If you’ve followed me through this Caribbean scramble, you’ve probably surmised, correctly, that I caught no fish. I’m sorry to disappoint you fly-fishers out there, but I tried… like a wounded pelican tries. I fished with flies, of course– because I’m obstinate, and because fly-fishing is what I enjoy doing when on or near the water. I fished for tarpon, and actually had a couple of those well-fed bruisers checking out a streamer, but to no avail other than fulfilling the pursuit of pleasure.
Okay, I suck at saltwater fly-fishing but I learned a thing or two. Assuming that I may visit the island again some day, I’ll shout… Wait till next year!… like the old Brooklyn Dodger fans when their team failed them once more in the World Series. And look what happened to them. I’m old enough to remember the Dodgers moving to L.A… Sandy Koufax was my first (and maybe only) sports hero, which has little or nothing to do with St. Croix, but I thought I’d interject it.
One of Alyssa’s jobs is working with the island’s Humane Society. She quietly arranged for us to take four lovely dogs for a pick-up at D.C.’s National Airport where the animals would be taken to a No Kill Shelter for adoption. Paws from Paradise is a privately funded program giving island cats and dogs a chance for a good home and survival in the states. There are just too many homeless paws in the Caribbean.
So, the four dogs got their shots; they got their papers signed, and they prepared to become legal immigrants. They boarded the jet with us. A small one, a well-behaved pup named Mango, was a carry-on.
Initially I was apprehensive about this venture, but the transfer in Miami was seamless, and the animals were “adopted” immediately on our landing at National Airport in D.C.
I may have been skeptical at first, but I’m glad we had the chance to save some fine young pooches from demise.
On Sunday morning at Alyssa’s patio and yard I finally got to meet some island birds that I’d been looking for all week. I already had a photo of the Green-throated Carib (hummingbird) but now I also had an excellent look at the Antillean Crested hummer. Although I didn’t have the camera with me for that sighting, the Antillean paused just long enough among the flowering bushes to allow me a view of its emerald crest.
In our second Saturday evening together on the island, we made another visit to Turtles’ bar and restaurant in Frederiksted. Accompanied by folk music and a blend of Japanese and Caribbean drinks, we participated in a roll-your-own sushi dinner prepared by Alyssa’s friends and acquaintances. The people at Turtles’ seemed to represent an interesting and balanced mix of social classes and cultural backgrounds on St. Croix.
We took a morning drive to Christiansted Harbor and boarded a small powerboat for a ride to Buck Island. The legendary white-coral sands of Buck Island Reef National Monument lie about 1.5 miles northeast of St. Croix. Buck Island is about one mile long and a half-mile wide. Its famous barrier reef and underwater snorkeling trail are maintained by the National Park Service.
The snorkeling trail invites you to swim through a forest of elkhorn coral. Before you hit the trail in deep choppy water though, the guides provide you with an introductory lesson. They give you a swim mask, fins and snorkel, and some background information about a special marine environment.
The white beach and its clear calm waters were our first stop. The beach was recently voted as “one of the 10 most beautiful in the world” by some travel magazine. Getting a snorkeling lesson here, you start to see the angelfish and trunkfish swimming out beneath you, and you know you’re not going to argue with the verdict of a travel magazine.
On the beach, in front of the island’s forest, there’s a picnic table or two, but there are no buildings or concession stands anywhere on Buck. In the distance you can see a flight of frigatebirds, least terns, and endangered brown pelicans that plummet head-down for a fish. You know you’re in the right company here.
You climb back on board the motherboat with the small group of swimmers that you’re traveling with, and you head out for the park’s underwater trail. The sea is choppy there, and 10 to 30 feet deep. You’re required to wear a safety vest and to follow the snorkeling guide along the underwater trail where signs are posted at fascinating junctures. You swim behind the guide for a while and then he turns you loose for a long free snorkel.
Although I struggled with feeling comfortable at first, and fought the sensation that my mask wasn’t on correctly, I soon relaxed enough to enjoy the sights of brain and elkhorn corals and colorful tropical fishes. My wife and daughter did much better, and even saw the passage of a good-sized tarpon in their 100-foot field of visibility.
For a guy who spends as much time in the northern streams and rivers as I do, you’d think that I’d take to tropical waters more handily, but that’s not the case. However, the whole experience was extraordinary, and I wouldn’t mind doing it again.
In closing, I have to thank my daughter once more for being a first-class host and tour guide for her parents on the island. And I hope that you, oh valued readers, have enjoyed this four-part series from a northerner’s take on a different world.