Night glow and living light – St Croix 

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My toes wiggled over whooshing sparkling galaxies of stars.

My fingers in the water created comet tails of liquid light, scribing effervescent poetry that glowed for a moment then disappeared in the dark.

I was playing with bioluminescence created by tiny glowing creatures that only illuminate when agitated. The sense of evanescent magic eclipsed any thoughts then of a metaphor about struggle and seeing the light, or even struggle and creating the light.

I sat in a see-through kayak gliding through the waters of a Bio-Bay on the island of St. Croix, a southern U.S. Virgin Island in the Caribbean, not far from St. Thomas and St. John. When I paddled, a universe of light points zoomed toward me around the nose of the kayak — better than any Star Trek opening.

I thought this was the thrilling climax of my experience with Sea Thru Kayak VI but there was more light show to come. I had met with other wanna-be glow-kayakers at the Caravelle Arcade to get safety briefed and sized for the life jacket before we headed out to the Historic Salt River National Park to experience bioluminescence (which translates to "living light").

Once in our transparent craft, we paddled in the darkening twilight out past two wrecks and a dramatic wooden dragon — the figurehead of an older ship. Our guide Tito's voice wafted through our strange flotilla with tales of the Carib Indians shooting arrows when Christopher Columbus landed nearby, and mentions of artifacts Tito had found of the indigenous Carib and Arawak peoples. Instead of stories around a campfire in the dark, we are a moving collection of glow sticks in kayaks under the stars.

There are several outfits that offer bioluminescent experiences — including swimming in the waters (a real temptation) — but Sea Thru Kayak VI prides itself on its "eco-friendly" practices. It also claims to be the only outfit in the Caribbean with completely see-through craft. Owner Craig Scott cares about the biology and the future of the area, concerned that other bioluminescent attractions on the planet have gone dark after being over-touristed or polluted by development.

Most of our light show is thanks to the tiny living dinoflagellates, the ones that light up when agitated, but they aren't the only performers. At one point, I am given a basket to hold over the kayak's side to troll with. I catch a bigger source of light — two baby comb jellyfish (a.k.a., centaphora). They aren't dangerous and can be touched. Communing with an organic source of light on a dark tropical night in the Caribbean makes me want to light up.

"But wait, there's more." Like some bright infomercial for the wonders of nature, my guide suggests a bonus and points me over to the bay's edge, where mangroves hang over the water. I paddle on.

Stars are overhead, my craft is stirring up what looks like liquid light below my toes, and then — there in the shore's growth, up in the dark bush I see a light go on, then off, like a blinking star. Next, I see an airborne light flash quickly on and off. And then another. Fireflies are adding an aerial dance to nature's splendiferous light show.

What a finale!

By Day

The U.S. Caribbean island of St. Croix offers de-lights by daylight, including kilometres of beaches and jungle hikes as well as:

The historic Estate Whim plantation where Alexander Hamilton, one of the U.S. Founding Fathers, spent time;

The Montpellier Domino Club, a tiki hut bar and colourful eatery in the rainforest. Chatting with proprietor-hostess Norma is worth a visit;

Duty free shopping;

Buck Island, less than three kilometres off shore, a protected marine sanctuary (since President Kennedy) with wonderful snorkelling;

Great scuba diving, from "walking" frog fish on the sea floor to graceful manta rays;

Cruzan Rum tour and tastings;

Workshops ranging from wilderness survival skills to local basket making at the unique Mount Victory Camp inland;

Tours of the Danish towns of Frederiksted and Christiansted;

Hundreds of tropical flowers at St. George Village Botanical Gardens;

Pt. Udall, "the eastern most point in the United States," for some lovely vistas;

Spas and beaches and resort amenities. The Buccaneer, for example, has romantic, charming elegance, as well as great celebrity stories, claiming to be the "Caribbean's longest running" hotel — going back to the 17th century.

Old and new, the restaurants and resorts of St. Croix offer nightlife, too — from candlelight to the bright lights, but to add glowing memories, be sure to pick a night without a full moon and paddle on — the living light.

For more on how you can learn some wilderness survival skills while in St Croix, or just get some tips in case of disaster at home, stay tuned for next week's St Croix piece on the Mount Victory Wilderness Camp.


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