Thursday, May 24, 2018

This Week: St. John, USVI

Coffee Walk

Morning came fast. The hangover even faster. It came because I remembered I was in an easterly time zone and if I were home it would be 4 AM and dark. It was 6 AM here and the morning light crept through the windows into my eyelids. Ugh.

We had arrived late yesterday afternoon to our happy place of St. John, USVI. Getting to St. John required an overnight flight to Houston, a morning flight to Puerto Rico, then an island hopper over to St. Thomas. Then we pack into a crowded taxi to get us to the ferry to St. John. Once in Cruz Bay, we picked up our rental car and navigated our way to the hillside villa. Once all this was accomplished, we returned to town to celebrate our arrival with dinner followed by an impromptu bar crawl. Price paid.

I could lay here watching the room get brighter and wallow in my misery or I could get up and do something. I was hungry and there was a grocery store at the bottom of Contant Hill. I could walk down get some eggs and some OJ. A walk in the fresh island air would be good.

I got up to put my contacts in only to discover I had slept in them. My husband asked where I was going. I said to the grocery store.

“Sure you wanna do that?” Christian asked, reminding me of the vertiginous hillside road that wound up Contant Hill.

“I need to clear the cobwebs out of my head,” I replied. He suggested I wear my hiking shoes instead of flip flops. I grabbed my wallet and my phone and put them in my back pockets. I walked up the flight of steps to the driveway and then to the gate. After pressing the button to open the slow rusty metal gate, my journey began. The morning was quiet and the road still shady. I could hear the clanging and banging of pans as someone made breakfast from the home above me as I approached Contant Point Road. It was all downhill from here.

After double checking for cars because they drive on the left side on this American island, I used my Colorado hiking skills to side step the steep asphalt road crossing one foot in front of the other to save my knees. Around a curve I approached a woman and her dog at a driveway. The dog was a collie mix with long fur and brown spots. He approached, sniffed my hand, and moved on.

“I guess that’s it,” the woman laughed as I passed. I smiled and continued down. And down. And down. I passed the Methodist Church. Today was Easter Sunday, but was still too early for parishioners to arrive. After many minutes the road finally flattened out as it met Highway 104 at one of the town’s two gas stations. I turned left to pass the town’s trash dump, two large metal storage tankers that residents would stop by on their way to work and throw plastic bags into. As I passed the stinky bins a woman drove up in a tiny white Kia with a plastic trash bag hanging from the handle of her car’s door. I walked on the sidewalk around the car ferry parking lot and crossed the street to walk up to the grocery store.
Starfish Grocery is located in a retail building called The Marketplace on the southeastern side of the island’s main town of Cruz Bay. There is also a deli, a real estate company, a clothing store, and a liquor store. As I walked to the grocery’s entrance, I noticed a used book store-slash-coffee shop called Papaya. Having visited this island eight times in the last 12 years I can safely say this was new. I entered the grocery store and bought all the breakfast items I could carry and then crossed to the coffee shop.

There were two gentlemen in line at the tiny counter past two large bookshelves stuffed with paperbacks and movie DVDs. The two men chatted with each other, one wearing a t-shirt from an island construction company. The older woman behind the counter was making a coffee for the man in front of me and the other man already had his coffee and was adding cream and sugar.

“Yeah, that girl broke my heart. Three years we spent together,” said the man adding sugar.

“That’s rough, man,” said the guy in front of me.

“Yeah, but I’m getting over it.”

Broken hearted guy said goodbye and left. When it was my turn, I asked for a vanilla latte with skim 

“We don’t have skim; only non-fat,” said the woman.

“Ok, sure,” I stammered.

As she made my latte, I spied a stack of the St. John newspapers on the counter and picked one up turning to the second page. In the top right corner was the weekly cruise ship arrival info. This was one of the most important pieces of information on the island. The paper tells people when cruise ships will be docked at St. Thomas, what cruise line it is, how many people are on the boat and when it leaves. Two ships were docked today. That meant the town of Cruz Bay and the closest beaches will be full of daytripping tourists. I made a mental note we should head to the east end beaches.
While I waited, a man with a shirt that said St. John Solar entered, got his own drip coffee from the counter with cream, placed $1.50 on the counter, said thanks, and left. As I paid for my own latte I asked the woman if the she was open this early every day and she answered yes. I deposited my change in the tip jar and said, ‘see you tomorrow.’

I now had two paper grocery bags stuffed with food, a quart of milk and a quart of OJ and one latte to carry back up the hill. Fortunately the bags had handles so I could carry both in one hand and hold the latte with the other. I crossed the parking lot and ducked under the chained off service entrance to begin my return.

As I walked along, I sipped the latte. Mana from heaven. The jolt of caffeine instantly brightened my mood and the frothy milk soothed my growling tummy. In this moment, this was the best latte ever. By now the sun had cleared the hillside and was beating down on me in full force as I passed the stinky trash bins. The hand holding the grocery bags ached from the weight so before I began my ascent on Contant Point Road, I stopped, put the bags down, and switched hands with the latte. All uphill from here.

