Archive for February, 2016

Time to Paddle (Or, the Only Time We Regret Skipping Arms Day)

Thursday, February 25,  Do All the Things! (Day 5)

Today was the day we were gonna do ALL THE THINGS with Russ & Anne! First, we were going to kayak out to Cas Cay. Then we were going to hike out to Red Point. And finally we were going to get a geocache! ALL THE THINGS! (Also there may be a cool refreshing beverage involved at some point.) Check out the pic below to see where we were heading.

We set off from the Eco Tours marina where Chad and I rented some bright yellow sit on top kayaks! Like pretty much every day this week, it was a lovely day in Paradise to do anything (or everything) and that includes paddling.

Especially, through and around mangroves. Paddle. Paddle. Paddle. I’d always heard how mangrove swamps are, well, swampy and smelly and rather unpleasant to be in. But these mangroves were not that at all because the water was moving through them. Being in the little mangrove tunnel was lovely and cool and completely relaxing.

The water was amazingly clear which was nifty. At one point Russ pointed out the upside down jelly fish and I could see them clear as day! It was a little weird being able to see the bottom, but not being really sure how deep the water was.

We arrived at (on) Cas Cay – even Ping who spent the trip in a dry sack tethered to my kayak. He might be a flightless water fowl, but I wasn’t taking any risks.

Kayaks safely stashed, Chad and I  watched in amazement as Russ & Anne produced chairs, a cooler, snacks, shoes and tons of other stuff from their kayaks. Man those things hold a lot of stuff! Thus ready, we set out for the hiking portion of the trip!

First stop, the Blow Hole! Super duper cool! (Yes, I know, I’ve said that about pretty much everything down here. But it’s true. Super duper cool. Leave me alone, I’m struggling for modifiers.) The big waves come barreling ashore, making this POP / BLURP noise and BOOM! Water shoots through the blow hole. It really is fun to watch!

Onward and upwards. The trail was not bad at all. Some previous cachers were fussing about it in their logs, but come on people; put on your hiking shoes and deal with it. (Also, read the dang cache page which says, don’t do it in flip flops.) Thanks for the peace-of-mind broomstick, Anne!

It was incredibly windy as we made our way out the trail and we were fortunate to be able to watch a sailboat try really hard to get anywhere…

And a dude set up his kiteboarding kite.  Which, once we saw him in action, looked a little to extreme for my tastes.

As it turns out, Chad had picked his sitting spot appropriate when we arrived. Because when I finally bothered to look at my GPS, I realized he was sitting on it. Or, more accurately, above it. Good job Loyal Sidekick!

Well, time to move on. We headed back down the trail and around the bend and to the hermit crab racing area. You might think I’m kidding. I’m not. And there were hermit crabs EVERYWHERE; including the trees. Yes. In. The. Trees. Which is a place I do not think hermit crabs should be…above me.

We had to make the obligatory stop for Chad to check out the redneck wind chimes that had been loving assembled over time. (Also proof that yes, there are rednecks everywhere.)

After exploring Cas Cay on land, we put on our snorkeling gear – yes, all that was ALSO in Russ & Anne’s kayaks believe it or not! – and walked into the water. The mangrove roots are called fish nurseries and we were not disappointed! Holy moly! Plus we saw another barracuda and the back half of a grouper, so that was super cool. The water, like elsewhere in these parts, was warm and happy and full of surprises, like the trunkfish Anne pointed out.

The kayaking and snorkeling and sun exposure had worn Chad and I down. So we didn’t venture too far afield for dinner, just down to the Hull Bay where we did a little beach walking before food – because it’s there.

Hull Bay Hideaway makes Chad very happy. Especially their refreshing beverages and  coconut cream pie!

Check out the rest of the photos….we took a bunch. As usual, click on the small photo to make it a big photo and see the description.

chris on February 25th 2016 in Geocaching, Travel

It’s Not A Vacation Until the Forced Marching Happens

Wednesday, February 24, A National Park, You Say? (Day 4)

We were up super bright and early because it was super bright, early. And so we thought we may as well head out and catch the early car ferry to St. John.  But first a stop at Drake’s Seat so I could put a pencil in the cache and add some MAGPI pathtags. Gratuitous Jeep photo with the sun just rising.

And the obligatory shot of Magen’s Beach which is so lovely even from above. Later on in the trip, we’ll go after Russ’s cache P3…Picaro Point Prize (GC5PCA2), pretty far out on the point in the photo.

But onward to the car ferry. That was a little adventure in and of itself since there weren’t a lot of instructions involved. We had the lowdown from Russ & Anne, but I was a little weirded out by the lack of signage and overall direction. We knew it would be a cash transaction and we knew Chad would have to back onto the ferry. We also knew the leaving times were more guidelines than hard facts. But hey, it’s the islands! Just roll with it, baby!

