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following the sun to the reopening of america (road trip, 2021)

Despite my fears of the novel pandemic, an inner urging provoked me to begin looking at my trusty road map and not so trusted weather maps. Winter was finally about to descend on the midwest in the final week of January, so I came up with a tentative plan and prepared my SUV by changing oil and buying a pair of new tires.

When the time seemed prime for an escape to sunnier climates, I packed my duffle and stocked the cooler and said adios to my children who told me: “Go …..Go”.

So onward went I.

My original thought was to head due south from Chicago and get somewhere warm fast. But rain showed up on the weather radar from Louisiana to Alabama, and thus the steering wheel of my SUV bore slightly right and headed off “south by southwest” in the general direction of Austin, Texas. The artificial weatherman showed a sunnier climate in The Lone Star State, and so began a five week quest to stay under the rays of our own, local star, The Sun.

Hot Springs, AK.

For my first night on the road, I knew of a relatively inexpensive hotel in Hot Springs with a fine little restaurant next door to it named Rocky’s Corner. I had eaten there two years before and their house salad dressing was so flavorful that I even bought some to bring home with me. I longed to taste it again.

I arrived at the hotel, Best Western Winners Circle, right around dinner time and checked in. The hotel raises their prices when the thoroughbreds are running stakes races across the street at Oaklawn Park; but they accommodate between busy weekends and have very attractive pricing. They throw in a really good full-cooked breakfast every morning, so staying there is well worth the price.

Rocky’s was only half full of people, because of the covid restrictions. This provided an opportunity to talk with the restaurant manager, a young man named Danny. He even sat with me at my table after I told him I was a travel writer. We talked about his exploits in hunting and fishing, and mine of traveling.

Danny and the Bartender

I had ordered the Italian beef and, of course, the salad. I remarked how I had never tasted such a good beef outside of the city of Chicago. He said, to my laughing surprise, that the owners of Rocky’s were originally from Chicago.

That explained things a lot !!!

At some point during our conversation, an empathy came over me about how profoundly our restaurant workers have been negatively affected by the pandemic and the closure of America’s fabulous restaurants. Even my favorite neighborhood restaurant, The Norwood, had been closed for many months. I knew personally of their struggle to stay viable. This is a place you go to out of dedication to your community, a place where the pancakes are so good you don’t need syrup!

So, my story is dedicated to the quaint places dotted along the vast American landscape, and to the humble people who serve us in the field of hospitality.

Chicago style beef

As America reopens herself, I hope the hungry traveler finds the means to go to these places when visiting the area, or to the places of their own heart, to support them and help them recover.

Corpus Christi, TX.

McGee Beach, Corpus Christi

After making it as far as the welcome center at Texarkana the next morning, I once again decided to glance at my cell phone’s weather app. Though Austin looked favorable to me with partly sunny skies and low 60 degree temps for the next few days, Corpus Christi promised full sun and 70s.

The ranger at the Center gave me a helpful map of Texas and drew an even better route to Austin than taking the interstates. I-30 to I-35 would be very congested, he warned. So he drew a Sharpie-yellow line on the road map following US 59 to Texas 43 to US 79. When I got as far as Rockdale, I could then decide to bed down there, head to Austin, or continue south on US 77 to Corpus. This path avoided Dallas and Houston and gave me an opportunity to experience deep, rural Texas.

By the time I had made it to Rockdale that night, the Path to the Sun seemed best for me, so I veered south on 77 and off I was to the Gulf of Mexico.

I had not been in the area since an ancient road trip my wife and I took nearly 40 years before. I chose to stay at a hotel situated on McGee Beach, the city’s only one. This was The Emerald Beach Hotel. The property, though it gave the feeling of being beyond its prime, was right in the middle of two strands that ran along the Gulf Shore. There was a two mile walkway to the north, where the US Lexington is moored. And a similar mile and a half walkway to the south goes through Cole Park. Both strands were active with walkers and joggers, basketballers and yoga practitioners. I used this environment to my advantage, stealing rays of sunshine while going for long walks or short runs each day I was there.

the strand north
cupalas adorn the marina
Terry and Frank at Wednesday County Farmer's Market
Adriana of Landry's Seafood House

There is a place in southern Texas that begs to be experienced by the native soul: the wind and the sand of Padre Island.

my little burro

After my body felt fully rejuvenated by a three night’s rest in Corpus Christi, it needed a more adventurous exploit. Knowing thyself, I had stowed a backpack full of camping gear into my SUV before leaving home. I drove down to Mustang Island State Park and set up camp on the wild, white sands which stretch about two miles along the Gulf of Mexico.

