Scented Sleep

When I got to the hotel at the Denver airport late last night, I found a little container of lavender balm next to the bed. It promised to help me “sleep well,” which sounded good to me.

I’ve never used lavender balm before, so I read the instructions. They read: “Wind down naturally with our Sleep Well Aromatherapy Balm, infused with essential oils of lavender and chamomile to ease tension and soothe the senses. Roll onto temples or wrists before bedtime to foster sound sleep.” Because I was keenly interested in fostering sound sleep, I did both. My temples and wrists have never smelled so good!

And you know what? I did sleep pretty well, until I had to get up at 3:30 a.m. Mountain time to catch an early morning flight. Was my sound sleep the result of the balm, or just exhaustion at the end of a long day? Who knows? But because sound sleep in a hotel is a rarity for me, I’m taking no chances. The lavender balm is officially part of my travel kit from now on.

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Saving Photos

My cellphone is old, and I regularly get messages telling me I’m up to storage capacity on things like phone messages and photos, and it’s time to start deleting.  The phone messages aren’t hard to get rid of — the fact that I haven’t deleted them already is just due to inattention, really — but the photos are a much harder call.

Sure, I could dump every photo that I’ve ever taken onto my home computer or store them in the cloud, but that’s not really a true solution — you just end up with a huge array of photos that are creating storage capacity issues somewhere else.  And if you’ve ever tried to find that one photo you are thinking of in an indiscriminate mass, you know it can be a frustrating and time-consuming task.  It’s similar to the problem that many of our parents and grandparents had — they’d have boxes  and boxes of unorganized Kodak and Polaroid photos from family trips, reunions, and other events, and one of their long-lasting resolutions was to actually identify who was in the curled up and browned-out photos from the past and put them into some kind of meaningful order in photo albums.  In many families, like mine, that just never got done successfully.

In my view, the key is to suck it up and engage in careful editing on the cellphone itself, respecting the device’s storage issues and limiting your library to those really worthwhile photos that you think you actually might look at in the future.  Where are you most likely to look at photos, anyway?  These days, it’s on your cellphone, when you are with friends or waiting at an airport gate for a plane and want to remember a good time from the past without going through some elaborate storage retrieval process.

So, how do you make the call on what to keep and what to delete?  It’s easy enough to delete the out-of-focus shots, of course, and there are always some photos that, when you look at them later, you wonder why you took them in the first place.  But once you’ve discarded the chaff, it’s a lot harder.  How many photos of beautiful sunrises or sunsets do you want?  Which photos of family and friends should you keep indefinitely?  When I look at the older photos on my cellphone, I see that there’s a pattern:  I have kept photos of special people, and places and times that I want to remember.  There’s a photo of Mom and the rest of the Webner clan at her last family birthday party, for example, and photos of me and Kish on vacation, and the photo with this post that was taken on Lake Louise in Canada on a perfect June day when the color of the water and the backdrop of mountains was just dazzling and we walked along the edge of the lake just reveling in the scenery.

My test is simple:  what do I want to remember, and what really makes me smile?

 

Traveler’s Triathlon

Today I am attempting the traveler’s triathlon — a three-leg trip with tight connections, heading into snow country, in winter. Add in a government shutdown and what that potentially means for TSA workers, air traffic controllers, and every other federal employee who works in the nation’s air traffic system, and the degree of difficulty ratchets up to just about Iron Man Triathlon levels.

So far, though, so good. No bad weather, no security delays, no de-icing issues, and no mechanical problems. I had to run through several terminals and concourses at O’Hare, but that just gave me some much-needed exercise.

If my last leg leaves and arrives on time, I may just need to buy a lottery ticket when I read my ultimate destination.

Tipping, Up In The Air

Next week I’ll be taking my first flight ever on Frontier Airlines.  It’s branded as a low-cost airline that differs from other carriers in that it charges you separate fees for things like your carry-on bag and basic in-flight drink and snack options.  Frontier presents its approach as allowing it to keep base fares low and giving travelers “options that allow you to customize your flight to match both your wants and your wallet.”

flight-crewNow I’ve learned that Frontier differs from other airlines in another, more interesting way:  it’s the only airline that encourages travelers to tip its flight attendants.  Beginning January 1, 2019, individual Frontier flight attendants can accept tips, and if a traveler purchases in-flight food or beverages, they get a prompt from the Frontier payment system notifying them that they have the option to leave a tip — just like you get in many restaurants.  In the article linked above, Frontier explains:  “We appreciate the great work of our flight attendants and know that our customers do as well, so [the payment system] gives passengers the option to tip.”

The union that represents Frontier flight attendants, the Association of Flight Attendants International, isn’t happy about Frontier’s tipping policy and says that the airline should be paying flight attendants more instead.  The union and Frontier have been trying to negotiate a new contract, and one union official has said that “[m]anagement moved forward with a tipping option for passengers in hopes it would dissuade flight attendants from standing together for a fair contract — and in an effort to shift additional costs to passengers.”

I’m not quite sure how I come out on the issue of tipping flight attendants.  Obviously, their job involves a lot more than donning a little apron and serving drinks and snacks, so there’s a bit of a disconnect between the tipping option — apparently presented only when food or drink is ordered — and the actual contours of the flight attendant’s job.  At the same time, many airlines are nickel-and-diming passengers with fees, so perhaps tip income for flight attendants is the wave of the future.  And I’m all for airlines adopting different models — like Frontier’s low-cost approach — as they compete for passengers, and letting the passengers themselves decide which approach they like best.

