island. Delyla, her Kevin (different one from my travel buddy, weird coincidence) and I went on a sunset cruise with live music. We may have consumed 50% of the cheese meant for the whole boat, had rum punch, watched the sunset and almost-full moon rise. We later met up with some fun local characters, one of whom walked a balloon dog using Kevin’s crazy sort of dog Mr. Pickles’ leash. Our random evening ended with a trip to the pier where we spotted giant tarpon and a few magical sea turtles. I really wanted to swim with them and experience the local tradition of a night pier jump without the actual jumping in part, but resisted the urge.

The next day we chilled by the beautiful pool while Delyla did work, then took a break to go feed to some giant pigs non-alcoholic beer. Apparently they used to drink real beer but this is better for them? You buy one from the bar, and every so often the owner brings everyone back to the piggies and you plop the whole can in a mouth, they pierce the can, guzzle, and spit all these empty cans on the ground. I’m very conflicted with the poor piggies living in that tiny space, but at least they get to do this as a diversion in a nice spot… While waiting for the pig time I was given the treat of tasting mama juana- I’d had some in the Dominican Republic years ago, and it tastes just as terrible as I remembered. Later on we hung around, watched the sunset (chatting with a lovely police officer who was laughing with us about something though it looks in one of these photos like we’re in trouble-ha) had some dinner, Julie and Delyla showed off their pool skills, and had a fun night.

The next day was my birthday, which I spent in the best way possible lounging by the pool, swimming in the Caribbean, and being the perfect amount of lazy. Delyla and Kevin indulged my birthday tradition of having pizza on salad- it was my first birthday in maybe forever that I haven’t spent with my parents, so having this weird dinner made me happy.

While being lazy and reading in the wonderful half-submerged lounge chairs, I met a couple from the DC area who were looking for people to come on a boat tour of Buck Island the following day, so I signed up but it was kind of up in the air because they needed a minimum to sign up. I got a ride into town with one of Delyla’s neighbors, toured Fort Christriansvaern and learned more about the Dutch history of the island, then at the last minute found out that the boat tour was a go.

I downed some ginger tablets, had a nice ride out to Buck Island with my new buddies, and enjoyed a day snorkeling at the reef and walking on the beautiful white sand beach. We spotted two sharks, a puffer fish, swam alongside several schools of blue tang fish, and saw all kind of beautiful fish and coral. So many snorkel trips in just a few weeks! I wish I’d had longer to hang at the beach on the island- the water was so blue and warm, the sand so soft and littered with coral and conch shells.

My last adventure in the island was a hike out to the Annaly Bay tide pools, which is an about 45 min trek through the rainforest to a rocky beach. The trail had lizards and hermit crabs all over. I love the sound this beach made- that soft clapping or rain-like noise as the water recedes over the rocks and pebbles. It was a windy day and the waves were kind of a mess, so I was very glad that there were some other people out there too as I climbed out over the slippery rocks as the surf crashed. The tide pools themselves were spectacular! There were some small urchins in the pool, but beautiful cool water, amazing views and sounds, and watching the larger waves crash over the rock wall into the pool was special for sure. I didn’t take my stuff or camera on the rock climb, so can’t adequately capture how cool it was but others have. I managed to drive just fine on the other side of the road, which was just as much of an achievement.

We had one last dinner by Salt River Bay before I had to go back to the mainland and leave this beautiful land of loose chickens, crazy potholes, and no open container laws. Thanks to all the St. Croix folks who made my van-less trip leg so wonderful!

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