FEZ! (or that time we probably almost died or were almost kidnapped 5 or 10 times)

FEZ! (or that time we probably almost died or were almost kidnapped 5 or 10 times)

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…”

If you don’t know where that quote is from, you might know even less about Morocco than I did a few months ago.

How familiar was I with this country before I got on a flight from Barcelona to Fes?

I’d seen Casablanca 5+ years ago.

I’d done a bit of research on, ya know, Pinterest.

I’d skimmed through a couple books.

I was vaguely familiar with the culture.

I’d checked out a Morocco travel podcast.

That was pretty much it.

The North African country wasn’t super high on mine or my friend Rosie’s bucket list, but when we were researching Spain and realized we could hop on a plane down to Morocco for almost no money at all, we knew it had to happen.

Fez

(or Fes. Both are okay, and there’s a solid chance I will switch back and forth between the two spellings.)

Fez is overwhelming.

The sites, the sounds, the maze of tight streets within the walled city. The spices, the people who stare and shout and rush by in waves and, before you know it, are giving you a tour you never asked for or have sold you something you definitely don’t want.

 

First Impressions

My friend Rosie and I arrived in Morocco late one Thursday night in October. Before we even got through customs my personal space bubble had expanded (by force, not by choice #strangerdanger). I was determined NOT to let the pushy family behind me swoop in front of us in the customs line, and I managed to block them off.

So proud.

Rosie didn’t even notice the full scale attack they were mounting against us, nor did she see my impressive counter-attack. She lives in India and is used to people not respecting lines (or other people, for that matter, at least by my reckoning). But the middle eastern/African culture is still fairly foreign to me.

Or, maybe I should say “was still fairly foreign.” Because I got a crash course in a new culture over the course of that long weekend.

When we finally made it out of the Fès–Saïs Airport (which is beautiful and funky, btw), we looked around for a line of taxis that I’d read would be waiting for us.

Except… there were no taxis. Just a line of men.

Uh, cool. 

“Should we have gone out the other entrance of the airport?” Rosie asked.

“No, no. It’s probably fine.” I said.

(It’s not fine, it’s not fine, it’s not fine.)

I was feeling a little uncomfortable as scenes from Taken rushed through my mind, and I thought of the warnings I’d heard many times not to get into an unmarked taxi.

One of the men came up to us. He was the only one who seemed fluent in English, and he used this skill to acquire customers for the line of taxi drivers. After fighting with him on a price for awhile, we decided to trust him, and went off with the cute little old man he told us would be our driver.

The little old man led us down some steps to a line of what did, in fact, appear to be taxis.

Ok. Sweet. Maybe we won’t get kidnapped tonight.

We began to drive toward the city (Probably. I mean there was no way for us to really know). We drove through some police check points and soon were in a city, at least. The interior of Fez is walled, and the very interior (the ancient city, the medina), is inside another wall.

After driving around for awhile we arrived at a spot that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. There were some parks and athletic fields nearby, but it was just outside the interior city wall. Our driver pulled up to a group of men standing beside the wall and began to talk to one of them through his window.

Uh. Ok. It’s fine, right? It’s fine. He’s definitely not negotiating a sale of… us, right now. Right?

The man he was talking to ended up getting into the car with us. He was a young guy, probably 18 or 19, who spoke some English. It became evident that he was giving the man directions.

To our hostel, I hoped.

The cute little old taxi driver dropped us off jut outside the interior wall of the medina, (where cars can’t go). We thanked him, paid him, and began our first experience with an unwanted and unneeded guide.

I knew the way to the hostel from the place the man had dropped us off, but the kid he’d picked up happily grabbed both our large backpacks and began to lead the way. After about a minute he gave up and said he could only carry one bag.

I OFFERED TO CARRY MINE IN THE FIRST PLACE, KID.

Finally, we arrived at Riad Verus, our hostel!

I boldly gave our guide/unneeded helpful friend a tip, because whether we needed him or not, we had allowed him to help us.

