– St. Thomas –

Today was an interesting day. We started our morning with our usual run, though we left even earlier than yesterday. It was just cloudy enough this morning to block the sun until we finished with our run. The clouds were disappearing and the sun was climbing over the hill just as we were finishing up and preparing to walk down into our neighborhood, Frenchtown.

Our first adventure of the morning didn’t open until 9am, so we took our time lounging around in the hotel room, having breakfast, showering, and generally relaxing. It’s kind of fun not having to go as fast as you can and hop in the car immediately to head off to your next destination for the trip, like we usually do. Don’t get me wrong- I’m ready to go back to that, it’s just that this can be fun too.

Caribbean Reef Encounter, Coral World

We had three cruise ships in the harbor this morning, so I was especially glad we were heading across the island for our entertainment. Three cruise ships would make for a very full Charlotte Amalie, especially since the whole island is only 32 square miles. They have stickers here for their cars that say you’re never more than 8 miles from the beach. The people that live here also seem to live under the impression that it’s a long drive between towns. I guess it’s all about perspective. We haven’t used quite half of our tank of gas, and we leave this island for the 20-square-mile St. John tomorrow.

In any event, just a few minutes shy on 9am, we hopped into our car and drove off up the now-familiar road over the montain and down past St. Thomas towards the Frydendal area, which is where our major stop for the morning is located. Today, we went to Coral World Ocean Park. It’s not something we would usually do, but it is relatively inexpensive for what it is ($20 a person), and they seem to take their duty to protect the animals they keep very seriously.

A diver feeding the sting ray

Coral world’s exhibits use water pumped in from the bay right next to the park to fill their exhibits. The water cycles continuously, meaning that fresh water from the ocean crosses through each exhibit and back out into the sea daily. The park houses only local species of wildlife, so as not to potentially contaminate the bay with non-local fauna when the water cycles back out into the ocean. Many of their animals are rescues or juveniles that will eventually be released back into the wild when they are either healthy enough or have reached adulthood. Only animals that cannot be rehabilitated remain in the park, for the most part. I am not sure this holds true for the dolphins and sea lions, but they have separate enclosures of their own.

We arrived at the park around 9:20, and it was still relatively empty at the time. We were able to park right in front, and the parking lot was quite small, so I was glad to see that we were so early. We bought our tickets and then put our free parking permit in our car before entering the park. We were marked with wristbands to indicate what we had signed up for that day- just general admission. The park has a number of other entertainments, including sea lion and dolphin interactions (basically ways to take closer photos with your kids), SNUBA (which is a type of diving similar to SCUBA but your air is supplied from the surface, so beginners can do it), ocean treks, and some feeding encounters for the birds and whatnot.

The observatory tower

Coral World has a bunch of scheduled activities throughout the day for visitors to watch, so you don’t have to just wander around the park alone, as it is relatively small. As soon as we arrived, we were told that the first animal feeding was happening in about 10 minutes over at the Reef Encounter, and if we wanted to see it, we should head that way. Since they had a program of feedings that lasted most of the morning, we decided to follow the schedule until we got tired of it.

In the Reef Encounter, which is the largest aquarium in the park at 80,000 gallons, we watched a diver feed dozens of fish small chunks of other fish. Another park employee stood in the building with us and explained what was going on and talked a lot about the park and the animals in the tanks. In the photo with the diver above, you can see him interacting with a sting ray. That particular sting ray is what they called, “non-neurotypical,” and he cannot be released back into the wild. My takeaway from her description was that the little fella isn’t totally right in the head, and he would make an easy meal for a predator. The diver definitely put the food directly in front of his mouth, too, which he didn’t do for the other animals. Poor dumb sting ray.

Green sea turtle

The reef encounter also includes three or four juvenile nurse sharks, which are still quite small. They will be released from the park when they reach about four feet in length, as that signifies that they’ve reached adulthood and are not as likely to become any easy dinner for something else. The diver used a paddle and a net for a demonstration of the training their nurse sharks receive. Because they require frequent veterinary attention, the sharks are trained to swim into the net and touch the paddle with their nose to receive a fish treat. This allows the sharks to be captured easily and with less stress later on, when it is time for a visit with the vet. Pretty cool.

