St. John Vacation
(Note: Clicking on any image in this travelogue will bring up a full screen version of the image.)
Monday, April 1:
St. Thomas to St. John
The story of our Monday morning adventures might be entitled, "What I Didn't Do on Spring Break". We had planned on catching some of the sights on St. Thomas during the first part of the day, and then taking the ferry from the east end of the island to St. John, and checking into our accommodations there in the late afternoon. For our morning's entertainment, Tourguide Jenny had the thought of taking a sail on the Catania, an elegant 1938 nobleman's yacht restored to original condition in 2010. Oops. Sorry, all booked up for the morning. Well the Plantation Crown and Hawk Botanical Gardens has a great reputation. Oops. Closed on Mondays. Jim told us that Bryan's Nursery, although smaller, is a lovely garden to walk through. OK, let's try that..
Monday morning rambles
Jim had told us that a cruise ship was due in this morning, and a couple of thousand tourists would descend upon Charlotte Amalie, making transport difficult to find between 11:00 and 1:00. So we checked out of our room early, left our luggage at the front desk of Olga's Fancy, and hiked down to the Windward Passage Hotel on Veteran's Drive, where we were told we could pick up a taxi. On the way, we passed a tiny French Heritage Museum, with a tiny Eiffel Tower out front. (Photo 130) That might make a nice side trip if we had the time. When we got down to Veteran's Drive, we could see the cruise ship had already docked (Photo 110). As my friend Ken Rolston might say, "I'd sooner be in a dragon's colon!" But we got to the Windward Passage before the hordes had disembarked, and hailed a van taxi driven by a friendly driver named Esther. (Photo 120)
We asked her to take us to Bryan's Nursery. She was surprised, because she thought she knew the island pretty well, but had not heard of it. A little search on Google, revealed that the real name was Bryan's Garden Supplies. Oh. That implied that even if it was a pretty garden, it would likely not be very extensive, and a pretty short exploration. Oh well. we had the taxi, and didn't have anything else in mind. Let's go anyway. The road switch-backed up and over the central spine of the island, affording us some pretty views. The roads were steep and winding, but unlike other Caribbean islands we had visited, they were smooth and well-paved. On the way, I noticed a sign that said "Zipline", and mentioned it to Jenny. She thought that might be fun. We finally made it to Bryan's It was closed. Oh well, let's go back and try the zipline. It opened at 1:00 PM. Esther took us back to Charlotte Amalie. A pretty, but expensive taxi ride. OK, let's go see the French Heritage Museum. Need I tell you how that turned out?
It was time to strike out for St. John. We went back to Olga's Fancy, collected our luggage, and walked back to Veteran's Drive, where we could pick up the "bus" to Red Hook at the east end of St. Thomas, and the ferry to our final destination, Estate Lindholm. I put "bus" in quotations, because it's not what we mainlanders would conventionally picture. It was a stretched pickup frame, on which was constructed a platform with five hard forward-facing bench seats, seating five people each. there was a low side wall on the right end of the seats, and no side wall on the left, permitting access to the benches from the side of the vehicle. A metal canopy covered the passenger area, but otherwise it was open to the elements. (The elements, by the way, were very kind to us during our stay. Daytime temperatures hovered between 75° and 80° F, and what little rain we had was sporadic, and often welcome when it came during a strenuous walk.) The busses were publicly operated, and cost two bucks for a ride. We got what we paid for, though. With a typical pickup truck suspension, and no padding on the seats, even the well paved roads jounced us about pretty thoroughly. Either we beat the rush, or the cruise ship crowd didn't go for such plebeian transport; we were not crowded, and could put luggage on the seats next to us, and stretch out sideways along the benches, and watch the scenery go by. Our route took us through a lot of the non-touristy areas of the island, a little scruffy in places, but still pretty. Trees, and ocean, and shopping malls, and lots of flowers, and a junk yard, and small houses, and some traffic congestion in the center of towns. Also, still all too visible, was much evidence of massive destruction caused by Hurricane Irma two years ago. The other passengers were mostly locals on their way to or from work, but we did encounter a party of about a half dozen tourists from Indiana, also headed for the ferry. In about a half hour or so, we reached the ferry terminal at Red Hook.