Keep in mind this was my first experience with Moroccan Dirham. I think I literally gave him about 2 MAD which would be about 20 cents in USD. I knew it probably wasn’t enough, but I promise I wasn’t sure about the exchange rate and was just hoping for the best.

He was, understandably disgusted, after all the unwanted help he’d just given us. “This is nothing to me!” He said.

I gave him a little more. He left. I felt good about the amount I gave him. We had a good laugh over the “This is nothing to me!” comment and chewed it for the rest of our trip.

 

Our Hostel

Ah, the Riad Verus. So much I could say about this place! We had the best experience, although we spent a lot of time wondering what was going on, and laughed A LOT, both with the guys who ran the place and at our interactions with them. They were super helpful to us, but weren’t as kind to all their customers. We were even involved in an awkward fight between the hostel manager and two enterprising German customers on our last night there.

A riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace built around an interior garden or courtyard. It was one of the prettiest and most unique “hostels” I’ve stayed in. Not sure if it can even be classified as a hostel.

The first night, they welcomed us with this incredible meal of couscous (FAVE), chick peas, vegetables, cabbage, and fresh Moroccan mint tea. Then, before long, Nor, the guy who ran the hostel, came and sat with us and asked us if we were planning on going to the desert.

We told Nor we wanted to, but it was so far and we only had about 3 full days in Morocco and we wanted to see Fez too. We were considering going to the blue city, Chefchaouen instead of the desert. Nor was the first person to inform us that while the blue city is great for potheads (it’s surrounded by hashish fields) and people who are only traveling for the gram, the desert experience would be one we would remember for the rest of our days.

Well, let’s just say Nor was quite the salesman, because by the next morning at 7:30, we were in a car bound for the Sahara Desert.

(More on that coming in my next post.)

When we came back from the desert a night early, we actually ended up sleeping on the roof of the hostel, because they were fully booked. 10/10 did not mind at all, even though it seems pretty shady in hindsight.

Exploring the Medina

We spent our last day in Morocco aimlessly exploring. We knew Fez was a maze of a city, and we allowed ourselves to just get lost in it.

Chouara Tannery

Fez is home to the world’s oldest leather tannery.

We both knew we wanted to get a leather bag, so a big destination of the day was the leather “souk.” Souks are markets, and they run together in the center of the city. Leather souk, metal souk, spice souk, etc.

The first thing that tipped us off to the fact that we were nearing the leather souk was the smell. The smell of animal hides and strong dyes and so much more.

Soon we had a man trying to force us to allow him to be our guide. (These “guides” are paid by leather shops to bring in tourists.) We told him no, of course, but I’m pretty sure he did end up leading us to one of the main leather stores even though we ignored him. We walked up steep stairs, past several floors worth of premium leather goods.

Somewhere along the way, we were handed sprigs of mint. When we reached the top of the building and stepped out onto the veranda we saw (or should I say smelled) why. The smell was pungent, and the tannery spread out below us.

Animal skins were spread out to dry. Workers hopped back and forth precariously over vats of dye, pigeon poop, and other gross things that the animal skins would be repeatedly dipped into.

We spent some time looking down in awe, and took some photos.

Then came the truly difficult part of the day: trying to find the perfect leather bag. One of the leather shop employees brought us mint tea, which we sipped as we looked at the many different bags, jackets, and everything in between.

We walked down the many stairs, and then back up. On the top floor, I asked to see many different bags, and eventually, we both found our ideal bag. When you know, you know. You know?

Then came the bartering. The attendant started out at for just my bag. Rosie, using her Indian skills, bartered him down to for both bags. It was entertaining to watch. And it felt good to leave having spent so much less money than we would’ve had we purchased similar bags in the states.

 

Fez was exciting, but I think we were both ready to leave. I could tell you a million other stories about this place, especially about our hostel and the people we met there.

A couple things that stood out to me: there were so few women out and about. Working in shops, restaurants, cafes, even our hostel? Men. Sitting outside cafes? Men. It definitely gave the whole city a creepier vibe than if there had been women out and about or children playing.

