Island Creatures

Found this frog hanging out in my roll down in VipE at Maho Bay Camp. He left during the day and would return during the night.
Found this frog hanging out in my roll down in VipE at Maho Bay Camp. He left during the day and would return during the night.

While staying at Maho Bay Camp, whether you were prepared or not, there were always plenty of land creatures nearby. When I was observant, they were everywhere; and when I was oblivious, they were still numerous! During the time I more or less “lived outside” I realized the buggy-versions of these island creatures bothered me less when I discovered them inside. In many ways I was invading their space, not the other way around.  Although there were still limits to what I cared to deal with on a regular basis! I’m sure many guests discovered their limits over the course of their visits also. Over the years since my first visit in 1995 I have seen:

  • Wandering peahens on the Maho boardwalks.
  • Braying donkeys under my tent-cabin, walking along the road to town, and hanging out on the beaches.
  • Zigzagging fisher bats dipping in front of my car headlights as I drove along North Shore Road.
  • Large grey-green iguanas sunning themselves on the beach and falling out of trees, sometimes chasing after me if they saw my orange camera (looks like food to them since they eat red hibiscus flowers.)
  • Small island deer chasing each other around my tent. My nephew had his first meeting with a deer by coming literally face to face with it as he was walking out the door of the bathhouse in the C-Section!
This deer was watching me from the bush in the Maho Bay staff section as I walked to work.
This deer was watching me from the bush in the Maho Bay staff section as I walked to work.
Oooops!  This island lizard is unknowingly hitchhiking his way to town with me.
Oooops! This island lizard is unknowingly hitchhiking his way to town with me.
  • Maho’s cadre of adopted island cats enjoying their good life.
  • Anoles (tropical lizards) working feverishly to keep the mosquito population in check in my tent, doing push-ups to attract a mate, dodging hundreds of feet walking up the boardwalks and steps, or watching me take a shower (that was always weird!)
  • The endearingly tiny, black and yellow banaquits looking to be fed some sugar, and the opportunistic pearly-eyed thrashers trying to steal food from an unoccupied table at the Dining Pavilion. Hummingbirds were always around if they had a feeder nearby.
  • Trigger-happy tree frogs jumping from trees onto people near the store, hiding in the roll-down in my tent or hanging out in showers and toilets!!
  • A tiny grey mouse sitting on his haunches watching me cook spaghetti from a safe distance. Smallest I’ve ever seen, his fur was all standing out stick-straight, as if he had some electrical current running through him. He was a living, breathing cartoon character.
The adopted Maho cats had a pretty nice island life and they consistently seemed to enjoy it! This is Ralphy laying on the boardwalk on the way to my staff tent.
The adopted Maho cats had a pretty nice island life and they consistently seemed to enjoy it! This is Ralphy laying on the boardwalk on the way to my staff tent.
  • Pie-sized land crabs crossing the road near Big Maho Bay in the evenings, their white shell reflecting my oncoming headlights.
  • Herds of island goats with cute baby goats in tow, roaming the roads near Coral Bay.
  • A huge wall-sized beige-colored cow that wanders the west end of Centerline Road. (just yesterday he spent the entire afternoon eating grass in front of the health clinic.)
  • A chicken that would not leave the air conditioning of First Bank!  After the security guard spent 10 hilarious minutes chasing it around and finally putting it out, it turned around and came in with the next customer who opened the door!
  • Roosters in the trees in Cruz Bay (it must be cooler up there?)
Looked up one day and saw the Cruz Bay roosters high up in the trees near the park!
Looked up one day and saw the Cruz Bay roosters high up in the trees near the park!
Chicken enjoying the beach at Francis Bay, St. John.
Chicken enjoying the beach at Francis Bay, St. John.
  • A white lamb that found its way to Maho looking for a home. He or she was later adopted by a neighbor to Maho Bay Camp.
  • A cute baby donkey rescued from an old well near the beach shop, who later lingered for days in the parking lots. I think he’d lost his parents.
  • Quarter-sized acid spiders hanging out on the ceiling of my tent or on counters. My first tent as a 4Hr Workers had them everywhere and at one point I killed one. That night I was bitten on my neck while sleeping and woke to a quarter-size blister. Our security guy, Bobby Ray, said that every acid spider has a mate and I was bitten in retribution. Who knows? But I never even bothered another, and I was never bitten again…
  • A scorpion falling onto my bed as I pulled a pair of shorts off the shelf to wear.
  • Fredericka the Iguana who generally hung out at the Activities Desk to be fed lettuce and hibiscus flowers.
As I was walking down the steps from the Dining Pavilion at Maho Bay Camp, this iguana scurried out from under a step! Glad I had my iPhone with me!
As I was walking down the steps from the Dining Pavilion at Maho Bay Camp, this iguana scurried out from under a step! Glad I had my iPhone with me!
As I was walking down the steps from the Dining Pavilion at Maho Bay Camp, this iguana scurried out from under a step! Stopped me dead in my tracks!
As I was walking down the steps from the Dining Pavilion at Maho Bay Camp, this iguana scurried out from under a step! Stopped me dead in my tracks!
  • Hordes of termites flying everywhere after their papery nest was destroyed in a heavy rain, invading any tent that had a light on or a candle burning. My roommate and I turned out the lights and jumped in our beds. I pulled the sheet completely over my head only to find it covered in termite wings the next morning. Termites at Maho can be an unpleasant and overwhelming experience.
  • Large (3 inches wide) nearly black Luna moths around camp at night, usually in the store (probably because of the bright lights) and once in my tent.
  • Coming home to my tent and seeing my screen door covered with a couple hundred small green roaches!
  • Small biting ants, which kept returning to my bed for weeks before I found a decent ant killer. Not fun.
  • One season (2001/2002) the mosquitoes were so thick that I wore shoes, socks, long pants and long sleeve shirt, a hat on my head and put the mosquito repellant on my face and hands while working at the Activities Desk.  I had had dengue fever the year before and was probably more afraid of mosquitoes than anything else on this island!
  • Little pink bugs called “Love Bugs” piling up in heaps along my hike out to Waterlemon Cay.
  • Migrating solider crabs under my tent in the fall. More often I would see lone soldier crabs and hear the groups migrating. They would create a constant rustling sound in the dry leaves and brush under my tent. It took me a couple of days before I registered the sound against all the others I was hearing and remembered what it was!
Soldier crab on my front steps on morning.
Soldier crab on my front steps on morning.

