Puerto Rico disappeared behind us. Hello to our next Caribbean Island, St John.
ST JOHN, CARIBBEAN
Puerto Rico disappeared behind us. It was easy to see out both sides of the aircraft (a distance of about four feet); the expanse of Caribbean Sea stretched to the horizon while we were never far away from islands floating in crayon-blue waters. Our pilot flew at approximately 1500 feet skimming below storm clouds. The flight was, for the most part, smooth and a half hour later we landed on the island of St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.
The plan was to get ourselves to the Red Hook ferry at the other end of the island. “I would give you a ride,” said Dave, a friendly co-passenger, “but I’m waiting for my wife. We never fly together and she’s coming in on the next flight.”
We had choices. We could take a taxi for $26 US or catch the local bus for $2. We opted for the local bus, as it would provide the bonus of rubbing elbows with locals. The airport taxi drivers would not tell us where the bus stop was but after some searching we saw a sign saying it was “on the upper level” which is above the parking lot.
“When does the bus come?” we asked a number of locals.
“Don’t know.” they all answered … except one, who thought they came every hour.
There was no shade and the morning sun was now hot. We waited. “Can’t be much longer,” we kept telling ourselves. The sun grew intense and we sought the diminishing shade of the bus stop sign to protect our hatless heads … and waited.
“Don’t know if it runs on a Saturday,” a passerby shared. We had been there for well over an hour; it was time to make another plan.
Dave and his wife were still in the airport, her flight had been delayed. “We have to come back to the airport to pick up our son, his girlfriend and my wife’s luggage which got left behind, but in the meantime,” he said, “we can drive you into Charlotte Amile.” Dave and his wife have a time share on St. John. “We have been coming to St John for six years,” she beamed. “It’s unique and beautiful; we love it.”
We had plopped our backpacks onto the backseat of their rental van so when they stopped for a traffic light in Charlotte we were able to grab the bags, call out our thanks and well wishes and join the cruise ship tourist masses on the sidewalk.
The main feature of St Thomas, and the reason why most cruise ships make a stop, is its duty-free shopping. Prices are reasonable and selection abundant (especially during the high tourist season). Some of the best prices offered in the Caribbean can be found here on liquor and tobacco products as well as excellent buys on watches, fine china, crystal and gold jewellery in the island’s over 300 jewellery stores.
We weren’t shopping and the passenger ferry Lady Venture (Varlack Ventures) to St John was in dock. It doesn’t go as often as the Red Hook car ferry (which runs every hour), but our stand-in-the-hot-sun fortunes had changed, it was about to leave in 10 minutes. With four minutes to go, Sherrie received permission from one of the crew to make a mad dash to a convenience store for water. When the captain was ready to leave, he gave an earful to the permission-granting crew member. As Sherrie boarded the gang plank followed her heels.
The trip was great, the first part following the St Thomas coast with it’s luxury condos, five star Marriot and the “gonna-build-me-a-mountain” garbage dump.
The ferry wove through smaller islands and then cruised into Cruz Bay with its ice cream coloured shops and houses. Delightful.
While Terry went over to the National Park Service Visitor Centre to find information on snorkelling and hiking, Sherrie climbed up the hill to the Dolphin grocery store to pick up supplies for our three nights of camping. We met back on the main street.
“If you stand on the side of the three way corner in the direction you want to go,” a local advised, “any taxi you see heading in that direction will pick you up. All taxis going in that directions,” he pointed, ” will take you to Cinnamon Bay.”
We did as he instructed and in less than a minute a taxi pulled up … not your regular run of the mill car taxi; but a red truck with an open back filled with rows of seats facing forward and topped by an arched metal roof covered with red and white vinyl.
The taxi zipped along the curvy, forest lined road interrupted periodically by glimpses of tranquil bays, bright blue ocean and gateways to rich estates. Vehicles driven in the Virgin Islands have steering wheels on the left side, as they do in North America, but they drive on the left side of the road as they do in Britain.
A promotional brochure states that St John is “as pristine as when Christopher Columbus sighted it over 500 years ago”. That is not exactly accurate but there has been efforts in the past fifty-plus years to curb mankind’s destructive ways and to return the island to it’s natural beauty as much as is possible.
