14 October 2011

St. John: Day 3, or Four Islands in Eight Hours, aka the Fat Virgin, Demon Rhum, and Verbal Assaults

The Top of the Baths

 We're up at 6:30 Saturday morning to pack our beach bags and walk down Margarita Phil's by 7:30 for our Bad Kitty BVI experience, which we specifically selected for its advertised itinerary of the Baths, lunch at Cooper Island, snorkeling at the Indians, then a visit to the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke.  Casey's passport arrived just a couple of days before we left on our trip, and she was eager to get her first stamp in it, so we knew we'd visit the BVI on the trip.  We arrive a little early (7:15) because we weren't actually sure how far past the ferry dock we had to walk, so we allotted extra time.  They're very clear, both over the telephone and on their website that you have to be there at 7:30 to fill out the immigration forms etc, so we were a little ticked off to see some folks stroll up at 8:00.  The boat itself didn't get there until slightly after 8:00, already half full of people picked up at the Westin.  Bad Kitty is an enclosed power catamaran and it was a little snug inside with everybody trying to find a seat.  There is room for precisely 6 people to ride up top (they ask folks to rotate out so that everybody has the chance to ride up there), about 6 people to ride in the back of the boat, and then everybody else is inside.  We had 25 people on board, not counting the crew.  If you were seated in the front half of the inside of the boat, there was little breeze to enjoy, so most of the ride all day long for us was on the stuffy side.  At one point our granddaughter rotated upstairs for part of the day and she liked it very much. 

Devil's Bay

I didn't find the boat travel to be rough at all, though I certainly would have enjoyed more fresh air/breeze on board because it felt very close inside.  However, two people vomited that morning between St. John and Virgin Gorda.  One was a boy traveling with his father and he was so ill that they elected not to continue with Bad Kitty that day and just take the ferry back to St. John.  The other was a woman who is beleaguered by motion sickness and even took some meds for it that morning--but she loves snorkeling and diving, so she puts up with her seasickness.  Continental breakfast is included on board and an open bar all day, so we noshed on banana bread and mango-ginger bread, fresh fruits, and juice while some of our shipmates for the day decided that Painkillers are the real breakfast of champions. 
The Baths
The Baths
The first advertised stop is for "shopping in Spanish Town," but that seems to be a euphemism merely for "using the WC."  At the yacht harbor we all boarded an open-air taxi and drove to the Baths, which led to my first misunderstanding/  disappointment of the day.  I had assumed we'd be snorkeling in to shore and doing the Crawl from the Baths to Devil's Bay rather than driving in and hiking down.  Most of the tour operators based out of Tortola, including one that I've taken on a previous vacation, do just that.  But instead we had a hot, barefoot hike down from the road (which means, of course, there's a hot, barefoot hike UP at the end).  Eh.

Casey, during "the crawl"
Still, the Baths are pretty wonderful (though I prefer Spring Bay on Virgin Gorda, which has the same boulder formations and fewer people) and always good for some photo ops.  And I'm really happy that Casey had the chance to see them and do the Crawl.  My husband elected to spend his time at a pleasant little bar called Top of the Baths because he didn't feel up to the hike down & back--it's a very breezy location and he was quite happy to sit there and read and take in the view while the rest of us were exploring.
The most iconic shot of the Baths

Top of the Baths restaurant, where DH stayed behind
We take the same open air taxi back to the yacht harbor in Spanish Town and head out toward Cooper Island, a small private island resort with a few private residences.  Well, it was gorgeous.  I've snorkeled around Cooper Island before on previous daysails but this was the first I'd stepped foot ashore.  We had called in our lunch orders ahead of time: two rounds of conch fritters and one mahi mahi fish & chips, with Ting, beer, and a banana colada to round it all out.  The food was excellent, the ambience was lovely, and the breeze was constant--I'm not sure there's a better combination when it comes to lunch at the beach.  Cooper Island has definitely gone more upscale since the last time I researched it as a possible vacation destination, so I suspect that it might have upgraded itself out of our usual price range. 
DH over lunch at Cooper Island

