Monday, March 8, 2010

St. Thomas

Day #11: Monday, February 22
St. Thomas

We had an awesome excursion planned for St. Thomas: SWIMMING WITH SEA LIONS! So, we were up by 7:30 once again. We had breakfast at the buffet, and I took some pictures of St. Thomas. We docked at Charlotte Amalie Harbor, which was so incredibly beautiful. The scenery itself was so pretty, and all the little boats in the harbor just increased its charm.

My first view of St. Thomas through the porthole

We're going swimming with sea lions!!!

Boats in the harbor

Me and St. Thomas

We got off the ship and met up with our tour, which included four other people. The six of us boarded the shuttle bus which took us to Coral World (an aquarium-type place) on another part of the island. The ride was pretty rough - it was very hilly, and there were lots of turns and steep inclines. But, every now and then there would be a clearing, and you would see the most beautiful view of the water below.

We arrived at Coral World around 9:00, which was a little early for our scheduled sea lion swim. The Coral World people invited us to explore the park for a bit and return to the pier at 9:30 for our swim.

This was when we realized there was a problem with one of the other two couples there for the swim - they were German and spoke very little English. For whatever reason they seemed to look to me for interpretation (can they sense I took German in college???), but my language skills are AWFUL so I was not much help. (Interesting fact about me: I took Spanish in high school and German in college. I now realize that was a bad idea because the "language wires" in my brain seem to be a bit mixed up. When I am trying to speak either Spanish or German, it does not come out as such - basically, whatever word I am looking for will come out in whichever language it happens to pop into my mind first. So, I end up with some sort of Spanish-German mix. It's not pretty.) Sadly, the Coral World people would not allow the German couple to participate in the swim, because they could not effectively communicate instructions to them. They seemed to be good sports about it but I felt bad for them.

So, we had about a half hour to kill by wandering around Coral World. We hit the gift shop so I could get my magnet and postcards out of the way, then we checked out some of the different exhibits, including stingrays, tortoises, sea turtles and sharks.

A stingray in "Stingray Lagoon"

Oh, hello, tortoise.

A shark in "Shark Shallows"

A sea turtle! We did not swim with this one.

I actually started the whole thing off by nearly walking into an iguana, which is ABSOLUTELY NOT OKAY in my book. I have a healthy dose of nervousness around iguanas - I had a traumatic experience with one once. It was in a cage at Rum Point in the Caymans, and I swear the thing didn't move once in all the hours we were there. So, as we were leaving, I bent down to put my camera up to one of the holes in the fence so I could take it's picture without that pesky fence in my photo. Well, that was when the thing decided to move. And, no lie, it FLEW at me, IN THE AIR, and latched onto the fence and HUNG THERE. Right where my face was just moments ago. NOT OKAY. Those things are FAST. And in St. Thomas, they were EVERYWHERE. But, the rest of the critters we saw were very nice!

This is the guy I almost walked into. He does not seem pleased.

This may be a close-up, but don't be fooled. IGUANAS ARE NOT TO BE TRUSTED.

I have to say, seeing the sea critters was fun, but even just the scenery around Coral World was nice to look at to pass the time. Surprise, surprise...we were on yet another hideous Caribbean island.

I mean, is this really a real place?

I think I would like to work at Coral World and look at this every day, please.

At 9:30 we went back to the pier to meet up with the sea lion trainer, Christine. She started by going over a description of sea lions in general, and in contrast to seals. For example, sea lions have ear flaps that stick out, while seals just have ear holes. Also, sea lions can rotate their hindflippers underneath them to walk on land, while seals can't - they just sort of drag their hindflippers behind them on land. It was very informative, and I realized that I previously had no idea what the difference is between sea lions and seals; I had always thought the two terms were interchangeable, really. To be honest, I was expecting to be swimming with seals. But nope, these were sea lions. South American Sea Lions, to be exact. The oldest one we would interact with, Franco, was six years old (which is about adolescent for sea lions). He was just starting to get his mane and he weighed about 400 pounds. Whoa! The younger one, Remo, was not getting his mane yet but he was also huge.

Of course, Christine also went over exactly what we would be doing with the sea lions and what to expect. Then, we walked back "behind the scenes" to the sea lion pool. They fitted us for life vests and water shoes, then it was finally time to meet the sea lions!

We started out doing some fun tricks on the deck with Franco, the older one. They showed us how to get him to do things like dance, lay down and break dance, stick out his tongue, and wave. I got to have him do "shame," where he hangs his head and covers his face with his flippers. Cute! We also threw hoops to him, which he caught around his neck. Then they had him get up on a platform so we could take pictures with him, hugging him and getting a kiss from him. It was very, very cool.

Heather hugging good ol' Franco

He had fish breath.
(It sounds like I'm just making a cheesy obvious joke there, but I'm not. He really did have fish breath.)

Smile, Franco!

Franco is yelling and we are clearly frightened.