Archaeologists say that nomadic people have been visiting this island since 880 BC. Columbus named the Virgin Islands and claimed them for Spain during his second voyage to the New World in 1493. In 1519 the king of Spain ordered the elimination of the native Tarino and Island Carib people from the islands. The first Danish plantation was set up in 1718 and denuding of the island’s natural forest began in order to grow sugar cane. By the time they were finished, 90% of St John’s forests were gone. In 1917 the USA purchased the islands of St John, St Thomas and St Croix from Denmark for $25 million dollars. In the 1950s American financier/philanthropist Laurence Rockefeller, who had purchased much of St John island, donated it to the federal government to help establish the Virgin Islands National Park, which now includes more than 5,600 offshore marine acres and more than two-thirds of the island and thus the island was able to begin it’s long and continuing recovery.
Checking in at Cinnamon Bay Campgrounds, we were handed 2 towels, four sheets, 2 pillow cases and a map to tent site #23 … not on (none are) but very close to the beach. Walking down the hill towards the water, we made a right turn into a tunnel of trees. Number 23, our home for the next three nights, was nestled in the trees, completely shaded.
A picnic table and one white plastic chair were the outside furniture complemented by a stove and lamp, both hooked up to the same propane tank. A single-pedestal bar-b-que rusted a ‘safe’ distance from the tent.
Inside four rusty iron cots lined three canvas walls. The tent’s wooden floor, raised above the sandy dirt, was covered with green plastic.
The doorway had a tie screen and a tie flap (no zipper). Each cot held a mattress covered with thick plastic (all the better to keep bugs away) and a pillow.
Leaving #23 we scouted out the closest toilet facilities and showers (both close by) and saw an ultra skinny fellow checking out the garbage bins. He looked like a marooned sailor who was only just surviving until he could build a raft and reach civilization. His long greying dreadnaughts and navy blue baggy knee-high pants were dripping with water.
We settled into our camp site, made our beds and started to put the groceries away. We noticed that the ‘kitchen kit’ we had reserved at the time of booking was not around, nor did we have ice. Terry went up to the office and store. The store was closed and the office was just about to set its security alarm. It was closing time, 15:00. They gave Terry the kitchen kit (knives, forks, plates, cups, pots, etc), took our security deposit and produced a bag of ice for purchase.
Now that we had what we needed for our three nights of camping, we were anxious to see the beach.
Cinnamon Bay is a shallow bay. The high surf warning was in effect and the waters near shore were too murky for good snorkelling. We walked without effort along the firm, smooth, cream-coloured sand near the water’s edge; the water warm as it lapped up over our toes and around our ankles.
Dinner was ham and cheese sandwiches with a salad; and for desert a sunset wade.
As darkness settled in, the wildlife got noisy … birds, tree frogs and anything else with vocal cords seemed to be in competition with each other as to who could be the loudest; against the background sound of roaring surf crashing against the shore. As the night got darker and darker the noises became louder and louder. Even the surf would remind us of its presence with the occasional “Boom!” which could rival a cannon for its volume and shock.
The heat didn’t go away and the trees around our tent, which during the day kept out the sun, now kept out any relieving breezes. The plastic covered mattress only intensified the heat. Sleep eluded us.
Just before sunrise the sound of rain drummed on the roof of our tent. We could hear it coming … through the trees at first, then over the canopy above the picnic table and across the roof. A couple of cool breezes wafted in and we hoped, in vain, for more. A light misting of rain which sieved through the screened ‘windows’ was welcomed.
We didn’t have anything on our agenda today other than to enjoy camp life and get acclimatized to the Caribbean’s humid heat.
“Did you eat one of the yogurts last night?” Terry asked Sherrie.
“That’s funny. I’m sure I put four in the cooler last night but there are only three.”
“I bought four.”
“Didn’t we have two loaves of bread?”
“Yes. We had some last night for our sandwiches so there should be a loaf and a half left.”
“Only one,” Terry responded.
“Guess someone was hungry enough to take it,” Sherrie said thinking of the dreadnaughted dumpster diver.
The day passed quietly. We made nodding acquaintances with a couple of other campers (there were not many of us) and exchanged greetings with day-trippers.
