Our first port after one night on our cruise ship was the island of St. Thomas. We docked a couple of miles from Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands. St. Thomas is one of the territory's four principal islands.
Where Puerto Rico's capital city San Juan was bathed in sherbet-y hues, the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands was splashed with bold, bright primary colors--crayon colors.
A Dutch-style windmill is not the first thing that I expected to see on St. Thomas, but since coming home I have learned that the Danes who were the original conquerors of St. Thomas established sugar cane plantations here in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The fields were worked by convicts and slaves, and windmills were built to press the sugar from the harvested stalks. Ruins of 150 windmills are strewn about the Virgin Islands, with just four on St. Thomas. This one at the port is a reproduction.
Of all our ports, this was the only one where we had booked a cruise ship excursion, and since we had to wait around a bit for our departure time, we strolled through some of the open shops. I wish we had bought a "Don't Mess with Bob" t-shirt:
We had time to pose for some pictures:
Rome has its cats, Athens has its dogs, Seal Beach has its seals, and St. Thomas (and most of the places we went in the Caribbean) has its fancy chickens wandering around the public places:
But even better than chickens, St. Thomas has its iguanas, dozens of them, sunning themselves on the rocks next to the dock:
Like human hair, the fringe along the back seems to be unique to each critter:
One iguana had the temerity to venture up onto the sidewalk. We certainly weren't going to tell him he couldn't. He looks like he is wearing war paint, doesn't he? He could be straight out of a science fiction story or a fantasy novel:
Soon it was time to say good-bye to the iguanas and get on the boat that would take us to the smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands: St. John, just east of St. Thomas and snuggled up against the border between the U.S. and British Virgin Islands:
|Map from here|
We picked up a few additional passengers in the city of Charlotte Amalie, the capital and largest city of the U.S. Virgin Islands:
We were on a fairly large boat, but it was a long and very bumpy ride against the current, and after 45 minutes of up and down action, I was not at my best.
I was trying a new anti-nausea drug called Nauzene that I'd read about on a blog about cruising (having already tried Dramamine, Bonine, and the prescription patch with varying degrees of success), but it didn't work very well for me. Bonnie had some Bonine that I took towards the end of the ride, and that helped a little bit.
We disembarked in Cruz Bay and got on a bus that took us along a very scenic road to Trunk Bay.
St. John is pretty small--19.5 square miles--and 60% of the island is a national park and protected from future development. The view out our windows as we drove was spectacular:
Then Trunk Bay came into view. WOW. Could this be real?
When we got to Trunk Bay, we were given a short lecture about some underwater markers that form a snorkeling trail, shown in the diagram below.
|Image from here|
We were also told not to step on the coral, not to swim to the other side of the cay, and so on. Then we were given snorkeling equipment and turned loose.
The cay, which is surrounded by a reef and has the best snorkeling in the bay, is only about 30 yards from the beach. The water ranges from 8 to 16 feet deep and is very clear.
Looking the other direction:
It was fun to see a world-class beach, but I have to say that it wasn't world-class snorkeling. It was okay, but not great. Make the trip to Trunk Bay for the views and for the beach itself, but don't expect great views underwater.
Also, a word about food: I needed a little food in my still queasy stomach, so after an hour or more of swimming, I got in line behind about fifteen people at a snack shop right off the beach. Between waiting in line and then waiting for my order, it took over 45 minutes to get some nachos. Granted, they were above average nachos (loaded with not just cheese sauce, but also tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, and onions), but they were not worth such a long wait. If you plan to visit Trunk Bay, take your own snacks.
On the other hand, a positive aspect of the visit to Trunk Bay was the nice scuba equipment that was part of the deal. The gear was efficiently distributed, clean, and in great shape. It was easy to pick up and return. Considering the number of people the beach management people service every day, that's impressive.
The bus took us back to the boat, which took us back to St. Thomas and our cruise ship. The ride back was faster and smoother--certainly faster and smoother than it would be riding in a rubber boat being pulled by a pirate ship:
After getting back, we had a little time and decided to take a cab to Charlotte Amalie, two miles away. It was very disappointing--just block after block of cruise ship tourism, mostly jewelry shops--although we did find one pretty good chocolatier.
Next up: Saint Kitts