Bringing People Together: Flat tires, Mooie and Maho Tents!

Living on a small island creates some distinct challenges.

As a small but recent example, last week as I was leaving for Cruz Bay I saw my car’s back tire was completely flat.  With no time to do anything about it, I headed down the hill to the Coral Bay “crossroads” to hitch a ride to town.  Since I was going to work I was completely overdressed for the short walk in the island’s persistent humidity.  On the way I spoke to a neighbor who told me he had an air compressor at the house. Perfect! All I have to do is buy a tire patch kit.  Reaching the crossroads, I got a ride immediately in a nice air-conditioned car with a couple from the east end.  Ahhhh…  The next morning, with the help of a friend and the neighbor’s air compressor, the car was on the road again. 

On St. John there is no Triple A to call for help, no dealer where you drop off your car and take a loaner for the day, and a tow truck might cost a week’s pay.   There is no hospital but a clinic where the doctor is called out of bed to come in if there is an emergency after hours and weekends, Internet and power is sometimes simply not there, and cell phone service is not consistent. Throw in hurricanes and what you have is an island that loves its Happy Hour! And it also makes you aware of how you need the help of others and they need your help in return. The very act of thinking who you know and seeking them out for a favor makes you more aware of this.

This is a lengthy way to convey that on St. John when people want to accomplish something, they usually do it by working with each other, not as a single entity or by working against one another other.  Perhaps it is because we never know who we will be asking assistance from in the future, or maybe it is just the friendly attitude of many of the people who live here, yet either way, we can often find someone willing to help when it is needed.

Secondly, there is the history of the island that makes many people wary when someone arrives suddenly and intends to change things, or non-residents want to make changes without any alliances with the people who live here.  No matter how needed the idea or good the intention (even assuming the best), it may be received poorly.  A important example relates to the establishment of the national park on St. John.  A brief background goes something like this:  Rockefeller wanted to help create the national park on St. John.  As most books will tell you, he bought some land and donated it to the park along with others. But before that the US Department of the Interior had intended to condemn the privately held land on the island in order to expand the park holdings.  Senator (V.I. Legislature) Theovald E. Moorehead, “Mooie” as he was known on St. John, led the protest against this amendment and won!  The St. John and Cruz Bay you see when you get off the ferry today is credited to the efforts of “Mooie”! 

This series of events occurred in the late 1950’s when tourists were just starting to visit St. John.  I have yet to find it in any books that write about the history of St. John but everyone who lives her knows that history.  I spent some time searching the internet because, without a finding the story in the history books written about the island, I was beginning to think it was an “urban legend”.  However I found numerous references online to Mooie’s hard work in saving St. John and have provided two links that discuss the remarkable history here.

With an awareness of these two island themes, I want to share some photos a friend posted on Facebook recently.  This person got a closer look at the Maho tents, shared the images and I was given permission to share them here.  By posting these images I am not trying to point out any problems or call for any changes.  My belief is that the time for “saving” Maho was in the years before it was sold.  I am sharing what I know of a place that has been a large part of the island for decades.  And I know the people who visited and cherished their time at Maho are curious.  It does not actually answer anyone’s questions other than to know their current physical state.  And I am encouraged to see what appears to be a thoughtful dismantling that is not damaging the fragile hillside or making a wreck of reusable lumber, particularly since resources here are precious.

A10 as it looks now, screens and "Stanley cloth" are gone.
A10 as it looks now, screens and “Stanley cloth” are gone.
View from inside A10 in May of this year (2013).
View from inside A10 in May of this year (2013).

I do hope that the wood that served as the tent-cabin floors is reused/donated, whatever the case may be.  It is currently exposed since the roofs have been removed and will not fare as well exposed to the tropical sun, rain and leaves that will fall, accumulate and hold moisture. There is plenty of wood that needs to be disposed of but not those pieces.

Tents at the end of the the A-Section boardwalk.
Tents at the end of the the A-Section boardwalk.
B11 and B12: Double Vision
B11 and B12: Double Vision

It might be nice to hear from the current owner, especially if the activity on the land is something locals can support.  And there are a number of island organizations that have decades of experience dealing with a variety of potentially relevant issues – from material reuse, native plantings, sustainability, to tropical design and construction – and would be a valuable resource.  Which leads me back to my introduction; that this is a community where people more accustomed to helping their neighbors because we know that we need each other to thrive on an island of limited resources.  All of our lives become entwined here in one way or another. 

Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends.  Economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies…”   – John F. Kennedy

A B-section tent. Without anyone there the leaves are beginning to accumulate. Seems the games of 'Leaf Golf' our housekeeping crew used to play kept the boardwalks looking great!
A B-section tent. Without anyone there the leaves are beginning to accumulate. Seems the games of ‘Leaf Golf’ our housekeeping crew used to play kept the boardwalks looking great!
A view from the A-boardwalk taken about 12 years ago.
A view from the A-boardwalk taken about 12 years ago.
Former Maho tent overlooking Big Maho Bay.
Former Maho tent overlooking Big Maho Bay.

 Little Maho beach with tiny baby Maho tress popping up in the sand already.Little Maho beach with tiny baby Maho tress popping up in the sand already.

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12 thoughts on “Bringing People Together: Flat tires, Mooie and Maho Tents!”

  1. Kristin, you’re doing such a great job with this blog. And I think your perspectives are dead on. Thanks for the thoughtful effort!

  2. I am truly enjoying your blog! As a longtime visitor to St. John (since 1969) I have stayed at Maho Bay Camp grounds and many places in between, including 2 homes that my parents built on the Island. It holds a very special place in my heart. I look forward to your observations and of course, any thing you can uncover about what is going on.

  3. Thank you Kristin. I appreciate the pictures of Maho (and other places on St. John)and your perspectives on island life.

  4. Kristin, the blog is fantastic and gets better every day. I look for it every day. It brings back so many great memories of wonderful family times spent at Maho. Even knowing it was coming, it was sad to see the dismantling of the tents.

    1. Thanks Elaine! The dismantling of the tents is sad. It was a beautiful refuge and fantastic experience for so many. Luckily I have so many memories and photos still to share and most of them more uplifting!

  5. Really enjoy the blog, very well written and thoughtful. Does your friend have any pics from up in the staff section? I would love to see what my old tent looks like now.

    1. Thanks Jim! No photos from the staff section. This person was on little maho beach and just did a quick view of that area. There is security and it is not open to the public. From what I can see driving by, the staff section has yet to come down because I can still see some white roofs up further on the hill.

  6. One of the things I like about St. John in general is how comfortable I feel hitchiking. I got a ride from Lauren of Bo & Lauren after a long day’s hike with my kid so we could get to the smoothie shack from the Reef Bay trail head, on our way back across the island. Another time I got a ride in an old suzuki filled to overflowing with car parts and construction stuff , where I lay on top of the junk hanging off the back of the suzuki so I could get up the hill from Coral bay after hiking over from Maho via Johnny Horn. And I reciprocated whenever I had a rental car and saw someone else needing a ride. We just wouldn’t do that much of anywhere else. And I got the sense that attitude on St John was at least enhanced by MBC, if MBC wasn’t central to the attitude; or at least, I doubt I would have participated in the attitude without having a home base at Maho.

    Keep the postcards coming, Kristen, thanks.

    1. Thanks Charlie! What a great memory!

      Hitching a ride is such a part of living here and I would agree that having a home base at Maho made it happen, partly because the staff would do it themselves being so far from town. And Maho attracted a group of people who would try it! I live in Coral Bay now and give someone a ride almost every time I head into town and have met the some wonderful people and heard some interesting stories.

      My favorite hitchhiking experience was years ago (2001?) at Maho. I was working registration and could not close in time for the last taxi but as it happened there was an unexpected late delivery to the Maho store. The store manager, myself and another staff person rode in the back of the empty van to Cruz Bay, sliding around every time he turned a corner or went up or down a hill! The best part was that his father was riding with him to provide company. His father told us of building the roads and overlooks in the National Park. They all followed former established donkey trails except somewhere around Caneel Bay where they made a change. I have always wished I had been able to record that 20 piece of St.John history…

  7. Thank you for your beautifully crafted and subtly powerful message to the new owner of MBC. Please, please read and heed it, Mr. ___! Is the new owner’s name not public knowledge yet? I’m pretty sure I know who it is, but haven’t seen it formally mentioned anywhere.

    1. Thanks for your comment Al! My understanding is that the new owners name is not public knowledge yet. Many people seem to know who it is and what he plans to do there, but I take it with a grain of salt and operate off of the idea that the new owner intends to make this a positive and thoughtful transition until I hear otherwise.

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