Virgin Islands: Sunday, October 12

“I have a bad feeling about this...”

This was our last full day on the island. We had two things that we would have liked to do. One was to go snorkeling at Trunk Bay, which has a semi-commercial beach run by the National Park Service, and the other was to rent a sailboat at Maho Bay.

I was slightly nervous about the sailing idea, as I have never sailed a catamaran before, and I was concerned that we would screw up and either be becalmed out in the middle of the bay, or that we would be blown away from land and be unable to sail back.

In any event, we decided to try Trunk Bay first. (I had a perhaps naive thought that we would snorkel for part of the day, and then go sailing in the afternoon, but as is described below, this isn’t what happened.)

We had our standard bagel-and-cream-cheese breakfast, loaded up our snorkeling gear, and drove one bay over to Trunk Bay. This is a more commercialized beach, with a paid admission ($4 per adult), but it had showers, bathrooms, lockers, gear rental, a snack bar, and life guards.

Michael has two snorkeling masks at home, but unfortunately when I was packing the night before we left, he was away at the emergency room, so I had to guess which one was the better one. Apparently I guessed wrong. So we ended up renting him another mask and snorkel, as well as a flotation belt and a locker.

I had no fins. I didn’t bring mine as they were very big and heavy to be taking on the plane. I didn’t rent them, as I figured we would be going with Michael and he wouldn’t have any. This proved to be a big mistake.

Since we found that we could rent a flotation belt, we didn’t need the flotation noodle. So we just left it on the side of the beach for someone else to adopt.

We gooped up with sun stuff, then hiked down to the beach. It was a wonderful beach, with nice white sand, and green water. There was a little wave action (more than on the south coast), but not as much as we had seen at Cinnamon Bay two days previously. About 50 yards off the coast is a small island, and there is a reef around the island, and between the island and the shore. One of the main attractions at Trunk Bay is the “underwater trail”, which is a series of plaques on the bottom talking about the reef. (I didn’t find it as much a trail as a scattering, and I found most of the plaques to be somewhat generic about reef life, rather than pointing something right there.)

We got geared up, and with Amy coaxing and helping Michael, we entered the water. He was a bit nervous, as he’s never been in open water more than a few feet deep, but we brought him out to the island/reef, which put him in probably 10-15 feet of water (not that it really mattered to him whether it was 5 feet or 15 feet deep).

I tried out the underwater digital camera again, this time with totally fresh batteries in it. This time it seemed to be working, and I got a number of pictures.

I did a number of dives towards the bottom, some to see the plaques, and some to get pictures. But without fins, it was rather hard to descend, particularly in the denser salt water, and so I could spend only a second or two down there. I had virtually no time to get the camera up and take a picture, and I certainly had no time for niceties, like equalizing my ears.

On a few dives, I went a bit too deep, and I think I damaged my left ear slightly. Even a week later, as I am writing this trip report, it still does not feel right.

It seems that the “trail” curved around the left side of the island, so that is where we went.

After about 10-15 minutes, though, Michael was getting too nervous and wanted to go in. So I gave Amy the camera and towed Michael in. Amy proceeded to “sight see” around the island, while Michael played in the sand on the beach. I spent about half my time just lounging in the water, as it seemed warmer than having the breeze blowing on my wet skin.

It had started out sunny, but by then it had clouded up. At one point, it started raining. Some people tried taking refuge under some plants at the back end of the beach. Michael and I retreated into the water, as the water was warmer than the rain drops. After it stopped, Michael went back to the beach.

A while later, we saw Amy swimming her way back to the beach, from the right side of the island. So Michael and I put our gear back on and went out to meet her. On the plus side, Amy was telling us about how wonderful it was out there and about all the wondrous fish she had seen. On the down side, it looks like the underwater camera was back to its old tricks and not working.

So the three of us went out to the right side of the island. Then at a certain point, Amy gave me the camera and took Michael back, while I continued around, going counter-clockwise.

