– St. John –

Today is day seven, and our second full day on St. John. The trip is only nine days long, so we really are winding things down. It’s Friday, so this is probably our last truly peaceful day, since more people will likely be out and about tomorrow, since it the weekend. Sunday will likely be similar, especially once we go back to St. Thomas. Still, no cruise ships come on Sundays, so it will at least only be locals, and not so many tourists.

We started our day today at 5am, as usual, and got dressed to run. It wasn’t as overcast for our run today, which made it slightly less pleasant, but not completely terrible. I hope it’s cloudier tomorrow and Sunday morning. It’s amazing what the clouds do for the heat. We made it up our hilly run and back down again without too much whining, though we each voiced a complaint on occasion. Hill running is not my favorite thing.

Cinnamon Bay

After our run, we followed our same routine from yesterday. We cooled off, had breakfast, and then packed for the beach. Mark likes Cinnamon Bay so much that we think it will just be our morning beach for the duration of the trip (though of course we won’t have time to go on Sunday). The drive to our beach this morning was pleasant, despite the disappointing lack of clouds. The sun infringes upon our beach vacation. Isn’t that a little funny?

We made it to the beach around 7:45am, and today, we were not alone. A person and a child were camped even further down the beach from us already when we arrived, but we didn’t bother each other, so it didn’t much matter. We donned our rash guards and hats and had a good time playing around in the ocean.

Cinnamon Bay Beach

While we were out swimming, we spotted a little herd of deer traipsing across the beach. There were six deer in the first batch, and they dipped out from the trees lining the beach and wandered along for a few minutes before startling themselves somehow and jumping back into the trees.

The deer here are truly tiny, looking more like small dogs than other deer we’ve seen, especially out west. The deer are whitetails, which were imported for some guy and his guests to hunt in the 1920s. According to the St. John Tradewinds newspaper, the deer have been pretty harmful to the local plant life. They eat way more vegetation than any native species would do. They are particularly dangerous to mangroves, which are an important part of the local ecology. It’s a little sad that something so tiny and cute can be such a nuisance.

Two tiny beach deer

After we finally emerged from the ocean to dry off a little in the already warm air, a few more deer emerged from the trees a small distance from our picnic table. They were standing next to another picnic table down the beach, and I think that the picture above, of the two deer next to the table, really gives you a good idea of just how tiny they are. Those aren’t babies- they’re adult deer.

They didn’t run off immediately, so we got several pictures of them. It’s too bad they are an invasive species; they look great out there on the beach. Both mornings when we’ve arrived at Cinnamon Bay we’ve seen tons of deer tracks along the beach. I wonder what draws them out onto the sand. The water isn’t drinkable, and there’s nothing to eat. Mark suggested that maybe the beach is the path of least resistance. I can see not wanting to slog my way through the rainforest here.

Uphill: What most of the roads look like here

Once we’d dried off sufficiently, we drove back to our hotel to get a shower and get dressed for the day. We knew we had a few more roads to drive and a couple of ruins to visit, and we wanted to walk into town to see the shops, we just had to decide which one to do today.

In the end, we decided today we would go look around Cruz Bay to see if any of their little shops held anything of interest to us. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy at all to park in Cruz Bay, and even if you can find parking, it costs to park. We aren’t that far from town, but we are just far enough to making walking in annoying when there are so many hills.

Walking through the jungle cutoff into Cruz Bay

After our shower, we took the little jungle path into town that the owner of our hotel had suggested, since it is a shortcut compared to going the long way around on the roads. The path goes back through some greenery, then cuts through a woman’s yard (like, right by her windows and such), so the path is only operational around 7:30am-5:00pm. Otherwise, she doesn’t want anyone traipsing through her yard in the dark, and I can’t blame her.

Despite the “shortcut,” there’s a big hill on the other end of the jungle trail, which sucks just as much as taking the long way around would have. I don’t see the benefit of the shorter path at all, considering. I trust the proprietor of this hotel quite a bit less than the man back on St. Thomas. This lady isn’t particularly nice or pleasant. She just pretends to be.

Boats at anchor, Cruz Bay

In any event, we made it into town eventually, and we walked through several of the touristy gift shops along the way. The town may be small, but more than half the businesses cater to the tourists. I bet its really frustrating to live here and have to worry about how you’re going to get to the grocery store or something when the parking lot is always swamped with rental Jeeps. I’m glad Denton is a boring place, where tourists never go.

Anyway, most of the shops sell island-themed clothing, seashells, and T-shirts, as you might expect. One sold tea, coffee, and spices, but none of the things in the shop were really unique to St. John, so I’m not sure exactly what the point of the shop was. It was clear the items were meant to be souvenirs, especially given the prices, but I’m not entirely sold on why anyone would buy that stuff here. And how do they get it all home? USPS?