One fellow we chatted with was a young 20-something ‘captain’ originally from South Carolina who told us he was on a bit of a break between charters. “I don’t take out charters now unless they specifically request me,” he boasted with alcohol breath.
“How big a sail boat is it?”
He described the sailboat and added, “It can hold eight passengers.”
“How many crew members?”
“Just two; me and a cook. My cook is a girl from Vancouver. If they don’t want a cook, I can handle everything on my own. Its all electronic now. I can put up sails or take them down with a push of a button.”
We left ‘the captain’ in the shade above the waterline and watched several want-to-be surfers watching the waves. When they saw one they liked, they dashed out into the water with their bogey-boards tucked under their arm. Their attempts to mount the board and ride the wave usually ended in a tumble and splash.
The beach population covered all ages and sizes. A twenty-something girl was building a sand structure … not quite a castle, more like a series of domes … high above the tide line.
Moms with young ones played at the water’s edge, teens played in the surf and wee ones slept in screened playpens. Most brought their own beach chairs and their own way of carrying them; from the normal handgrasp around a folded leg to one which had its own backpack straps and a built in daybag. “Your own design?” we asked.
“No, Walmart or Costco. We’ve had them for a few years. We package them up and bring them on vacation wherever we go.”
Vegetation along the beach also held visual treasures including beautiful flowers and coconut palms. Termite nests bulge upon the limbs of trees like round dark brown sponges. Unlike the species we had encountered in Africa which are much larger in size and build nests as hard as concrete, the termites here are tiny insects and their nests are fragile and can be easily broken like crusted meringue. Nests grow larger and larger over time, some being 200 years old and these termites feed only on dead wood, therefore, they act like nature’s pruners.
Before it closed, we walked up to the store and bought a couple of beer. Another ham & cheese sandwich and salad were on the menu for dinner. The menu had to be changed … the cheese was gone and so was our can of Spam. With what we had left, we made sandwiches for tomorrow’s hike and made up a ‘leftovers’ dinner after that.
“Hello, neighbours” a voice called out from the next camp site.
“Hello,” we answered back.
“Would you like some rum?”
We looked at each other in surprise. “We don’t have anything to mix it with.”
“That’s alright, I have some coke; I’ll be right over.”
He was white, 26, a tall good looking fellow with short wavy dark hair, a confident gait and a very outgoing manner. He was wearing a beige, slightly tight shirt with a label over the right chest pocket which read, ‘Craig’. “Hi,” he said approaching with a nearly full bottle of amber rum, a small pink plastic juice-sized ‘glass’ and a small, full bottle of Coca-Cola. “I’m Ben.”
Introductions were made and the rum bottle passed. Sherrie declined. “Well, have some coke then.”
Sherrie poured about an ounce in a plastic tumbler from the kitchen kit.
“Why does it say ‘Craig’ on your shirt if you are Ben?” she questioned. He waved the question off with a flick of his hand and a bit of a laugh and asked a question back. Terry poured a little rum and topped it up with some coke. Ben mixed his portion half and half.
He told us he was a college graduate in political science from New Hampshire but his vocation is as a chef. Upon further questioning the ‘chef’ was downgraded to cook and kitchen help. “I’ve been looking for a job for the last week and a half,” he explained. “I’ll take anything, I’m not afraid to start at the bottom. I’ve stayed here in a bare campsite; I have my own tent. It rained all week. Do you know what it costs for a bare site here?” He didn’t wait for an answer, “30 bucks. The people next to you moved out two days early, so I’m going to stay there for their last two nights and then see if I can figure out a way to stay without paying. I have money,” he emphasised several times, “and I can ask my dad for more anytime; he supports me in this; but the cost of living is so high here. I want to save what I can to pay for rent when I get a job. They want the first month and last month and a security deposit; that’s $4,000!”
“Tonight, I’m celebrating,” he said pouring himself another half and half. “Four places have called me back for an interview. They called me!” We wondered how they could do that, but didn’t ask. “I’ve travelled a lot and have a very good resume. If I don’t get a job in the next couple of days, I’ll have to head back home.”
“Can we offer you something to eat?”, our minds wondering what we had left. “Some chips? A banana?”
