Trip Reports: February 2011 - Caribbean

In February I escaped the bitter cold spell the Rockies had been experiencing all month. I headed south to the paradise of the Caribbean. I fit a lot of different types of photography into my 12 day trip. From the historic fortresses of Old San Juan in Puerto Rico, to the El Yunque Rainforest  in search of a bird I've always wanted to photograph and then on to  the British Virgin Islands, where I shot mostly waterscapes and landscapes. Of course I also got my fair share of relaxation in as well, not that taking photographs in paradise is all that stressful! Enjoy!

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I snapped this photo with my cell phone on the way to the airport. At that time it was over 80 degrees in Puerto Rico, meaning I would be experiencing a temperature change of over 100 degrees this day. A most welcome, and motivating thought as I drove to the airport at 2am, with a long travel day ahead of me. 

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On our descent into Atlanta I witnessed an optical phenomenon known as a "brocken spectre" which is essentially a seemingly gigantic shadow cast upon the upper surfaces of clouds when an object passes between the sun and the clouds. This phenomenon is most often seen by climbers on high mountain ridges or from airplanes. Also, there is a very visible ring of color around the shadow known as a "glory"  which is another optical phenomenon cause by backscattered light, which I don't fully understand, and won't attempt to describe here. Luckily I had my trusty cell phone with me to capture this cool little treat on an otherwise boring flight.

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A thick layer of low clouds Somewhere between Atlanta and San Juan.

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Finally the clouds broke as we cleared the mainland of the U.S. Looking down on the warm waters of the Atlantic made me antsy to get on the ground and into some warmer weather. 

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Looking down on San Juan, Puerto Rico as we began our descent. The mountains you can just make out in the distance is the El Yunque Rainforest, where I would be headed in just  a few days. 

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About to land as we pass over the "Bridge of Flags" in San Juan. 

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For the first stint of our trip we stayed in San Juan, which was really fun for me because last time I was here we spent all of our time on the southern part of the Island. There are many amazing things to see in San Juan and I was disappointed to not be able to photograph them last time. This shot is a double rainbow that appeared late in the evening from the beach where we were staying. 

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An amazing sunset over San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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The streets of Old San Juan, the historical colonial section of San Juan, Puerto Rico are famous for their narrow, blue cobblestone streets and colorful buildings that date back to the 16th and 17th century when San Juan was under Spanish Rule. The oldest parts of the town are still surrounded the fortress walls that have protected this city for hundreds of years. 

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The uneven streets of Old San Juan are narrow and laid with blue cobblestone, which have been polished and cracked from use over the years.

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I could have spent a week in Old San Juan photographing all the beautiful doors around the city. I didn't have that kind of time, but I did stop and make a few images of doors that didn't have cars parked in front of them. 

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As we walked the streets of Old San Juan I was constantly pointing my camera at the  beautiful architecture and colors that make up this historic city.

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A detail shot of one of the many accent pieces that adorn these buildings.

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I visited the city during mid-day when it was especially crowded, so parked cars on the narrow streets made photography difficult, but there were a few areas that weren't obstructed.

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I saw this piece of art on the side of a building in an alley and it caught my eye. 

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The Museo de Pablo Casals is dedicated to musician Pablo Casals, and houses the memorabilia left to the people of Puerto rico by the famous maestro. In Puerto Rico, the annual Casals festival draws international interest and performing artists from all over the world. 

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Three green doors.

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A bench and a tree next to the Museo de Pablo Casals.

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Like the colorful buildings and cobblestone streets, the gas lamps that light the streets of Old San Juan add to the charm of this beautiful city. 

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This is the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista. The Cathedral is one of the oldest buildings in San Juan, and the second oldest cathedral in the western hemisphere. Construction of the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista began in 1521. The cathedral holds the tomb of the spanish explorer and settlement founder, Ponce de Leon, who, as legend has it, died searching for the fountain of youth in Florida.

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The forts of Old San Juan are what I really was looking forward to photographing this day. The first one we visited was the Castillo de San Cristobal. Pictured here is one of the iconic "garitas" that have become a symbol for the entire island of Puerto Rico. 

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A  panorama looking out from the main battery. The city of San Juan can be seen in the distance. 

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Just a piece of stonework I found really interesting.

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"La Garita del Diablo" This sentry box is one of the oldest parts of the fort. Legend has it that the devil himself would snatch away soldiers from this lonely outpost at the edge of the sea, which is why it now has the ominous name of "The Devils Garita"

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A local inhabitant sunning himself on the fort walls.

