March 23, 2008 — At Cramer Park, Salt River, Dorsch Beach, Rainbow Beach, Great Pond, Ha'penny, Campo Rico, Altoona Lagoon and a dozen other locations, tents began popping up one by one last Sunday, then blooming in profusion like bougainvillea by Thursday afternoon. Dancehall and reggae music and the smell of food on the grill began to waft on the breeze.
Popular all over the Caribbean, the tradition of Easter camping is especially strong on St. Croix and Vieques. For days a significant share of St. Croixs population has been living outdoors, and many more come to visit for the day before going home to sleep.
Carlos and Crucita Delgado have been camping out with the family for at least the past 35 years. They were out at Salt River with children and grandchildren Saturday.
"We have the same spot nearly every year," Carlos said from his perch on a folding chair in the shade of a mangrove tree, while Crucita fried up peas and rice in a surprisingly complete makeshift kitchen. "Sometimes we come out two weeks before Easter and camp out every night. I get up in the morning, go home to shower and get ready, go to work all day then come back here for dinner and camp out again," he said.
"These are my grandbabies here," he said. "We want them to keep on with the tradition when they get older."
Asked about new rules and regulations for camping at Salt River, Carlos said he had gone to the public meetings about camping there. He understood the need for rules, so long as his family could keep camping every year.
"It is dirty before we get here," he said. "But we clean our area so it will be cleaner when we leave than when we got here."
Out at Cramer Park dozens of tents filled the grassy area just beyond the beach. Kids were running everywhere. Kites were flying, taxi vans were far afield of their usual routes, dropping campers off and picking them up. The park was filled with kids and parents participating in Positive Works, a more structured, summer camp-like experience put together by Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson.
"This is our 11th year with Positive Works," Nelson said. "We try to give the children a safe, wholesome experience with some structure.
"We went on a hike this morning to Jack and Isaac bays — really beautiful, pristine places on St. Croix. We do a morning cleaning every day, with tent inspection, hygiene and exercise. And we have some great activities, like a martial arts demonstration and this afternoon we are having African dancing."
Nelson said Pastor Will Woods of Altona Baptist Church also gave "a wonderful short lesson on the meaning of Easter."
Out at Great Pond, the Cruz and Bermudez families and their friends have set up almost a home away from home, with actual beds, generator, a water tank on a truck bed, a shelter with a large kitchen area and an ocean-view living room, complete with two sofas and carpeting.
All day long, older kids and some of the adults went out beyond the reef in a small motorboat to snorkel, fish and haul around a rubber raft filled with kids.
"We've been coming out here since around 1982 or so," Ruth Cruz said, while husband Miguel chopped up fresh caught red snapper and conch to make a big pot of seafood soup.
"When I woke up this morning and looked out over the water through the mangrove, there was a quiet wall of gray," Ruth Cruz said. "It was so beautiful. Coming here is like our vacation close to home."
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