St. John USVI: First Tropical Depression of the Season

The first tropical depression of the season has formed over the Atlantic some four days before the official start of the Atlantic Hurricane Season and some four weeks before the Virgin Islands has had the opportunity to supplicate tropical storms on Hurricane Supplication Day, celebrated the fourth Monday of July.

If “Tropical Depression One” intensifies further, it will possibly become a named stormed, Ana. Notwithstanding the depression does not appear to be a threat to land.

For more information  see Weather Underground

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St. John USVI: St. John Market Revisited

I took another look at the new St. John Market last night and was kindly shown around the store by the owner. Although not complete, the store is very well stocked including large produce, frozen food and dairy sections.

The biggest thing yet to come will be a state of the art deli section that will include meats, fish and prepared items. It all looks good, the parking is there and the location is right. It should be a real winner.

15% for the month of May
15% for the month of May
30% May 30th and 31st
30% May 30th and 31st

I was told however that the discounts for locals that are generally available at Dolphin will not be valid for the new market. To me these discounts are very valuable. I have a 15% off card for May and a 30% off card for a special two day sale at the end of the month.

So for now the lower prices, plus the familiarity of my shopping experience will outweigh the novelty and convenience of the St. John Market and I’ll brave the construction activity and limited parking and shop at Dolphin.

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St. John USVI: Gym in Paradise Reopens

The latest in St. John’s Gym in Paradise drama is that the establishment is now open again under the auspices of it’s original owners the Swan’s and Bertolino’s of Hardware Store fame. They had sold the business to a character by the name of Mark Dallas, who at the last minute sold memberships at discount prices and skipped with the money.

The policy now is that these memberships will not be honored, but there will be a bone thrown to returning members. Pay for June and get July free.

The gym is basically the same as before, but the place definately looks a cleaner, more intelligently arranged and out of order machines are back in order. There is no new equipment.

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St. John Virgin Islands: St. John Market Opens “Unofficially”

St. John Market
St. John Market

The St. John Market, sister market to the Dolphin Market in Cruz Bay, unofficially opened for business today. The new market is located at the Greenleaf Commons complex across from the Westin Resort.

The staff are working furiously stocking, arranging and pricing. A deli section is still in the works.

The official opening is scheduled for the first of June.

Parking Lot
Parking Lot
Produce section
Produce section

Unlike the Cruz Bay store, there’s plenty of parking at the new location.

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St. John Virgin Islands: Maho Bay

Maho Bay
Maho Bay

As the self-proclaimed “Official World’s Foremost Authority on St. John Beaches,” it has become my job to uncover those fine nuances that separate one St. John Beach experience with another. As I have always maintained, “It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. Today we’ll talk about Maho Bay.

In a nutshell, Maho Bay is the beach of choice for families with children and novice swimmers and snorkelers, who want to seek out calm, shallow, waters to enjoy our tropical wonderland without the anxiety of choppy seas and quick drop offs into deep water.

How to Get There
Maho Bay is located about 1.25 miles past Cinnamon Bay or 5.2 miles past Mongoose Junction going east on Route 20.

Calm Waters, Gradual Entry
Calm Waters, Gradual Entry

Calm Water
Maho Bay is the most geographically protected of all the north shore beaches., surrounded on the windward side by high steep hillsides. This keeps Maho Bay calm even when the trades pipe up and other north shore experience choppy conditions.

Maho is not completely immune to winter ground swells that come out of the north and west, but it is certainly less affected than most of the other beaches.

The downside of this geographical protection is that mosquitoes and sand flies are more active where there is no breeze. The wetlands behind the beach also contribute to a higher than usual mosquito population.  Therefore, during times of mosquito activity, after a rainy spell for example, it would be advised to bring along some mosquito repellant along with your usual beach gear.

Gradual Entry
The entry into the sea from the beach at Maho is gradual. There are no steep drop offs into deep water and you can walk out quite comfortably to find a water depth that suits you.

