Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tortola 13.1

Since moving to our new neighborhood on the island, my boyfriend and I have bumped into the same neighbor and her sister several times while out jogging in the morning.  We formally met them at a BBQ that one of our mutual friends was hosting back in August, and since then they have invited us over to their place for football on Sundays, birthday parties, Thanksgiving dinner, etc.  One of the sisters even invited us to join her on her softball team that plays on Thursday nights.  All this considered, it was no surprise when 6 or 7 weeks ago they invited us to join them, to run a mini-marathon in Tortola.  After all, we mainly became familiar with them because we saw them running in the neighborhood on a weekly basis. 
While they seemed cavalier about this type of daunting commitment, I struggled with the idea of having to add a long run into my weekend schedule in order to prepare for such a feat.  If we committed to doing this, then that meant we would have to eliminate some fun, late nights on the weekends and long, beautiful hikes on St. John.  Of course, let’s not forget the exhaustion that’s involved with running straight for an hour, an hour and a half, or two hours at the break of dawn as to avoid the heat.  In addition, I was on crutches for 6 weeks after the last 13.1 miler I did, so the answer seemed pretty clear.  No…I will not put myself through all that again!
On the flip side, I thought it would be a fun weekend to bond with our friendly neighbors.  They just bought a boat, which we could take over to Tortola and use for the rest of the weekend to island hop and hang out together.  Also, I had never been to Tortola, and I’ve been anxious to explore some of the other islands.  Somehow boating and making new friends far outweighed the sacrifices and commitment that goes into a half marathon.  After some discussion with my boyfriend, we agreed to join them.
So, for the last 6 weeks or so we have been getting up at 5:30 a.m. every Saturday morning to ride down to town where the land is flat and we could run for long stretches of time.  We would start where all the cruise ships dock, jog through the main town, pass all the tourist shops and jewelers, run along the water by the seaplanes, cross into Frenchtown where there are some great restaurants, over to Crown Bay where the bigger cruise ships dock and on to the airport.  We would then turn around and do some variation of the same course back to our car which was always parked outside of a local diner, called the Delly Deck, where we would have breakfast after cooling down.  Then, we would spend the rest of the day hydrating and laying around on the beach, recovering.
As the weekend of the mini-marathon approached, I was feeling prepared.  I had run 11 miles the weekend before and felt strong.  To keep me going for this 2 hour excursion I had downloaded my favorite podcast, This American Life, and a new playlist – thank you Rihanna and Coldplay.  Of course, trash-talk began between us and our neighbors as to who would win the race.  And, arrangements had been made for where we were staying while in Road Town, Tortola.
Friday evening we all met at the dock and took off across the water to Tortola.  Being a boating amateur, I sat in the front of the boat for the entire rocky ride over and felt as though my back was going to give out before I could get this damn run in.  Relieved, we arrived at Customs (Tortola is British), gave them our paperwork and went to check into our hotel.  We spent the rest of the evening asking several questionable people directions for where we needed to go to register for the race.  After registering we then proceeded to carb-load and hydrate before going to bed early.
The next morning we woke up at about 5:00 am, had a quick bite to eat, drank some coffee and headed off to meet the other 60 people that would also be running with us.  Yes…only 60 people ran this race, yet my bib number was 91.  Curious.
Of course, I’m used to mobs of people at these things, where the runners don’t break up until several miles into the course and you take off in heats, while listening to music like the Blackeyed Peas “Let’s Get It Started” blasting out of giant speakers.  Conversely, all 60 of us were verbally told to go to the start line where some general announcements were made and the people from St. Thomas were personally welcomed.  Then we were told to ‘go’ and we all took off at once. 
The course was flat and the path was straight out and straight back on the same relatively shaded road with a short loop in the beginning to add some distance.  Once we ran through Road Town, we met the ocean.  Since the race started at 6:00 am, the sun was coming up over the islands in the distance and a nice breeze came up off the water.  It was a cooler morning and the island seemed quiet.  I started to loosen up after about 3 miles and felt the perfect runner’s high on miles 6 and 7 where I proceeded to have some water and eat my gummy bears.  I then turned up my playlist and started counting down the rest of the miles.  It was a pleasant run and I had paced myself well.  I finished in 1 hour and 55 minutes and 34 seconds – 10th overall in the women’s division and well under my goal.  Yup, I was a big fish in a very little pond.  However, I felt accomplished and satisfied.

Kevin and I - post race.
Kevin and I with our neighbors, Ashley and Leslie, at the finish line.