I’ve never been on a car ferry before. And with the water a bit choppy, I thought sitting in the Jeep would maybe quell any sea sick urges I might have on the short trip. I’m an idiot. Because I was in a Jeep. Chad decided to hop out to have a look see because someone doesn’t get motion sick like his pathetic wife.

First stop, Virgin Islands National Park HQ. Because if there is a NPS office, you go to the NPS office and talk to the nice folks there and they will help you plan your visit and be all insightful. Also, that’s where I needed to go to get my stamp for my National Park Passport, because yes, I am that dork.

After talking to the NPS ladies, they suggested we hit Reef Bay Trail first before A) the heat hit and B) it got crowded. Both of which seemed fine reasons to hit the trail immediately! And so we headed out to the trailhead parking (aka  wide space on the shoulder of the road).

After the obligatory selfie to prove that we were, in fact, on vacation together. We headed down the trail. The St. John guidebook had described the hike as difficult or strenuous or something similar. Now, having been burnt by hubris last summer when climbing a little mountain called Ben More beat the hell out of me, we were prepared to be taxed. That is to say, we had lots of water and snacks and were ready for the long slog. Because this is what we were hiking. And it wasn’t flat.

Turns out the trail was not bad at all. And, bonus, it was peppered with informational signs! Hooray! I particularly fell in love with this amazing tree. There was just something incredibly impressive about it.

It was amazingly large and cool to the touch. Also, surprisingly smooth, although it didn’t look it. Once again, Chad is used for size reference because otherwise how are you gonna know that the tree is so huge? Enough of me waxing elegantly about the tree, back to the hiking.

And then we stumbled upon this pretty amazing ruin.

As I said, the hike down wasn’t as treacherous or strenuous as the guidebook had suggested. Although with all the dry washes that looked suspiciously like trails, I maybe could see how inexperienced hikers could maybe get led astray. Although to be honest, the NPS was on task with making sure the trail signage was nearly foolproof. We had our GPSr loaded with maps showing the trails, so we knew we were closing in on the trail to the petroglyphs about 3 seconds before this came into view. (Plus, there was a cairn because of course there was.)

The petroglyphs were cool. I was really quite surprised at the variety since all the photos I’d seen were of the same design. Some were really quite weird and balloon head looking. The signage indicated that the carvings were made by the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the island called Taino.

We didn’t have very much further to go before we hit the Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins which were extensive and super cool. And hosted a lot of hermit crabs. A LOT of them.  (You’ll have to check out the gallery at the end of the post because seriously, the ruins were all sorts of cool and we took lots of photos.)

From there it was a hop, skip, and jump and boom! We found ourselves here….

So yeah, pretty spectacular! Plus, the hike down was far, far less terrible than we had been led to believe by the signage. So that’s a bonus! Our hike back up was uneventful and we silently thanked the very nice NPS ladies for suggesting we hit the trail first thing as we passed quite a few folks coming down the trail as we headed back up. It was rather glorious to have the petroglyphs, the ruins, and the beach to ourselves.

Next stop, Skinny Legs, home of wildly delicious burgers & wonderful refreshing drinks.

Plus, you know, it’s super cool and you pretty much have to visit it the place if you’re on St. John.

Fully refreshed and hunger satiated, we headed out to do some snorkeling over at Salt Pond Bay. The trailhead parking was pretty packed, but we managed to get in a snug, muddy spot because, we were driving a jeep (also because we weren’t smart enough to realize that unloaded said jeep while trying NOT to stand in the mud was going to be an issue).  At any rate, .25 of a mile later we scored this  nice little spot to set up shop and hit the water!

The snorkeling was amazing! So much to see! To whit, we saw French Angel, Four Eye Butterfly, HUGE Blue Tangs, (another) Barracuda, Parrot Fish, French Grunt, Fairy Basslet, Squirrelfish, variet of Damsels, and a trunkfish which was amazingly cool and caused me to flail about like an idiot (underwater at least) trying to get Chad’s attention so he could see it. I was successful this time! And sea urchins. And feather dusters and lots of other fish that I couldn’t identify. It was incredible.

Water logged and starting to run low on energy after so much excitement, we decided to head back West and pick up a virtual cache called Caneel Hill (GC372F), which promised a hike of less than a mile but with an elevation gain of 712 feet. Uh, huh. Unless you are smart and read the previous logs where someone gives coords for a spur trail that is only .12 mile from the top. Bingo!

And when you pop up at the top there is a local and his visiting friends and they ask about your hike up, it’s quite fun to say, “Oh no, we parked just .12 of a mile from here and took a little spur trail.” Hahahah, geocaching! The view was spectacular, it really was, all 360 degrees of it. But try as I might by using the mighty googletubes, I never did find out what the ruins at the top used to be. Go figure.