After enjoying the reef encounter, we followed the map and the schedule over to the sea turtle encounter area, where we got to watch the same diver guy (though no longer in dive gear) and another employee feed their sea turtles. These sea turtles are both incorrectly shaped, which makes them inappropriate for release. They are also both girls, and both Green sea tutles. Green sea turtles are so named because the fat inside their body is green-colored, thanks to their diet of mostly leafy green plants.

Dolphin jump

We were told that they normally eat sea grass in the wild, but because sea grass is endangered, it is illegal to harvest and can’t be farmed, so instead they feed the animals regular vegetables that amount to the nutritional equivalent of the sea grass. They had mostly lettuce and broccoli with a couple of tomatoes thrown in for color while we watched. I made fun of Mark about swimming with them, since the last time we saw sea turtles of this size, he was out swimming on a beach in Hawaii when one swam right into him and he squealed in surprise. He didn’t sound like he wanted to go for round two today.

The next event on the schedule was the dolphin interaction, which was in a brand new pool out on their docks. They had floating docks and a large enclosure that was just lowered into the ocean right there in the bay, so the dolphins were essentially swimming in regular ocean water. The dolphin exhibit is very new. From what I can tell, it’s been created since the last major hurricanes came through here in 2017. They still have some damage from Irma for sure, and maybe Maria as well? I saw a sign that talked about it a little, but I can’t recall which of the other Atlantic hurricanes that year would’ve done damage here. It was the same year Harvey hit Houston, at any rate. Coral World’s major gift shop is curently being remodeled or repaired, and I can’t help but wonder if that is hurricane-related as well.

What a view!

It was a good little trek out to the dolphin area, and there was no shade, though it looks like they are going to install some awnings eventually. That part of the park really hasn’t been open for long at all. Two dolphin trainers were already in the water with two dolphins, practicing tricks and feeding the dolphins tons of tiny fish. The trainers talked for a few minutes, immediately making it clear that they would never force the dolphins to perform. If one of the dolphins doesn’t come up while the presentation is going on, they just get to stay out wherever they want. Generally, since the motivation is food, I imagine that they come up most of the time. The trainers were super sweet with their dolphins, and the training seemed to be a lot like training dogs, save for the whistle they used to communicate.

We watched a couple of little kids go down to pet the dolphins, watched tricks for about fifteen minutes, then finally got to see a dolphin leap up and out of the water at the very end of the little show. It was neat, and that doesn’t seem to be a trick they ask for often. Most tricks involved swimming back and forth to the trainers, or vocalizing, or things like sitting up in the water or shaking their heads. Overall it was a nice little show, and we both enjoyed it. It was probably the best part of Coral World.

The sea trek from the underwater observatory

From there, we decided to skip the next couple of animals feedings (the iguanas and the macaws) and venture out on our own. The park isn’t giant, but it does have several exhibits. We went over to the Observatory Tower, where you can take a set of stairs down into a room that is underwater. It was empty when we got there, since so many people were out watching the other animal feedings.

We spent some time checking out all of the fish we could see down there before more people started coming in behind us. It was neat. We saw a very large number of fish and sea anemones and various other small ocean creatures. We didn’t see anything overly large, but that’s probably why so many smaller animals were still hanging around.

Rainbow lorikeet

The observatory tower is also where people do the sea trek, which is a diving system where a diver wears a sort of helmet apparatus to dive under the ocean without the need for SCUBA training. Coral World has a path for the people to take to walk around out there under the water. It’s actually kind of funny to watch. They look like aliens with poor motor control out there.

After the observatory, we did the touch pool, where we were able to handle some of the less intelligent sea life. These included a sea cucumber, a starfish, and a couple of anemonies. They all feel very strange under your hands. With that finished, we did the little nature trek that took us back to the area where they kept their tortoises and iguanas, though the iguanas are free within the park and can leave at any time. The tortoises have an enclosure.

So many iguanas

Because they had been fed recently and were looking for more handouts, the tortoises “stampeded” over to the side of their enclosure when we arrived, which was adorable. You haven’t lived until you’ve had six or more turtles all bearing down on you at barely a crawl. Such determination. Unfortunately we didn’t have any food for them, so they wasted all that energy they used to “hurry” over to us for nothing.