My biggest problem was the lack of fins. I found it rather tiring trying to move around. Either the surf came up a bit, or it was always worse on the far side of the island. In either case, I didn’t want to get too close to the rocks, and I ended up just trying to get around the island and back to the beach, seeing what I could see along the way. I think I was tired and chilled, and my face hurt from the mask. It was definitely more fun and interesting on my first trip out, at the very beginning.

When I got back around the island, I found Michael playing at the shore line and Amy snorkeling just a bit further out. (We were also right next to the life guards.) I was rather “snorkeled out”, so I went in, and Amy went out for another exploration of the reef system.

I came out of the water, went over to the showers and washed off the salt water, then wandered around in the air until I was mostly dried off. The water was rather chilly but tolerable. Eventually I went back to the locker and got my glasses, so I could actually see things.

At this point (roughly 2pm), I realized that my back was beginning to burn in the sun, so I just stood in the shade of some bushes (near where the folks had retreated to in the rain earlier), and then when I was completely dry, I went back to the locker again and got my shirt.

When Amy returned, she said that she was having a wonderful time. Michael, as well, was in no hurry to leave. Amy eventually went down the beach a ways, to explore some reefy areas that were closer to the beach and hence less deep (only a few feet of water). I took a walk down the beach and back, walking through the surf zone, so that only my ankles were getting wet. At one point, I was amazed to see that right after a wave had come in (so that I was standing in about 6 inches of water), two little fish darted around my feet, before the receding water drew them back out.

Amy invited Michael to join her, and after a short while he did. This time, he seemed much more at ease in the water and more able to function independently.

Around 2:30, we decided that we needed to break for lunch. This was a sort of good thing, because we found that the rentals were due back at 3:00, and after that the staff were packing things up and heading home. We debated between going back to the beach a bit more, but we decided not to. Amy, who had spent much more time out there than I did, had a rather red back, and even redder thighs.

Amy and Mike took advantage of the showers, I got the towel out of the car, they got dried off, and we changed back into clothes.

So the snorkeling/beach day turned from just being a few hours into the day’s main activity. It certainly went on well past the time that would have allowed us to rent a sailboat. So I didn’t have to actually worry about whether I could sail it on the open sea or not.

Afterwards, we drove back to Cinnamon Bay so that I run to the cabin and get Amy’s binoculars. (While I was there, I grabbed my camera and tripod, as well as changing my sandals to sneakers so that bugs wouldn’t eat my legs.) Then we drove to Maho Bay again.

Their dinner began at 5:30, and it was only about 5pm when we got to the Francis Bay parking lot, so we decided to hike the trail there before continuing along the bumpy road to the camp ground.

A short distance down the trail, we came across two surprising things. The first was a deer (a buck, actually), standing in the middle of the trail grazing. Next to the deer, there were the stone ruins of an old house, with vegetation growing out between the stone “fence” surrounding the tiled courtyard. It looked like something out of a Steven Spielberg movie. I was just waiting for Indiana Jones to come dashing out of the jungle.

We proceeded down the trail to find yet another interesting thing: a swarm of butterflies! There were two clumps of them, and each one probably had maybe 8 butterflies swirling around in a little cloud. Even better, when perched, they tended to stay still for a long time, so it was relatively easy to get close to them and get pictures.

We proceeded to the end of the point, to a little beach. Looking out across the bay, we could see the mountains on the far side disappearing behind a gray wall of rain. To quote another Spielberg characters, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

Michael and I started hurrying back along the trail, with Amy coming more slowly behind us. About a quarter of the way back, it started raining, and by halfway back, it was raining heavily. Michael and I were running down the trail about as fast as we could safely go. We passed by the ruined house, and when we reached the jeep, we dove in, finally out of the rain.

There we waited a few minutes until a very soggy Amy came along and climbed in. If we had been about 5 minutes earlier, we would have avoided the soaking.

Then, to Michael’s delight, we proceeded once more up and over the wretched, bumpy (and now wet) road to the Maho Bay camp ground. We piled out of the jeep and dashed to roofed-over eating area, which was fortunately near the parking area. The menu for Sunday was the “Blue Plate Special”, which translated into ham, green beans, and mashed potatoes (or a choice of something else, which we didn’t get, and which I can’t recall), beverage, and a stint at the salad bar.