Second, you will get attention. People will try to take advantage of you. People will say creepy things to you, or leer at you, especially if you’re a woman in this environment. Especially if you’re a foreign woman in this environment. I think it would’ve been worse if we had dressed immodestly (I bought two longer dresses specifically to wear there, and wore leggings even though it was hot). It also might’ve been worse if we hadn’t been brunettes. Some people even mistook me for Moroccan! (This is a common theme in most places I travel, except, ironically, Germany/Austria/Switzerland, where I actually have roots!)

But, if you make smart decisions and keep your wits about you, you should be fine. You just need to learn to be rude and say solid NO’s to people.

Over all, Morocco is beautiful and exotic. If you get the chance, GO. If you don’t get the chance, go out of your way to go! And if you have questions, please ask.

Much love,

Carrie Sue

 

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24 hours in Barcelona

24 hours in Barcelona

Sangria and juices and tapas, oh my!

I’ll be the first to tell you, 24 hours isn’t enough time to get to know ANY city. Not really. Especially a city as big and full and exciting as Barcelona. But that’s what we had, so we tried to make the best of it.

We walked. Everywhere. We hoped to see as much of the city as we possibly could, and walking is the best way to do that.

Our hostel was beautiful, tucked down one of many sunny, airy Barcelona streets. It was a great first hostel for this trip. They must have been overbooked because they stuck us in a room with the male hostel workers! We didn’t realize this until we saw them moving our beds out of the room before we had even left the building. Lol.

The city is full of tall, stately, white buildings lined with balconies on balconies on balconies. It has a quirky vibe, too.

We happened to be there over the time Catalonia (the area of Spain where Barcelona lies) was trying to split off from the rest of Spain. We saw signs and some graffiti referencing the referendum, but not much else (no protests or anything).

We also walked down La Rambla, a beautiful tree-lined street with space on both the sides and in the center for pedestrians to walk. Two months earlier, a terrorist plowed through the pedestrian walking area in a van, killing 15 people and injuring many more. On the day we visited, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

Barcelona was enjoyable, but we wished we had more time. We were able to try the food and see some of the main sites, but we didn’t leave feeling like we truly knew the place. Instead, the day after we arrived we took the bus back to the airport and caught a flight to Morocco. One day, I’ll return and see it all. (Ok but really, who wants to go to Spain with me tomorrow?)

 

xoxo,

Carrie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Day at Denver Art Museum

A Day at Denver Art Museum

Any day at Denver Art Museum should start at Amethyst Coffee Co.

Seriously.

I’m obsessed. We went around 10:30 on a Thursday. It was pretty busy, but the barista was still super helpful. I had an iced key lime caramel latte, because I’m a sucker for interesting flavor combinations. I’d recommend it, although I would have preferred a stronger key lime flavor. I also tried a vegan apple spice doughnut.

The vibes were so good, the wifi was so strong, and the playlist was so dope (Manchester Orchestra anyone?) that I ended up coming back later in the afternoon to charge my phone, enjoy a cortado, and plan out the rest of my day.

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I asked the two baristas how to get to the art museum and they gave me detailed instructions. (It involves walking to the corner, turning right, and walking one block until you see odd-shaped buildings.)

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DAM

I’m a sucker for an art museum with cool architecture. If the museum itself isn’t art, I find it hard to trust that it will hold decent art.

The cost is $13 for adults, with an additional $5 to see the special exhibit. I figured future chances of seeing an exhibit on Western films and the art that inspires and is inspired by westerns were slim, so I sprung for a ticket to the special exhibit, The Western: An Epic in Art and Film.

I enjoyed the film clips spread throughout the paintings and other art. I am partial to art exhibits set up in interesting ways – not necessarily by medium or by time period, but rather, by how the pieces influenced each other (The Barnes Foundation in Philly is a great example of this). Pioneer painters and indigenous artists inspired western film directors, and those westerns in turn influenced later artists.

Here are a few of my favorite paintings in the special exhibit:

Emigrants Crossing the Plains, 1867 by Albert Bierstadt
Gunfight by N.C. Wyeth
Cowboy on Bronco by Roy Lichtenstein

The rest of the museum is beautiful. Each floor is a different time period/culture/movement. I confess to moving through the Spanish Colonial, Asian, and American Indian wings pretty quickly.