Padre Island camping

The primitive aspect of the beach is what it makes it so alluring. There was a sign at the road’s end where you turn on to Mustang Beach that listed only 2 rules: Enjoy Our Beaches and Clean Up After Yourself….

Austin, TX.

Eventually I did make my way to Austin, as the weather there remained fair. I had been to this town before, and knew of its culinary satisfactions.

Most of the shops and many of the restaurants were closed. The iconic 6th Street, or “Dirty 6th”, had a few bars open, but the music emanating from them didn’t sound very professional. Perhaps it was because it was a weeknight. There were also a lot of homeless people panhandling and not wearing masks, so I felt more comfortable moving on.

I did stop in at Cooper’s, on Congress Street, for a piece of their famous brisket and sides of baked green beans, blueberry cobbler, and slaw; but I didn’t get the chance to interview their staff. However the cook, who in my mind is a brisket genius, gladly posed for a quick pic.

brisket, beans, and blueberry cobbler
brisket genius

In the morning I went to another restaurant I like in East Austin called “Juan In A Million”. Their breakfast burritos are widely popular. There the waitress was a little bit too busy to talk, and too shy for a picture, so I just sat back and enjoyed the colorful decor.namesake

namesake

It is an interesting diner with airy rooms, bright decor, and an active atmosphere. The breakfast tacos are definitely worth a visit!

Fredericksburg, TX.

Onward I roamed. Hill Country, west of Austin, is scenic and dotted with a few state parks. I made a stop for my daily excursion of a hike in Pedernales Falls and was impressed by the eroded rock holes carved in the limestone and filled with the cyan waters from when the falls run full.

Pedernales Falls

And after a few more hours on US 290, I stopped for dinner in the singular town of Fredericksburg. Just looking at it, after driving through the arid countryside preceding it, you can see the residents have kept up traditional German values over the decades. It is a colorful town shaded by bald cypress and burr oak. She is known for her wine vineyards and seasonal music festivals which make it a place I would like to revisit.

K-Bob's Steakhouse

But this night I needed a good dinner. An unusually flower-clad steakhouse caught my eye and I could not pass it up. I did not know it at the time, but K-Bob’s is a regional chain of steakhouses serving Texas and New Mexico. Leo, the bartender, seated me and served me even though he had a full complement of local cowboys attending the bar.

Leo of K-Bob's Steakhouse

Kingman, AZ.

The next day I made my way past west Texas, through southern New Mexico (which had quarantine restrictions at the time if you rented a room there).

Tessa of Native Grill, Ahwatukee AZ.

After driving adjacent to a spectacular, lipstick-red sunset that night, I made my way to the crossroads town of Kingman. It is a well-lit city on Arizona’s desolate western flank. From here you can make it to Havasu City to the west, Phoenix to the south, The Grand Canyon east, and Las Vegas north --- all within a few hours.

arizona sunset

Though exhausted by the long day’s drive, I was met at the front desk of The Best Western Plus by a lovely young lady with an invigorating spirit whose name is Cassidy. I had discovered that I left my business cards at the restaurant where I had eaten a few hours earlier, but luckily had one card left.

I asked Cassidy if she wouldn’t mind using the hotel’s scanner to make me a few copies. Being ultra-diligent, she made 10 pages of duplicates, with about 12 to a side. She took time and care to scissor them into perfect rectangles, one by one, while telling me her story.

And her story, though she is barely past her teens, was amazing. She told me that presently, she was on her 2nd shift. She had worked a full eight-hour shift, driven home to her family’s ranch 45 minutes away, only to receive a phone call that she was needed back at the hotel. The girl who had replaced her had gone home ill.

