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Returning to Love City Post-Irma: Part Two

Upon arriving to St. John nine months after Hurricane Irma I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. The same warm, salt-water air surrounded us as we stepped off the plane in St. Thomas, but I braced myself for a visit unlike past trips to the USVIs. I had read that the foliage was sparse, several buildings were badly damaged, and some restaurants and shops had not yet reopened.

Riding in a taxi pointed toward Red Hook on St. Thomas, my sister, brother-in-law, Chris, and I listened to our driver’s account of how the storm impacted the islands and his family. Our views out the van windows and then on the passenger ferry to Cruz Bay verified the condition of the island – roofless buildings here and there and pockets of other wreckage, but for every time I spotted a tarp-covered house or an abandoned boat washed up onto shore, I also encountered signs of resilience and beginning anew. Trees with fresh leaves sprouting, healthy animals making their way across the road, or jewel-toned waters taking my breath away.

Some spots on the island were hard to see. Out of respect for people’s privacy I didn’t photograph any of the damaged houses, but we did see a few homes that were missing roofs or even walls. And while Mother Nature is well on her way to regenerating the lush green tropical foliage we are used to seeing, the hillsides from afar did look quite brown in a lot of areas.

That said, the island still felt as magical as always. One of the main reasons we love St. John is for the island’s vibe and atmosphere, and that has not changed. Everyone we encountered treated us with the usual warm welcome and kindness. Literal signs of love for the island could be found around every bend in the road. And the views of the water? Still jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

Eager to show my sister and brother-in-law some of the best parts of the island, we took in as many beach days as we could, starting with a morning on Hawksnest. Nothing made me happier than to see that clear blue water looking as mesmerizing as ever.

Out of concern for a lack of shade on the beach due to less foliage, we purchased a Neso Tent prior to the trip and it turned out to be a really fantastic item to have! Somehow I managed to miss taking a photo of our own tent, but the two tent images below are courtesy of the Neso website. And it’s the exact same color we purchased. I think the teal blends in with the sky nicely.

The tent works by filling a sandbag pouch in each corner after pulling the tent into an x-shape. Once the anchors are situated, you simply prop the poles up inside. It did take a bit of trial and error to figure out how to position the tent against the wind, but once we got the hang of how to anchor it it worked perfectly! (The trick was to heavily fill and then bury the anchors.)

We squeezed the four of us with beach chairs underneath the regular size, but it’s probably better to buy the Neso Tent Grande for more than two people. The tent packs up into a small bag that fits easily into a suitcase or a carry-on, and it’s TSA-compliant since the poles don’t have sharp ends. People frequently complimented our genius set-up and wanted to know more about it. Bonus: the Neso Tent is much easier to carry than an umbrella, and there’s no chance of it flying away and impaling someone. I’m not sponsored by Neso – I just really like their product and highly recommend this shade solution!

images courtesy of nesotents.com

Our next beach day took us to Maho Bay, famous for its turtle-sightings. We were treated to swimming with not only one or two turtles, but we spotted somewhere around ten or more! I was completely blissed-out on quality time with sweet testudines. And again…that gorgeous water.

Any fan of the island knows that no visit to St. John is complete without at least a little time spent at Trunk Bay. We experienced a cloudy sky that day, but happily propped up our tent anyway and went snorkeling along the underwater trail and beyond. The coral right around the trail looked slightly damaged from the storms and some of the trail signage was missing, but further out the coral appeared quite healthy and we saw tons of sealife. I even managed to get a photo of a flamingo tongue snail.

Sadly, one of my favorite beaches, Cinnamon Bay, did not fare well during the storm. The campgrounds and the surrounding area took a huge hit, and this area is still closed due to the damage. I knew going into this trip that Cinnamon had not been restored, but my heart sunk at the extent of the damage. Thankfully there are plenty of other wonderful beaches to explore, and actually, Cinnamon seemed like a fine spot to sit if you need some absolute peace and quiet (see Exhibit A below: photo of a couple and a shade-seeking chicken under an umbrella on the beach at Cinnamon).

If my favorite thing about St. John is the overall mood, and my second favorite thing is the beaches…my very next favorite thing is the food. Despite having so many favorite restaurants on St. John, we managed to try several new ones as well and I could not have been more excited to have so many great choices.

We had a delicious Mexican food lunch at the newly-opened Greengos, complete with margaritas the size of our heads.

Another new-to-the-island favorite, Lucky Chops, was the perfect spot for Asian small plates in a cozy atmosphere.