Time to head back to St. Thomas. Unlike our trip over, when the car ferry was maybe 1/2 full, this time it was a wee bit cramped. As such.

We sat up top, lest we succumb to diesel fumes. It was a much nicer trip that way!

Click on the little pics to get full size pics with captions and everything! There are lots of photos of the Reef Bay Sugar Mill and the hoards of hermit crabs having a drink. Plus, you know, lots of photos of beautiful blue water and that sorta thing. Clickty-Click, you know you wanna!

chris on February 24th 2016 in Travel

Wherein We Learn Chad Enjoys Snorkeling

Tuesday, February 23, Why Yes, That Was a Barracuda (Day 3)

Today we ventured out completely unsupervised! But using the great handout provided by our lovely hosts (Deanna, you would be impressed.), we had no problems reaching our destination – Secret Harbor. (It’s not actually that secret, by the way, but it is quite lovely.) It was a great little beach to do some snorkeling. I’d been before, but it was…ahem…maybe 23 years ago. Chad had never snorkeled….and until the last several years, I thought he hated the water. So off we headed to Secret Harbor, which looks like this if you happen to be viewing it from pretty far above.

At any rate, we soon arrived at Secret Harbor which was amazing. (Yes, I know I keep saying amazing and awesome and excellent, but seriously….this place….) How can you not look at that and think, “Wow, amazing”?

Thanks to the hosts with the mosts, we were completely stocked with chairs and snorkel gear and plenty of forewarning about the iguanas that hang out on the beach. Chad set up shop under this quite nice palm tree, next to a pretty sizable sea grape, uh, bush maybe? It’s definitely a sea grape something-or-other.

It was also the hangout of quite a few iguanas which made their entrance right as we were getting settled. Including this big ol’ boy who was just chilling on the back of the palm tree, taking everything in while us and the folks nearby gawked and took photos. This isn’t the sort of thing that happens back home to most folks! Check out the tail drag this dude left as he made his way from the sea grapes to the tree. Crazy!  (It was a really big iguana…I mean goodness, Chad’s in the photo just for scale. Har, har, har, pun not intended!)

Our first foray into the water went well, despite me seeing a barracuda like 5 minutes into the snorkeling. We were out between the peers (pictured below) when a long line of  fish went zipping by and then…this kinda long silvery dude.  And I immediately thought, “Holy sh!t, that’s a barracuda!” I jerked, tried to get Chad’s attention which is way easier to do on land, let me tell you, and sort of flailed and gawked at the same time.

He hadn’t seen it, thanks to being distracted by a different (and smaller) long silver fish called a Ballyhoo (oh yeah, using the fish identification guide like a pro!).

In between more snorkeling, we frolicked in the water. Ok, it wasn’t so much frolicking as wading out, feeling like we were getting dive bombed by pelicans, and taking photos that we could stare at longingly once we got back home to the frozen mountains of West Virginia.

The water was warm and glorious and oh so very nice. And Chad looked pretty happy standing in it, despite his wife constantly harping on him to “put on more sunblock” or “put on your sunblock shirt!” or “dude you will fry, what are you doing?” Because we all aren’t equally blessed with nice sun friendly olive skin!

Inevitably we found our way to the beach bar to have a nice, cool, refreshing, local beverage. It’s ones of the tenets of our vacations, you see. And talking to the bar tenders tends to yield pretty helpful information.

We had a glorious day of much more snorkeling where we saw loads of fish – parrot fish, blue tangs of varying sizes, yellow tailed snapper, sergeant majors, damselfish, feather dusters, possibly a ocean surgeon fish, loads of sea urchins, and yes, the barracuda again.

We were pretty worn out by then, so we headed back to the cottage to find it was just about time for cocktail hour.

And then we to the Pie Whole for some amazing pizza. Nom. Nom. Nom. What is it about pizza that makes me want to eat ALL THE PIZZA? Seriously, I had to stop myself from pizza cramming. (I didn’t eat it all though, we had leftovers and the cold pie was just as yummy as it was hot out of the oven.)

A last gratuitous shot of me and Ping before ending this day’s narrative.

Ok, you should know the drill. Click on the smaller photos to see the large versions along with captions so they make sense and you can be totally jealous of how much fun we have on vacation. Although, sadly, no barracuda photos. Or fish photos. We were having too much fun snorkeling to do that.

chris on February 23rd 2016 in Travel

It’s a Tropical Paradise….once you get there

Sunday, February 21, We’re Going On An Adventure! (Day 1)

We have these awesome friends. And being awesome, they invited us to pay them a visit down in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. Three (or was it four?) years later we finally got our act together and booked our flight! We left Morgantown every so early. If your “hurry up you have a flight to catch” alarm doesn’t go off at 2:50 am, you aren’t doing vacation right! Also, if you don’t start somewhere chilly & end somewhere awesomely warm, you aren’t doing it right, either! At least in February. When you live in WV. (That’s enough qualifiers, you get the drift.)