Here was somebody more tired than I, I mused! Perhaps she was fighting off fatigue by being such a precisionist with the abundance of copied business cards. But I was glad for it, because she then related other fragments of her history.

Not only was she born and raised on a ranch, but she had been a whizz in high school. She graduated earlier than the rest of her class and then had gone on to find a program to take her prerequisites to attend nursing school. This prereq school was in Viet Nam, so she studied there for a few months taking in the culture and picturesque beauty. Her heart was thus seeded to want to be able to travel the world one day.

Finally, after squaring off the paper business cards in her hands and presenting them to me, she said how grateful she was to have her job….she was pleased that they had asked her back in to work that 2nd shift.

Cassidy's hospitality on US 66

I am always surprised by the charming people the traveler meets when in need of assistance.

LAS VEGAS, NV.

US 93
taming the Colorado at Hoover Dam

One of my favorite camps in North America is at Texas Springs in Death Valley National Park. The morning after lodging in Kingman, my automobile quite logically steered itself in that direction. I have been blessed in my life in many ways, but one of the most treasured is that I am Godfather to three amazing young men. One of these, Colin, presently lives in Las Vegas. So I would stop there on the way to the alluring depths of Death Valley.

Picking up on the theme of my travels, good ol’ Colin brought me to his friend’s brand new business venture, a cool looking birrieria truck in East Las Vegas at 1930 E. Charleston Blvd: “El Patron”.

Nahum and Colin

Street food has found a solid place in American culture and the young owner, Nahum Salgado, is tapping his enterprising nature into this form of

savory art. His nature is sweet, and unassuming, bubbling with the energy of an entrepreneur. He actually used the downtime the pandemic provided to plan his venture and to lay the groundwork required.

And his family-made, dipped red tacos of “El Patron” were spectacular.

Death Valley National Park
Artist's Drive
Artist's Palate

I set up camp in Death Valley for the following night, but not before hiking and scrambling up the slopes of Artist’s Palate. The next morning, I took a hard and bumpy ride on West Side Road to view the valley from the pioneer’s perspective from the far side of Badwater Basin. I then headed out the western exit, past Stovepipe Wells. 190-West is a most exhilarating drive, from one deep mountain valley to the next. There is a parking lot at Father Crowley’s Vista Point where you can view Rainbow Canyon diving into Panamint Valley. On occasion, F-35 fighter jets boom through this narrow gage on training sortees, alarming the tourists and picture-takers on the point.

West Side Road
the dive into Panamint Valley
Rainbow Canyon from Father Crowley's Point

The scenery becomes even more wondrous the further west you travel, for the mighty Sierras come into view a few miles further on. There is not a lot of traffic in the winter either, so pulling over for landscape photography is certainly a plausibility. In fact, this path west is like a clandestine jewel if one is adventurous enough to seek it.

Sierra Nevada
seeking it

Arcadia, CA.

After a full day’s drive under the span of the stalwart Sierra, I eventually found myself in the quiet village of Arcadia.

I Love this little city. It is close enough to L.A. that you can get there in less than an hour, but it is still slightly out of the chaos zone. The L.A. County Arboretum is situated in Arcadia as well as Santa Anita Racetrack. The pandemic had closed down both. But some of the quaint restaurants were open to twenty-five percent capacity. Others, unfortunately, were closed down for good.

During the days I walked to Arcadia County Park. There were ladies pushing strollers under the contrasting species of trees, ficus and palms. Yoga classes seemed to pop up randomly here and there. Accomplished tennis doubles mesmerized casual observers. Chinese “plaza” dancers strutted under sun-umbrellas, pirouetting slowly while positioning their hands like pinyan Buddhas.

All the while, the sun shone and warmed my shoulders while the drift of Mediterranean air reached this far inland from the ocean.

There is an exemplary delicatessen kiddy-corner from the park named Claro’s Italian Markets. It has been here for ages, mainly because of its excellence in foods. It is mainly an Italian deli, though they boast Greek, French, and Argentine influences as well.

