On The Road. Again.

Well, ok, we’ve made some progress. Basically what happened was-we kind of lost our minds. Faced with months and probably years of couch surfing and extended stay hotels while we try to rebuild our house in STJ we both sank, simultaneously, into a deep, dark depression in Indianapolis. I’m not going to go on about that because you can probably figure out that the whole situation sucks (for everyone touched by Irma, not just us. And yeah, we know we’re lucky).

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Jennifer and Wembley packing all of our remaining clothes in hotel.

Anyway, we were seriously thinking about changing the name of this interweb journal from detached and amused to down-trodden and disgusted. But, you know, wordpress is more of a pain in the ass to edit than you would think. So we decided that if the title is detached and amused then that’s what we have to be. AND if we already have the about us page set up to chronicle our journeys in a Winnebago, then we needed a fucking Winnebago. So we got one.

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Introducing the Travato. This is a HUGE upgrade from Coachese (for whom we found a lovely and fantastic new owner). This guy is brand new. All the bells and whistles. Very extended warranty. The best Winnebago has to offer in a campervan (and much, much nicer than many of the places we’ve lived). Anyway, we checked out of the exended stay hotel and directly into the Travato a few days ago. Yes, you’re right, we can’t afford this. Thanks for reminding us.

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Frances in the Travato. Yeah. We fancy now. She knows it.

 

Let’s stay positive, shall we? This guy is super stealthy. He doesn’t really look like an RV. He’s 21 feet long and pretty much fits in regular parking spots. And even if people know its an RV, it’s so fucking nice that no one minds having it parked in their driveway. I know this is true because we already camped in our friends’ driveway in a very swanky neighborhood in Cincinnati. Thank you Adeoyes. We really, really love you guys.

 

Right now we are somewhere in the Finger Lakes area of NY. Yesterday, we went to Niagara Falls (first time for all of us and very impressive). Later this week we’ll be in Acadia National Park in Maine. And at the end of the month we’ll be back in Indy because Jennifer has work dates scheduled. And that’s how it will go, hopefully. Instead of spending the next year or more in a semi-soul-crushing Days Inn while we battle insurance companies and scheme about how to get our life back, we’ll ping pong around the country in our 100% operable rv, visiting friends and family (yes, this means you) and World Famous Attractions between work weeks (while also still battling and scheming to get our island life back).

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Niagara Falls. Taken by storm.

 

Hey, let’s not forget that this was our plan all along. We always wanted to spend part of our time doing this. I know this because I’ve actually read this blog. We just forgot for a minute because it almost always sucks a little when you’re forced into something. Even if it was one of your dreams.

Sweet Spice Down. Irma Update.

Well, it’s official. Sweet Spice, our island paradise home is gone. We’re still stateside and so we haven’t seen the damage in person, but the words that have been used to describe it are “destroyed”, “totally destroyed”, “missing”, and “not much left.”

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Weirdly, one of our neighbors found our high-quality sign in the rubble. It outilved the house.

We’re fine. We’re in Indianapolis where Jennifer is finishing up a week of work. We were supposed to head back home in a few days, but that can’t happen now. Not just because we don’t have a house or any possessions left, but also because the whole island is just devastated. I mean, really devastated. The pictures we’ve seen and the few messages we’ve gotten from friends, neighbors, and the coconut telegraph have been totally heartbreaking. As far as we can tell, it’s just a complete disaster zone. Here’s a picture I stole from an interweb page about our neighborhood.21761666_10209811717829745_5002246930315855434_n

The media coverage of the Virgin Islands was super sparse, especially in the first few days  after the storm but there are some reports coming out now. Like this article in the Washington Post about how the people in our neighborhood, Coral Bay, are coping. Read it. It’s totally amazing. And speaking of things that are amazing, almost everyone we can think of has been accounted for. If you see the pictures, you’ll know how crazy that it is.

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Before

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After

And then maybe if you’re feeling generous you could make a donation so that the people in STJ can buy chainsaws and diapers and tarps and mosquito repellent, and hopefully maybe some beer because my neighbors have been huddling under mattresses in a Category 5 hurricane, dodging power lines and dead donkeys, cutting each other out of barricaded houses, and just generally surviving for 8 days already and I think they deserve some beer. This is St. John we’re talking about after all. Withdrawal is a real consideration.

As far as our plans go, we really don’t have any yet. I think we’re a little shell shocked. We just sold our Winnebago, by the way. That was actually one of our goals when we planned this trip. Things were going so swimmingly with all the improvements at Sweet Spice we decided to just focus on the house. Good timing. Go us.

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Coachese in happier times.  So long, Coachese!

I don’t know much about blogging, but I’m pretty sure I read that it’s really important to pick a specific subject and stick with it.  That’s going to be fairly fucking tough since this blog is supposed to be about our travels in our Winnebago and our life in our house in St. John…and we don’t have either of those things anymore. So, unless you’re super stoked to read about whatever it is that we end up doing from here on out, feel free to un-follow us or de-subscribe or whatever. Who could blame you?