The European & American collection had a few really pretty Monets and other Impressionist paintings. (I’m a sucker for the French Impressionists, especially Cezanne.)

Here are two of my favorite paintings in this collection:

Examen de Danse (Dance Examination) by Degas
Dream of Arcadia by Thomas Cole

Another collection I enjoyed was the Modern and Contemporary Art collection.

The American Indian by Andy Warhol
Dune by Joan Mitchell

All in all, I’d recommend the Denver Museum of Art. I really liked the Modern and Contemporary section, and the museum itself was fun to explore.

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Looking down on the lobby from above

Bonus: this is one of the best museums I’ve ever seen for children. Every collection had fun areas for kids, including puppet shows, art projects, family patios, and rooms full of toys. I haven’t seen anything like it in any other art museum I’ve been to.

Pro tip: There are lockers at the museum, so if you’re roaming around all day with a suitcase in tow (like I was), you can leave it there – just be back before the museum closes!

WOAH SO COOL: If you visit the museum from Tuesday-Thursday during the summer months, be sure to check out the food truck festival in the nearby Civic Center Park. I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled upon a large array of food trucks.

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Can I eat lunch here every week, please?

After stumbling around in a daze for awhile, unable to decide what I wanted to try, I settled on Venezuelan food and a popsicle, and was not disappointed in the least.

Have you been to this museum or any other art museums in Denver? Where should I go next time?

xoxo,

Carrie

 

 

Searching for the Monk Baths and a Deserted Resort in the Jungles of St. Croix

Searching for the Monk Baths and a Deserted Resort in the Jungles of St. Croix

If you read my fairly comprehensive blog post on my St. Croix trip, you’ve already met the friendly bartender, Jameson, who gave us some great recommendations. One of the places he told us to check out was an abandoned resort called the Clover… something. Clover Crest? Cloverfield? I don’t remember, and I could find no mention of it online, which led us to assume the resort was probably abandoned before the internet became prevalent… I’m guessing the 70s.

“Yeah,” Jameson said. “It’s this old resort with a clover shaped pool out front. I’ve been up there a bunch of times. There’s an epic view from the roof; I’ve watched meteor showers and done all kinds of things from there.”

Ok Jameson, I don’t doubt that.

Really, I don’t.

I just wish you were a little better at giving directions.

“Drive past Estate Mount Washington Plantation until the road splits into a Y, then go left until you see two boulders. At that point, leave your Jeep and walk down the path until you reach the resort.”

To be honest, the directions sounded pretty idiot-proof, so our last morning on the island rolled around, and we headed out to find the resort. We were also hoping to find some large stone Roman style bathtubs that monks had carved down by the sea in the 1600s. A group of American expats told me about the monk baths when I was walking along the beach one day, and they were supposedly in the same area of the island as the deserted resort. (Jameson told us these people were friends of his, so I should’ve known their directions would also suck.)

We drove down the main road through Frederiksted and continued along the shore. When we reached the gravel road that led to Estate Mount Washington, we turned down it, and tried to follow Jameson’s directions. However, we were met by gates, no trespassing signs, steep hills to private homes, and security cameras. There were no boulders in sight.

After talking for awhile, with a few of us pushing to drive past the no trespassing signs and a few wanting to be cautious, we decided to play it safe and go search for the monk baths. These proved to be no easier to find. I had been told to drive down the road, past Estate Mount Washington, until I saw a chain-link fence and barbed wire in front of a Manor on the right. The monk baths would be down a little path to the left of the road.

We stopped a few times and walked down paths to the ocean, and we even thought we found them. I hopped into the water at one point, avoiding sea urchin-covered rocks, thinking I was in a little alcove carved by monks. (At some point during the Monk Bath search, Katey called the resort where we’d met Jameson, to ask him for better directions to the abandoned resort. Neither Katey nor I had quite given up on finding it, and we were getting desperate. Alas, he was not working, and could not be reached, and/or he doesn’t come to the phone when random American girls call.)