Carmen behind plexiglass at Claro's Italian Market

I was a little perturbed on my first visit, because the people before me in line at the meat counter seemed to be stocking up for an entire month. But I knew I would regret it if I simply left never to come back. If patience is a virtue, then its reward that Sunday was the Eggplant Parmesan hiding in an adjacent, heated deli-glass-counter. Probably the best I have ever tasted.

I also purchased several bottled goods to bring home as gifts, a few chocolate laced sweets, and a ½ pound of genoa salami which provisioned me the following ten days on the road.

I drove to the coast while in the vicinity and harbored myself one day at The Reel Inn of Malibu. They are a hip little fish joint on The Pacific Coast Highway, playfully decorated in sea-themed paraphernalia; but their fare is serious seafood.

Jesus and Brooke of The Reel Inn

The indoor picnic tables were shut down, but fortunately the sea winds were soft enough, and the skies sunny enough, to dine on the tables outside.

During my arduous drive to Southern California from the mountains ranging above Lone Pine, I recalled the video that had gone viral on youtube a few weeks before of the poor lady whose grill faced prolonged closure because of governmental mismanagement. To me, her impassioned video was the epitome of what restaurateurs had had to go through while dealing with the shortsightedness and indifference of the hand of government. Wouldn’t it be my personal coup d’etat if I could interview her for my story? It was HER story, afterall, which had affected me so much.

Not remembering her exact name or precise location meant some simple research at my hotel on my laptop. Her name was Angela Marsden of Pineapple Hill Saloon and Grill. Again I watched her video and again was similarly touched by her authenticity and desperation.

I called and found out her establishment fortuitously was reopened. Hastily did I drive there. Sherman Oaks was only a half hour away and this, I felt, would be my attempt to be of assistance.

I introduced myself to Angela upon my arrival, and though she was extremely busy that day (and perhaps a wee bit overwhelmed by the reopening), she was gracious enough to answer a few questions and to say she would be delighted if I wrote about her.

You can tell by her presence that she is a humble person. She is of mid-western roots having grown up in the rust-belt city of Fort Wayne, Indiana. She has kind eyes, but as I said, the day I plummeted in unannounced, they were tired eyes. I knew she had recently gone through a lot.

Not feeling up for a picture to add to my story, she demurred and said that her staff would be happy to fill her shoes in that regard.

Her restaurant manager, Lindsay was more than helpful. And she recommended, as I do now, the Old Bay Wings. “Old Bay” is an Maryland crab rub that their cook, Miguel, has transitioned into a sauce. Its lemony flavor is quite appealing.

Lindsay and Sunni of Pineapple Hill

NORTH PHOENIX, AZ.

Once I realized the skies of the Coast were about to be shaded by a glaze of fog, I skedaddled to where the Sun remains ablaze most every day. In fact, Phoenix and its environs are widely known as The Valley Of The Sun.

It was here that I reunited with a grammar school-era friend and was taken into her hospitality for three conversation-laden days. We talked well into the night about ancient days and the forgotten traits of our youth.

Suzan is a fabulous interior designer, besides being a new grandmother to a wee lad named Wyatt.

During this time, and upon her advice, I visited the artistic community of Cave Creek. There is a notable gallery there named Rare Earth. Somewhat akin to the galleries of Scottsdale, Rare Earth had more outdoor space to work with, so therefore was large and breezy and held so many artifacts that it seemed as much a museum as a gallery.

Stefi Ho was the young lady who assisted me in picking out pieces of petrified wood they collect, under permit, outside the boundaries of Petrified Forest National Park. Though my budget and the size of my automobile dictated the size of my colorful chunks of 180 million year old wood, the gallery boasts dozens of pieces the size of boulders on their lot

petrified
Stefi of Rare Earth

The whole town of Cave Creek was shut down for a month in the early stages of the pandemic, but because of the diligence of the shop and restaurant owners, plus the foresight of the local government, the amount of time compared to other places was not obtrusive.

To this day the shops remain diligent. In fact, the splashy colors of the gemstones at Rare Earth seem to dazzle all the brighter for the daily disinfecting the staff performs.

There are several hikes in and around Cave Creek, so between walking by the singular restaurants and storefronts and heading out and back from one of the trailheads, I got plenty of exercise that day.

