A Writer’s Journey to St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

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A NOTE ON The status of St.John in the U.S. Virgin Islands:

In September 2017 two immensely powerful category 5 hurricanes devastated many islands in the Caribbean, including the small island of St. John in the US Virgin Islands. Hurricane Irma brought winds of over 200 mph. Over 80% of the cars, houses, businesses, churches, schools, clinics and fire stations were destroyed or severely damaged. The Virgin Islands National Park, the unspoiled crown jewel of the Caribbean, was entirely stripped bare, with every tree denuded and most massive palms simply snapped in two. Overnight one of the most beautiful and lush places in the world became a wasteland.

Roads were impassable and many people were trapped in their destroyed homes with no food and water for days. The tourism industry, which employs most of the people living on the island, will take years to recover, leaving folks with no ability to afford, food, water, rent or basic supplies. While many people were evacuated, many still remain. When Hurricane Maria hit the islands again, wreaking havoc on Puerto Rico, St.Croix and others, St.John endure 100 mph winds, rain as well as mudslides and rockslides, complicating their recovery even further and cutting them off from their main sources of aid.

But the community of St. John is strong. Within hours after these disasters neighbors were digging each other out of the rubble. Residents cleared steep roads by hand, working with any tools they could find. The Nat Guard, FEMA, DIRT Teams and regular folks from neighboring islands began to arrive to help. But since so mnay cars were destroyed, getting help to those who need it, especially the poor, has been and will continue to be a huge challenge.

In light of these tragedies hitting my home, where I spend 6 months of every year, I started 2 relief projects. The first The St.John Story Project, is simply a place on line for survivors, first responders, friends and family to tell their stories. Witnessing one another’s stories is part of how we will continue to heal as a community. The second project is the The St. John Light Truck Brigade,  a volunteer force of trucks and drivers who will provide free trucking, delivery and transport of light loads of medical, lifesaving and building supplies. It is our goal to help those who need it most, in the long journey of rebuilding their lives with dignity. You can see more at https://www.gofundme.com/stjohn-light-truck-brigade

In a disaster like this one many worthy causes arise inviting folks to donate, we know that we are only one among many. If you can only make one donation, please support the amazing search and rescue work being done by St.John Rescue, online at http://www.stjohnrescue.com
as well the vital work done by the St.John Community Foundation at https://www.facebook.com/StJohnCommunityFoundation/  donations to these places, like us, go directly to work being done to help St.John recover

The island of St.John will recover and I will teach writing Journeys and private retreats to the island again in the future. So for now I invite you to read the text below, a portrait of how I have worked on St.John in the past, with a hopeful heart.

St. John Strong

-Max

The island of St. John : A WRITER’S  JOURNEY TO PARADISE

The island of St. John, the smallest and most idyllic of the three United States Virgin Islands, is only a few hours flight time from Miami. A perfect haven for writers and artists, the language is english, the currency is the US dollar and no travel visa is required. The island is best known for its dozens of post card perfect white sand beaches, turquoise bays with colorful corals, rainbows of tropical fish and green velvet hills. Only nine miles long and three miles wide, two-thirds of the island is a U.S. National Park, so its spectacular beaches and untouched forests will remain that way for generations to come.

The island is accessible by ferry from the airport on the larger island of St. Thomas, just a 20-minute ferry ride across Pillsbury Sound, where hundreds of pirate ships are buried under the turquoise blue waters. Our trip is scheduled in May, after the winter tourist season ends and well before the island residents batten down the hatches for hurricane season, which runs July through November. St. John is  almost deserted in the Spring, assuring a tranquil and relaxed environment. The  island has no big cities, shopping centers or nightlife, and no cruise ships in port, there isn’t even a stoplight on the island. If you love crystal-clear water, palm trees and peace and quiet, then St. John is the perfect place for you.

great_roomTHE RETREAT

Regardless of whether you choose to do a Full 10-day Writing Journey of a customized Private Retreat on St.John, this time is a chance to take off your watch, turn off the phone, step out of your everyday life and dedicate some time to getting your work done in one of the most beautiful, peaceful places on earth. The goal is simply to focus on your writing life, without distractions or procrastination. In the Full 10-Day Journey we will meet as a group once a day for a few hours to talk about the craft of writing and investigate multiple techniques for working with memory, personal history, observation and imagination. We will also talk about our progress and to read to one another from our on-going pages.  The rest of the days are free for writing, reading, sleeping, dreaming, swimming or snorkeling at one of the island’s white sand beaches. Max will schedule two one-on-one sessions with each writer, one at the beginning of the retreat and one at the end, to discuss your specific project and goals.