We spotted new (to us) signage at Colombo’s Smoothies, but enjoyed the same rum-optional (always rum!) smoothies with a view as usual.

The night that the four of us planned to eat at The Longboard a temporary power outage sent us down the street to an old favorite instead, The Lime Inn, but Chris and I returned to The Longboard another night for drinks and appetizers. Try the Caribbean Summer Rolls!

Lastly, a picture of the four of us (finally!) at our favorite restaurant of the week, Indigo Grill. Here we enjoyed live music, a widely-varied menu, and some of the best mango margaritas I’ve ever had.

I’m so very glad we decided to keep our original plans and continue with our trip to St. John after the hurricane. We had an amazing time and came back to the States happy and fully rested. I hope this info helps someone to make the same choice to book a trip. The island is definitely ready to welcome guests and your tourism dollars will help boost their economy. Go for the friendly locals, the delicious food, and of course the beautiful views of spectacular beaches. It’s all still there!

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of my links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you so much for reading and for your support!

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  • Barbara - Just spent 10 days on the island and loved every second of our visit. ReplyCancel

    • Susan - So glad to hear it, Barbara! It’s hard to leave the island, isn’t it?! I wish I was there now.

  • ellen hammer - Thank you Susan for your beautiful pictures.   When were you back on island?  Ellen, from Bay Rum BreezeReplyCancel

    • Susan - Hi Ellen! So fun to hear from you, and thank you for the kind words about my photos! Chris and I were on St. John in early June. Hope you’re doing well! We remember gorgeous Bay Rum Breeze so fondly and hope to stay there again sometime.

  • Jill - We did our annual trip to St. John six months after Irma and it was by far the best trip ever there. There was something magical in the air and I’m so thankful we decided to go back so soon after Irma.ReplyCancel

    • Susan - Yes! I know what you mean about the magic, Jill! So glad you were able to do your annual trip.

Returning to Love City Post-Irma: Part One

Back on August 28, 2017, my sister and I finalized our plans for a week-long trip to St. John in June 2018 by putting a deposit down on a beautiful two-bedroom Coral Bay villa. I was thrilled that I would finally get to show my beach-loving sister and brother-in-law one of my favorite little island spots in the world! We all had a wonderful time on Vieques together and it was high time we took another trip.

Two days after our booking, a tropical storm started to form that would later evolve into Category 5 Hurricane Irma on track to bring catastrophic devastation to several of the Virgin Islands. We watched helplessly from our homes on the mainland as satellite images and news footage showed Irma pummeling down on one of my favorite spots in paradise.

After the storm settled and details of the destruction began to spread across our news sources, my sister and I wondered if we might not be able to keep our travel plans to visit St. John, even as far out as our trip was scheduled. Ideally we still wanted to visit, especially if it helped in any way by putting tourism dollars back into St. John’s economy, but we also wondered if the island’s infrastructure would be ready for tourists and/or if we would be a burden at that point.

We decided to wait and see, and as it turned out we received news in October that our rental villa was completely unscathed and as the trip approached, our flight itineraries stayed the same even though many travelers even up through late spring were facing canceled flights. With everything luckily in place for us, off to Love City we went!

As per usual, a rental Jeep provided our transportation around the island for the week. First things first, we headed to our villa to get settled. We didn’t encounter any issues at all driving around the island. Roads were clear, even on the quieter Coral Bay side, and we only noticed a pile of cable in the street closer to the villa. Downed trees and debris have been completely cleared. Of course, that’s not to say we didn’t see other signs of destruction, but a little more on that in the next post.

You can see a small sample of Irma’s aftermath in the photo below. The foliage surrounding the villa and on the hillside is quite bare. Some trees fared well, but a large percentage on the island were completely stripped during the high winds of the storm. It buoyed my spirits, though, to see new leaves growing and baby trees here and there already popping up. Nature has been hard at work over the last several months healing itself.

Somehow this villa managed to come out of the hurricane untouched by Irma. We noticed the home next door undergoing some repairs, but our villa didn’t seem to have even a shutter out of place. The beautiful landscaping looked healthy, and we even spotted a critter or two scurrying around outside. (And a spider or two inside, but thankfully I had three other people to help remove them when needed.)

The villa is named All About the View, and you can see why. This side of the island provides an unparalleled view of Caribbean islands (including the BVIs!) as far as the eye can see.

