The connection with her homeland fascinated Dorthe Mastrup, who arrived on the island with her husband and daughter on one of the weekly charter flights between Denmark and St. Croix.
“All the sugar mills were built by Danes, and when we went to the Lutheran church in Christiansted, it was just like being in a Danish church, including the bricks. It makes me proud,” she said. “But the other thing is the slavery that is underneath it all. I feel bad in my heart.”
For an examination of plantation life on the island, we visited the 18th-century Estate Whim Museum in Frederiksted, which includes a “great house,” or plantation home, slave quarters, windmill, and the remains of a sugar-processing factory. At one time nearly 200 windmills and mills powered by animals covered the island, and their picturesque ruins dot the landscape.
The last sugar factory closed in 1966, but the island still produces rum. We toured the distillery at Cruzan Rum, operating since 1934, and also the Captain Morgan distillery, newly relocated from Puerto Rico. The Cruzan tour gives visitors a behind-the-scenes look at operations, while Captain Morgan’s is more commercial and less close-up. Both have happy endings: rum tastings.
A past industry some islanders are working to resurrect is St. Croix’s once-dominant agricultural scene. One of the farmers leading the charge is Atlanta native Nate Olive, who oversees Ridge to Reef Farm, which the public can tour. A trip here, on St. Croix’s northwest edge, also takes you into the rain forest, where streamers of vines rain down from giant kapok trees.
We caught up with Olive at the farm’s community center while he was making sauce from his organic scotch bonnet peppers, garlic scapes, and powder ground from the dried leaves of a moringa tree.
“It’s going to be really hot,” Olive said, with a gleam in his eye.
With 45 of its 120 acres in production, Ridge to Reef grows enough to sell to restaurants, at local markets, and to 100 members of its community-supported agriculture program.
“About 99 percent of the food on St. Croix is now imported,” he said. “We’re trying to change that.”
The farm, the sort of place where Bob Marley and Grateful Dead classics mingle with the scent of patchouli oil, also hosts overnight stays in open-air cabanas and a tree house.
From Ridge to Reef, it’s not too far to Annaly Bay, a striking inlet on the island’s north side made famous for its tidal pools. We hiked to the bay along the strenuous 2.7-mile-long Trumbull Trail, once used by escaped slaves to hide out in the hills. Lina reached the “waterfalls” that feed the pools, created by waves breaking over rocks, but when I saw that the path there involved hugging a rock wall with the sea crashing below, I passed.
While relaxing clearly isn’t a priority with us, we did carve out time at what became our favorite beach, the low-key Tamarind Reef Resort, where iguanas duke it out on the lawn and beachgoers relax under thatched huts. Chairs, snorkel equipment, and kayaks are free to guests, and the public can use them for a fee. We snorkeled around the active coral reef 20 yards from the beach, and kayaked to the protected 14-acre island of Green Cay National Wildlife Refuge 30 minutes away. Visitors aren’t allowed beyond the small sandy beach, but getting and sitting there are plenty fun. On our last trip over, we excitedly paddled behind a hawksbill sea turtle, its beak and flippers breaking the surface. By the end of the day, my now-soft hands were wrinkled again, but this time the Caribbean was to blame, with winter a distant memory.
Diane Daniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.