St. Croix, US Virgin Islands
Last Updated: 11-Feb-03
Please note: Placing the cursor over a picture will almost always provide more information (in MS IE).
So, here's the setup: Bill doesn't know that we are there. He, Ellie, and the boys are making their periodic migration to the family's ancient renewal site, but he has no idea that Roswitha, Rosi, and Scott will be there. We get to see each other relatively frequently, most recently in September in Big Sur, where Ellie and Roswitha hatched the plan. Bill is planning a quiet vacation (yeah, right - with the boys…), and plans to do some accounting homework. That all gets dashed when Bill walks into the hotel room and finds us casually hanging around, Scott with enhanced teeth. The boys look to see if Bill has peed in his pants.
We had already been there a few days, with enough time to explore the small island, and to identify the goal of driving every numbered road. Although we were not successful, we made a good dent into it, easily tracing three of the four corners of the island, and much of what lies in between. Christmas day took us to rain-drenched Cane Bay, where an impromptu party had taken shelter in a closed open-air bar (huh? Say that again…). Although we knew no one, they shared drinks and munchies with us until we left for the West Coast and Fredrikstedt. That town was mostly boarded up, but we did find another party at the fish market on the beach. There were good music and good smells, but we decided that it looked as if we would not fit in, so we didn't stop. Instead, we drove to the other end of the island, to Point Udall, the Easternmost point of the United States (if you don't count the Aleutian Islands). We ended the day with a viewing of the insipid Star Trek: Nemesis..
Scott also had a chance to get in some outstanding diving (with the SCUBA, a great outfit). Their well-outfitted dive boat leaves from the boardwalk just off of our hotel, so it was quite convenient. The staff is professional, and they go out of their way to be helpful, pleasant, and safe. The only gripe I have, relative to other dive boats I've been on, is their minimalistic on-board munchies, limited to water and hard candy. Almost every other boat of this class I've been on in the tropics has juices and fruit, which are great for clearing the sea-water taste and restoring energy. With a water temperature of 81º F, Scott was able to dive without a wetsuit, in just a bathing suit and a t-shirt - Northern California this ain't.
The first dive was at the West Wall of Salt River Canyon … This wall starts around 50 feet, and goes down below 1300 - although we did not go that deep. While the reef is generally in good shape, there were signs of damage and dying. Much of it was likely left over from hurricane Hugo. St. Croix, in general, uses fixed moorings to minimize damage from anchors, so that aspect is protected, and they also frown on touching anything (except for molesting octopi and puffer fish, of course). Besides the coral, there were many purple barrel sponges and some fragile black coral.
The second dive was called WAPA for the Water and Power Authority just onshore. One highlight was a 6-foot nurse shark hiding under a coral formation. We could only see its head and the tip of its tail, but it was easy to find because of the classic tell-tale sign of divers clustering around, excitedly angling for position.
A night dive produced a hawksbill turtle (but not the expected 6-footer, Sexy Sadie), an impressive crab, and the usual lobsters and shrimp. Bioluminescence was everywhere, including on the sponges, which are filter feeders, making them collect lots of plankton. With the lights off, tiny green specs are everywhere, and you can create even more just by waving your hand in the water. We also encountered the frantic, frenetic red worms which are attracted to the dive lights. They wriggle and squirm, and cluster at the light. If the light is not moved much, the cloud of them can effectively obscure most of the beam. I also discovered later that they also hang up on the hair on my legs, arms, and head, and work their way into everything.
Roswitha and Rosi also observed the bioluminescence from the boat after they had a nice swim and snorkel with a flashlight at the dive site - seeing quite a few sleepy fish from the surface and observing the stars and light on the shore on that exeptionally calm and clear night.
On New Year's Eve, SCUBA planned a 2-tank night dive. I convinced Ellie to join me. We got into the water at Salt River Canyon at dusk, and enjoyed a gorgeous dive. Many bold lobsters were out, and we saw crabs as well. Ellie spotted an octopus, which then spent the next few minutes trying to escape from the divemaster. A puffer fish got tickled into inflation. As we were nearing the end of the dive, someone spotted a tiny puffer no more than a couple of inches long, and then I spotted about five more, hovering near the bottom. This was unusual, so I wonder if they had recently hatched, or if it was just a balloon rally. Upon surfacing, Linda, a woman who had been diving all week, and must have been running close to decompression limits, started feeling panicky and nauseous. The rough swells did not help. Rather than getting better, she got worse, and asked that we just head back in. We did, and so, only got in one dive. Unfortunate, but at least we had had a good one.
Ellie had arranged for us to sail to Buck's Island (an underwater national park) with Capt. Mike. Bill, Matthew, Rosi, Roswitha and Scott packed up lunch and snorkel gear for the half-day voyage. Iguanas in the trees bid us farewell as we set sail into the wind. We tacked and jibed our way over to the island (Rosi and Matthew were not too pleased), and moored inside the reef on the East end for a little snorkeling. As a park, Buck island has underwater plaques informing the snorkler of the local life. Since the wind had kicked up significant waves, it was a bit of a challenge, and we could not swim outside the reef. Still we saw many colorful coral and fish. A school of French Damselfish flashed around us, as two 3-foot trumpet fish tried to blend in. Scott chased a 3 ½ foot barracuda for a while, trying to get a good picture, until it had finally had enough and zoomed away. Rosi reluctantly was delighted after her first snorkel wearing fins and covered quite some ground thanks to Captain Mike's towing service. Afterwards, we quickly sailed to the leeward side of the island to have lunch on the not quite deserted, clean sandy beach, along with about 150 other tourists.
So, how much does a Pirate pay for corn?