Somehow I completely missed taking any images of the villa’s interior, so the four images below are courtesy of the listing on vrbo.com. The perfect size for two couples, this villa has two master bedrooms and two bathrooms – one of each on the main level and the lower level. The kitchen provided everything we needed (well, except a can opener so no huevos rancheros for us, womp womp) to prepare a few meals at home and sandwiches for the beach. The cozy living room area was a good hang-out spot for the four of us even though we didn’t have use of the TV. This house is not hooked up for cable or satellite yet, but we were perfectly happy without it.

So that’s where we stayed for the week! If you’re a couple, two couples, or small family looking for a place to stay on St. John, I definitely recommend All About the View. It’s not always easy to find a smaller villa that also has a pool, so thankfully this fit the bill for us. And I think they’ve probably replaced the can opener by now.

In the next post, we explore the island, head to the beaches, and eat/drink at as many restaurants as possible. Stay tuned!

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Honduras Snapshot

It’s time (or well past the time) for a Honduras snapshot post! Here I’ve rounded up a few nuggets of info about our trip, and some of our favorite moments and photos.

Trip Details

Chris and I traveled to Roatan, Honduras and stayed on the east end of the island in Camp Bay. We flew round-trip from IAD to RTB with a layover in MIA. Our Saturday-to-Saturday itinerary from April 7-14 included a week-long stay at the Living Waters villa which we reached by rental car.

Best Moment

I don’t know if it gets any better than snuggling a sloth, but I also had an amazing time kayaking around the water behind the villa.

Worst Moment

The power at the villa went out for a little while one day, and I did get a couple of itchy bug bites, but that’s all just part of island life. I’m reeeeeeally not complaining. The trip pretty much went as smooth as we could hope for! I’d happily accept a couple of bites and a temporary lack of electricity if it meant I could return to that magical spot on the island right now.

Funniest Moment

Seeing Chris play jungle gym to a couple of capuchin monkeys was certainly worthy of a few giggles!

Best Meal

This one is a straight-up tie: we absolutely loved our home-cooked lunch at Geraline’s (part of our Jade Beach tour guide’s family – I wish she could cook for us after every time we go snorkeling!) and our giant crab feast at Gio’s in the French Harbour area. I’ve never had so much fun making a mess while eating.

Something We Learned

This was our second time doing a mangroves tour (we also saw a mangroves forest on Grand Cayman), but this was the first time we had an opportunity to get really close to the tropical trees and to learn about them from a born-and-raised Roatan local. Mangroves are salt-tolerant trees that have adapted to harsh conditions that would normally kill other plants, and they provide a rich environment for all kinds of fish, birds, and insects.

We’re Thankful We Packed

I’m always happy to embrace my inner-nerd and work on a jigsaw puzzle during our beach trips. I pack a 1000-piece one every time. It’s perfect for a rainy day (although this time we didn’t have any rain at all), and it gives me a break from the sun whenever my fair skin has reached its UV-limits. I also like to work on it in the early morning while I eat my breakfast, and this puzzle happened to be breakfast-themed! So meta.

We Didn’t Need To Bring

Scuba gear. I originally planned this trip around completing our open water diver certification, but I simply didn’t end up falling in love with scuba diving like I was hoping and decided not to continue the training for now. More on that later, but I didn’t end up needing the wetsuit I brought for our open water checkout dives.

Trip Regrets

We spent the week watching kite surfers on the water behind our house and it looked like so much fun. But it also looked like a steep learning curve, and that week was really just carved out for pure and utter relaxation, so we decided not to put the effort into much of anything beyond floating in the pool, eating, and drinking. I wish we had at least attempted it though! We’ve decided we would love to go back to this exact spot and stay a week or longer, so next time we will definitely sign up for some lessons.

Reasons To Go Back

See above re: kite surfing and…I would like to stay at that amazing house again!

Favorite Photos

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Moving Pictures: Honduras

Speaking of flying a drone in Honduras, I also took some video with the DJI Mavic Pro! (And also the GoPro and my point-and-shoot.) Granted, I’m still learning about video filming and editing, and I’m definitely still learning to shoot video with a drone, but I’m pretty excited about how this little video turned out.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of my links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you so much for reading and for your support!

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Flying a Drone in Honduras

Our trip to Honduras in April was my first opportunity to travel with the DJI Mavic Pro since I purchased it, so I thought I’d write a little bit about the process of traveling with a drone and share some of the images I took with it. (All photos in this post are from my trusty little Mavic.)