“No, I’m fine, thanks. I just ate.” He poured himself some more rum with a splash of coke.
The conversation somehow got around to ‘the captain’. “Yeh, yeh,” Ben said, “the same fella I know. He’s from Tortola [an island in the British Virgin Islands]. Yeh, neat fellow; going through a mid-life crisis. Has a little boy. Drinks too much,” Ben added sloshing back another rum with the last splash of coke. “He stays where he can here. Right now he’s up the hill at camp 52. That kayak on the beach? That’s his. The one with the smashed out end. Have you seen the size of the hole, right at the point? He paddles as fast as he can out to the nearest island and gets shell fish. Then he paddles back as quickly as he can to get in shallow water before the thing sinks. Didn’t think I would like conch, but he makes a super soup with it. Really good. That’s what he’s been living off. The surf’s been really high the last few days, so he can’t take the kayak out. Don’t know how he’s been eating.” We shot each other a glance.
A golf cart pulled up. It was one of the campground security men, Steve. He is black, tall, in his late forties and has a number of teeth missing from an easy smile. Steve and Ben seemed to know each other, so we introduced ourselves and asked him if he would like to join us. “Have a seat.”
“No thanks, got things to do.” The conversation soon got on the topic of the upcoming US election and the race between Obama and McCain. After that the conversation turned to travel which then made a segue to Steve’s sexual prowess with the ladies which he seemed anxious to share with us. Steve held stage standing at the end of the picnic table.
As time passed and darkness started to set in, he lit the propane torch. Steve was encouraged to tell more of his tall tales by Ben who had run out of coke and was now drinking rum straight from the bottle. We just sat back … as much as you can do that at a picnic table … and listened … politely. When Steve left to have his nightly shower in the nearby washroom, Ben said, “Islanders sure like to talk.”
A little later, Ben stopped talking, said goodnight and left with his pink glass, empty coke bottle and the rum bottle with only an ounce or two left. We could hear him shuffle along the path out of our campsite and into the neighbour’s. We returned to the card game which had laid dormant on the picnic table since Ben’s arrival some hours ago.
“Do you need any bread?”
Again we looked at each other in surprise. “No, Ben, we’re fine.” Bread? Such an odd question to ask strangers. Why would he ask if we needed ‘bread’? Guilty feelings?
We finished off the card game and had another.
“Good night, folks,” Ben called out from our pathway.
“Good night, Ben. Maybe we will see you tomorrow.” We wondered if he was on his way up to see ‘the captain’. Perhaps they were having cheese and meat sandwiches for dinner.
Night grew loud and the muggy heat wrapped around us like a heavy unwelcome blanket.
The sandwiches and apple for today’s hike were still in the cooler when we woke. We packed them, along with a bottle of water and Ted, into the daybag and ate what we had left for breakfast. The only thing left in the cooler was a single serving carton of orange juice. We wondered that if ‘the someone’ didn’t find food, what next would they take. The tent did not have a zipper we could lock with a padlock, so we decided to take our backpacks up to the office and ask them to store them while we were away. Terry tied the ribbons which held the screening across the entrance in code fashion so we would know if anyone had entered during our absence.
“Why do you want to leave your bags with us? Do you not think they are save in your tent?” the lady in the office asked.
“Well, we have had some food items taken from our site so we didn’t feel comfortable leaving our bags there while we are gone all day.”
“That doesn’t sound like ‘the captain’,” she said, “he usually only steals liquor.”
They agreed to hold our bags but reminded us the office closes at 5pm. “We’ve already called you a taxi. It will be #1 or #2 with Charles.” At the mention of his name Charles appeared. As we got in, Charles … or Charlie … got into a conversation with Roy, a classy gentleman who works for the campsite … we waited. Charles kept talking and we kept waiting … island time. When Charles approached the taxi truck, he asked where we were going.
“Going to the National Park Centre to take the Reef Bay Trail hike.”
“Oh,” he said changing his expression to one of wisdom and pointing at Terry’s shorts, “you should be in long pants. With all this rain, the mosquitoes will be bitin’.”
“They are in my backpack in the office.”
“Go get ‘em.”
