Discovering the sense of place whenever and wherever I travel is very important for me. I don't think I've really "gotten" a location until I can name at least five unique distinctions that separate it from another place and, more importantly, that I have experienced those distinctions first hand. This is my second trip to St. John so I think I'm ready to make my list.
#1 The National Park: This is the chief reason to visit St. John. The hiking trails and historical sites are wonderful. Last time I visited, my walk to the petroglyph site was the highlight of my trip. It is a haunting and magical "thin place" and a unique characteristic of this island.
The sugar plantation ruins, like Annaberg and Catherineberg, are a great way to spend an afternoon. There are many ways to approach them but just sitting amongst the ruins and listening to the wind and the birds is amazing. Bring along a book on their history.
#2 The Beautiful Beaches: There are lovely beaches all over the Caribbean and I've been to many of them but the beaches of St. John really stand out. Trunk Bay is consistently ranked one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Contemplating the elements of wind, water, fire and earth along these shores is uplifting. And yes, before you ask, the sunsets can be just that pink!
#3 The Donkeys: The Jerusalem donkeys that roam free on the island are a treasure. They are well looked after by the National Park and residents take a special pride in them. A baby donkey was born two weeks ago and there is already a website soliciting ideas for a name. Animal lover that I am, I can't resist these sweet little faces.
Their ancestors were brought to St. John by the Dutch plantation owners to work hauling sugar cane. I think it is a form of justice to have their descendents live in complete freedom now and it makes me smile to see them lazing on the sandy beaches.
#4 The People: Meeting "Miss Olivia" was a wonderful moment on this trip I love to hear the voices and stories and the music in the places I visit. There is a Carnival festival every June - July which I would love to see sometime. The costumes and parades are fascinating. But for now, Miss Olivia will be my "face of St. John".
I've mentioned this before but it bears repeating. When you travel, get to know the "locals". Stay at a small B&B instead of the large chain hotels. Eat where the locals eat, like Joe's Barbeque in Cruz Bay. Attend local fairs and farmer's markets. You'll eat better and cheaper and you'll meet some wonderful people.
#5 The Sticker Shock: I can't end this post without adding one feature of the island that is a bit less endearing. It is not called the "Beverly Hills of the Caribbean" for nothing! Gracious me, it was startling to see the prices in the super market. I never looked at the price tag until I got to the beach with the crisps that I'd bought to go with the sandwiches we made. Yes, you're seeing that correctly...$12.95! Next time I'll pay closer attention!
The most mesmerizing thing you can do on St. John is to go snorkeling. It is a magical world beneath the sea and I can only share it with you through a video. To float suspended above waving fan coral and schools of stunning fish is an experience not to be missed. Be sure to adjust the setting to HD to get the full experience of this silent and beautiful world...
This post wasn't so much about photography as it is about experiencing the location you are in. But in the end, that experience is what best informs your camera work. You will see beyond the "postcards" and gaze into an intimate sense of the place. That will only enhance the photographs you do make on location.
I leave the island tomorrow so I will return to other topics in these daily posts. (Of course, once I get home and look through my images, I will have a few more reflections I'm sure! I have to share my "Icon" with you and I'm working on my "Good Crop" so we're not completely through with St. John yet!)
I hope you have enjoyed a vicarious journey to St. John but we all know, a time must comes when we have to return to reality. I'm not looking forward to the 25 degree temperatures in New England...Brrrrrr...but I will have warm memories of this lovely island. I do hope you will be able to visit someday! If you do want to visit, begin with my board on Pinterest....