Surrounded by Terns
Over forty years ago, I had a friend named Harvey Schlessel. He was an entrepreneur and hustler from Cleveland who would whisk large groups of northern Ohioans away from the frozen shores of icy Lake Erie in mid-winter and deposit them on Aruba’s sandy beaches for sun, fun and excessive casino gambling. In some ways, Harvey was a pioneer. North American tourism to Aruba was in its infancy in the early 1970s. Now, a constant stream of American and Canadian sun worshippers flock to “one happy island” in droves, and yes, the cha-ching from the casinos still rings loudly.
Freezing in February in long underwear back then, I thought often about Aruba during those long, gray Ohio winters. Life took me to many tropical paradises in my travels since those bleak days, but never to the “A” of the ABC islands of the Dutch Caribbean. In early July, I finally got my chance. The trip was not exactly a beach vacation for me. Rather, I was sent on a writing assignment by DCNA, the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance, a great conservation organization that is safeguarding the natural environments of the six Dutch islands in the Caribbean. I was also on a mission to write a couple of freelance articles for American magazines.
As luck would have it, I got to team up with Adrian Del Nevo, a world-renowned expert on terns. For those of you unfamiliar with these elegant birds, terns are know as ‘the swallows of the sea”. Aruba has five offshore islets that attract nearly 25% of the tern species on earth. No other place attracts more then the tiny spits of sand, rock coral and buttonwood called the San Nicolas Bay Reef Islands. They are light years away from the glitz, glamour and gaudiness of Aruba’s hotel row.
I had the privilege of accompanying Del Nevo for three days to witness the terns. I was literally surrounded by thousands. It is an experienced that is now deeply etched in my soul. I will take those images, sounds and memories to the grave. In the meantime, here are a few frozen slices of time from a remarkable place on earth.