“Do we have time?”
“No worries, Mon,” Charles said like a true islander.
While Terry was changing Charles chatted with Sherrie about his life spent on the island. Things have changed greatly in the past twenty years. Back then, everyone knew each other. Recent financial security and things money can buy are the result of tourism but there have been some down-sides as well. Back in 1848 all enslaved Africans in the Danish West Indies were freed. The determination which helped them survive slavery continued after emancipation. “Giveishness”, the act of helping each other through sharing, created a community of close social ties which continues today. Some recent visitors to the islands have taken advantage of their giving nature and as a result made some locals more reluctant to offer personal help to strangers.
We met Deanna, our interpretive guide, at the National Park Centre in Cruz Bay; she was wearing green shorts. When Terry brought up the subject of pant length, Deanna, a US park ranger said, “I took a chance. Dark green isn’t the smartest colour; mosquitoes think I’m a tree. I brought spray if they get bad.”
We were taken by another open taxi truck to the trail head at 900 feet above sea level. The trail is all downhill or level except for a couple of bumps. It follows an old road bed put in at the direction of the Danish plantation owners. Good 18th and 19th century Danish colonial road engineering has preserved several of the old cart roads on St John.
Despite time, running water, the pounding of hooves and cart wheels, these roads have endured due to good drainage and respect for the contours of this steep island. Road gutters carried water across the roadbed, not down it. In some places it is paved with flat volcanic rock to support the ox carts laden with hogsheads of sugar. The width of the road has narrowed over time with vegetation creeping in on the sides; a process encouraged by park keepers.
Deanna, a woman in her early fifties, came to the island at the age of nineteen. Coming from a military family she had moved a lot and is pleased to call St John her ‘home’. It was obvious she enjoys her job; sharing knowledge of her island and its habitat.
We began our decent with Deanna stopping along the way to pick up or point out what nature had to offer. The hog-pod, a fruit which resembles a plum and tastes like it, “are good to eat,” she told us. “Just make sure the skin is intact. They spoil quickly.”
“I was an arachnophob when I started this job,” Deanna said putting her hand close behind a Golden Orb spider, which, including legs, easily spanned her palm, “but now I really like them. This one can bite but it is not strong enough to break through most human skin. The skin on the palm of the hand is tough so she wouldn’t be able to bite me. I know it is a ‘she’ because here are the males.” She pointed to some tiny black specks near the edge of the web. “They don’t want to get too close after they have mated, because she will eat them.” She demonstrated how strong and flexible the main threads of the web were. There are attempts to incorporate this with other materials, including goats’ milk, to make a new strong natural fibre.
She leaned up against a Bay Rum tree and picked one of it’s leaves (photo right). This tree of dark brown bark and dark oil laden green leaves was, at one time, of economic importance to St. John. The oil, from the 1890s until the 1940’s, was used to make fine bay rum cologne which was favoured as an aftershave lotion.
The dried leaves of the anthurium (below left & centre) are skeleton-like. They may look delicate but they can be crumpled up and used for scrubbing pots and pans.
Centuries ago, the huge kapok tree’s balsa-like wood was used to make large dugout ‘ceibas’ [boat]. The buttressed root system (which Deanna is standing beside) is another way to help provide moisture and support for the mature trees. Planters and slaves slept on mattresses stuffed with the fluffy silk cotton fibre from the seed pods. This fibre is now back in fashion as an “natural eco-friendly” filling for upmarket pillows.
The wrinkled “elephant hide” bark has the ability to heal over which guards against infection and decay. The imagination can see, within the wrinkles and healed scars, faces … sometimes faces within faces … even Mickey Mouse and it was because of this that the tree was considered to be full of spirits.
Another odd looking fruit, whose long dark maroon flower buds are used in tropical flower arrangements, has little red bumps all over it. We picked the red bumps off and ate them. Deanna said they would taste like potato. We didn’t catch that but found they were tender and very mild in flavour.
We remember being told about “stinky fruit” in Asia but hadn’t had an opportunity to try it. Deanna, pulled some of the light-taffy-coloured fruit from her waist pouch. “Pop it in your mouth without smelling it,” Deanna advised. “It tastes very good but the smell is awful.” We broke off a little piece … it was much softer to the touch then expected … and into the mouth. The taste was so sweet …like a rich soft candy. How could something that delicious … stink. We smelt it … ahhhh! it stunk … bad … like rotten Roquefort cheese. Phew!
