Caribbean Scrambles, Part 2

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 DSCN8091accumulation 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 DSCN8040in 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.DSCN8086

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!”

DSCN8156At 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.

vat of molasses

vat of molasses

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.

brain coral demonstrating the effects of too much rum

brain coral demonstrating the effects of too much rum

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.

A. & L. underneath the ficus tree

A. & L. underneath the ficus tree

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.

old lighthouse on NW corner of the island

old lighthouse on NW corner of the island

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.

straight down

straight down

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.

the geocache

the geocache

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.

scaly-naped pigeon

scaly-naped pigeon

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.

side street in Christiansted

side street in Christiansted

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.

tarpon with parasitic rider

tarpon with parasitic rider

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 Please stand by for more]

northern coast as viewed from lighthouse

northern coast as viewed from lighthouse



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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24 Responses to Caribbean Scrambles, Part 2

  1. Salla says:

    Looks absolutely amazing, seems you had great time. Happy to see the local pigeon too. Did the bioluminescent bays live up to the expectations?

    • It was fun, Salla, and I’m glad you appreciate one of the local pigeons, which is actually one of several pigeons/doves from the visit that are “life birds” for me. The bioluminescent bay far exceeded my expectations because I didn’t really know what to expect before the visit. It was spectacular.

  2. True stories from the road… sounds great!

  3. plaidcamper says:

    What a mix of fabulous experiences! Never tried snorkelling – I’d rather be on than in the water, but maybe for the views…
    Loved your description of the bioluminescent waters, and what a wonderful experience. Mermaids? Now, that’s really something, or rum coral brain trickery. Who knows?
    Great stuff, thoroughly enjoying your island tales.

    • Thanks much, Mr. Plaid! I’d never tried snorkeling either, and was a little reluctant to try because I’m only a so-so swimmer, and floating around in 30 feet of water that really doesn’t care if you live or die put me on edge at first. But once you get the hang of it, the underwater world comes to you. And the sights can be inspiring, to say the least. There’ll be more on this in the next installment when I report on our visit to an underwater national park/monument at Buck Island. As for mermaids, well that’s rum brain trickery, I guess, but my wife swimming in a bioluminescent bay could bring me to believe.

  4. Ross says:

    Sounds like you’re having a great time, exploring the sights & fauna. The picture of the bioluminescent is incredible, it must be amazing in person.

    • It was a fascinating jaunt, Ross, and I’m still sorting it out in my head. Those lights still keep blinking on and off! Thank you and, by the way, congrats on the recent graduation!

  5. Even though the photographs are gorgeous, I imagine that you’d really have to see things in person to really grasp the beauty. The last photo is magical Walt.

    • Photographs can carry more weight than words, Howard, but in this case they also just fall short and merely suggest… We do what we can with what’s available. Anyway, thanks, as always, for being here.

  6. Mike says:


    I am loving the adventure! It’s fun to go on a trip with such a student of the life around us as well as the history that human life haso left behind. And those lights, man! I mean, what?!

    Keep it coming. Well done fishing with those feathers.


    • That’s part of the fun, Mike, being able to share the fruit that’s grown on these occasions, whether it be fishing with feathers (mon) or reporting on an interesting critter or telling the tale of what went on before we ever came to the place. If we’re living with our senses open then we’re all students of the life, and it’s great to be sharing a seat with you here! Thank you.

  7. Bob Stanton says:

    Wow, Walter, my head would be spinning from sensory overload! Great photos!

  8. Brent says:

    Sometimes you get an experience that transcends everything you thought you knew–this looks like such an experience! There’s certainly beauty everywhere in the world, and it can be present in anything from a rusting piece of history to an aquatic Northern Lights. Great posts.

  9. loydtruss says:

    So many interesting things to do and enjoy; l am guessing that the snorkeling might have been your favorite. Astounding how blue the waters are there—-thanks for sharing

    • The snorkeling had a stimulating aspect in that it opened up first-hand access to an underwater realm that I was new to. Indeed, the waters were shades of blue and very clear where we entered them. More on this to come, but thank you, Bill, for reading and commenting.

  10. Les Kish says:

    Wow, that luminescent beach is really something. If I could only get my dry flies to glow like that……

  11. Doug says:

    Wow! That last photo is amazing. Sorry if I’m late in responding to these. I’m not well. I’ve spent the last week-2 going back and forth to the Neurologist, Bunch of CT scans and other medical issues. Glad you’re doing well.

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