Wednesday, January 30, 2008

St. John Adventure - Day 3 (Waterlemon Bay)

Today was a milestone in my life - I had oatmeal for breakfast for the first time in probably 10 years. I hate that gunky stuff and have not been eating it ever since I could feed myself. But we are roughing it now, and oatmeal is healthy and filling and easy to make, and so I must swallow my dislike, as it were. To be entirely honest, it was not quite as bad as I remembered. Perhaps with time I will get used to it?

The adventure for today was Waterlemon Bay, and it was fantastic. We were a little late getting going and made Cheryl and Jeff wait, but on the up side we have made new acquaintances - Ken and Eva from Boston who we met on the taxi to the bay. The taxi ride was far less terrifying in the daylight, and only 2 miles short with occasional views of beaches and ocean as we went up and down the hilly road. Cars here drive on the left, which is really not as weird as one might expect. The hardest part is remembering which way to look when crossing the road.

The taxi driver, Ana, dropped us off at the end of the road and we had to walk the rest of the way along the shore to the beach, the path made up not of sand or rocks but small pieces of dead coral. It was quite sad to see, though I am not certain if this was due to natural causes or damage done by the multitudes of boats moored in the bay. Regardless, I got to see and collect a few really beautiful chunks of coral. I wonder if I am allowed to take them off the island?

Snorkeling at Waterlemon was a marvelous experience, and even a little character building. Husband and I donned our wet suits, which seemed a little silly at first because the water is so warm, but proved beneficial in the long run, since we were the only ones not frozen to the bone by the end of the day. Before we even got in the water Cheryl called out to us and said she had spotted a turtle. The seafloor right by the shore turned out to be full of sea grass, and very popular with the turtles, for we spotted three within just the first few minutes. They weren't enormous, but over a foot long and reddish-orange in coloration. They were so beautiful and graceful, and not really afraid of us unless we came too close.

We proceeded to snorkel, fins and all, along the east side of the bay with the intention of swimming out to the small island (they call them cays) maybe 300 yards away from the tip of the bay (I am bad at judging distances though, so forgive me...). We saw some rays and also giant sea stars, which were as big as rocks I think, fat and colored a dull orange. All along I protested that I certainly could not make it. As we reached the edge of the bay and the waves got bigger and the island looked so far I way, I became quite annoying and whiny. There was a buoy about half way to the island and Husband suggested that I should try swimming to it and if I can't make it we would turn back. It was really unnerving the way you stop being able to see the ocean floor because it gets to deep and murky, and you just feel like you are floating over a bottom-less abyss. I have heard stories of people having heart attacks while snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef because when they swim over the edge they see just how deep the ocean goes. I thought I could relate... But I made it to the buoy in no time and hung on to it for dear life while I caught my breath. I could see all the creatures that have turned the buoy's chain into a home, and it was pretty terrifying not seeing where the chain reached the sea floor.

But we swam on and made it to the the little cay. It has a real spit of a beach, just a few feet wide and coral and ocean all around. I was tired and slightly nauseous (tight suit? waves? salty water? who knows...) but I figured I am here and I might as well look around. So Husband and I snorkeled around the cay and it was so worth it! We saw the most beautiful coral, huge brain corals, stag horns, red ones and black ones and even cobalt blue coral! There were fish of all sizes and colors, turtles, cuttle fish and fish I do know the name of. It was so peaceful and beautiful and really left me with a profound sense of something or other, as they say. As we reached the far end of the cay and were about to swing around to the eastern side (the one facing more towards the ocean) the waves got to be quite scary and I was once again turning into a big baby - but I had come this far, and hadn't I learned my lesson yet? And sure enough, as if to reward my small attempts at will power and perseverance the coral on the eastern side of the cay was even more beautiful that any I had seen before.

By the time we made it back to the cay's beach I was totally exhausted. Husband, in his endless wisdom, had dragged along a Nalgene bottle with some fresh water with chunks of coconut floating in it. While before I would not have dreamed of drinking this water (I had a bad coconut water experience once and thought it was sour and unpleasant), I drank it up lustily, sweet water reviving me, easing the headache that had crept up, coconut flesh so deliciously sweet. We shared it with Ken and Eva, who were huddled on the beach trying to get warm, and began our trip back. Initially I thought I would just swim to the edge of the bay and walk the rest of the way back, but in the end I made it almost the entire way to the beach. Getting out of the water, after three hours of floating, felt like my limbs were filled with lead. I crawled on shore (no joke) on all fours and it took me some time to get walking. Everything swayed around me as I was a) blind without my glasses, and b) still moving as if the waves were rocking me. But how good everything felt! I had overcome some small fears and been rewarded with beautiful sights, and I had my Husband to thank for being so encouraging.