"Arrrgh, a buck an ear, matey!"
St. Croix has a Winter festival which runs for most of December, and on into January. Located at the ballfield , it is a little like a county fair, but with much better music and food. Deciding to check it out, Bill, Roswitha and Scott drove into the morass. Parking was easier than expected, although likely illegal. We seemed to be among the few tourists there; it seems to be more for locals. We wandered among the booths which are arrayed around the huge dance area in front of a large stage. Live bands were playing the latest Reggae style while people mostly stood around and watched; the only ones dancing were several small girls. The booths had wonderful-sounding dishes and drinks, including various jerked meats, roti, goat water, patê, plantains, rum concoctions, and, surprisingly, a new delicacy, funnel cakes. The food on display looked and smelled temptingly savory, but since we had (stupidly) just eaten, we were not hungry. The carnival rides and games stood off to one side; this area was crowded with families. People seemed to be having fun on the classic rides, like the Merry-go-Round, the Scrambler, the Puke-o-Whirl, the Lose-your-Change, and the Is-it-Over. All that were missing were the bumper cars and the Mighty Mouse. We watched them for a while, amazed at how small some of the kids were who were getting on some of the more aggressive rides. There was no "You must be taller" sign in sight. We mused over which of Bill's kids would like which ride, which we'd like, and how expensive they seemed. The carnival also had the usual variety of "Win the inconveniently huge stuffed animal and schlep it around" and "You can't knock over the lead-filled milk bottles" games. After wandering through all of the carnival zones and getting our voyeuristic thrills, we wandered back to see if the car was still there.
Several parades wind their way through the streets of Christiansted during the festival. One morning, we were wakened by loud samba/reggae/hip-hop music. We rushed (well, OK, got dressed, had some coffee, debated whether we should go) up to Company street to see the parade. It turned out to consist of several large open trucks packed with sound systems, singers, and people who only appeared to serve as ballast. Music from each truck competed with that from the others as they slowly trundled towards the festival grounds. Interestingly (!) dressed people moved along with the trucks, dancing to the beat.
Carambola beach had too strong a surf for snorkeling, even after Rosi delpeted much of the water by swallowing it, so we gave up on that - there was nothing to see in the sandy turbulence anyway. Some instead went to sleep, and others body-surfed. Bill professed that he had to read his accounting textbook. Suddenly, someone came running across the beach yelling, "Turtles!" We jumped up and ran over to where about a hundred baby leather-back hatchlings were crawling out of a hole and making way towards the surf. Their little tracks fanned out from the football-sized depression, leading to the sea. The little guys were everywhere, teetering along or flopping around to right themselves from where they had fallen into a footprint. People ranged between "Don't touch them!" and helping them to make their way, flipping them upright, or even just depositing them into the waves. They were covered with sand, helping them to blend in as they struggled to reach the water. There were no birds about to pick them off, either because we humans were scaring them off, or because the mongooses had not left enough of a population, so they all made it to the water one way or another. Once in the water, they darkened and disappeared. It is said that fewer than one in ten will make it to maturity.
It started at the Montpellier Domino Club, famous for its beer-drinking pig. (The first B-DP has passed on, commemorated with a larger monument than the owner's departed wife.) We did not get a chance to see the pig drinking non-alcoholic (thanks, ASPCA) beer, but we had some wonderful rôti. Ellie had arranged with
Lamumba that we'd meet at the Domino Club.
Ras Lamumba Corriette is a naturalist (and Rastafarian) who does nature walks in St. Croix. We followed him to the top of a hill on the North side of the Island, and walked along an overgrown and eroded jeep trail down to the sea. Along the way, he told us about the vegetation and its many uses, ranging from pain killers, medicines, and cooking to representations of human forms. We picked berries. Tommy fell down. Eventually, we reached a beach covered with chunks of coral, ranging from pebbles to boulders. Each time a wave crashed, it rattled the coral, and the beach sang with a hollow, almost eerie tune. The beach is famous as well for a huge tidal pool, which is ringed by a granite wall. The saltwater pool was calm and warm, but at high tide and during storms, the waves crash over the walls, in spectacular display, Lamumba told us. As tidal pools go, it was a little thin on sea life (a few fish, anemones, and barnacles), but it was beautiful and calm. On the steep walk back, we even found, surprisingly, hermit crabs. Lamumba told us that it is not unusual to find them so far from the sea; in fact, they have been found on St. Croix's tallest peaks. We made it back to the top just after sunset, and then followed Bill into unexplored roads.
St. George Botanical Garden is built on the grounds of an old sugar plantation. It has really unusual tropical plants from the Caribbean region, as well as from other parts of the world.
Ellie's parents (Ellen & Tom) reserved the pool outside their room for the New Year's Eve party. Ellie and I returned from the night dive to find everyone already digging into hors d'oveurs, Pina Coladas, and Tom's well known Cruzian Confusions. After dinner in the hotel's restaurant (lobster thermidor for most, overcooked veal in a salty brown sauce for me), we went back up to start the count-down. The Buccaneer resort in Gallows Bay gave a surprisingly good fireworks show, and we had a great view of it, as long as we were not distracted by getting squirted in the back. Ellen and Ellie had gotten great little squirt guns (to make up for the lack of grapes - don't worry, it makes sense), and the boys (of all ages) really got into it. Earl and Debbie (who will soon celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary) had a few little squirt-gun battles as well. Earl looks calm and mild, but it is clear that he's got a bit of an evil streak in him. We welcomed in the new year with bubbles and squirts, and mused about meeting the sun at Point Udall. Good idea, but I slept through it.
Back to Home Page