Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Travel Day

We packed up to head back another world, another way of life, and to *sigh* winter. I wanted to say goodbye to Shira, our hostess. She rented us a one bedroom guest house with a spectacular view of Coral Bay. She is from Israel. She came to US for personal freedom. Israel was a man’s world, and women had a subservient role there. She wanted more. She studied art history at NYU and then taught in NYC until she realized  life in NY did not full-fill her. She was not experiencing the degree of freedom she sought. Life became suffocating. She accepted a job at the University of St. Thomas USVI about twenty years ago. To this day, she loves it here. She loves being able to raise her boys in a safe environment. She could identify with much of the story of my Korean past, culture, and learning to accept and grow and evolve. She wanted to read about my stories. We found a friend in one another, having both experienced the merging of a culture of the past from another world while merging and colliding with today’s culture. We said goodbye to each other and exchanged our hopes of seeing each other again.

Tom and I drove on to Cruz Bay without having eaten breakfast. We wanted to be sure we got to the car ferry before stopping to eat. We circling Cruz Bay in search of this mysterious ferry. Whenever we stopped to ask for directions, it would go something like this: “buzz buzz...go to the roundabout, don’t do, buzz...and make sure you will see a tennis court and buzz, cannot miss it. It takes two minutes.” Well, we did miss it, a few times. Those two minutes were a long, twisted, and confusing two minutes. 

While we drove through the craziness of Cruz Bay, my thoughts went to another place: I hoped that beautiful Coral Bay would be preserved as we found it this week. Residents are very concerned about plans for a monster-sized marina. This will disrupt so much of the natural habitat and the local way of life. 

Cruz Bay, the largest and only town on the island, is a popular vacationer’s destination, but it’s just too much for us. The people lining the already congested roads, the restaurants and bars, boat rentals, car rentals, cruise shop huts, hotels, and more hotels. Eventually we found car ferry and we were transferred to St. Thomas Island from which we flew to the states. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Last Day on St. John

Today we went to Ram Head on the southeast coast. The trail was about one mile long beginning at Salt Pond Bay Beach. The sign said to expect it to take about one hour each way, which made it sound like a challenging trail.

It started at a beach of stones. The water was amazingly clear—I could see every detail on the rocks underwater.

As we climbed, the scenery got more and more beautiful until it became absolutely spectacular!

There were parts of the trail where you could look over the precipice. Tom went closer to the edge than I was comfortable with so he could take some pictures. My thought was, “Don’t go near the edge! I would not be able to save you if you are hanging from the edge!” When I verbalized this, Tom just looked at me with an “Of course!” expression. It took less than an hour to get up to the top—an invigorating climb, but not so very strenuous.

And the scenic view from the top was GORGEOUS. These photos do not do it justice.

Whenever I would lead on the trail, I would sometimes turn to look back, only to find that Tom had disappeared. I’d find him stooping down to take a photo of a pretty flower or an interesting small animal. When Tom took the lead on trail, I talked the whole time so that Tom would know I was right behind him.

While we were hiking back down from Ram Head, I was thinking that I’d love to just sit on the white sands of Salt Pond Bay beach and soak my feet in the water. But once we got back down to the beach, the white sand area was too hot. We settled under the shade of the Mangrove trees and sat on the rocks with our feet immersed in the water. Ah! so wonderfully refreshing.

We decided to check out Drunk Bay, since it was close by. In my mind, since we had already seen so many bays with their beaches, I wondered if this one could be any different. We went on the trail that leads to this bay. We came to a large brownish pond with white foam along its edges. Tom thought maybe this was Drunk Bay, with white foam representing beer froth. But then Tom checked the map and realized this was Salt Pond and Drunk Bay is beyond it.

When we came to the bay, we knew this was it! It was a very dramatic change. The water color was deep, deep blue, so deep and dark blue it was almost scary. I was used to colors so warm and inviting, aqua blue-green! There were large boulders, and as the full strength of the waves hit these boulders, it created a giant spray of angry white foam.

The beach was filled with larger whitish rocks and coral of all shapes and sizes. The huge boulders were deep grey. Visitors have created art formations of white rocks and coral on dark boulders.

We decided to go to Miss Lucy’s Restaurant again for lunch--great food and beautiful setting at this place! We were there for two hours over our leisurely lunch. Our live entertainment today did not include the diving pelicans we saw on Thursday, but the chicken cleanup crew was out in force, grabbing any leftovers from the tables as people left.

