Author Archives: Isaac Brown

Koukla Charters at www.sailkoukla.com

It’s been a year since we’ve been back, and Koukla is all spiffed up and now available for day or overnight charters out of Rockland, Maine

For anyone looking for info about charters, day sails, or overnights, go to www.sailkoukla.com

This page is the blog of the trip to the Caribbean aboard Koukla from 2013 – 2014

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Northern Grenadines / Bequia

Hello faithful readers, yes we are still posting about the islands that we never had a chance to post about during the trip.

After leaving the Tobago Cays, we briefly stopped at Canouan, which was notable for being not ‘touristy,’ but really wasn’t very interesting, so lets move on to the main attraction of this post and our last stop in the Grenadines, Bequia.

The harbor on Bequia

The harbor on Bequia

We had heard good things about Bequia from many cruisers and we were all looking forward to getting there, but we didn’t really know much about it. Ultimately, what made Bequia special wasn’t any particularly amazing attractions, but just the pleasantness of everything: a nice-sized town, good restaurants, not too crowded or built up, and most important, a popular cruising destination where we reunited with friends we’d made elsewhere. It just had the feeling of the perfect island community.

Whaling is traditional on Bequia, an a limited number are still caught each year. Thus, the whaleboner restaurant

Whaling is traditional on Bequia, and a limited number are still caught each year using traditional methods. Thus, the decor at the whaleboner restaurant.

There was a unique grocery / provisioning store with odds and ends shoved into ever nook and cranny. They make their own chocolate croissants there, which were ultimately the best of the trip (even better than the French islands). After trying them, Ted put in a special order for a dozen to pick up the next day, and informed the crew that four were for himself, and we could figure out how to divide up the other eight.

One neat attraction on Bequia is Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary on the other side of the island. We decided to walk the couple of miles over to go check it out. On the way we saw many great vistas and beaches along the northern shore.

Isaac pets a turtle

Isaac pets a turtle

The turtle sanctuary sprang out of decades of effort and the dedication / obsession of one man without any public funding. His idea was to gather turtle eggs from the beaches and raise the turtles in captivity for the several years it takes them to reach maturity, and then release them to the ocean. This avoids the high-mortality period when the turtles are small and have many predators.

He has raised and released thousands of turtles over the years and the operation has grown into a small warehouse full of pools of different aged turtles. There isn’t much in the way of tracking or follow-up after he releases them, so it is hard to know for sure the impact, but regardless it was neat to hear the guy’s story about how he has dedicated his life to raising turtles. Note that these are a different species than we saw in the Tobago Cays (Hawksbill vs. Green). The hawksbill turtles raised at the sanctuary are critically endangered, because they were formerly harvested for tortoiseshell.

So, everything is going great on Bequia, it sure is nice here… *CRASH* in the middle of the night. Everyone scrambling up on deck, in pajamas, a couple hours before dawn, a light rain is falling, and a boat is smashed t-bone style across our bow, our bowsprit broken through their railing.

“IS THERE ANYONE ON THIS BOAT!” shouts Horatio. It takes time for them to appear, dazed, unhelpful, one just curled up and clutching his head. I guess it was up to us. Their boat’s weight in the wind and current pushed us tight on our anchor, the chain was straining and we couldn’t back up. Danica and Horatio jumped in the dingy, maneuvered into position against their port side, and let loose with the 25 hp outboard motor. They expertly push the other boat straight sideways, getting them off without getting our bowsprit any more tangled up in their railing or rig.

Oddly, their boat then began to drift slowly out towards the sea. Ted decided that we better go find out their name for insurance. And so he and I (Isaac) got in the inflatable and chased them out of the harbor. The dingy is bouncing along as we’re approaching more open waters, it is still dark beyond the range of our flashlights, and with the misty rain and lack of clothes, cold. Their name is hidden behind a swim platform, and they yell at us to come back tomorrow. It was pretty odd, so we wrote down their hull number and left.

While on Bequia Horatio carved a new bit out of a piece of lumber. Pretty good!

While on Bequia Horatio created a new cleat out of a piece of lumber. Pretty good!

