Ahhh, summer in the Central Valley.
The unending heat, the sticky, sweaty armpits, the general sense that you’re being burned alive – for most people, that’s the sign to get the heck out of Dodge.
You know what I’m talking about – vacay time!
Financially, we’re in a lean time so my clan won’t be jetting off to anyplace exciting (much to the disappointment of my 11-year-old daughter) but we’ve been many cool places in the past so I’m just happy to reflect.
My most memorable vacation was actually a research trip in 2011 to St. John where I set my island trilogy. My good friend from high school happened to live in St. John and managed to get us a place to stay while we were there, which was a huge advantage so we jumped on it.
First, I want to preface this next statement with a disclaimer: in spite of what you will read …we had a great time.
As a Californian, I’m more accustomed to a “dry heat” but I’ve traveled to humid climates (Georgia, Washington D.C., New York, etc.) so I was prepared.
Or so I thought.
Let me tell you something … the humidity in the Caribbean is nothing like the humidity in the south and east.
We stepped off the plane in St. Thomas and immediately my lungs seized. I couldn’t draw a deep enough breath. The moisture in the air was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
Cruzan Rum vendors were handing out samples of flavored rum (perhaps they knew tourists would need a little island help?) but when the heat index is sweltering and the moisture in the air is enough to waterlog your lungs, slugging back rum isn’t high on my list.
So I passed on the rum.
Imagine this: three kids, one cranky husband, and one majorly stressed-out mom trying to navigate a total culture clash, being yelled at by our cab driver for having the audacity to grab our luggage before securing the cab and you might have an inkling as to how we were feeling.
Oh, and we were broke.
There is nothing worse than going on vacation on a budget, much less on a pitiful clutch of cash that you managed to scrounge up by selling your treadmill the night before the flight.
So, why’d we go if we were so broke?
Two words: nonrefundable flights.
But I grew up poor so I figured we could make it work on a budget. Besides, we were going to be in a tropical paradise, what would we need aside from a little food, drinks and sunscreen?
By the time we reached our place, we were exhausted, starving (everything was closed by the time we arrived in St. John) and thirsty.
Then, my friend explained island life.
“Military showers. Don’t flush the toilet unless you have to and if you run out of water, it’s $500 to have the city truck come by and refill the cistern. Oh, and don’t drink the tap water … you’ll get sick.”
Then she handed me an electric tennis racket, saying, “Use this to hit the bugs. They are everywhere and they bite.”
Can’t shower, flush or drink the water.
Bugs will feast on your flesh if you’re not vigilantly swatting at them.
Got it. Anything else?
“Oh, yeah, watch for the iguanas. They can get pretty big.”
My friend left and we dragged our overheated bodies to bed, stomachs growling, everyone “hangry” and wondering what the heck we’d gotten ourselves into.
It was so hot I could practically feel the steam rising. We slept in our birthday suits because the thought of anything touching our skin was unfathomable.
I turned to my husband, tears in my eyes, as I whispered fearfully, “I think we’ve landed in Hell and we’re stuck here for seven days.”
If I’d had the option of turning around and returning to the states, I would’ve taken it but thankfully, we had to tough it out.
And I’m so glad we did.
It took about two and a half days for our bodies to acclimate to the humidity but once we did, we were golden; our faces glistening with sweat, and all sense of vanity completely obliterated.
My friend lent us her Jeep and we tootled all around the island, going from one pristine beach to another, running from tropical storms, laughing when we found ourselves in a donkey traffic jam.
We found a vendor who made fresh fruit smoothies each morning and let us sample native fruit that we had no idea how to pronounce much less eat and he always greeted us with a smile.
We ate our weight in burgers (we aren’t fish eaters) and I managed to fill my notebook with authentic tidbits about the island, which was the sole purpose of visiting.
To put it simply, our memories of St. John are incredible.
We couldn’t afford it but we went anyway.
You can’t put a price on memories.
Memories such as, our little Eryleigh, running around like a heathen, water bottle stuck in her panties, hair wild with the biggest grin; Sebastian, Jaidyn and John snorkeling in Trunk Bay (and Sebastian freaking everyone out when he thought he saw a shark); my husband quickly mastering the tricky driving situation where the cars are American but the roads are British.
Did I mention the fresh smoothies?
Island etiquette (bag your own groceries, don’t expect anyone to adhere to any sort of schedule, and Cruzan rum is the only respectable rum choice for your adult beverage.)
So what if that trip ruined our credit?
I may never be able to walk into a car dealership and walk out with the absolute best interest rate but life is about more than a credit score.
Life is about creating memories.
And that’s exactly what we did.
Kim Van Meter is a former staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She continues to contribute occasional columns.