Long time local, Sweeny Toussant, greets me and a small group of visitors in his open-air bus. We are ready to explore the wondrous places of St. Croix. Sweeny, his Safari Tour, and the bright red tour bus are well known icons on St. Croix. This tour should be a lot of fun, with fresh air, new sites, and our own guide!
Sweeny points out the highlights of the Christiansted Historic District as we head North to our first stop, the St. Georges Village Botanical Gardens. Here history and botany abound.
Flowering trees, shrubs, and vines are nestled among the ruins of an eighteenth century sugar plantation. Sweeny tells us of the Arawak Indians that had settled at the grounds long before it was a Danish sugar plantation. Both peoples and their presence on the land has made the property a historic place, not once, but twice in the National Registry of Historic Places in Washington, D.C.
As we walked the grounds, Sweeny explained the names of the flora and fauna, as well as their origin, and medicinal or culinary uses here in the Virgin Islands.
One tree that captured the group was the Ylang Ylang, or Perfume Tree; its flowers are often sought for their delicate scent and perfect color. Another enchanting species at the gardens was the mystical “Love Bush,” an easy to grow, tell-all plant.
Throughout the Caribbean islands, it is thought that the Love Bush, not the daisy, answers whether he loves you, or he loves you not. Sweeny picked a fallen leaf, gave it to one of our group members and tells the legend. :This plant is so easy to grow. You can take this leaf and just lay it on top of some soil. Soon you will notice sprouts from each node on that leaf. If you don’t see sprouts, go talk to your husband. Somebody is fooling around.”
I followed the group toward the exit, making a brief stop at the garden’s wedding arch for a few pictures.
We boarded the bus for a short ride to our next stop, the famous Cruzan Rum Distillery. One of the distillery’s guides took over and explained with pride how one of the world’s finest rums is produced, bottled and distributed throughout the Caribbean and United States right here from St. Croix.
After touring the distillery, we were lead to the warehouse where thousands of hand crafted American oak barrels are stored. The rum filed barrels lay on their side on racks made from 19th century Virgin Island railroad tracks. Here they are left alone to age for a minimum of two years; some for twelve or more years.
After watching how Cruzan Rum is bottled, labeled, and shipped, we were taken to the guest pavilion where we tasted the finished product and purchased some as souvenirs. Black and white photos of the distillery from centuries ago hang proudly on the walls, reiterating the long and productive life of the Cruzan Rum Distillery. Still tasting the ambrosial rum on our tongues, we head back to the bus and down the road to Whim Plantation.
Here, a large 18th century great house, built with coral and stone, is bonded together with mortar of shells and sugar molasses, standing firmly on the site of what once was a Danish sugar plantation.
It was either Sweeny or my stomach that said, “the best way to learn is to be hungry for knowledge.” I am pretty sure it was my stomach but with out further delay, Sweeny told us he would be calling ahead to one of his favorite delis for our lunch.
He took our orders and we were on our way west to Frederiksted. Once at Frederiksted, we stopped at a seaside deli in Prince Passage to have lunch. We enjoyed our sandwiches in the shade at the water’s edge, with views of passing ships and elegant sails dancing across the turquoise water. After lunch, we followed along the coastline on Strand Street and our tour turned into a lesson “en Danske”.
The Danes not only had an influence on St. Croix’s economy with the production of sugar cane but also on the architecture and urban development, prominently seen in Frederiksted. Strand Street, for example, when translated means Beach Street.
A turn off the coast takes us through a labyrinth of one-way streets and allows us to see the grandiose historical churches in Frederiksted, as Sweeny provides insight into the many different religious groups that sought religious freedom here in the islands. The Moravians for example, were persecuted almost everywhere they formed so they found themselves here in search of solace. We continued through the streets, and found ourselves in front of Fort Frederik.
We were told why Frederiksted is respectfully called Freedom City, why the towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted have significantly different architecture and what roles the slaved played in the architectural changes- a fire caused by rebellion, a demand for freedom.
We continue along the coast until we reach Mahogany Road, which lead us into the tropical forest. Sweeny pointed out the fruit trees that canopy the roadside and offer shade and a heavenly fragrance. An unexpected stop at Mount Pellier Domino Club, home to the beer drinking pigs, invigorates curiosity.
We gathered at the bar to find Norma, the Domino Club’s owner, and inquired about the beer-drinking pigs. She handed us non-alcoholic beer and sent us to a large pen where we found two extremely large and very thirsty pigs standing on their hind legs, begging for another kind visitor to hand them a beverage.
With the pigs refreshed and happy, we again approached the bar, this time to inquire about the Domino Club’s two other specialties, Mamma-Wanna and Babash. Babash is a moonshine drink that will knock you off your- well, let’s just say it is potent, and stays with you for days. The Mama-Wanna on the other hand, is a little kinder on the taste buds. It is just as effective as the Babash but this spicy concoction is made with herbs and has plenty of flavor.
A light drizzle of rain suggested to us that we continue along. From Mahogany Road, we cut over to Rte. 69 to catch a glimpse of the Carambola Golf Course. Carambola’s eighteen-hole golf course, designed by Robert Trent Jones and built by Laurence Rockefeller, is the proud recipient of Golf Magazine’s Gold Medal Award. Even if you are not a golfer, you will still appreciate its beauty as well as the many species of birds, turtles, and other critters that have made this golf course their home. Rte. 69 continues over Parasol Hill, affectionately referred to as “The Beast” by our visiting triathletes, because of its incredibly steep incline.
Once at the bottom, we find ourselves on North Shore Road, which follows along the coast, offering picturesque views of rolling hills and the Caribbean Sea. We continued along the north shore to Salt River and Columbus Landing. Sweeny pulled over so we could snap a few pictures and told us about Christopher Columbus’ landing in the Salt River Bay in 1943.
We continued along the road, and as Christiansted came into view, I knew our tour was coming to an end.
In just a few hours I have gained a new appreciation for the places I went today because of Sweeny, our well-informed tour guide. Sweeny’s Safari Tours combines history, politics, religion, education, cultural traditions and botany with a bit of comic relief to offer visitors to St. Croix an experience not to be missed!
What to bring with you on a Sweeny Safari Tour:
1. Plenty of water
2. Comfortable walking shoes
4. Wear sunscreen and bring extra just in case
5. Gift shop money
6. Umbrella for our short, unexpected showers
This tour is perfect for kids of all ages!