To the edge of the moon, and beyond!
This morning, a few of us awoke to another spectacular run up the hill of doom, and back down to watch the sun break over the mountains. Breakfast awoke the rest of us to the smell of fresh eggs, bacon, toast and fruit. Unlike the day before where we meandered in the morning, we packed up our lunches and hit the road towards Coral Bay. We rode past large herds of sheep and beautiful roosters as we made our way up the twisty roads to our destination.
Our car’s stopped at the Reef Bay Trail, which takes travelers down to the Reef Bay as well as the Reef Bay Plantation and Sugar Mill. The trail dropped us 937 feet in a little over 2 miles through beautiful old growth forests. Here we saw Kapok trees and Sandbox trees. The Sandbox tree, or “Monkey No Climb” tree, is notoriously prickly with sharp spines protruding from its bark.
Throughout our journey down, we came across scattered ruins dated back to the plantation era on the island. The trail led us past slave quarters and the remains of sugar mills. It was sobering to realize to realize that the ruins we came across were constructed and maintained by people who had been severed from their homes and enslaved in the foreign environment of St. John.
Besides the ruins of old plantations, we experienced a magic held within the tranquil pool of the petroglyphs. These petroglyphs are the only record of the Taino people who inhabited the island before the Europeans. In planning, we had decided to sketch some of the petroglyphs and analyze them as a group. However, we arrived to find the National Park Service surveying the petroglyphs. Staying out of their way, we sat down at the base of the pool and began to eat our 1st lunch. Shortly afterwards, one of the rangers came over to tell us about his theories on the meanings of the petroglyphs and the rituals of the Taino people (who had no written history…just saying).
As the sun grew hot and beat down on us, we continued our walk down to Reef Bay until we reached the Reef Bay Sugar Mill. Here was where the slaves brought the harvested sugar cane to be crushed and boiled down to crude sugar called muscovado. Although no humans live there anymore, many bats have taken up residence in the rafters of the mill. One other thing we noticed was the bathrooms just off to the right. Supposedly they were created after Ladybird Johnson visited and was upset at the lack of proper toilet facilities. Although she donated money to have them installed, she would be very upset at their current condition (the last time they were cleaned was when they were installed…yuck!)
After a drastic change from lush forests to dry scrub-forest, we reached our destination at Reef Bay. It was a time for some to relax, and others collected data in the tranquil grassbeds. Many stones were skipped and even more shrieks of joy were heard upon sighting the reef squids and other interesting fish in the water.
The day drew on unfortunately, and our tired group trudged slowly back to VIERS along the Lameshur Bay Trail. The climb was slow through dry scrub-forests and shade was no where to be found. Our water bottles went from full to almost empty in less than a mile. Even though it was hot, we stumbled upon some amazing views of Reef Bay which enlightened us on how far we had already come up the mountain. And soon enough, we plunged back down the same mountain and once again the biome changed dramatically. After many rocks and roots, Little and Great Lameshur came into our sights similar to a picture taken in a travel magazine. The water blazed blue and the sun warmed the pebble and sand beaches.
While our professors were out retrieving the Jeeps, we were able to take some time off (well, some of us). Some napped the hours away, while others snorkeled and tanned on the beach. It was a very odd feeling, because most of us actually MISSED moving and being active.
Later in the evening, the VIERS staff once again cooked us up a scrumptious dinner which we devoured almost instantly. However this was not the end of our busy day. As the sun sank behind the clouds, we were offered an optional night snorkel at Blue Cobblestone, a beach we visited previously in the week. Almost all opted to go, and we even picked up a few VIERS volunteers along the way. With the sound of the crickets and frogs, our group walked slowly to the beach, unloaded our gear and dived into the silent waters. Lights of red and green were scattered throughout the bay, and were very similar to a misshapen Christmas tree. We saw an octopus and many fish that were unknown even to the veterans.
After the waters were clear of the lights, we sat in silence and stared up at the seemingly infinite sky. Shooting stars were seen glimmering in the moonlight, and we were all staring in awe at their wonder. The moon was spectacular and shone its light on the pebbly beach.
Once again, we hiked back to Salt Pond without the use of artificial light, and somehow through many stumbles and near disasters we made it back safely to our cars. Today may have been one of our busiest days, but in the end we all learned something new and experienced moments we will cherish for a lifetime. We cannot wait to see what tomorrow has in store.
Caleb and Kristin signing off