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Europe, Norway, These days, Travel

These Days

These days, we are settling back into normalcy after five weeks of vacation. JK saved his parental leave for this summer so we could go on a grand adventure with Nora – visiting Norway (to show off lil’ Norbert to friends and family) and Italy (to attend a wedding).

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Nora experienced so many firsts! First flight (transatlantic, no less), first seven-course meal, first boat ride, first swim.

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In Italy, she visited the Dolomites, swam in the Adriatic Sea, and ate impressive amounts of pizza.

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In Norway, she stayed at my parents’ summer house, explored the outdoor playground of my childhood, and picked chanterelles almost every day.

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Back here in Seattle, she is already over her jetlag while her parents, old as the hills and apparently no longer adjusting easily, are still exhausted (I’ve been up since 2:30, ugh ugh ugh). I had grand plans for this week, but just…no. The couch is where I’m at, chugging coffee and finally catching up on Orange is the New Black. JK still has two weeks of leave left, so hopefully we’ll be back in the swing of things soon, ready to take on our normal summer here in Washington.

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Travel, USVI

#TBT: St. John | Maho Bay

Maho Bay is one of the prettiest beaches on St. John, and the most accessible – most beaches require a short walk or a long hike, but Maho is situated right along the North Shore Road.

Maho Bay

It’s a great place for kids, with a long, sandy beach, shallow water, shade from the coconut trees, and a quick retreat to the car if needed.

Maho

Heaven is what it is is what it is.

Flying fish

(I tried to do one of these jump shots too. Let’s just say it wasn’t the most flattering activity I could be doing with my body while wearing a bikini. Never again.)

Snorkel squishy

Snorkeling in the bay will almost guarantee you lots of stingray, conch, starfish, and turtle sightings (and some reasonably big barracudas), and every time we snorkeled here, it seemed we had enrolled in school. (Get it? Fnar fnar.)

We enrolled in school on St. John

Oh, hello there

Maho turtle

For me, Maho is more of a lounging beach than a snorkeling beach – I mostly go in the water to cool off between long stretches of reading and synthesizing vitamin D – but if you do want to explore, swim along the rocks around the edges of the bay. The marine life gets more and more interesting the farther out you go, and we had a very cool octopus experience in the rocks.

From this...

Metamorphosis…

Tiny octopus

…what even is this sorcery? Man alive, octopuses are amazing creatures. I feel incredibly lucky to have seen several of them on our trips to St. John.

...to this!

Speaking of lucky, Maho Bay is where we saw our very first shark in the wild. We actually saw it from the beach, because it kept cruising back and forth in the shallows, and then we were finally able to snap a photo of it. Looks pretty scary, no?

OH HAI

No! ‘Twas but a wee baby Lemon Shark, and it was adorable. The next year, however, our friends were snorkeling Maho and met what was presumably the same shark. It was definitely not a baby anymore, and it was decidedly unnerving.

Lemon Sharks are not at all in the habit of attacking humans (and as far as I understand – at least this is what I tell myself – the water around the St. John is too warm to attract the really terrifying sharks), but meeting a biggish shark underwater is enough to get the adrenaline going in most members of the Jaws generation.

Baby shark

If you go to St. John, you MUST go to Maho Bay. Pack a lunch and bring a book (not Jaws*).

Sunshine squishy

Come early, both to get a parking spot and to see the palm trees cast their beautiful shadows over the beach and the water. Stay all day (but if you’re there for sunset, you might get eaten alive by no-see-ums), relax, enjoy, snorkel, soak up the sun, look out over that Caribbean blue and revel in the fact that you’re on St. John, which means you’re one of the luckiest people on earth right now.

Maho Bay

*personally, I chose to read Jaws in the safety and comfort of an alpine fire lookout, which housed an impressive collection of shark literature.

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Travel, USVI

#TBT: St. John | Yawzi Point

On our last full day on St. John, we visited Yawzi Point for the first time. Holy smokes, y’all, what an amazing day of snorkeling.

The drive to Little Lameshur was pretty awful (it was nothing compared to the road to White Pocket, though…but more on that in a future #TBT post). You really should rent a Jeep if you visit St. John.

Little Lameshur

The preferred way to reach Yawzi Point is to hike the short trail out from Little Lameshur, but at this point in our vacation, I had such bad morning sickness that walking anywhere was out of the question. The only way I could get out there was to swim from the beach – feeding the fish, as it were, along the way. Luckily for me, the longer swim paid off – we saw an octopus, squid, and several Lionfish.

