Here in “the states” we have our road rules. But things are a little more laid back in St. John in the Virgin Islands, a repeat destination for our family vacation this year.
A 4WD vehicle is a must if you want to see anything beyond the port of Cruz Bay. Our rental Jeep was durable and maneuverable navigating the roads’ multiple 90 degree switchbacks. (Disclaimer: I let others drive, thank you.) The roads have steep drop-offs, are often strewn with leaves, gravel, fallen rocks or potholes, and are extremely slippery when wet. Driving is on the left here and speeds average 10-20 mph. Crossing the center line is about as sensible as driving blindfolded.
Our villa was more than half way up the steep and narrow Bordeaux Mountain Road, which climbs to the 1200 feet, the highest point on the island. Until a few years ago, this part of the road was rock-strewn, unpaved and nearly impassible. Even with most of it paved, the road on the Coral Bay side is still just as narrow, steep and challenging as any of road on the island, some of which are little changed from their donkey trail days. Indeed, you will still find donkeys or little goats casually bunching and munching around any corner.
School buses, water tank trucks, construction and utility vehicles are common sights on the winding roads. We once found ourselves behind an uphill-bound pickup truck filled with a load of rattling new windows secured by a single bungee cord. The laid-back attitude that draws visitors to the beaches and bars here is a way of life for locals about their daily business, which runs loosely on “island time.”
Nevertheless, it was unnerving when Jim saw a huge dump truck stuck about halfway up Bordeaux Mountain Road, which in most spots is wide enough for only one average vehicle. The truck was apparently out of diesel fuel and the driver was waiting for help. Hours later we drove up again and the driver was still there beside his truck, piled high with huge boulders.
The man had a big smile on his face, nodded happily and mumbled something, but it wasn’t clear if any help was coming soon.
The truck driver had snapped the truck’s huge side view mirrors closed and we pulled in our mirrors in as well as the driver tried to direct us past the truck. Keep in mind there are no shoulders on this road which is lined with thick foliage and rock walls. Jim inched by a breath away from scraping either the truck or the cliff wall.
Later in the day, the driver was still there, along with a red gas container and two other men standing in front. Friday night, on our last visit to Skinny Legs, the truck was still in the darkened roadway, abandoned by humans. No flashing lights, no flares in the road to mark the site. Only our imagination and caution lit the way.
But that’s the way it is in St. John where one can take a fully loaded truck of rock up one of the steepest, narrowest roads with probably inadequate fuel, no flares, no help in sight. Counterintuitive? Yes. A big problem? No. Here you are on island time, and hurry and worry dissolve with a big grin.
You can check out some of the Jeep-cam videos on YouTube but they don’t capture the full jarring verticalness of driving St. John roads. If you have a back problem, it’s probably not a good idea to travel these roads; and if you don’t have a back problem, you can always get one.