View from lunch at Cooper Island
Paths to the private cottages on Cooper
Skii and Jen, the adorable honeymooning couple from Portland who were on board with us (and who agreed to be put on the blog!)
 Back on board after lunch, we make for Norman Island, which is my second disappointment of the day.  Honestly, the only reason I booked this particular outfit was because I wanted to snorkel the Indians again.  The Bad Kitty website does say that the itinerary is subject to change, but I assumed that sea conditions would be the major factor in changing.  The crew offered no explanation when I asked why we were stopping at Norman instead of the Indians, but when we passed by them later I suspect it was because there were already several boats moored around there.  anyway, the snorkeling at Norman was not very good, and much less interesting than the Caves, which I've snorkeled and enjoyed before.  However, we had one highlight there and that was getting to snorkel for a few minutes with a smallish hawksbill turtle, which was a banner snorkeling moment for Casey--she got some good photos, too. 
The famous Soggy Dollar bar

Even quiet Jost was a little crowded
Once we were back on board, we headed for our last stop of the day.  Despite having visited the BVI on four previous trips, I'd never stepped foot on Jost van Dyke (though DH traveled there a couple of decades ago when roads were scarce and electricity even moreso).  Some old friends on the Fodor's travel forums, such as brenandg, have raved about both St. John and Jost for years now and I was really, really pleased with the chance to see it for myself.  The Soggy Dollar Bar is famous for two things: having invented the Painkiller (the signature drink of the Virgin Islands) and for not having a dock, which means that boaters have to wade ashore and buy their drinks with wet money--hence the name.  Like many famous Caribbean beach bars (it frequently makes the Top Ten list of world's best beach bars), I found it a little overrated but still fun.  Jost is a gorgeous island and the sand on White Bay Beach was as soft as the floury sands of Shoal Bay East, Anguilla (easily my favorite beach in the world).  We only had about 40 minutes there and then we headed back "home" to St. John. 
One of our shipmates for the day

Beautiful White Bay beach

Casey on White Bay
It was a very full and successful day and all three of us were exhausted by the time we walked back to Gallows Point after clearing immigration at the ferry dock.  While I don't regret at all booking our daytrip on Bad Kitty, I don't think it's something I'd ever do again--it really feels more like something for first-timers, those who want a buffet to sample as many items as possible instead of choosing one or two exquisite dishes.  For the amount of money we paid, we could have paid just a wee bit more and booked a private charter, which we'll do in the future if snorkeling is our primary goal.  Otherwise we'll save our dollars, soggy or otherwise, and book the inter-island ferries and stay a full day on either Jost or Virgin Gorda--or both! 
The ocean-facing sundeck at Gallows

One of two gazebos with hammock swings at Gallows
A swim and a quick doze at the pool at Gallows revived us sufficiently to head out to dinner around 6:15 that night.  We didn't have reservations anywhere (we tried to make some for Cactus on the Blue and Bananadeck but both restaurants were closed, despite being listed as open on the St. John Spice website, and despite the former's lights being lit and music playing from inside the past two nights), but we wanted something casual.  Well, not making reservations was certainly a mistake on my part, and one that led to an overall rather unpleasant evening at that.  We stopped in at quite a few places but they were all packed.  High Tide had one table open, but when we sat down, the waiter warned us that due to a power outage that afternoon, they were only taking drink orders.  Food orders would have to wait at least 30 minutes before we could place them.  Bummer, eh? We were famished but we stayed because we reckoned it would be a similar situation anywhere else, we could order some fruity drinks for their food content, and we were happy just to have the table--and the waiter said that if we stayed for dinner, the first round of drinks would be on the house.  Before long, the bar filled up completely, too, and the restaurant was *very* crowded.  We downed two rounds of drinks before our server took our dinner order: two salads, one blackened fish, and three appetizers, all of which we shared. 

Casey at High Tide

DH at High Tide
 We assumed that the food wouldn't be speedy because the kitchen was inevitably backed up due to the power outage and then all orders being placed at once.  Fine.  But we also didn't think it would take 90 minutes before our salads came out.  In the meantime, a large family was trying to snake its way out of the restaurant, with the father carrying one of the kids whose shoe hit my DH in the back of the head, so he tried to scootch out of the way.  The chair legs became tangled, though, and he couldn't move.  At the same time, one of the local guys at the bar verbally accosted my husband and started shouting at him words to this effect: "Why de black guy have to move?  White guy too important to move his chair?  Well, we ain't your slaves no more you mofo." Except, of course, he didn't say "mofo,"  and he continued to spit invective in our direction, liberally laced with a few creative variations of "mofo." And the music in the bar was so ridiculously loud that I don't think anybody else around us heard the commotion, thus nobody from High Tide could intervene, so we were left on our own to deal with an extremely uncomfortable situation.