After an uneventful day of flying from Pittsburgh to Charlotte, NC and then more southward, we found ourselves in San Juan with about an hour until our puddle jump to St. Thomas. With a travel via plane tradition to uphold, we popped in for a nice refreshing beverage.

And then, we sat at the gate. And sat. Other flights went out, but not ours. Ours was not going anywhere. Finally our plane was out there on the tarmac ready to accept us as passengers. Thank goodness! I was already tired of reading. And I was hitting the “I just want to be done traveling” portion of the trip which is never fun for Chad.  And 25 minutes later, St. Thomas came into view and all that travel-related angst, seeped out.

Finally, several hours later than originally intended, we were in St. Thomas. But our luggage was not! Now usually I’m super good at making sure that each of us have one extra outfit in our carry on bags and blah, blah, blah. All that stuff good, seasoned travelers do. Uh-huh. Except that it’s February and I hit the “I hate Winter and February is the armpit of the year” phase on Monday of last week. Which is to say, this was the first time in years and years that I did not pack at least one outfit for each of us in our carry on bags. February, I’m blaming you.

At any rate, we were in a tropical paradise, so who cares! Russ & Anne met us at the airport and off we went for dinner to a great locals beach bar at Hull Bay. The burgers were amazing.

Also, we were eating outside. In February. In the warm evening air, with waves crashing not so far away and a nearly full moon peeking through the palm trees. It was incredible. And just like that, the doldrums of February fell away.

And we fell asleep to the crash of waves. Because THIS is how you vacation!

 

Monday, February 22, Is This Even Real? (Day 2)

We awoke to the crash of the waves, the cackling of the conures and the sun rising over the water. (Cackling conures sound an awful lot like screaming unhappy ferrets, which is to say I was really confused when I woke up.) Do you know what time the sun rises in St. Thomas in February? Early, that’s when! Like 6:15 am early. But that’s cool because who wants to waste daylight somewhere as lovely as this?

We headed out with Russ & Anne to partake of their traditional early morning walk and swim at Magen’s Beach. But first, a stop at Drake’s Seat because of the spectacular view (and also a geocache).  Plus, the crack of dawn is about the only time to stop, take in the view, and grab the cache without throngs and throngs of people, and at least one burro in a hat and sunglasses, jockeying for space.

More proof that Chad and I were on vacation together. And also that even on vacation in tropical paradise I need caffeine to get moving in the morning.

Magen’s Beach was amazing. And Spectacular. And lovely. Most importantly, WARM. Ah. It was also very empty except for the local folks who know to show up early before the cruise ship crowds descend like locusts.

There’s nothing quite like being warm and happy on a beach in February.

While we were at Magen’s, we got word that our luggage had arrived, so we made an afternoon of it by caching and grocery shopping our way to the airport. Now, at home I despise the grocery store. But I do so love checking out the grocery when we are on vacation (caveat: on vacation not in the continental US). It is always a treat in new places! I’m fascinated by what grocery stores in other places carry. And I was not disappointed in St. Thomas! (No, we didn’t buy any.)

From there, we made a brief stop near where the cruise ships dock so we could pick up some lovely geocaches. And take a super touristy photo of Chad.

Also, we did the obligatory sweat to death, because by then the sun was high in the sky and there wasn’t a lot of shade to be had in the shopping area by the docks. This is me, looking happy because I’m warm, but confused because I’m pretty sure my skin is going to catch on fire at any moment.

Lattitude 18 is really, rather hot! Also, they have roving bands of chickens, which did not freak me out as much as I had anticipated they would when I encountered one up close and personal while retrieving a cache.

Finally after all that extra adventuring, we arrived at the airport to claim our luggage. Hooray! Clean clothes! And maybe a little nap, after all, we’d had a pretty full day already. And by then it was time for cocktail hour looking out over the ocean.

We had a fabulous dinner at a place called Mafolie that had A) scrumptious food and B) a heavenly view. We were there early enough to see the sun dip low…

And the hillside come alive with lights.

Ah yes. Vacation in a tropical paradise is very much all it is cracked up to be, my friends.

clickity-click on the tiny versions to see all our photos in full size versions (because I didn’t pop them all in the post and come on, you KNOW you want to live vicariously through us, right? ) complete with descriptions. Because otherwise, you’re just probably going to be confused.

chris on February 22nd 2016 in Geocaching, Travel