My wife and I just completed a six day vacation to St. John USVI. We arrived the day after Hurricane Bertha passed over the Virgin Islands. All six nights were spent at the wonderful Raintree Inn in Cruz Bay and we snorkeled every day.
Day 1 - 07/09/96 The vacation began with a large level of uncertainty. Hurricane Bertha had left St. John with limited or no telephone service and the news reports that we heard were very incomplete. We were able to get through to the Gallows Point Resort but the lady there did not know the level of damage that St. John had encountered. Delta Airlines was flying in so we decided to go and take our chances.
We live pretty far from the Austin Airport so we had to get up at 3:00AM to make our 6:00AM flight. We called Delta one more time and it was a go. When we checked in for our Atlanta to St. Thomas flight the agent said that the St. Thomas Airport had no power but they could fly in during the day. Our flight was a little late taking off from Atlanta and had to swing away from Bertha in route but we were only about 25 minutes late landing on St. Thomas around 2:40PM.
We made a decision to only take carry-ons and that turned out to be a wise choice because they had to manually hand out luggage at the St. Thomas Airport. After jumping on the first cab we were off to Red Hook. We made the 4:00PM ferry with time to spare but most of the flight missed it because of the slow luggage handling and had to take the 5:00PM ferry. At the time we did not know that St. Thomas had a 6:00PM curfew and the 6:00PM ferry was the last one of the day. (Normally they run until midnight)
Crossing over the island we saw a lot of hurricane damage. Some of the local passengers explained that 90% of it was either original Hurricane Marilyn damage or damage that Marilyn weakened and Bertha finished off. There were some small planes overturned and a few boats grounded. Much of the damage occurred to structures that had never fixed Marilyn roof damage and had blue tarps covering the roof.
The water was still rough on the 20 minute ferry ride but it was fun anyway. We walked the block to the Raintree Inn and they were surprised to see us. Our room was huge! It had two double beds on the first floor and a loft with two single beds. The bathroom was partially outside but was still private. It had two ceiling fans, A/C, a kitchen, and a porch in the back with a much needed clothes line for wet towels and bathing suits. The efficiency that we had rents for $75 a night and they also have regular hotel type rooms with private baths for $50 a night. The best news was that telephone and power had been restored that afternoon to Cruz Bay.
The Raintree is a non-smoking Inn but they have a table set up on their deck for smokers that turned out to be the gathering place. In fact we met a family that had been there before during Bertha's visit. They sat on the deck for the first half of the storm and the eye. The eye lasted over an hour. When the direction of the wind and rain changed they had to move indoors even though the Hurricane windows were closed and it was hot in the rooms. The Raintree Inn suffered no hurricane damage but their sister Inn, the Cruz Inn, lost part of it's roof.
There were not a great number of restaurants open on St. John the first night and most had a limited menu. In fact the Fish Trap right next door did so much business for lunch that they ran out of food and were closed Tuesday night. Another couple recommended the Crash Landing so we headed up the hill. The where only serving their lunch menu but it was good. Janet had the baby backed ribs and I had a mahi mahi sandwich and a "Surfer on Acid" to drink. There were several people there that had obviously gone through Bertha and there were having a few to wind down. That was much deserved if I must say.
Day 2 It was beach time! We taxied to Trunk Bay and snorkeled for couple of hours. There was only one other couple there and no power but the snack bar and store were open. I saw my first octopus there. It was small but fun to watch. After looking at the map we decided the walk to Cinnamon Bay. That was a very bad choice because it was straight up and down. If you take any of my advice take this one. Use a taxi to beach hop. They are all regulated and most fares are between $2.50 and $4.00 a person and go up to a maximum of $12.50 a person for Leinster Bay, Salt Pond Bay, and the town of Coral Bay. In fact we found one driver that ran a shuttle from Cruz Bay to Cinnamon Bay for $3.00 a person.
Cinnamon Bay is the most developed and has a restaurant, campground and cabins and beach stuff that you can rent. The water is rougher here because it is more exposed to the wind but strong swimmers can swim to the leeward side of Cinnamon Cay (island) and there is good calm snorkeling there. The restaurant and head-quarters had power but the cabins did not on Wednesday even though they allowed people to stay there.