The guy was clearly drunk, and even though he issued an apology just a moment later, it put my DH in a very dark humor.  Which he then took out on a waiter who wasn't even our server by complaining about the inexcusable wait for our food. Empty bellies and flaring tempers do not a good combination make.  Our food finally arrived, in all of its glorious mediocrity, timed to coincide with the rain that started falling.  We ate rather perfunctorily (and gloomily, as we were getting rained on) and asked for the bill, which did not reflect the complimentary round of drinks we were promised, but that was quickly corrected and finally came to around $90.  We walked home to Gallows in the rain and fell asleep almost immediately, hoping that our prospects would improve on the morrow.  Though we had had several wonderful memories on the trip so far, this lodged a very bitter memory of our time on St. John. Despite the power outage and our inclination to try to roll with the punches, High Tide earned a D rating from us--it shouldn't take 90 minutes to get a salad, the music shouldn't have been so loud that nobody else could hear Mr Dude shouting at us and hurling invective, the food was mediocre, and the bill was wrong. 

Coming up next: our last full day on St. John.  Here are a couple more photos of Virgin Gorda to try avoiding ending on a sour note.


  1. The Baths look amazing. I was very interested in your take on the boat tour. It sounds like a charter may be a better choice for our trip to BVI. Our son needs a bit more room to move.

    Sorry to hear about your bad experience at dinner. Having an experience like that would put me off a place. I would never return. I know the management can't control every drunk, but they should really make an effort to make people happy so they return, and tell their friends about a positive experience.

  2. St. John is highly overrated. The locals are not friendly and the amenities are few and far between. I am very sorry you had such an unwelcoming experience and although I sense you are the type to try and see the glass "half-full", I am sure it was less than stellar for you.

  3. It's to bad that the islanders are hostile to the tourist. It's a race thing with them. They learned how to hate from listening to Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

  4. Hi there, you two Anons. While I agree that our dinner experience at High Tide and being accosted by a drunk was unpleasant, it's certainly not fair to make blanket statements about locals based on my one incident.

    Maybe I'm not listening to the same speeches as you are, but it doesn't seem to me that Sharpton and Jackson put forth messages of hate.

    Many Caribbean islands have laws in place that protect local jobs and property, but since St. John is a US territory, there are no such laws in place that I'm aware of. Which means trustafarian 20-somethings can move down there to live the good life, take jobs that would otherwise go to local folks, and pay property taxes that have been driven up so high that many people born on St. John can no longer afford to pay. In that sense, you could say the entire island has been gentrified by US ownership.

    This doesn't excuse one man's incivility to my husband, but it does place it in a larger context.

  5. I am a black person with years of insight into the words of both Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton. As a US Black I have long felt that these men and others keep racism alive spewing words of hatred masked as the creed of equal rights advocates nationally. Unfortunately, too many people believe that these so-called advocates speak for all of us and that belief sometimes leads to incidents like the one you described and worse. I think we could avoid so much misery and misunderstanding if we develop the ability to think for ourselves. I love Virgin Gorda and never had a problem there-sorry you did.

  6. Well, I shan't dogmatize about either Sharpton or Jackson since I'm not very familiar with the words of either--my impression was that neither man has a message of hate.

    But thinking for ourselves--yes, that's a must. And we see eye-to-eye on Virgin Gorda, which is one of the favorite places I've ever visited.

  7. Oh, oh, oh: Jost! My favorite place on the entire planet. Of course, the times I visited I didn't encounter such crowds.
    And I met Frank Purdue (of chicken fame) in the Baths. Kid you not.
    Now I simply must find a way back there: Your photos completely reenchant me with my favorite islands once again.

  8. Ugh..I hate confrontation on holiday..phooey..


Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)