Ultimately everything turned out okay. They hadn’t really been running away… we later learned they were all hungover (which is why they were no use during the crisis), and I still don’t really understand why they had seemed to be leaving, but they eventually came back and re-anchored. Though part of their rail was destroyed, Koukla sustained no real damage. But one thing we did come away with was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip.

The view on the walk to the turtle sanctionary

The view on the walk to the turtle sanctuary

Grenada

The next island-nation south of St. Lucia is St. Vincent & the Grenadines. However, St. Vincent itself (not the Grenadines) has a bad reputation among the cruising community, for both being unsafe and uninteresting, so we made the jump all the way down to Grenada.

Going all the way back to New Jersey, our overnight passages have been nothing but trouble, and sure enough, it was another sleepless night of storm-tossed seas… just kidding, this time it was actually gentle and pleasant. Danica and I woke for our 8 am watch to the calm and islet-studded waters of the Grenadines archipelago. The southernmost of the Grenadines happened to end up under Grenada’s jurisdiction, and so our first destination was actually the island of Carriacou. Carriacou wasn’t much, so we soon sailed the rest of the way down to Grenada’s southern coast.

The flag of Grenada. Note the nutmeg.

The flag of Grenada. Note the nutmeg.

The most memorable thing from Grenada was an excellent, daylong taxi tour, which I think the rest of the crew would agree, was our best tour of the trip. But first, you should know that Grenada is famous for its nutmeg. It is their number one commodity. Beyond just nutmeg and mace (a second spice from the same plant, made from fibers around the nutmeg), on the island they make use of every part of the nutmeg. The nutmeg’s fruit is turned into nutmeg syrup, nutmeg jelly and jam, and even used to sweeten barbeque sauce. Nutmeg husks are used like woodchips to cover walkways. Many billboards advertised medicinal products made from nutmeg, called Nut-Med (supposed to ease joint pain). There is a nutmeg on the Grenadian flag.

The demonstration at the spice estate.

The demonstration at the spice estate.

So, now you know why our first destination, and one of Grenada’s main tourist draws, is going to visit a spice estate. The estate we visited did not let you see the actual fields, but they have a showroom where demonstrations are given of the spices they grow. In addition to nutmeg / mace, they grow bayrum, cocoa, cinnamon, cloves, and anise. The demonstration showed us the spices in their raw form, including a very strongly scented branch of cinnamon wood.

After the spice estate, we drove to the northern tip of Grenada, a cliff known as Carib’s Leap. It was here that after losing in their war against the French, the remaining Carib Indians all leapt to their deaths rather than be captured.

Our guide presenting the freshly harvested cocoa pod

The tour guide presenting the freshly harvested cocoa pod

Next up was the Belmont Estate. The previous spice estate produced cocoa, but only in the raw form. Belmont is the only chocolate-producing facility in Grenada. An extremely energetic tour guide took us out to the orchard, where mango and citrus fertilize the trees to flavor the cocoa. He then climbed a tree and broke open a cocoa pod for us to try the raw seeds, still covered in white pulp. The taste was very strong, but of fruit and citrus, not chocolaty at all. Was this from their special fruit fertilizers? Since this was our first taste of raw cocoa, it’s hard to say.

Cocoa drying in a greenhouse. You can't tell from the photo, but it was suffocatingly hot in there.

Cocoa drying in a greenhouse. You can’t tell from the photo, but it was suffocatingly hot in there.

The tour continued through the various stages of chocolate production, which includes a long fermentation in wooden bins covered with burlap and palm leaves, then drying in the sun or greenhouses, and finally roasting. The cocoa beans can then be sold, or turned into chocolate right there (by grinding and mixing with other ingredients). At the end we were served strongly spiced Grenadian hot chocolate. It was delicious.

Belmont Estate also had goats

Belmont Estate also had goats

After a buffet-type lunch where we were able to try “oil down,” a local dish, we went to a very unique attraction: an airplane graveyard. First, some background. In 1979, Maurice Bishop came to power in Grenada through a coup. In 1983, other members of his party, favoring more radical policies, seized power and executed him. The US then invaded, the main reasons given being protecting US students at the medical school and concern about Cuban participation in construction of a new airstrip. Ultimately the country returned to the pre-1979 system of democratic government. How do Grenadians feel about this? I suspect he would avoid saying anything disagreeable to customers, but according to our taxi driver Grenadians had “loved Maurice Bishop,” so after his execution they were in favor of anything that would get rid of the people responsible, and so most people view the invasion positively.

