I have never been to the US Virgin Islands. I knew very little about them. Keisha Nelson from Marketplace Excellence, who works for the US Virgin Islands Department of Tourism, asked if I would be interested in going on a press tour to St. Croix.
I was skeptical because I didn’t know if this was real. I had such a horrible 2018 and had gone through so much with my sister’s premature death that I felt like I needed to get away and escape for a while but didn’t know where to go. When I got the call, I wasn’t sure if it was real or not because I had never met Keisha. But I decided to take a chance and I’m glad I did.
The Hurricanes of 2017
During Hurricane Irma and then weeks later with Hurricane Maria, the three Islands – St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. Johns were devastated. I remember when the Hurricane hit, and I knew that my friend, Nina Gross was trapped there. Thankfully, she was able to get out but thinking about her safety and the safety of everyone else on those islands scared me.
I had flash backs to Superstorm Sandy. It was a nightmare. I knew what these people were going through, and my heart yearned for a quick recovery.
Many of the people who got hit from Superstorm Sandy are still dealing with issues of raising their homes, nearly six years later. I knew that it would be a long recovery for the US Virgin Islands.
The US Virgin Islands Department of Tourism’s goal is to educate the community that St. Croix although still in recovery, is still a viable travel option.
I took a chance and after The Running Event in Austin, I got on a plane and headed to St. Croix.
What I noticed…
When I got to the Miami airport and waited in the waiting area for our plane to board, I noticed that everyone seemed to know each other. I felt almost like an outsider. People were hugging and kissing each other as if they hadn’t seen each other for a long time. The plane ride there was like a party. People were laughing, talking and I could feel the love.
When the plane landed, I got my luggage and was a little nervous how someone would recognize me. I saw a beautiful woman all dressed up in heals standing with a younger woman with luggage. “Are you?” I mouthed. I didn’t want to shout.
“Hilary?” Sharon Rosario said. “I’m Sharon Rosario from the Department of Tourism. This is Rachel Morris of Men’s Health Magazine.”
I shook their hands and got into a taxi with them. We went to pick up Heather Gibbs from the PR agency and Dawn Roberts of Pathfinders Magazine. A woman from the local St. Croix newspaper was also in the taxi. Dawn and the woman from the newspaper were laughing as if they knew each other.(Turns out, they went to college together.)
The taxi driver, Claudius, took us to the Buccaneer Hotel where we got our rooms and keys and went to settle in. Each reporter had her own room. When I walked into mine, I was in shock. It was gorgeous! The room faced the ocean and the running trail. It had two large beds, a walk-in closet and a jacuzzi tub. I was in heaven!
That evening we went to a lovely restaurant and walked around town. We were all a little loopy after being up since 3 am that day, so we headed to bed early.
The next day…
The next day, we went on an Island food tour. After that, I picked up my number for the St. Croix Triathlon. This is one of the most challenging courses around. They call it Beauty & the Beast Triathlon because the beast is an incredibly steep hill that goes up 7/10 of a mile up. Along the route, you see magnificent scenery. The terrane in St. Croix is hilly.
I was supposed to race the sprint, which was an 800-meter swim, 8.5-mile bike and a 4 mile run. Sounds doable right?
Well, no, after hearing the race director talk about the route and say that it feels more like 20 miles than 8.5 miles, I started to rethink the entire race.
I didn’t feel ready to conquer the hills. Over the summer, I did a triathlon with rolling hills out in the Hamptons and my chain kept dropping and I fell three times off my bike. I didn’t want to do that again.
So, I dropped down to an AquaRun, which just cut out the bike. (Although I brought all my bike gear, after seeing those hills, I knew I made the right decision.)
After listening to some pro triathletes talk about the course and course management and attending the mandatory meeting prior to the race, we went back to the hotel.
Dawn and I enjoyed the beach. I went for a swim to see if I could still swim after being out for nearly six weeks due to a sprained wrist.I swam just fine.
We went to dinner at the Terrace Lounge in the hotel and went to bed early.
The day of the triathlon…
We woke up at 4 am and were ready for the car at 5:15 am. It was important that we be there early, because all the roads were closing for the triathlon and would re-open 8 hours after the start of the race.
My race was a blast. (You can read a detailed description on ATriathletesDiary.com blog.) I loved the water. I actually saw a turtle during my warm up swim!
The run was fun too. I was enjoying every moment, even though it was quite challenging and extremely hot. The race directors did a great job making sure that there were sponges and ice cubes on the course.
When the race was finished, we hung out for a while, then went to a local pub for cheeseburgers. I was “dying” to have a cheeseburger, because I hadn’t eaten at all before or during the race.
I went back to the room, while the other two journalists, the PR woman and Sharon, from the Department of Tourism, went to a coconut fair.
An Aquarium in the Water
Instead of going to one of the oldest plantations, we took a catamaran to Buck’s Island and went snorkeling. The first spot was where it was known to have turtles. I didn’t see any. However, I enjoyed swimming back and forth across the Island in the turquoise blue water. I was totally in my happy place. I saw some fish along the way. It was incredible.
The next stop on the boat was to a reef. This was the nicest reef I had ever seen. I’ve been to several Caribbean Islands and have never seen a reef like this. It was huge. I felt as if I were swimming in a fish tank. At times the reefs were very close but I didn’t go near them. I just looked at the beauty of the fish and the reefs. It was fascinating to see all the fish in different colors. I knew my husband would be jealous. He loves snorkeling.
Before heading back to the hotel, we went for a beer tasting at Leatherback Brewing. The server, Christine, competed against me in the AquaRun. “You kicked my ass in the run,” I said to her, smiling.
“Yeah that’s true but you beat me on the swim,” she said. “I hated that swim.” She ran fast. She was doing an 8 minute mile in that heat. I was impressed.
After getting back to the hotel, relaxing and enjoying the room, we went to dinner at a very nice restaurant in town.
The people of St. Croix
I now understand the dynamics of the plane ride coming down to St. Croix. I started to feel a connection, not only to Dawn, Rachel, Heather and Sharon, but also to the people I met there and to the Island. Everyone was so incredibly nice, everywhere we went, including at the race. It was a feeling that was really quite special.
I wish I could describe it more but all I can say is I would love to emulate that feeling again. And, I think the only way is to either move to St. Croix or visit often. I loved that it was the United States Virgin Island and that everyone spoke English.
St. Croix is a special place. I would highly recommend experiencing it for yourself. Next blog – top experiences in St. Croix.