Sunday, February 17, 2008

St. John Adventure - Day 15 (Departure)

I just can't believe it's all over. I thought perhaps I was ready to go back but I really am not!!! We did manage to have a few last adventures however....

After setting off kind of late we missed the 11am ferry. So, we had lunch at Rhumb Lines in Cruz Bay and got on the ferry at 1pm. Unlike the one we took when we arrived, this boat takes a far longer route and goes all the way into Charlotte Amalie instead of Red Hook on St. Thomas. I would be lying if I said I was not terrified. I really dislike boats, and this one was so tiny! The upside was that we got to sit with Jan, Jenny and Joanne, which calmed me a bit because I had to behave in a socially acceptable manner, rather than whimpering. The sun was out and the ocean was so beautiful and blue, which made up a bit for the terrifying way in which the waves tossed us around (I am sure they weren't even waves, and I am just a big baby).

The ride took just over an hour and we had about an hour to waste, so we took a quick look around Charlotte Amalie. It is a most charming place, with some of the historical buildings still in tact, with those cozy narrow alleys and little shops opening into them like a huge maze.

I sought out some art galleries. One belonged to Jonna White, a local celebrity, who does etchings with dozens of layers. I was expecting it to be spectacular, but honestly, I was a bit disappointed. You can see her work here.

What I really wanted to see was the work of a woman called Aphrodite, but we never did find her gallery. Instead we saw David Hill's shop, where his mom was working as the sales person and went on an on about her son's talents. I did like a lot of Davids work though, especially his paintings and not so much the etchings. It was actually quite inspiring, and made me wish that I was more of an artist than I am. I wonder if my mom would drop what she is doing and come sell my work. Or my Husband for that matter....

Anyway, then it was off to the airport, where they do the strangest thing - after you get your ticket form the e-ticket machine you drag all your luggage (and there are NO carts available) to customs. I've never seen customs on the departing end of the flight, have you? And of course they stopped Husband because he is on their watch list and we had to sit for two hours in the little secure facility until they called the FBI and did a background check. The customs officers on St. Thomas however, were the nicest I have ever met in my entire life! They explained to us exactly what was going on, how to get off the list, gave us updates every 15 minutes and even fed us biscottis! The only strange thing was when I had to go to the bathroom and had to be escorted by a female officer, after I was done she walked into my stall to check things out. I wonder what she thought I was doing...

The end result was that we were the last people on the plane, which was kind of cool and made me think of Bridget Jones. Our seats had been taken by a lesbian couple, one of whom was terrified of flying and they wanted to know if we would mind switching. We said ok, especially since I know very well what it's like to be afraid of something, and so we spent the flight sitting a ways apart. To help out, I chatted with the woman who was afraid, which she said really took her mind off the whole thing. She even showed me pictures of their wedding (they are from Massachusets so they were able to get married, which makes me so very happy). Eventually she passed out from all the Dramamine in her system and I started reading "Memoirs of a Geisha". I have seen the movie, but not read the book, and it is actually really good.

The only other thing of note during the flight was my attempt to purchase a sandwich. I was hungry and they do not serve food (nor do they have sound in the head phones, for some reason), but you can buy a ham and cheese sandwich for $5. The only cash I had on me, however, was $50, and the steward, a 30something fellow, took my $50 and told me he would give me change later. Eventually it transpired that one is able to pay by credit card, so I gave him my card but he would not give me the $50, saying that I did not give him any such money. I guess he was joking or something, because eventually he gave it back, but I was not sure it was funny at all.

We landed at JFK and got our bags by around 11pm. We had decided to stay the night in NYC with some friends, but we could not reach said friends for a while, making us a bit panicky. We were about to try a mad dash to Port Authority to grab the last bus out of town, but just then they called us and said they were on their way. It took longer than expected to find their car, as there are some weird traffic laws in the passenger pick-up zone. So we hung out there in the cold and dark and smoke filled NY winter street, cursing our fate, and wishing we were back on the island. I guess we are home now. Darn...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

St. John Adventure - Day 14 (Packing)

Well it poured all night again and everything is soaked. We were concerned that it will rain again tonight, making packing difficult tomorrow, so this morning we took everything apart again, dried it as best we could and packed most of it, including our tent. Tonight we will try to sneak into one of the set up tents and sleep there, which is apparently fairly common practice.

Here is Husband's invention for keeping our stuff dry overnight:

In the evening we made sure to say bye to Priscilla the artist and buy some of her prints. She has taken an special liking to Husband (as do most people) and said that he is a kind soul, always trying to help everyone.

