Our students reflect on their trip as they pack up and start to make their way home to Salem, Massachusetts.
Aine – With my gaze trained on the night sky, my hair dripping with the salty sea water I’ve just been splashing around in, I mutter my thoughts aloud: I want to go home. St. John will forever stay in my mind as a cherished memory and the clear teal seas, spontaneous rainfalls, and an endless supply of sunshine will be missed, but not more than my own bed, my sketchbook, and especially my baby sister. So I will be taking in each view, appreciating every feature of St. John before leaving it behind until our next adventure.
Alice – The long travel day ahead leads me away from an astounding study trip that has been St. John. Snorkeling through the clearest mix of blue and teal water will turn into hats, gloves, and jacket-covered walks through Massachusetts. While I miss the comfort of my home, the views of the mountaintops covered in the brightest of green trees is an images forever imprinted in my mind that I am not ready to leave. Constant heat and swarming bugs may have been unhelpful additions, yet I am grateful for every challenge and adventure St. John threw my way. Goodbye St. John, you were the best final chapter of my Phoenix trips.
Arlo – I’m ready to get back to my comfortable house. One with a toilet, running water, and food whenever I want. I can’t wait it see my family and cat, to get back to my regular schedule. Ready for colder weather, that I’m used to, with pants and sweatshirts. Although I am dying to get back to Salem, I can’t help but feel slightly discouraged by having to leave. I’ll miss the snorkeling and the constant warm weather and being with my peers all day long. But at least I still have memories preserved in photos to look at and remember for years to come.
Liam – It feels like it was just yesterday that we were scouring the school for clues as to where we would go, and yet here we are now, on our last night of the trip. I think about the memories I’ve made, of the cool breeze in my hair, the salty water on my tongue, and the warm sand between my toes. So as I say goodbye to this slice of paradise, I know that even when I leave, St. John, St. John will never leave me.
Fiona – Salty diamond waves that occupy the bay breeze flow over emerald hills, the same breeze that has stuck with me since I stepped off the plane into the pure Caribbean sun. The introduction to snorkeling will forever stay in my mind – the fish, reef, and wildlife were eye widening the first time I glanced at them, and now that my last has been lived, I swear that the water running down my cheek is just the sapphire sea.
Karina D – I feel the sun and wind kiss my cheek goodbye. Warm sand envelopes my feet in a hug. It is hard to let go of such a place. Thankfully I never will. Images of Sting Rays, Parrotfish and Blue Tang swim in my mind. Bright cyan water flashes in my eyes. These memories will keep me up at night, and most likely occupy me during the long plane ride ahead. When I arrive in Boston I will also let out a sigh of relief, for not all things in St. John will be missed. The once warm sand is no longer comforting me in my bed, rough sand and bigs seem to swarm me whenever I get comfortable. I’m looking forward to going to the landless, simple Massachusetts, but the hills of St, John will occupy my mind forever more.
Karina PZ – Resting my head on my hand, I absorb all the breathtaking views as they speed past. This will be my last open-air taxi ride. Grabbing memories of St. John and replaying them in my head feels like it was just yesterday that I hopped off the ferry and marveled at the wonder that is St. John. I will miss the leafy green hills, the cerulean sea, and the colorful atmosphere. However, I am excited to go home and be reunited with my parents and pets. No matter how glad I will be to be home, I will never forget this experience, and I bid St. John a tearful goodbye.
Max – I find myself staring at the marine marvel that is the water of ST. John, standing in the surf, lost in thought. A week ago, I would have given anything to go home, but now I realize just how much I will miss the Beauties of the island. Everything about ST. John is great (except for the heat), even the rain because it is very refreshing. I am sad to leave, but very eager to tell everyone about it.
Alfie – It’s finally come to an end. The crashing waves and the whistle of the bugs, were all sadly fading. Part of me wants to go home, but another part wants to stay and see the outstanding fish, coral, and sting rays. It will be hard not to see the donkey on the windy, roller coaster taxi bus. Seeing tropical trees, feeling really fresh mango juice filling my mouth, missing the shocking brown pelican, and wearing shorts will be some of the saddest things I will miss as I go back to cold Mass. Just one more amazing dinner to eat. I wish they had it in Mass. Well, goodbye St. John, it has been the best experience learning about slave history, hiking to the ruins, finding the best sugar cane history and windmill ruins at Annaberg, getting to try sugar cane, and having Miss Olivia giving us mango tea and just helping us. Well, it’s time to go. Farewell St. John, hope to come back with my family.