Maybe you have started a story, poem, writing project, novel or memoir but stopped or stalled in frustration. Maybe you are hard at work in the middle of a writing project or maybe you would simply like a quiet and spacious time to focus on your own reading and writing. Together we investigate all of these options and rediscover the pleasure of writing both about and from the depth of our own lives. The goal is to challenge you to engage fully with the act of writing, dreaming, deep relaxation and enjoying everything that the island has to offer. Each student will be encouraged to begin to imagine a body of work and to create patterns in their own lives that will sustain their writing practice long after the Journey is over.

UnknownTRAVEL TO THE ISLAND

From your departure city you will fly to the island of St. Thomas, where you will take a 30min taxi ride across the island to Red Hook ferry dock. Then you will get on a ferry for the 15min ride over to the island of St. John. Once you arrive at the ferry dock in Cruz Bay on St.John where Max will arrange to pick you up.  There are many major airlines that fly to St. Thomas, most of them taking travelers through either Miami or San Juan, Puerto Rico. American Airlines has the most routes and the most flights into St.Thomas. Estimated costs vary depending on your city of departure, but book your flight as soon as possible to find the best rates. Sites like kayak.com, orbitz.com and expedia.com may be the best way of finding an affordable flight. Upon registration Max will provide information on the best routes from your home to the island.

Please note, when booking your flight, try to arrive on St. Thomas as early in the afternoon/evening as possible, the US Virgin Islands do NOT observe Daylight Savings Time and the last Ferry to St. John leaves at 11pm. When booking your return flight, do NOT book a flight that leaves St. Thomas before 11am, you will need time to get back to St. Thomas on the ferry.

gazebo_diningHOUSING—RENTING A VILLA

There are multiple options for housing on St. John and hundreds of private apartments, houses and villas for rent. The full 10-Day Writing Journey includes housing for all participants with a private room and private bathroom in one of the island villas, which Max will book. Sharing the rental costs for a private house is by far the nicest style of accommodation for the least amount of money. Villas cover the whole range of accommodations from the very basic to the uber-luxury. All the villas we rent come with WIFI and AC in the bedrooms. Villas have a fully equipped kitchens, large, comfortable living spaces and are fully furnished with all linens, sheets, towels and beach accessories. Common areas either have AC or they are cooled by ceiling fans in each room and by the trade winds that enter through the many windows and doors.

Please note that you will need to rent a car if you will be staying in a private villa, but costs of a rental car can also be shared with housemates. Estimated Villa Rental Costs: from $150 per day on up. (http://www.vrbo.com/vacation-rentals/caribbean/usvi-st-john)

HOUSING—THE WESTIN RESORT

Students who prefer to stay in a full-service hotel/resort might choose to stay at the Westin Hotel and Resort on the southshore of the island, about a 5min drive from the ferry dock at Cruz Bay. The Westin is one of only 2 larges full-service hotels on the island. At the Westin you can choose between Villas, beachside or poolside rooms or regular hotel rooms. The resort is famed for its 2acre pool and its private beach, beach bar and 3 restaurants. It also has a hot tubs, a watersports center, tennis courts, a guest ferry straight to St.Thomas and a jeep rental agency on-site. There are discounts for AAA members, Estimated Costs: from $300 per night on up. (http://www.westinresortstjohn.com/)

cereptclassicview etentHOUSING—ECO-CAMPGROUNDS

Budget-minded writers might choose to stay at one of the 2 eco-campgrounds on the island. Concordia Eco Resort is on the quiet Southshore of the island, just outside the town of Coral Bay. There you can stay in a small solar-powered studio apartment or an eco-cottage made of screen and canvas walls, built high on the hillside overlooking the dramatic sweep of Rams Head. All accommodations come with beds, linens, fans, food storage areas and private decks. Some eco-cottages use shared bathhouses with toilets and showers, and some come equpped with private, solar-powered showers and toilets. (http://www.concordiaeco-resort.com)

Cinnamon Bay Campground is located on the fabled North-shore Road, home to all the most beautiful beaches on the island. The campground is a 10 minute taxi ride from the ferry dock at Cruz Bay, and it has the longest white sand beach on the island as well as a camp store, watersports center and outdoor pavilion restaurant that serves 3 meals a day. Guests can rent a cottage that has 2 concrete walls+2 canvas walls, with 2 single beds, sheets, electricity, fans and a gas grill. Or they can rent a canvas Tent on a wooden platform or a bare site where you can pitch a tent of your own. There are bath houses with toilets and showers scattered throughout the campground. Cinnamon Bay cottages share one common wall among 2 cottage units but there is only a 1 minute walk to the amazing beach. Cost range: $40-$105 per night. (http://www.cinnamonbay.com/home.html)

Both campgrounds are served daily by local island taxis for getting to and from town, and both have pavilion restaurants, watersports centers where you can rent a kayak or snorkeling equipment, and beautiful private beaches that are only a short walk away. Max is available to consult on what type of housing would best meet your needs and your budget.

