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Month: July 2007

Good times

Good times

Things have been good here for the past two weeks but the Internet has been down a lot. I leave Maho on Sunday and will be going camping over in the British Virgin Islands for three days and then coming home. So here’s what’s been going on.

I went for an evening sail aboard the boat mentioned below in a previous post. The Boat is named Breath it was built on Saint John by Peter Muilenberg. I’m currently reading a Book by Peter about his journeys on Breath. He’s been all over the world and has had many adventures aboard Breath. He raised his family aboard it and enjoyed the company of a rambunctious Dutch Schiperkee dog named Santos whose antics make up the majority of the book. I didn’t get to meet Peter on this sail—he had one of his employees captain the boat—but it was still an amazing trip. We sailed from right off the beach at Little Maho out to Congo Cay—a little strip of rock and brush jutting out from the sea. IMG_0624.jpgI got to help raise the mainsail on the way . This boat is a homemade Gaff rigged Ketch and all of the ropes and pulleys seem to be in placed in the perfect spots to make the boat easy to sail.

The sail out to Congo Cay (a little island about a mile off the coast of Saint John, maybe three miles from Maho) was a nice easy cruise. Northward we could see Jost Van Dyke (wikipedia), Which I hope to visit next week. We snorkeled in the blue waters between the two cays. IMG_0550.jpg I got a friend to take this picture of me jumping off of the boat . He got me in mid-air… I like this shot. Snorkeling in the untouched remote reef was pretty amazing. Here are a couple of pictures of it taken by a friend with an underwater digital camera.

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We were going into the wind on the way back so we didn’t raise the sails. The captain tried to start the engine but the battery was dead so he ended up pulling the dingy up alongside the boat and using it’s motor to push the boat back to Maho. The boat was equipped with solar cells DSCF0241.JPGto charge the battery but I guess they weren’t doing such a good job. It took longer to get back than the captain though so we ended up being out on the water through the sunset, which was fine with me! It was probably the best looking sunset since I’ve been here. The top of the sky was blue the botton cloudy the ocean sparkeled. These have been some of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen. Amazing… here are pictures.

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I hiked to the south side of the island to reef bay. It was a dreary rainy day so it was better for hiking than snorkling. I hiked up over the mountains and down through lush tropical forest. On the way there were 1000 year old Taino Indian petroglyphic rock carvings. DSCF0359.JPGThe carvings were right above a pool of water whose level always stays the same. It gave me a strange sense of time and place to be standing in a place that looked exactly the same 1000 years ago. I could imagine the Indians being amazed at the refection in the water (there is almost no clear, reflective, standing fresh water on the island. Seeing their reflections must’ve freaked them out. On my way out from the petroglyphs I got another good picture of a golden orb spider DSCF0329.JPGthis one is a bit scary. I’ve gotten so many pictures of these spiders that I could publish a wildlife photography book on them. I hiked the rest of the way down to the coast to Reef Bay where I saw a black tip shark and several 4 foot long barracudas in the water from the shore. At reef bay there were some pretty neat sugar/rum mill ruins with Bats inside. I got dive bombed by them as I entered. It was dreary outside but still nice. The south side of the island is less serene, with bigger waves more cactus and windier weather. I then hiked out here DSCF0409.JPGto Europa Bay. I went out to the farthest rock and whipped out my Ukulele—which I’d strapped to my back in hopes of finding some silence to tamper with—and jammed. There was nobody around I had the whole bay to myself. I serenaded a pelican, who didn’t seem to care too much at all. I have it recorded if you ever want to see it. Haha.

After playing Ukulele I set up my hammock to camp for the night (Which I’ve since found is illegal, Shhhhh) by the beach. But I got attacked by No-See-Ums (little annoying gnats with a painful bite) which got right through my mosquito net hammock. I packed up and moved up into the hills where there are less no-see-ums and more mosquitos—which the net can protect against. It was pitchblack dark by the time I did this so things were pretty scary, hiking in the dark with no flashlight—a friend borrowed it, long story—bugs biting, and in ghost country. I found a good spot in the woods along the trail by a giant ghoulish tamarind tree. But a few minutes after I set up camp it started to pour down rain. My friends back at Maho said that it was the worst that it had rained here yet. So I got absolutely soaked. I spent most of the night curled up in fetal position underneath a raincoat. I had no tarp—another long story, or excuse more like. DSCF0412.JPGMy feet had socks on them at the beginning of the night but once they got wet they also got cold so I took them off. It was probably the most miserable camping experience I ever had—and believe me I’ve had some miserable ones—but I loved it. Something is very engaging and experiential about being soaked to the bone in a deep dark woods on a remote tropical island in a thunderstorm all night. DSCF0416.JPGYou should try it sometime. IN the morning I woke up early ringed out my clothes while fending of the morning onslaught of mosquitoes then hiked up the trail a quarter mile to find that there was a dry abandoned building that I could have slept in to avoid the whole misery thing. Oh well… engaging and experiential right? I went and sat on a rocky beach for a while then and had some good meditation time before finding a road and hitching a ride back to Maho. Good times.