Today, the chickens were joined by a goat which came up to tables to grab food whether anyone was at the table or not. This goat came to our table as we were eating and pushed us, trying to reach our food. When we pushed her head away, she pressed against our hands, trying to get to our plates. She only managed to grab a napkin and a packet of sugar—and ate them both! She walked away when someone from another table threw her a french fry. She is on mission to get herself fed, since she’s a nursing mama.

Tomorrow we head back home!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cinnamon Bay

Today was a bit of a lazy day. We didn't have anything planned. We packed a lunch, using up most of what we accumulated in our little home. We like taking long walks on the beach, walking close enough to the waves that we are sometimes in and sometimes out of the water. I heard that Cinnamon Bay is big, which means it should have a beach long enough for a good walk. The downside is that I also heard it's crowded. No way of really knowing without going there, so that's where we headed.

As we turned into the entry to Cinnamon Bay, there was a restaurant, one or two snack shops, a boat and canoe rental shop, and probably snorkel rental. Also showers and modern bathrooms. Oh my! we could stay the whole day here.

Cinnamon Bay is grander in scale compared to all the other beaches we have been to this week. Also, at least today, there weren't so many people at the beach in the morning, though it started to get more crowded as the day wore on. It certainly has a long stretch of beach with beautiful white sand for Tom and me to walk in the wet sand. We got that and more. Another great thing about beaches here is that you generally have a choice of sitting in the sun or in the shade, because there are usually mangrove trees growing along the beaches, and they provide a shelter-like shade area.

We were not looking for much more than hiking in nature and walking along the beach in barefeet, and also sitting where the waves can caress us. I am not sure if it is our age, but boating, canoeing, and snorkeling somehow do not have the same attraction for us that they once had.

I am learning to take pictures, although it's just with my iPhone. This beautiful backdrop of nature was our photo studio today.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Francis Bay

This morning I work up tired. During the night, it seemed like little insects were attacking me. There was so much irritation with itching and scratching that I had a hard time sleeping through the night.

We had some significant rain here the last several days. After rain, noseeums come out and start making us miserable with their never-ending bites. Tom was not affected, as usual. Bugs love me. 

All my ammunition to battle insects is back in Goshen. A note to myself: pack the following two items as soon as we get home so next time I will be prepared: (1) lavender and other essential oils for insect repellant; (2) beta-glucan for any ailments we may encounter, including bug bites, colds, etc.

Well, tired or not, the beautiful island was still out there for another day of discovery! But because I was so tired, we had a later start than normal.

Tom decided that he would edit yesterday's blog post while we were on the beach today. I usually write in the evening, then he edits for me. He also places photos where they belong. This is one activity that we do together on vacations. I'm really bad at remembering our good times together. Blogging our daily activities during vacations, when we're away from our daily grind, has been a good way to preserve our sweet memories.

So, we set out for Francis Bay. As always, the ride there made me nervous, but Tom reminded me to leave the driving to him and just enjoy the spectacular views. And spectacular they were, as you can see.

Once we got to the beach at Francis Bay, Tom began editing while I sat close to the water so that I could enjoy the rhythm of the waves over my feet. I watched the birds, children at play, and snorkelers.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Moravian Church, Brown Bay Beach, Miss Lucy's, and Salt Pond Bay Beach

This morning, we wanted to see the southeast tip of the island toward Ram Head. There was no shortage of amazing natural scenery on the drive there. As we looked for a place to park the car to take a look around, we climbed hills so high and dove into descents, and I was always worrying if our "little red car that can" really could. When the road came to an end and we needed to turn around, that in itself was a challenge. Tom backed into a dirt road, and we heard a "thump." Oh no! Hope we are not stuck. Fortunately it was just a steeper-than-normal drop-off, and with a little maneuvering, our little car was back on the road. We traced back to where we had seen several cars parked along the shoulder, but more cars had arrived and filled up all the parking spots. Sigh. 

So Plan B. We had wanted to go see Emmaus Moravian Church, an old landmark not far from here. Let's go! We parked outside of the gate at an uncomfortable angle, which I better get used to. We let ourselves in through an unlocked gate and started walking the grounds and taking pictures. Oh, we really hoped that someone would give us a guided tour. Tom took pictures and I took a picture of Tom taking pictures. Then a voice from above beckoned us, "Hello there! Let me come down and show you the place." We were overjoyed.