BeachatduskMEALS

St. John’s surprisingly large selection of restaurants run from open-air spots for casual barbecue or burgers to air- conditioned hideaways for Continental cuisine. There are 2 grocery stores on the island, as well as numerous open-air cafes, restaurants, and places to eat. Food tends to be pricey on the island, about the same as it would be in New York or LA or Chicago. Those staying in rental villas will have full kitchens and will shop at one of the local grocery stores. There are many different food options at the Westin, everything from a beach bar to room service to an onsite 4 star restaurant. Writers staying in one of the campgrounds will have coolers/small fridges and/or outdoor gas grill areas in which to cook small meals, but most will find themselves eating meals at the campground restaurant. If you have specific food items, spices, power bars, supplements, etc that you require, you should plan to bring these things with you from home.

IMG_1452GETTING AROUND THE ISLAND

St. John is a peaceful, non-commercialized paradise and getting around the island is easy. Cruz Bay, the major town where the ferry docks, is on the west end of the island facing Red Hook in St. Thomas. It is connected by well maintained paved roads to most of the bays and beaches. It is a 30min drive over the mountain to Coral Bay, the small town on the even quieter east end of the island. Several local agencies, all a short walk from the ferry dock, offer rental cars and jeeps by the day or week. Rental Jeeps are optional if you are staying at a campground or a hotel, but will be a necessity if you are staying in a rental Villa.

Most people travel around the island via Island taxis. These are large colorful trucks with padded seats in the back and permanent canopies to keep off the rain. Taxis serve all campgrounds and hotels, arriving and leaving at various times throughout the day. The more passengers on a taxi, the more affordable the ride. Roads on St. John are small and winding, so cars very rarely travel over 20mph, but they do drive on the left, which can take a bit of getting used to. Although the steering wheel on rental cars is in the traditional place for US drivers, on the left, which helps. “Rush hour” on St. John is when a herd of donkeys or goats is grazing in the middle of the road at 8am, other than that you aren’t likely to encounter much traffic. If you choose to rent a jeep to drive yourself around, there are lots of island rental agencies to choose from, but you should plan to book as soon as possible. Rates for a 2-door Jeep Wrangler start at $70 per day or $420 per week.

SHOPPING

St. John offers imaginative shops with distinctive quality jewelry, unique international and local crafts. The island is home to many talented artists who work in a wide array of mediums and modes. Meet them and see their work at the island’s art galleries and artists’ studios. St. John’s three shopping areas, all within walking distance of the ferry and each with a personality all its own, are attractions in themselves, offering delis, bistros, restaurants, cafes and bars along with the shops. (http://www.stjohnusvi.com/stjohn.html)

REGISTRATIONIMG_1482

All Journeys and Private Retreats on St. John are open to writers in any genre. Registration for Full 10-Day Journeys is limited to only 4 individual writers, in order to maintain an intimate and productive working group.  Tuition includes a daily class session, 2 private meetings with Max as well as a private bedroom and private bathroom for each student in a villa overlooking the ocean. Tuition also includes a 4-door rental jeep for the use of participants during the week of your stay. It does not include round-trip airfare, meals, ferries and taxis. Tuition for the Full 10-Day Journey is $3800 and a $600 non-refundable deposit is due upon registration.

We would love to have you join us for this Journey, but please make sure the class dates and deadlines work for you before you register:

  • A non-refundable deposit is required upon Registration, which holds your place in the class. If you require a Payment Plan please contact Max as soon as possible. From the point of registration, Once housing is booked, students are responsible for the entire tuition. Tuition will be refunded (minus the deposit) if we locate another student to take their seat on the Journey.

Registration for Private Customized Retreats is limited to 1-2 writers at a time. Max will work with you to determine what time of year works best in your schedule for your island retreat and what type of  accommodations will be most comfortable and affordable for you. We will also work together to customize our daily work together to move your writing life and/or writing projects forward with productivity and purpose.

Tuition also includes daily private coaching/ editing sessions with Max at a minimum of $190 / 2 hrs per day. It does not include housing, round-trip airfare, meals, ferries and taxis.

For more information just drop Max an email at hollowdeckpress@mac.com.