Category Archives: Adventures

Never Miss the Opportunity to Sleep in a Screened-in Porch!

View of Francis bay from tent-cabin A20.
View of Francis bay from tent-cabin A20.

Camping at Maho Bay was not the version of camping where you pop-up a dome shaped structure, climb inside and roll out your sleeping bag; It was more like staying in a large screened-in porch.

One experience that drew me back to Maho Bay Camp time after time was the so-called “tent”, tent-cabins”, or “cabins” (for lack of a perfect description) which were more like vacationing in a screened-in porch. There was a roof over your head and strategically placed screens around the tent allowing for cool breezes and beautiful views.I grew up in the South in a house with a screened-in porch and always loved the in-between-ness of that space. As we say in architecture: I am inhabiting a threshold, a place that holds the attributes of what is on either side of it (inside the house & the outdoors), joins the spaces, but is its own defined space. The beaches where everyone spends so much time are similar; they are the thresholds where the earth’s land joins the oceans, and walking along the water’s edge I again inhabit a threshold. So it appears that staying near places defined as thresholds, in-between places, are a popular vacation destination.

Maho Bay Camp tents were more than a pop-up tent with a sleeping bag rolled out on the floor, but more like sleeping in a screened-in porch.
Maho Bay Camp tents were more than a pop-up tent with a sleeping bag rolled out on the floor, but more like sleeping in a screened-in porch.
Living room area of an F-section tent, stripped bare just before closing.
Living room area of an F-section tent, stripped bare just before closing.
The slope of the hillside meant many tents were elevated high above the ground below them, feeling much like they were built in the tree canopy
The slope of the hillside meant many tents were elevated high above the ground below them, feeling much like they were built in the tree canopy

The boardwalks were appealing to me as well. They held a space that was defined, outside and yet not walking on the ground. They also served the great benefit of preserving the integrity of the very fragile tropical soil from degradation during construction and habitation, as well as serving as the conduit for the water pipes and electric lines that feed the tents and bathhouses.  Walking under a continuous tree canopy, with a turn in the boardwalk to make way for an immovable volcanic boulder or stately tree, I sometimes felt like a kid again in part because I became more aware of nature and my surroundings.  As I walked the lizards would quickly scurry out from under my feet, always able to be faster than I would expect for their size. Passing by the numerous screened-in porches that visitors were populating in order to commune with the nature around them, I assume somewhere Althea was picking a spot to keep an eye on the daily activity.

Tents and tropical plants along the boardwalk through the C-section of the former Maho Bay Camp.
Tents and tropical plants along the boardwalk through the C-section of the former Maho Bay Camp.
Tent-cabin in the D-Section next to volcanic boulder.
Tent-cabin in the D-Section next to volcanic boulder.

 

St. John’s Hermit Crab Migration

Beautiful red St. John hermit crab climbing up a rock in the beach after the mass migration to the water on August 22, 2013.
Beautiful red St. John hermit crab climbing up a rock in the beach after the mass migration to the water on August 22, 2013.

St. John had another hermit crab migration last Thursday (08/22/13) and I was able to see the very end of it. I arrived at 11:30am to the shore at Nanny Point and had to pick my way along the stone beach in order not to step on any hermit crabs.  St. John resident Pam Gaffin had been keeping an eye on the crabs for over a week as they gathered under the trees along the beach. She said she arrived around 5am and the migration was in full swing, with a pile up of hermit crabs at its deepest that would reach her elbow (if sticking her hand down into the migrating crabs.) Last year she and Steve Simonsen caught the migration on video at its height. You can watch it here.

Hermit crabs collecting along the rocky shore in St. John during their mass migration to the water to release their eggs.  Occasionally the crabs would wrestle and there is some lack of clarity on what is happening - maybe crab sex, although that should have happened earlier for egg release.  This wrestling usually brought other smaller crabs to the event who climbed on top of the two crabs...?
Hermit crabs collecting along the rocky shore in St. John during their mass migration to the water to release their eggs. Occasionally the crabs would wrestle and there is some lack of clarity on what is happening – maybe crab sex, although that should have happened earlier for egg release. This wrestling usually brought other smaller crabs to the event who climbed on top of the two crabs…?

 By the time I arrived it seems the stragglers were making their way back up to the trees, with a few hermit crabs still hoping to get close enough to the shore and incoming waves to release their eggs. Pam pointed out the area where the crabs were the thickest and the rocks were larger.  Here the hermit crabs can secure themselves in cracks and crevices in order not to get washed into the ocean with the incoming waves. Apparently the crabs fill their shells up with water in a motion that looks like they are lifting their shells up and down on their body, and this releases the eggs out in the ocean. The mass migration allows for some protection of the crabs and eggs from predators.

The view under my feet of the rocks and the way the remaining hermit crabs wedged themselves in between the rocks on the beach, hoping for a last big wave to wash over them.
The view under my feet of the rocks and the way the remaining hermit crabs wedged themselves in between the rocks on the beach, hoping for a last big wave to wash over them.
A hermit crab wedged between the rocks on the beach during the St. John hermit crab migration in August 2013.
A hermit crab wedged between the rocks on the beach during the St. John hermit crab migration in August 2013.

Despite not seeing the migration at its height, it was still more than I ever see on the beach or elsewhere at one time. They are rather fascinating to watch and with less of them converging on the beach at once their individual appearance and actions were more fun to watch! Here is a short video of a hiding hermit crab – maybe he understands english?!

My friend Gail also made it out to watch the migration and we chatted as we watched one particular crab make the long trek to the shore. She told me that she used to collect shells and leave them outside here door at her house. After a while she noticed that the nice shells she collected were gone, replaced by some ragged shells instead.  Wondering what was going on, she kept her eye on the shells.  Then one day she discovered that hermit crabs were coming up and exchanging old shells for her nice larger shells and heading back on their merry way!  After that day she made a point of collecting shells and putting them out there for the hermit crabs, a crustacean “Help-Yourself Shelf”!! I can’t tell you how badly I want to do that now! Especially since I saw hermit crabs in some shells that I did not know they live in.   (So please consider leaving any large shells you find on St. John beaches on the beach for a crab to take as his new home. But bring your camera for a good photograph instead!)

Hermit crabs collecting along the rocky shore in St. John during their mass migration to the water to release their eggs.
Hermit crabs collecting along the rocky shore in St. John during their mass migration to the water to release their eggs.
A lone hermit crab, red and purple, hiding from my camera.
A lone hermit crab, red and purple, hiding from my camera.

And St. John resident Rafe Boulon wrote a short and interesting article on hermit crabs for the St. John Historical Society. You can link to the article here.   You can watch some other video I captured:

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!!