I’ve been in the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park the past several days and have been so impressed with the hiking. The vistas of the mountains descending into the sea is incredible. Also, I love the flora, the cacti mixed in with other tropicals is such an interesting mix. It’s also amazing how empty it is. At-times you can hike for miles without seeing anyone.
In the National Park’s successful efforts to preserve the coral reefs, anchoring is generally prohibited within the park but the Park Service has permanent mooring balls (buoys) installed in select bays. It’s first come, first served and $26/night to moor—can’t beat it. I spent three nights in Great Lameshure Bay and a night at Salt Pond Bay. I hiked 5 miles my first day there and 8 miles my second day, and 4 miles my third. Below is the dinghy dock on Great Lameshure Bay where my hiking started. In the foreground, is my trusty inflatable kayak who is now named Sally (yes, I have a lot of time on my hands). Hazel James is the furthest right boat in the background.
On days one and three of my hiking I did a lot of trails out to the end of headlands and points. They afforded great views of the nexus of land and sea.
On day two of hiking, my longest day, I hiked into the interior of the island of St. John. In addition to panoramic views, I saw a number of sugar cane processing ruins and petroglyphs.
The Reef Bay Sugar Factory ruins were fascinating. It’s where sugarcane was crushed and the juice boiled to produce sugar. The factory had two lives. In the first, horses were used to crush the sugar cane by being harnessed to a long sweep and walking in circles. At the center of the sweep was a crushing mill. In the factory’s second life, steam power was used to do the crushing.
It was especially apropos timing for my visit as I’m deep into the book Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. Thanks to my friend Jessica for turning me on to it. It was powerful for me to see these ruins from the early 19th century and think about the institution and infrastructure of slavery required for the operation. In touring the site I kept thinking about while these ruins are fading away, the pernicious, self-perpetuating inequities between races continues. I haven’t made it to the so-what-can-I-do-about-it part of the book but am anxious to get there and reflect on my life’s future course.
I recommend the book highly. One interesting thing that I learned relates to the etymology of the word “Slave”. It likely originated as “Slav”, the term used for captured white Slavonic people sold by other Europeans to Arab’s as indentured servants during the eights and ninth centuries. In the Americas, the earliest slaves came in a variety of skin colors and from a variety of countries, including homeless children from London. Some racial justice educators and descendants of of those enslaved, advocate for the term “enslaved African” instead of “slave” to convey that it was an act done to the person against their will, and not an inherent identity.
My dad and I are big fans of steam engines. It was wonderful to see the governor in such good shape. As its name suggests, the governor, governs the speed of the steam engine. The two iron balls are spun by the steam engine and they counter-balance each other. The faster the engine goes, the more centrifugal force drives the balls outward and lifts them. There is a steam regulating valve in the center shaft and as the balls lift, the valve begins to shut, reducing the steam fed to the piston. Conversely, when the engine slows, the balls drop opening the valve. Thus the governor regulates the engine from going too fast or slow.
My next stop was at a spring-fed and waterfall-fed freshwater pool on St. John (fresh water is a rarity). Because of the springs it stays at nearly the same level regardless of the rainfall.
The petroglyphs here were fantastic. They were carved by the Taino people 900-1600 AD. The style of art matches designs found on Taino ceremonial pottery. Archaeologists believe both the pool and the carvings were sacred to them. They further believe that the placement of the petroglyphs, just above the waterline of the pool was intentional. The reflections embracing the duality of the spiritual world and the living world. It was moving to be in another peoples’ sacred space.
My last hike was to Drunk Bay. Not sure where that name came from but it’s the closest I’ve been to drunk in a few years. It was on the windward side of St. John so the waves generated by the trade winds broke on the rocky beach. It was beautiful to just sit for awhile and watch it all happen.
All-in-all the National Park is so impressive. It’s a fun hybrid of “U.S. National Park” with feeling like a different country. Although regulated and controlled to help ensure preservation, the petroglyphs and ruins exposed to the elements, spotty signage, and lack of crowds remind you that you are nowhere near the mainland U.S.
And, oh by the way, the sailing and snorkeling are fantastic as well.