St John Day 4

1 12 2007

We got up early today and went snorkeling at Watermelon Cay. The coral there was amazing – I have seen coral displays in museums and on the Travel Channel, but I never understood that it is virtually its own ecosystem until today. There were so many different kinds of coral and a variety of fish, including barracuda.

The swim to Watermelon Cay and back was quite tiring. We decided to go for lunch and then return to snorkeling.

The last area we picked was not the best choice – Jumbie Bay. The National Park’s brochure said that we might see nurse shark and lobster – no such luck. The waves were breaking on rocks nearby the coral area, so I didn’t feel safe. Plus I think I saw a jellyfish, which I think might be dangerous. As we swam from one side to another a man appeared. He was wearing plaid boxer shorts and rubbing sand on his body, I think he was taking a bath in the Caribbean Ocean. Then he disappeared into the woods, not via the trail we arrived on. Strange! Always an adventure!

I wouldn’t say that the USVI are third world, but there are some strange things here. A popular past time seems to be sitting outside. Just sitting – it is done by people of all ages. We were at a market and two men had a checker board set up behind their car in the parking lot. Anyone want to meet me at the Super Walmart for a game of National Park monopoly behind my Cavalier? Also last night I saw a commercial advertising marriage – “Marriage Works!”. An Internet search shows 25.1 marriages per 1000 people in the USVI. I think marriage works, I guess it just isn’t that popular in the USVI!

It was a bit disconcerting to hear “It’s beginning a lot like Christmas” this afternoon. I guess since in Illinois it is only 85 degrees in the summer, not in December. This is their holiday season in the Virgin Islands. There is not snow at Christmas!

Several people have kept me posted on the icky weather in Illinois. I think winter travel to tropical places is definitely the way to go. Though now I am worried that my plane might not arrive in Chicago tomorrow due to icy weather conditions…


St John Day 3

30 11 2007

This morning we slept in again, then we went over to the Westin Resort to register for our SCUBA excursion with Cruz Bay Watersports. We ate lunch at the Westin and walked around the grounds. There is a reason it costs an outrageous amount to stay there, but it is very very nice.

We went on an afternoon SCUBA/snorkel excursion. Our SCUBA excursion was around some coral ledges and there were a lot of fish to be seen – again I don’t know the names – except pufferfish, angelfish and trumpetfish. The SCUBA divemaster was great. He really stuck with us and made us feel very comfortable. He picked up a lot of things off of the bottom of the ocean and let us touch them – only things that would not be damaged by human hands. It was amazing to see the coral and all of the organisms that live around it. I was struck by the thought that many people swim in the ocean without SCUBA or snorkeling and have no idea what is going on below them.

Then we went snorkeling by a private island. Can you imagine owning an island and building your house there?

We just returned from eating Chinese food. The lifelong ban on eating in Chinese restaurants is over and I think that a whole new realm of food has been opened up for me. Those of you who know me, know that I am a really picky eater. I am trying to get over that.

Tomorrow we will go over to St. Thomas to make sure we catch our plane on time Sunday morning. Back to work on Monday. 😦

St John Day 2

29 11 2007

A great day in paradise! Slept in until about 9:00 – though it is Atlantic Time here – 2 hours later than Central time zone. We got ready and headed over the National Park Visitor’s Center, where we picked up a map and some pamphlets on snorkeling and hiking locations.

We spent most of our day snorkeling. First we went to Trunk’s Bay which has a guided underwater trail. Trunk’s Bay is often listed as one of the top ten beaches in the world. We thought the snorkeling here was amazing, until we went to our next two destinations.

Next we went hiking Annaberg Sugar Mill ruins. It was a very interesting self-guided tour about St. John’s sugar plantation era. The mill and other buildings were built in the late 1700’s, but a surprising amount of the structures were still standing. I’m sure the houses in our neighborhood will not be standing in 2200!

Then we were were ready for some more snorkeling, this time at Francis Bay. There were an abundance of fish here. We saw a stingray buried in the sand, and many colorful fish that I really wish I knew the names of. There were quite a few pelicans at this beach. It was neat to watch them swoop down and eat fish from the ocean!

Our last snorkeling adventure was at the Saltpond Bay. This beach is at the Southeastern end of the island, at the very end of the National Park. It was definitely worth driving to. It was very secluded and we were the only people there. We saw a hawksbill sea turtle– an endangered species. The turtle’s torso was as big as a full grown man’s. It was a bit daunting to be so close to it, but it just ignored us. There were huge schools of small silver fish. At times they were so thick that we couldn’t see anything else. I literally saw a million of those fish today! At one point they parted to reveal two huge fish – four to five feet long. We also saw a lot of squid here, although they weren’t as large as I expected they would be.

We finished the night off by eating at a restaurant called Morgan’s Mango. A guitarist sang and played nearby. The food and ambiance were both good.

St John Day 1

28 11 2007

We have arrived in St. John!

Last night we stayed at a hotel in Chicago (where I finally reaped the rewards of the great toenail painting candy eating cessation – my toes look very tropical!) so that we could make our 7:45 a.m. flight. Things went very smoothly. I had reserved inexpensive long term parking at a Marriott hotel and their shuttle took us right to our gate. We used the self-check-in kiosk for the first time – and it saved us an amazing amount of time. I think my future travels will definitely include this convenience, as well as only bringing enough things for carry-on luggage. Those measures should greatly reduce the wait time.

We flew from Chicago to San Juan, Puerto Rico and caught a connecting flight to St. Thomas. When we arrived on the tarmac in San Juan there were very large lizards running around in the nearby grass. It was neat to see the lizards in their natural habitat.

We arrived at the San Juan airport a bit late, so I was worried about making our connecting flight, and then worried about our luggage making the connecting flight. No worries, mon. Everything worked out!

We rented a jeep at the St. Thomas airport and drove to the dock at Red Hook to take a barge to St. John. It is quite a different driving experience – they drive on the opposite side of the road here – but the vehicles are still left-hand drive. I am so grateful that my husband is doing the driving, it is very disconcerting to see cars turning from what seems like the wrong place. A few times my heart dropped when I looked up from the map and saw cars in the “wrong” lane.

St. Thomas is a very crowded and touristy area. There were a lot of cruise ships docked there. I am glad that we chose to stay on St. John – after all there is a National Park here.
We arrived at the Red Hook dock where we drove the jeep up onto a barge that transported us to St. John. There were small semi-trucks and even a Fed-Ex van on the barge. I don’t think there is an airport on St. John, so I guess if you want freight to get here, the barge is the way to go.

We got to the dock and called the proprietor of the Hillcrest Guest House. She met us at the dock and led us back to our room. What great service and a terrific room! There are two different kinds of complimentary ice creams in the freezer, a basket full of muffins and various fruits, bacon and eggs and all kinds of other complimentary goodies. There is a DVD player and a selection of DVDs and books for guests.
All of the guidebooks will tell you that there is not much of a nightlife on St. John. In fact one says – Nightlife? Bring a book!

We walked down to a restaurant called “The Lime Inn for dinner. We shared a Caesar salad and an entree of blackened wahoo. I really enjoyed the meal. It was the first time either of us had eaten wahoo. I will definitely get it again. It was a thick and meaty whitefish with a good flavor. The service was great and so was the outdoor atmosphere. If you happen to come to St. John, give it a try.

I am looking forward to the rest of our time in St. John.