Saturday, May 3, 2014

St. John (Day 4)

We left Andante early (in the care of an unprecedented six iguanas on the deck-side cactus) and drove around the island to Salt Pond Bay, where we have had great snorkeling experiences before. This time, we were not planning to snorkel. Instead, we decided to hike the Ram's Head Trail, which heads out to one of the southernmost points on St. John.

The hike wasn't difficult (the trail is only two miles round trip), but this part of the island is hot, humid, and bakes under a brutal sun even with cloud cover. And it was all uphill with jutting stones in the trail that could easily send you sprawling onto rocks and barrel cactus. This made the hike a bit time consuming (somewhere between 90 and 120 minutes round trip. Of course, we were snapping pictures and at other times trying to figure out where the path was.

During the hike, we were reminded how varied the landscape is on St. John. There was a large salt pond just past the bay at the start of the trail, then we went up into the rocky scrub of the point. As we approached the sea, we came to a side trail that led to an overlook. The view was wonderful, including a sheer drop into a crevasse where the ocean roiled two or three stories down. Even here, the jagged rocks were supporting life. A beautiful green tree abloom with flowers grew off the rock, like a delicate fairy in the middle of an ogre's den. Jim was not thrilled with me venturing near the edge, but I had to see this inhospitable natural beauty.

The next highlight was a wide beach completely covered in cobblestones. Each one was a paperweight-ready smooth stone. I can't imagine how long it took to for the sea to smooth all these stones and pile them over the entire beach. As the waves came in and ebbed, they made a sound like one of those new age rainsticks. I imagine the snorkeling on this beach must be very good, but the idea of hauling snorkel gear all this way is a bit daunting. If I could have popped it in a backpack, that might have worked. While I'm not sure a backpack would have been comfortable on hike like this, a swim certainly would have been a nice way to cool off!

Looking west towards Andante
The rest of the trail to the Point is dry and high above sea level. More rugged crevasses on the east side provided great views. On the west side, the view of Salt Pond Bay - and really all the bays along the south side of the island was amazing. We tried to spot our villa, but we couldn't quite figure out which point Andante looked out on in order to locate our home away from home. The Point itself also offered some great views.

While we were stopped at the point and before turning back, it was sobering to remember that the area has some dark history. Slave owners victimized the indigenous people of the island. From what I read, Ram's Head Point was a rough but welcome refuge for many escaped slaves. Survival here could not have been easy. But it was hospitable enough that, during a slave uprising in 1733 by the Akwamu tribe, historians believe Ram's Head Point may have been a stronghold for the slaves. When their uprising was being put down, apparently a group of warriors committed suicide rather than be captured and return to slavery.

I don't mention this history (similar to what we learned about the sugar mill we visited years before) to be depressing, but it does seem important to keep in mind that in spite of all this beauty there was some deep human ugliness on this island in the past.

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