Island Hopping: Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico

Monday 23 November to Tuesday 1 December 2015

All year I wanted to do a break that involved island hopping with ferries, and this was it. A slight flight delay leaving St Maarten on Monday 23 November 2015, meant missing the 1pm ferry to my first virgin island and getting one a few hours later to Virgin Gorda. But the ferry ‘terminal’ was a nice place to hang out. I stayed on several islands during the next 7 days across the British, USA Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Would have ideally done a sailing tour but all were 7 days. And usually in a group where u rent the entire boat. Instead I relied on ferries and renting cars.

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Virgin Gorda: my first and favourite. Grabbed a rental car, nice hotel overlooking one of the many bays and Richard Branson’s private island, exploring the baths area, hiking the 2nd highest peak of all the islands, walking through a spider web, friendly locals, good food, and simple to get around.

Tortola: the capital of the British VI’s and therefore more suburban, again I rented a car as easiest way to get to the places I wanted to see, nicer beaches, expensive hotels for what you get but I was booking at very last minute. With 2 nights, I did want to day trip to some of the smaller islands but ferries not so frequent from road town, probably better to have stayed near west end.

St John: arriving on thanksgiving meant most hotels booked or wanting a minimum 3 nights. About ten minutes before getting a taxi to west end ferry terminal I phoned a place and got a room for 1 night at low season rates (high season kicked in thanksgiving) so I was relieved with that. I was slightly worried and stressed but still glad I was going with the flow and booking as I went. The ferries between the usvi are so much nicer than bvi. The difference is so obvious, u immediately feel in America with USA customs, flags, beer and accents. The room was perfect for what I needed, thanksgiving dinner below average but I still looooove turkey, and the majority of the island is forested national park. The taxi ride to cinnamon bay beach was a fear for my life as the driver sped in the rain along winding roads while me and another guy held on in the back of what appeared to be a safari vehicle without seat belts or side panels. The driver was super rude, reckless and gave a bad impression for this island but I do like its quietness and some of the bays beyond the main town would be worth exploring on a return visit.

St Thomas: I ferried the short distance to red hook and then taxi’d to my hotel closer to the capital. The most populated island of the USVI it is clean and residential. I used Marriott points to stay in an iconic hotel with incredible views. The service here was brilliant and refreshing after staying in simple hotels for the last several nights. I did not explore much of this island beyond the hotel complex which was huge.

Puerto Rico: no ferries here from usvi so I had to book a flight. 3 nights here, and a much larger island. But after reading my Caribbean guide book I was happy to centre my activities around San Juan city. I was surprised to see all the USA stores and brands. I realise this is a USA territory but it felt like being in Miami. And with black Friday specials, I took advantage and did some shopping. The old town was great to explore with many forts satisfying my fascination for these historical structures. If I were to stay in old town I would stay at El Convento with incredible tapas, sangria and history. I stayed at another Marriott which is comical to me and friends who know my previous avoidance of this brand due to it being a general terrorist target for bombings. But I’m a sucker for a good points program, especially when I’ve achieved gold status and get upgrades without asking, treated with the respect I deserve and here I even got a 25% discount for finding a cheaper online deal with the Marriott price match guarantee. Winning. The weather was wet and windy so fortunately I had my beach fix elsewhere. The Spanish speaking had me wishing I had learned this bloody language by now. Thank god for Google translate app.

The last day of break was all travel back to Suriname. Awake at 3 am, in the Paramaribo hotel at 1030 pm. The flight connections are ridiculously bad to get back to Suriname. But hey, after a sedate and enjoyable break I was too relaxed to care.

It’s Been Ages: Suri, Denver, Suri, Home, Suri, Sint Maarten

Tuesday 8 September to 22 November 2015

Well it has been a long while since my last post. I had a free day in Paramaribo on 8 September after I returned from Windsor, and on this day I found out my Grandfather was diagnosed with a brain tumour with a very short prognosis. With that devastating news I started my rotation. It was the most hectic yet as the project hit peak, I moved into a new camp and there were many meetings (including one week in Denver), issues and events that occupied my time. None of it fully planned. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the only thing that stresses me out is when everyone wants a piece of me. I felt it more than I think ever before.