Cuban planes left to deteriorate in the fields

Cuban planes left to deteriorate in the fields

A strange result of all this was that, at the time of the US invasion, a couple of Cuban airplanes were stationed in Grenada. Afterwards they were not allowed to leave, and left to molder away in a field outside of the old airstrip. There they still sit, surrounded by goats and other animals that local farmers graze on the land. They are not fenced off in any way, so we were able to go right up and examine the exposed engines and broken dashboards.

Molly at Annaberg Falls

Molly at Annaberg Falls

Finally, we drove back towards the boat, but only after first passing through the forested center of the island. This offered us some good views, but unfortunately no sight of monkeys, which are usually around earlier in the morning. There was also a neat waterfall just a short walk off of the roadside, which also includes a small garden, and a group of guys that wanted us to pay them to jump off the waterfall. To cap off the excellent tour, our driver agreed to swing by a grocery store so we could use his van to load up on provisions to bring back to the boat.

Walking through the tunnel

Walking through the tunnel

Other than the tour, we did visit the capital city of St. George’s, which has an enormous Saturday market with a large variety of produce and spices for sale. Also in town, a stone tunnel runs under a hill to connect the waterfront to the rest the city. It is just big enough for one lane of traffic and one lane of pedestrians, nervously squeezing against the wall to stay out of the way of the cars.

We had enjoyed our visit to Grenada, especially the island tour, but it was soon time to leave. As we rounded the ‘toe’ of the vaguely boot-shaped island, after many months of cruising, we turned north. We still had a few more places to visit, but we had officially reached our southernmost point and were now headed in the direction of home.

But wait, there was one other attraction to see before we left Grenada. Halfway up the coast is a sunken sculpture garden for snorkeling and diving. We tied up to a mooring, dingied over and went snorkeling around the fish and statues. Conditions were not ideal (the water was slightly murky), but it was still pretty cool, and definitely worth stopping for.

Fish and sculptures

Fish and sculptures

Martinique

St. Pierre, beneath the volcano

St. Pierre, beneath the volcano

After leaving Dominica, our next stop was Martinique, a French island. The northern harbor on the island is St. Pierre, the capital of the island until 1902. In that year, the nearby volcano Mt. Pelee (which looms over the landscape just outside of town) erupted and wiped out nearly the city’s entire population of 30,000 people. To this day, it is the deadliest volcanic eruption since Krakatoa.

St. Pierre, though no longer the capital, was rebuilt into a mid-sized town. We found it to be a nice place to stay due to the many attractions in walking distance. For one, the beaches were simply packed full of seaglass of all varieties and colors, extending into unusual things such as a fair amount of sea-smoothed ceramic tiles (remnants of the former city?), and even some seaglass marbles.

A short but steep walk south of town takes one to an excellent viewpoint of the harbor. At the site is a large statue of the Virgin Mary labeled ‘Notre Dame de Bon Port’ (our lady of safe harbor).

The volcano-proof cell

The volcano-proof cell

In St. Pierre, you can still go see many ruins of the disaster, including a ruined theater, several crumbling walls along the waterfront, and the wreck of nearly a dozen ships that were in harbor when the disaster struck (we didn’t actually get to see those because you need to scuba dive). Most interesting, you can also visit the jail where one of the two eruption survivors was safely confined within a thick stone, bomb shelter-like solitary cell. It is still standing. Afterwards, he joined Barnum & Bailey’s circus.

DSCN5227Finally, one day we made the longer trek to the nearby Depaz Rum Distillery. On the way up the road, the town development drops away to be replaced by rolling fields of sugar cane—as it turns out, all part of the Depaz estate. On arrival, we were met with a strange, smelly mixture of alcohol and burnt sugar. The distillery provided an excellent free self-guided walking tour of their facilities, where with very little restriction you get to see the whole factory operation. After harvesting the cane, crushers extract sugar, powered using a one-hundred-year-old steam engine (see video). The crushed cane stalks are then burnt as the heat source for the engine’s boiler, and when spent as fuel, are returned back to the cane fields as ash scattered for fertilizer.