Finally, we said “Maybe we found the monk baths,” gave up, and headed back toward Frederiksted. Some of us jumped off the pier, which gave us the little rush we were hoping to get from exploring a spooky, abandoned resort. Then we headed on to the beach at Sandy Point, which is exactly how I imagine Caribbean beaches.

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On the beach near Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge

Soon, Katey and I decided to go back into town to find lunch. After enjoying raspberry mojitos, Red Stripes, ceviche, and crab cakes at Rhythm’s, Katey turned to me. “Wanna go look for the monk baths again?” she asked with a sly smile.

Katey and I were the two from the group who had been pushing to find the resort and monk baths earlier in the day, so maybe it was fate that brought us back into the town for lunch. Or maybe we were just the hungriest. Or maybe we both subconsciously knew, when we drove into town, that it wouldn’t be our only destination.

Soon we were headed back down the bumpy, pot-hole filled road, hoping we were going in the right direction. This time, we went further. The road turned to dirt, getting bumpier and emptier. We drove and drove, finally coming to a Y in the road.

“Wait a second… was that a Y?” Katey asked.

“It can’t be!” I said. “This isn’t the right road.”

Before I even finished speaking, we rounded a corner and were confronted with *wait for it* two boulders.

We both lost it. A fork in the road… two boulders… this sounded strangely familiar.

We had found what we’d given up looking for!

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Two boulders!

We parked the Jeep and rushed along the path through the boulders. Pushing our way through hanging vines and some unfortunate burn hazel-like plants that had both our legs burning and itching, we followed the path out into a clearing.

There were the buildings.

There was the clover-shaped pool!

We rushed around, as excited as two 5-year-olds on Christmas morning. The place was also spooky, and we were a little freaked out a time or two, especially when we saw unhinged jail doors at the end of long hallways, and as we took the path up behind the buildings to climb out onto the roof.

The rooms lie empty. The countless memories and events they once held are now forgotten.

I’d love to know the history of the resort, or even the full name. Who owned it? What kinds of people stayed there? Worked there? Were there honeymoons and weddings and bachelorette weekends held between these walls? When they built the clover-shaped pool, did they imagine it would one day be filled with muck, trees, and algae?

Perhaps a hurricane came along and did irreparable damage to the resort, or maybe it was just too far out in the wilderness for the leisure traveler.

It’s spine-tingling to see the bones, but only have the ability to guess at the life the bones once held.

The view from the roof was worth the creepiness.

Before we left, Katey bravely ventured into one of the out-buildings. I was on the porch outside, peering down into a random hole that seemed to lead to a dark abyss. (If it was a horror movie, I would’ve fallen into the hole and hurt my ankle, then, one of the jail doors would have clanged shut, trapping Katey. I would have tried to hobble to the Jeep to get help, but when I’d arrive, the tires would have been slashed. Lucky for us, life isn’t a horror movie.)

Suddenly, as Katey was exploring the interior, she started screaming. I peeked in the window to see her running for shelter. She had disturbed a nest of birds or bats (her worst fear), and they weren’t happy about it. We left without further ado, and went a little further down the road in search of the monk baths before giving up and going back to the others.

That evening, we came back with Lindsay and Jess. After we reached the Y and turned left, we saw something on the side of the road. Something big. Something gross. Something that could probably squish a grown woman to death. Something that supposedly did not live on this island.

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A massive boa constrictor!!!!!!! (Or similar snake. I think it looks like a boa constrictor but I’m not a Herpetologist.)

I googled it. St. Croix (supposedly) only has two kinds of snakes, and they’re both tiny and harmless.

This? Less so.

Luckily, he was dead. We told ourselves perhaps it was someone’s escaped pet, but what are the chances we would find the one escaped enormous snake on the island? We moved onward into the jungle, a little more cautious and nervous than before.

Without a doubt, the resort was creepier this time, as the light of day was beginning to wane. (Also, the snake was fresh on our minds as we ventured onward.)