Our crew joined back up at the finish line where we congratulated each other, since everyone ran better than they had hoped.  After cooling down, eating a homemade breakfast of bangers and eggs and showering, we were ready to switch gears. 
We piled into the boat for a full day of exploring different beaches and islands.  We had lunch on Scrub Island at a nice resort, where we took advantage of their pool bar before moving on to another island called Marina Cay to hang out at an isolated beach side bar, called Pussers.  This was by all accounts the most perfect beach bar I’ve been to.  It was close to the water, had great rum drinks and as you looked out over the ocean from your bar stool, you could see the sun sparkling on the sea in the forefront, the silhouette of sailboats floating in the water, and plush islands in the backdrop.  I could have stayed there the rest of the day, but we moved on to Beef Island where there was a strip of beach bars with huge hammocks in front of them where several people could literally ‘hang’ out.  After visiting some shops and a bar, we decided it was time to head back to Tortola for dinner and some live music.  Needless to say, the fun didn’t stop until the early morning and we were exhausted the next day. 
Since we had lived life to the absolute fullest the day before, we took it easy on Sunday.  After breakfast we hopped into the boat and went to Jost Van Dyke before heading back to St. Thomas late in the afternoon.  It had been an incredibly fun weekend, and I was glad that we had agreed to go with our new found friends to spend some time together.  Of course, I’ve spent the last couple of days resting and fighting off a bit of a cold, but we made some good memories over the weekend.  No doubt, a good time was had by all.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Couple More Short Stories

One Eyed Willy

A few weeks ago my boyfriend and I decided to go have dinner and see some live music in a popular area of the island called Redhook.  The band we wanted to see didn’t start until 10:00 p.m., so after dinner we stopped at a few places for a drink before heading to our final destination, the Caribbean Saloon. 
When we decided it was time to make our way for the live show, we started walking down the street to the bar.  Even though it was a slow time of year, the street was hoppin’ with friendly patrons, taxi drivers and several lively bars.  As we approached the Saloon and started walking up the stairs to their entrance we heard someone behind us, also walking up the stairs, advertising his taxi services to us for when the show was over.  I knew we would need a cab to get home, so I turned around to get a glimpse of the cab driver. 
When I turned around, I saw a short, dread-headed man with only one eye.  Slightly disturbed but pretending not to be as to avoid offending this man, I immediately turned back around and proceeded to go up the stairs and into the bar.  As we sat down and waited for the band to start, the cab driver sat down next to us and proceeded to order a shot, and I believe he also ordered a drink before heading over to play some video poker.  I made a mental note of the situation and moved on toward the stage to watch the band when they started. 
We spent the rest of the night enjoying some decent hairband music, and I believe I even got up on the stage at one point for ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’.  In my defense, I wasn’t the only girl on stage. 
Towards the end of the night we had managed to fight through the crowd so we could be close to the stage.  When I looked over at the hyped-up fans next to us, I found my one-eyed friend by himself right in front of center stage.  He was completely hammered, dancing around and singing every word of the song being played at the top of his lungs.  For a minute, I thought this may have been the first time he had ever seen a concert, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he truly thought that this band was the real Motley Crue.
Willy in the teal collared shirt, connecting with the band.

When the show was over and the crowd piled out the doors and down the stairs, I could faintly hear this visually impaired, entrepreneur once again advertise his taxi cab services.  Seriously?  I thought.  This guy can hardly make it down the stairs with his one eye sober, let alone drunk.  Now he wanted to get behind the wheel and drive people home? 
As the crowd dispersed, so did the cab driver, and I can only imagine how the rest of that guy’s night ended up for him.    

The Freedom of Freeloading

While spending a day in St. John one Saturday, we decided to hop in a cab to make our way to the beach we wanted to go to.  Much to our surprise, we ended up on a safari taxi.  These are all over the islands and they are basically large pickup trucks with benches in the back that the cab drivers say can fit up to 14 people, but I’d argue that it’s more like 10.  Anyway, they are designed to take masses of tourists from one destination to another, and we were completely out of place. 
I tried to keep to myself as the tourists complained about the heat and pointed to the views.  However, I couldn’t help making a comment when the driver actually pulled over at one point for a photo opportunity for these people.  I looked at my boyfriend and said, ‘At this rate, we won’t get to the beach until 2:30.’  It was only noon and St. John is less than 20 square miles, so I’ll admit that I was being just as obnoxious as these tourists.  The only difference is that I was aware of how ridiculous I was being.  They were not. 
Luckily, our stop was the first beach on this taxi driver’s route.  We paid him an obscene $5 each, and hurriedly got off this crowded tourist trap. 
We then enjoyed several hours of baking in the sun, swimming and snorkeling. 
When we were ready to head back to the main town on the island, we realized that we were once again going to have to get on another safari taxi.  We sat outside next to the road, waiting for a taxi to come our way.  After several minutes of waiting without much luck, a friendly, older woman, pulled over in her rugged pickup truck to see where we were headed.  My boyfriend told her we were headed to town and she gestured for us to hop in the back of her truck for a ride. 