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A look at another garita that still stands over the ocean as it did hundreds of years ago.

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One of the neatest parts of the fort were the tunnel systems. This particular tunnel is the largest of six hidden tunnels that ran through the structure. These tunnels, or "galleries" were important for strategical reasons, as they protected soldiers from enemy fire and allowed for commanders to move large amounts of troops unseen.

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The tunnels were very dark, and not a place for someone with claustrophobia. A long exposure with my camera allows more light to be seen that what can be picked up by the naked eye. This tunnel leads to the main plaza of Castillo San Cristobal

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This is the entrance to the dungeon, about halfway through the tunnel. 

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The inside of the Dungeon. This is not somewhere I would have liked to have been kept. It was hot, humid and downright miserable inside. It was one of my favorite parts of the fort though. I spent probably 20 minutes inside taking photos. By the time I came out I was drenched in sweat. 

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The reason I loved the dungeon so much was because of these fascinating drawing of Spanish Galleons on the dungeon walls. They are most likely the work of a Spanish captain being held here, awaiting execution for mutiny. 

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Another galleon on the dungeon walls. There were a few different ones, but the two I included in this trip report were my favorite. 

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This is a view from the top level of Castillo San Cristobal, looking past the slum neighborhood of La Perla and toward the second of the two large forts of Old San Juan, Fort San Felipe del Morro.

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During world war II the United States Army built an artillery observation point to the fort. Adding a modern concrete feature to the ancient defenses of Castillo San Cristobal, which at the time, was still an active military base. This is a view looking through one of the small slit windows of the observation tower. 

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This is the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, which is located just outside the north walls of Fort San Felipe del Morro. This cemetery is the final resting place of Puerto Rico's most prominent residents. 

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Another view of the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery.

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The fortress walls of El Morro extend right up to the cemetery. 

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A pair of monk parakeets were feeding on the grasses growing on the top of the fortress walls. 

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Monk Parakeet.

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The entrance to Fort San Felipe del Morro.

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Looking into the main plaza of Fort San Felipe del Morro.

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El Morro's Chapel Doors.

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A religious shrine inside the main plaza of the fort. 

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Facade above the Chapel Door.

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Another Garita looking out over the Atlantic. 

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Fort San Felipe del Morro, and its iconic garitas, have been standing proudly over the shores of Old San Juan since the 16th Century. Puerto Rico was the first large Island in this part of the world with food, supplies, fresh water and shelter. San Juan was also a mid way point between Europe and the New World. It's course on the Eastern Trade Winds and it's easily defended harbor made this the most important strategical place in the history of the Western Hemishphere. To have control of San Juan meant control of all the riches of the New World. El Morro, and San Juan, which were under Spanish Occupation from the 1500's until the late 1800's, Survived many serious attacks from foreign powers, who desperately wanted to control San Juan Harbor. Sir Francis Drake attacked the fort from the sea with his British fleet, but was unsuccessful after taking canon fire from the Spanish. England attacked once again, this time from land, but were once again unsuccessful at breaching the walls of El Morro. Other serious attacks came from the Dutch, who sacked the city but were forced off the island by the cannons of El Morro. It wasn't until 1898 during the Spanish - American War when a naval bombardment by the United States Navy, caused San Juan and the island of Puerto Rico to fall out of Spanish hands. The fort played a role in both World War 1 and and World War 2 for the United States. In 1961 the fortress was retired from service and became part of the National Park Service. In 1983 El Morro was delcared a UNESCO World Heritage Site by the United Nations.

** This image is available as a limited edition fine art print. **

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Most of the garitas in these forts have been repaired to some extent to preserve them for future generations. This one, which still had its old patina, was my favorite to photograph.

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Palm trees and clouds in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.

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I spotted this Grey Kingbird sitting in a bush and spent a good half hour photographing it as it flew to different perches. 

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The same bird, this time perched on a palm branch.

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This lone palm tree appeared to be stretching over the beach to get a better view of the setting sun. A tree after my own heart to be sure. 

** This image is available as a limited edition fine art print **

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The last light of the setting sun touches just the top of a beautiful cloud bank.

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After our time near the coast we headed for the El Yunque Rainforest. This is the view from my room in the rainforest. It was a really amazing place. 

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The view from our place in the rainforest, looking out towards the ocean.

