I want to start off by saying it’s important to be open minded yet aware when traveling. Don’t let preconceived notions dictate how you will explore a new location and its inhabitants. Most who visit the Caribbean never leave their resort. I overheard two young men saying they decide to vacation in the Virgin Islands as opposed to Jamaica because Jamaica was a “shady” place. I, on the contrary, arrived on St. Thomas looking for local fare and fun.
While I expected this trip to be a pleasure trip I knew it would be highly emotional. I was traveling with a side of my family that I have been estranged from for roughly 10 years. I arrived to Chicago O’Hare airport, nervous with anticipation. It was early morning, but my family was warm and happy to see me. It was the first time I had seen my dad since I graduated high school and his first time meeting my 8 year old daughter. I settled my rising anxiety by insisting to be myself, wholly and authentically. I would be open, honest, and playful. I left my social commentary and political sentiments in Seattle. This week was purely about reconnecting with family and enjoying a region of the world I had never been to.
As I expected, the scenery was beautiful. I found it difficult to edit the photos for this article because the vibrancy of the landscape was perfect. From the time our plane landed to the time it departed, every angle of the island was draped in a beautiful blue sky that met at the horizon with a combination of deep blue and light blue ocean waters. Lush greenery was everywhere, most of the island was untouched with houses sprinkled amongst the hillsides. Since there was 16 of us, we rented a massive house that overlooked Bongolo Bay. Beautifully decorated and equipped with a pool, our home was a vacation in and of itself.
Our first night was filled with joy and excitement of being in a new place. We dined at Iggie’s, a beachfront bar and restaurant that offered typical American fare with a Caribbean twist. The atmosphere was chill and being less than 5 minutes from our rental, it became a frequent hang out for my siblings and I. This trip was beyond special because I got to bond with my brothers and sisters. Being number of 4 of 7 makes me the sole middle child.
My sister and family arrived the second night and we ventured out to find some ‘trouble’ to get into. My Aunty suggested a hole in the wall spot called the Unuground, no typo. Imagine how surprised we were to discover this dive bar was actually a strip club. My conservative aunt let us hang around for a round of drinks anda couple song choices selected from a TV that was using YouTube to provide the ambiance, but afterwards she quickly ushered us out.
My favorite part of this trip was the 20 minute ferry ride and day spent on St. Johns. This neighboring island is mostly a federally protected national park. Along the rim of the island laid numerous bays and coves each more beautiful than the last. The park offered hiking trails with military and slave quarters still standing in remote parts of the park. We swam as a family in Cruzman Bay in 70 degree salt water that left my body feeling lighter than air.
The rest of our week was spent in various places across the island, my favorite being Coki Beach. A local hangout with shopping, live entertainment, and local food. After 3 too many drinks I devoured some fresh red snapper that was served on a bed of Caribbean style rice and beans, alongside some fried plantains. Our last two days were jam packed with activities. I experienced jet skiing for the first time since childhood, I seen a sea turtle (bucket list item crossed off), and rode on a sunset cruise supplied with unlimited Rum Runners.
I loved the vibe of the island, how it was insulated and maintained its own sense of culture and style. The elected officials mirrored and interacted with the locals. The tourist shops ran on a barter system that would be completely foreign to the average American. It was a beautiful place, with beautiful people, brown people who looked just like my family. This adventure inspired me to step my travel game up next year and see as many places as I can afford to. We cannot truly say we know life and we know experience, until we’ve traveled to places outside of our everyday reality. It gives us perspective, highlights our interest, and opens our thoughts to the limitless possibilities of what life can be.
My goal for this year was to answer the tough question of “Who am I?” and this trip offered a piece of the puzzle. I discovered that I was not alone in my quirkiness or indecisiveness. That my thirst to constantly improve is actually a family trait. That no matter what happens, my life could never truly crumble. There will always be a home for me from Chicago to Houston. I felt the love from a group of people whom I always wanted love from and who always wanted the opportunity to love me.
As I stated in my LA travels, family makes traveling that much more enjoyable. I laughed, I cried, and I sat silently. Life is so full of blessings, make sure you show gratitude for each and everyone one of them. Person, place, or thing.