Little Lameshur

When we saw a Lionfish the year before, we called it into the Lionfish Hotline so someone could come take care of it, but these guys were already hanging out next to yellow markers. Read more about this invasive species here (you had me at “venomous anal spines”).

Octopus

Octopuses changing color before your very eyes = the coolest.

Changing color

Yawzi Point was like an underwater paradise, full of healthy coral and huge fish. There’s a whole system of tunnels and caves that beg for exploration. I wish we had more photos, but after having focusing issues the entire trip, our underwater camera finally conked out that day. At least it happened on the last day.

One of many turtle friends

I didn’t freedive because a) I was pregnant, and depriving oneself of oxygen while gestating a tiny human is not a good move and b) because I truly suck at freediving. While JK and our friend Carlos explored the underwater caves, I snorkeled around the outer edges of the reef, finding much bigger fish than we had seen on our previous snorkels. This photo does a lousy job of conveying just how big this barracuda was, so you’re just going to have to trust me. I also saw two gigantic fish that I’m convinced were tuna, but I’m not sure they even have those in the Caribbean. Maybe they’re attracted to regurgitated starfruit.

Whoa

After seeing all these big sea creatures, you would think I would be scared shitless when Carlos surfaced and yelled “Shark!!”, but instead, I got all excited and enthusiastically splashed my way over to him. The boys had found a nurse shark hanging out under one of the arches! Very cool. That officially made this our favorite day of snorkeling yet.

Our first nurse shark!

I’m a little bummed that it took us until the last day of our vacation to discover Yawzi Point. It is becoming increasingly clear that another return trip to St. John is in order. (Okay, fine, there was never any question about that.)

Little Lameshur

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Travel, USVI

#TBT: St. John | Waterlemon Cay

This week’s Throwback Thursday post is a little late (at least it’s still Thursday!) since a certain someone has decided that naps are for weenies. Maybe I should start scheduling these things in advance (posts, not naps, although that would be awesome).

Waterlemon Cay (pronounced “key”…and no, that’s not a typo, it’s not supposed to say watermelon) is the best-known snorkeling spot on St. John, for good reason. I’m very emotionally attached to some other spots, like Salt Pond Bay, but that doesn’t mean Waterlemon didn’t blow my mind. Actually, most snorkels on St. John blew my mind – most of my previous snorkeling experience comes from Maui, and the reefs around St. John are just so much healthier and more vibrant. (I still love you, Hawai’i!)

Caribbean hiking views

The fastest way to get to Waterlemon Bay is to hike the 0.8 mile Leinster Bay Trail, but if you have time, taking the Johnny Horn Trail from Coral Bay is a cool alternative that offers excellent views of the bay. You could always just hike up a ways from the bay to find some good views and old ruins, too.

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Leinster Bay

Waterlemon Cay

For the shortest swim, keep hiking past the beach and enter the water in the rocky area (watch your step so you don’t hit any coral or impale yourself on a sea urchin) and head straight for the cay. The current can be very strong on the outer edge of the cay, so pick a route where you won’t have to fight it, or, if you’re not a strong swimmer, sit this one out unless it’s a calm day.

Waterlemon Cay

The swim over from shore takes you across a deep, sandy channel full of turtles and rays.

Southern Stingray

We saw this same barnacled turtle both years we went to St. John – it was being serviced at the Shell station (har har har) by sharksuckers both times! In 2013:

Turtle, now with more Remora

…and 2014:

Reunion

Big, beautiful Spotted Eagle Ray:

Spotted Eagle Ray

Sea cucumber!

Sea Cucumber

The underwater landscape gets progressively cooler as you near the cay and swim around the outer edge (we’ve gone counter-clockwise every time). Take your time exploring all the nooks and crannies of the reef.

Underwater hiking

Waterlemon Cay

Waterlemon Cay

It's gorgeous down here So many pretty colors
Flamingo Tongue Waterlemon Cay

Duckface

Waterlemon Cay

Once you’ve swum around the cay, I highly recommend walking up on land and taking a breather on that sweet strip of sand. We saw an iguana sunning itself on the cay once. I really don’t know how it got there.

Turtle, meet Stingray

If you want more snorkeling once you’ve crossed the channel back to shore, try cruising eastward, I found some very cool coral along the rocks there. If you swim in toward the bay, you’ll be in starfish heaven.

Love love love this

On your way home (if you came via the Leinster Bay Trail), stop by the Annaberg Plantation (and then drive by the sign that says WARNING! MANCHINEEL TREE and think “huh, what’s a manchineel tree”, look it up on Wikipedia, and then spend the rest of your trip thinking you’re seeing manchineel trees everywhere).