 

St. John Love Bugs!!
St. John Love Bugs!!

Tents in Transition

I made my pilgrimage over to Big Maho Bay this week to take a closer look at the apparent dismantling of the Maho Bay tents.  The closer view made it possible to see that the furnishings still remain, but that the white “Stanley cloth” has been removed as well as the roofs. And, while it was mid-week, no one was working on those tents that day to further dismantle them. Everything about the new owner and the intent for the future of the land has been so secretive that I almost expect them to do any dismantling at night under the cover of darkness!

Snorkeler at Big Maho Bay beach, and in the background, the former Maho Bay Camp tents which appear to be in the process of being dismantled.
Snorkeler at Big Maho Bay beach, and in the background, the former Maho Bay Camp tents which appear to be in the process of being dismantled.

My hope is that the new owner is able to donate some of the materials for reuse by others on St. John. One place to donate building supplies is the newly established ReSource Depot here on St. John.  The wood floors inside many of the tents have some fantastic lumber than can be reused.

Looks like the former Maho Bay Camp tents are gradually being dismantled.
Looks like the former Maho Bay Camp tents are gradually being dismantled.

This was a beautiful day here on St. John with no Sahara dust clouding the skies, no hurricane in the forecast and no mosquitoes since we have not had the heavy rains that were here in June.  Big Maho was crowded with visitors as it is in the winter and from what I overheard, it may have been due to a wedding planned for the next day. I sat and read for a while and going in for a swim when the heat was too much. It is summertime on island which means the Maho tree on the beach is blooming, the sea grape is putting out its “grapes”, the laughing gulls are here and the sun sets a bit later (and along the north shore instead of the west end of Cruz Bay!)  Having such easy access to one of my favorite beaches on the island made staying at Maho Bay Camp perfect. I arrived late last summer when there are not as many visitors on island and altered working hours. For the month of September, before the rains arrived, I was able to walk down the Goat Trail after work and sit on the beach or go for a swim after work. I am so thankful for that time.