For dinner we had food that was made by Jan, Jenny and Joanne, the Connecticut ladies who are also leaving tomorrow. I am just so tired, I can't even tell you!

Friday, February 15, 2008

St. John Adventure - Day 13 (Little Lemshure Bay)

Today was our last real exploration (sob, sniff). Setting off at ~10am the taxi took us passed Coral Bay, passed Saltpond Bay, to the end of the paved road and then over a partially dirt and partially concerete and extremely steep path to the three bay area (Big Lemshure, Little Lemshure and Europa). As we drove we saw mangroves and many mud crabs, so as soon as Ana dropped us off, Husband and I went back and tried to catch some of them on film (unsuccessful).

On the beach a group of retired Czechoslovakian physicians finally explained to us which tree is the death apple - a plant with sap so poisonous that you can can't even hide under it in the rain. A bite of the fruit will make your throat close shut and you are done for.

Snorkeling was a little lame because the water is very murky, but there were some really huge fish in the water, and there was a rock in the middle of the bay that you could swim to and watch the pelicans that perch on it. On the beach Husband found some artwork, which I thought was wicked.
He spent much more time in the water, but I wanted to go check out Yawzi point, an outcropping between the two Lemshure bays. I cannot tell you how beautiful it was! With water all around, and the cliff and waves, it looked like I was at world's end!

Ana picked us up around 2pm and we went to Skinny Legs for lunch. It was actually really delicious, and I spent quite a bit of time in conversation with Frank who is a forester, and who spoke at such length about his business that I feel like I could not go into forestry myself. He did irritate me at the end though, because when it came time to split the bill he had strong objections over my calculations about how much was each person's share and insisted that I owed him 25 cents. So after we got back to camp we happily went our separate ways. I was feeling really cold for some reason, and especially so after taking a shower, so I got all bundled up in fleecy pants and a sweater. We had dinner with Priscilla - rice with nuts and fruits, falafel and a strange guacamole (avocado with mayonnaise), and then went to look at the stars. I had found a little star chart and we spend quite some time trying to find all the different constellations. The ones I was able to identify for sure were - Orion, Mars, Taurus, Pleiads, Gemini, Cassiopeia, Auriga, Aries and maybe Pegasus.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

St. John Adventure - Day 12 (Caneel Bay)

Unlike yesterday, today was a happily eventful day. First I ran around trying to arrange a taxi ride for tomorrow to Little Lemshure. Since James and Christine are now gone I had to find us two new companions. I eventually became so frustrated that I just asked a random elderly couple that I met in the woods, and they said yes! They are called Frank and Lil and come from upstate NY. Anna, the taxi driver, said that she will only be able to take us to Lemshure if it does not rain tonight, because of the off-roading, mud issues, so let's hope for a clear night!

We made plans to meet Priscilla the Neighbor at a restaurant in Cruz Bay at ~6:15pm, and after some confusion about whether or not we should go anywhere at all, and if so where, we set out with the general plan to go to the Caneel Bay area. Going was slow because we forgot to stop by the locker to get some taxi cash (for later tonight), so I had to double back while Husband waited for me by the side of the road. As I was coming out of the campground a car was passing with two women in it, who, even though it must have seemed sketchy, agreed to pick Husband up from "somewhere up the road". It was actually fairly humorous to see Husband's reaction when a car with these two young women pulled up to give him a ride, since he did not know I was inside!

They dropped us off right at Caneel Bay, an intimidating establishment with a guard and a gate. The lawns were immaculately groomed. Fantastic landscaping had been done to convey the feeling of the tropics. A bunch of bananas hung right over the path. Cast iron tables were scattered among some sturdy-looking ruins, with candles lining every crumbling nook. All in all it looked polished, expensive and staged, like a paradise more real then the one beyond its walls.

We could not get a map, but someone pointed us in the direction of the beach. Actually it seems that Caneel Bay sits on at least three beaches, and we swam at the junction between Salomon and Honeymoon. The snorkeling was great, lots of live coral, especially huge stag horns, and very many colorful fish. At one point a platoon came along and dumped a mass of life jacked wearing snorkelers, so it must have been a prime location. The coolest part was that after you took a step into the water there was an immediate drop off, so you would go from ankle to waist deep instantly, making it oh so difficult to get out of the water with all the waves throwing you around.
I was really dizzy after we swam. It seems that it takes me longer and longer each day to get my footing on land after being water-borne. But we still had a ways to go. Around 4pm we began walking towards Cruz Bay on the Lind Point trail, which we hoped would get us there. It was fairly easy and afforded a most beautiful overlook of the harbor.