Our post-Tuesday reality will most likely involve driving down to Florida to stay with family while we figure out what’s next. Ultimately, we’ll rebuild and live in STJ. We know this. We just have to figure out how. I mean, we’d like nothing better than to go home on Tuesday. Because clearly what St. John needs right now is two more homeless, middle-aged ladies. And their dogs.  Probably not. So for the immediate future we’re completely open to suggestions. Seriously. Ideas currently being batted around include: another RV (that actually works), a tent on our property, a container house. We’re spinning. Who has ideas?

 

How To Make Your Own Sea Salt

It’s not all fun and games here in paradise. I mean, mostly it is- but there are some exceptions. Here’s one.

There’s a very cool thing that happens here when we go through a drought. Just behind an amazingly beautiful beach called Salt Pond, there lies an actual dark and murky saline pond. No idea about the science of this, but probably you can look it up. Anyway, it’s on the South Side of the island and if you’ve ever been here to visit us (and if not, why not?) we’ve probably taken you there for a beach day or to hike up Ram’s Head, which is a breathtaking trail. So usually that’s what we get up to when we head that way- fun and sun and happiness. But, when there’s a drought and enough water evaporates out of the pond behind the beach, the salt crystalizes and all of the locals get giddy and start talking about going over there to “get salt”.  All natural, free, delicious sea salt. Who could resist? We, like many of our neighbors, grabbed a bucket and headed over.

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Salt Pond Beach- where we’d take you if you came to visit.

Here’s the thing: harvesting salt is way harder that you’d think. The pond is like a muddy pool with a hard white crust of salt forming at the edges. Also, because the water table is so low there’s a not-so-delicious sulfur smell going on. You have to carefully pick a spot where you can chip away the crystals (by hand, mostly) and not break through the salt and into the mud.

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Salt Pond Mine- just a short trail away from the beach.

By the way, this is all stuff we figured out after some disasters last year because no one ever tells you how to get salt. They just tell you it’s there. One of the things we learned is not to overfill your bucket. Hiking out with heavy buckets of salt flat-out sucks. All along the path back to the parking lot you can see where people have either started dumping their salt on purpose as a load lightening technique or else they dropped their bucket out of fatigue (hello, last year).

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Salt Down. Bummer.

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Salt Harvesting- not all it’s cracked up to be.

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Huge Crystals

Even if you make it home with your bucket of salt, the work is not over. This salt is not shaker ready. This year we did a combination of processes. We dried it in the sun (excellent way to encourage rain, by the way). We picked out the debris and rinsed it. We put it in a very low oven (last year, we burned it. Did you know you could burn salt? You can.) Then we crushed it with a mortar and pestle.

Then we put it back in the oven until it was bright white and very salt like. Now it’s in jars, ready for use. It actually worked out. We’ve got a stellar end product (not like last time). We probably have 4 or 5 quarts of St. John’s finest sea salt…but it wasn’t easy.

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If any of you reading this have any suggestions on how we could make this easier on ourselves next time (other than just going to the store), we’d love to hear about it in the comments.

 

Food Fairs and Chainsaws

You might think we spend all of our time here on St. John sunning ourselves on the beach and drowning in Painkillers. Sadly, not true. We do other stuff, too.

Last week was Carnival in St. Thomas and we decided to go check out the Food Fair. It’s a big deal. Government workers get the day off to go. No joke. And it’s just one day, so we jumped on the ferry last Wednesday to check it out and I’m so glad we did.

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Getting back and forth on the car ferry. It’s like our Geo Tracker is amphibious. Sort of.

Normally, I would be skeptical of such an event. I’ve been to things like this over and over, hoping for handmade peach ice-cream and Mrs. So-and-So’s Famous Fried Chicken- you know, like in all the books I read when I was a kid. Like, suddenly I’m going to just walk into the Charlotte’s Web State Fair. Not surprisingly, I’m almost always disappointed by generic funnel cakes, fried snickers bars and maybe some turkey legs from Costco sold by pseudo-professional vendors. (One notable exception is the Pony Swim in Chincoteague, VA where you can get stellar oyster fritters. Really. You should go.)

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Butter Conch Platter. So tasty. So much butter.

Anyway, the St. Thomas Food Fair was phenomenal. Packed with people. Tons of stands set up by church ladies, farmers, families, school groups and small vendors from throughout the Virgin Islands. It was very homespun and very solid. All the food was traditional and everything we had was fabulous. It definitely helped that people were very willing to advise us on which stand had the best whatever while standing in line. We got several excellent steers. It’s like a very frenzied, very caloric scavenger hunt where everyone was actually on the same team.

