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In one word: Althea!

What title would you give Althea?

While trying to come up with a title for this post I ran through a number of ideas but all seemed to fall short and not capture the right feeling.  So I have left it ‘Althea’, similar to other famous individuals who only need one name: Madonna, Elvis, Houdini, Sting…  Althea has most certainly been Maho Bay Camp’s biggest celebrity!  Add her regal air, a combination of aloof and inviting which created an ever-growing fan base every season.

Where I always found Althea: on the boardwalk from the dining pavilion to the store.
Where I always found Althea: on the boardwalk from the dining pavilion to the store.

While there were other lovable cats at Maho, Althea has always been my favorite.  Perhaps it is because my family had a cat that looked nearly identical to Althea, a calico female we named Checkers. Checkers and Althea even have very similar personalities / temperaments. (Somewhere packed away in a box I have a photo of her and will have to scan it and post it here for a side by side comparison.)  Every year that I visited Maho Bay Camp I would look for Althea and my vacation would not be complete without seeing her.

In years past I remember seeing Althea up near the Dining Pavilion where a water bowl was placed for the Maho cats. While feeding the cats in the pavilion was discouraged, it was hard to resist Althea’s occasional visit to my table for a bit of bacon. Not the healthiest cat treat, but it is what she liked. Does anyone else remember seeing her hurry across the area where the line formed? She would be quick in getting from one side to the other, trying to avoid all the feet of the many guests, and I guess she has a hip problem because her run was more of an elegant sashay. Very different from other cats.

Below are two recent photos of Althea, the first taken in 2013 and second taken almost two years prior in 2011.

A popular place to find Althea, she looks like she had had numerous people stop to pet her!
A popular place to find Althea, she looks like she had had numerous people stop to pet her!
This was a popular place to find Althea, since I had taken a similar photo two years prior!
This was a popular place to find Althea, since I had taken a similar photo two years prior!

Althea liked to spend some time in the high traffic areas and boardwalks of camp and would even lay down in the middle of a step on a flight of stairs, often right at the top coming up from the A-Section before you reach the Registration Desk. She was completely confident that no one would accidentally step on her!  This last seaon I was told the story of an evacuation of Maho for a tropical storm or low level hurricane.  After everyone was gone and the wind and rain were picking up, the resident manager made his last rounds of camp before taking shelter himself.  He saw Althea in an alcove next to the store (in a spot staff called “the Secret”, which was a recessed storage doorway), sitting up with her head held high and Althea appeared as though she was going to stoically wait out the storm right there. Of course she was at camp and fine when everyone returned.  With that confidence and attitude I came to see her as Maho’s “Manager Incognito”. Secretly Althea ran the place….

At various times there has been some discussion regarding when Althea arrived and how old she is. Last year I got the credible answer from Joe Brown, a friend and former staff member at Maho Bay Camp:

I’ll clear this up. I worked at Maho from 1997-2008. Althea showed up feral to my apartment (Dan-o’s too) right after hurricane Georges in 1998 – so she is at least 15 years old. We lived above the store and took her in as our own. We had no idea where she came from, but she was adorable and wouldn’t stop meowing at our door. Danny took primary responsibility for her and had to leave island in 2000. Unfortunately, he couldn’t take her to NY and thought it would be best to leave her in the care of staff and guests. He loved her very much and hated to leave her. Danny passed away in 2006 at the young age of 35.  She has had a great life at Maho. By the way, we named her after the Grateful Dead song Althea.

Althea taking a comfortable nap after eating her fill of tuna fish!
Althea taking a comfortable nap after eating her fill of tuna fish!
Althea was tempted to sleep on my papers in order to be sure I gave her my undivided attention!
Althea was tempted to sleep on my papers in order to be sure I gave her my undivided attention!

She did have a great life at Maho Bay Camp! Guests, staff and four-hour workers alike loved her, fed her and took care of her whenever she needed it. The Animal Care Center on St. John knows her well enough that I could pick up medicine for her without bringing her in (she had previously run away during a vet visit and it took weeks for Althea to return to Maho Bay Camp.)  Meanwhile she had the run of the property and could be as social or introverted or independent as she wished. When Maho closed everyone felt Althea needed to stay on island because she would not survive a flight to the States. Understandable since she disliked even the short car ride to the vet!  Actually I was worried that she might not even survive the closing of Maho. I am rather impressed that she did not return to Maho Bay Camp (as best I know.) I had anticipated her returning a number of times before she settled into a new home.

The day Maho Bay Camp closed, May 16th, someone from Coral Bay did adopt her but apparently it didn’t work out. A month later Althea showed up near Calabash Boom (the area just before Miss Lucy’s restaurant) at the apartment of Marty, a former employee of Maho Bay Camp. She could not have been luckier to find anyone, since Marty not only knew her and that she was supposed to be living in Coral Bay, but he also has a soft spot for Althea. He looked after her until she could find a permanent home, which turned out to be a former chef from Maho Bay Camp. Crispin had left St. John when Maho closed and by a twist of fate returned a few months later to work at Asolare in Cruz Bay. Crispin has now adopted Althea and I am guessing that she is eating better than I am!!

One thing is for sure, Althea is a fighter and a survivor! So… Titles for Althea??

Althea keeping an eye on things!
Althea keeping an eye on things!

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.