Power was slowly restored throughout the island. I think that by Sunday everywhere on St. John had power. As of Sunday, July 14th, Maho Bay was still not allowing new resort visitors. It suffered some damage and was one of the last places to get power although they had a generator.
We ate at the Lime Inn Wednesday night and had their all you can eat "peel your own" steamed shrimp for $17.95. They season it with 21 Herb's and spices and we ate 3 plates each. I was a little dehydrated after a day in the sun so I ordered the iced tea. They bring it in a liter carafe and it is flavored with spearmint. We, I should say I, finished that liter and drank half of a second.
Day 3 We kept hearing about another tropical wave moving in so we decided to rent a car on Thursday instead of Friday. We drove to the other side of St. John and visited Leinster, and Francis Bays and the Sugar Cane ruins at Annaberg. Next we drove to the east end and snorkeled at Round Bay. Vies' Snack shop was closed due to the power outage so we did not eat there. The lady there was cleaning up and invited us back on a future trip. (I assume it was Vie)
Next we drove to Salt Pond Bay and snorkeled there. We saw squid there and ate our sandwiches. When I drove into Don Carlos parking lot for a beer we noticed that the rental car had a flat and the only gas station still did not have power and could not fix it. I put the spare on and we drove all of the way back to Cruz Bay to have the flat fixed and then back to Maho Bay to swim.
That night we decided to eat at our breakfast place, Joes Dinner. This is a good inexpensive snack bar right under Cafe Roma. They have good breakfasts and hamburger, fried chicken, egg rolls, and much more for lunch and dinner. He has a jerk type sauce that is to "kill for". I tried, with no luck, to buy some of it.
Day 4 We found our favorite snorkeling spot, Hawksnest Bay. It is the closest National Park bay to Cruz Bay and seems to be the most protected. The reefs there start only a few feet from the shore. We saw a lobster in one of the reefs! There are some covered tables and rest rooms at Hawksnest but no showers or stores like Trunk and Cinnamon Bays.
We then taxied to Cinnamon Bay and snorkeled some more and ate lunch. That day they were filming a commercial there which made for interesting people watching.
Cafe Roma fed us that night. It seems to be the only air-conditioned restaurant in Cruz Bay and the pasta is great. The servings were so large we both took some back to our room.
One of the bars had a live Reggae band that night so we went - turns out many of the band members were cabbies. They were good and had us all "Jamin-Mon!"
Day 5 We took a ferry ride over to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. The ride was beautiful between St. John and Tortola passing next to several smaller islands and cays. The ferry landed at the west end and we took a taxi into Road Town. I finished a roll of film on the ferry and changed rolls in the cab. After the cab drove off I reached into my bag to get my camera and it wasn't there. I had left it on the seat of the taxi. The driver said that he would drive back by in an hour or so but I decided to wait by the main road while my wife and a friend shopped. After about ten minutes, a taxi came by that was the same color as the one that we rode on, so I flagged it down. It was not the same one but the driver said that there was only one other van that color that handled the West End and he would check with the driver if he saw him.
After another 10 or 15 minutes that second driver drove up with my camera. He said "This is the safest place it the world that you could do that Mon, the British Virgin Islands" I was so in shocked that I didn't tip him. Janet ran over and give him one. What a relief!
After shopping we took a third cab to Cane Garden Bay to swim and snorkel. The snorkeling wasn't that good there but had great swimming.
That night we ate Joe's BBQ(not same as Joe's Diner) and conch fritters from the stand across from Freds ("Cap's"). Again, we had leftovers.
Day 6 We had such a good experience on Tortola we planned to take the Virgin Gorda ferry on our last full day but it rained almost all day. We opted to go back to Hawksnest Bay instead. The water was a bit churned up but enjoyable.
That night we ate at the Fish Trap. It was good. In fact we never had a bad meal on this trip and we spent less on food than we thought, thus allowing the BVI trip. The last day we took the 6:00AM ferry to Red Hook and made our 8:35 flight with an one and a half hour to spare.
BY ROBERT W. COOKE