Safely Hiking in the Caribbean – St. Croix Style
When people think of wilderness hiking, they immediately think of snakes, insects, and like Dorthy in the Wizard of Oz, “Lions and tigers and Bears, oh my!”
Put your mind at ease! St. Croix has no snakes or dangerous wild animals and the biting insects are limited to a few spiders and the very rarely seen centipedes. In 31 years of hiking, I have never been stung by an insect other than sand flees and mosquitoes which can be bothersome at night when I rarely hike. We do have bees and a local wasp but once again I have never been stung while hiking.
Still there are hazards worth discussing which include slipping hazards and the heat.
The key to safe hiking without falling is pay attention to the trail. With our easiest scheduled hike in Estate Princess, there are rare slipping hazards and only a few areas where branches have fallen and there is a risk of tripping on the flat terrain. For the Princess hike almost any shoes or sandals are appropriate and a walking stick is not essential although I always carry one. I prefer my Vibram Five Fingers shoes as they are like walking barefoot and along the beach, I can walk on sand or in water and they dry quickly.
I pretty much stick to my Vibram Five Fingers shoes. My other pair of shoes are New Balance Sport Shoes which are good for all of the hikes although I prefer “bare footing” on the beach areas and the sneakers on hot road surfaces. I always where shorts and an old loose fitting T-shirt to help shed the heat and a hat to keep the sun off my head and ears.
Exposure to the sap of many of our plants will cause a rash and if ingested, some plants can poison you, we have nothing as aggressive as the American Poison Ivy Plant and unless you wander off the trails, you are very unlikely to have a problem.
Our principle safety concern is the heat and “out of shape” people on vacation who are trying to overachieve. This is true for old men trying to relive their youth and healthy young people in the dead of winter who miss their normal aggressive outdoor activity. The Average High Temperature on St. Croix is only 83 to 88 Fahrenheit with a maximum historic high of 97 (36 Celsius) in January of 1994. However, this balmy weather is deceptive. The temperature of the ground can easy reach temperatures in excess of 100 Fahrenheit and by radiation, the body feels these hotter temperatures and that measurement was taken on an overcast day when the actual temperature was closer to 85. Along our blacktop roads, the temperature can be much hotter.
The other issue is the humidity which is generally around 85%. The combination of Heat and Humidity mikes dehydration a common event. On a simple Estate Princess hike, I don’t usually prepare for dehydrating as the temperature under the forest canopy is about five degrees lower than reported and at least 25 degrees lower that the hottest road surfaces. The same was true of the moist beach sands. Still it is advisable to walk with a bottle of water.
Even when walking in town, it’s is an excellent idea to remember to rehydrate and drink about one bottle of water every two hour and for longer walks pack a couple of candy bars to boost your energy.
While I carry a small generic first aid kit, I offer a final consideration even for a walk in town or on our beaches and trails. If you have known medical issues check with your doctor before you plan you trip. Also bring any medicine he advises to treat your potential problems such as an antihistamine or anything else the Doctor recommends. I am not trying to stop you from healthy exercise and a very good time, but no one likes to hear about our visitors hurting themselves.
Each of my scheduled hikes will come with a recommendation for the water and energy bars so please take the well intended advice.
Update on snakes:
For the same reasons that almost every plant had to be brought to St. Croix by humans, so did most animal life arrive at the hand of man. Iguanas were brought for food, deer were brought for hunting and meat and mongoose were brought to kill vermin. During the first 5000 years of human occupancy by Amerindians, Africans and Europeans, no one was dumb enough to bring snakes to the island.
Starting in 1990, there was a huge demand for construction labor to build large refinery units and also rebuild the island after Hurricane Hugo. Perhaps 10,000 people moved to the island to work. Most returned while others stayed and got jobs at the enlarged refinery or started their own construction businesses.
Dr. William Coles, chief of wildlife for the Division of Fish and Wildlife at the Department of Planning and Natural Resources on St. Croix reported that he caught the first imported red tail boa in 2008 but that increased to a few a year after 2012. All of them were sighted west of the Carlton area.
Coles believes they were originally brought in as exotic pets by someone who worked for HOVENSA. When the refinery closed in 2012, many workers returned to the mainland and some left their snakes and other pets behind.
The red tail boa feeds on native birds, chickens, rats, mongoose and small dogs. They are able to climb trees, making them a threat to native bird species.
The red tail boa is generally not harmful to humans. It can bite but it is not venomous. It hunts at night and hides out during the day. While not damaging to humans, the potential disruption to native birds, animals and pets is the reason for the attempted eradication of these non-native snakes.