Now that I had coffee and
food in my suite, I could save some time and money getting ready for the
day ahead. I made a strong pot of coffee and fixed myself a couple of
protein-rich sandwiches from whole wheat toast spread with hummus and some
turkey cold cuts that I had picked up at the grocery store the previous
day. It was pretty idyllic sitting on my private patio sipping coffee and
munching my sandwiches while looking out over Water Bay in the morning.
After making sure I had all my gear, including swim trunks and a beach
towel this time, I went over to Red Hook just in time to miss the 10:00
ferry. While waiting for the next one, I wandered around Red Hook, and
stopped in again at Burrito Bay Deli for an iced coffee drink, and picked
up a big bottle of water.
Finally making it over to
St. John on the next ferry, the taxi dispatcher sorted us all out, and I
got into a safari taxi with about seven others who were heading to Trunk
Bay for their day, and we took off along the North Shore Road. It is an
amazing road, indeed – two narrow lanes of asphalt that wind, climb, and
descend along the north shore of St. John. Make sure to hold on tight!
Just before reaching Trunk Bay there is a lookout along the side of the
road about 120 feet above the bay, and the taxi drivers routinely stop
there to let passengers take a look and take photos. It is one of the most
frequently seen images of St. John, but don't let that stop you from
getting your own shot. Here's mine.
A few minutes later the
taxi arrived at the Trunk Bay parking lot, and everybody but me got out,
paid the driver, and headed for the beach. It's just a short distance
further along the North Shore Road to Cinnamon Bay, which is the home of
the Cinnamon Bay Campground operated by the National Park. If you're into
camping, this is the place to be on St. John. There are accommodations
ranging from screened cottages, to tents, to bare sites, all just a short
walk to the beach. The campground's facilities include a restaurant which
serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner if you don't feel like cooking for
yourself, a bar, a beach shop in case you forgot your swim suit, a general
store, and water sports equipment rentals. There are four restroom and
shower facilities in the campground, and fresh water spigots. It is easily
the most beautiful campground I have ever seen. Below is a photo of the
Just across North Shore
Road at the entrance to the Cinnamon Bay Campground lie the ruins of an
old sugar mill. The Cinnamon Bay area was the site of a sugar plantation
beginning in the 18th century, although the ruins seen there today date
from the mid-19th century. Soil depletion and the emancipation of the
slaves brought an end to sugar cane cultivation, and the area switched
over to bay rum production, and later to cattle production, which lasted
into the mid-20th century, when the land was finally donated to the
National Park. The ruins are situated in the forest, which is quickly
taking over. There is a short self-guiding trail with informational
markers that winds through the ruins, and I had the entire area to myself
to wander and photograph.
After about an hour or so
wandering through the ruins, I crossed the road back into the campground
and headed, finally, to the beach at Cinnamon Bay – the longest beach on
St. John. It's about one mile in total length between Peter Bay on the
west end, and America Point on the east. Before changing into my swim
trunks I took a leisurely stroll along the beach and documented it with my
camera, some of the best shots of which are seen below.
Cinnamon Bay beach is actually
quite narrow in many places – that is, the space between the vegetation
line and the water, which is just a few yards wide in places – and beach
erosion has been a problem for generations. Apparently this problem has
been traced to the sedimentation introduced into the bay from sugar cane
cultivation in the 18th and 19th centuries, which caused a dieback of the
coral reefs from which the sand is generated. All the sand beaches on St.
John are coral sand, and if you don't have healthy coral reefs then you
don't get sand replenishment on the beaches. The waves are very gentle
during the summer months when the prevailing winds are from the east, but
during the winter months the north shore beaches of St. John can be
battered by much more powerful waves, which suck the sand away from the
beach and out into the ocean.
It's very important to know
what a profound impact human activities have on such a delicate ecosystem.
Coral reefs can only survive in certain narrow conditions of temperature,
salinity, and gentle currents. This is why visitors need to adhere to the
rules and not do anything to disturb this precarious balance of nature.
Snorkelers and divers are constantly reminded not to touch or stand on
coral, because even the most casual touch can disturb the delicate mucus
layer of the reef coral and cause what is known as coral bleaching – a
sure indication of a dying reef. And certainly this concept can be carried
forward into a more general discussion on the impact of human activities
on the global environment in so many other ways.