Eziah – As we get ready to say goodbye to the warm and beautiful St. John and go back to the cold and brittle lands of Mass, I feel sad. Saying goodbye to the jaw-dropping lands of St. John is not easy, but at least I get to see my family again. I have made wonderful memories that I can cherish for all eternity and that I can share with my family. Who knows, maybe my family and I will come back to the warm, amazing, and wonderful people and animals of St. John. Goodbye, St. John. I will miss you.
Aiden – I am kind of sad to leave the beautiful St. John, but at least I am able to tell my stories to the TK-4s. It was fun snorkeling and gliding across the sea animals. It was enjoyable while it lasted and now my mom needs me and snorkeling is done.
Alice, Arlo, Eziah, and Fiona start their day at the crack of dawn with an early morning snorkel with Mike and Kyle.
Cautiously, we journey into the brisk, early morning waters of Cinnamon Bay. Despite the groggy awakening, our minds are swimming with the fish that we are eagerly anticipating. Caffeinated by the shock of the frigid sea, we stumble upon a stingray early into our expedition. As we gingerly approach the jagged rocks of Cinnamon Cay, the vicious current violently drags us off course. Luckily we are still able to snorkel through schools of glistening bar jacks and sergeant majors. Diverse hidden fish emerge from crevices amongst the shallow reef, wondering what school of fish we are. After an hour of creature-filled snorkeling, we return with stories of astounding marine life and fascinating reef coral. by Alice, Arlo, Eziah, and Fiona.
The rest of us take advantage of another hour of sleep before heading to breakfast where we meet our intrepid snorkelers.
Today we hike the trail to the top of Amerika Hill where the ruins of the Great House overlooking the waters below remain. We imagine living in the cool breezes atop the sugar cane-covered mountain, watching over the sugar factory below, and keeping track of trading ships bringing goods to the island and transporting sugar, rum, and molasses to distant shores.
The climb to the Great House ruins is very difficult for us even with stairs at one point that slaves would not have had. To make it even worse, slaves would be carrying heavy loads, tons of sugar cane, and up to 35 tons of dirt and manure for the plantings each day after day. No trees would shelter them from the angry sun. Our journey is through the shade, but we still suffer from the heat. We imagine how a slave might feel trudging barefoot up the hill, then looking down from the Great House knowing the view is devastating instead of motivating.
Cinnamon Bay’s sugar factory and Bay Rum distillery were the most profitable on the island. We wander through the ruins that once made money for the owners, but now stand in silence a reminder of a distant time. We pause to record the ruins in watercolor in our journals. Maybe understanding and remembering history will help us live a kinder future.
One last snorkel and swim brings us to the close of our last day on St. John. Tomorrow we head home, happy to see our families and live with hot showers, but we take memories with us that will hopefully bring us back to St. John. Kyle and Ella, who have helped us all week, tell us we will certainly return just as they have done since being a Phoenix traveler to St. John National Park when they were younger.
Welcome to Day 4 of our 2023 St. John, USVI Travel Study Trip. Today, we had the pleasure of experiencing the beauty of Francis Bay with a seashore walk and snorkel.
Despite the brisk breeze and swells, we made our way onto the limestone shelf rock where marine organisms shelter until they are big enough to live in deeper waters. Although the swells made it difficult to see into the water, we were lucky enough to spot brittle stars, which we all got to hold.
We then headed to the calmer waters of Maho Bay where we were able to see a variety of sea creatures, including blue tang, spiny-finned fish, sergeant majors, and parrot fish. Some of us were even able to spot sponges and brain coral. It was a truly magical experience, and we felt like a school of humans as we swam through a school of bar jacks.
As the sun set, a National Park Archaeologist shared the history of the early peoples of St. John. We learned about the spiritual significance of Cinnamon Bay for people traveling from South America and Puerto Rico, the colonial period when St. John was owned by several European countries, and the sugar plantations run by the Danes until slavery was abolished. We were fascinated by the artifacts from all periods, which helped tell her stories.
To end the day, we shared our favorite watercolor pages and gave each other compliments and suggestions. It was amazing to see the incredible artwork created by our Phoenix School’s EarlyAct Club. Our artists incorporated information about our experiences into their masterpieces like pros.
Join us for more adventures on our 2023 St. John, USVI Travel Study Trip!
