Chasing Wild Ponies in Virginia

photoI have been on the “road” since I was a little girl. I remember when my Polish grandpa and I would drive all the way from Katowice, Poland to my hometown in Oss, The Netherlands. As a child, I’d let my imagination run wild when looking out the car windows about what was out there in the world – what new places I would eventually explore, and where I would go when I was “all grown up.” I would look up at the sky into the clouds and daydream of long travels to distant, foreign lands. I would try to imagine what life was like for other people as we passed by old homes, quiet towns, and the changing landscapes.
There’s something soothing about sitting in a car with the windows down, a cool breeze coming in, and miles of endless highways when you’re off to explore somewhere new… While my travels nowadays are mostly on U.S. soil, I’ll never forget those road trips with grandpa, and certainly thought about it on my most recent road trip from Pennsylvania to Virginia.  We left PA early in the morning on a beautiful weekend day in mid-May to venture off to Chincoteague Island and Assateague Island, VA. Up until a few days before the trip, I hadn’t really heard of the two (though Chincoteague boasts millions of visitors each year), but now I would return there in a heartbeat.
 collageva Chincoteague Island is a wildlife sanctuary split between Maryland and Virginia. When you drive toward Chincoteague, you’re surrounded by endless wildlife from the beach to the migratory birds to the marshes and the forests. Assateague and Chincoteague connect by a small bridge that you can easily cross by car, bike, or even by foot. In our case, we rented bikes to see the countless nature trails and get to the beach. For a while, it seemed as if we had the island to ourselves, with only a few cars passing by every so often as we were completely immersed in nature with only birds chirping nearby.lightOne of the biggest attractions for those visiting Assateague Island are the wild ponies (“the Chincoteague ponies”) that have inhabited there for years. We could see them from afar on one of the bike rides, and a local woman told us that we had been lucky to see them at all. The ponies are not always visible to the crowds, unless by boat or bus tour. Shortly after spotting the ponies, it started to get chillier and clouds gathered overhead, so we had to jump on our bikes to escape the ensuing storm. We found some shelter and then it poured for a while until wewere able to head back to town for dinner. Before returning our bikes, we stopped by the historic Assateague Lighthouse, which dates back to 1867. Though the Lighthouse wasn’t open for viewing, it was great to wander around and catch the views from there.Chincoteague Island, virginiaBeing so close to the Atlantic, seafood seemed only a natural option once we got back. The crab cakes we ordered at this little place called the Crab Shack were really great – they were fresh with a nice kick to them, and good service to boot. While the island boasts plenty of touristy hotels, we opted for an AirBnB cottage a little further out. It was a cozy, quirky place with a lot of character and the comfort of home. Though AirBnB has been in the news lately for less than favorable things, we had a great experience staying in the country home surrounded by (farm) animals and a nearby dock for a nice evening walk.

10326419_1402331070052316_1061327731_nOn the last day, we opted for a kayak rental, which was a fun way to see the islands and surrounding wildlife. And, to our surprise, we saw the wild ponies up close and personal. They were only a feet away with a few foals by their sides as we kayaked by. Later on, we stopped on the island to rest from kayaking and enjoy a picnic. The ponies seemed far away, but we noticed them inching closer, so we had to wrap up the picnic and sprint back to the kayak (glad to add “running from wild ponies” to the bucket list of life experiences).
Though I love New York City for its daily hustle and bustle, it was great to tackle the outdoors even for a few days and leave the hectic life for the quiet of Assateague and Chincoteague.

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