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Archive for February, 2016

the end draws near (our last two days)

Friday, February 26, This Milkshake is the Most Awesome Thing Ever (Day 6)

Ah, our last full day in Paradise. Some folks might find this depressing. (And to be honest, I’m often “some folks”) But why waste time when there’s plenty to do and time to use! Since we were up early, we headed out with Russ & Anne to Magens Bay for a last morning walk. What a way to start the day. I wish every Friday started this way!

Even Ping got in on the action, because of course he did. He’d come with us earlier, but today he was brave enough to peek out of the Ping Pouch and have his photo taken before the sun got to be too much for him.

Anne recommended this cool photo, which they take on their last day. It took us a few shots before we got it just right and I didn’t look like I had an arm growing out of my head!

From Megans we headed out to get a cache. I know. You are shocked to hear that. We’d saved P3…Picaro Point Prize GC5PCA2. The cool thing about this cache….ruanwv can see you and if you have binoculars, you can see them too! (We didn’t have binoculars.) It was an interesting drive out and I was glad we had the Jeep.

We strolled out to the point. What an amazing place. Dry, but not barren; lots of cacti and sea grape bushes and what looked like sedge. At any rate, it was green and dry and surrounded by the pounding waves. And windy. Boy was it windy!

We zero’d out in what appeared to be the right spot and then commenced to looking amongst the rock and sea grape. And there were so many choices. And I got stuck. And then realized I was obviously in the wrong spot because no one else had reported getting stuck.

Chad had texted Russ & Anne to let them know we were looking so they could watch our foolishness.

And finally, after trying to think like Russ….I looked down and BAM! Geocache! Hooray for me!

Our timing was perfect once again, because as we were strolling back to the Jeep, a bunch of folks were coming out to the point to take in the view.

Having successfully found the cache, we rewarded ourselves by stopping at Udderly Delight for a kick ass milkshake! I’m seriously ranking my coconut, coconut ice cream, and coconut rum milkshake as the most delicious milkshake I have ever had the privilege of consuming. De-freakin-licious I tell you. And Chad would agree, even though he got the coconut, chocolate ice cream, and Kahlua one, that mine was better.

A quick stop at Plaza Extra to get some rum to mule home and then back to the cottage. Although it wasn’t really quick because there is a lot of rum from which to choose and we really wanted to get something we couldn’t find at home. (We realized about a month later that we’d failed on one account when I saw one of the bottles of rum available at a local grocery in WV.)

Our final adventure of the day was a trip to a difficult to drive to little place called Neltjeberg Bay. Our lovely hosts said they usually kayak out to it, it’s much simpler. But with four people and two kayaks…well that wasn’t going to happen. So we loaded up into the Jeep and headed out. Chad drove and Russ rode shotgun giving directions. And honestly, there is no way we’d have ever found it with just directions because, hello….off the beaten path! We were all a little surprised to find several vehicles parked at the end of the road, but no matter, there was plenty of lovely beach for everyone. And lovely it was!

Relaxing. It was that too. A quiet beach with a lovely view.

And best of all, sea glass to hunt! I found plenty, including the top of a clear bottle which would eventually become a pendant with another piece of green sea glass suspended inside!

It was truly a splendid day, which we finished with cocktails on the deck.


Saturday, February 27, And Home We Go (Day 7)

The weather was perfect for our send off. A beautiful blue sky and sun as far as the eye could see. After packing, then repacking to assure that not only would the rum be padded enough to survive the trip home, but that it was also easily visible to customs, we said farewell to our most excellent, awesome hosts and headed to the airport.

I perhaps thought it odd when the gate agent took our entire tickets as we queued, but I was still in my happy vacation mind frame and you know, when the in the islands go with the flow. Then we walked out to the tarmac. And waited. I was starting to think I was going to get sunburn waiting for our plane. And then we walked out to our plane.


Which is when I looked at Chad and said, “I have three words.” Because what awaited us was not the puddle jumper prop plane on which we’d hopped over to St. Thomas. You know, one with an aisle down the middle and a divider between passengers and the captain. Not this time. This time is was a freakin’ Cessna.

So, ok. I can deal with that. Until A) the Captain came out of the plane and he looked to be 20 and he was missing the temple of his aviator sunnies and seemed rather put out about it and B) the luggage guys kept moving ALL the luggage around to balance the plane. Including our carry-on bags. My backpack rode in the storage behind the prop on the wing. Yeah. At which point I looked at Chad with a look that could only be interpreted, as “Well clearly we’re going to die, but at least we had an awesome vacation. Also, I blame you.”

It only, of course, got weirder. They assigned us to seats in the plane based on size. So the tall lady, she sat in the co-pilot’s seat. Ahem, she SAT IN THE CO-PILOT’S SEAT. The other small woman and I, we were in the last two seats. I was beside the door. The big pieces of luggage were crammed in behind us. It was not awesome at all.

And then I noticed that the Captain’s window, well it was held from flying away by his seatbelt. Which is when I started wondering, as he was still looking around for the missing piece of his sunnies, if perhaps I should offer him my Raybans? Would that increase the likelihood that we would not die? I mean, it couldn’t hurt, right?  And about that time, the nice woman in the co-pilot’s seat found out that all the instruments in front of her were live.

Obviously we made it home unscathed. As did our rum. Plus, all our luggage was awaiting us at Pittsburgh, so that was exciting.



chris on February 27th 2016 in Geocaching, Travel

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