Phoenix School’s EarlyAct Club is on the job today. We join Taylor, a Friends of the Virgin Island volunteer, to give back to the National Park with a day of service. We head out early for Brown Bay to help clean the environment there. After a mile hike up a rocky, “super steep incline” to the ridge and back down to the beach, we go to work. At the beach, we sift through dirt and sand to find and separate trash; mostly plastic, rope, and bottle caps. Liam finds a big bucket covered with a thousand ants. We leave the ants but remove the bucket.
Under a relentless, beating sun we work, thankful for our water bottles. Nearby we spy giant termite nests and wood with termite holes, but no visible termites. They are smart to hide away in their nests and tunnels from the intense sunlight. We spy thousands of wasps minding their own business, happy to be left alone. Everywhere there are flying bugs and more bugs trying to annoy us, but we try hard to ignore them. Taylor shows us false pineapple, starvation fruit, and other native plants. Hermit crabs and brown pelicans are treats for our eyes, but the highlight is spying a sting ray in the water close to shore.
We return to camp with a sense of accomplishment in helping our National Park community, ready to seek shade under our restaurant’s canopy. It is a perfect time to relax and work on journal watercolor pages as we rehydrate and renew our strength for a late afternoon snorkel.
Cinnamon Bay waters welcome us back to its underwater world. As we swim, we encounter a range of marine life, from the stunning body of the Moon Jelly to the hard yellow shell of the Hawksbill turtle. We see the Sargent Major, the Conch sitting atop a coral throne, and the Trumpet fish with its shiny, grey skin and long snout.
Our day ends with the thundering surf beckoning us to bed after a day of sun, service, and swimming…in paradise! Stay tuned for more updates on our St. John, USVI Travel Study Trip with The Phoenix School.
We travel back in time today, walking in the footprints of Annaberg sugar plantation slaves. From the moment we pass by the foundation ruins of slave huts, hovels too small to imagine anyone living there easily, we question history. We try to imagine hillsides covered with cane instead of dry tropical forest that we see today. Steep mountainsides rise above Annaberg windmill, with a horse mill at its base dominating the landscape.
We conjure images of slaves cutting, stacking, and dragging heavy cane stalks down mountainside to the mill; backbreaking work 12 hours a day under burning sun. Slaves feed sugar cane through hungry rollers, sending juice along troughs to the boiling house where slaves stoke fires and skim boiling pots of cane juice until it is exactly right. From the last kettle to the drying rack, the process drains the life from the workers. We try to understand WHY. We know that intense labor is necessary for the plantation owners to profit, but as we look at history here at Annaberg from the slave’s perspective, it is difficult to understand being treated like an animal. We have deep discussions, sharing our questions and perspectives. We even simulate being made to work the rollers on the horse mill by circling the center only 3 times, after which we are exhausted under the burning sun. It is unimaginable to think that slaves had to do just that, push a heavy pole around and around to turn the rollers for hours at a time.
To our delight, in the cook house, Miss Olivia is baking a traditional johnny cake and sharing her sorrel tea and mango juice. She is generous in making sure we all get to taste and drink to our heart’s content. Her little bake house even shelters us from the sporadic downpours that roll over from Tortola.
Mr. Charles invites us into his garden, gladly cracking coconuts for us to eat, cutting sugar cane to satisfy our sugar cravings, and letting us sample his horseradish. Weldon, a Friends of the Virgin Islands volunteer, answers our questions about plantation working conditions and sugar production. History comes alive for us at Annaberg.
Our afternoon brings us our first snorkel. If one were to ask Mike, Kyle, and Ella, they might say it is a bit like herding cats. If one were to ask a Phoenix kid, exclamations of glee might be the most common response. Some of us begin with mask and snorkel issues, fear of dying, being eaten by a marine critter, or drowning in deep water, but once we are in the groove, surrounded by flashing fish, curiosity and exhilaration of being in a coral reef world takes over. As we glide along like fish ourselves, we encounter a gracefully paddling Hawksbill sea turtle. He meanders along, probably wondering what kind of school of creatures we are, underwater and shouting through our snorkels in our enthusiasm. It is surely a gift for us to see a sea turtle on our first snorkel adventure.
After a splash at the beach, just for fun, we head to dinner….grilled by our own Chef Kyle tonight.
Once it is totally dark, we join Ranger Naturalist, Mark, on our beach for a Sky Talk to learn about the stars above. The sky is brilliant tonight, twinkling its welcome and sending us to bed listening to the gentle surf as we drift off to sleep.
