St.John in US Virgin Islands has to offer some of the most spectacular beaches with amazing marine life. It is a beach lover’s paradise. The pristine clear waters make snorkeling here an amazing experience. We spent most of our days in St.John snorkeling at Trunk, Maho, Haulover bays to name a few. St.John also has a dark history of slavery, sugar cane plantations and sugar mills. The sugar mills have been long abandoned and the dense tropical vegetation has reclaimed these ruins making them fascinating to explore.
Rain was in the forecast during our stay laying waste to our snorkeling plans but presented an excellent opportunity to explore the ruins. “Snorkel in the sunshine, hike in the rains” that’s what I always say (not really). Reef Bay trail is one the top rated hiking trails in St.John. It is easily accessible and about 8 kms round trip which meant we would be able to hike in the morning and if the weather cleared up we could be back at the beach. The trail also passes by some old ruins and some even older petroglyphs!
The trail head is along the Centerline Rd which climbs up over a 1000 ft from Cruz Bay in the west and drops down to Coral Bay in the east. It wasn’t too hard to find the trail head although we missed it the first time around. Since it was off season we were able to park our Jeep off the trail head which barely can accommodate 2-3 vehicles. As soon as we got off the road we were engulfed by the forest. The trail dropped steeply with a couple of switch backs. The Reef Bay valley is home to some of the oldest and biggest trees on St.John and a giant Kapok tree stands majestically on the trail. We spent a good time admiring the lovely tree with it’s wall like strong roots. No wonder it is also known as ‘Elephant’s Foot’!
It had started to get a little warm but soon a light shower came to pass making the weather really pleasant. From the higher elevation we could see clouds rolling in from the coast over the dense forest carpeting of the hillside. We passed by ruins of old mills, some barely standing others only marked by the interpretive signage all soon to be forgotten with the passage of time. I felt nostalgic, the rain, the dense forest, the ruins had taken me back to my days of hiking in the Sahyadris. My cherished childhood memories are of hiking in torrential downpour and spending nights camping in old forts.
As the elevation dropped the trail eased to a gentle slope rolling down to the coast. We reached the Reef Bay Sugar Factory at the end of the trail. The structure is still standing and in better shape than the ruins we passed along the trail. We checked out the various rooms, some containing rusting machinery others empty spaces waiting to be reclaimed. We heard a strange clicking sound in one of the spaces and to our amazement found a whole room teeming with hermit crabs! We strolled along the beach which was a couple hundred feet from the sugar mill. It was still too cloudy and a bit cold to take a swim so we decided to head back.
On the way back we took a short detour which lead to a lovely reflection pool. The stone wall across the pool had ancient Taino petroglyphs. The carvings were lovely. Although we did not know what they meant, there was a human connection of being there in that enchanted place that transcended time. We sat by the pool and enjoyed the serenity of our surroundings.
We made short work of the uphill trudge and were back at Centerline Rd. The clouds were beginning to clear and it looked like would be able to snorkel after all!