Last Day in the Caribbean
Trip Start Nov 04, 2012
8Trip End Nov 18, 2012
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Pat and I arrived home last Sunday, thankful to be reunited with families for the holiday weekend. This report covers last Saturday, our final day in the Caribbean, on the island of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Friday was a bit of a bust, so not a great deal to report there, a bust but not uneventful.
On Friday, we checked out some hotels in Christiansted, the capital of the island. Very tired hotels for the most part, in need of renovation. Tourism is not a mainstay on St. Croix, but that is one of the reasons we find it attractive.
Friday afternoon we checked out an excursion others had raved about – a jeep tour of selected parts of the island. Ultimately, it was pretty easy to eliminate this activity from consideration. We visited a pretty amazing tidal pool, but the trek across the rocks to get there was dicey – a big wave could have created serious trouble. We also broke down with a flat tire.
But the most memorable, and disgusting, part of the trip was a visit to some beer-drinking pigs. Because of the jeep breakdown, we didn't arrive until just after dark. The pigs are enormous brutes, and have become quite a cult stop on the cruise ship circuit. You buy a can of beer (non-alcoholic) and the pig jumps up on the side of your pen, easily as tall as me, to have the can dropped into its mouth – unopened. Said pig then crunches on it until it opens and drains down his throat. He then spits out the demolished can. It was all quite grotesque!
Saturday, however, was amazing!!
After breakfast, we made a quick visit to Fort Christiansted, testimony, like much of the island’s architecture, to over 200 years of Danish occupation during the sugar/slavery era. It’s a national park site (this is U.S. soil) and a ranger-led tour of the fort and surrounding area should be enlightening for our group.
By 9:30 am, we were sailing for Buck Island Reef National Monument. In spite of more wave action that we’d have liked, snorkeling there was quite good,. We had the delightful experience of swimming amidst a school of several hundred blue tang fish.
The second part of the experience was a visit to a dazzling beach on the other side of Buck Island. We hope to arrange for a picnic lunch here when we return with the group.
We spent the middle part of the afternoon on the west side of the island checking out a plantation museum that we found intriguing, and setting up a visit to a rum factory that fills in another part of the Virgin Islands story. The most amazing part of the day, however, was an evening kayak trip.
We’d heard about Salt River Bay – another national park site – as a place where Columbus landed on his second voyage in 1493. Apparently, this is the first place he met resistance from the native population, hence the first altercation between the Old and New World. What piqued our curiosity, however, was the phenomenon of bio-luminescence, the emission of light by a living organism, that is reputed to be quite noticeable here at night!
We paddled the kayaks easily across the bay just after sunset. Dusk was settling as we nosed into a small lagoon to the east of Salt River Bay, where we sat waiting for dark. Apparently, some kinds of plankton generate a blue-green wavelength of light, which manifests as a sparkling bluish light when mechanically stimulated – moved around by some other object. As darkness settled, we swished our paddles though the water, waiting for the promised magic. The darker it got, the more noticeable the light became. Our guide encouraged us to get into the water, so Pat and I slipped off the kayak and into the inky black.
Because there is so little in daily life to compare it to, what happened next is difficult to describe. As we swam, our arms glowed. We kicked our legs and sometimes they flashed with the light, and sometimes they just left a wake of light behind them. For about half an hour, we played with the light, experimenting with new ways to agitate the plankton. Clearly, darkness accentuated the effect, so we moved into the shadow of the kayak, and Pat swam completely under it, delighting the family that was accompanying us in a couple other boats.
I discovered that if I put my back to the sliver moon, and wiggled my fingers in my shadow just beneath the surface of the water, light flowed out of my fingers like sparks, as if my fingers were the sparklers we used to wave around during July 4th celebrations. Floating on his back, Pat moved his arms methodically up and down creating a salt-water version of a snow angel.
Finally, it was time to go, and we reluctantly pulled ourselves back onto our kayaks with the help of our young guide. Paddling back across Salt River Bay, we occasionally hit pockets of the bio-luminescence, rimming the wake of our kayak with magical, illuminated foam. The mother/daughter team in one of the kayaks yelled at us from the back of the pack, calling for help to evict the flying fish that had landed in their boat and was freaking them out. The fish somehow flopped himself out of the kayak, and we arrived back at the marina with no further incident. We plan to include this surreal experience as an optional evening activity during our visit to St. Croix.
All pieces of this Adventure are now identified, and we are now jumping through logistical hurdles en route to presenting our first ever Caribbean Island Getaway. It will be unique in that walking will take a back seat to all the amazing water and beach activities. Walk planning on volcanic islands where the culture has not yet come to value its benefits can be a challenge. We found few good walk routes of any considerable length, but several shorter routes that combine well with the beach and water activities. Stay tuned for a final Caribbean program sometime in December!