Deanna bent down and picked up a millipede, like a centipede but long with black shiny skin and more legs. “The kids in town call it a “pee-worm’ because when it is harassed it lets out an iodine coloured fluid which is highly acidic and can burn human skin.
We came upon the Jossie Gut Sugar Estate. The crumbling ruins were part of an 18th century sugar plantation.
The elite did not want to build their homes near beaches as they believed the ocean brought diseases; instead they built in the higher regions of their island estates and preferred living and sleeping on the second floor where rooms could take advantage of any cooling breezes. The ground floor of the once ‘great house’ held storage rooms.
They had few bricks. Bricks they did get were those used for ballast in the near empty ships which came to pick up slaves from St Thomas and raw sugar from St. John. Walls of plantation buildings were built with a mosaic of native stone, coral and a few imported red and yellow bricks. They liked the large brain coral because it could be carved easily making arched windows possible. The mortar used was a mixture of lime from seashells, beach sand and the residue molasses from sugar making. The walls were then covered with a reddish plaster. Beach sand containing so much sea-salt soon broke down the mortar and buildings began to crumble.
Mango, Deanna told us, is the most popular fruit in the world; holding second place is the banana. She pointed to a large mango tree which is over 100 years old. The mango was introduced to St John in the 18th century from Asia. It is an evergreen shade tree which produces the yellow-green, sweet tasting fruit in late spring.
There were also lime trees which came from Asia as well. Columbus was known for planting citrus trees and leaving pigs behind on the islands to which he intended to return. The citrus prevented sailors from getting scurvy and the pigs, which in the wild returned to being wild boar (even to growing tusks) would become a plentiful source of protein along his routes. The lime which Deanna picked for us was light yellow in colour. She also gave us some leaves. “Put in one leaf for each cup of boiling water,” she recommended, “it makes a nice cup of tea. The lime and tea are excellent if you are coming down with a cold.”
The first labourers brought to the island were European indentured. They continued to wear their heavy European clothing and eat heavy European foods. They did not know how to fend for themselves in such a foreign climate. Wounds would often become infected and lead to death.
African slaves had to work for the plantation owners and fend for themselves. The only thing a plantation owner had to provide by law was a source of protein. Slaves had to feed and clothe themselves and also tend to their own wounds and sicknesses. It was through trial and error that they found things around them to sustain and improve their lives. Remedies from nature are called ‘bush medicine’. There are a few superstitions as well; a fun one being the love leaf.
The ‘love leaf’ looks like a leaf from a fruit tree but feels thick like a succulent. It doesn’t need much to grow other than sunlight. Girls would put one of these ‘love leaves’ on the sill of a sunny window; if the leaf sprouted roots, it meant the boyfriend was worth keeping. If the leaf didn’t sprout the girl would throw both the leaf and the boyfriend away.
A little further down the hill we came to the remains of a slave village. Most times slave quarters were made of branches and sticks. This particular one had stone foundations with indentations to hold upright posts. Between these posts small flexible branches were woven to make a wattled wall. Each hut would hold approximately eight men. Slaves on the island were mostly men. A husband and wife might have a hut for their family, but most often they were separated on different farms. On St John, slaves were ‘free’ to travel, for the island itself was a barrier to escape. Slaves could visit each other on different farms if they had the time and energy. Most living was done outdoors and the huts only used for sleeping. “Islanders still live that way,” Deanna explained. “Verandas are where we spend most of our at-home time; going indoors only to sleep.”
Deanna directed us away from the road path to a trail which led to a pond and waterfall where we stopped and ate our packed lunches. It is a rare treat to find a shady, fresh water pool and waterfall on this volcanic island. Sometimes crayfish and freshwater shrimp can be found here. We didn’t see any, but we did see the cute and ever present gecko.