I had only walked a few yards when drop s of sweat formed on my face. Above me was a house with a small driveway where I stopped to rest. From here I began to make little goals as I walked; Charge past this guard rail to the next house, get by the church, get around this corner to the next house, etc. Foot by foot, step by step, I traveled up the hill. I felt like I was hiking the Manitou Incline. When I approached the villa road, I stopped to rest, regroup, and switch hands for the short drop to the villa.
Nearing the gate I dropped the bags on the road flexing my wrist a bit. I was about to press the entrance code into the keypad when a voice scared the crap out of me.

“You’re drenched!” laughed Christian from the other side of the gate. As the gate opened, he grabbed the grocery bags and headed into the villa. He said he had been sleeping off his hangover in the outdoor hammock, shaded by the side yard. “You looked wiped out.”

“I needed to sweat off the booze,” I said. Despite my appearance I actually felt better. Christian put the groceries away in the villa’s kitchen while I took my latte and plopped on a lounge chair next to the tiny pool overlooking St. Thomas. The island breeze cooled me as I glanced at my phone for the time. My trek took an hour and a half. As I watched the boats motor in and out of the bay, I decided to make a coffee run every morning.


Like a silent alarm, sunlight woke me up at 6 AM the next morning. I got up, put my contacts in and brushed my teeth.

“Where ya going,” Christian groggily asked.

“Coffee run. You want some?”

“Yes, please.”

I set off, but first glanced at my phone. 6:15 AM. I was confident I would fare much better on this walk sans groceries and hangover. Going down was, dare I say, easy. When I arrived at the shop it was busy again. Most people got drip coffee and would simply pour their own, put some cash on the counter, and leave. I requested my latte with skim milk, a habit from my local coffee shop. The same woman as yesterday said, “We don’t have skim. Whole, fat free and soy.”

“Fat free please.”

I noticed a shelf filled with bottles above the woman as she steamed the milk and there was one that read white chocolate syrup, Christian’s favorite.

“May I also have a white chocolate latte?”

“We don’t have white chocolate,” the woman said without turning around.

“That bottle above your head says, ‘white chocolate’,” I pointed. She looked up at the syrup shelf and laughed. “Yes, white chocolate. What kind of milk?


“Don’t have 2%. Whole,” she said.

“OK, whole.”

Together my lattes were $12. I gave her $13 and left, latte in each hand. I easily crossed the parking lot, down the steep driveway and back on the road. Today was Monday, a work day, and many cars passed on the main road. Many more were stopped in front of the trash bins. I carefully navigated the cars to get to the hill.

My calves were burning as I charged up the road, but it was still a thousand times easier than yesterday. A car approached coming down the hill so I stepped off the road and onto the front steps of a house as it passed. Out of the corner of my eye, a giant red ball moved. I looked over my right shoulder to witness a large crab crawl out from under the house. The size of a bright red Kong toy, the crab scampered into a large hole next to a tree.
With the car and crab gone, I restarted up the road. Approaching the top, I could again hear the clang of dishes from above. When I arrived at the villa, Christian was already in a lounge chair by the pool. After handing him his latte, I checked my phone. 7:30 AM. It still took over an hour. I put my feet up on the deck chair and together we watched the boats motor by on another beautiful morning in paradise.


Today’s walk was another blue sky morning, however, the sun was still low enough the trip down was cool and shady. As I approached the curve where I had seen the woman and her dog earlier, I saw a young girl and her even younger brother walking down the middle of the road in their school uniforms. The girl had cornrows and wore a blue plaid skirt and yellow polo and her brother wore dark blue pants and yellow polo. The boy was several feet behind. The girl was ‘switchbacking’ down the hill. With the exception of being in the middle of the road, that was actually a good way to walk down the steep hill. The boy, falling farther behind, would yell “Wait!” The girl would stop until he got within a step of her and she would walk away. I passed both as she waited again.

Upon getting to the counter during another busy coffee shop morning, I asked the same woman for my medium latte with fat free milk and a large white chocolate latte with whole milk. This was my third day in a row asking for this order. The woman placed two medium sized cups in front of me and said one was the white chocolate.

“Um, I asked for a large white chocolate,” I said meekly.  Without saying a word, the woman poured the white chocolate latte into a large cup. Then she steamed more milk and poured that in and then poured an extra dollop of syrup, put on the lid and turned away without a word.
As I exited the Starfish parking lot, the two children I passed earlier walked by now holding hands. When I returned to the villa Christian said his latte was extra sweet today.


The last day of vacation was a Saturday and when I arrived at the coffee shop there was a different, younger woman behind the counter. After a week of practice, I had my order down:  Medium latte with fat free milk and a large latte with whole mill and white chocolate syrup. The younger woman made my drinks while I checked the cruise ship info in the local paper. She set the two cups in front of me and said, “$13 dollars.”

Hmmm. All week long I’d paid $12 for this same order. Since it was my last day, I bit my tongue, paid the bill, plus a dollar tip, and made the trek up the steep hill for the last time.  It took under 45 minutes, a Personal Best. On this last morning on island, we sipped our lattes, we enjoyed the quiet, the blue sky, the turquoise water, the white boats, and the green island of St. Thomas in the distance.

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