I had lunch at the Grotto Cafe which features soups, sandwiches, and tacos. The walls inside are adorned with posters and music labels, while the outdoor patio is shaded by palo verde and where they sometimes provide live music.

Brittany of Grotto Cafe
outdoor patio, The Grotto Cafe

On my last night in North Phoenix, Suzan brought me to Twist Bistro and Gallery, a local restaurant which she had personally designed for the new owner. On our arrival, we were seated, and I confidently pointed out to our server, a beautiful young woman named Lisa, just who Suzan was.

Suzan McDonald at her artistic creation

Taking my facetious attitude of importance in stride, Lisa graciously showed genuine interest in my friend’s contribution to her place of employment. She looked at the pictures Suzan had stored on her cell phone of the restaurant’s transformation and asked questions.

Lisa of Twist Bistro and Gallery

Lisa was not personally affected greatly by the scope of the pandemic, but the owners, Larry and Sandy certainly were. As it happened, Twist never qualified for the government’s PPP loans because they were a new outfit. They would have fit into the guidelines if they had opened by March of 2020. But their scheduled opening date was in April.

Then the couple had to postpone the opening until indoor dining restrictions were lifted. They were in the dark as to when this would happen, as was everyone in the state. It was a distressing few weeks, but by the middle of May they were allowed to open for indoor guests.

The regional menus at Twist (as well as the galleria artwork) are updated frequently on a rotating basis; so they certainly keep things fluctuating and interesting. And the tastes are amazing!

I tucked away the leftovers from my wonderful dinner into my cooler and nibbled on their sustenance in the coming days as I forged ahead, alway steering toward the warmth of the Sun. You never know who you might meet on the track along the way.

Mesilla, NM.

I had had a mysterious dream one night during all my rambling. Because I am currently writing a book about our National Parks, I often have regretted not having enough photos of Virgin Islands National. This dream profoundly suggested I go there.

The morning I was to leave Phoenix I booked a reasonably priced flight from Houston to St. Thomas, USVI. I then drove to Tucson where I procured a Rapid Covid Test which was required and uploaded on their Board of Tourism website.

I could not leave Tucson without a short rambling in Saguaro National Park’s Red Hills District. I spent a twilight hike roaming among the cacti and witnessed a subtle sunset.

I then drove the four hours it takes to get to Las Cruces, New Mexico. By this time the heavy restrictions had been modified, so I rented a room there.

Mesilla is a quaint hamlet just south of Las Cruces. There is an intimate little movie theater named The Fountain. It is more like watching a movie at a friend’s house than in a public place. I wasn’t surprised that it was closed due to the pandemic, for although restaurants that had survived were opening around the country, many schools and nearly all theaters had not.

But I could not keep myself from walking the narrow streets of Mesilla. The restaurants were chatty with people having fun, so the atmosphere of people being allowed to dine out was encouraging.

I stopped to take a snapshot of the picturesque San Albino Catholic Church which faces the historical town square. The church building itself is nearly 170 years old. As I took a photo, the door opened and a friendly gentleman came out and greeted me. He answered some questions I asked about the reopening of the church. They were still only at 30 percent capacity and therefore broadcast the Masses over the P.A. system onto the Mesilla square.

goods collected for the needy

He was Howard from The Knights of Columbus and he introduced me to the Pastor of San Albino’s, Father Christopher.

The next day I spent at White Sands National Park. I had last visited there when my children were young rapscallions.

White Sands National Park
gypsum

The following day was to be my first of two travel days through Texas to stay near the airport for my flight. But Mother Nature had other plans. The great winter storm of 2021 descended on the plains.

I reluctantly erred on the side of caution and stayed in Las Cruces another night. That day however, I returned to Mesilla to find a place for breakfast. It was fortuitous that I did. I stopped at Cafe de Mesilla and had a savory breakfast of bacon and eggs.

New Mexican ambiance

It is an utterly delightful cafe with local art hung on neatly colored walls painted by none other than the proprietress, Joyce. She adorns the dining rooms with artisan dishes she has collected over her life’s journey because, “They’re nice to look at”.

splashy colors

Perhaps she picked up intuitively that I was a sailor harbored by a storm that day, for she allowed me to remain at my table for as long as I liked. It was an interesting day, learning about her experiences.