Gift shop in town

One particular shop had snorkeling gear for rent, and we really considered renting some, considering it was only $5 for a snorkel and mask for 24 hours, but we didn’t want to carry the stuff around while we shopped, so we decided we would come back. The shop was right on the way back, after all.

A little further on, we ducked into a gift shop that sold things like platters and glass Christmas ornaments and wine glasses. I really almost need to know how people who buy this stuff get it home. Does it even ship well? It’s not like you can pack a small glass table whose legs are covered with sea turtles in your checked luggage, and it doesn’t look sturdy enough to survive being shipped. Maybe they just sell that stuff to the people trying to accessorize their villas for the visiting tourists?

A slice of town

Anyway, we ended up buying Ripley a pirate bandana, because it was too cute to pass up, and didn’t cost much. I don’t think the gift will make her forget that we left her for more than a week, though. And then when we get home, we’ll only be home for about 3 weeks before we have to leave her again. She’s not going to be happy with me come Monday, let alone the next time we leave her.

After the shop with the dog bandana, we were boiling hot out in the sun, since the day was getting on. It was probably the most time we’ve spent out in the sun without our rashguards on. At least we had our hats. We took the long way around back to our hotel, since the shortcut required a hill hike and a stuffy walk through the bushes. Unfortunately, that means we forgot to stop and get our snorkeling stuff, so I guess we will have to do without going snorkeling this trip. I think Mark’s a little sad, so we will see if we can find somewhere else online tonight.

Peace Hill windmill ruin

Once we made it back to the hotel, we were too hot to move for almost half an hour. Finally, after we felt like we could brave the outside again, we drove back into town to grab some sandwiches for lunch and a few groceries to last us the rest of the trip. It’s hard to judge exactly what you will eat in such a short period of time. At least the high prices make us careful about buying too much. Those baby carrots are too expensive to throw away if we don’t finish them!

We brought our sandwiches back to the room to have lunch, then lounged around the hotel room in the AC to while away the hottest part of the day. When about 3:30 rolled around, we started packing up to go to the beach and do a little hike up to some ruins. We’re trying to get the last few ruins we are missing, though I’ve discovered from Google that at least one set is on private property, so we won’t get to see those at all. At least they weren’t the coolest ones.

Peace Hill Overlook

We drove out to the ruins at Peace Hill, which mostly consist of some earthwork and the remains of another windmill used for crushing sugar cane to extract the juice. It’s a little hike up the hill to the ruins, but it isn’t far at all, and since the path is mostly shady, we didn’t get even a little warm making our way to the top. It was a nice change from earlier in the day.

The view from the Peace Hill ruins is amazing. On one side, you can see Hawksnest Beach, though we couldn’t take any photos in that direction thanks to the sun. On the other side is one of the private beaches, which is just as beautiful. You can see a lot of the coast from up there, as well as several of the other islands. It was well worth the little climb to make it to the top.

Mark taking silly photos for Google

The plantation at Peace Hill was actually called Denis Bay, and the windmill tower has been standing for more than 300 years. I totally get why they would want a windmill up there. It is quite windy. What I do wonder though, is how they got the sugar cane juice down from the hill. Did the processing happen up there too and the other ruins are just gone? It’s like a little puzzle, and without signs, it is hard to say what’s true.

On our way back down, we spotted some hermit crabs climbing up the hill. I can’t imagine where they were going, but they were certainly determined. We saw a total of three, one as small as my thumbnail. I guess hermit crabs don’t really live in the ocean, but can they survive that far from water? I really have no idea. We took some pictures and left them alone to complete our drive to our second beach of the day: Maho Bay.

Hermit Crab heading uphill

Maho Bay is one of the reasons we’d thought about renting snorkels. It is famous for its sea turtles, though we were told that the turtles were typically only around in the morning when we visited the national park visitor center the other day. We were surprised to spot about 10 turtles total during our trip to Maho Bay.

The turtles are smaller than the ones we saw in Hawaii, but the water is clearer and the sand is white beneath, making them a little more visible. They are easiest to spot when their little heads break the water’s surface for air. We were very excited to see them, and spent our whole time at the beach turtle-watching. We also encountered some large fish, and some tiny fish, swimming around us in schools. It was the most ocean life we’ve seen on any of the beaches so far. The man next to us said he’d seen a small shark in the water, but we didn’t really believe him, and we knew that we’d see it coming if there was, since the water was so clear.

Maho Beach

We packed up and made it back to the hotel sometime after 6pm. For dinner tonight, we had breakfast. I cooked some fried eggs with only a thick wooden spatula for flipping, and we baked some premade biscuits. We had the last of our cantaloupe with it. It was a good dinner, and took a little less time than last night’s dinner, though that did taste better. The leftover biscuits will be a good breakfast for tomorrow.

Tomorrow we will be driving the last roads that we’ve missed on the island and visiting a couple of more ruins. Other than that, this Virgin Islands trip is winding down. As always, I’m ready. I really am starting to miss my bed and my dog.

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