The Eiffel Library (note: not actually called that)

The Eiffel Library (note: not actually called that)

From St. Pierre we motored down the coast to the big city of Fort-de-France. After the months of small island towns, it was quite a change to be in a congested, gridded metro again. We spent a day just wandering around and seeing the sights: a big park with many food vendors, a tiny chapel on a hill, and a library designed by Gustave Eiffel.

 

Horatio & Molly on one of the rope bridges

Horatio & Molly on one of the rope bridges

We decided the next day to take the bus to the nearby Jardin de Balata. It had many amazing landscapes of manicured plants, including some interesting cactus-like things, and tons of hummingbirds, but what really set it apart was a pathway of rope bridges suspended between the trees. It was pretty neat to go walking above the gardens below, while the bridges rocked and swayed under our feet.

But, the main thing we had come to Fort-de-France to see was Carnival. This is the festival that occurs just prior to the start of lent. It is most well known in Brazil, or Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but it is also a part of Caribbean culture and is celebrated on many of the islands.

One of the many marching bands (note: we have a lot more Carnival photos, but due to slow internet, we'll wait until we're back in the US to put them up)

One of the many marching bands (note: we have a lot more Carnival photos, but due to slow internet, we’ll wait until we’re back in the US to put them up)

Going to the parade on the first day, we didn’t know quite what to expect. People in costumes and feathers? Big floats on slow-moving flatbeds? It turned out there were only a couple of those, with most of the “floats” being just cars covered with paintings and designs. These would usually be packed with about a dozen guys, some riding on the roof, hood, or trunk. Every once in a while, they would all start jumping up and down and shaking the car while the driver would rev the engine to make it backfire and spit. The people in the parade were in costume, though usually without feathers. For most of the crowd Carnival-dress meant crazy neon colored clothing, with lots of mismatched pieced all piled on top of each other. For men, it frequently also meant wearing women’s clothing. Back in the parade, the thing other than painted cars that there was a lot of was marching bands, which usually included coconuts and bamboo in the percussion section.

Carnival in Martinique wasn’t really anything like what we expected or had seen before. We were all glad we got to see something that seemed to be mostly a local celebration with only little tourist influence. But, after three days of backfiring cars and marching bands, we decided that was enough parades and we didn’t need to stay through the end, so we sailed off to St. Lucia.

A perfect sunset off of Martinique

A perfect sunset off of Martinique

Guadeloupe

Our next sail took us across the channel between the United Kingdom and France, but we didn’t need to go to Europe. We were crossing from Montserrat to Guadeloupe, which, along with Martinique (coming in a later blog post), are fully incorporated parts of France, with all the same rights and status as the mainland, similar to how Hawaii is for the US despite being far away.

The  town of Deshaies in Guadeloupe

The town of Deshaies in Guadeloupe

We arrived in the village of Deshaies in the northwest of Guadeloupe, and it was soon clear that it was very different from most of the islands we had been to recently: there were large fast roadways full of cars, lots of boutique shops and restaurants and just development in general. There were numerous French bakery and pastry shops (we ate many baguettes and croissants), a large modern library, and even recycling, which sadly, most islands lack. Unlike the other islands we’d visited that are administered by a distant nation but still had a Caribbean character, Guadeloupe really did feel more European.

Also, everyone spoke French. It turned out they usually knew English as well though weren’t always willing to admit it. In the French islands, they have farmed out customs check-in for boats to private businesses, which basically just provide a computer terminal for you to fill out electronically. In Deshais, this was in a tourist knick-knack shop. Ted asked the shopkeeper if she spoke English to help clarify some things on the form. Shopkeep: “oh, no no no no no” while waving hands. Minutes later, while hovering over, she interjects in English, “you filled this part out all wrong.”