A quick dip without the wet suits - one feels completely weightless and free - and we were hiking back to get to the taxi. We did not have time to look at the Annaberg sugar mill ruins which are basically right there in the parking lot, but perhaps we'll come back later. And we already have plans for tomorrow - the whole crew, Cheryl, Jeff, Ken, Eva and us, will go to Saltpond tomorrow, which is all the way on the southeastern most corner of the island.

Back at the camp Cheryl and Jeff invited us to take a look at their cottage, which was fortunate because it caused us to take a trail passed the Tree Lizzard restaurant that they have here on the campsite and it turned out that they were having a welcoming party for newcomers, complete with free food, drinks and a raffle. We did not win anything, but drank some guava juice and ate some fruit, cheese and in my case chicken (Husband is vegetarian, after all) and got to the campsite rejuvenated. We did see the cottages, and they are alright (electricity, fan, cots) but I am not sure it is worth it.

Dinner was rice, falafel and stewed tomatoes, oh so delicious after a long and fun day! And we have new neighbors - James and Christine from Utah, whom we have invited to go to Saltpond with us tomorrow (along with Priscilla). In fact I am so tired now, that I almost wish we could take tomorrow to relax.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

St. John Adventure - Day 2 (Cinnamon Bay)

We woke up fairly late, achy and disoriented but glad to be here. As I mentioned yesterday, there was no white gas to be had on the island so breakfast was delayed while Husband made an alcohol stove out of cans of cat food and tuna. In fact by the time we did finally get down to eating it was time for lunch and so our first meal in the Caribbean was rice pilaf (from the box). We have come quite prepared to feed ourselves, I believe, with provisions of rice, couscous, falafel, nuts and spices. There is a small market here at Cinnamon Bay which has a decent selection of canned veggies and tuna for prices comparable to what we saw in town (though more expensive than back home on the main land).

So while Husband toiled away cutting cans and making food I explored the area just a tad and stumbled upon a soldier crab path running through our group site. Crabs of all sizes could be seen lugging their shells around, until they spotted a curious observer approaching that is, at which point they would curl up, pretending to be entirely un-fascinating and not at all delicious.

While we were polishing off the pilaf new neighbors arrived - Heidi and Quintin from Philly. Heidi is a handsome, slender, dark skinned 30 something woman, dressed in that casual but extremely flattering and coordinated way that I can never achieve. Quintin is a hoot with a really mad, foot long (or longer) braided goatee. They have been here many times before, which is obvious by the way they had thought to pack such practical items as a straw mat for catching sand in front of the tent entrance, and clothes pins for the lines.

Today's adventure was simple - explore Cinnamon Bay and chill out. The beach is not much - soft light sand, turquoise water and some islands in the distance, including a Cay that one can probably swim to ( I think a cay is what they call small islands in the bay). The weather was actually a little overcast for most of the day and I got quite chilly in my bathing suit, so Husband and I decided to take a walk to the east end of the beach (the bay faces north). Here there were some rocky outcrops, which we braved without shoes, and coral pocking out every times the waves receded. We did not dare go far into the water because of the menacing way in which the waves crashed against the rocks and into the sharp coral (dead or alive, I could not tell). Every time we got into the water, I was worried it would try to wash us right back out.

Back at the beach Husband became determined to locate some coconuts. This proved simple enough because there are many coconut trees around, and coconuts, once ripe, simply drop to the ground. Before I knew it, he had found three coconuts and was pealing the outer husk with his very manly knife. I was a little concerned at first about the safety of Husband's fingers, what with the husk being so tough, but the only things that were damaged were the manly knife, which lots its tip somewhere on that beach (surely to be found by my foot at a later date), and the coconuts, which were really quite delicious. Now he is formulating plans to get a green coconut down from a tree, which is much more full of liquid and a favorite among true coconut connoisseurs.

By the time we got back to our camp site there was a cocktail hour in full swing (Priscilla and a very large crowd of her acquaintances who all come here at about the same time each year), so it took us a minute to realize that Cheryl and burly man Jeff's tents were no longer there. It transpired that they had relocated into one of the campsite's cottages (more like cement bunker, if you ask me) because Jeff wanted to be able to 'stand up when getting dressed'. But to our delight they came back to visit us while we were dining on rice and tuna, and we have made plans to go to Waterlemon Bay tomorrow. We are quite fortunately, I feel, to have Cheryl, Priscilla and the others here who know the best places to go, which will hopefully ensure that we don't miss out on anything during the next two weeks.

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.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Hilarious English Language Commercials

These are two commercials for learning English. You'll laugh, you'll cry, it's side-splitting good!