Thursday, May 10
Spent the afternoon at Coki Beach with our first exciting experience with snorkeling – a marvelous underwater sport provided you blow correctly through the pipe. Delved beneath the remarkably clear water invading the kingdom of beautiful tropical fish. Iridescent, blue, orange, large and small – a lovely, magnificent world to behold as the gazer loses track of time and space. Swam hand in hand, perusing coral and darting denizens of the deep – simply thrilling.
Until then, the only shade of water my folks had ever seen was the murky Atlantic – forget about ever having breathed through a tube while swimming. It was all very new. My mother remembers being simultaneously frightened and amazed. "I was absolutely stunned by the brilliance of colors," she says. "It was like nothing I'd ever seen in my entire life." Coki Beach was the premier snorkeling destination of its time, with fully intact coral reefs and schools of fish. Excited to test the water – and to try something new ourselves – Joy and I head to Coral World, a marine park and undersea observatory just a stone's throw from Coki Beach.
We're here to try Snuba, a cross between snorkeling and Scuba: Instead of air being provided from a tank on your back, it's pumped through a hose from a raft on the water's surface – sort of like diving with a 20-foot umbilical cord, no experience necessary. After a quick orientation, we plop into the azure water and follow our guide. Instantly, we're surrounded by brightly striped wrasse, rainbow-colored parrotfish and schools of blue tang. At a depth of 15 feet, Joy points out thriving brain and elkhorn corals. Bright shafts of sunlight pierce the Caribbean Sea as we clasp each other's hands, exploring for nearly an hour. We vividly relive the details of that awe-inspiring experience over grilled mahimahi sandwiches at Fungi's on nearby Water Bay. The dockside cafe overlooks the old Pineapple Beach Resort, and when Joy recognizes an aged wooden pier where my parents posed for a photo, we can't help ourselves. We find our way to the beach, set up the camera and shoot away. A few minutes later we're dangling our legs off the pier. "Do you wanna move back?" says Joy. We lived in the islands long ago, having met and fallen in love on St. Croix. "It's not a bad idea," I say, and it dawns on me that our experiment is working: Following my parents around St. Thomas, we have rediscovered our own romantic island dreams. As we stare at the horizon and fantasize about what kind of life we could have here, nostalgia and a sense of possibility wash over us. The view hasn't changed in more than 35 years, nor has the enchanting power of the Virgin Islands.