Sailing down the Guadeloupian coast

Sailing down the Guadeloupian coast

We didn’t stay long before moving down to Basse-Terre, the capitol of Guadeloupe. Here we met a family with a set of entertaining 13-year-old twins engaged in trying to catch a cat wandering around the dock to become a pet for their boat. The method was a felt mouse tied to fishing line, or in this case, “catting” line. This worked pretty well at luring the cat over to attack the mouse, but I think he eventually clawed it off of the line and ran off. The cat was actually a pet from another boat, so we figured they were just playing around.

The boat house in the Saintes

The boat house in the Saintes

Our next destination was a clump of small islands known as The Saintes just south of the Guadeloupe “mainland” (the Saintes are administered as part of Guadeloupe). Quaint red-roofed houses dot the green hills.  The main part of town borders one continuous beach.  Many sidewalk cafes offered delicious yet inexpensive baguette sandwiches and free wifi.  And just a short walk out of town the scenery became positively rural. These tiny islands have a balance of civilization and nature that is quite rare in the Caribbean.

The wide, empty beach on the east coast of Terre de Haut

The wide, empty beach on the east coast of Terre de Haut

Danica and I had an enjoyable time wandering around the various attractions around Terre de Haut, the island we were anchored at. For one, there is a house shaped like a ship bursting out of the cliffside, built by the island’s single resident doctor many decades ago. Why? Who knows, but it looks cool. It is a doctor’s clinic to this day. Next, a short walk took us over to the large beach on the east side of the island. Exposed to the open ocean, massive rollers crashed violently against the rocks and sand, so it wasn’t really a swimming beach. However, we essentially had the dramatic expanse of rugged shoreline all to ourselves, and it was great just to walk around it. The pounding waves throw many things up on shore, which makes for great beachcombing with many seafans and shells, but unfortunately also including a lot of plastic trash that washes in from the ocean.

As our last thing, we made a long uphill trek up to Fort Napoleon, which sets itself apart from the other Caribbean forts by also being a botanical garden. The garden, it turns out, is basically just built right on top of the roof and walls of the fort, and it is quite a unique experience to walk around the parapets among cacti and iguanas.

Overlooking Terre de Haut from Fort Napoleon

Overlooking Terre de Haut from Fort Napoleon

Two Dutch Islands: Saba & Statia

Sailing away from the BVIs

Sailing away from the BVIs

After our swing through the BVIs, it was back to St. John to wait for weather. There is a gap between the dense clump of Virgin Islands and the rest of the Caribbean island chain. Since it was also to the east, into the prevailing tradewinds, it was going to be an overnight beat into the wind.

But, after a bit of a wait, some good wind did show up and we were off. For once, the weather predictions actually held in our favor, and we made the whole run in one tack. In a way, it was too good. Instead of requiring an overnight to get to Saba, we made such good time we arrived in the middle of the night. Moorings are provided for boats to use on the west side of the island, as the water is very deep and much of the area around Saba is a protected marine park. However, trying to first spot, and then catch from deck with our boathook, a tiny white mooring ball floating in the pitch black ocean at midnight is not an easy task. We were all exhausted, the wind was whipping over the mountain throwing the bow off course whenever we slowed down to catch the ball, and add in the distraction of fish just going mad all around us as schools as flying fish were flung into a frenzy being chased by larger fish leaping into the air right after them, and you get some idea of the scene (one of the fish actually smashed Danica in the thigh!) But anyway, after much yelling and three failed attempts, we had our mooring and could sleep.

Yes, people decided to settle this island

Yes, people decided to settle this island

And the next morning, we awoke to the startling view of Saba: little more than a sheer cliff thrust up from the sea, the coast flat and absent of any sort of harbor or habitation. If we didn’t know better, you would believe this was just another unpopulated rock. The fact that people did manage to settle here is just amazing, and this is part of the main attraction of a visit to Saba.

The Ladder

The Ladder

We took our dingy around to the south side of the island, where there is a small port with a man-made breakwater. From there, roads wind straight up the mountainside. This is “the road that could not be built,” according to professional engineer’s survey’s, but was built anyway by a native Sabians in the 1930s, led by a man who took a civil engineering correspondence course. The two main villages are both well above sea level, on the slightly flatter areas above the cliffs.  Prior to the road, Sabians used to hand carry everything (including a piano and a visiting cardinal) up a 400-step stone staircase now called The Ladder.