After our fun on the deck with Franco, we got into the pool to swim with Remo, the younger of the two. First, they had him just swim past him so we could pet him (remembering to stay below the ears). Then we did some tricks in the water with him, including sticking our tongues out, "shame," and dancing. He also did a couple belly flops into the pool, splashing us! Oh, Remo.

Remo, why are you yelling?

Ah, a beautiful smile. Much better.



We also tried some new awesome tricks. First, they had the other couple doing the swim have Remo balance a ball on his nose and swim over to them. Apparently a sea lion's whiskers are very sensitive, and they can feel how the ball is moving on their nose and adjust the whiskers accordingly to hold it up. I had no idea that was how they did that!

They also had Heather and me hold up a hoop, and they told us Remo would jump through it. So, it caught us off guard when instead Remo just swam up and took it from us! I'm posting a couple pics of it below, but the trainers had some great camera that took a bunch of pictures really quickly - so if you look at all the pictures in rapid succession, it almost looks like a flip book or video. So, I put them together into a little quick action video for you below, too!

Remo grabbing the hoop

Oh no! That's not what we expected to happen!

VIDEO: Remo taking the hoop from us! (It repeats three times)

The last major trick we did was a "death-defying stunt!" They had Heather and me hold on to a bar above our heads, and Remo jumped over us! It was awesome. Again, I'm posting a couple pictures and a quick "video" of all the pictures together! Go Remo!

Wow! Go, Remo, go!


VIDEO: Remo jumping over us!

After that, we gave ourselves a round of applause (Remo included, creating quite the splash in the process), and the swim was over! It was much too short, if you ask me. I wanted to keep going. It was definitely one of the coolest things I have ever done.

Give yourself a round of applause, Remo!

The swim was over around 10:30, and our taxi driver wasn't scheduled to pick us up to take us back to port until 11:30, so we had some time to kill. We did some more wandering around, picked up the disc of our sea lion photos from the pier (we had to purchase it, but I would say it was well worth it!), and then had some lunch at the little snack bar. We both had surf burgers (fish fillets) with fries and lemonade, and sat at a nice table overlooking the beautiful water. But, we need to get back to the iguanas here, unfortunately. They were still EVERYWHERE and two started fighting right next to our table while we ate! So, we moved tables but one followed us. I swear it was staring at me. It was really freaking me out.

By the time we finished eating it was time to get back on our open-air taxi to go back to port. We got off in the shopping area and found the post office so I could mail my postcard for Eric (since St. Thomas is a U.S. island, it was the good ol' U.S. post office!). While we were in the post office, a TORRENTIAL downpour started outside. It lasted for quite a while, so we pretty much just set up camp in the post office until it died down, then debated what to do. We wanted to go to the beach, but obviously didn't want to if the weather was bad. We ended up doing a little more shopping (I bought a Christmas ornament with an iguana on it, to commemorate the morning!) then went back on the ship for a quick break. We looked at our sea lion photos and laughed until we cried, then got back off the ship to give the beach a try.

We took a taxi to Magen's Bay, which was a lovely beach but the trip was a little pricey. It cost us $16 each for the taxi roundtrip, plus $4 each for admission to the beach. And, it was cloudy on that side of the island for most of the afternoon. But, the Bay was lovely and it is always better to be at a beach than not, so all was well. Heather was exhausted so she napped as we laid there, but I took advantage of being "back in the U.S." (of sorts) to call Eric on my cell phone. Ah, luxury!

In Magen's Bay

My view as I sat and talked to Eric

When it was time to head back to the ship, we took another open-air taxi back to port. Once again, we were treated to some fabulous scenery on the drive home. We were high up on the mountain and all of a sudden there would be a clearing, and the view would just take your breath away. I would say that those views on the way back were well worth the cost of getting to Magen's Bay all on their own.

Gorgeous Charlotte Amalie as seen from our taxi


When we got back to the ship we grabbed some food, then Heather got ready for her second round of Motor City shows. I went to both shows again, then we had some dinner at the buffet. After dinner we took some wine and our computers up to the Crew Bar to call cousin Molly on Skype. We talked to her for a bit, which was great! I also talked with Eric a bit, but the ship was once again doing that fabulous slow rocking that I like so much. Blech. Heather and I both felt a bit seasick so we had to cut things short. Heather went down a few minutes before me, but I wasn't far behind. I just finished up my conversation with Eric and went back down to the less-rocky lower decks.

Back in the cabin, we looked back at pictures from the day again then called it a night. What an awesome day!

Up next: a gorgeous afternoon in Old San Juan!

I know it may not seem like it because I posted a bajillion pictures here today, but there are more St. Thomas pictures on the photo share site! So, check it out if you want to see more of Franco and Remo!


Dad said...

What a great day! And to think we started it off years ago with the three of us swimming with dolphins. What fun!

Becky said...

I just love those sea lion pictures. What fun that looks like! I may have to put that on my bucket list.