Unlike the luxuriously smooth sailing and indulgent cocktails on our way to Norman Island, our trip to visit the Baths at Virgin Gorda was about power and speed, for it would have taken far too long to get to Virgin Gorda by sailboat. With our 4 new friends, we rented a 27-foot powerboat from Jost Van Dyke Scuba, which was captained superbly by our knowledgeable and entertaining guide, Martin. This allowed us not only to get to the Baths more quickly, but also to choose where else we wanted to visit on our way to and from the Baths. Splendid!
While we visited several places throughout the day (including Guana Island and Diamond Cay) the Baths were hands down the highlight of this trip, so I will focus on them here. The rest will be described briefly at the end of the post.
The Baths are formed by massive granite boulders, which resulted from volcanic activity, that look like they’ve been dropped from the sky and left where they fell. Their haphazard positioning on top of each other, and amidst the Virgin Gorda coastline, make for fascinating grottoes and caves both above and below the water. I’ve heard several stories about how they got their name, and most agree that the slaves were “bathed” here.
While the above picture does not show all of the boulders, it gives a good idea of their number and size as compared with the tiny snorkelers in the foreground and the boat to the left side. They are a sight to behold.
Upon arrival, we moored our boat and leisurely snorkeled our way to the beach as Martin kindly swam our belongings ashore in his dry bag. Once ashore, we put on our sandals, got out our cameras, and away we went, not really knowing what to expect. [Tip: Wear sandals. If not for the footing needed to get through the Baths, then for the hot sands!]
We quickly realized that getting through the caves and grottoes required sure footing, the occasional shimmy, and some careful maneuvers down ropes and creatively positioned wooden ladders, which was not always easy with snorkel gear and camera in hand! But every step was worth it. There were multiple nooks and crannies to explore and I wish we’d had more time to do just that. Next time, we’ll do some detective work to see when it’s the least crowded and then take our camera and tripod and allow enough time to savor this stunning place for as long as it deserves.
I’ll let the pictures tell the story of the beautiful grottoes, unusual rock formations, and boulder-filled beaches that we saw that day. You’ll surely want to come visit. [Remember: To see the captions, click the “i” on the upper right of the gallery on PCs or the button with 3 horizontal lines on flash-enabled devices like iPads.]
The Baths at Virgin Gorda
In addition to the stunning Baths, we also visited Monkey Point at Guana Island during our trip. Islands magazine had just named Guana Island as one of the top 8 snorkeling spots in the Caribbean, so I was excited to snorkel here. We’ll add our snorkeling pictures to a later post, but the most notable part of Monkey Point was the millions of small silverside fish that lined the shores, which brought birds, pelicans, and bigger fish like tarpon to feed on them. I’ll admit, it was a bit disconcerting to be swimming with prey. Otherwise, the snorkeling at Monkey Point was similar to that at Norman Island. We saw many of the same colorful fish and coral.
Our final snorkeling stop of the day was a bit depressing, I must say. To give you some context, our boat ride from Jost Van Dyke to Virgin Gorda and back was flanked primarily by forested, mountainous islands with houses dotted intermittently among some of them. I didn’t realize that I had been lulled into bliss by this uninterrupted nature until we came upon a long, industrial looking building on the island to our right, across from a monstrosity of a building on the island to our left. I literally cringed, as they both seemed so out of place with the nature of these islands. I quickly realized that the building on the right was the Beef Island airport and the building on the left was a newly built Marriott on Scrub Island. Ewww.
We asked Martin about it and he was not sure how the Marriott got there, since the British Virgin Islands typically do not accept franchises (though he said car rental agencies Hertz and Avis, and now Marriott, have somehow snuck in recently). And funnily enough, now they are considering expanding the airport way into the channel. Coincidence? I imagine not. Martin thinks that if the airport is expanded, it could be the beginning of the end for the natural bliss of the islands. It is with this knowledge (and sadness) that I was surprised to see that our last snorkeling spot was at Diamond Cay, not far from both offensive structures.
As the others stayed in the boat to relax, Jeff and I chose to snorkel around Diamond Cay. The difference was obvious–these fish flocked to us instantly and followed us around. Surely, they’ve been fed by humans. We hadn’t had that experience anywhere else we snorkeled. Sad. I fear the effect this Marriott will have on these islands. Sigh.
As I swam to get back onto the boat, I was quickly knocked off of my moral high horse when Jeff pointed to a rather large barracuda who was shading himself under our boat. Aaaack! Our guides had already told us this was a possibility and that they rarely harm humans, so I had avoided wearing shiny things or splashing around, so as not to draw his attention. Both fascinated and intimidated by him, I climbed aboard and breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps he was there to remind me this is his turf. Fair enough, buddy, fair enough.
The rest of our boat ride home was wonderfully uneventful, and I made sure to soak in the nature of the islands. None of us ever know how long we have…nature included. This realization prompted me to contact a member of the Jost Van Dyke Preservation Society. I meet with her tomorrow.
How does it just keep getting better and better. Beautiful pictures!! And I love your narratives.
And I love you