By Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon
CJ Travel Editor
I’m determined that even rain won’t spoil my trip on Buck Island, the 176-acre islet about five miles offshore from Christiansted, St. Croix. It’s an oasis I’ve longed to return to since first visiting two years ago, and despite pregnant clouds and a forecast of springtime squalls, I’ve grabbed some new Crucian girlfriends for a quick Saturday-morning jaunt over to the national park.
Caribbean Sea Adventures’ Captain Dave is at the helm, and with first mate Kendall at his side deftly maneuvers our speedboat out of the harbor, leaving Christiansted’s historic fort and tiny Protestant Cay in our wake as we motor along the open water. Soon enough we spy the islet on the horizon, an emerald gem bordered by a swath of white sand. Kendall drops anchor and we descend into warm waist-deep water and wade toward the shore. My friends opt to linger on the sand (and I can’t blame them; it looks like powdered sugar and feels just as sweet.)
But I’m here to do something I didn’t my first time here: hike to the top of the island.
With Kendall leading, we make our way along the beach and up into the undergrowth, our path strewn with tawny sand and fallen orange leaves and bordered by tall cacti. Lizards skitter away as we get deeper into the brush, and I’m startled by the pelicans that roost in the bushes at the water’s edge as, sensing our approach, they noisily fly off.
As we begin our 15-minute trek to the top – me in flip-flops, Kendall daringly barefoot – he points out giant hermit crabs discomfortingly close to my toes, and tells me how he finessed the transition from being a new college grad in Florida to working with a boat tour company in the Caribbean.
I listen attentively but my breathing becomes labored as the hillside path angles sharply upward and the sun, now emerged from the clouds, beats down on my back. “Almost there,” Kendall calls, and soon enough we reach the sign on the path directing us left to the observation platform.
Three minutes later we’re there, standing on a wooden deck beneath which a spectacular Caribbean vista unfurls, seemingly just for us.
The water is a thousand shades of blue, and so transparent I can clearly see the coral reef below its surface. To my left are the hills above Christiansted, and straight ahead, if I squint, I can just make out St. Thomas and St. John in the distance. It’s an island panorama well worth the sweaty climb, and with a strong breeze cooling my skin and tempering the heat, I feel as if I could stay in this spot forever.
But it’s not to be. Captain Dave calls on the cell, advising that we need to get back to the boat now so we can beat the squalls. (And there’s also the small matter of my afternoon plane back to Miami.)
The water is a thousand shades of blue.”
So Kendall and I clamber briskly back down hill, with only a few quick stops for a photo of the biggest Banyan tree I’ve ever seen, its thick limbs like a giant forest arachnid.
When we finally reach the beach I run along the sand and paddle out to where our boat is anchored and join my girlfriends on board. They didn’t hike but they’ve had a blast, too, sunning on the beach and trading confidences as frothy wavelets kissed the shore.
The boat bounces as Captain Dave zips us back to town under rapidly greying skies on choppy seas. And just as we approach the boardwalk back in Christiansted fat drops of rain start falling from the sky.
“You’re lucky you beat the rain,” says Matt, Caribbean Sea Adventures’ owner, as we pull up to the jetty, just in the nick of time.
But I just smile and nod. Because I always knew we would.