Other than just tour the island, our other main goal was to do some hiking. Scott, Molly, Danica, and I hiked up Mt. Scenery, where at the top a sign announces that it is the highest point in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, the peak was covered in cloud and didn’t have much view. But there was a very pleasant walk through what might have been a mahogany orchard near the bottom. We also got a cool glass-making demonstration by a jewelrymaker on Saba.

The villages perched atop Saba

The villages perched atop Saba. All houses on Saba, by law, must have red roofs, white walls, and green trim. This makes it look pretty.

Some cool ruins on Statia, with Koukla in the background

Some cool ruins on Statia, with Koukla in the background

Next up was Statia, the nickname for St. Eustatius, another small Dutch island about a day’s sail east of Saba. The sail over opened with a gust of wind coming over the mountain on Saba just as we finished raising sails, heeling us way over and dumping water through the open portholes. Ug. But, once we got away from the island, it wasn’t too bad and we pulled into Statia before sunset. To my surprise, despite being a small island with little development, there were tons of huge fuel tankers anchored all around. Apparently it is used as a major fuel depot for the Caribbean region.

DSCN4787Ashore, a single road runs through a thin strip of flat land along the coast, lined by near-vertical cliffs. This is ‘Lower Town.’ To reach the top, where the main town of Oranjestad spreads out, we walked a steep cobblestone path called the Old Slave Road, so named because it is was once used to lead slaves up from ships.

Mysterious garden terraces, with goats

Mysterious garden terraces, with goats

Oranjestad spread out on the plateau above. At the top of the Old Slave Road, we overlooked terraces lined with potted plants being grazed by goats. What was the story on this? We don’t know. There was no explanation available, as overall Statia seemed to be not at all designed for tourist visits. We wandered around the streets, passing occasional small restaurants and bars, some corner markets (but no tourist shops), and many residential houses, all of which seemed to have at least one dog, and most with more. Actually, one dog joined our wanderings for the day and barked in our defense at any other dogs we passed. Eventually, with little to do, we returned to the boat.

Descending into the crater. It was really tiring getting back out!

Descending into the crater. It was really tiring getting back out!

It seemed that the only thing to do on the island was to hike up The Quill, the name of the collapsed volcano dome just about a mile outside of town. On the way up, it was a unremarkable forest walk, other than the countless large “solider crabs” everywhere. But when we reached the crater rim, it became something completely unique. Ropes were strung up along trees and boulders to aid in the steep, rocky descent. When we reached the base, we found ourselves in a thick jungle, sealed off from the outside world and ringed on all sides by the crater, like the sort of place you might find a small band of surviving dinosaurs. Many simply gargantuan trees filled the crater. After visiting many of them, we scrambled back up with the help of the ropes and went back to the boat. Next up, St. Kitts!

Danica and I next to a giant tree / strangler vine

Danica and I next to a giant tree / strangler vine

Scott inside of a solid cage of wood

Scott inside of a solid cage of wood

Atop the crater rim

Atop the crater rim

 

 

 

 

St. John, Part 1

DSCN4426

Horatio scrapping barnacles off of the propeller cage

St. John was our original goal for our landing point in the Caribbean, and now a month later, we finally reached it. St. John is part of the US Virgin islands, but is nothing like St. Thomas. Surrounded by small coves lined with pristine beaches, half the island designated as a US national park, and reachable only by boat (and not cruise ship sized ones), it was an ideal destination for us. We finally arrived after a short, pleasant jump from Great St. James Island. It was nice to finally be out of the open sea and in protected water amongst the scattered Virgin Islands.

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Our wooden rowing tender, with Koukla in the background

Koukla is a wooden boat, and so of course we must also have a wooden dingy. It is a classic lapstrake wooden tender that has space for double-rowing stations, and also can be used as a small spritsail sloop. It had been a glorified on-deck storage compartment so far, but with a long stay planned on St. John, the time had come to empty it out and go rowing. We felt very classy getting to the beach via a wooden rowboat, and the tender soon became a magnet for tourists taking photos on the beach.

