It had been an incredibly arduous few months for me.
One month I was feeling the highest of highs after finding out that I was pregnant with my first child. The next month, after telling our parents the good news, I felt a pain I’d never felt before when after two doctor’s appointments and some bleeding, I was told that the heart had stopped beating.
Since then, the months that have followed felt like a blur. I got through them the best way I could by being everything to everyone else. I didn’t take any days off work so as to not overburden anyone else. I tried to be Superwoman and make sure dinner was cooked and all was well with my husband. I worried about other people’s feelings and issues and moods until one day I sat in front of my computer, wailing.
I needed a break.
Thankfully, it was days after that emotional breakdown that I was offered the chance to travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands by the Department of Tourism. I was asked to take part in St. John’s Carnival and see how people were working their way back after Hurricane Irma and Maria battered the island in 2017. I didn’t need much convincing. I saw “Virgin Islands” in the email subject line and was ready to get away — from my circumstances.
Now, I thought about just sharing a typical review of the island and what it has to offer travelers, solo, as a couple, etc. But instead, I wanted to share how watching the ways in which the lovely people of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands have recovered and maintained joy through great loss, helped me go through my own form of recovery.
I was in St. John for the Fourth of July holiday. During my trip, we had the chance to enjoy some very popular places and spaces. We stayed at the gorgeous Gallows Point Resort on Cruz Bay where I had a whole villa (of sorts) to myself. We were driven everywhere by a lovely man named Kenneth in a taxi that was open, allowing for a good breeze and a good look at all the sights. We swam and snorkeled in some of the nicest ocean waters I’ve seen, including Maho Bay (St. John has many very lovely, very clean beaches). We shopped at Mongoose Junction, which is a tourist’s dream, filled with souvenirs, jewelry shops that sold pieces with the locally loved Larimar stone, and restaurants with Caribbean-inspired menus and lots of seafood. And we also ate at swanky restaurants like La Tapa (the paella was insanely good), The Tap Room (delicious ciders and other drinks), Ocean 362 (everything brought out was incredible), Cruz Bay Landing (packed place with hearty breakfasts) and The Terrace, which had a beautiful view to watch the fireworks from.
But all in all, my favorite experiences happened alongside the locals, doing the things they do. Drinking soursop and mango mixes at Our Market Smoothies, a spot that always has a line (and for good reason). I bought a popular hook bracelet from a charming vendor, as well as coin purses made out of huge shells for friends. I hiked the Cinnamon Bay Trail, which was a challenge even for a fitness lover like myself, but offered serene views of the waters (and a look at the British Virgin Islands). I learned the local history and drove through neighborhoods that were still looking to replace roofs after the storms. I saw almost an entire resort in pieces, which was very sad, and homes and businesses that were completely destroyed. One of our guides actually lost her apartment.
But people were positive. They were warm and welcoming. They spoke openly about their faith (it’s a saying that there are more churches than people on the small island), and took pride in their culture, which was on display during the St. John Festival Parade.
Dancing alongside people in the Festival Village, which was open nightly during Carnival, as well as with the moko jumbie (or stilt walker) during the parade, took me so far away from the last few rough months I’ve had. The good energy the people of St. John had rubbed off on me.
We got mixed drinks (featuring the local fave, Cruzan rum), as well as fried chicken and Johnny Cakes from the food stands, and I scarfed it all down at the beach with more pleasure than I had with some of the excellent five-star meals we had. I hid out with residents underneath awnings and trees when it would downpour for a few minutes and then return with them to the Festival Village to watch the performers give us soca and Calypso hits. I wore my hook bracelets (I ended up buying three) like the locals, with the hooks flipped towards me to let people know my heart is taken. I went for walks up the huge hills early in the morning and listened to the ocean.
I saw the beauty in the water, the trees, the sand, the blazing sun, even in the cemeteries, and most of all, in the people. When I did, for the first time in a long time, I could say I felt happy again.
As a destination for solo travel, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands is great for a getaway. For a couple looking to kick back and relax, there is even a beach for that (Honeymoon Beach), so you can’t go wrong. For anyone looking to check out a Caribbean destination that is very different from the many other island options (I’ve also been to Barbados and the Bahamas, and they look nothing like this place), you will love it.
But for me, I was just looking for fun for the first time in a long time. What I found was a place to help me rebuild and restart again internally. I’m forever grateful to the USVI for giving me that experience, while simultaneously, showing me quite the good time.