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This  Belgian Malinois lived at our place in the rainforest. It was a very interesting dog to say the least. These dogs are used extensively as working dogs, most notably as the breed of choice for the Israeli Defense Forces. She was extremely protective and would spend much of the day doing perimeter checks of the property. 

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The owner of our place in the rainforest told me about a treacherous hike through the rainforest that led to a beautiful waterfall. Our place was located far from the tourist part of the forest and I was intrigued by the idea of getting to see a part of the forest most people don't. Plus, I was told the hike was treacherous and demanding and that most people don't make it all the way to the waterfall, so I had to give it a try. I was sort of cynical about his description of this hike, but I realized he was right as soon as I stepped off the property. No trails in a hilly rainforest makes for an almost impossible hike. I think I fell more of the way than I actually walked! A few minutes into the hike, I was already covered in mud from head to toe. 

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Things grow large here.

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This waterfall was the destination. It was absolutely beautiful. Directly behind me was another large drop, with a view of the ocean off in the distance. I only took the one photo, because these rocks were so slippery I was afraid of going over the edge. All in all it was a great hike!

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I heard the beautiful song of this pearly eyed thrasher in this tree, but the foliage was so dense it took me a few minutes to locate it.

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While on a hike I spotted this little anole posing in some perfect light.

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Same lizard, different angle.

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Water droplets on a red flower after a brief rainfall.

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A large tree snail in the rainforest. These things were everywhere, and quite large too. They were probably 3-4 inches in diameter. 

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An anole on a rock displays its dewlap.

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This is a Puerto Rican Spindalis that I photographed from the balcony of my room.  Known locally as Reina Mora, this bird is a tanager endemic to puerto rico.

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A green anole clinging to the side of a tree. 

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These lizards were pretty much everywhere.

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In the more "public" areas of El Yunque, there are paved trails that make hiking through the rainforest a breeze. This is a pretty typical look at the scenery of El Yunque.

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This is a Puerto Rican Ground Lizard. These are members of the whiptail family, and are endemic to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

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Little green anole sitting at the base of a palm.

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Here is the bird I was really after. My main goal for my time in the rainforest was to photograph one. It is a Puerto Rican Tody. A tiny bird endemic to the island. These little birds only weigh 4-5 grams. They fly about the forest in pairs calling to each other along the way. They aren't a rare bird, I saw many while hiking. However, due to their small size, their speed, their tendency to not sit still and the general thickness of the rainforest, photographing them was very hard for me. This was the best shot that I got. 

** This image is available as a limited edition fine art print. **

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At the top of the mountain lies Mt. Britton tower. I really wanted to see what the view was like from up there and decided I was going to hike to the top. Problem was, I had a major footwear malfunction and had to do the hike barefoot. I don't regret my decision to still hike to the top, but I think if I did it again I would prefer to have shoes! Its a mostly rock trail all the way to the top.

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Mt. Britton Tower. 

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This is a panorama I made from the top of the tower. If you look closely, in the center of the photo you can see the ocean. It was beautiful up there with the clouds hanging low over the Loquillo Mountains.

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You could see San Juan far in the distance from the top of the tower. 

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The days I spent in El Yunque were amazing to say the least. Now it was time to leave Puerto Rico and hop on a plane to Tortola. 

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Back to the airport in San Juan for a short flight to the British Virgin Islands.

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Looking down at the island of Jost Van Dyke from the plane.

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Another aerial view of Tortola.

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Tortola as seen from the plane. The beach on the top right is Long Bay, where I spent a lot of time taking photos. On the other side of the mountain at Long Bay is Smugglers Cove, and amazing beach to swim at.

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Flag of the BVI.

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We barely made it to our place before sunset and I was eager to get taking photos. I took this within an hour of making it to our place. Turns out it was the best sunset of the trip!

** This image is available as a limited edition fine art print **

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Long Bay.

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The beautiful blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. 

** This image is available as a limited edition fine art print **

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I love this guy.

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Long Bay again.