Similarly, the iguanas were all bunch together where they had just been fed, and watched us with keen interest, though they didn’t move from their perches to come towards us. They were a little more reserved in their admiration. Of course, we didn’t feed them, either, so they eventually got tired of us. Prior to today, we’ve only seen one iguana on the island at all, and it was on a guard rail along the road, and we didn’t get a photo, and Mark didn’t even get to see it. We were so excited to see the one in the parking lot when we arrived that we spent a few minutes photographing him alone. Little did we know, later we would meet a whole tribe. In fact, the place was so infested with iguanas that Mark almost stepped on one just hanging out in the path.

Veggie Plus Lunch

We finished up with the lorikeets and the macaws. The lorikeets were tiny and brightly colored, and to visit, you just walk into their enclosure. You could purchase food for them for $3, and that made the lorikeets perch on your hand to eat. We didn’t bother buying any food, since we weren’t too keen on holding birds, but it was fun to watch them interacting with people and fluttering around their enclosure. We were told not to step on the rocks, since each lorikeet had its own rock, and that was its territory. Apparently they get aggressive if you touch their rock. I wonder what a lorikeet attack would look like. Hopefully nothing like a magpie attack.

The macaws were not as exciting. Thye would have been out of their enclosure during the feeding, but since we hadn’t really planned to see that, they were put away once more when we visited them. Macaws are huge, in case you were wondering. Our final goal was to see the sea lions, but it was pretty hot, the sea lion area wasn’t air-conditioned, and we would’ve had to wait a little longer for the show. Since we were otherwise finished with the park, we decided to head on. Sea lions aren’t that exciting anyway, and they aren’t native. We can see sea lions anywhere.

Mark’s artsy photo of his Ting grapefruit soda

We left Coral World and briefly considered going to the beach right next to it, which is called Coki Beach, but in the end we decided we were too hungry and too hot to bother with the beach that early in the day, so we drove into St. Thomas for lunch. Since we enjoyed Veggie Plus so much the other day, we decided to go again, since they do a different set of vegetarian dishes every day.

Today’s vegetarian options were curried tofu, vegetarian scallops, and something that had vegan sausages in it. I can’t do vegan sausage, so we went with curried tofu, rice, and scallops. We had learned from our last meal there and decided to just share a plate, since one each was way more than I could eat and Mark should eat. It was a much more reasonable portion. It was still delicious, but not as wonderful as the barbecue tofu we had on Sunday. Man that stuff was good. Maybe they will have it again when we come back through next Sunday on our way to the airport.

Hull Bay Beach

After lunch, we stopped by the local Kmart and the big grocery store in St. Thomas. We needed a tiny cooler for our outing tomorrow, as we have a few cold foods that we want to take with us. I have a feeling everything is more expensive in St. John, since it has a smaller population and is even more remote. We picked up a handful of replacement groceries as well, so we should be at least partially stocked. I’m sure we will have to go to a grocery store on St. John, too. They have even fewer restaurants than St. Thomas.

When we finished, we drove back to our hotel to spend the hottest part of the day indoors. It’s kind of fun to do things this way. We didn’t take a nap today, which is a little surprising. So far Mark has had one every day, and I took one once. There’s something wonderful about sleeping while it is incredibly hot outside. I get why they do siestas in Spain. After a couple of hours, we ventured out again to try to visit a beach.

We went across the island to Hull Bay Beach, which turned out to be a little rockier than we wanted it to be. We waded in the water and looked around, but didn’t do too much swimming. Locally it was quite windy on that side of the island, and it was a little cloudy, so we didn’t have any trouble with the heat. The beach was quiet and pretty, so the rocks didn’t end up bothering us too much at all. I’m glad we went, even if it wasn’t exactly what we expected.

Downtown Charlotte Amalie

After our beach visit, we drove back to Charlotte Amalie to look for dinner. The vegan restaurant that we have been trying to visit for a couple of days was closed again. Yesterday it was closed for a kitchen problem, and today it had either closed early, or never opened. They didn’t have a sign up about it, so we don’t know what happened. The store hours on a lot of the places here are lies.

We ended up back at the grocery store picking out our dinner, which suited me just fine. Buying too many meals out is expensive and usually less healthy. Tomorrow we are off to St. John, which I am quite looking forward to. We still have time to run and everything, as the ferry only takes about 20 minutes. I hope I don’t get sea sick.

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