I actually bought the drone before we left for our trip to Peru last summer, but I didn’t yet feel confident about flying it at home let alone in another country, so I decided not to bring it despite all of the amazing photo opportunities we would have had with it. And then our next trip after that was to New York, where my understanding is that drones are pretty much a no-no in the entire city. The whole reason I settled on the DJI Mavic Pro, though, was for its highly portable design, so I’ve been itching to take it somewhere scenic. Enter Roatan, Honduras!

So my first order of business before packing the drone was to research the country-specific guidelines and laws for entering the country with a drone and for flying an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV. I have no interest in breaking any rules and ending up starring in an episode of Locked Up Abroad. I’m a very law-abiding traveler.

Simply doing a search on “drone laws Honduras” provided enough sources to verify their general drone laws, such as not flying over people or large crowds, respecting people’s privacy, and stay out of areas like airports and military facilities. We follow their same guidelines here in the United States plus some additional laws, so after some thorough reading I felt comfortable packing the Mavic in my carry-on camera bag and heading off to Honduras.

Law review, check. Next up: general safety. The Mavic operates on Lithium-ion Polymer batteries and since they can (very rarely!) be hazardous, I purchased a LiPo safety bag and port covers for extra safe transport of the batteries. For anyone wanting to travel with a drone, keep in mind that LiPo batteries are not allowed to be packed in your checked baggage, so you’ll need to plan to carry them on with you. The fire resistant safety bag keeps the batteries contained if they should short-circuit and spark. I also read that the batteries travel best if they’re partially or mostly discharged, so I let them drain before the trip.

Going through security at our airport, Dulles International, was a breeze, or at least as much as it can be these days. I took my Mavic out of my bag along with my other electronics that are larger than a cell phone, and everything cleared the security process with no issues. And just a quick note on going through security, Chris and I have been using CLEAR for almost two years and we absolutely love it. We’ve never had to wait in line, and that gives me plenty of extra time to unload my electronics for the x-ray and re-pack afterward. If you sign up through my link, you’ll receive two months free (and I will, too)!

When we arrived on Roatan, we didn’t have to do any paperwork or processing on the drone like I’ve heard some other countries require. For instance, in Peru you need to apply in advance to receive approval and there is a tax assessed and charged that gets refunded as you exit the country. Bringing the Mavic to Roatan was easy breezy! But since drone laws are constantly evolving, we’ll check the laws again if/when we return to Honduras someday in case anything has changed.

Our rental villa in Camp Bay was the perfect spot to practice flying without disturbing a soul. The last thing I want (besides breaking laws) is to make anyone feel like I’m being a creepy spy, or to bother people with the noise. Once the Mavic is up in the air you can’t hear it, but the take-off is a little loud.

We even had plenty of time and resources to get a little creative with the aerial photos. I had a version of the image below in my head ever since we planned this trip and I had a blast executing my vision! Now I just need to learn how to take images with the Mavic on a self timer so I don’t have to be holding the controls.

This area just down the beach from our rental home was also a fantastic spot to fly. We had the beach all to ourselves one afternoon! I’ll never get over how gorgeous it was from all angles – on the ground and from the air up above, Camp Bay is simply stunning.

I’m really looking forward to traveling with the Mavic more in the future! I also brought it with me on a recent trip to St. John, USVI, with no issues at all and those posts are coming soon. If you are a drone pilot and have any good travel tips or recommendations, please let me know in the comments or send me an email!

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of my links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you so much for reading and for your support!

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  • Jaimye - Glad to hear I can bring my Mavic to Roatan in October.  I’ll also be in St. John next May also.  I hope you saw great recovery happening.
    The drone shots are such a great new perspective for vacation photos. I just had my first trip with it in Italy on Amalfi coast and had a blast. 
    Happy Flying.ReplyCancel

    • Susan - Yes! You’ll get some amazing shots on Roatan! St. John is steadily recovering. I’m behind on blogging about it, but we had a wonderful time. And how cool re: Italy. I’d love to fly there!

  • David Mathieson - Did you fly into San Pedro Sula? I’ll be flying there at the end of the month with my Karma drone. I’m not interested in getting hassled nor having it confiscated. It’s too big to carry on, so I’ll pack the drone but carry the batteries. Any tips or advice?ReplyCancel

    • Susan - Hi David! I flew into RTB on Roatán. I think as long as you cover/protect the battery terminals you should be able to carry them on with no issues. To be even more safe, you can put them in a safety bag like the one mentioned in my post. (And don’t forget to really secure the gimbal on the drone in your checked bag.) Have an amazing trip! I’d love to see your drone footage!

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