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In wildlife photography, it is a rare occasion when you can conceptualize and carry out a specific image you have in your mind. This is obviously due to the fact that wild animals do what they want. A wildlife photographer usually has no control over a particular shot. Animal photos come down to making the best of what nature, and the particular creature being photographed gives you. Every now and again though, you find a perfect scene where all the pieces fall together that enable you to truly compose a photo exactly the way you see it in your head. Such was the case with this little ghost crab I found on a beautiful day in Tortola. While relaxing on the beach one afternoon this tiny crab popped out of the sand about 20 feet in front of me. It was incredibly shy and shot back down into its hole any time I tried to stand up and look at it. As I lay there and watched this little sand crab excavating, I started to conjure up an image in my head. If I could get my fisheye lens close enough to the hole at sand level, while still keeping the beautiful landscape, sky and ocean in the frame, then I could get an image that conveyed what the world might look like through this little crabs eye. I didn't have a tripod with me so I dug a small pit a few inches away from the crab's hole, so that I could sink my camera lens to the beach level. I then stuck a towel in the hole to attempt to prevent getting any sand on my equipment. I laid on my stomach and looked through the viewfinder and lined up everything just how I wanted. In my dreams the crab would come out of its hole and I would capture this image I had in my head. I really had no hopes that it would work after seeing how shy the crab was, but hey, I was just laying on the beach as it was, so what did I have to lose. Once I had my shot set up just how I wanted I attached my shutter release cord and moved back as far away from my camera as the cord would allow. In only a matter of moments the crab peaked out of the hole, but disappeared before even his legs made it onto the beach. This went on for a matter of minutes, but to my surprise after a bit of sitting still, the brave little crab came all the way out of its hole and went about its business of excavating. I shot off a few frames and then removed my camera so that I wouldn't disturb the crab any longer. I still wasnt sure if I got the image I wanted but when I reviewed my shots later I was delighted to see this photo that I had conjured up in my head had been perfectly realized through my camera.

** This image is available as a limited edition fine art print **

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The same crab doing a little excavation.

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I liked this boat. Jealous of the guy up front.

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The same boat traveling under a rain cloud.

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There are a lot of nice boats that sail into Tortola. Some of them have helicopters. I'm pretty sure this boat could feed a small country, but to each his own I suppose.

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We chartered a boat to sail us to Jost Van Dyke to do some snorkeling and relaxing. 

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Love love love this water.

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This is a reconstructed tall ship that was anchored in the marina. I believe it is now used for movies.

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The crystal clear waters of White Bay on the Island of Jost Van Dyke as seen from the deck of a sailboat. The perfect Caribbean water and immaculate white sand lures thirsty sailors from all over. Just jump overboard, and swim to shore and you will find yourself at the world Famous Soggy Dollar Bar, which got its name for obvious reasons.

** This image is available as a limited edition fine art print **

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Our trusty crew, with Captain Paul at the wheel. 

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The Steele Point Estate occupies the entire western peninsula of Tortola. You can rent it, but I think you need to be the kind of person who has a helicopter on their boat.

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Looking out toward the Island of St. Thomas, in the USVI. If you look closely you can see that its by far the most populated of all the Virgin Islands. I believe Captain Paul called it the Manhattan of the Caribbean. Taken from White Bay on Jost Van Dyke.

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Me doing a little snorkeling off of a little island that I forget the name of.

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Sopers Hole. Spent a lot of evenings here eating dinner.

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The only rainy day of the trip. Made for some beautiful views though.

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At the shores of Cappoons Bay sits Bomba's Shack. This little surf shack is definitely one of a kind. Its been built out of driftwood and anything else that has washed ashore that can be used as construction material. Bomba has quite a reputation on the island. His parties are notorious, especially during a full moon. This place is definitely not meant for the kids!

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A panoramic view of the front of Bomba's Shack. If you're there for a full moon party, be careful when you're offered the "tea"

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Bomba's Shack has to be the most colorful "building" on the island. So many funny things to take photos of.

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Like I said. Don't bring your kids.

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More of Bomba's Shack.

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They don't make them like this around here. But I wish they did.

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Hanging out with some of the locals.

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It was raining and I cant sit still for long. I'll chase pretty much anything around with my camera!

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Full moon over Tortola. Such a beautiful night. 

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Looking towards the west end of Tortola under the full moon. The Island of St. John is to the left. Over half of St. John is part of Virgin Islands National Park, which is why you see almost no lights.

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A beautiful day at Cane Garden Bay. 

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A wave rolls to shore at smugglers cove in the late afternoon light.

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It's always fun to watch pelicans fish. This one had just spotted a fish and was making an abrupt turn to go after it.

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The shadows of a palm tree on the beach at Cane Garden Bay.

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A brown booby was out fishing amongst the pelicans as well

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On my last night of the trip I walked around Soper's Hole for a bit photographing the buildings which are all painted quintessentially caribbean. 

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Last photo I took on my trip. I already miss this place!

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On a plane again, headed back to the snowy mountains. It was a great trip, and wonderful to be out of the snow for a while!