Virgin Islands: Saturday, October 11
Our plan for the day was to go to the south shore for snorkeling, under the theory that the south shore would be calmer. (The surf seemed to be coming down from the north, so the southern bays should be more sheltered from it.) One of the best places on the south shore for snorkeling is the aptly named Reef Bay, but the only way in there is via a non-trivial hike. So we chose a more accessible bay. To get to it, however, we would have to go east to Coral Bay, then curve around south.
That morning, I experienced a relatively unique event. I had just gotten up, and I went over to the bathrooms to use the toilet. Outside, there was some sort of pump/tank truck doing something.
As I sat in the stall, I felt the ground start shaking. I thought it was the truck. The shaking got a bit stronger, and I was rather surprised that a truck that size would shake the ground that much. About the time the door to the stall started rattling, I realized that it probably was *not* the truck, but that for the first time in my life (that I was aware of), I was experiencing an earthquake!
I just wish that I could have come to that realization a bit sooner so that I could have “enjoyed” it more.
Amy and Mike were in the cabin at this time. Apparently, Amy first thought that a fan was out of balance or something and shaking, but then she realized that it was in fact an earthquake.
We later checked, and if I can recall correctly, it was about 6.0 on the Richter scale, and about 23 miles deep. We were told that if it had been closer to the surface, we would have had more damage. Apparently quakes of this magnitude only happen every 2-3 years, so we were quite lucky to have been there to experience it.
We packed up our things and got an early start. The first stop was to drive into Cruz Bay and look for some place for breakfast. (We were getting tired of bagels and cream cheese.) Unfortunately, most of the places in downtown Cruz Bay are bars and not good places for breakfast.
We found one place that was just opening and which seemed to be both a bar and a restaurant, so we settled in there. This place was just across the street from the boat dock.
Unfortunately, while they were opening up, they were really not open yet. In particular the grill wasn’t up and running yet. So we got some drinks, but our actual breakfast had to wait about a half hour or so.
While we waiting, we looked around, and in particular watched a number of chickens wandering around right in the middle of the park, off of the dock.
After breakfast, now that it was open, we stopped by the National Park Visitor’s Center. This is a very large, relatively new building, but we found inside that there was only a very small area open to the public. They had a small diorama of the island, a few displays, and a wall that made up their gift shop. In other words, there wasn’t much.
We talked to the ranger there a bit about snorkeling and such. About the most interesting thing we learned was that while there was no malaria in the mosquito population, the mosquitoes could carry dengue fever. We were not familiar with it, but the ranger described it as “if have dengue fever, you’ll wish you had malaria.”
We bought a film-based, single-use underwater camera for Mike. Then we headed out, up Centerline Road, out towards Coral Bay. Just after we headed out, it started raining, and then it started pouring out. I made some sort of comment about driving up and down steep, curvy hills in a thunderstorm to go snorkeling, when Mike corrected me and pointed out that it was just a heavy rain--it was not thundering.
So, of course, a few minutes later, we started hearing the rumble of thunder! The rain stopped, however, by the time we got to Coral Bay and turned south.
We were headed for Lameshur Bay, which is just beyond the end of the road. (Actually, the paved road ends, and then a dirt road continues some distance, but the map indicated that rental cars were not allowed on the dirt road.)
We got to the end of the paved road, and there was pretty much nothing there, and in particular no parking. A sign indicated that there was a turn-around about 100 yards in, so we figured that it would be safe to go that far. We put the jeep into 4-wheel drive mode, and slowly inched down the road.
As is often the case, we hit one of the ubiquitous ridges and had to go up one side and down the other. The far side was steep and was actual concrete. This was a repeated theme, where for traction and/or erosion, they would pour concrete on the really steep stretches of the dirt roads.
At the top of the descent, there was a small pull-off, and we decided to play it safe and park there, rather than driving to the bottom. We changed into our bathing suits, grabbed our gear, and hiked down. At the bottom of the hill, the road again turned to dirt and continued on a relatively smooth flat section. It would have been fine to have driven down. A ways along the flat, we found an opening in the brush to the left that opened out onto a rocky beach.
We were aiming for Little Lameshur Bay, and we guessed that this was it, although later we determined that this was Greater Lameshur Bay. The beach was rocky, but there was some sand at the water’s edge. Under the surface, it was mixed rock and sand.
Amy and I went in, although Michael, after a brief dip, decided that he would rather play on the rocks. So Amy and I swam around a bit, looking at the fish and things, and even finding a basking shark.
After a while Amy decided to swim down to the left side of the bay and look for a reef. I stayed behind so that Michael wouldn’t be alone. It generally isn’t a good idea to be snorkeling by one’s self, but in this case, it was the only way to allow Amy to explore the reef.
One big disappointment was that the fancy underwater digital camera that Amy had bought for this trip wouldn’t work. When we pushed the shutter button, the camera would just turn off. It was almost acting like the batteries were mostly dead, and the extra effort of trying to take a picture was draining them to the point of shutting off the camera. Of course, the batteries were practically brand new, and testing the batteries back home later indicated that they had most of their charge still.
