Blog 79: New Year's on the Islands (Virgin, That Is)
ContentsRearview Mirror - Summary of the past week
Headlights - Our schedule as to where we will be heading
(Note: click on any photo for a larger image/slideshow)
Saturday: Off to the U.S. Virgin Islands!
Janny and I flew out on New Year’s Eve to spend a holiday with good friends. After an uneventful trip (meaning a really good one) we landed in St. Thomas to be greeted by our hosts, Phil and Kim, along with our buddies, Patrick, Frizz, and the Mers. Phil and Kim have a spacious home atop the mountains with an easterly view of the British Virgin Islands and the Caribbean green waters.
While a large part of the U.S. mainland was “enjoying” cold temperatures and snow (including a freeze-threatening, very chilly Southwest Florida), we were “stuck” with ongoing temperatures in the mid 80s, sunny skies, and soft breezes. Fortunately, we were able to endure this temperature torture for the entire week.
Sunday: New Year’s Day on Megan’s Beach
Just five minutes from Phil and Kim’s home is Megan’s Beach, a world-class beach with white sand and gorgeous waters. After a leisurely morning start, the seven of us hung there most of the day, sunbathing and walking the beach. Surprisingly (at least to me), it was not crowded at all, making our stay all the more pleasant. I waded out waist to chest high and was able to catch a few brown pelican pics along with a brown boobie and spotted ray. Lots of fun.
Monday: Virgin Islands National Park
By 8:30 our group was dressed, fed, packed, and out the door. Phil took us down to the ferry station where he drove us aboard, and we took the car ferry to St. John, enjoying the scenery and a bonus rainbow on our short voyage.
Once on St. John, we drove into the Virgin Islands National Park. After a few minutes at headquarters, our group, now expanded to 14, took an open taxi through the park to the Reef Bay trailhead. Here, Ranger Don explained a little about our hike, and soon we were in line heading down the trail. Although only steep in a few areas, the 2.8 mile trail was uneven, quite so in some areas, rocky, and slick from the morning rain. Hence, good footgear, patience, and a watchful eye were mandatory to prevent slips and slides. Don has been employed by the Park Service on St. John for 27 years, and thus was a wealth of information. We learned the interesting history of the island, its shameful period of often-cruel slavery, and a lot about the flora and fauna of the park.
If interested in learning more about this hike or the National Park, check out this link: www.nps.gov/viis/
After snacking by a rocky pool carved with hieroglyphs, we visited the remains of an old sugar mill, then went down to the beach, boarded a dinghy, and then climbed aboard a trawler to return us to the park headquarters. Soon we were back on the ferry, into Phil’s van, and back to the homestead.
As you probably know, St. Thomas is a popular place. For example, on this day, six cruise ships were docked in the harbors spewing out 20,000 folks or so for a daylong exploration of the island, filling the downtown and the most popular beaches. Hence, savvy locals stay home, go off-island, or take the road less traveled, which was our approach. After a morning and early afternoon lounging by the pool, we went down to the St. John Yacht Club* for both libation and a wonderful view of the water.
A Very Unexpected Connection
A mature gentlemen at a nearby table asked us where we were from. When he heard someone from our group say “Michigan,” he appeared to take interest. He said that he had an old girlfriend from Fremont. Jan said that that was where she was from. He said his old girlfriend’s name was Nancy Mullet. Jan replied, “That’s my mother!” OH, WOW! Sixty-three years ago they met at Camp Echo, and it appears that both had a crush on each other. He gave us his card and asked if Nancy would call. (Later she did--is the old flame being re-lit?)
*Most yacht clubs around the U.S. and many around the world “reciprocate,” meaning that if you are a member of one yacht club, you can show your credentials and be allowed in to enjoy the amenities of another yacht club. Of course, you are expected to do the same when your comrades visit your club. Since both Patrick and Phil are yacht club members in Michigan, we were welcomed with open arms.
Wednesday: Clouds and Biting Fish
Wednesday saw clouds and rain darkening the sunny sky every now and then. We did a few excursions by van and enjoyed the change of pace. Later in the day we headed back to Megan’s Bay, and I once again got into the water to try my luck photographing fast-diving, low-flying pelicans and boobies. It was hard to concentrate, though, as schools of fish seemed to take pleasure nibbling on my toes and legs.
We did some serious nibbling ourselves, as our day ended with an absolute feast at Phil and Kim’s. No one starved this trip.
Thursday: BVI Boating
The morning greeted us with a beautiful sunrise, an omen for a beautiful day.
By 8:30 we were on the dock, boarding the powerboat we had hired (along with a captain) for the day to explore the nearby British Virgin Islands. Our first stop was Tortola where we cleared customs, and then we cruised through a hard chilly rain on our way to Virgin Gorda. Soon the skies cleared and our wet clothes dried as we continued our journey south. Docking at Virgin Gorda, we walked, sloshed, climbed, and shimmied our way through The Bathes, a rock conglomeration formed at water’s edge. Fun experience, but a tad more challenging than we all had expected. From here we visited Jost Van Dyke before re-tracing our trip back through customs, and then back to St. Thomas.
Friday: Birds and Rain
Phil was kind enough to drive Jan and me to meet the 6:30 ferry to St. John.
We arrived a little before 7:00, had a bite to eat, and then took a taxi to the Francis Bay trailhead. Here we met seven other people for our guided birding hike. Our NPS guide was a very knowledgeable birder, as were many in our group. However, “Young Audubon” had the best ears, the best eyes, and maybe the most birding knowledge. Only 12 years old, his goal is to go to Cornell and become an ornithologist. The birders had a great day, identifying 27 different species. We had a good time, but the best moment for me was photographing a young brown boobie by the water’s edge. This handsome young fellow (or gal) was not afraid at all and seemed to pose for us as we admired his beauty.
After the walk, we took a taxi back to the ferry station and did a little browsing/shopping before ferrying back to St. Thomas. Here we took a taxi back to meet our group for lunch. The rest of the afternoon we did a little exploring--jumping into stores, restaurants, and bars to avoid the sudden downpours.
Old Stone Farm House
That evening we had a special treat--we had reservations at one of the nicest restaurants in the USVIs.
Our personalized menus displayed a dozen appetizers ranging from escargot to Maine lobster to ceviche to beef carpaccio. Jan had the Grapefruit Salad and I had the Fire and Ice Chilled Soup. The main courses included kangaroo, wild boar, West Indian Pumpkin Thaibbean Curry, Pad Thai noodles, sea scallops, Mediterranean Sea Bass, local wahoo, Angus filet, and shrimp. We all went back to the kitchen where the chef showed us our choices. The nice thing was that you could combine things into any combination you wanted. Jan had the sea bass and scallops, while I had the wahoo atop the Pad Thai noodles--very, very good. For desert we shared a couple Banana’s Foster flambes. Wonderful evening.
Saturday: Back Home
For our last morning, we went up to Mountain Top to enjoy the view from the highest point on St. Thomas. From there we started our journey home, arriving back home greeted by a pair of tail-wagging, wide-grinning pups.