Tag Archives: lizards

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!!

Never stayed in a Maho Bay tent-cabin?

For the uninitiated, some basic information on Maho Bay Camp will start to fill in the full picture.

I should say from the start, Maho Bay Camp and living in one of their tent-cabins was not for everyone.  My first summer, when working as a 4-hr Volunteer at the Registration Desk, I would greet guests and check them in. After the 10 minute process was complete, I could see the excitement of an adventure light up one person’s face, while their partner’s look seemed to say “I’ll humor you.”  In some instances, those guests trudged back up the steps within the hour, luggage in hand and informed me they were going to checkout and head over to the Westin Hotel.  This loving or running from a Maho tent-cabin was not a gender issue, but a combination of camper vs. non-camper, and whether it lived up to an anticipated fantasy of staying in a cabin near a Caribbean beach!

The tent-cabins were called such because their structural frame was constructed out of lumber: a 16 foot x 16 foot wooden platform, with 2×4’s making up the columns and beams that supported the roof, the counter space, doors, bed and sofa frames and minimal closet space. It is the enclosure material that made it a tent. All “walls” were either nylon screening or a white sheeting (or Stanley Cloth in honor of owner Stanley Selengut). The roof material was similar, a Superwhite vinyl which withstood the tropical climate and reflected the sunlight, keeping the tents a bit cooler by not absorbing the heat during the day.  Originally the tent-cabins were a green canvas, which I associate with the 70’s as being a signature material for tents anywhere! However I imagine the harsh year-round tropical sun combined with long stretches of rain and mildew made that material impractical. The white “Stanley cloth” holds up better on both accounts.

A typical interior - emptied  just before closing - of a tent cabin.
A typical interior – emptied just before closing – of a tent cabin.

The tent-cabins were subdivided into 4 equal quadrants of 8 feet x 8 feet. One was the outdoor porch, one was the bedroom area with two twin beds, and the last two were essentially combined to contain a sofa, extra cot and counter space with a gas stove, dishes and other essentials.  In the photo above, the “soft furnishings” (such as cushions, mattresses and curtains) have already been removed for the closing in May 2013 but it shows the basic structure well. The bedroom is in the back (middle) corner, the porch is on the far right, the sofa in the far left corner, while the kitchen counter space is the closest corner in the photo. You can see the mold that developed on the wood trim outside of the tent-cabin in a few short seasons. Mildew on the PVC was easily cleaned with hydrogen peroxide. But maintenance was ongoing to keep the cabins in shape.

The tent-cabins also had “roll downs”: sheets of the white tent material with a heavier piece of wood attached to the bottom. The wood piece would be secured between wooden pegs on the interior rails in the tents. Every screened section had these roll-downs making it possible to enclose it on all sides. The roll-downs were used for additional privacy on screened-in sections (a bit hot, I preferred sarongs) or to keep the rain out when the wind was blowing it in. Designing a tent-cabin to be open to catch the wind and, at the same time, keep out windblown rain can be tricky. One of the features that I liked best were the various wind-scoops. Some were traditional scoops at the roof line, allowing hot air to escape while capturing the cool trade winds. Others, as you can see along the back wall in the photo above, are simply a canted wall with screening at the base. This provided privacy and kept the rain out while letting the wind come up and through the tent-cabin.

E15 as seen from EVip when I first arrived in 2012.
E15 as seen from EVip when I first arrived in 2012.

There is very little flat land on St. John and most construction is done on a slope. The soil on the island is at most two feet deep and takes a great deal of time to develop. Removing or damaging existing vegetation causes the unsecured soil to run down into the bays during any heavy rains, damaging the fragile coral reefs and ecosystems. At Maho all the tent-cabins and boardwalks were elevated above the soil for that reason. The intention was to preserve, not disturb, the surrounding natural environment. Often the ground dropped off dramatically from one side of the tent to the other. I sometimes refer to these as tree-houses, but nothing was actually built in the trees. I simply felt like I was up in the tree canopy, with tree frogs serenading me after a rain, a view of the ocean below, the tropical trade winds blowing through my tent-cabin and the sounds of rustling leaves and wind chimes just outside.

View of Big Maho Bay from an A-section tent.
View of Big Maho Bay from an A-section tent.

Twenty-three years ago the cabins were same as when Maho Bay Camp closed this past May. ”Each cabin comes equipped with fresh linens, towels, an ice chest, propane stove, pots, pans, necessary utensils and two lizards. If any of these items are missing when you leave, we won’t refund your $30 deposit,”  was what you may have heard when you checked in.  And yes, there were always lizards in the tent on mosquito patrol!  (The link above takes you to a great basic description of Maho Bay Camp. Written in 1990 much of it would still be true, except prices!)