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There were plenty of beer cans strewn about, and graffiti and zombie apocalypse warnings covered the walls. We were clearly not the first people to discover the abandoned resort.

On our way out to the resort for the second time, I’d noticed a tree with an orange “M” and an arrow. “Could that be pointing to the monk baths?” I wondered.

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Great signage, St. Croix. There’s no way anyone would miss this.

As we drove back to town, I kept a lookout for the M, and when I finally saw it again, we stopped, climbed down onto the beach, and finally saw long rectangular baths carved into the stone, complete with steps leading down into them. There were also some other ruins and what we’re fairly sure was an ocean toilet.

Finally, as the sun sunk down beneath the waves, we found everything we set out to find that morning.

We went to bed on our last night in St. Croix feeling content that we had seen as much of the island as we could. We explored, we jumped off piers, we swam, we hiked, we kayaked, we found some wildlife, we danced to Despacito in the Jeep, and we truly lived.

Thanks for the tips, Jameson. We owe you one.

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 xoxo,

Carrie

 

Cruzan Through St. Croix

Cruzan Through St. Croix

(Sorry not sorry ’bout the pun.)

The text came in March, when I was just finishing up a mission trip to Hawaii, and already feeling sad about leaving that island life. On one of the last days in Hawaii, one of the girls in my small group messaged me:

“Wanna go to St. Croix in May?”

Me, being me, responded quickly with something along the lines of “Lol, probably.”

A few weeks later, it was settled. We bought our tickets and headed to the Caribbean!

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The water really is this clear.

“Where/what is St. Croix?” you may ask.

Well, you came to the right place. First, some quick St. Croix facts since I know you’re dying to know some background.

-St. Croix is the largest island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. You can see the Virgin Islands hanging out down there to the right of Puerto Rico.

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-Christopher Columbus landed on St. Croix during his second voyage to the New World, in 1493. (I got to kayak through the bay where he landed! At nighttime. It was as scary as it sounds, but I also felt like an Indian princess, so… worth it.)

-The island was originally settled by the Dutch. The U.S. purchased the islands of St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas for $25 million in 1917, but even now, some signs, menus, etc. are still printed in Dutch.

-The ten dollar founding father, Alexander Hamilton, lived in St. Croix from 1765-1772 (age 8-15). He was born on the Isle of Nevis, and, thanks to some wealthy benefactors who saw his skill and intelligence, left the Caribbean to attend college on the North American mainland.

-St. Croix produces much of the rum consumed in the United States. All Captain Morgan and Cruzan rum is produced on the island.

-There are two big towns/small cities/districts on St. Croix. Frederiksted (the shadier one with a red fort) and Christiansted (the more upscale one with a yellow fort).

First Impressions of the Island

It was hot. And our ride for the week was RAD.

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Katey was our fearless driver. She handled driving on the left side of the road with ease.

St. Croix is beautiful. Soft sand leads to the bluest water, and there are sections of dense jungle, too. The sun shone every day, but it was often partly cloudy as well, which made for some really nice beach days.

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I’d been to the Caribbean twice before, so I had some frame of reference as far as what to expect. It reminded me more of Grenada than Jamaica. It’s smaller than Jamaica, and not as much of a tourist destination.

We stayed in a house near the YWAM base, that they have specifically for vacationers. We got connected with them thanks to my friend Katey (three of my traveling companions had stayed with them last year). As a friendly bartender named Jameson told us, “It’s good to have friends in St. Croix.” Couldn’t agree more, Jameson.

Vanessa, who helped us get settled into the house, told us there’d been some strange things happening on the island, and recently a girl was rear-ended at night, and “taken” (dun dun DUHHHHHH). Sooooo… she recommended that we try to get back to the house each night by 8. I think we got back to the house by 9 that night, and more or less ignored the warning for the rest of the trip. Oops. Sorry Vanessa. And our moms.

We arrived in the afternoon, so we pulled on our swimsuits, slathered on the sunscreen, and headed straight to the beach. Rainbow Beach is near Frederiksted, and on our way there, we passed a little beach restaurant called Rhythms, where we were hoping to eat.