When we ordered, the person behind the serving station asked whether we wanted to pay for dinner or have it charged to our room. We *very* quickly said that we would just pay it then. We figured that the less we said about where we were staying (and in particular if we were staying there), the better.

While we waited for our meals, we got our salads and some iced tea.  The rain had let up some, so I dashed back to the car and got my camera and tripod. There were two camp cats hanging around us (we were the first diners to arrive, having arrived at the very start of the scheduled time). One of them looked very much like my old Momcat.

One of the cats liked being petted, but of course the main reason they were there was to beg for food. After a short while, they called out our name, and we dashed through the rain between roofs to get our meals. Once the ham arrived, the cats became much more vocal. We were mean, I mean good guests, and we never actually fed them.

The dinner was probably the best one we had in St John, and probably the cheapest as well. Amy thought that the potatoes were the best that she had ever had, the ham was tender and tasty, and the portions were quite large. Even Amy couldn’t finish hers, although through great personal sacrifice, I managed to eat all of mine.

While we ate, we were treated to a great view of the setting sun. Unfortunately, due to the overcast, it wasn’t a real “sunset”, but the view and gradually increasing darkness was quite special, particularly for our last night on the island.

By the time we had finished dinner, the rain had stopped, so we did a little exploration of the camp. Amy spent some time talking to an activities director. I decided to check out the beach. To get down there, I had to descend just over 180 stairs, with various side walkways branching out to tent platforms. I think it would be really neat to stay there, although getting our luggage down the steps would be a pain. At least we wouldn’t have to worry about flooding!

The beach was big enough and nice enough (although I could only see it by the light of my headlamp). I found the two sail boats. They looked simple enough, with a main sail but not (I think) a jib.

After this, it was time to get back to our camp and get to sleep.

We drove for one last time over the very bumpy road, and then back to Cinnamon Bay. It had started raining lightly, but we were still able to get most of our stuff and hurry back to our cabin. We took care of toiletries, and then got undressed to get a good idea of how badly we were burned on our backs.

The rain grew heavier.

Then Amy made a startling discovery. She couldn’t find her purse. Thinking back, I didn’t recall it being carried from the jeep to the cabin. So we were faced with two alternatives: either it had been left in the jeep, or it had been left at Maho Bay. I was really hoping it was in the jeep.

So I had to put my shirt back on, put my boots back on, grab an umbrella and my head lamp, and head out. When I got to the dirt road, I was in for a shock. across the road, going from the jungle through to the mangroves by the beach there was a broad stream! It was maybe 10-20 feet wide, and it looked to be several inches deep or more. There was even a small waterfall/cascade as it fell off the side towards the beach. I couldn’t believe this. It must have started in the few minutes since we had returned to our cabin.

I had to go back and borrow Amy’s camera to get some pictures of it. Then I tried working my way “upstream” to see if I could go around it. No dice. There was a small trail through the “jungle”, but while the “stream” was narrower there (maybe 6 feet wide), it looked much deeper.

Eventually, I decided that if I went along the edge of the road towards the beach, and jumped from carefully selected area to area, I could get across with the water being no more than about an inch deep. I was rather glad that my boots were waterproof.

After that, walking through the rain was rather anticlimactic. I got up to the parking lot and checked out the jeep, and fortunately there was Amy’s purse. I carried it back, and once again I had to jump carefully to get across the stream.

Back in the cabin, we decided to wait until the next morning to do any real packing. However Amy found that the rain had blown in through the screens on her side (there were no windows, just screens) had soaked her bed. Fortunately, there were four beds there, so we could move the luggage and stuff from the fourth bed to the drier half of Amy’s old bed, and she could sleep in the fourth.

That night, we fell asleep to new sounds. In addition to the frogs/crickets and the sounds of the surf, there was the steady pounding of rain.

Fortunately, I tend to sleep on my side, so my burned back didn’t really bother me. Unfortunately for Amy, she tends to sleep on her back, so she had a more “interesting” night.

I spent half the night wondering if the rain would continue all night, and how we were going to get the luggage over the stream the next morning.

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