Over the past two weeks, I have been traveling between the islands with friends and family. It went by so quickly, but it was an amazing time. The first trip was to St. Croix, one of the four US Virgin Islands.
Other NSE students and I left for the ferry around 6:30am on Friday, March 4, so it was a very early start. The ride over was fairly smooth with flying fish occasionally jumping around the boat. Once we docked at St. Croix, we headed to Christiansted to see historical buildings and walk through the town. We had lunch at a restaurant right on the boardwalk with giant tarpon swimming around in the shallow water. After checking out a bit of the town, we got a taxi to Armstrong Ice Cream on the outskirts of Frederiksted. It was some of the best ice cream we had ever tasted, and everything was fresh. From there, we walked for a long time and eventually hit the city of Frederiksted. Most of the shops were closed since there was not a cruise ship, but the town was gorgeous with colorful buildings and unique St. Croix architecture. We walked around the town and down the pier where cruise ships dock for a bit, then headed towards Rainbow Beach to relax and get dinner. Finally, we headed back to our hotel near Salt River Bay and got ready for the next day.
On Saturday morning, we hiked the Annaly/Carambola Tide Pools trail. The hike was pretty easy with only a few steep sections, but the rainforest was starting to take over. There were sections we would have to pass through bushes that made it difficult to see the trail and climb over trees that had fallen on the path. The view at the end was beyond worth it; waves crashed against dark, jagged rocks along the cliffside with a rock-filled beach looking out to the open ocean. To get to the tide pools, you have to climb along the side of a rocky cliff to reach the area waves had carved out tide pools over thousands of years. It was a bit terrifying to cling onto rock while waves hit and timing the next step just right to avoid getting your feet knocked out from under you. After passing a corner, the tide pools are a sheltered section of calm water and incredible views. We spent a while exploring the different tide pools and jumping off the edge into the pool below. It was an amazing experience and well worth the hike and climb along the rocks.
After hiking back up, we ate lunch at a nearby hotel/restaurant and waiting for a UVI student, Chloe, who went home to St. Croix for spring break to pick us up and show us other parts of the island. She took us to the Mt. Pellier Domino Club, a bar in the middle of the rainforest with pigs that drink beer. We bought a pack of non-alcoholic beer, and went to their stables where giant pigs were waiting for a can. We would each give a pig a beer and they would break the can with their teeth to drink the beer. It was one of the weirdest things I have done, but it was a fun experience. The club has had alcohol-drinking pigs for at least 15 years and from the pigs reactions they clearly loved the taste. Once all the beer was gone, we drove through the rainforest and headed towards Frederiksted for more ice cream. By now it was the late afternoon, and we needed to get back to the hotel for a kayak tour so Chloe drove us back.
As the sun was setting, we headed towards our bioluminescent kayak tour at Salt River Bay. The guides were informative about boats in the harbor, the history of the bay, and the organisms that cause the bioluminescence. I shared a kayak with Ian, another NSE student from UofSC who is a marine science major. At UofSC, we worked in the same lab studying phytoplankton so we were both beyond excited to see the bioluminescent algae. As it got darker, the glowing in the water became brighter. There would be patches that your hand would be surrounded by glowing sparks, and others where it would be a few bright dots floating around. We kept falling behind the group watching the water and using hand nets to see the glow even more, but I couldn’t stop watching. Kayaking through the water while it lights up around my hand is one of my favorite memories, and it has been the best part about my exchange so far.
On Sunday, we packed up our stuff and headed towards Point Udall, the easternmost part of the USA. We walked around the area a bit and did a section of the hiking trail before heading to Christiansted for food and to see more of the town. We checked out a few stores and had brunch at a place called Toast. It was a nice relaxing morning after a busy day before. There were a few historical buildings we walked around, then headed towards the ferry station for our boat ride back. Once we got there, we realized there was a few people waiting outside and the gate was closed. All we heard was that the ferry wouldn’t be on time, and they wouldn’t open the station until a boat is docked. We ended up waiting outside for 3 hours until the ferry finally came. Since the sun was starting to set, we wanted to sit at the top in the open air to see the view and watch St. Croix disappear behind us. We didn’t realize how rough the water was, and that the people on the top of the boat get soaked when the conditions are that bad. It wasn’t too bad at first- we were all soaked by 15 minutes in but at least the sun was still up. When we were about an hour in, my friend Dani spotted a spout of water blown up (which usually means whales are around). Everyone on the top deck started watching the water, and a few seconds later a humpback whale breached the water with its pectoral fin out towards us. I had wanted to see a whale since I got here, and it was almost surreal to see it while soaked on a ferry during the sunset. After that though, the ferry was miserable. It became dark quickly, and the waves never stopped rocking the boat while pelting us with water. Once the 2 hour ride finally ended, we were all shivering waiting for a taxi back to UVI. Although the ferry was a terrifying and freezing experience, I thought it was worth it to see the whale breach right at sunset.
It was a packed weekend filled with a lot of walking and sightseeing, and I am so grateful to have gone with my friends. I doubt I will be back to St. Croix anytime soon, especially considering the ferry was an interesting experience, so I am happy I was able to go while studying at UVI. It was a great weekend of seeing a new island with people I love spending time with.