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Hunting the Green Flash

by Paris Permenter and John Bigley

"Would you take our picture?"

It was another fresh-faced couple. Married maybe a few days. Maybe a few hours.

We'd had similar requests from two other duos as we sat on the sugar white Antigua beach that evening, watching another perfect Caribbean day come to an end. We were glad to oblige and perhaps a little flattered, too. Could they tell we were professional photographers? Probably not, although we did have a Nikon with us, somewhere in the beach bag. Then a sobering thought occurred--maybe we looked more like their parents than their fellow honeymooners. They probably weren't concerned that they might shatter some idyllic moment by whipping out the camera.

But, we grinned encouragingly as they posed arm-in-arm before a sapphire sea lit by the approaching evening. The young lovers smiled, and the moment was frozen on film.

And we returned to the real reason we were on the beach this evening. Perched in a "love basket," a two-person swing/recliner that could symbolize couples-only resorts, we got in position for the green flash.

Not the superhero in tights. The lowercase green flash is a natural phenomenon often sought but seldom seen. Under the right conditions, as sunset cools into the sea, comes a momentary green sizzle on the horizon. Science explains it as the refraction of sunlight through the thick lens of the Earth's atmosphere. Island lore links it to romance: couples who witness the flash are guaranteed true love. All agree it's a rare sight, requiring just the right combination of sun, sky, and luck. (Skeptics would add other requirements as well. "How many rum punches does it take to see it?")

Undeterred by such cynicism, we kept our vigil at the water's edge, like Linus in the pumpkin patch.

Over the past decade, our work had led us to the Caribbean many times. For the previous six months, the islands had become our home away from home as we searched for the most romantic spots, fertile places where love blooms wild and thick with little coaxing. Along the way, tales of the green flash tantalized us and became our Holy Grail of Caribbean romance.

Our excursions had taken us to places both off and right smack in the middle of the beaten track. We'd journeyed to St. Thomas, high above Charlotte Amalie, to a peak called Paradise Point and a place named, appropriately enough, The Bar. Below in the city where shoppers hustled to pick up one last-minute duty-free find before the boutiques closed their doors, the lights trickled on one by one, competing with a deepening sunset the color of a blooming hibiscus. That evening, we had watched and waited, but the sun had fallen behind a blanket of clouds before it reached the horizon. No green flash that night.

And in Jamaica, we ended our Negril visit at Rick's, one of the most famous sunset bars and restaurants in the Caribbean. Nearby, fortified by Red Stripe and who knows what else, divers plunged over the cliffs to hearty cheers from onlookers. When the sun dipped low, however, the crowd turned to the west. Once again, a band of clouds revealed itself when the telling moment arrived. Lovers smooched and toasted their good fortune, but no green flash appeared.

We had begun this latest odyssey on St. Lucia, a luscious island where we'd happened upon perhaps the most romantic resort in all the isles--Anse Chastanet. Here we were, a man and a woman alone in nature. OK, there were other guests but we couldn't see them, and presumably, they couldn't see us. Only a roof and two exterior walls in room 7F separated us from the fecund landscape, where, it seemed, everything we saw was sweet or in search of sweetness. Swarming hummingbirds whipped through the nearby palm fronds and greedy bananaquits begged for sugar from the terrace rail, then from the coffee table, encouraged by our languor. But, as in a fine painting, our eyes were led finally to the one view for which 7F was designed. We let the birds be and surrendered to the sight of the Pitons, twin mountains lording over the bay, the resort, and over us in their green splendor.

That evening, as the day drew to a close, we peered over the rail and looked west to the sea. More clouds. Oh, well. Our disappointment was soon soothed by another grand scene, the full St. Lucian moon, rising over the Pitons. No true romantics could ever ask for better than that, could they?

But now at Sandals Antigua, we couldn't help a mutual twinge of what? Irritation that with our holiday nearly done we had somehow missed the boat? All around, couples were celebrating their union, young Adams and Eves in a tropical paradise. We swirled the remains of our last rum concoction and admitted to ourselves that we were feeling more like inhabitants of Noah's Ark, herded two by two in this couples-only haven. We pondered these misgivings in the "love basket" and watched the sun continue its descent in spite of our mothers' warnings years before: "Don't stare at the sun, you'll ruin your eyes."

Nevertheless, our gazes were fixed now. The sun was dropping below a clear horizon. Only millimeters to go.

And then it happened.

A green flash.

"Did you see...was that?" After a decade of looking, could it be?

The instant of lime-colored light was undeniable, like copper coins igniting on our retinas. We turned to each other. You saw it? I saw it!

Soon we found ourselves walking hand-in-hand down the darkening beach. Ahh.. love.

A fresh-faced couple approached us and we smiled. They weren't just young kids and we weren't just an aging pair of guidebook writers. We were both couples in love in what must be the most romantic area in the world.

Just one thing to do.

"Would you take our picture?" we asked them, pulling out our camera to remember that green flash night.