We came out of the woods at the National Park visitor center, which was closed, and I did a little switcheroo, secret-agent style, in the bathroom, entering as tough hiker chick and exiting as breezy tourist in dress and flip flops. We also saw what appeared to be a baby iguana, which is the only one we've seen so far at all.

After walking around town for a little while and checking out souveneirs, which were REMARKABLY expensive we met Priscilla in Rhumb Lines, a resturant with fantastic ambiance and delicious cuisine. It is an open air place, with thatched roofs and little canopies above tables, palm trees, fairy lights, bamboo placements, bohemian lighting and plush pillows with cast iron chairs. I had Jamaican style stake with horseradish potatoes and stuffed mushrooms, as well as a mango gaspacho. Husband had gingered salmon with palenta and veggies, and a rum and coconut drink.
After dinner we went to what could be called a bar, so that Priscilla could have a strawberry dacquary. While she enjoyed her drink I went into a little gift shop, where the I was just checking out some jewelry when the shop keeper told me to come back when I get my allowance. I still am not sure what that means. Any ideas?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

St. John Adventure - Day 11 (Cinnamon Bay and bacalhau)

Today we stayed "home" and cleaned a bit. We took everything out of the tent and dried it all, which took a while. It was overcast and rained on and off, so we ended up running back and forth covering things, moving stuff, etc. Eventually we made our way to the beach right here in Cinnamon Bay and hung out in the occasional sunlight, swam a bit, napped, read and did some sketches of people beached around us. I was mesmerized by this Venus, lounging in the waves, so I tried to snap a photo as inconspicuously as I could.

The book I've been reading, Agatha Christie's "Passenger to Frankfurt" is getting to be more repetitive and nonsensical with every page. The central thesis of the book, which is that a youth movement is being organized around to world to create chaos and anarchy, is endlessly discussed, chewed on and spat out by various proper elderly gentlemen of great power sitting in smoke filled ivy rooms. The complexities of politics and economics are broken down into very simplistic and stylized units and overall one gets the distinct impression that the author does not know what she is talking about, though she says it at great and redundant lengths.

For lunch we had a can of tuna and a can of sardines, which in retrospect was a really bad idea because afterwords I could not even think about fish, but Husband had made plans to make bacalhau. Bacalhau is a Portuguese dish of salted cod (the word actually means codfish). Husband spent all day preparing it, washing, soaking, cooking. Both Priscillas joined us for dinner, so when it came time to eat and I could just feel myself gagging with every bite, I could not exactly say "no". I hope that some day I will try it again and enjoy it. For now I am feeling a little sick...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

St. John Adventure - Day 10 (Coral Bay)

Man, it really poured last night! We are in a winter tent (well, it's called 4 season, but...) so it does not have a 'tub' bottom, and the water started seeping in through the seams and floor. Still we slept really well in our cozy little sleeping bags, especially since we were so tired from yesterday's walk. We had planned to go to Little Lemshure today, a bay on the south side of the island that is often mentioned as a favorite spot, but to get to it you have to go passed the end of the pavement and on a dirt road, which in this weather is impassible on a taxi. Thusly dampened we decided to have a "comfort" breakfast. Our new neighbors - five women from Connecticut - lend us a frying pan and a propane stove (they have three with them). In fact they told us we can keep the stove for the rest of our stay, as they will be leaving the same day as us and will not be needing it. So we made pancakes with honey and mango jam. Yum!!!

Surprisingly I was not at all sore from yesterday's adventure, and so we took a look at the Cinnamon Bay Loop trail, not to be confused with the one we did yesterday. Although the trail heads are within several feet of each other, the loop trail is just that, a loop that starts out at some sugar mill ruins (what else is new) and continues through the forest, up the hill, down and over a little stream, all along full of informative markers about the various plants and buildings around us. The ruins were really lovely, and overgrown with various ferns and plant matter, so I felt much like Lora Craft in the last Tomb Raider movie. And the trail went through a long patch of Bay Rum trees, which are so beautiful, odd and red, and stand out against the forest background. You should smell those leaves - heavenly! In fact they were used for making perfume back in the day.