Big Maho Bay gets it's name from the Maho tree that lines the beach and blooms in the summer months.
Big Maho Bay gets it’s name from the Maho tree that lines the beach and blooms in the summer months.
Big Maho Bay beach and the USVI National Park Pavilion on a picture-perfect day in August.
Big Maho Bay beach and the USVI National Park Pavilion on a picture-perfect day in August.
Sea Grape plant on Big Maho Bay beach.
Sea Grape plant on Big Maho Bay beach.
A picturesque day in early August with a view from the east side of Big Maho Bay beach where it connects with the Goat Trail that went up to the former Maho Bay Camp.
A picturesque day in early August with a view from the east side of Big Maho Bay beach where it connects with the Goat Trail that went up to the former Maho Bay Camp.

 

 

Changes Afoot!

I haven’t had a post in the last few days because I had to move to another house. It was a bigger project than I anticipated, in part because carrying my stuff down a steep driveway required me to develop a set of brakes while still moving forward.  Besides, it’s hot here right now!  Add to that a broken bed left by the last guests, which I gave an island-fix: a hard plastic igloo cooler with its lid removed is now the fourth bed post.  Needless to say, I bought fixings for a good Gin & Tonic today!

On my way home from Cruz Bay I drove along North Shore Road and stopped to look at the Maho Overlook, as I do probably four out of five times.  It did not take long to notice something had changed: the small white tent roofs were missing in the A-Section closest to Big Maho Beach and only the framing was standing!  Even though I am fully aware that the land is now owned by someone else and that Maho Bay Camp has been closed since June, I still felt a sense of alarm. Something is happening and I don’t know what the plans are!  I rushed back home to put down my thoughts, completely forgetting about my Gin & Tonic, musing as to why this potentially anticipated event bothered me.The two main reasons I felt related to my alarm are two big reasons why Maho Bay Camps was so special to me. 

View of Maho Bay
View from the overlook of the point where Maho Bay Camps was situated along North Shore Road. If you have visited St. John, you probably have your own photo of this very view. The Maho tent-cabins (over 100 of them) are the small white specs you see on the point between the two bays.

Reason One: those basic white tents with only the essentials as furnishings allowed me to move in and make the space mine. During my stay, it felt like home.  I would put up colorful sarongs for some privacy and loved how they waved in the breeze. I would buy candles for the table and hang my bathing suits and hats on the wooden dowels around the bedroom. When I lived there in a staff tent,  I used woven grass mats as carpeting in my room, stapled down to the floor with heavy duty staples, or sometimes over “wall” space, almost like wallpaper.  Often the lights in staff were minimal or non-existent, so white Christmas tree lights would be strung around the top of the rafters to offer some light at night. I suppose not everyone did this, but anyone who felt like making the tent-cabin “theirs” for the duration of their stay could easily decorate it with a handful of thumbtacks and some sarongs.  Home Sweet Island Home!

My bedroom in my staff tent at Maho Bay Camp.
My bedroom in my staff tent at Maho Bay Camp.
I had a gigantic genip tree next to my staff tent.
I had a gigantic genip tree next to my staff tent.

Reason Two: Maho (and St. John) was a place where I came with my family and we all were interested in doing and seeing the same things.  On our first and second visit we were equally excited to discover this tropical island paradise and see it all: on land and under water!  It was great to have a place we all loved to visit together. And once home, we had great memories we shared, having seen and done it all together: finally spotting a turtle or ray at Waterlemon Cay, enjoying a dramatic sunset during dinner, and remembering our first arrival up the bumpy dirt road on Frett’s Safari Taxi and wondering if he was bringing us to the right place!  Had we stayed in a hotel or rented a villa, I don’t think it would have been the same, since too much caters to your lifestyle back home: TV and movies, internet connection, or listening to the drone of the A/C instead of the frogs and crickets and rain on the roof.  Even the difficulties of tent living created some of our shared memories:enduring cold showers on a day that it rained and was cool or waking up in the middle of the night during a downpour to put down the roll-downs and check for leaks. Yes, I am very sentimental about my memories of Maho Bay Camp.

So I look at those tents, now coming apart piece by piece, and I feel like a stranger is taking apart my home.  I suppose feeing some heartache at the sight is to be expected… I remember hearing (maybe my first visit) that the tent-cabins and boardwalks were built so that they could eventually be removed and that it would only take a year for the jungle to grow back and fill in the empty spaces, without damaging the land or the reef below. But I just never considered it would happen so soon.

Tomorrow I will heading over to Big Maho beach for a closer look.