With flights booked back to Perth hopeful to see my Grandfather one last time, I was scheduled to land on my nephews 3rd birthday and grand final day with my team, the West Coast Eagles, in the Aussie rules football ultimate game. Flight delayed. Not an hour, not a day, but 2 days. Luckily my good friend Madison was on the same flight to Amsterdam so we spent a couple days in Parbo. Worse places to be, and being in a fine hotel such as the Marriott is better than most places. I finally departed Parbo early evening on 3 October and slept on 4 continents in 4 days to get home. I won’t detail my 8 days at home in Perth. Other than to say it was important to be with family, the first time for 9 months, and the funeral went all according to plan. My time on the ground was brief and I experienced another flight cancellation along the way. But who complains in these circumstances.

I flew back 16 October (my cousins 18th Birthday!) 3 days early (which I will take for a Perth Christmas) for an audit. Went well and set me up for a 27 day rotation as I also stayed a bit longer. Busy but productive, with some memorable moments of hiring people, giving promotions, playing complex boardgames, work mates birthdays, booking my home Christmas flights and Madison resigning. Never a dull moment in Suriname and I still struggle to find the time to just be by myself and catch up on outside life. It’s quite social here! Which is weird considering the work hours are longer than Ghana.

With all that it was time for a break on 14 November. On an island, in a vacation rental, with no expectations, bookings, or must dos. Time to be alone. Let go of the work persona. Enter the Dutch colony of Sint Maarten. I only booked the trip a week before and the only planning was to fly into one island and out from another. There were a lot of Airbnb places to choose from and I’m really glad I picked a good one.

I went out with some work friends the night before flying out and with a 230am pick up for the airport we didn’t sleep. I was flying with another guy on the same first flight so we shared the weariness together. At least until Trinidad where he went home to Canada and I connected to the Dutch side of Sint Maarten. A short taxi trip to my Beacon Hill apartment and I thought I would crash out, but it was only 9:30am and a whole beautiful Saturday ahead so I powered up and explored. Simpson beach is windy and turbulent but beautiful to look at. The airstrip runs parallel to this beach so the roar of the jet engines is a bit distracting. I found a couple of nice bars and much to my stomachs surprise I was enjoying tequila sunrises. Nice. Then to the grocery store to stock up. This involved a trek passed the Sunset Bar and Grill overlooking Maho beach, which is famous for the low flying aeroplanes that land just metres from the beach. Crazy dangerous but awesome. People stand where the signs say don’t go so they can be literally blown away by the jet blast as planes take off. The force is a lot stronger than I thought, with people holding on to the fence so not to get blown back.

I ended up extending my stay by two nights to make it 9. I just wasn’t ready to move on. And that’s the beauty of travelling without a plan. Some days I stayed in and caught up on my life. Other days I ventured to the main town Phillipsburg. Most adventurous I got was a day trip to the English colony of Anguilla with an organised tour. The day was sunny and clear, but unfortunately the surf was up and the beach not as incredible as everyone makes it out to be. The sun sets early at 5:35pm so the evenings feel longer, which is good when I don’t want to spend full days touring.

The apartment was blissfully quiet and modern for $139 USD per night very reasonable for the location. The owner lives in NYC and this is his vacation home that he rents out when vacant. The terrace had a nice view, but the waves reverberated off the enclosed space making it loud and having to shut the door to hear TV or music. Annoyingly the owner has a property manager who seemed to come and go as he pleased. One morning before 8am I’m still asleep and he came to hose down the salt from the terrace. Very invasive and not what you expect from a vacation rental. But other than these two things it was great. Oh and the owner only charged me a tiny fraction of the rate for the two nights I extended which was a welcome saving.

With the batteries recharged, the mind freed, the sleep reserves built up…time for some island hopping…