Somewhere along the path there are two graves, of a husband and wife, though they may not actually be buried in there. You can see the red trunks of the bay rum trees all around.
We finished the little hike and Husband thought it might be fun to go to Coral Bay, the little town on the east side of the island mentioned earlier. We had just walked out of the ruins and stuck out the thumb as a car with an older couple slowed down - it turns out that they had seen us leave for the hike as they were waiting to go into town to rent a car. And here they were on the way back with their brand 'new' car, and decided to pick us up. How fortuitous for us! They took us all the way into Coral Bay, which was great, but the back seat of their car was soaking wet and so were our pants when we got out, which was not so great at all. They dropped us off by the "signs", which in essence tell you exactly what you can find in this town.
Our first destination was the Love City Mini Market where we bought a ton of food - two papayas, a pineapple, potatoes, garlic, onion, chocolate, and a salted fish for a dish called bacalhan that Husband's mom used to make. It looks really scary but what can you do? Then we went to Skinny Legs for lunch. This was actually our first time eating at Skinny Legs and we enjoyed the experience. There is a bar with TV screens, and the rest of it is on a kind of porch, with the bay just feet away. The menu is written on a surf board, the waitresses are middle aged and surly, and the condiments are kept in old beer cases, making them look a bit like some trash left over from a previous party. Here is a shoe mobile made up of shoes that have washed up on shore.
By far the best decoration in the place is the bathroom. I went to take a picture of it and had an odd sort of incident. There were two women outside the bathroom, which is also the area where the gift shop has some clothing racks, one of them trying on a little sarong on her head (why?) while the other had just walked up to one of the doors of the bathroom, opened it and screamed. Inside was a local man, taking a leak. He looked around surprised, while the girl who had opened the door ran away (leaving the door wide open) and the other tried to hide in the see-through sarong as if she was actually all naked, both of them laughing and screaming and the man trying to hold on to his dick with one hand and close the door with the other. And there I am with my camera pointing at the entire scene! Oh god... Finally the man closes the door and I prepare to take the picture. The girl with the random sarong is completely in my way and I say to her "I want to take a picture" to which she gives me a dirty look and says "Of me?" and I give her a look that I hope says "why would you possibly think you are the least bit interesting you stupid woman, and why don't you try acting your age" and respond "no... the bathroom."
Now that we were all fortified we made the impromptu decision to hike back to Cinnamon Bay. There was a sign for a trail called Johnny Horn right near the restaurant and according to our map it would take us to Waterlemon Bay. In fact the first third of the hike was on a dirt road and not a trail, but it was at least a 45 degree angle. I cannot imagine what kind of cars make it up this way but we saw at least two houses, and what appeared to be a surly resident of one of the houses, the very last one on the road. After that the road became a trail and we finally saw a sign that suggested that we were in fact going in the right direction.
Here is a shot looking back over Coral Bay from this road.
We did not see much on the trail except some cacti, termites and ants. At one point I stopped to take a picture and a bunch of ants climbed up my leg, into my pants and shoes, making me swear profusely as they attacked my leg, forcing me to take off my clothes and shoes and do the 'get those damned things off of me dance'. Here is a close up of a termite nest, which Husband took.
By the time we made it to Waterlemon the sun was setting. It was so beautiful but we had unfortunately no time to waste on sight seeing as we had to get out to the road before it got dark. There were some more random ruins on the way, and the bay was just gorgeous, bathed in that warm glow of the setting sun. As we reached the road it began to rain, or rather mist, leaving a most beautiful rainbow over the entire bay. It was, I think, one of the most memorable sights, but one that I cannot share with you because I could not take a picture.
As we were walking out of the beach area we saw that there was a car parked in the lot, and a man feeding some feral cats. We kept walking but eventually we saw him pull out and start in our direction, tried our luck, even though we were all wet and he had a fancy car. Sure enough he stopped and gave us a lift. It actually turned out that he was a builder, has been living on St. John for 40 years, and had built most houses here, including Mongoose Junction! I was so glad to have met him and have had a chance to complement him on his work.

Dinner tonight was couscous, falafel and a tomato and cucumber salad, after which we hung out with Priscilla and James and ate papayas. I also started reading a new book - Agatha Christie's "Passenger to Frankfurt", which so far seems interesting.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

St. John Adventure - Day 9 (Reef Bay Hike)

A completely amazing day. In fact, we saw so much and had such a good time I can't imagine that I can write it all down. I will try to add more pictures instead.