Archaeologists have been able to date petroglyphs by the pool as being carved between 900 AD and Columbus’s arrival. They were done by the Taino people who would have considered the pool a sacred dwelling place. It is interesting to note that this spring-fed pool stays at nearly the same water level despite rainfall. The depth of the water and the placement of the petroglyphs (perhaps intended) creates a mirror-effect … a duality of the spiritual and living worlds often reflected in Taino art.
The trail had levelled out. But there was still plenty to see, wild pineapple, starvation fruit (so bitter you have to be starving to choose it over sweeter choices) whose leaves can be used to relieve deep body pain if heated up and held in place. Deanna told us that a friend of hers whispered that instead of passing it back and forth over an open flame in the traditional way, she now uses her microwave to heat the large leaf … 10 seconds on high … old medicine meets new technology. Deanna picked a leaf to take home for her own sore shoulder.
Another bit of humour to go with bush-medicine is the Sanseveria plant (right) … also called the “mother-in-law’s tongue”. It is a tropical plant from Africa whose leaves can be pounded to extract a fibre strong enough to be braided for ropes and bowstrings. If one were to chew on the leaf, it would make the tongue numb … therefore the desire, for some, to give it to their mother-in-law and say, “here, chew a little.”
Be careful if someone in your office offers you a leaf … a variety of this decorative plant is often on display in office buildings throughout North America and Europe.
Our last stop on the hike was at the remains of the Reef Bay Sugar Mill. Here the sugar industry died twice. Once Denmark abolished slavery St John’s mills began to collapse without labourers. New owners attempted to revive the industry by installing steam power to crush the cane. The second death came in the early 1900s when cheaper sugar beet production elsewhere brought a halt to St John’s sugar cane industry.
The only permanent residents of the sugar mill now are hermit crabs and bats. The animal community has changed dramatically over time. Only five native species of mammals remain … all are bats. Some mammals introduced by people, either accidentally or intentionally, have decimated most native species. The most destructive introduction is the mongoose … it is to St. John what the stoat is to New Zealand. The mongoose was brought to the island to control rats during the plantation era, but it ignored the rats which were hard to catch and instead turned to easier eating Their favourite food … eggs … eggs of turtles, birds and many reptiles. They continue to prey on native wildlife today. We had seen them around our Cinnamon Bay campsite.
Up and over a little knoll and we were at sea level again. Captain Ben (no relation to ‘the captain’ or Ben, our campground neighbour) came with a inflated dingy and six at a time, he took us out to his charter boat, the Sadie Sea. He’s been sailing the Sadie Sea since he was three years old … taking time out to go to high school and Penn State. We were only around him for a short time while he sailed us along the coast and into the harbour at Cruz Bay, but enjoyed his company while it lasted. He does tours and charters … so if you are interested look him up.
We went to Joe’s Barbeque to pick up some chicken, ribs and salads to take back to the campsite. “How can people tell that this in Joe’s Barbeque”, we asked, “there’s no sign.”
“Just follow your nose,” came the answer. “It’s the best barbeque on the island.” It was very good and you can find it in the yellow, turquoise and purple building where the main road meets the ferry pier. Make sure you try their coleslaw …. yuuummmmy!
Picking up our bags from the office, they informed us that they had caught “him” … we believe they meant ‘the captain’. Upon arriving at site 23, Terry checked our tent-tie code. Someone had been in our tent. We were glad we had taken our bags to the office.
We had a quiet dinner with only one visitor, Henry, a campsite security guard; an articulate gentleman who has retired from a military career and now, when he is not working, enjoys travel. We expected Ben to make an appearance … but he didn’t.
Our last night tenting in the heat and the noise …
it has been a good experience …
a one-time experience …
which, we are sure, will improve as a memory.
We had just finished cleaning up the campsite and putting on our backpacks when a National Park ranger approached and asked if we had seen any suspicious or ‘out of place’ characters around. Perhaps he thought we were such a pair.
We told him of our experiences and of our conversation last night at the office.
“Yes,” he said, “the captain is well known to us; this time we caught him in possession of some stolen credit cards.” We had reason again to be pleased that our bags were held safe in the office yesterday.
We pulled away from Cruz Bay Harbour and sailed by BVI passenger ferry from St John to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).This entry was posted in CARIBBEAN, ST JOHN, US VIRGIN ISLANDS