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.
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.
“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.
I 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. Tall 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.
The 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 powerful 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.
I 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….
The 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.
Driving 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.