The Sand
Maho Beach sand is hard packed and not quite as sensual as the soft white coral sands found on other beaches on the north. This hard-packed sand extends into the sea where there are patches of areas with scattered small rocks making it not quite as comfortable for those, like me, with ultra sensitive feet. Of course, you can choose you can just as well choose a spot on the beach without small rocks and problem solved.

Interestingly, Maho Bay, now a relatively narrow beach, was once one of the widest beaches in St. John. The “horse kids” of St. John took advantage of this characteristic, as well as the great length of the beach, to have horse races on the sand. The narrowing of the beach came as a result of the removal of sand by the government to construct Cruz Bay roads and the Julius Sprauve School. This was done at a time when the dynamics of sand production and sand loss were not yet understood.

The Name
Maho Bay was named after the Hibiscus tilaceus or beach maho, a tree commonly found on the St. John shoreline and throughout the tropics. The beach Maho has a distinctive heart-shaped leaf and produces attractive yellow flowers that later turn purple. The small green fruit of the maho is not edible, but a bush tea can be made from the leaf.

Easy Access
Maho is the only beach on St. John’s north shore that you can drive right up to. It’s the very informality of this beautiful and often-photographed beach that makes it so special. It’s right there by the side of the road, no parking lots or signs, just the beach. Stately groves of coconut palms line both sides of the road. Just pull over under a maho tree and there you are!

Maho Bay has some nice shoreline vegetation. On the south there are some coconut palms and bodering the rest of the beach are Beach Mahos, of course, Sea Grapes and some scattered Mangroves and genips. Good for finding shade and hanging hammocks.

I have changed my mind about snorkeling at Maho and would list it as one of St. John’s best snorkel destinations, especially for novice snorkelers.

You can snorkel along the rocks on the north end of the beach to the large boulders on the point between Maho and the next beach Little Maho, where you can expect to encounter lots of reef fish, interesting rock formations and some nice corals.

Snorkeling over the sea grass, can also be very rewarding. Your experience will, however depend on luck, time of day and time of year. Give it a chance and you may find, sea turtles, rays, even spotted eagle rays at times and occasionally conch and star fish.

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St. John Virgin Islands: Stuff

A Little Dusty
It’s a gray Saturday. The gray has more to do with African dust than clouds. A condition of summer nowadays. Not particularly bad today , but noticable.

I do not remember seeing this weather condition when I first arrived to the Virgin Islands in 1969. Although I believe there was a dust condition in 1973, a year I spent in Hawaii, the first time I noticed it was one summer in the early 1980s. Since then we have added volcanic ash from Montserrat in 1995 as well as dust from the cutting of dirt roads,  driveways and other excavations. These factors combined have made the Virgin Islands the dustiest place under the American flag. According to Professor Thomas A. Cahill of the University of California, “the Virgin Islands have more dust than the Grand Canyon, the Badlands, or Death Valley.”

Dolphin Market
The new Dolphin Market across from the Westin may open up this weekend according to it’s owners. Good T’ing! I’ll be looking forward to shopping there.

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St. John USVI: Canoes

The first Europeans to travel to the islands of the Americas were duly impressed by the boats used by the Taino natives they met there. Their craft were made from the hollowed out trees and were called canoas, from which the English word canoe came from.

The smaller canoes were used by individuals for near shore fishing or by small parties of fishermen, hunters or warriors. The largest ones were the property of the caciques or chiefs and were capable of carrying as many as one hundred people over long distances.

Christopher Columbus wrote, “On every island there are many canoes of a single piece of wood; and though narrow, yet in length and shape similar to our rowboats, but swifter in movement. They steer only by oars. Some of these boats are large, some small, some of medium size. Yet they row many of the larger row-boats with eighteen cross-benches, with which they cross to all those islands, which are innumerable, and with these feats they perform their trading, and carry on commerce among them. I saw some of these canoes which were carrying seventy and eighty rowers.”

These great canoes were carved from a tree that the Taino called tsayee-baa. On St. John, this tree is called kapok, elsewhere it is known as ceiba or silk cotton.

