Tropical sky. Warm sea. A diversity of wildlife. Good food, music and kind words. ‘Tis the season for holiday craziness or…for escaping to another part of the world to experience an exotic ecosystem and culture.
The winter sky in the Caribbean features thunderheads towering along the horizon. Evening electric storms include lightening forks reaching to the sea. Flashing cloud banks add to the light show. A special green flash sunset is a gift to behold.
The night sky from this tropical latitude shifts the view of Orion, Pleiades, Cassiopea, and Pegasus. While sky-gazing one night, we happened upon the Geminid meteor shower. Short-tailed “shooting stars” darted high over head, while longer, more dramatic meteors fell closer to the horizon.
Island wildlife adds variety to each day. Geckos run upside down on the ceiling. A turquoise anole lizard poses along a rock wall. Bats appear at dusk as the tree frogs begin their high-pitch chirps which continue until early dawn. Along the shore, a night heron hunts crabs, while it’s cousin egrets adorn the river bank. Over the sea, tropic birds skim the surface of the water picking up small fish as frigate birds glide on huge pointed wings. Green parakeets fill the trees and fantastically iridescent hummingbirds hover at tropical flowers. We pause and admire the butterflies that cross the volleyball court.
The turquoise, 85-degree Caribbean Sea offers a magical underwater world to explore. Focusing just in front of your nose introduces dramatic plankton such as comb jellies with cilia reflecting rainbow ribbons and ice cube jellies looking like they spilled from an onboard cocktail. Keen eyes in a snorkel mask search among the rocks and corals. Observations fill a check list of spectacular species from trumpetfish to angelfish to an eel popping out of a hole in the sand. A green sea turtle, a reef shark, an octopus and two cuttlefish are favorites until an eagle ray glides gracefully along the bottom. Sponges of every color, waving anemone tentacles, beautiful feather duster and alien-looking polychaete bristle worms decorate the reefscape. Tiny, spiral Christmas tree worms remind us of the season.
The red ackee fruit hangs on trees everywhere; it fills patty pastries and complements saltfish. Bananas, papaya, pineapple and coconut blend into cool smoothies. From a street vendor we purchase island-grown ingredients for dinner: pumpkin, yam, carrots, onion, garlic, ginger, thyme, turmeric, red beans, callaloo greens; all topped with toasted peanuts. For the omnivores, curried goat and jerk chicken.
Island travel in mid-December oversets some traditions. While these experiences are impossible to put in a stocking or under the tree, they will be the most memorable, the most valued. Ya mon. One love. Happy holidays!