As we headed to the beach, we passed basically two-three miles of partying, from Frederiksted on down past Rhythms and Rainbow Beach. Men in St. Croix seem to think it’s fun to lean against their cars on the side of the road, drink, smoke, and collectively stare at women as they pass. So that was fun. We got a creepy vibe, so we headed down the beach past the party, and found a much less empty stretch of sand to spread our towels. (Later that week, Jameson, the helpful bartender, told us Sunday afternoons at Rainbow Beach are “a little wild.” Lol, trust me, we know, Jameson, my friend.)

That afternoon was honestly the only time all week that I felt uncomfortable/unsafe. Besides the groups of smoking, drinking, staring men on the side of the road, the people in St. Croix were friendly and helpful. One day, the Jeep got stuck in some sand (note to self: don’t park in deep sand), and the very first vehicle to pass by came back and pulled us out. And everyone had recommendations of out-of-the-way things for us to do and see.

Rather than giving you a day-by-day play-by-play of the trip, I’ll just tell you about some of my favorite things.

 

Hidden Tide Pool Hike

We heard tell of an “easy” hike to some tide pools in the jungle behind Carambola. So on Tuesday morning we headed out. It only took us about an hour to reach the tide pools, but it was a more difficult hike than we expected. On the way, we saw some interesting birds, hermit crabs, and most important of all, VIEWS.

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View from Carambola, one of our favorite beaches. The Tide Pool hike led us over the side of those mountains.

The tide pools were beautiful and warm, and getting to them proved to be a bit treacherous. But we ignored the “stay off rocks” signs, and made it out. Of course I was too busy swimming in them and playing with the black sand to take any actual pictures of the pools themselves… So here’s a few taken by my friends.

We spent an hour in the tide pools, and then hiked back through the jungle to Carambola, where we lay on beach chairs for the rest of the day!

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Views along the hike… That sandy beach in the distance is Carambola.

Bioluminescent Bay

Wednesday night, we went to Salt River Bay (the place Christopher Columbus landed in St. Croix) to join up with a see-through kayak tour of a bioluminescent bay. We kayaked out of Salt River Bay and through open ocean, past the masts from a shipwreck (!!!!) to arrive at the bioluminescent bay. We were led by our fearless guides, Michelle and Michelle (for real).

I can’t explain to you how awesome the bio bay was. Nor can I go into detail about what exactly causes the bioluminescence (bacteria that glows, or something like that). Nor can I show you photos of the night, since we were not allowed to take our phones or cameras.

But I can tell you I’ll never forget it. I can tell you it was one of the most incredible, most terrifying, most other-worldly experiences I’ve ever had. Imagine looking through the bottom of your kayak to see galaxies streaming by. Imagine hitting the water with your hand or oar, and seeing sparks shoot outward into the water, swirling and whirling around.

It. Is. Magical. Google it. And if you EVER get the chance to kayak in one of the seven bioluminescent bays in the world, DO IT. Do it. Do it.

Seriously.

Do it.

Kayaking at Tamarind Reef

One day we went to a resort called Tamarind Reef. This is where we met Jameson, who gave us plenty of tips. We saw a bunch of iguanas there. They were big, seemed to enjoy lying in the sun as much as I do, and moved surprisingly fast.

My friends ended up leaving, so I had most of the day to myself. My introverted side flourishes in these moments, and I planned to just lay on a beach chair reading until they returned. But free afternoons rarely go as planned, and I ended up adding a little adventure to my day.

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Tamarind Reef Resort

I ended up taking a kayak out to an uninhabited island about a mile away. While there, I ran into a friendly Asian couple who had swam out (WOAH). They had snorkel gear, and told me they’d seen sea turtles. They let me borrow a snorkel mask and pointed me to the place they’d seen the two turtles. I came within about 4 or 5 feet of them! It was awesome.

I hiked around the island a bit, despite a sign that warned NOT to leave the beach because it was a wildlife preserve. I ended up getting stung by a bunch of tiny ants (apparently that’s the wildlife they’re preserving). I still have the bites on my hand a week later; if I die suddenly, those ants could be the cause.

