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Date: 20 Jan 2011 02:36:00
Title: A volcano and lots of wildlife

Wednesday night

We got up at 6am this morning so that we could get up the volcano before it got too hot. As it was, we got walking soon after 7:30 so not too bad as we had to make some food to take with us. The first bit of the walk is up a road past a lot of houses. Most of them are pretty scruffy and many look half-finished. Alongside the abandoned ones in the town, it gives Statia the air of somewhere that's gradually being abandoned.

Soon, we were walking through scrubby forest and then the first surprise. Andrea spotted a hermit crab on the path. We were already about a mile from the beach and way above it so it was a bit of a shock to see it there. We thought we'd found something remarkable but soon realised that the forest was full of them, scuttling about. They were all in what must be discarded snail shells although we never found one with its original resident. Where they breed is a mystery to us. We originally wondered if they go down to the sea but we found them all over the volcano so that's not possible. There aren't any streams or other standing water so it's a a proper puzzle.

The path up the volcano, called The Quill, is well maintained so we reached the rim of the crater quickly and, as we'd hoped, before the temperature got too high. There we sat on a rock looking into the crater. It's all covered in forest but the crater lip is very narrow and rocky, only a few yards wide. As we sat there, we were joined by a cockerel - a proper farmyard rooster. He was really tame and hassled Kali for a bit of her orange as she was peeling it. In the end, he demolished our apple cores and then waited around for the next hikers to appear.

We began our descent into the crater itself down a rocky path that was hard going. The plantlife changed instantly to proper rainforest with massive leaves all around us. As we reached the bottom of the crater, the trees got much larger. One, in particular, seemed to be supported by buttresses of creepers that were so old that they'd become as strong as trees themselves. The whole thing looked really other-worldly. We followed the path around a loop in the crater, all of it covered in thick moss, creepers and fungi. We heard plenty of birds but didn't see any through the thick foliage. On the way out, we found an amazing shape described by vines. They'd grown around a trunk which had fallen and then rotted away, leaving the still living vines entwined around the vacant space where the trunk had been.

It was a scramble back up the crater rim and then we followed another path up to a higher spot where we got a great view of most of Statia with Saba, St Martin and St Barths visible in the sea around. We could also see 10 tankers queued up, waiting for their turn at the oil terminal. Once we'd finished staring out, we clambered down the steep first section and then walked back down to the town. As we did so, we spotted a succession of lovely black snakes with orange markings. Apparently, they're harmless but they were very beautiful and I even managed to stroke on of them. He didn't think much of it, though, and headed off into the rocks.

By the time we got back to town, it was about 2pm so we grabbed a cold drink in a bar where we got chatting to a couple who were here on a diving holiday. The guy told my about the oil terminal. Apparently, they deliver oil here in single-hulled tankers and then pump it into double-hulled ones that are allowed into the USA and through the Panama canal. It's all very well but this whole island is a marine reserve and there they are pumping oil around having delivered it here in vessels that are so inherently unsafe that they're not even allowed into the seas of most countries. It looks like a disaster in the making to me. I can't imagine the neighbouring islands are very happy with Statias little business. A load of crude oil would make a right old mess of all the white sand around here.

After our drink, we headed back to Saxon Blue for a swim to cool off. Kali and I then went snorkelling along the old wharf wall and had yet more wildlife encounters. The first was a young Barracuda, patrolling the rocks and looking very sleek. All the usual fish were there plus some Puffer Fish and a whole shoal of purple fish with neon blue fins. I don't know how they could look that bright but it really did seem as though they were illuminated from within. After that, I spotted a huge old Admiralty Pattern anchor and even a cannon although I think these are put there for the benefit of tourists. Anyway, Kali called me over and pointed down at the sand. It took me a while to make out a turtle sitting there, almost motionless. I didn't want to disturb him but, after a long time, he started moving so I dived down and tried to catch up. He let me get close then accelerated and left me well behind. As if that wasn't enough, Kali then spotted a ray which I dived down to and swam with for a few moments. That was the highlight, really, as I could see him looking up at me and just swimming along.

By now, I was completely knackered and we headed back for the boat. I was glad to get there and just collapsed in the cockpit for a while before getting a shower and starting to revive. I rang the bank and got them to reinstate my card so we should be able to get some cash out tomorrow. After that fun, we all came ashore to eat in the Blue Bead restaurant which was OK if a little odd. In fact, a lot of the people seem to be a little odd. Nice but a bit vague. I suppose that's the result of Island Life.

While I've been writing this, Kali has found out that the hermit crabs do, in fact, breed in the sea. They leave their shells on the beach and dive in to mate, then come out, choose another home from the many discarded ones and head back up the hill. How the ones in the crater itself managed to get there I can't imagine. It's 600 meters up the outside and another 300 back down inside. They have to retrace that if they want to breed. The young are planktonic for a while before they, too, leave the sea and find a nearby forest. Life really is incredible.

Harvey

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