Pastor Isaac introduced himself and shook our hands. He unlocked the door into the sanctuary. He took us inside and explained about the ceiling, the stained glass window, etc. This congregation has met at this site for two hundred sixty one years. I was debating, should I take a picture of him or is it considered an offense? He then asked us if we had a camera to capture the beautiful view of the bay from the sanctuary. He was fine with pictures.

I especially liked the fact that long ago, this church also served as a lighthouse for boats and ships. Very poetic with so much symbolism! Here is some information I remember: This island was owned by the Danes. The US bought it for a military base in 1917. There are about a million Moravians worldwide. The greatest increase today is in Africa. Moravian missionaries came from Germany to the Caribbean in the 1700s to share the gospel with the slaves. Some of the missionaries even became slaves themselves for their spiritual work. Today, though this congregation has two dozen young people, most of the membership is getting old, from age 60 to over 90. They are hoping to build a ramp for the elderly. I cannot imagine living with ANY disability on this island, where even well-abled persons could get stuck without the right kind of vehicle.

We thanked Pastor Isaac for his time. We were glad we came and even more glad that he was willing to give us a tour.

I told Tom that we needed to go back to the trail that lead to Brown Bay Beach. Yesterday, we climbed almost to the crest of the trail which would then descend to Brown Bay Beach. This time, knowing this was the right way and that the destination was at hand, it was easier to keep going. Sure enough, we reached the crest shortly after passing the point we had turned back yesterday, and the downhill stretch was much easier.

This is Brown Bay Beach. It is very small, and soon we were the only persons there. We just sat there in the warm water looking out to the island some distance away and just enjoyed the peacefulness.

Our stomachs told us that we should look for someplace to eat lunch. We had been meaning to stop at Skinny Legs, recommended by my friend. As we were driving, we saw a herd of wild goats. At one time goats, chickens, cats, and donkeys all belonged to plantation owners. Donkeys were imported from Spain in the 1600s and used for heavy labor in the days of the plantations. Today, they are wild and wander the roads and beaches.

Anyway, the herd of goats was enough distraction that we missed Skinny Legs Restaurant. And since we still wanted to see the southeast end of the island, we decided to stop at Miss Lucy's Restaurant, which is on the way. Later, we read the rave reviews for Miss Lucy's, and the food certainly was delicious. But what we especially enjoyed was the live entertainment while we ate. We were eating outdoors by the sea. There were about a dozen chickens running loose among the tables. When a couple got up and left, a crew of two or three chickens hopped up onto the table and began cleaning up. The main show, though, starred the brown pelicans. They were so fascinating, we could have watched them for hours. They will fly up 20 to 40 feet, then dive straight down into the water to catch fish. If they are diving into shallower waters, they would angle 30 to 45 degrees. When they came up from a dive, we can often see them swallowing the fish they caught. They have amazing eyesight to be able to spot the swimming fish and to judge the depth of the water.

After we had our fill of lunch and pelicans, we walked down toward Salt Pond Bay Beach. This trail had a more normal feel, easy on our balance and not many big rocks to trip over as we continued on a gentle slope down. A lovely small beach. We sat in the waters and talked. My eyes were trying to capture all there is to capture.

We wanted to get back home before dark--I don't like driving these roads at night! Stopped at a grocery store, got a few things. Got home before 6 PM. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Vie's Snack Shack & Hansen Bay Beach

It is a beautiful view from our little deck. So quiet and serene. This morning, I saw three lizards, two cats, and a chicken on our deck. Beyond the sloping hills filled with vegetation, the bay was dotted with small boats not yet filled with life. Then there are islands breaking the continuity of the water. A quietness that is so unusual is broken by the gentle wind rustling the green vegetation.

We drove all the way to the end of Hwy 10 E. We were looking for beaches along the way. The road was even trickier than last night. Some of the inclines were so steep that the road seemed to disappear at the crest of a hill. Then we realized, now the decline is upon us. Slow down, the next turn may be another steeper incline. I then appreciated the beauty of the terrain. As in life, I was so concerned with the possible danger in driving I did not notice the majestic beauty.

As we were driving, we saw a sign for a trail that led to a beach. So we started the trail with anticipation of a beautiful walk on the sand. As we climbed a rather rough and narrow trail, it kept on going up and up.

After about 20 minutes we thought we must have missed a turn. There cannot be a beach this high up. We back tracked. Shortly afterward, a couple came out from the same trail we had been following. They told us that we did not go far enough. At one point we would have descended to a beach, which we would have had to ourselves. An adventure for another day, I guess.

