Saturday, February 2, 2008

St. John Adventure - Day 5 (Cruz Bay)

I had meant to be productive today, do the laundry, clean out the tent etc, but it had rained in the night and all was wet - the tent, the towels and clothes we had hung outside to dry, some of the them smelling quite rotten now. It continued to drizzle as we ate breakfast - oatmeal, which Husband had cooked on a stove of one of the empty campground tents across the path, for we are out of alcohol to burn in our little stove. So instead of laundry, we decided to head into town to look for more fuel. As we were getting ready, new neighbors arrived - three college kids, freshmen probably by all the sense they were not making, two girls and a guy from 'the DC area'. They seem quite clueless but will only be staying a few days.

Getting ready was slow. I thought maybe I should take a shower. Then I thought maybe we didn't have enough time. Besides, showers here are cold, and when you step under the water it just takes the breath out of your lungs. By the time we thought we might be ready to go it was already time for lunch, so Husband made some food on Ken and Eva's stove, even though they were not actually there (with their permission, of course!) While he cooked I got bored and wondered off further up the path into the woods. There I came across some abandoned campground tents, collapsed in a heap on their wooden platforms and rotting, covered in leaves and other debris. Further up the path I walked into someone's campsite and was just going to ask the way back but then I recognized the woman as an acquaintance of Priscilla and stopped for a chat.

The woman, Priscilla Wiggins, is a nomad artist. She spends all year traveling around, mainly to the Virgin Islands, Hawaii, New Mexico, Texas and Colorado. She lives out of her tent, though she does own a little ranch in NM, without electricity or running water. She shows her work in some galleries, and paints each day, supporting herself entirely on what she makes from her sales. You can see some of her work here. She is a truly fascinating woman, quiet, gentle, a little peculiar of course, but so brave in my opinion, to have left all comforts behind to do what she loves. She showed me her watercolors and gave me a few postcards of her work from the desert at Big Bend, which are some of my favorites. I have invited her to come with us on some future adventures, and hope that she will come along.

Eventually we were ready. Instead of taking a taxi, which gets costly, we tried hitchhiking into Cruz Bay. The first car picked us up - it was a local kid, in his swimming trunks, smelling of sweat and pot, windows open, rap blasting from the speakers, and what looked like a tazer attached under the steering wheel. He did not say a single word until he dropped us off right at the entrance of the town at which point I offered him a few bucks for gas and he was all smiles!

When I say the entrance of the town, you have to appreciate how tiny it is. The very first building is a shopping center. There are maybe two or three streets, all crammed with restaurants, shops, smoothie stands, car rental places, real estate agencies and taxi cabs. It's all a bit of a tourist zoo. To get our bearings we walked into Mongoose Junction, a very popular shopping center. I was expecting something like a mall, but it was actually shopper's paradise. Uneven stories of little tiny shops and boutiques, narrow alleys, open air courts, tropical plants, cast iron staircases, all stone, shell, turquoise and palm tree, like a maze of cool fresh ocean breeze. I did not look in a single shop but admired the architecture and the landscaping and the beauty of it all.

The one place I did stop was the "Bajo el Sol - Under the Sun" art gallery. It featured art of only local artists, some great, some bland. Among my favorites was a ceramic artist called Mandy Thody, who is most known for her clay busts but my favorites were her frogs and underwater scenes, none of which I could, unfortunately, photograph. I found this one picture online, but it does not do her work justice...

On the other hand, one of St. John's most successful, or at least most advertised artists, and possibly even the owner of Bajo el Sol, Livy Hitchcock, was about as dull as could be. Her work looks still and lifeless, and I strongly suspect that she paints exclusively from photographs. Even so, here is an example of her work entitled "Olivia Rose", pastels.

Out in the beating sun again we walked across town to the Marketplace, to find The Hardware Store, in which we hoped to locate some fuel. We passed a school, painted brightly in pink and yellow, and took what could maybe be a 'back alley' in which we saw some dilapidated and half collapsed houses, all one story, and possibly one room even. The Marketplace was not as lovely as Mongoose Junction, but contained many practical stores. At the hardware store we found cans of denatured alcohol, which should be sufficient for our purposes. At the pharmacy we bought some needed toiletries and at the Starfish Market we got a few food provisions. Laden thusly with our purchases, but without the $10 machete that Husband had considered buying we walked back out of town and began trying to hitchhike again.

The first couple of cars passed us by but then a man pulled over and offered to take us as far as Caneel Bay, which is only about a third of the way but we agreed. His name, it turned out, was Gerald, a middle aged man, once again only in his swimming trunks, who by a strange coincidence had friends from our home town who were 'in the healing arts'. He wanted to know if we were 'in the healing arts' also, and insisted on giving us his friend's name. Why is it, I wonder, that people think that just because someone is from the same town, of a similar profession, age, sex or height, they might be interested in meeting some other random people that the person knows who are thusly similar? He chatted about how we seemed like really positive people, and I thought that perhaps he would go out of his way to drive us all the way to Cinnamon Bay, which was just another couple of miles, but nope. He dropped us off just outside Caneel Bay and off we were again trying to hitch a ride.

This time we caught a park ranger. I was worried at first, because I thought hitchhiking might be illegal and we may be in trouble, but he was really nice, and also new on the job (2 weeks) and he said that he had been instructed to pick up hitchhikers. He happened to be going to Cinnamon Bay as well anyway, because he wanted to take a look around and introduce himself, for he was now the head of law enforcement in the park. So we hopped in the back of the car, into the cagey, bullet proof criminal section, and Husband sad he was mighty glad he had decided against buying the machete.

For dinner tonight (rice with sauce of tomato, tuna and canned spinach, yum!) we had company - James and Christine. They are really lovely. James is kind of a joker, always saying something witty that makes you feel quite a fool because you just can't come up with a comeback. Christine is a skinny gorgeous girl, who is really expressive and interested in all manner of things. She is also a mountain biker, go figure! They live in Utah, where it is also very touristy, and have invited us to come visit, which I think I would love to do. Eventually, Heidi and Quintin stopped by our picnic table, and then a new person arrived, a guy named Aaron who I could not quite see but who seemed like the very definition of a 'surfer dude', long hair, shirtless, goofy and with a bottle of rum, except that he turned out to be the new ER nurse at the St. Thomas hospital. One of the little college girls giggled over also to take a look at the dude and brag about getting malaria at some point, all the while throwing her hips this way and that as she stood and chugged rum from the bottle. As we got into our tent at night, the smell of marijuana was drifting gently over the entire camp site....

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