That being said, this is truly
one of the world's most beautiful beaches, and when I finally got into the
water it was sheer bliss. The water temperature was about 82F degrees,
which is ideal for swimming, and it's as clear as a glass you would draw
from your kitchen faucet at home. The shore at Cinnamon Bay slopes very
gradually in depth, which makes this a great beach for small children to
be introduced to the ocean. There is no seaweed, no jellyfish – in fact,
no fish at all near the shore where it's just a sandy bottom that offers
nothing of interest for them. Just beautiful, warm, clear water and gentle
waves. A sharp contrast to the last time I visited an ocean shoreline, at
South Padre Island in Texas, where big waves break right at the shore, the
water is gray-green and seaweed laden, and a strong undertow threatens to
take you out to sea. If you get tired while swimming on the north shore
beaches of St. John, at least during the summer, all you have to do is
float and you'll wash up on the shore in just a minute.
By late afternoon I thought it
was time to get out of the sun, so I gathered my gear and changed out of
my swim trunks, and went to the parking area at the campground to scope
out the taxi situation for getting back to Cruz Bay. As is typical,
everything happens slowly on the islands, and although there were a couple
of taxis parked there, they don't like to go with just one passenger, so I
had plenty of time to relax and get a beer at the campground bar before a
few more passengers showed up and we made the trip back. We made it back
to Cruz Bay just in time to catch the ferry back to Red Hook on St.
Thomas, and I picked up that awesome barbeque from Texas Pit BBQ before
heading back to Point Pleasant. A perfect end to a perfect day!
The day after my visit to
Cinnamon Bay I decided to take a break from the sun and stay on St.
Thomas, and that's when I explored the grounds of Point Pleasant and
walked over to Coki Point to visit Coral World Ocean Park. The following
day, though, was devoted to Trunk Bay, the most popular beach on St. John,
and the only one which charges an admission fee, albeit a very nominal $4
for adults. After morning coffee and my breakfast sandwiches, I repeated
the taxi trip from Point Pleasant to Red Hook, this time arriving in close
proximity to the departure of a ferry to Cruz Bay on St. John. The taxi
dispatchers at Cruz Bay efficiently sorted everyone out and a full safari
taxi was on its way in no time.
There is no campground at
Trunk Bay, but it is the only other north shore beach on St. John which
has a full complement of amenities, like restrooms, showers, water sports
equipment rentals, snack bar, plenty of picnic tables in the shade, and
lots of obnoxiously hilarious sea gulls – "Mine? Mine?" (surely you've
seen "Finding Nemo"). As per my highly calculated methodology, I spent a
while wandering up and down the beach and documenting the scenes with my
camera, the results of which are seen in the pictures below.
If that's not enough to invite
you to the Virgin Islands then there's nothing anyone can do to help you.
A couple of the photographs seen above I took, after quite some
deliberation in my mind, by wading out into the water, carefully, with my
$1600 worth of camera body and lens strapped around my neck, because I
thought it was just such a remarkable vantage point from which to
illustrate the unbelievable clarity of the water. I certainly would not
have done so had the ocean waves been any less calm than they were, but
the ocean cooperated and my camera gear remained dry.
One difference between the
beach at Trunk Bay and the one at Cinnamon Bay is that at Trunk Bay the
water depth increases rapidly from the shore. A mere 20 feet from the
shore line, the water depth is about five or six feet, so families with
young children should be aware and don't leave them unattended at the
shore. It is still a relatively calm shore, again at least in the
summertime, although I did notice that the gentle swells were somewhat
larger than at Cinnamon Bay, perhaps reaching 18-24 inches at times, but
the push of the waves to shore seemed even stronger than at Cinnamon Bay,
so it would be hard to drown. Nonetheless, this is the only beach on
St. John with lifeguards, although there are only two lifeguard stations
and a lot of beach for them to cover. I also observed a rather strange
phenomenon while I was swimming – that of the surf roiling vigorously for
a few strange minutes at the shore line, accompanied by a distinct
undertow. I'm not familiar with ocean tides and how they manifest
themselves, but perhaps this phenomenon had something to do with the
tides. It wasn't particularly frightening, it was just a weird thing that
I've never seen before, and only lasted a few minutes, and then the sea
calmed down again. Maybe somebody can clue me in.
Trunk Bay is also famous for
its underwater snorkeling trail around Trunk Cay, the rocky offshore
islands seen in several of the photographs above, which includes
underwater signage to inform snorkelers what they're looking at. It's easy
to see why Trunk Bay is so popular, and rated as one of the most beautiful
beaches in the world. Now that I've been there, I'm completely spoiled, so
I guess my only option is to return.