Joyce of Mesilla

Van Horn, TX.

The problem with adventuring is that there is always something that needs to be overcome.

Anxious about the long haul I had the following day, I barely slept that night. I began my journey across the great state of Texas at 4:30 in the morning on about three hours sleep. A sunny, 40 degree day was forecast for the following day on the opposite side of the state, but first I would have to get through the ruins of the storm that had humbled Texas.

the storm of '21

After gassing up in El Paso, my car would not start. I knew the battery was strong, so I kept trying. It eventually fired, and as I drove the snowy lanes of West Texas it came to my mind that perhaps my car’s key fob needed a battery. I got as far as Van Horn and left my car running as I pumped in more gas. I found out that there was a NAPA store in town, so I slushed my way there and once again let the vehicle run while I went inside.

A dark, lanky Texan was eager to help, though he had never replaced a battery in such a small device. The contents of the fob spilled out when he figured out how to open the thing. He gingerly put in the new battery, of which this was the only one in stock, and replaced the parts. But he put the cover on backwards, so the other teller came over to help. By this time the 4 or 5 customers in the store were all aware of the proceedings. When the fob finally looked ready for a trial, I went outside and, while holding my breath, I turned off the car. Hesitantly, I turned her back on. With the car’s vroom, my heart soared. Maybe I could make it to Houston after all.

I stepped back inside the NAPA store and waived at the teller. “It works, thanks so much”, I called. Surprisingly, everyone in the store cheered!

My hat is off to all the people of Van Horn, Texas.

near Van Horn

Throughout the day I constantly passed by jackknifed trailer trucks and spun out, abandoned cars on the meridian. Some of the trucks were laying on their sides. And many of the automobiles had been in crashes.

I said as many prayers as the abandoned vehicles I passed that day, perhaps 200.

In one of the towns before San Antonio, where I pulled off, the gas station’s pumps were tapped. Luckily there was another station a bit down the road. But even there the lines of cars put a fear into me. After about a half hour wait, I was filled up.

What was predicted to be a twelve hour drive to Houston turned out to take fifteen instead. By the time I slid into town, I found that my flight had been cancelled. And the Houston hotel where I had booked a room was blacked out with no heat. There were no rooms at the other inns that night either.

I pushed on to Beaumont, another two and a half hours further, where I finally found a room to unwind and fall fast asleep. I had never driven 17 and ½ hours in my life.

Biloxi, MS. to Miami, FL

The next day featured rolling blackouts throughout the state, including my current hotel, so I kept heading east …. to Biloxi.

While journeying through Louisiana and Mississippi I was able to finally reach Expedia and was able to cancel my flight and room in St. Thomas. One of the best things to come out of the covid crises is the “No Change Fees” allowed by our airlines. If something comes up where you miss a flight, you are either reimbursed, or given future travel credits.

Maybe the travel fairies were with me, because at Harrah’s Gulf Coast in Biloxi they upgraded me to an immense suite that went beyond comfort.

New Orleans Style Shrimp, Bubba Gump Shrimp, Biloxi

The next morning I contacted another of my Godsons, Patrick, and his sister Amy who live in Gainesville. I had seen the Sun peeking his head out of the clouds on the weather app above Gainesville with the number 80 posted underneath. So my niece and nephew hosted me for a few days while I made arrangements to fly from Miami to St. Thomas.

The flight turned out to be super-inexpensive and I even found a place by Miami’s International Aeropuerto, The Even Hotel, that would house my car for $5 per day while I was in the Caribbean. They also had a free airport shuttle.

(On my return to Miami, and as part of my first day journeying homeward, I took a little side trip to Biscayne National Park. I joined a small kayak tour led by a naturalist and part time python hunter who wore python earrings. These huge snakes are an invasive species which prey upon native birds, mammals, and reptiles. We saw various sea birds from the mangrove shores including the majestic osprey.)

palm plantation
Ronnie, naturalist and python hunter of Biscayne National Park

US Virgin Islands

Saint Thomas and Saint John are easily Loved. The weather ranges in the 80s most days throughout the year. Though it can get humid and rain often, the downpours in winter are usually very short-lived. The Caribbean Sea, south of the islands, is a changing blue, somewhere from slate to cobalt; but the northern seas, abreast of the British Virgins, are strictly turquoise.