The Red Hook Ferry
The ferry (Photo 140) is a sturdy little craft of steel construction seating about 75 passengers, but no vehicles. There are two levels of seating: an open upper deck and an enclosed cabin below. We opted for the sun and the wind and the view. Right on schedule, the captain backed away from the dock, proceeded at low speed out of the harbor, and then opened her up for the 15 minute trip to St. John. Immediately an intrepid sea bird (A brown booby, acording to one reader.) shadowed our course, barely flapping its wings, yet matching our speed of around 20 knots, looking for provender churned up in our wake. It swooped back and forth over us from one side of the boat to the other, sometimes almost at arm's reach. I thought that worthy of a video. I flipped my camera to the "movie" setting, and shot what I thought was about a minute's worth of its flight. Alas, I'd forgotten that the movie start/stop button was not the same as the shutter button, and what I actually took was one still at the beginning of my "movie", and another at the end. Oh, well. I'll include Photo 150 in this journal just to remind myself of the incident. We docked in Cruz Bay, St. John, which involved some nifty maneuvering, swapping ends practically in place, and slipping sideways up against the pier. As we disembarked, I asked the captain if the boat was equipped with azipods (ship's screws mounted on pods that can rotate 360°, allowing the pilot to direct the thrust in any direction.). He said no, it was accomplished by judiciously adjusting the thrust on the left and right propeller. I complimented him on his skill. Photo 160 was taken by one of our Indiana fellow passengers from the bus.
Monday Afternoon: St. John
* Photos from Google Images
We were met at the dock by Dabne (Photo 170), a manager at Estate Lindholm, where we were to stay for the next three days. She picked us up in an SUV and drove us the half mile to our digs. We could have walked it pretty easily, but about half of that half mile was up a 25° hill, and just trudging up that slope unladen was a chore, let alone toting our suitcases. As I was to discover later on that day.
Estate Lindholm had everything Olga's Fancy was lacking. The grounds are beautifully designed and immaculately kept. The accommodations (Photo 190) are classy, comfortable, and distinctly non-institutional. The grounds are just within the Virgin Islands National Park, and overlook Cruz Bay (Photo 180). There is a small swimming pool onsite, but we eschewed it for the more distant, but even classier beaches. There had been an equally classy restaurant on the grounds, but it had been unroofed and devastated by Hurricane Irma, and was still unrestored. We unpacked and set out back down the hill to investigate the town of Cruz Bay, as the day was still young. On the way down, I noticed on the verge of the road a beautiful iguana (Photo 200) camouflaged to near invisibility in plain sight.
Cruz Bay has the distinct advantage of not having a cruise ship dock. It consequently is not so heavily developed to be able to handle the periodic hordes they bring, and there remain vestiges of the natural beauty of the landscape. The town boasts the only shopping center in the world that I would consider a destination in and of itself: Mongoose Junction (Photos 210 - 230). Rather than an enclosed air-conditioned plaza of cookie-cutter rectangular little box stores, it is a fascinating open-air warren of pathways, arches, foot bridges, spiral stairways, and nooks and crannies of beautiful decorative stonework, with no store or restaurant like any other within the complex.
We wandered through the town, trying to head for the water, thinking it might be over the crest of that next hill. No. Like the bear and the mountain, all we found on the other side was another hill. It wasn't long before we were totally lost. We stumbled around for a half an hour or so, until I realized I could get us back to civilization by using the GPS on my phone. Of course that meant another serious hill to climb, which left me puffing and sweating.
We finally reached the Lime Inn, which had been recommended by Dabne for a late lunch / early dinner. It was typical of many island restaurants in its indoor/outdoor layout. There was a roof over the dining area, but no walls; just a low fence along the perimeter. The place was decorated tastefully in various shades of green, but not in reference to anything citrus. The name is a play on "limin' ", Island slang for relaxing sociably. Very pleasant place to eat except for the ubiquitous reggae coming over the speakers. Jenny and I both prefer silence to most dinner music. With me it's more than a preference. I have difficulty hearing conversation over any background sound. Seeing that there were very few patrons in the place, we asked if they could turn it off. No, they would not. How about lowering the volume. That they did, and to a point where it was almost unobtrusive. They got a big tip.
I had had my fill of trudging up steep hills. So I resolved to rent a car for Tuesday and Wednesday. We ran into some of the residual Transfer Day Weekend difficulties, in that a lot of the rental agencies were closed. But I found a place that was open, and reserved a Jeep for pickup the following afternoon.
It had been a long day for me after climbing the hill back up to Estate Lindholm. I was ready for a nap, but Jenny wanted to check out Honeymoon Beach, accessible via a short but rugged footpath from our lodgings. So we each went our separate ways, she to water, and I to bed. She returned a couple of hours later with glowing reports of the beach. I resolved to check it out the next day. I took a couple of photos, trying to catch the beauty of the sunset (Photos 240 & 250). But I really need to learn about using the manual settings of my camera to better capture such things. When it got dark, I wanted to look at the night sky, but the lights from Cruz Bay sort of washed out the stars a bit. So we took a short walk up to the trailhead of the footpath to Honeymoon Beach, which put a rise of land between us and the town. And we sat on the ground resting back on our elbows, and looked at the stars, and talked between silences for a half hour or so. I saw one shooting star.