View from the plantation

More St. John next Thursday! Man, we really need to take Nora there. Maybe the sound of gentle waves will be so soothing that she’ll actually nap.

Flowers @ Annaberg

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Hiking, Top Trips, Travel, USVI

#TBT: St. John | Salt Pond Bay & Ram Head Trail

I’ve gone on quite a few vacations and hikes that never made it onto the blog. Since our biggest adventures are happening at home these days, I’ve decided to highlight some of those old trips for Throwback Thursday. First up, one of my favorite areas of St. John, USVI – Salt Pond Bay.

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We first read about Salt Pond in St. John Off The Beaten Track by Gerald Singer – the guidebook for St. John – and it quickly became one of our most cherished snorkeling spots. Places like Waterlemon Cay might have more diverse snorkeling, but Salt Pond has a much better beach on which to relax between underwater explorations, and it also accesses what I think is the best hike on the island.

We stayed in Cruz Bay on our first visit to St. John, so it was a bit of a drive to get to Salt Pond Bay, all the way over on the south end. It’s a beautimous drive, though…

Coral Bay

…with potential donkey delay! (And yes, you drive on the left side of the road.)

Traffic jam

It was raining when we first got there, so after walking the short trail (more like an old dirt road) down to the beach, we kept walking to Drunk Bay to wait for the sun to return. There’s a fairly creepy collection of rock people in Drunk Bay, made even creepier by the gloomy weather we had.

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The sun is never gone for long on St. John, so back we went to Salt Pond Bay.

Salt Pond Bay

Gorgeous white beach and endless Caribbean blue. Heaven.

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As beautiful as the beach is, the really good stuff is underwater. We’ve snorkeled in Salt Pond quite a few times now, and our favorite route is a counter-clockwise loop of the bay. Spend lots and lots of time exploring around the rocks that jut up out of the water in the center of the bay, and when you near the end of the loop, cruise through the deeper center of the bay to look for the turtles and rays that like to hang out in the turtle grass and the sandy areas.

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In addition to turtles, we’ve seen beautiful peacock flounders and spotted eagle rays every time we’ve snorkeled Salt Pond. Very cool.

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Peacock Flounder

On our first trip, we were in for a treat – we found this beautiful octopus! We could have watched it forever, but they’re pretty efficient at hiding when they’re done being social (like me!).

Octopus on the move Caribbean Reef Octopus

There’s some beautiful coral out there too, it makes you feel like you’re hiking through underwater trees.

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Mukmuk snorkeled too!

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On our second trip to St. John, JK and I decided to swim all the way out to Booby Rock to see if there was any decent snorkeling to be had. I don’t recommend this at all, because a) it would be much better for divers, the good stuff is down too deep and b) if you’re anything like me, you’ll start vividly picturing sharks all around you and OHMIGOD I’M IN OPEN WATER AND JAWS IS GOING TO EAT ME AND MY FETUS. So just stick to the closer rocks instead.

Longest snorkel evahs

Totally unrelated shark story I just remembered: I watched Jaws when I was way too young, and when I talked to my preschool teacher about it the next day, she told me, in Scottish-accented Norwegian, that it wasn’t an actual shark, it was a robot. For the longest time, I thought someone was rowing a rowboat inside Jaws and that’s how they made the movie. Heh.

Cool coral So fuzzy

After snorkeling, in the insanely dry midday heat, we decided to hike to Ram Head, the southernmost point of the island. Unfortunately, we didn’t have our SLR with us. Or any water to drink. #experiencedhikers

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I think the trail is only a mile or so each way, but man alive, that heat. I was parched. If you’re made of smarter stuff than we are, you’ll hike to Ram Head first, then cool down with a nice snorkel afterwards.

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Still, this hike is gorgeous, with a sad but powerful history. Definitely a must if you visit St. John. Just remember to bring water, I cannot stress this enough.

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Calm seas to the left, rough to the right. (You can see Booby Rock out there on the left, probably circled by menacing fins.)

Wonky panorama

Legend says that if you throw a stone from Ram Head and shout a wish as loud as you can before the stone hits the water, this wish will come true. It didn’t seem to work for us at first…

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…but by our trip the following year, it had definitely come true. Thank you, wishing stone! Unfortunately, morning sickness kept me from hiking in that heat on that trip, but swimming was just what I needed (even though I puked in the water every time I put my snorkel mask on, but, oddly, not when I put in my snorkel).

Since I couldn’t hike it again, that means I never got any SLR photos from Ram Head…which means I’ll simply have to return to St. John. The horror!

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