Trunk Bay, St. John

The people are so warm. Then men call you “brother”, and some of the women call you, “My Love”.

Marie, my charioteer

Saint Thomas was hit rather hard by the pandemic. Only a couple of restaurants were open during my stay, and all the shops I remembered from my previous time there were closed. Jewelry boutiques, souvenir shops, and artisan craft booths … all were shuttered on the maritime avenues.

the vacancy of Charlotte Amalie

Saint John was a completely different story. The happy, open-air taverns of tiny Cruz Bay spoke out in handfuls of voices and laughter. The restaurants were open and full to capacity. New boutiques were nestled in the miniscule shopping mall. There were artisans aplenty in the small square just beyond the ferry dock.

And most Americans may not realize this, but two-thirds of the island is a U.S. National Park.

Honeymoon Beach, Virgin Islands National Park
sea grape shade, Trunk Bay

The sad side of the story for Saint John is that it was hit extremely hard by the 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria. Caneel Bay, which was a dreamy resort on the north coast, is still shut down and three of its five exquisite beaches are closed off as well.

So each island has a great reason to go there to support them in their recovery!

Cruz Bay

Because of my late booking, almost all the resorts and B&Bs were full up. The only hotel with a room for me was The Windward Passage. Located right in the middle of Charlotte Amalie, it is also just across the street from the world-class harbor.

Charlotte Amalie Harbor

I am extremely grateful that things turned out this way for me. The staff at Windward Passage were always extremely helpful. The cleaning personnel, unlike all other covid-restricted hotels on my five week journey, actually cleaned my room every day. I took this to be a sign that restrictions were loosening.

My flat was on the 2nd of four tiers. The third and fourth floor rooms all had balconies, which looked nice. But the second floor rooms all opened onto a veranda, where the swimming pool is situated, and the end of which looks over the courtyard. I spent my mornings at the pool, just footsteps from my room. In the evenings I read a book or watched a laptop movie on a chair on the veranda.

The shop fronts which adorned the courtyard were symmetrically charming, but all were empty and had been for years. They represented the glory of past days. A large majority of people in the Virgins work (and many of these live on) the sea. Perhaps the pleasures of the land come secondary to those which charm the Caribbean.

Cruise ship lines were still yet to resume from the shut-down, so the strand around the harbor was free of crowds. Taxis in Charlotte Amalie are plentiful and there is a bus stand right in front of the hotel. The buses charge $2 to go most anywhere on the island.

free of cruise liners

While in town I chose to walk most everywhere. But on excursion days I took a bus or taxi to one of the beaches.

Magens Bay
view from Coki Beach
Kevin Wenk's solar powered picnic boat, Sol-R-Cat ....Honeymoon Beach - Water Island
bean bag toss, Honeymoon Beach - Water Island
Charlotte Amalie Harbor

The main point of my crossing to these jewels, however, was to take pictures of Virgin Islands National Park. So early one day, I hopped on the safari bus and traveled to the east end, at Red Hook, where I embarked on the ferry to Saint John.

Red Hook
Cruz Bay
green iguana
sunbathers and snorkelers of Trunk Bay
Trunk Bay fun
serenity palm
end of day, Cruz Bay

All good things come to an end. There came a day when the winds of my heart blew opposite to the five weeks they had been fanning. And I knew it was time to begin my saunter home. With small regret, it wasn’t so much the sun that led me this phase of my journey. My path now seemed illumined by the familial longings the traveler carries with him or her, wherever they may go.

Carlotte Amalie, St. Thomas

I now let the longing for family and friends take over the steering of my vehicle, and will allow this longing to take its time to be filled.

farewell, Charlotte Amalie

And if ever filled, only then do I look forward to the next intrepid undertaking.

back home; Katarina, Brandy, and Holly - Norwood Restaurant, Chicago

---- by John Syron

---- travel dates, Jan. - Feb 2021

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