So today we did the Reef Bay Hike. It starts out at the campground, from where we take the Cinnamon Bay trail, a 1.2 mile hike entirely uphill, and since it was rainy on and off, fairly slippery at the same time. We got going around 11am, with Husband still feeling a little off, so at least I thought I would be able to keep up. He took an entire backpacker pack, while I was carrying only my little rucksack. Here is a view from about two thirds of the way up, looking back over Cinnamon Bay.
The Cinnamon Bay Trail ends on the Centerline Road, which is one of the two roads that run across the island. From here we had to walk about a mile east along the road, taking care to step out of the way of traffic because it was pretty winding (windy?) and only really gets locals, who zoom by very fast. There is also a bus that runs along this road every hour, and costs about $1. All along the road the signs, such as the trail sign and speed limits were covered in bullets. I guess kids here don't know what to do with themselves. That's the bullet holes on the left there. And here is a picture looking down towards the South side of the island where we are headed. From here on it was downhill on the Reef Bay trail.
The trail is very well marked. The National Park takes tours down the trail and then picks up the tourists at the end in a boat and takes them around to Cruz Bay from where they can catch a taxi back. But that is for sissies! We will be hiking down and all the way back up this 3.4 mile trail.
Along the way we met Will, a 30 something dermatology intern from New York City. He was on St. Thomas for a dermatology conference and today was his last day, so he decided to explore. He had already been scuba diving this morning and thought he might do this hike as well. We got to talking because he stopped to take our picture for us, and then we simply hiked the rest of the way together. It was really quite fun having company and he was a really nice guy. We came upon several ruins of sugar mills. Here is a picture of one about half way down the hike.
And here is an image of the trail itself. Pretty easy going, I would say! I just love those sub tropical forests. There is so much life everywhere! We saw mango trees, papaya trees, something called a locust, bay rum trees etc. It was lovely, and the trail tells you about all the different kinds of uses and other useful information.
About two thirds of the way down the trail branches off so you can go check out the petroglyphs. These were most likely left behind by the Taino people, who lived on the island in pre-Columbian times. They are carved into the rocks surrounding a pool of fresh water, fed by a small but beautiful waterfall. The water level in the pool remains constant throughout the year and would have been very important to the natives. Observe how beautifully the petroglyphs reflect in the water. I am especially grateful that we were there right after a passing shower and the entire scene was wet, sparkling and steaming with that mist that you can only get in warmer climates.

And right nearby visitors have left a new generation of glyphs, carved into the waxy leaves of a bush on the edge of the waterfall.
At the end of the Reef Bay trail are the biggest sugar mill ruins I've seen so far (of course I've missed the ones in Annaberg, and they are pretty famous). This mill actually lived two lives, back in colonial times where it was powered by slaves and horses, and then in later years it was revived and a steam engine was put in. Now it is a home to bats, and a nice shelter for when it's pouring out.
This is where they cooked the rum I think.

The bats are everywhere!!
Hiding from the rain. The wooden thing in the back is part of the horse or donkey turning mechanism. The black thing is of a later era.
The steam engine part. It is actually enormous, it is hard to get perspective here.
And here is an odd sign on the bathroom building. What do you think they are trying to tell us?
Finally we also walked to the beach. It was a desolate affair, not a single person in sight. It was overcast and the surf was up, and we got eaten alive by no-see-ums. Needless to say we did not stay on the beach long.
Walking back was a bit more challenging. It was around 4pm at this point, which means that it had taken us 5 hours to get here. I was quite tired, not sure how the boys were feeling. We did not really get a chance to eat, though we were snacking on some nuts. The last mile of the Reef Bay trail, I was just not sure I could make it. I could feel my pulse in the my head, and was sure something was going to explode. Between the rain and the sweat I was drenched, and I was not sure that I could feel my legs. But we had a sneaky plan - we knew that there was a couple that had hiked down just after us and we thought that they looked like they came by car. So we wanted to make it to the top and wait for them, and then see if we could bum a ride back to the next trail head. Unfortunately they were in much better shape then I was and were constantly gaining on us, so I could not even stop to take a breath. By the time I finally got to the end of the trail I was not sure I could take another step. I collapsed quiet pitifully and just sweated in a puddle on the side of the road, which meant that we did not even have to ask for a ride, they offered it to us!
They dropped us off at the Cinnamon Bay trail and took Will the rest of the way into town. From here we had to rush to keep ahead of the falling darkness, and finally made it to camp around 6pm. I was so tired, and we had no fuel once more, so I suggested eating out at the little restaurant they have here, but Husband said that it was more fun to make our food especially now that it was a challenge. It was also pouring rain now. We tried to go to Ken and Eva's, who sadly left this morning to go home, but someone had already moved into that tent. So finally we went to the group camp site across the path and sneakily used one of the stoves that is set out there. By the time we went to bed the rain was so bad that there was a little river running under our tent. The end result was that it felt like sleeping on a water bed, while it gently seeped into our pads. Good times.