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Stuff 'N Nonsense - Researching Paradise
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As I write this I'm sitting in a borrowed apartment that was set up for our arrival by my friend Dulcey. I can hear bananaquits (or Sugarbirds) and frogs that sound similar to very loud crickets, a rogue rooster crowed at the break of dawn, and the ocean is a short walk away from our back door.

Where are we?

Well, after a 13-hour travel day, all five of my clan arrived in St. John, a little island among the cluster that is known as the US Virgin Islands.

I'd seen pictures so I knew the island was gorgeous but until we'd actually seen it with our own eyes, we had no idea how breathtaking our Caribbean trip truly was.

I should admit that at first, the humidity was a shock to the system. I'm glad we packed light because we're all running around in the most minimal of clothing. My daughter hasn't worn much more than her bathing suit or her underwear since the first day but a 5-year-old can get away with much more than adults if there's a need to run around nearly naked.

The local dialect and language as well as the social etiquette takes a little getting used to. The language is called Virgin Island Creole, but the locals speak a hybrid language called Crucian. For example, "Where are you?" in Crucian is, "Wha pah you deh?" and "I'm leaving" is "I gan from yah."

Oh, and it's considered incredibly impolite to start a conversation with a question, which if you're a lost tourist, is pretty hard to avoid. However, we've learned to always open our queries with a friendly "Hello," "good morning" or "good night" to avoid the stink eye from the locals.

That's another thing, having recently returned from Manhattan where generally everyone is racing from one place to another like the devil is on their heels and there's little time for pleasantries, St. John is the antithesis of that way of life. Everyone here is on "island time." Shops generally close early so everyone can enjoy a bit of the day and the evening, no one is in a hurry, and it's not uncommon for cars to simply stop in the middle of the road to have a chat with a friend or take a cell phone call.

And everyone drives on the left.

As you can imagine, fender benders are common and barely cause a lifted brow. Cars are small to navigate the twisty, narrow roads, which is likely why there are a plethora of Suzuki Samurais zipping around in spite of the fact that Suzuki went out of business years ago.

My friend said jokingly, this island is where Suzukis go to die and I believe her, but at least it's not a scrapyard. There are worse places to meet your end, even for cars, I suppose.

Yesterday we spent the entire day in the water. We started off at Trunk Bay (one of the world's top 10 beaches, I've been told) and the reputation is certainly earned. The boys and my husband went snorkeling on the snorkel trail and my oldest son is certain he saw a reef shark, although his brother didn't believe him, the woman snorkeling near my son certainly did and quickly swam away with the speed of Michael Phelps. My daughter was content to play in the sugar-white, soft sand with her buckets while Dulcey, her awesome daughter Acacia, and I floated and gabbed, sharing memories and making new ones.

Next, we headed up the road to Maho Bay where the beach was nearly deserted. It was fabulous to just pick a spot to lay our things and then walk to the water without having to wade through a throng of tourists doing the same thing.

At one point, as I watched my family playing in the water and we were suddenly being pelted by a quick tropical cell that had drifted from the British Virgin Islands, I thought to myself, what a priceless moment. How blessed are we?

We are blessed in our family, our friends, and our life.

And even as we crashed in our beds last night, bodies throbbing from the sunburns we acquired from our day of fun at the beach, I went to bed with an attitude of gratitude for this amazing blessing.

By the time you read this, we'll have returned to California but I wanted to share our Caribbean experience with you while we were living it.

And with that ... time to go.

The beach is calling.

Kim Van Meter is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at or by calling 847-3021.