Shortly before the trip to St. Croix, I was helping my chapter of Trout Unlimited collect trash along a highway in the Genesee River Valley. It was hot, and the winter’s accumulation of garbage was disgusting. Jim, whose daughter lives and works near the Atlantic where big striped bass would soon be running, said to me, “Isn’t it NICE when our sons and daughters live in places that are great to visit?”
Yup, sure is, I said.
I was eating a late lunch on my daughter’s patio– quinoa salad with crackers and an Island Hoppin IPA– working up an appetite for a tour of the local rum distillery. Earlier in the morning I’d gone casting for tarpon near the Frederiksted Pier and then went snorkeling for the first time ever. I had made an impression with the fly rod even though the big fish probably had a laugh or two.
Several young bait and spear-fishers were attempting to hook a lazy barracuda, and one of the guys said to me, “I like watching man fish with feathers!”
They don’t see a lot of fly fishermen down here. I doubt if there’s a fly shop anywhere on the island, or even a crappy selection of artificials at the local Kmart, which is just another reason to believe in the beauty of this place.
I had a dozen tarpon flies that I’d brought along with me, and they would have to do. When I snagged one on the deep edge of the shore, one of the spear fishers swam over to release it. I’d have tipped the kid for his service if I’d had any money, but the guys were having too much fun and, really, the whole scene transcended such pedestrian affairs.
“Tighten the mask, dad. Clench the mouth piece. Get your face down in the water. Just relax and float!”
At first I felt like a duck walking backwards, but then I grew some fins and tossed away the flippers. Next thing I knew, there were fish. What’s that, an angelfish? Parrotfish! Blue fish darting over brain coral as if they were thoughts released by an intelligent sea.
We toured the Cruzan Rum Distillery (“the World’s #1 Rum”) which is close enough to my daughter’s place that we could sometimes smell molasses wafting through the night from a mile away. The tour included two big drinks, our choices from a field of rum dum recipes, that went down coolly in a sweltering hour.
I went night fishing for tarpon but the big fish were deep and only occasionally nodded toward the passing fly. Once in a while the waters near the pier exploded with a flurry of tiny fishes trying frantically to escape a cruising predator. I would cast ahead of a giant form that swam along the shore, but the fly could not compete with the multitudes of possible prey.
We took a midday drive along a rough road north of Frederiksted and stopped at an abandoned military compound. We climbed into the forest, one of the wildest areas of the island, and reached an old rusted lighthouse overlooking the deep blue waters.
The precipitous bluff where the decaying lighthouse mutely stands was once the refuge of maroons, or slaves who escaped from their Danish masters and were able to find temporary safety in caves. Some were chased by dogs and chose to leap to their death in the sea rather than return to a life without dignity or freedom.
We were on the wild edges of a remnant rainforest now inhabited by wild goats and the common mongoose. Alyssa was delighted to find a geocache just off the trail near the lighthouse. We added a brightly colored stone to the collection, one that I had found in a man-made labyrinth of an old sugar cane plantation in the rainforest ambience of Mt. Washington.
In the evening Alyssa drove us to Salt River Bay on the northside. We were scheduled to take a kayak tour of Bioluminescent Bay, the Cape of Arrows, where Christopher Columbus had been met by a band of less than welcoming Carib Indians.
As the sun set on the sea beyond, our tour guide, full of excellent information, jokes, and questions for us, set the scene. Four kayaks with eight people pushed off into a rare and fragile ecosystem where plants and animals and “walking” mangrove trees supported high concentrations of bioluminescent dinoflagellates existing in the shallow bay.
We were told that oceanic plankton, the dinoflagellates, are able to generate a chemical producing luminescence, an emerald green and ultramarine illumination when their waters were disturbed by our movements. It was hard to imagine until darkness enveloped our paddling motions on the quiet waters. As the lights from houses and mansions on the steep hillsides of the bay began to shine, our fingertips and paddles began to drip as if with tiny stars.
Other kayakers joined us, and bodies glowed electric. The phenomenon eluded the power of words, and even our cameras couldn’t capture the beauty. Leighanne took a quick swim off the bow of our vessel, and she could’ve become a glowing mermaid for all I know.
Small explosions of quiet luminescence happened with every move. We could sift small blobs of innocuous comb jellyfish from the water and watch them morph into something like a lit up light bulb. Our guide turned on a flashlight and fish leapt from the water, skipping and flying toward the mangroves. One of them crashed into Alyssa’s kayak like a shot.
There are less than half a dozen luminescent bays in the entire Caribbean. We need to care for their preservation because… they’re just not being made anymore.
[photo by bluehorizonboutiqueresort.com/ Please stand by for more]