Tarantulas, donkeys, sting rays, deer, sea turtles…
The U.S. Virgin Islands National Park was the wildest of the parks I’ve seen yet. The animals and nature were abundant on the island. We needed only walk a short distance away from our camping cottage at Cinnamon Bay to see wildlife living in an environment untouched by humans.
Walking from the beach to our bath house (which sounds much fancier than it truly was in-person) we encountered a grove of holes in the Earth that housed hundreds of crabs. My mom was the first to discover them. When I approached, she whispered “Look!” and I looked up just in time to see them slowly sidestepping into the little holes they call home. Their color combinations were so perfect they could have only come from nature, as they ranged from orange and gray to blue and purple.
The tarantulas also occupied little holes in the Earth, a mere 15 feet from our cottage. We never saw them outside their homes during the day, but I can only imagine how active they became at night, creeping along the beach, hunting for roaches and lizards. Peering into their little homes we’d see glimpses of their black and caramel colored hairy legs.
While hiking up to Peace Hill (to see what remains of a very old windmill) my mom and I saw hermit crabs. Exactly like the ones my parents bought for me and my sisters at The Strand in Galveston. These little hermit crabs seemed far away from home, considering they were atop a hill and not a beach, but perhaps they simply prefer the forest.
While the hermit crabs were occupying the forest, the deer were occupying the beach. Our first night on the island my mom and I drove our Jeep Wrangler (I totally felt like a bada*s driving that thing on the left side of the road) along the beach-side road leading to our camping cottage. Having been warned by campground staff to watch for deer, we skeptically (deer on the beach?) kept our eyes open.
Darkness had fallen, since it was after 5:00 p.m. on the island, and just as we approach our cottage we spot a group of five deer. They were smaller than the behemoths I’d seen in the mountains and surrounding forests but equally as beautiful. Each morning following that encounter we would enjoy our coffee on the beach and look for their hoof prints in the sand.
In addition to meeting amazing wildlife, we met some not-so-amazing wildlife too. We were anxiously greeted by mosquitoes (potentially carrying Zika Virus) upon boarding the ferry and no-see-ums/sand fleas while on the beach. The great outcome of encountering these two pests was that my mom and I mostly kept to the safety of the water.
Having never been to the U.S. Virgin Islands before, I experienced water that looked like glass for the first time. The water was so still, that when I looked into it, it was like I was looking into an aquarium. Being only waist deep in the water I would look around me to watch the fish lazily swimming in my very own aquarium.
It looked like someone cut into a slab of glass when the calm ocean water would break into a wave. St. John has a scalloped edge, resulting in a series of bays around the island. The ocean is as still as lake water in these bays and only when the wind picked up or a boat drove by would the water begin to break.
Looking to the sky above the ocean awed me as much as looking into it. Some mornings while my mom visited with fellow campgrounders I’d walk into the ocean, float on my back, and let the water fill my ears. I’d lay lifeless on the glassy water, listening to the crackle of the ocean while it plucked away worry after worry from my mind.