A mile south of our camp, we found a fallen sign next to a broken road leading uphill and west: Scenic Route. Our now-crumpled map, provided free at the airport days earlier by hopeful advertisers, echoed the invitation: Scenic Route. Our eyes met, questioned, then agreed. A right turn, and we were adventure-borne.
In minutes the winding pockmarks became new macadam, but our progress remained slow until we passed the yellow-flagged, plant-eating crew manning machines that chewed shoulder grass, weeds, and three-inch thick branches like Skoal. For the next several miles the expansive views and expensive houses explained why the road was the best we had yet found on the island.
At a junction not shown on our see-visit-buy map, the Scenic Route, which was indicated to be dirt throughout, finally found its nature and became dirt. Rising, twisting, and no longer mowed, it collapsed to a narrow, rutted lane, and began climbing steeply. Never ones to do the common touristic quadrille, we laughed at the mountain and commented on the beautiful flora, the soft breeze, and the thrill of exploration.
Suddenly the dirt became sharp, unroadworthy rock. Perhaps we should have stopped. Perhaps we should have rolled tail-first down the hard-packed tracks. Perhaps we should have, but we were adventure-borne, and our map promised an outlet in our future. We continued, scrub mountain on one side, demon’s drop on the other.
A furlong more, and my love for the rut-rock road became an oil pan anxiety. I stopped, got out, and hiked uphill, looking for an expanded waist where I might perform a three-, four-, or eight-point turn and live to drive another road. I measured each possible location with my eyes, discarding all that seemed likely to drop a wheel down and hang up the undercarriage. Finally, five car lengths into litho-purgatory, I resolved to make my play.
My confidence was not buoyed when, upon my resitting the driver’s seat, my wife, fearing sinkholes, surprising abysses, or my unexpected desire to breach the cliff edge, announced that she would watch from land. I laughed with a Legionnaire’s sangfroid, mounted my camel, and proceeded alone across dip and prominence, listening with three ears for the rasp of destruction below.
After a delicious and authentic Frederiksted lunch of salt fish with dumpling and stewed goat served by the West End Grill‘s no-nonsense wait staff, we spent the rest of the day at the St. George Botanical Gardens, a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.
Unique among the many such collections we have visited, the St. George is on the grounds of an 18th century Danish sugar cane plantation, with the plants growing out of the ruins.
Where other facilities might have lawyers protecting visitors from the risk of slanted, uneven steps, St. George requires your activity and connection to them. “Beautiful,” we said repeatedly, always conscious of emotional cross–currents engendered by robust, spectacular, and rare plant life lifting out of tumbled rock walls erected by African slaves.
(More from the St. George Botanical Gardens to follow soon.)