Now, I’m not going to try to fool you into thinking that I’m some beatnik, but this woman looked like the type of free-lovin', kind person that had likely been driving the same pickup truck back when she attended Woodstock in ‘69.  And, when faced with having to load onto another tourist crammed safari taxi, or riding in the back of a pickup truck next to this woman’s garbage…I chose the latter.  So, feeling like a dirty hippy, I jumped into the back of the truck and we took off on our way to town.  With the wind in my hair and a view of the islands surrounding me, I couldn’t help but realize how free I felt.           

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Trip Back 'Home'

Last weekend I took my first trip back to the mainland since I moved down to St. Thomas last May.  I was super excited to go up to New England to visit my best friend and have some quality time in the States.  I left on Friday and came home on Monday, so it was a quick trip but after 6 straight months on the island, it ended up being exactly what I needed.

Knowing that I was heading for some colder weather, I spent Thursday night digging through a bag of musty smelling cloths that I had stored away.  I pulled out a fleece, parka, some sweaters, a leather bag and a couple of scarves.  After laying out all my clothes, shoes and accessories on the bed and eliminating half of it, I packed the rest into my bag.

Once I was satisfied with what I was bringing for my weekend getaway, I started to anticipate what it would feel like to be back in the States after 6 months away.  Would I miss being away from the island, or when faced with all the familiarity and the conveniences of the mainland, would I realize that I’m too Stateside to be an island girl?  I was anxious to figure this all out. 

My flight took off on Friday morning, and I had a short lay-over in Miami, which would be my first encounter with ‘home’.  As the plane began its decent and the stale smell of my fleece started to fade, I took a look out the window of the plane.  There it was…that large mass of land that only a few short months ago I had lived on for my entire life.  I noticed how flat the land was and how there appeared to be an endless amount of developed buildings and houses – one right on top of the other one with no gaps inbetween.  I also noticed how squared off and similar the taller skyscrapers were in downtown Miami. 

When I got off the plane at the Miami airport I had about an hour to grab a bite to eat, and then board my next flight to LaGuardia.  As I made my way down the terminal I couldn’t help but notice how nice, efficient and convenient the airport seemed to be.  The clean, black tiled floor had these pretty little silver designs of sea creatures in it that I couldn’t stop looking at.  I noticed that there was vibrantly colored art on the wall from local artists.  And, when I went to the bathroom, I practically ran right into a cleaning lady that was coming in to sweep my stall the second that I stepped out of it.  Then, there was the convenience of a tram that would take me from gate D24 all the way to gate D29 - I opted to walk instead.  On my way, I grabbed some seemingly fresh sushi and a Diet Coke and boarded my on-time departure to head to my final destination.

As my connecting flight began to approach New York City, I started contemplating whether I’d prefer a latte or a café mocha from Starbucks…the latte was always my go-to coffee in Chicago, but the mocha certainly is delicious.  Of course, there is coffee in St. Thomas, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I somehow, unknowingly, developed a certain dependency on Starbucks coffee.  What can I say?  I miss it.  So, upon stepping off this flight and into LaGuardia airport – a far cry from the Miami airport, I might add - I somewhat desperately looked around for a Starbucks.  Unfortunately, my memory of Starbucks taking over the entire USA, if not the world, must have been exaggerated because I didn’t find it on my way to baggage claim and had to postpone my frothy beverage craving.

After getting my bag, I met my friend, and we started the drive up to her house in Connecticut.  As we hit the highway, my distraction for a coffee turned into a bit of concern over the speed at which we were moving.  Could she really be going only 65 mph?  I haven’t gone over 35 mph in a car in months, so this felt really, really fast and kind of dangerous.  Regardless, until we reached her house, we continued on with the type of non-stop chitter chatter that only two best friends that have been away from each other for a while can generate.

The rest of the weekend I spent quality time with my friend and her family, and it felt really good to catch up.  Naturally, she was sure to help me indulge in some of the other things I missed like eating a decent steak and quality Indian food, going to the movies and shopping at the local CVS drug store.  And, of course, she took me to get my café mocha.  It was delicious.

Spending quality Halloween time with my friend's daughters.

Alas, when the weekend was over and it was time to go home, I didn’t feel all the emotions that I thought I would.  I thought that I’d be really sad to leave the States again.  Or, that I would have missed St. Thomas so much that I couldn’t wait to leave the snow storm that had just hit New England and head back to paradise.  However, I think all I needed to know was that the States are still there and accessible to me.  They aren’t going away, and I can go be there whenever I want.  I know this seems obvious, but when you’re away from home for a long time and feel a little homesick, you can find a lot of comfort in seeing that home is still there – the same as it always was and probably always will be. 

So, my emotions upon heading back to the island were simple.  I just looked forward to seeing my boyfriend again.