Caribbean Scrambles, Part 1

St. Croix and the U.S. Virgin Islands are located about 1,100 miles southeast of Miami, Florida. The islands were first settled by Carib, Arawak and Cibonay peoples and were “discovered” by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World in 1493.DSCN7934

St. Croix is approximately 20 miles long and six miles wide, with a population of about 54,000 people, most of whom are centered around two main villages, Frederiksted and Christiansted. 

My daughter, Alyssa, has been living and working on the island of St. Croix since last October. She filled our eight-day visit with a great variety of fun-filled and educational adventures which I’d like to tell you about in several illustrated posts that I’ll intersperse with more traditional RR narratives. For now, let’s just say it was a wild and wonderful ride.

DSCN7926“You say Good Night when greeting a local Crucian after dark. It means Hello, and not See You Later I’m Going to Bed,” remarked Alyssa as we entered Turtles’ bar and restaurant in Frederiksted, St. Croix. Later, completely rummed out and cooled off from our warm arrival on the island, we walked along the lonely pier and nodded “Good Night” to a local fisherman casting his baited lines. I asked him if there were tarpon in the neighborhood. “Yes,” said the fisherman, “right here,” sweeping his hand along the lamp-lit pier that receives a cruise ship every week except in the off-season that was just about to start in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

DSCN7943I quickly saw them– large streamlined fish, tarpon up to four feet long, drifting in and out of the shadows of the lamp-lit pier. I dreamed of hooking one with my nine-weight rod that I would bring out pretty soon, but then what? How would I subdue an unbridled and exploding star of fin and muscle and then finally lift it from these deep clear waters? It’s like saying, “Rum’s the Answer… What was the Question?” Well, maybe tomorrow.

But wait. “Look at that!” A giant turtle swam leisurely along the agitated surface of the sea. It was a great green sea turtle, or maybe a hawksbill, I don’t know. A huge, magnificent reptile.

Alyssa’s condominium site was wonderfully quiet and peaceful in this off-season. TallDSCN7959 palms and Caribbean flowers graced the courtyard and the area of the swimming pool. A large iguana that I named Igor came down from his coconut realms to drink from the pool; bananaquits, pearly-eyed thrashers, Zenaida doves, and green-throated Carib hummingbirds flew about commonly through the perfumed air. Bougainvillia and other colorful blossoms graced the expansive gardens; a mongoose hunted a remote corner of the parking lot; and large fruit bats, the only native mammal still extant on the isle, flew across the blue-lit surface of the pool at night.

DSCN7953The spacious condominiums were built from undamaged sections of a huge hotel resort that was otherwise destroyed by Hurricane Hugo and abandoned in 1988. The ruins are visible beyond the fenced off gardens. Apparently the grounds of the resort were once attractive to a class of visitors that included Jackie Kennedy. I know that the refurbished grounds and modest home site where my daughter lives function as a pleasant watering hole and respite for a poor-slob naturalist from the rivertops and his wonderful wife.

On Sunday morning one of the final cruisers of the tourist season docked at Frederiksted village. We explored Fort Frederiksted (1760) overlooking the water. Its spare but DSCN7966powerful imagery came straight from Danish occupation and a period of sugar plantation life and brutal slavery. We shopped among the tourists and did what we could to support local artists and shopkeepers. We swam in a bay near the village where a local fisherman caught and kept a long needlefish with a seawater sheen.

We ate a wonderful lunch at Polly’s-at-the-Pier, one of the locations where Alyssa works but where she had the week off in order to guide her dazzled parents. Just beyond us, at the pier, local fishermen stood in the sea and gutted their catch that they would sell to the restaurants. Magnificent frigate-birds and brown pelicans swooped around them and scarfed up the remains.

DSCN7969I enjoyed some local brews such as the non-alcoholic Chlorophyll and Sea Moss but when the heat of day really put my back against the sand and sun, my go-to for refreshment, aside from water and tasty tropical fruits, was an unsurprising “Painkiller,” a rum slushie of some sort, and an Island Hoppin’ IPA from neighboring St. Thomas.

Yeah, I know, it’s a tough life filled with reggae and steel drum music… but I draw the line at Jimmy Buffett. I just never allowed myself the pleasure….

DSCN7974The native Crucians (the people of the island) were amiable and courteous to us who enjoyed their home. Poverty exists on St. Croix as it does on many Caribbean islands and, for the most part, the infrastructure of society could use a helping hand.

DSCN7975Driving on the left side of the pedestrian-unfriendly roads is an experience sure to challenge the first-time visitor from North America, but Alyssa managed the byways admirally with her banged-up “Islander” as she guided her finger-crossed dad and proud mother on the first-part of this Caribbean Scramble.DSCN7986

There’ll be more to come, my friends, so please stand by….DSCN7999DSCN8016DSCN8020DSCN7930



About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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12 Responses to Caribbean Scrambles, Part 1

  1. Brent says:

    Cool intro post! I’m glad there was some sun when you first arrived. The pictures are enviable and the prose is slow and relaxed, probably much like your week on the island. Looking forward to the rest!

  2. A Franklin says:

    Your photos are magnificent!! Especially the one of the local fisherman. Looking forward to reading more!

  3. Wonderful remembrances Walt. I’m looking forward to the continuing saga.

  4. plaidcamper says:

    What a great introduction to your week of island life! Thoroughly enjoyed the pictures in prose and the photographs. Looking forward to future instalments about this colourful adventure. Perhaps rum is the answer – it’s important to do the research…
    Thanks, Walt!

    • Thank you, PC! I’ve never been a rum guy, in fact, I’ve never even liked it, but now… I don’t know, I see some possibilities in the way it’s made and concocted with a lot of other sweet things while incorporating the elements of sun and water and colorful air. You can kick back and fiddle while Rome is burning, although that may not be the best response for global problems. Anyway, it was a lot of fun and I appreciate your understanding!

  5. Bob Stanton says:

    “I draw the line at Jimmy Buffett. I just never allowed myself the pleasure….”. Too funny! D’you know Buffet is Tom McGuane’s brother-in-law and did the soundtrack to a movie that McGuane and some other bums did about tarpon fishing? It’s probably even called ” Tarpon”. Nice post – I’ve been waiting to hear about your island sojourn, though I knew you wouldn’t stay out of the rum!

    • I don’t know exactly how I drew that line, Bob, but it’s there in the sand for anyone to see. I think I’ve heard about that soundtrack and the movie but, again, I probably quickly changed the channel. I don’t mind being a bum, I guess, but would like to do it my way with some education from the locals, if you know what I mean. And I know you do. Although I’m ready to catch some fish again, I’ll tell you more about this place, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!

  6. loydtruss says:

    Great post, of a hidden paradise; it’s always good to spend time with family, especially if that family member is your own personal tourist guide. Looking forward to more beautiful scenery from your visit there. Thanks for sharing

  7. Thanks for your appreciation, Bill. Hope you’re spending good time with yours, as well.

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