On the ride back, I felt like there were definitely a few unexplained bumps against the bottom of my kayak, so I rowed faster and faster! The sharks didn’t get me this time (probably because they were in my imagination), but it might be awhile until I go ocean kayaking again.

I spent the rest of the afternoon snorkeling and lying on the beach. That night, the girls came back and we watched crab races in the restaurant. Our crab did not do well. Luckily, we didn’t have much money on him. (I think we were all expecting it to be some kind of intense basement event, possibly illegal, but it was actually very kid-friendly.)

Some Other Fun Things:

Christiansted

We preferred Christiansted to Frederiksted. We spent a little time shopping, walking along the marina, exploring the fort, and EATING.

Christiansted National Historic Site (Fort Christiansvaern)

Point Udall – The Easternmost Point in the U.S.

We rose at 4-something one morning to watch the sunrise here. It was a beautiful drive and the views were good on the way back, but unfortunately there wasn’t much of a sunrise. I hiked down toward the water but gave up because my flip-flops couldn’t handle the thorns and steep rocks.

One cool thing about Point Udall? It’s the easternmost point in the U.S. This means I’ve been at the Westernmost point in the U.S. (South Point, where I cliff jumped in Hawaii), and the Easternmost point in the U.S. this year!

Cruzan Rum Distillery

St. Croix’s biggest export? Rum. We toured the oldest distillery on the island, and let’s just say it was the most entertaining tour I’ve been on since… well, ever. Most interesting fact I heard: They transport the rum in tanks marked “ethanol” so they won’t be hijacked on the road!

FOOD!

Ironically, Rhythms, the beach-side joint that looked over-crowded and a little scary the first night, ended up being my favorite restaurant. The food was amazing and it was a nice, relaxed place. I’m glad we gave it a second chance.

Everything in St. Croix runs on island time, so if a restaurant opens 15 or 20 minutes later than it’s supposed to, it’s no big deal (everyting is irie, mon). Cats and roosters happily wondered in and out of restaurants; one outdoor restaurant even had toy guns for customers to scare off territorial roosters.

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This kombucha, cold brew, and bush tea man was another hit. The last day he had passion fruit milk kefir, which sounds weird, but is delicious.

Mount Pellier Domino Club aka The Beer-Drinking Pigs

Out in the middle of the St. Croix jungle, there are some pigs.

“What do these pigs drink?” You may ask.

Beer. They drink beer. It is hilarious and strange and definitely made for tourists.

The hilarious (stereotypical Cruzan) bartender told us it all started years ago when a patron at the bar set his beer on the ground, and a pig named Buddy wondered over, tipped it, and drank. From then on, that man would buy Buddy the Pig a beer every time he came to the bar.

These days, the pigs drink O’Doul’s, because pigs who drink fully alcoholic beer pass out by noon (and, you know, animal rights… PETA… all that jazz).

So uh, I added “Feed a pig a beer” to my bucket list, then checked it off.

Estate Mount Washington Plantation

We found an old plantation on a tip from some locals. It was off the main road, free of tourists, historical, and beautiful.

 

With each highlight I post, I remember something else we did that I want to write about, so I’ll finish with a few photos, and I’ll be back to tell you about one of my favorite days on the island in a later blog post (monk baths, an abandoned resort, and a spooky, slimy predator are involved).

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Christiansted Marina – we ate in restaurants along the marina many times
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View from the pier we jumped off in Frederiksted

Thanks, friends, for giving me one of the best times I’ve ever had on an island. Or anywhere, for that matter. So much love.

All in all, it was a successful vacation. In a place like the Caribbean, I’d get bored if I was just being lazy on the beach for a whole week. This trip was the perfect blend of adventure and relaxation. If you go, I recommend renting a Jeep. It’s not too expensive, and the roads would be nearly impossible to conquer in a less durable vehicle.

 

“Keep this place in mind. A better place is hard to find. There is no place like this place anywhere near this place. So this must be the place.” -a wise sign spotted somewhere on the island

 

Thanks for reading,

Carrie