The beaches and snorkeling on St. John are fantastic! But I will admit to becoming a “beach and snorkel snob” since living here. While I don’t have a ‘favorite’ place for beach or snorkeling, I tend to eliminate some destinations automatically. For instance, I often eliminate Jumbie as a beach to visit due to the shade and rough waves. It is not bad, but there are others I like better. Snorkeling is the same too. I snorkeled Cinnamon during vacations, and since living here found other reefs that I prefer. I have not returned to snorkel Cinnamon in years.
So I was long past due for a snorkel at Cinnamon and decided the calm seas and warm water of the summertime were the perfect time to swim around the entire cay off of Cinnamon Beach. I wasn’t fighting against a current and was able to take my time looking, and since the water was calm, it was also very clear with no sediment kicked up! The park beach was open but Cinnamon Bay services and campground were closed due to the government shutdown, so it was quiet and uncrowded, with everything green from the summer rains.
This visit was a good reminder that the snorkeling on St. John is good everywhere! It just depends on factors such as what you want to see, the type of beach you want to go to, and the weather and water conditions at the place you have chosen, which have a big impact on the quality of your snorkel!
I have come to prefer snorkeling here in the summer because we have just enough of a longer day to have more time for good visibility when snorkeling, and with the chill taken out of the water I will easily snorkel for one or two hours. The winter water usually chills me and chases me out much earlier. Also the Parrotfish have got their summer pastel colors, which I love to see. It is like visiting another world!
P.S. If anyone knows the name of the coral in the 3rd image, please let me know!
The area around Maho Bay was always quiet, but now as the island gets ready for “the busy season” it seems eerily lifeless…
September and October are the slowest months here on island. It is when we are most likely to get a hurricane, it is when the cooling trade winds die down and the humidity seems to rise, it is when many business close and spruce up their shops or take a much needed break before the busy season starts. And this year the government shutdown tried to close almost the entire island! (Thankfully the beaches are open again.)
September/October is also when the grocery stores don’t carry as much variety in produce as during the tourist season, or what they have looks like it has been sitting there for a month. Last week I saw that a carton of strawberries costing $10 and they were all rotten. All these issues mean that September & October are good time for locals to take a vacation elsewhere or get creative. Nevertheless we have had a lot of visitors to the island this summer, I would say more than usual. I can recall going to the beach and having it to myself last September! (Big Maho Bay & Cinnamon.) This year the beaches seem to have stayed consistently busy as more people are saving money to visit when it is less expensive to travel here.
A vacationer approached me while I was waiting in line at the post office last week. He wanted to ask some questions about living here and I was happy to oblige. He asked the usual questions regarding costs of homes or rent, with some comments that the island needed some other stores. Then he mentioned the cost of groceries and wondered where the locals shopped? Is there a secret store where locals go to pay a better price on their food? I almost laughed out loud, but said “No, we pay the same high prices that you do. Have you filled up your rental car with gas yet? We pay that same high price too!”
Sometimes it takes a while for visitors to understand that everything must be shipped here: food, gas, lumber or concrete for building, cars, clothing, and furniture and as a result they cost more. St. John has the same problem with trash: everything has to be shipped off island to a landfill elsewhere, at great expense. “So you’re saying there are no secret stores that have cheaper goods for locals?” he asked. I think that would be every islander’s fantasy!! However the people who live here love the island despite the lack of amenities and even basic goods that most take for granted back home. And we share equally on the things that are inexpensive: locals and visitors pay the same price at Happy Hour, as alcohol is the one thing on island that is not expensive….
This conversation got me thinking about Maho Bay Camp and the people who loved to stay there when they came to St. John. Many of them arrived already understanding that they were living differently than they do at home. They spent their time in a sort of screened-in porch for the duration of their visit. And that was why many people came back to Maho to stay – for the entirely unique experience that is possible in this climate. It rarely occurred to me to wonder why this minimally developed Caribbean island was not just like where I lived back in the States. I certainly have missed some of the conveniences, but I came here because there was nothing like this back home. So I expected some differences and made whatever accommodations were necessary to enjoy my time here.
Maho Bay Camp was a great way to visit St. John in an economical way. If guests were willing to sleep listening to the tree frogs and the crashing of the waves (which I preferred anyway) they could save money, and have it for other fun activities or for another visit in the future.
St. John does not need a secret grocery store for locals, or a Marshall’s or Best Buy (I’ve heard that comment), or a fast food joint. What we need is a diversity of options for people who want to stay here and enjoy the National Park and the rest of the island. One like Maho Bay Camp, where visitors were enveloped in the natural environment and understood more readily the dynamics of living on an island. You might sleep though the rain and thunderstorms in an air-conditioned room at the Westin or in a villa, but not at Maho! And in the morning at Maho you might wake to the pink clouds reflecting the sunrise from the west, later to watch bananaquits eat their breakfast of bowl of sugar near the Dining Pavilion.
So here we are at mid-October. I am noticing small signs that the island is perking up: people are arriving to look for jobs, cars and apartments; business are reopening; I hear live music traveling up the hill to my living room more and more nights; the parking lots in town and at the beaches are getting full; large yachts are showing up out in the bays again, even if only passing by. There is a general buzz beginning as everyone starts getting ready for the arrival of winter.
It was sad to drive home recently along North Shore Road after dark. I stopped at the Maho Bay Overlook. There was nothing to see. It was pitch black. There was not enough light from the moon to even illuminate the hills around the bay. It was sad to feel this beginning buzz of the upcoming season and see no life whatsoever where Maho Bay Camp lived for so many decades. And all the more so when so many people wanted to keep visiting.
One experience I always loved when I returned to stay at Maho Bay Camps was listening to songs of the frogs and birds while falling asleep in my tent at night. It is a phenomenal chorus that starts at sunset and continues throughout the night.I’ve discovered that there are a variety of frogs (so far I’ve found four) that are singing on St. John:
the local tree frog,
the Antillean frog,
the Coqui and Whistling Eleuth from Puerto Rico.
It is intriguing that I will go all day without seeing a frog anywhere, but as soon as the last rays of sunlight dissolve, I hear thousands of tree frogs in the bush, both near and far, begin their nightly songs. I especially love driving along North Shore Road through the National Park after dark with all the car windows open, listening to all the thousands of frogs in the forest and seeing the bats swoop down and back up in front of my car.
From what I can gather the local tree frog only sings when it is wet or has just rained. But others clearly sing every night regardless of the weather. One sound I used to hear at Maho Bay Camp came only after the rain; either a frog or a bird made a pleasant and irregular (thankfully!) sound of water dripping.I recall hearing it when the rain woke me up at night when I first arrived and was not used to living in a tent and hearing all the sounds around me.I would listen to the rain, usually hearing it end shortly after it started. Once the rain stopped I heard that “drip” sound. Wondering if there was a slow leak in the tent roof I would get up to inspect.My inspection said no. And it quickly became clear the sound was outside and up in a tree!I always loved that drip sound; it was uncommon and it served the same purpose of counting sheep – listening to it would help me fall right back to sleep.
Singing in the Rain
After a rainfall the frog chorus can be phenomenally LOUD if you are surrounded by trees and bush! Now that I am living in a house in Coral Bay (vs. a tent at Maho) I have the opportunity to watch TV again. One night while watching a movie, there was a brief shower and once it had passed the frogs picked up their singing in force. I kept turning up the volume so I could hear the movie, until it occurred to me that it might be disturbing my neighbors, even though I could barely understand what was being said on TV! At that point it is best to just give up and turn off the TV. Island life….
In memory of the much loved eco-resort Maho Bay Camp on St. John, US Virgin Islands.