I’m thinking my flight on Frontier next week is going to be a bit of an adventure.

Ram Head And Salt Pond Bay

Hikers are a collegial bunch, and when they encounter other hikers in a new place they like to swap information about their hikes. On our hike to Saloman Beach we ran into a friendly couple from Nashville who raved about the Salt Pond Bay and Ram Head trail, so we had to try it on our last full day in St. John. It definitely ended our trip on a high note — literally.

The trail is found at the far southwestern tip of the island. It’s about as far away from Cruz Bay by car as you can get, but the drive is worth it. You begin by walking past the beach at Salt Pond Bay, which looks out onto the Caribbean and offers the calmest waters we found on the island. The beach is beautiful, placid, and secluded, and a treat for snorkeling and swimming after the hike.

As you walk down the beach, be sure to veer a few yards off the trail to the east and visit the Salt Pond that gives the Bay its name. You won’t find that beautiful blue Caribbean water here — or swimmers either, for that matter. The saline content of the pond is so high that the water is gold in color, and you can smell the salt. It’s a bizarre setting that would be an ideal location for a scene from a Star Trek episode.

The trail then starts to move up the finger of rock the forms the Ram Head Peninsula. To the west there’s a black pebble-strewn beach, shown in the first photo above, where each gentle wave causes a noticeable rock on rock clatter and people have positioned white rocks against the black stones of the beach to leave messages for hikers to come. To the east, where you can see the British Virgin Islands in the distance, the surf is crashing into sheer rock cliffs. It’s a total contrast to the gentle currents seen to the west.

As you move uphill, you’ll notice two things. First, you’re not seeing the tropical foliage that you’ve seen on every other hikes on the island. Instead, you’re in a treeless desert, with cactus and other desert plant life. And second, the wind is a force that scours the ground and leaves you walking on barren territory. There are lots of dramatic views, but don’t get too close, or you’ll risk losing your balance in a surprise gust. And be sure to take off your hat, or the wind will do it for you.

At the top of Ram Head you’re hundreds of feet above the water, on a rocky crag jutting our into the sea, with surf crashing far below, the wind whistling past, the sun glistening on the water, and a commanding view in all directions. It’s unnerving to be so exposed, but the views are irresistible, and you can’t help picking your way through the stunted cactus to a spot closer to the edge where the view might be just a little bit better.

At the very tip of Ram Head, on a tiny outcropping of rock, you can go no farther. You’re looking due south and that’s St. Croix on the horizon, dozens of miles away. The view is dramatic and mesmerizing, but after a few minutes of slack-jawed wonderment you realized you’re being buffeted by windy blasts just a few feet from a sheer plunge into rocks far below, holding your hat in a death grip, and you decide it’s time to carefully pick your way back down the peninsula to sea level. A swim in the calm and warm blue waters of Salt Pond Bay sounds awfully good right about now.

Red Jeep

On St John, you have three choices: stay at a place in Cruz Bay and stick in town during your visit, or use the taxi and bus service, or rent a car. We chose the latter option, and rented a bright red Jeep. As a result, we fit right in, because Jeeps probably make up more than half of the vehicles on the island.

Renting a car has pros and cons. On the con side, there’s lots of hairpin turns without fencing and straight uphill roads, and the occasional donkey or goat by the side of the road, so you have to watch it — especially at night. Plus, it’s the only territory under the U.S. flag where you drive in the left side of the road, which requires a lot of focus. All in all, it’s not exactly relaxing driving. But, it’s nice to have the freedom to go where you want when you want. If you like hiking and snorkeling and want to go to the out of the way places, as we did, a Jeep makes a lot of sense. We ended up glad we got it.

Why a Jeep, and why red? You need a car with power to be able to crawl straight uphill after one of those abrupt switchbacks. And I thought the red was just in line with the general theme of bright Caribbean colors — but I later learned there’s a safety reason, too. Other cars can see you through the green foliage, and if the approaching vehicle is a long truck that needs a lot of clearance on a turn, it can sound its horn before you’re trapped in the turn.

Plus, donkeys evidently like red.

Irma’s Aftermath

Hurricane Irma tore into St. John about 18 months ago. The island was in the wall of the eye of the storm for more than two hours. Survivors describe it as a truly harrowing experience.

Signs of the devastation wrought by the storm are still found all over the island — as is seen in the remains of the restaurant located next door to our lodging. The damage followed a distinct pattern. First the storm lifted the roofs off structures and blew out their windows, then it rained flying debris that knocked down walls, then the exposed innards of homes and buildings were exposed to drenching rain — which was compounded when another storm blew through the region about a week later and dumped still more rain.

But St. John has bounced back. Much of the damage has been fixed already, and repair work is underway elsewhere. In some cases, insurance snags have delayed the rebuilding efforts. Many of the residents who survived the storm and remained on the island will tell you it was a kind of rite of passage. Some people left, but those who stayed rolled up their sleeves, worked together to clear debris and help their neighbors, and jointly experienced the aftermath period when only generator power was available and you couldn’t buy a drink with ice. New and lasting friendships were formed, and you’ll hear people saying that the island is stronger than ever because of that.

We came to St. John for some sunshine and heat to break up the Midwestern winter, and we definitely got that — but we also got a lesson in the resilience of the human spirit.