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Orphaned flip flops hanging in a tree on the beach
I failed to heed the warning of The Tree of Lost of Soles on Limestone Beach, Water Island. I added my one remaining flip flop (orange strap) on my way out.
Orphaned flip flops hanging in a tree on the beach
I failed to heed the warning of The Tree of Lost of Soles on Limestone Beach, Water Island. I added my one remaining flip flop (orange strap) on my way out.

The Tree of Lost Soles

A wooden road sign that points in two different directions with pier pylons, rope and pelican.
The age-old question: To beach or not to beach. A road sign that can be read literally or metaphorically. Do you want the vacation or the unexpected adventure.

An unexpected adventure

I recently got back from a vacation, not the adventurous kind that I’m used to, but a proper vacation: sunset beaches, umbrella drinks, fish tacos and way too many tourists. Though I wanted an adventure, I definitely needed a break. And after only one day, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. (Another cliché proven true.) 

My partner scouted out a great spot on Water Island, an idyllic island in the Virgin Islands. It was small enough that we could explore everywhere on foot or golf cart. 

However, everything was so perfect that I wondered if I would have anything to write about. It doesn’t seem people want to read about perfect things. One of the essential elements of a story is drama. And locals lived on Water Island for exactly one reason — there is no drama. It’s the irony of being a travel author and adventurer: on the one hand, I want an adventure; on the other, I want safety and comfort. I expect a perfect sunset dinner, but the unexpected yields the adventure. The unexpected is change, and change is how we grow; therefore, growth is inherently painful, but in a good way.

One of the highlights of the trip was swimming with the sea turtles. You may remember that I have a fear of water. I was surprised that I not only felt safe swimming with the turtles but peaceful, even though, at times, I was in deep water (3x times over my head) and a couple hundred meters from shore. The giant sea turtles grazed on the bottom of the ocean, eating what’s called — of course — turtle grass. They reminded me of cows chewing on their cud. The turtles seemed immune if not grateful for my presence. I felt like an advance warning of any predators, in this case, boatloads of tourists heading to the bar on the beach. The turtles surface about every 20 minutes to take a couple quick breaths of air. I noticed they look all-around before surfacing to avoid being run over. 

Swimming with turtles is something everyone should have on their bucket list. But it didn’t seem like an unexpected adventure? It didn’t seem like something worth writing of a short story. I wondered if I lacked the ability to see the adventure — to appreciate the moment.

A hurricane-damaged building sits atop the cliff of Limestone Beach, Water Island. In the foreground is some choppy waters driving a mass of seaweed ashore.
A hurricane-damaged building sits atop the cliff of Limestone Beach, Water Island. In the foreground is some choppy waters driving a mass of seaweed ashore.

We had other mini-adventures, like visiting a World War II fort and the island garbage dump; discovering an iguana with three legs that had turned black with stress; photographing red-footed tortoises; watching cruise ships sail by every day that were many times bigger than Honeymoon Bay; making daily trips to chat with the locals at the wine slushy bar and play a version of Yahtzee and cornhole; sneaking into an abandoned home and pretending we lived there. All fun, perfect stuff, but nothing worth more than a quick share on social media.

Then the unexpected adventure happened. We visited Limestone Beach where I didn’t heed the warning of The Tree of Lost Soles, a tree filled with flip-flops that have been orphaned by the ocean. (Pictured above.)

Limestone Beach is on the other side of the Island, the side that gets the brunt of the weather. It’s filled with broken shells and coral. So, to protect my feet from being shredded, I walked into the ocean wearing my flip-flops with the bright idea of weighing down my shoes with a rock. That way, I could snorkel on the reef and return to get my shoes and walk safely back to shore. 

Colorful plastic debris: lots of bottle caps, rope and even a shotgun shell.
On this secluded beach, an amazing amount of debris has washed ashore. Here we see the little stuff even including a shotgun shell. It was so colorful, it was almost beautiful.

Unlike Honeymoon Bay, the surf was rough, and the coral reef dropped off into hazy, dark waters. It was too scary for me. So, I returned about 15 minutes later to discover — you guessed it — my shoes were gone. I found one washed ashore and spent another hour looking for the other, but it had just disappeared. It was the strangest thing. The shore was only about 10 feet away, but there was no shoe in sight. I even trudged through the disgusting seaweed, tearing my feet upon the hidden rocks below.  Ironic!

Later at the wine slushy bar, the funny part was telling the locals what I had done. They just shook their heads like, “Duh!” By the way, I felt honored to be inducted into their friend group even though they could tell by our “lily-white” asses we were tourists. We even got invited to the local beach potluck dinner. Anyway, I also discovered that I wasn’t the first to lose a flip-flop. In fact, The Tree of Lost Soles is so famous it is actually on Google Maps.

The reviews are hilarious, like this poetry from S Fauske:

Wayward sole look to me
Though you may not believe
Many who have gone before
Seek to help you leave the shore

Or, this review by Z Florent:

Don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime experience!!

By the way, Limestone Beach is only a 10-minute walk from where we stayed: The Virgin Island Campground, which I highly recommend. Jason, the host, treated us like good friends. I miss our coffee chats overlooking the Caribbean Ocean.

Not to be discouraged, the next day, I went back and after another long search, lo and behold, there was my flip-flop floating in the seaweed. My real prize was the great feeling of laughter and success. An added bonus was saving my flip-flop from the plastic monster living in the ocean. So, there you have it, a silly, unexpected adventure that turned into one of the most memorable moments of the trip, a way to bond with the locals and a couple lessons learned:

1. Don’t underestimate the ocean.

2. If you live life to the fullest, adventures will find you.

Flip flop floating in a mass of ugly brown seaweed (sargassum).
The next day, my flip flop resurfaced in the middle of the ugly, brown seaweed called sargassum. I actually saw strings of this stuff miles long from the airplane. It’s everywhere these days, and people blame it on global warming.

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