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Saltfish Pate

There were people selling johnnycakes, stew chicken, butter conch, whelks, and pates stuffed with shark, conch, saltfish, beef or veggies (pates here are like little fried hand pies with kind of a chewy crust. They are amazing.) There was a roti stand. There was tons of sweet stuff too, the usual suspects like coconut tarts and pineapple tarts but also stew cherries, gooseberry tarts, sugarcakes (which I think are pretty much just sugar), pumpkin fritters, and banana fritters. Of course there were Ital stands and tons of natural juices, drinks and tonics. There’s a guy in St. Croix who apparently sells kallaloo every Saturday in some square there, and he made the trip. It was delicious.  The whole thing was spectacular and I highly recommend checking it out if you’re ever in town for STT carnival.

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Chowing down on some seafood kallaloo.

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Lots of high tech signage.

On the way back to the car ferry, we stopped at Home Depot. Because it is a complete sacrilege to go to STT from STJ without going to Home Depot. Also, our internet, which used to be excellent, has been acting shady and we were told we needed to cut back some “bush” (trees), to give our antenna a straight shot to the tower. We were advised we’d need something called a pole saw for this…so we picked one up. Yeah, it turns out that a pole saw is quite literally a chainsaw on a 9′ pole. Did not see that coming. Anyway, now we have a pole saw. A really cheap one. It’s bananas.

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Thought wearing all my clothes at once would count as protective gear.

The chainsaw end is heavier than than you’d think and the pole is pretty flimsy so it just bounces all over the place. You’re supposed to secure it to yourself (according to the directions) with this super shoddy shoulder harness. Once I made it onto our very steep hill, that strap seemed like way more of a commitment than I wanted to make to a chainsaw so I took it off. It was so heavy and so unwieldy I ended up just kind of flailing around wildly in a sea of “catch and keep” which is an almost impenetrable thicket of thorns and prickers. I comforted myself by screaming “Help Me” and “I am not a landscaper” at regular intervals. You know, to relieve the tension. Complete miracle no one was injured.

But at least the internet is moderately better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Squatter-Proofing

No one will be shocked to hear the Winnebago’s still not ready, right? Truthfully, we’ve almost forgotten about Coachese. It seems like we’ve been in Florida forever. There’s a lot of great stuff going on here, so we’re not complaining. But, sadly, our much anticipated, genre-defining guide to Gulfport is not quite ready yet because, well, we’re still here working on it.

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Coachese, who?

 

As you may know, we’ve been away from our island paradise for more than seven months. We didn’t plan to be gone for that long and were starting to get the feeling maybe things weren’t going so well at our house in St. John. We came to this conclusion because we are thoughtful, intuitive people with loads of good, common sense. Also, we were getting distressing texts from our island neighbors. So, last week, we left the pups here in Florida with my parents and flew down to STJ to check on things. We were not optimistic.

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Donkey poop. We hope.

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Grill down.

Things degrade quickly in the tropics. And seven months is a long time. But, I have to say, things could definitely have been worse. Apparently, the drought is over so everything was pretty overgrown. It also looked like someone had been squatting in our shack. But the main house (although covered in dust and lizard poop) was pretty much OK. We’d had the pool recently drained after we heard it turned green when the power got shut off. We didn’t bother refilling it. I think not having a pool will make the place less attractive to squatters. I mean, people have standards, no?

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Jennifer, armed and dangerous, tackles the yard.

So we spent a few days cleaning up, sorting out the power situation (in person, because nothing ever happens if you just call in-trust me on this), cutting back weeds, hiring a property management company to keep the place secured, trying to find contractors (which is harder than you’d think-more on that later) and putting big padlocks on everything. We also took this opportunity to transport even more IKEA furniture. If you live on a small island your luggage gets pretty sketchy, pretty quickly. Who gives a shit  about underwear? We checked six chairs, a bench, and an outdoor table that seats four. For free. Not even kidding. We’ve accumulated like 90% of our furniture this way. Which is less impressive than it sounds if you saw how much furniture we actually have.

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Luxury luggage. Classy.

 

The reality is our house in STJ is still very much a work in progress. Or a disaster zone, depending on your mindset. The Winnebago’s interior is way nicer than our house right now. Zero  exaggeration, friends. But it is an amazing place and we absolutely love it. Yes, there are squatters, and droughts, and donkey poop, and ridiculous obstacles to accomplishing basic things. But there’s also so much beauty and so little marketing and crazy stuff just happens all the time. I mean, while we were gone our friend Hugo, a huge Wembley fan, somehow planted all these orchids on our trees so we’ll eventually have an orchid alley leading to our house. Who does that? That’s wonderful. I mean, probably our negligence and general irresponsibility shouldn’t be rewarded, but fuck it, we’ll take it. Thank you!

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Orchids for Wembley!

 

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Thanks Hugo!

 

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