St. John used to belong to oil magnate John Rockefeller who saved the island from the ravages of commercial development. He donated 2/3 of the land here to the National Park Service and as we drove its eleven mile length, we were glad he did. The park service supervises a string of beaches on the north shore, each more beautiful than the one before it. At Cinnamon Bay it runs a campground where you can rent a tent on a platform and stay near the water on the cheap. We were surprised to see how much of the beach had disappeared since we were here last; 150 feet from what we read. What to do about it and whether storms and the rising sea levels will continue to invade the shoreline are unanswerable and troubling questions.
The Virgin Islands used to belong to Denmark, who brought in slaves to run sugar plantations; 25 were active on St. John. They built windmills on the crests of the hills to crush the cane and their sturdy ruins are still easy to see today. If the wind wasn't blowing donkeys walked around on a track to turn the crushers. When the slaves were freed the plantations were closed and the donkeys were freed as well. A stable population of about 300 roams around the island, blessed with a bounty of good things to eat. However, when we drove close and rolled down the window for a photo, they stuck their heads in looking for dessert. They share the island with large colorful iguanas and small lizards as well.
We came upon a flock of pelicans fishing. Their technique is to fly around looking for fish just below the surface of the water and drop like a rock, stunning the fish and themselves as well. We've read that pelicans suffer from early Alzheimer's type disease as a result of their hunting habits. Fishing must have been good today since it felt like we were getting bombed by the birds crashing into the water all around us. In the midst of all the turmoil two people were snorkeling. We wondered what their view of all the activity was or if they even knew what they were surrounded by. After a successful round of fishing, the pelicans bobbed in the water stretching their necks to work the fish down into their gullets and have a digestive siesta.
As we drove the steep and winding roads, we caught glimpses of beautiful views, but often our photography was challenged by the thick vegetation. On the eastern end of the island we could see many of the British Virgin Islands which do not belong to the United States as St. John and St. Thomas do. The area is full of yachts and sail boats. There are so many nooks and crannies to put down an anchor and jetty to a secluded beach inaccessible by car.
In the evening we were visited by the future bride and groom who brought us a goodie bag and rendezvous information for the next few days of celebration. They looked calm and relaxed and ready to enjoy this beautiful place. We are, too!