The five members of the Cowan family

The five members of the Cowan family

The beach itself was great. Called Solomons Bay, it has no direct road access. Instead, most people get there from a one mile hiking trail from St. John’s main town of Cruz Bay. Or, as in our case, arrive by boat. We had a great time swimming, talking with some other cruisers, exploring tide pools in the rocks, and snorkeling (we saw lots of fish!)

Other than just trying to get to St. John to enjoy ourselves, we had to get here because we had some family coming to meet us, first my [Isaac’s] mother, and then Molly’s parents. Using the knowledge gained on our jeepny / safari bus excursion across St. Thomas, we were familiar with the ferry options and how to get to the airport. So, shortly after reaching St. John, it was back to St. Thomas to meet my mom. The Charlotte Amalie-to-St. John trip that we had done over the course of two days took just 40 minutes in a high speed ferry.

The view from Sage Mountain

The view from Sage Mountain

One thing my mom wanted to do while visiting the US Virgin Islands was visit the British Virgin Islands, so one day, along with me and Danica we took a ferry over to Tortola for the day. In the US we are used to expecting most places other than the post office or banks to be open during all regular daylight hours. In Tortola, they still close pretty much the whole island down on Sundays. Oops! We wandered around town fruitlessly for a bit, unable to get into the botanical gardens, or pretty much any shops or restaurants. So we took a taxi to the top of Sage Mountain, the highest point in the Virgin Islands (US or British), and had some excellent banana smoothies prepared by an eccentric British man who runs a restaurant up there (thank goodness he was open, because his shop was also the only source of trail maps to the peak). Next, an eccentric taxi driver drove us back down while playing for us in his van a DVD film recording of a BVI concert he’d attended. This, along with the driving winding the serpentine roads that snake around the coast just feet above water level was pretty unique. Overall, the Tortola visit wasn’t what we’d expected, but in spite of this (or because of?), it was quite memorable.

Isaac, Danica, and Jennifer in front of the windmill ruins at Annaberg

Isaac, Danica, and Jennifer in front of the windmill ruins at Annaberg

One day we decided to make a circuit of St. John, visiting the Annaberg sugar plantation ruins, then Coral Bay (St. John’s other town, on the southeast end), and then back to Cruz Bay. Taking a taxi on St. John is not the same as in the US. Taxis are all large safari-style trucks, and the drivers like to wait until they have a group all going to the same place (since fares are per person). A crowd of taxi drivers was waiting around the ferry dock in Cruz Bay, but when we asked for someone to take us to Annaberg, no one wanted to do it, and it nearly started some arguments about who would get stuck with us. Finally, someone did start driving us out of town, only to pull over just a few minutes later and pass us off to a different passing taxi coming from the opposite direction. However, when we finally got to the ruins, it was worth it, because the Anaberg sugar mill was great. We saw the ruins of a windmill, a horse mill, and the sugar processing buildings. A park interpreter showed us how coral had been used as a building material by the Danish, and not only explained the history of the sugar economy on St. John, but also what it is like to live there in the present day. We ate some traditional dum bread prepared on site, and got to smell or eat examples of local plantation food from the gardener (sugar cane, lychee, bay rum leaves, and coconut).

Some vampire tombs hidden in the St. John woods

Some vampire crypts hidden in the St. John woods

Our taxi adventures were not over yet. Coral Bay is a bit beyond Annaberg, but the drivers don’t like to go that way, and one driver advised us that we would wait a month before finding someone to do it. One did pick us up, but then it turned out that he was conducting an island tour, and the group (and now us as well) was getting taken to the Cinnamon Bay beach / campgrounds to have lunch. We skipped out at this point and were taken to Coral Bay, where we had our lunch. Getting back to Cruz Bay, we flagged a passing safari bus, but it turned out it wasn’t a taxi at all, it was a family from Maine. The rental place had run out of cars and given them this. People had been hailing them down all week. But, they kindly decided to give us a ride back to Cruz Bay anyway.

It was great to have my mom come to visit, and she was not happy to be returning to frigid Minnesota, but the time was up. But next up was a visit from more family escaping the snowy north: Molly’s parents, joining us for the next week (and the next post) from Old Town, Maine.

Koukla chlling in St. John

Koukla chlling in St. John