The employees and volunteers here get together in this cool abandoned beach shack DSCF0293.JPGon big Maho beach to have parties every once and a while. I’ve been to three of them since I got here. They’re a fun time. We play Beirut, listen to music and rink rum punch. It’s really weird though that the high turnover of volunteers—15 of us leave every two weeks—makes it so there is an entirely different crowd there from one party to the next. It’s hard to really get to know anybody before they leave. This makes for a strange social dynamic where people either go hog wild meeting everybody or don’t even make an effort. It’s interesting to watch. DSCF0500.JPGI’m somewhere in between. I usually scavenge the palm trees around the place for coconuts to bust open to make a cool party cup. Busting open a coconut is tough as heck but very rewarding. More on that below.

On this past wednesday I completed my work hours at Maho and now have about a week of free time!!! This is the best. Wednesday I hitchhiked with my roommate Ross to hawksnest, Oppenheimer and Denis Beach. All three were spectacular. On the way we picked Keenips, which are these sweet little fruits that grow all over the place here. They were our snack for the day. Before we got picked up we stopped at this overlook alongside the road where we could see all of Maho-land. DSCF0505.JPGIf you click on that picture and look directly in the center at the small huts in the woods just above the shoreline, that’s where we live. It’s a pretty darn good place to live. We got a ride from a guy in a truck who pulled away at a sixty miles an hour—Ross lost his hat and the guy was nice enough to stop and go back to get it. He dropped us off at hawks nest and we snorkeled their but waded over—this was some deep water—to Oppenheimer beach. The beach was once home to the very same Oppenheimer that developed the atomic bomb. It’s a wonder why he wouldn’t have lived on bikini atoll. Oppenhiemer (or Gibne Beach) is a beautiful beach, probably the nicest and least crowded one I’ve seen here. Or maybe it just seems nice because it’s loaded with palm trees. DSCF0517_1.JPGThere were very few people there, and those who were there weren’t your typical loudmouth family of tourists—which we’d seen at hawks nest—but rather they were quiet relaxing beach people. Ross and I found some coconuts and quickly went about trying to bust them open. We tried throwing them at rocks, throwing rocks and them smashing them off of pointy things. We finally got two of them opened up and feasted on their delicious innards. DSCF0530.JPGOne, a younger one, was like jelly inside, another that had been sitting on the the ground for some time and had more of the consistency of a carrot. Both were good. What a life, sitting on a bright, sandy, desolate beach eating coconut letting the waves spalsh your feet and the sun dry your salty hair. Sure beats the cold, buggy hammock night. Probably equally engaging and experiential though.

Yesterday I spent the whole day on little maho beach, relaxing in the sun, reading with a icy bucket of Presidentes. It was like a Corona commercial. What they don’t show with those commercials however is the impending sunburn that one invariably gets when one has sat in the sun from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm with narry a drop of sunblock on one’s exposed shoulders. Ughh. To cap this all off there was a beach volleyball game played between the members of the housekeeping department and maintenance dept. DSCF0558.JPGWe—the housekeepers—got trounced. I was one of only two guys on the housekeeping team and maintenance was all guys. The girls on our team played honorably but couldn’t stand up to the spiking, competitive onslaught that was the maintenance department. There was much trash talking, rum-punch and tomfoolery. Good times.

Two more days then I’m going to the islands of Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Saint Thomas then home. If I don’t show up, go looking for me in one of those places.

–Brad–

Iguanas, Spiders, Ghosts and Sharks

Iguanas, Spiders, Ghosts and Sharks

Things are going real well here. I’ve been swimming almost everyday. And I’ve seen all but two sunsets. Everything has become a lot more chill now that carnival is over. Cruz Bay –The town that had all the parades and festivities– is nearly indistinguishable form how it looked during carnival.

The other day I borrowed a friend’s Kayak and went west one bay to Cinnamon Bay to Snorkel around a small Island out there. While I was there there I got to pet a turtle that swam up to me and then I saw two Bull Sharks (which I’ve heard are the most aggressive sharks here) They were each about 4 feet long and came within ten feet of me and my friend. I got an underwater film picture of them… I hope it turns out well.

There’s this Iguana down here that hangs around camp. His name is Fred (that is until they realized that he is a she… thereby changing its name to Fredrica) There are many iguanas but Fredrica is the only one who hangs around people. DSCF0115.JPGThey say it was somebody’s pet and got dropped off here when they didn’t want it anymore. She’s used to humans but still whips her tail when some people get close. But the first time I got up close to her she crawled up on my lap. I think I must look like her former owner or something. She’s done it several more times since.

I hiked across the island to Coral Bay, a much quainter town than Cruz Bay (party/tourist central) On the way there I stopped and snorkeled at Waterlemon cay where I saw this cool bird DSCF0047.JPGthat let me get real close and take pictures of it. It was around 9:00 a.m. And the only other people around were these sailboats who park there overnight. When I snorkeled here I had the whole beach and reef to my self. I saw two turtles with these long suckerfish things eating the algae off of their shells. I got some good underwater pictures of them (all on film) PICT Waterlemon Cay Reef looks like an underwater coral garden it was really bright and blue. The water was so bright and clear that I could see underwater for at least a hundred feet.