As we made maps to trace our journey from Boston to Atlanta and over the backbone of St. Thomas, we knew we were in for an adventure. We boarded the Redhook ferry, crossed rolling water with whitecaps waving at us all the way to Cruz Bay on St. John, and wound our way through switch-backing mountain roads to our final destination, Cinnamon Bay campground. But the true distance we covered today was even more incredible than we expected, and our long day left us feeling the tropical heat and basking in brilliant sunlight. Leaving cold Massachusetts behind was easy, and we’d been looking forward to this moment for weeks. Our journey was more than just a physical one; it was an educational travel experience that allowed us to explore different cultures and immerse ourselves in new environments.
“I buzz with excitement as I wait to start painting creatures, plants, and places flowing from my mind and onto the paper, the bright saturated colors warping and mixing as I go. By the end of our tropic adventure, I will go home with the essence of St. John tucked in my backpack in a sketchbook.” – condensed from Aine’s journal
“After nine years of waiting, imagery floods my mind of Kindergarten me patiently listening to the 6-8’s experiences and memories made together and wondering, ‘When will it be my turn?’ Colored pencil portraits of VI marine life are seemingly jumping off my journal pages and into the water right before my eyes. I have a head full of knowledge from my research and a heart bubbling with anticipation. I feel more ready than ever to immerse myself in everything the VI has to offer.” – condensed from Alice’s journal
“One clue after another, we get closer to finding our study trip destination. Finally, we guess St. John and, to our surprise, it’s confirmed. Instantly I am taken to a beach surrounded by stunning blue water with palm trees rustling in the wind mixed with the rhythmic crashing of waves creating soothing music on the shoreline.” – condensed from Arlo’s journal
“It’s going to be very enjoyable to be somewhere I have never been before. Snorkeling causes me to be scared of St. John’s wavy, blue ocean because I feel like the deep blue water will swallow me even though I have a life jacket on. This is going to be so exciting because it will introduce me to new things. I feel like I am going to explode.” – condensed from Aiden’s journal
“The adventures I might find in the Virgin Islands are unimaginable. Snorkeling excites me and as I see a sea turtle swim by me, I imagine that I’m touching its shell.” – condensed from Eziah’s journal
“I assure myself my soul will be filled soon with St. John’s salty trade winds blowing wonder into my mind. I imagine splashing and flapping with flamboyant fish, encircled in their lively dance, a part of the Caribbean expanse.” – condensed from Karina D’s journal
“I’m incredibly excited for this trip. It will be a whole new tropical experience; the views, refreshing trade winds, and a variety of small critters. Snorkeling will also be new. I’ve never been snorkeling before and I’m kind of nervous. Fish are a little bit scary and I’ve only seen them from a distance. However, I am still excited for the trip. I made a lot of good memories last year, and I know there will be more memories that I make this year. – from Karina PZ’s journal
“As the plane bounces up and down, I can feel my anticipation building up. I envision myself snorkeling in the crystal blue water of the VI, seeing the vibrant fish and plentiful corals, but something else tugs at my brain. The scene shifts to the great house. From the hill the view is magnificent. I want to stare at it all day. With a sudden jolt, I am shattered back to the plane. Now, just like the plane, I am bouncing up and down in my seat. I cannot wait.” – condensed from Max’s journal
“I’m feeling pretty worried about going to St. John because I never went on a plane before. I’m so pumped to see all the colorful fish and birds, just watching the sunset, and writing about what I learned.” – condensed from Alfie’s journal
“My eyebrows raise, my lips grin with a giggly insecure feeling inside. I get to fly to tropical St. John. In my head I envision the smell of the beach, so salty, so exhilarating to dive in and enjoy the academic water experience. A proud feeling washes through my body as these patterned creatures prove my research correct, or maybe they’ll teach me I was wrong.” – condensed from Audrey’s journal
“Existing in the moment, I’ll notice the sound first, the sound of birds chirping and the ever warm water crawling onto the sand. A cool breeze flows against my face, whistling in my ears and through my ocean-curled hair. There’s so much more room for this island to grow in the garden that is my mind. It will be ever so rewarding to go.” – condensed from Fiona’s journal
“At the very thought of St. John’s rich and immersive history and ecosystem, I am filled with wonder. I can’t wait to see in person what I have spent so long researching, the sugar mill, coral, and animals alike. It is always terrifying to think about being away from home, but it is easily outweighed by my anticipation for the experiences to comes.” – condensed from Liam’s journal
Let the adventures begin!