For a people who possessed only stone tools, the felling and subsequent carving out of a tree large enough to make a hundred-person canoe was no mean feat. It was accomplished by making a fire at the base of the tree, which would char the trunk. The fire was then extinguished and the burned wood scraped out with sharp stone tools.

This process would be repeated again and again until the tree came down. The fallen tree would then be stripped of its branches and hauled out of the forest. The ends were then squared off and the bark removed. The same charring and scarping process would be used to carve out the inside of the trunk and after the proper configuration was obtained the canoa would be polished, painted and launched.

The incredible amount of manpower, time, dedication and craftsmanship required to produce a canoe of this magnitude is only part of the story. To the Taino, as well as to most other cultures of the Americas, the ceiba was a highly sacred and spiritual tree. It could not just be cut down and carved up without attention to the powerful spirit that resides within.

According to the Spanish chroniclers who left us the only written documents concerning of the Taino culture, the fabrication of these giant canoes involved a complicated spiritual ritual. The chief who intended to make the canoe would first need to communicate with the spirit of a ceiba tree, which could only be cut down if the tree spirit gave its permission. The spirit would also indicate the manner in which it would be transformed, giving detailed instructions as to the size, nature of carving and even the painting of the canoe. The spirit of the tree would then exist within the canoe, and the chief would carry the responsibility for that spirit for the rest of his life. This would involve ceremonies honoring and making offerings to the tree spirit.

The Tainos took pride in their courage on the high ocean as well as their skill in finding their way around their world. Columbus was often astonished at finding lone Taino fishermen sailing in the open ocean as he made his way among the islands. Once, a canoe full of Taino men followed him from island to island until one of their relatives, held captive on one of the ships, jumped over the side and was spirited away so quickly that the Spanish sailors could not recapture them.

The Taino were so comfortable at sea and so adept at navigation that they were said to make almost daily crossings over the rough and treacherous Mona Passage that separates Puerto Rico from Hispaniola.

The Tainos did not confine their sea travel to their homeland islands of the Caribbean and the Bahamas. They were also known to venture as far as the mainland of South America, Mexico, Yucatan and Central America, which, according to archeologists, explains the many cultural similarities between the Taino and the often advanced societies that inhabited these far off places.

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St. John Virgin Islands: Telephone Repair

We have a problem with our phone that turns out to be the result of wiring within the house.

Innovative sent Pumpkin to check out the situation and make repairs, if necessary.

He works alone. Before he goes up the ladder to make the repair, he checks to make sure he has all the tools and parts, screws and fasteners and safety equipment that he’ll need.

These photos will give you an idea of what his job is like.

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St. John Virgin Islands: Entrances

Entrance to the Westin Resort
Entrance to the Caneel Bay Resort
Entrance to the Caneel Bay Resort

Caneel Bay finally has its stone entrance/guard house/gate in place, wide going in, narrow going out.

For many months you could hear the chatter of French Creole and the pounding of sledges against stone, as the Haitian stone workers toiled at the front entrance to Caneel in the construction of this impressive stone guardhouse. During the construction, traffic was diverted to a dirt track around the site.

Now, as before, a guard sits in an open structure in order to control the ingress and egress of visitors, taxis, vendors and guests who arrive to the property by road. Now, as before, entrance to the resort is barely restricted. Visitors can park in the visitor parking lot and go to the beach, shops or restaurants and vendors can head to the employee parking lot where they can enter though a further security check.

Being that nothing much has changed, except the nature of the checkpoint, what was the purpose of this project? Anyone who has had stonework done here locally knows the high cost of such construction? Why lay out this kind of money, when times are tough in hospitality industry? Beats me.

Security? I doubt it. A guard on duty, is a guard on duty. Unless we subscribe to the “Three Little Pigs” syndrome, it won’t make a difference if they sit in a house of straw, a house of sticks or a house of stone.

The only thing I can come up with is an effort to make a statement. The vast majority of Caneel Bay guests arrive by sea and spend their whole stay on the property, so they’ll never even pass through his gate. The statement, therefore, must be meant for locals who now have to face this intimidating structure at the entrance to the resort.

The Westin on the other side of the island seems much more welcoming and just as secure.

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