Posted by: adorsk | January 14, 2009

U.S. Virgin Islands

The Oceanus arrived at the U.S. Virgin Islands on the morning of November 28th.

We would dock at the island of St. Thomas. In previous days St. Thomas had been a haven for British pirates, most notably Blackbeard. But the pirate ships are all gone now. Now St. Thomas is the darling of the U.S. cruise industry. And I could see why as the ship docked. The island looked like the tropical paradise of my imagination. Lush green hills rolled down to the aquamarine water. The harbor was filled with small sail boats. Palm trees lined the shore. Rainbows formed above us as we tied up the docking lines. All I needed was a tiki drink with an umbrella and the scene would have been complete.

Entering St. Thomas

Entering St. Thomas

Season's greetings in the Caribbean

Season's greetings in the Caribbean

The harbor at St. Thomas

The harbor at St. Thomas

Rainbows overhead as CC handles the docking lines

Rainbows overhead as CC handles the docking lines

We had a plum docking spot in a fancy yacht club. Our neighbors were large fiberglass power-cruisers, the toys of the disgustingly rich. Some of the cruisers were even bigger than the Oceanus.

A black sheep at the yacht club

A black sheep at the yacht club

After things settled down at the dock I walked to Charlotte Amalie, the main town of St. Thomas. There wasn’t much to see that interested me. The main street had been turned into a chain-store shopping strip. I guess swashbuckling piracy has been replaced with corporate piracy.

I did find one interesting place. A little ways up one of the hills was the St. Thomas synagogue. It turns out that this synagogue is the 2nd oldest synoguge in the Western hemisphere, founded in 1796 (The oldest is in Curacao). I loved the building. Afternoon sunlight flickered over its sand floor and created a very peaceful environment.

The St. Thomas synagogue

The St. Thomas synagogue

St. Thomas synagogue interior

St. Thomas synagogue interior

Since 1790

Since 1790

I even attended Shabbat services that night. The regular rabbi was on vacation, so a substitute rabbi from Miami was presiding. He had a thick Cuban accent. I kept wondering why he was talking about ‘the juice leaving Egypt’. The congregation was friendly and welcoming, and someone even gave me a ride back to the ship. I’m not religious but it was nice to have a community to go to.

St. John’s

My favorite part of the USVI was St. John’s, the next island over from St. Thomas. Years ago one of the Rockefellers felt the same way I did about the island and bought most it. Note: It’s good to be a Rockefeller. Later he gave it as a gift to the government. The result was the U.S. Virgin Islands national park.

I went hiking on St. John’s on the day after we docked. It was easy to get to, just a short ride in an open-air taxi-bus and a quick ferry ride. Trails started from the park visitor center near the ferry dock.

St. John's from the ferry

St. John's from the ferry

I hiked around the Western part of the island in the morning. It was wonderful. The trails were cool and shady with beautiful views of the sea and neighboring islands. Lizards and butterflies dart in and out of the trees.

A typical view from the trails

A typical view from the trails

Cool & shady trails

Cool & shady trails

In the afternoon I caught the island bus to Saltpond Bay in the Southeastern part of the island. Saltpond Bay had a beautiful beach and there were trails that went on top of high sea cliffs. I admired the view from the top of the cliffs. Blossoming cacti dotted the hills. Huge black-and-yellow spiders had slung webs between the cactus arms. Occasionally a pelican flew by. There was a sailing regatta in the distance and a few snorkelers on the beach below me.

Saltpond Bay

Saltpond Bay

Cactus at Saltpond Bay

Cactus at Saltpond Bay

Cacti on the sea cliffs

Cacti on the sea cliffs

A cactus spider

A cactus spider

A sailboat dropping off snorkelers in the bay

A sailboat dropping off snorkelers in the bay

View of a reggata from the sea cliffs

View of a regatta from the sea cliffs

A pelican flying by the seacliffs

A pelican flying by the seacliffs

Later I went back to the Western end of the island and hiked to Honeymoon beach, a small quiet beach tucked into a cove. I swam in the warm Carribbean water and read on the sand. I found out that Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who directed the atomic bomb project, had a beach house on St. John’s. When Oppenheimer died he was cremated and his ashes were dropped in the sea near his house. Were fragments of Oppenheimer in the sand beneath me as I read?

I caught the ferry back in the evening. It had been a good day in port.

The next day the new science party was on board and I got ready for the cruise. The ship headed back out to sea the next morning.

Bow of the ship in the sunrise

Bow of the ship in the sunrise

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