Which End Is Which?

On this morning’s hike we encountered this colorful critter puttering his way along the rocks on the slope of Margaret Hill. He was bright and highly visible against the gray granite and the backdrop of green plants and about the length and thickness of an index figure. Which end is the front, you ask? He was moving right to left, so you’ve got to think the red knob at the left end was its head — but then again it might have been trying to trick us by backing up.

Hiking The Reef Bay Trail

About two-thirds of the island of St. John is national parkland. As is the case with most national park properties, that means you’ll find ample hiking trails that allow you to get some exercise and feed your adventurous spirit at the same time.

Earlier this week we decided to tackle the Reef Bay trail, which begins at mile marker 5 on the Centerline Road, up in the hills that form the twisted spine of the island, and then heads through dense forest down to the beach far below. The hike has a deceptively bucolic beginning, with a tiny parking area that is filled with beautiful butterflies, but immediately takes you down a rugged path into the jungle. As you descend, following a winding path with a steep downward grade, you’ll see lots of trees and insects and tropical plants, along with national park information signs — many of which have been rendered largely illegible by the ravages of tropical heat, humidity and rain.

More than halfway down, there’s a spur to the trail that takes you to a double waterfall and some petroglyphs left by the indigenous people who lived here in the pre-Columbian, pre-colonial era, when the pools of fresh water were an important resource. You can reach the upper waterfall, shown in the first picture in this post, by following a crude trail that heads straight uphill and requires you to limbo under several fallen trees. Don’t flirt with the pooled water, though — it looks to be filled with leeches.

Many of the petroglyphs have been worn away by the tropical climate, but some are still distinct. The experts believe they were created by the Carib or Arawak people. What’s pictured here? I’m not sure, but some might see an ancient astronaut and his spacecraft. I was just grateful to find some remaining legacy of the people who lived happily in this part of the world before European invaders brought greed, slavery, and disease that decimated their civilization.

And speaking of colonialism, the trail then winds past the remains of a colonial sugar plantation, with its long-abandoned stone buildings now inhabited solely by hundreds of hermit crabs and a colossal insect nest, and then on down to Reef Bay, a pretty little beach on the south side of the island that looks out over the turquoise Caribbean Sea beyond. We rested here for a bit, drank our water, and enjoyed the scenery — which for one member of our party included a sighting of a shark swimming lazily through the shallow water near the beach. In the back of our minds we all knew, however, that while gravity was our friend on the way down the trail, the forces of nature would not be so kind on the uphill trudge.