Monday, January 28, 2008

St. John Adventure - Day 1 (Arrival)

The journey started the day before as we caught the 7pm bus to NYC. Arriving at Port Authority no later than expected, despite the fact that the man who was meant to drive our bus had fallen ill and we had to wait for a replacement - a very angry Asian man who drove like a bat out of hell, we nevertheless got stuck on the E train for over an hour, with our 3+ bags and a train car full of irritated New Yorkers. After catching a few hours of sleep at our friend's bachelor pad, and somehow loosing his cat ( I really hope he did not escape out the window when I opened it after burning the toast - yes, it was that kind of morning), we got to the airport.

Check in was most confusing as it was our first experience with e-tickets. We went from one check in isle to another looking for the flight to St. Thomas, and even stood in line for a while at a mysterious line entitled "Caribbean" only to discover that it was heading to Jamaica. What we were meant to do was a self check-in, which is accomplished at one corner of the terminal by entering the e-ticket number and the number of bags into the computer, and tada - boarding pass! So in the end we were through security by 11am, a full half hour before boarding began. Even boarding was over before we knew it, and the flight itself turned out to be much shorter than we expected, so it was in no time that we were flying over the Virgin Islands.

As we approached St. Thomas we could see the brilliant ocean sparkling beneath us and many small and bigger islands scattered here and there, with little boats moving around and between them. It was my first landing of this sort, for as I watch out the window and saw nothing but water for a few seconds, the land appeared so suddenly as we touched down on the edge of the island, that I was quite startled.

We were ushered out right onto the tarmark, and could see the ocean just a few feet away as we walked to retrieve our luggage. We had decided to catch a ferry not from Charlotte Amalie, which is where the airport is, but rather from Red Hook on the other side of the island, mostly because I was very frightened of a long ferry ride. We found a taxi (or really, it found us) and our bags were loaded into the back of a huge van. Taxis here do not seem interested in driving just a few passengers around - and no wonder, the taxis are huge and gas expensive. So one usually waits until the vehicle is filled with people going in more or less the same direction that you are heading. This did not sit well with one middle aged couple who became quite rude to the driver at one point, and asked if he would be bothering to take us anywhere at all. Just as these impatient newcomers were unpleasant, the last couple to get into our car were even more obnoxious, for since they had been to the island many times they spoke at length about it in the most proprietary way - which seemed most rude to me since the driver was clearly the only local among us.

We drove through Charlotte Amalie and then up some really insane steep and windy roads, with the most sweet little bright homes scattered here and there until we past over the ridge or top of the island and descended to Red Hook on the other side. From here we got glimpses of a marvelous view of various harbors, surrounding islands and the beautiful turquoise water we had heard so much about. By the time we reached Red Hook's ferry dock it was 6pm and even though the ferry was still docked, they would not allow us to board. Since we now had an hour to spare, we found a little pizza place to grab a slice and a small market where we purchased a few provisions, namely pure alcohol for burning in the stove - for it turned out that white gas was not available in that town.

It was too dark to notice much about the ferry ride, other than the huge bats flying over the waves, which I think might have been the local fisherman bats. All we could see for a while were the lights disappearing behind us and new lights coming closer as we neared St. John. The ferry did a maneuver that seemed most complicated to me as it reached the dock at Cruz Bay, which is that it did a 3 point turn and reversed to the dock. I was impressed with the smoothness that was achieved, but I suppose the captain or whoever is in charge up there does this many times a day, every day for years and years.

Right off the dock we were rushed to a taxi, this one not a van but rather a sort of pickup truck with two benches along the sides in the back and a canvas roof. There were several people on the taxi, but once again some were dropped off someplace else along the way. In the end only one other person - a very gruff and grim looking man with a huge gray beard, was left on our ride to Cinnamon Bay - the campground where we will stay for the next two weeks. He seemed very at easy despite the terrifying drive at what seemed to me like crazy speeds, in the dark, through the woods, on windy up and and down roads. So I hung on for dear life and did not try to make conversation.

Check in at the campground was most simple and we received great news - that we would be able to stay at a bare site for the entirety of our stay, rather than having to move to one of their tents after 5 days as had been planned ($27 vs $80 a night). We were very excited by these news and made our way down to our spot, which was located at group site C along with 5 other tent sites. We had the toughest time finding it at first because we did not have our flash lights but rather tried to locate it by the shine of my poor little cell phone. I became quite disoriented at one point and found myself somehow at the group site without any idea how I had gotten there. At this point I was beginning to be quite crabby and unpleasant to my poor Husband, who snapped at me in return. It was lucky for us, therefore, that we finally found our site with the help of our new neighbor, Cheryl. She introduced herself, as well as the man who had already begun to assemble his tent next to us - the burly man from the taxi! We also met the woman who had a tent to the right of us, a most peculiar lady named Priscilla who told us to make sure to go through the trash in the mornings because you never know what useful things people will throw away as they leave.

After setting up the tent (no small task in the dark) we went to see the beach. It was dark, and the moon was small in the sky (though growing or not I could not tell because it hung on it's side like an outline of a cup), but we stood there and let the dark waters crash on our feet until even our pants became wet with the splashes and we were so glad to have made it here. And so we spent our first night on St. John, with the crashes of the waves keeping us company.


maeverin said...

ack! this showed up in my bulk mail! i almost erased it!
what a great description--i can almost imagine being there^_^

Paulina said...

you are too sweet - and now I have a total complex about writing in case my next descriptions are not as good....

maeverin said...

remember--adjectives are your friends. not so much mine, but definitely yours. we have more of a love/hate relationship. i don't use them, they don't come to me, i forget to call the next day--you know how it is.

but i digress...