Saturday, 25 March 2023, Cruz Bay, St. John
The rule is spelled out in large print, right at the top of the National Park pamphlet: "Time is something to be ignored when you visit Virgin Islands... Forget about trying to cram too many things into your visit. Ignore this advice and you will depart less enriched than those who have made a successful transition to island time."
As I sat eating breakfast in the open-air courtyard, I felt the slightest hint of water droplets on my head and arms. A minute later, more drops. I looked up to see the sky mostly blue, with only a few clouds dotting the firmament - including one directly above us. A glance to my side revealed a brilliant rainbow arcing across the sky.
Fantastic. Maybe it's an omen that my struggles to get the island to kowtow to my wishes will fade away...
Or maybe the island is just flexing its muscles, showing me its power, reminding me it's still in charge.
Lack of cell service - I could only use WiFi calling at the Inn - kept me chained to my room, waiting for Arawak's callback. As the clock slipped past 8:40, though, I opted for a more aggressive approach. If I took the ten-minute walk down to Arawak's store, maybe I can slip in on their 9:00 tour... Unfortunately, the door posted their hours as 10:00-5:00. Back to my room to wait for the call.
An hour later, I tried the same tack. This time, the shop was open. "Do you have space on the 10:00 or 1:00 tours?" I asked.
"Sorry, we're taking the day off from tours today," the clerk said. "It's been crazy here with Spring Break week, and we're frazzled. Besides, a rip current has really stirred things up in the last couple days, hurting the visibility."
She must have seen the disappointment in my face, for she quickly added that I could check with Island Adventures two doors down, since they run many of the same tours. I did, and they gave me the same disappointing news: no North Shore tours until Tuesday. I then trudged back to Arawak to ask about renting a kayak and paddling to Honeymoon Beach. The clerk called the owner, and replied that he could have a kayak at the beach for me by 11:00.
The key, I soon realized, was asking the correct question. Before I agreed to the rental, I asked, "I know that much of the island is protected by coral reefs, which calms the water in the bays. When I exit Cruz Bay and round the point, while I be in open waters?"
She nodded. "Yes, that is open water and waves. Plus, there's a rip current advisory in effect right now. I was paddling in it yesterday, and it was NOT fun." She paused, then added, "If it were me, I wouldn't go. Especially since you're a solo paddler. But if you still want to go, we can get that kayak ready for you."
I declined, and made my way back to my room yet again. Along the way, I saw posters for other activities with potential: a SNUBA (cross between SCUBA and snorkel, which I'd never heard of) tour, or getting out on a sailboat. It didn't take long for Google to give me the lowdown - no SNUBA till next week, and for a sail, you needed to charter a boat for your group. I couldn't even find a sunset or dinner cruise to sign up for!
Down to my last idea. In the chain of emails I'd exchanged with Lucy regarding my SUP lesson, she had mentioned that a single beach in the park had kayaks available for rent there. Where in this long chain... there! Maho Bay. A quick Google search revealed that it also had hawksbill turtles! Success! The kayak vendor didn't answer their phone, so I assumed they wouldn't run out, and headed down to catch a taxi.
A word about island transit: for those wishing to drive, Cruz Bay several rent-a-Jeep companies that will rent you wheels (multi-day rentals only). But the roads here are hairy - steep, twisty, no shoulders. The steep, sharp switchbacks are so bad that if two taxis meet coming from opposite directions, one must wait for the other to make the turn.
The taxi system provides the alternative. We're not talking Yellow Cab or Uber - the taxis are like a motorized surrey, open-air, covered carts seating a dozen or more people.
When you approach a taxi stand (such as at the ferry pier), someone will direct you to the next taxi heading your direction. Climb on, and when it's full enough, they take off. A posted fare schedule for the island specifies a point-to-point cost for each passenger (unless you're the only one, in which case you'll pay more).
I hopped on the North Shore Beaches taxi, with stops at Trunk Bay and Cinnamon Bay enroute to Maho Bay.
At the beach, my luck held - Marlee had several Ocean Kayaks available, though she put me in a double (no singles on hand). Carry it across the road, apply my sunscreen, and dip it in the water.
My mind immediately thought back to last month on Maui's Kaanapali Beach, watching the man struggle to launch his double kayak (with wife on board) into the surf, going topsy-turvy several times. Learning from his mistakes, I aimed due into the waves, readied myself - and a good Samaritan ran up to give me an extra push to get underway. Clean start!
Marlee said people have seen turtles all along the bay, but that they congregated more on the right end. I slowly paddled that direction, heading toward snorkelers,
watching and waiting. At the far end, I drifted back and forth, paddling lightly. After a few minutes, I said, "Okay, Island, I'm here. Trying to take it easy, sync to Island Time. Could use just a little help."
The island replied, "Look to your right."
There, coming up for air, was a majestic hawksbill turtle. Whoa! By the time I could get my phone out, he had gone back under, so no picture. but for the next ten minutes, I noticed several more, usually a ways away, but one up close (but not enough warning to get a shot). Finally I left my phone out of my pocket, secured in my lap for easy access. Then I saw a blob from below, rising for a breath. Grabbed my camera, waited for it to surface, and click! Got it.
Oh, but the Island hadn't yet forgiven me. Due to the glare on the phone's screen, I was shooting blind, hoping for the best. Checking photos later, there was no turtle in the frame. Have to cherish the shot in my memory. But here's an Arawak picture of one.
I stayed on the water for two hours, letting the tranquility wash over me, the ocean's motion rocking me. This must be the Island Time the park pamphlet touted. Drifting, floating, swaying. Many kids were snorkeling, seeing the underwater world. At one point a girl called out, "Rachel! Over here! I found a stingray!" I drifted close by, but couldn't get an angle to see it. Still, seeing them frolic kindled my enthusiasm to snorkel next week at Biscayne.
With two hours gone, I returned the kayak, and caught the next bus heading toward town. With ample time on my hands, though, I hopped off at Trunk Bay, which a brochure touted as being one of the world's ten most beautiful beaches. How could I visit the isles and not see one of the world's most beautiful?
Of course, such a claim is HIGHLY subjective. I Googled it, and it indeed showed up on the first Top Ten list I examined. Several other lists, however, had whole different sets of beaches. Personally, after my first view of it - with the assorted other islets sparkling in the distance - I couldn't argue against it.
I walked the beach from end
wriggling my toes in the sand, looking at flotsam and jetsam washed to shore,
watching the waves roll in. A nice encore for my final full day here.
Convinced that the Island and I had reached an accommodation, I finally hopped on a taxi back to Cruz Bay. At the vendor booths, I haggled for a trinket, watched the roosters and chicks scurry about,
and chatted with a few vendors. One man carefully read the words on my tee shirt: "Never underestimate an old man on a bike. Nice! I should have a shirt made up - Never underestimate an old man on a ukulele! Ha!" he said, as he picked up his instrument and plinked away on a tune.
5:30. Time for the restaurants to open up for their Saturday night festivities. I'd already checked one out, and my tastebuds were salivating over the treat to come: Morgan's Mango had Vegetarian Coconut Paella on the menu. I couldn't resist! or wait, so I was first in line minutes before they opened. "Table for one for dinner, please!"
When he realized I had no reservation, the host replied, "I'm so sorry, sir. We're completely booked up for the night."
Darn. The Island just had to whip me one more time...