Since most of St. John is a national park, it is laced with hiking paths. We took a ranger lead hike on the Reef Bay Trail, which starts at the crest of the island and ends at the sea. We could have taken this hike on our own, but we wouldn't have learned as much about the flora and fauna and would have had to climb back up the hill. Once we arrived at the ocean a boat picked us up and brought us back to the visitor's center.
Most of the trail wound through deep forest, providing welcome shade on a hot, sunny day. The ranger pointed out a variety of plants that the African slaves had learned how to use to cure their ills and relieve their pain. They must have had a lot of ills and pain. When the Danish bought the Virgin Islands, they intended to use them for growing sugar cane. That made sense on St. Criox, which is large and mostly flat, but St. John is mountainous with a thin layer of top soil. The slaves had to pull rocks out of the ground to terrace the hillsides to provide flat spots for the cane to be planted. Cane needs lots of water and neither St. John or St. Thomas have rivers or a reliable water supply. The Danes were not good slaveholders; it seems like that cruel streak that was readily found in the Spanish and French colonizers was not part of their psyche. They ran a loose ship, and really on an island this small there was nowhere for the slaves to go. Although the Danes were relatively benign, the working conditions were so taxing, the slaves finally had enough and revolted, killing all the men with their cane knives and putting the women and children on small islands offshore, where some lived to tell the tale.
Today the only evidence of this time are the ruins of the sugar mills and Danish homes. Considering the fact that they were built 300 years ago and no longer maintained, it is amazing that we could see so many remnants of the Danish sugar period. The cane fields are gone and the tropical forest has reclaimed the land. The ranger pointed out many fruit and nut trees that we have never heard of that are still important in the diet of the locals, most of whom can't afford the pricey imported stuff we are buying for ourselves in the small grocery store.
We had lunch at the base of a waterfall, going great guns after the six inches of rain we endured last Friday. It won't last long. The steep mountainsides funnel everything efficiently to the sea. We walked over many ravines that the locals used to use as garbage chutes since a brisk rain washes everything to the sea. Waste removal is a real problem here. St. John used to have a dump, but the refuse caught on fire in the tropical sun. These days their garbage is hauled over to St. Thomas, which has also had refuse fires.