The hike from Waterlemon Cay to Coral Bay goes over the mountain spine of the island. The higher altitudes on the island are more arid with some sort of desert scrub brush, even cactus. DSCF0069_1.JPGIt was steep and hot and I got really dehydrated. All of the drinking water here is distilled from sea water so it doesn’t have the natural nutrients and minerals that ground water has in it. So without those nutrients you don’t get as hydrated on it. You have to drink five times more distilled water to get nearly as hydrated as ground or tap water. So I didn’t drink enough water and was sweaty and hot when I ran headlong (literally) into this spider DSCF0088.JPGwho had weaved it’s web across the trail. It was about five inches across and looked pretty creepy but didn’t cause much of a fuss.

Some of the native locals that work here talk a lot about spirits and ghost that they’ve seen. They say they’ve seen the ghosts of slaves that have died here. It was a pretty brutal slave island and many of them died here either in rebellions against there masters or of exhaustion and sickness. I’m not sure if I believe in ghosts or not but the other day my roommate woke up in the middle of the night and I heard him say “Hello… Hey!!” He said he saw someone leaning against the wall of our tent at the foot of my bed… creepy huh? DSCF0064.JPGI came across these ruins of an old slave masters house on a hike. It had a great view but definitely felt a bit creepy. I think all that was left was the foundation. It’s so strange to think that 200 years ago there had been a whole house and plantation here on this spot.

All the sailboats in coral bay were pretty cool to check out. There are a bunch of laid back locals here who just hang out sail, fish and get drunk. A very Jimmy Buffet sort of lifestyle. I got this view of it from the trail coming into town. DSCF0096.JPGThe other night all of the Maho Bay employees went to Karaoke at a bar right on the water. It was fun, me and my roommate and some friends sang Proud Mary. We met some Rastafarian people and had fun asking them about their religion and lifestyle. They are very pure and much more strictly dogmatic than I thought they were. They separate the whole world into the “light” (which is good: i.e. Love, kindness, nature, humbleness etc.) and “Babylon” (which is Bad: i.e. hatred, drinking, consumerism, modernity) I asked them if they have church service and if I could come check it out. The Rasta guy said “We be meetin all da time, look here… we iz meetin’ right now… we don’t got no set time of worship or meetin’… but if you want to come for true and worship… we be over on Saint Thomas in the parking lot beside the K-mart.” I thought this was hilarious!

There is a pavilion here in the camp that is up on the hill a few hundred yards. It has the best, and most peaceful, view of the sunset. Since I’ve realized it was there I’ve been there every night at sunset. The sunsets here are of course outstanding. DSCF0110.JPGAlso, I brought my Baritone Ukulele with me and have been taking it up to the pavilion at sunset. My roommate brought a kazoo and this other guy pounds on a water jug. We’re a regular band. We go up there and jam during sunset. I could see it becoming a popular event. I play some island songs too, Bob Marley, Jimmy Buffet etc. The ukulele is the perfect island instrument.

A few more pictures

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Maho Bay

Maho Bay

Well my first week in Saint John has been a pretty good one. The work is easy, the beaches are beautiful and the people are cool. My room is a tent cottage with a deck and kitchen and everything. DSCF0023.JPG There’s a fan that we run to keep it cool. Sleeping is really peaceful among the tropical trees. DSCF0028.JPG I got a roomate, luckily he’s really cool. I brought my Ukulele along, which seems more fitting to play here than it did in Pittsburgh. The beach (which is just down a few flights of deck stairs) is white sand and crystal clear water. The hills are pretty big, I took a hike out to a former slave plantation, that was pretty neat. It has an old broken down windmill and a mule driven sugar grinder. There are coral reefs to the right and left of the beach. I’ve been snorkeling a few times. DSCF0043.JPG I saw hawksbill sea turtles and Sea Urchins and literally several thousand fish. There are a bunch of sailboats that park out in this bay because it’s so calm and sandy. I’m hoping to be able to take a trip on one of them in the near future. The guy who owns the one in the backgroun of the picture to the below right built it from the ground up and has sailed it all over the world. I went on a kayak/snorkel trip today out to a local cay and coral reef and on the way back I circled this boat a couple of times to get a closer look. DSCF0040.JPG My gosh I love sailboats!
It’s been carnival week–which coincides with the 4th of july Holiday. Carnival here celebrates the Islander’s emancipation from Slavery several hundered years ago. I got some CRAZY videos from a carnival parade but I they are too big to upload. There is a steel drum band and an Zulu Warrior African Dancing troup and like ten reggae bands set up on the backs of 18 wheeler trucks.  I watched the fireworks from the beach of a small island town.  Hitchhiking is a safe and reliable means of transoprtation here.  Everyone is so laid back.  Wow… this has been a disjointed ramble.  I hope your all doing well where you’re at.