For weeks leading up to our trip, I sat at the computer mesmerized by the Spice Cam in Cruz Bay. Could it really be that warm there? Why do I see people arriving but not leaving? Is that a ferry on the horizon? Why do I never see low tide?
As my departure drew near, I gave Jef the ferry schedule and asked him to take a screen shot when he saw me on the dock. Then I panicked: what does the Spice Cam itself look like? Leave it to me to wave in the wrong direction.
As it turned out, "island time" bit me in the butt. The computerized ticketing system in Red Hook was down for the count when we arrived, so we took a later ferry. Jef valiantly took 32 screen shots of complete strangers before giving up. Three days later, I called him from the dock; it's not an arrival picture, but I'm glad we got it!
The trip from Red Hook was exhilarating. We sat forward on the top deck, taking advantage of the sun, the breeze and an unobstructed view. Our duffel bags had been stowed in the hold, and we had whiled away the half-hour computer glitch with a tall rum punch, so Steph and I were in excellent spirits.
As we cleared Gallows Point, my excitement doubled. I could see the dock! The small harbor was busy, and the shores were certainly well-settled, but the "hand of man" in Cruz Bay seemed modest after having seen the coast of St. Thomas. No cruise ships here; no neon, no billboards, no high-rise construction. The gaudiest landmark was the ferry building's orange tile roof!
The north coast looked almost untouched. A few villas dotted points between bays, but the overwhelming sense was that a vast wilderness lay behind this folksy stronghold. The terrain's verdancy - and sheer verticality - astounded me. Steph grinned, delighted that my reaction echoed hers when she was a St. John "virgin".
We headed below and claimed our duffel bags, which seemed to have gained 40 pounds each on the 20-minute ride.
Feet on the dock at last, we headed for the taxi stand behind the ferry building. We hadn't called in time to reserve a rental Jeep, but Steph was confident that a rental agent who'd accommodated her in past visits would pull through for her again.
Although I doubted that Jef would be watching, I waved indiscriminately all the way down the dock! Steph wasn't sure exactly where the Spice Cam was, but a couple of days later we tracked down that bad boy. It's above the wrought-iron railing, under the corner of the second floor roof.
Spin around at the Spice Cam for a street-level view of the dock:
The Spice Cam is on the blue building to the right, but its owner is here, at St. John Spice. The air in the stairwell up to the second-story store is fragrant, but once you open the door, you stop in your tracks and breathe in. Mmmmmm! Once browsing inside, chatting with proprietor Ruth Ernst and her staff, it's fun to watch each new arrival make the same stunned entrance.
There are quality souvenirs to suit any budget and a vast array of spices, teas and sauces. At the very least, take home a packet of the house mix, Cruz Bay Grill Rub. It's Ruth's top secret recipe. She mixed it in small batches at first, but demand is so high that she's using vats now! Here's a video interview; how I wish it had an olfactory track.
Kitty-corner from St. John Spice, and across from the taxi stand, is Franklin A. Powell, Sr. Park. The statue "Freedom", behind the white sign, celebrates the plantation slaves' rebellion in the 18th century. It's a great place to hang out and watch locals and tourists; if you're hungry, try JJ's Texas Coast Cafe at the far end of the park.
The day after we arrived, we flagged down Mr. Frett's taxi at Hawksnest Beach. He left us at Mongoose Junction, which is really just the eastern section of Cruz Bay - more specifically, the name of a cluster of shops: the island version of a shopping mall. It was a short walk into Cruz Bay proper.
The town is compact, so you can cover most of the shops and restaurants on foot. That's a good thing, because there are precious few parking places! Strolling affords you the time to enjoy the music and scents from food and smoothie stands, to hear the lilt of local speech and absorb Cruz Bay's whimsical color palette.
Take Hospitality Car & Jeep Rentals, for instance. If you missed the sign, you might not assume this modest building was a business at all, but charming Thomas secured us a late model Jeep Liberty with only a half hour's notice. He also sells fruit and vegetables at one window of the office! When we turned in the Jeep, Steph did a dummy-slap: she'd forgotten that all his rentals are guaranteed a parking space on his property.
While Thomas was making calls we sat in his little courtyard, and I couldn't resist taking a shot of his color-coordinated rocks.
The island has no traffic lights! I applaud St. John for choosing a roundabout at this 5-road intersection (where Routes 10 and 20 converge). The best part? They're ahead of schedule and under budget. Only part of that stone wall was in the original plans, but the director used some surplus funds to extend it.
Unfortunately, many stateside folks hate rotaries (as we call them in New England) and resist learning how to use them, despite their overwhelming superiority in traffic flow and, therefore, carbon emissions reduction. It's easy: cars in the rotary have the right of way, in the states as well as on St. John.
Watch for decorative details. I love the palm tree in "galleria", for instance, and place names are often puns or references to island wildlife.
e-mail me site design and images ©Leslie W. Bardsley, a/k/a Yesrie or Yez, 2006-2014