We got some pictures with Michael’s underwater film camera, but we only had a very limited number of shots.
After a while Amy returned, talking about how much nicer the reef/fish/etc. were over on the side. At this point, we could see rain off the coast, and we could hear some distant rumblings of thunder. Still, I decided to risk a quick visit; although I walked down the beach to the end, and then got in the water there.
It *was* much nicer than the middle section where we had started, although I didn’t want to spend too much time there with the weather looking iffy. I swam back, we packed up our stuff, hiked back up to the jeep, got changed back into clothes, and headed back.
We had been given some recommendations for eating places out by Coral Bay, but when we pulled into the first one, we found that it was not open. We did however, see a herd of goats in the yard, including one standing about three feet off the ground on a tree branch.
We continued up the road and eventually pulled into a place on the outskirts of Coral Bay. As one might expect, it was a bar that also served a limited selection of food. Michael, as is his wont, ordered the calamari (fried squid). While we were waiting for our food, we watched a few Magnificent Frigate birds flying back and forth overhead.
After lunch, we drove out to the eastern side of the island, beyond Coral Bay. This is private land and not part of the national park. The roads are just as steep as they were on the main part of the island. The most interesting thing was a very large tree growing up in the middle of the road, with one lane of traffic on either side.
Coming back, we decided to stop at the
is a set of ruins of an old sugar mill that is maintained by the National Park
Service. As such, there were plaques located here and there describing what the
buildings were used for. It wasn’t bad, although somewhat buggy. (There was a
sign saying that due to the mosquitoes, the naturalist programs were canceled
until further notice; not a good sign.)
Our next stop was to swing by the Maho Bay camp ground. It was one bay east of Cinnamon Bay, and it was rumored to be the only other place where one could rent a sail boat (other than Cinnamon Bay, which was not yet renting them). But first, while we were out on the northern point, we went to the western end of the point, near Francis Bay, to see what was there.
The paved road ended in a parking lot. There was the Francis Bay hiking tail, and a rather disreputable and steep dirt road that was labeled Maho Bay Campground. Our impression was that you would get to the campground off of Rt 20, and this road looked a bit dangerous to drive, so we decided that this must be a back way in. So we drove out and back to Rt 20. At the intersection with Rt 20, there is a weird triangle of roads, with two stretches being one-way.
We drove down Rt 20 until we reached the ridge separating Maho Bay from Cinnamon Bay, with no sign of the other campground. So we figured that it must be off of the other one-way leg, that we hadn’t traveled over yet. So we turned around and went back along that route, again not seeing any campground.
We concluded that the nasty looking dirt road must be the main entrance to the camp ground. We continued out towards Francis Bay, popped the jeep into 4-wheel-drive, and slowly started climbing and descending the hills on that road. Even though I was going quite slowly, the jeep still bounced around quite a bit, much to Michael’s delight. Eventually, we reached the campground and parked.
This is a *very* different place than the Cinnamon Bay campground. I had been under the impression that we were in the ritzy one, and that Maho Bay was a step down, but I think now that it is the other way around. Maho Bay is more of an eco-tourism camp. More significantly, Cinnamon Bay campground is built on a large flat area right off of the beach. Maho Bay is built on the hillside, all of the tents and buildings are on platforms, and they are all connected together by walkways and stairs.
I checked at the main desk, and they had two boats to rent, and it seemed they would rent them to us even if we were not staying there.
They had a large dining area (with a roof but open to the sides) with a great view of the bay. We checked their menu and thought about catching dinner there, but the menu for Saturdays was Mexican, and Michael isn’t that fond of such fare these days. So we left and decided to go into Cruz Bay and look for food.
As we were dropping down the hill to Cruz Bay, we found a really good overlook, and we noticed that the sun was just setting. We stopped and spent a while taking pictures of the pretty pink clouds.
I had to put some more gas in the jeep. We were thinking of getting some Chinese take-out and eating it back at the campground, but when we went to the little “mall”, we found that despite what our map said, there was no Chinese restaurant there. We did pick up some juice and soda, and a flotation “noodle” for Mike, for his next try at snorkeling. Eventually, we ended up back in downtown Cruz Bay, and we went to the same place where we had had breakfast.
We were eating outside, on a little table with an umbrella over it. Partway through dinner, it started raining. We found if we scrunched close to the table, the water would miss us. But then it started raining more heavily, and we eventually gave up and went to a table inside. There we finished our dinner watching various car races on ESPN on the TV that was just over our table.
We were wondering how to get back to the jeep without getting soaked, but fortunately in this case, Michael was a slow eater, and by the time he had finished, the rain had stopped, so we could walk back without getting wet.
After dinner, we drove back to camp and went to bed.
Let me take a moment here to talk about vegetation. Obviously, this was more “jungle-like” than the forests up north. It was certainly tropical, with palm trees, etc. I would say that it looked like a tropical rain forest.
With one exception.
The other kind of fairly prevalent plant were cacti! These looked similar, although slightly different, from the kind one would expect to see in the southwest. This is not what I would have expected on a tropical island, although perhaps it was much drier at other times of the year.