We decided on an easier adventure for today. On to a small snack shop called Vie's. We were told that when you eat there you have access to their private beach in Hansen's Bay.

So we ordered two different local dishes that we would share. It indeed was good. While we were eating, the rain started. Just then a young Asian woman and her parents stopped to order a dish and asked if they could join us at our table. We spent next two hours getting to know each other while waiting for the rain to stop so we could visit Vie's beach. They were from mainland China. The young woman, Yaqiong, studied in the US and is currently on the faculty of a US university.

When we walked down to the beach, I was not ready for how pristine and clear the water was, the beautiful color aqua green so soft and delicate, the softness of the white sand, and the warmness of all seemed unreal, too good to be true.

Our drive home was a bit more scary. The road was slippery from the rain. A few times as we were going up some of those especially steep inclines, especially on a curve, our "little car that could" just spun its tires while the engine was still revving. Tom had to backup some distance to get up some momentum. My heart was in my throat as I looked back and hoped that no other car was behind us. Now I realize why on this island, the only car they rent is 4WD, mostly Jeep.

Monday, December 15, 2014

St. John

Our adventure began by coming up to Chicago to spend time with Mateo and Helena. These two grandkids of ours are so incredibly clever, cute, and every other high commendation one can give. Helena is just eight weeks old.

At 2:15 AM we were woken up by both Tom and my alarms. We ate a quick breakfast, then requested a ride through the Uber service. This new technology made me see our future where we may not need to own cars: competing companies with fleets of hundreds or thousands of cars coming within minutes at your beckon at a very reasonable price and driving away once you are at your destination.

I pressed a button on my iPhone to request a ride at 2:45 AM. Immediately I saw a photo of a driver, name, ID info. At the same time, I could see his little car on the map turning around toward our location and a timer going: 6 minutes to arrival. I watched as that little car turned to our direction and then onto our street. Just as the timer went to 0, a car stopped in front of our house, the driver came out and loaded our luggage, and off we went into the empty and dark streets of Chicago and on to O'Hare International Airport.

Our plane departed at 5:45 AM. We flew into Fort Lauderdale at 9:20 AM. When did I come here before? The name and place seemed so familiar, though Tom told me we've never been here before. Time to begin unlayering my many layers of clothing. By 12:30 PM, we were on another plane, and we finally arrived at St. Thomas at 4:45 PM.

The cars here are huge! For such a little island, it should be all little cars, especially since there are not many roads, and the roads are narrow. At the car rental, they recommended that we rent either a Jeep (4WD)  or SUV (4WD), but we went the cheaper route and rented a Ford Fiesta. I could not imagine renting a huge car at twice the expense. As the day unwound, I started to think maybe the terrain requires 4WD! The hills are steep, and there are so many blind turns where you cannot see the oncoming cars until you are passing them. They drive American cars (steering wheel on the left) but drive on the left side of the road (English style), which can totally throw off your sense of what's what. When Tom was driving in England, they drove on the left side but the steering wheels were on the right side, so eventually Tom got used to mirror-image driving. The unusual arrangement of British driving with American cars feels strange.

As we left the St. Thomas airport in our shiny red Ford Fiesta (feeling very young), it became evident that we were not in the USA anymore. Soon we ran into flooding on one of the major roads. We wondered if our Ford Fiesta would come out OK. Then we encountered so many pot holes filled with rainwater, and the sewer drains in the streets were covered with what looked like iron grills which did not seem strong enough to hold up cars that were driving over them. Maybe another reason for an SUV or Jeep? I had to close my eyes many times in the heavy traffic of BIG cars on a little island with narrow streets as cars butted in front of us, and watching Tom trying to not lose his place in traffic.

It was getting dark when we finally got to Red Hook Bay where we would drive our car onto a barge to go to St. John, the island we want to vacation on. We are told that they do not take a credit card. Tom has to get cash (US currency). It is after 6 PM, the last barge for the night. Tom went off to get currency. Meanwhile, cars were parked in such a way that all the cars were trapped by other cars. We are not in US anymore. It is a US territory, but it does not feel like the US. So our first day began. Yes Tom did get cash. We got our car onto the barge and came to St John.

We are in St. John now up on a high, steep hill. The hill feels like we're driving at about 45 degrees. We parked on a road which is about 45 degree incline, then walked up a steeper and rougher terrain hill to our one bedroom guest home.