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 sailâ€”he had one of his employees captain the boatâ€”but it was still an amazing trip. We sailed from right off the beach at Little Maho out to Congo Cayâ€”a little strip of rock and brush jutting out from the sea. I 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. 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.
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 to 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.
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. The 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 this 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 to Europa Bay. I went out to the farthest rock and whipped out my Ukuleleâ€”which I’d strapped to my back in hopes of finding some silence to tamper withâ€”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 mosquitosâ€”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 flashlightâ€”a friend borrowed it, long storyâ€”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 tarpâ€”another long story, or excuse more like. My 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 hadâ€”and believe me I’ve had some miserable onesâ€”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. You 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 on 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 volunteersâ€”15 of us leave every two weeksâ€”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. I’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. If 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 hourâ€”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 overâ€”this was some deep waterâ€”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. There were very few people there, and those who were there weren’t your typical loudmouth family of touristsâ€”which we’d seen at hawks nestâ€”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. One, 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. Weâ€”the housekeepersâ€”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.