Tag Archives: Maho Bay Camp

A Darkened Bay

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.

The nearly deserted beach at Big Maho Bay in September 2012.
The nearly deserted beach at Big Maho Bay in September 2012.

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.

Someone found a hiding place for spare shoes in the E-Section?
Someone found a hiding place for spare shoes in the E-Section?

Maho Bay Tents: The Rewards of Extra Effort

Or “I Survived the Steps at Maho Bay Camp” in order to stay in the Best Tent!

Like so many others visitors I stayed in an A-Section tent on my first visit to Maho Bay Camp. Tent A-16 I believe it was. It had a porch overlooking the water at Little Maho beach and the weather was perfect the entire time. The location was perfect as far as the main boardwalk because it was mostly a flat walk under a shady canopy of trees. That flat boardwalk was decidedly nice when toting luggage on arrival and departure days, as well as after a hike up and down stairs around the rest of Maho or from Maho’s beach.

View of Francis Bay and Little Maho Bay from the A-Section of the now closed Maho Bay Camp on St. John, USVI.  I believe this was from A-Vip.
View of Francis Bay and Little Maho Bay from the A-Section of the now closed Maho Bay Camp on St. John, USVI. I believe this was from A-Vip.

We always booked our tent a year in advance in order to get the best chance at having our first choice, but somehow we never stayed in the A-section again.  Which turned out to be wonderful! Over the years I stayed in the D-section with it’s large volcanic boulders, the E-section with its newer style bathhouse and shady afternoons, the C-section with its lush green foliage, and even the B-section. But I never grew fond of the B-section because I stayed in the tent behind registration and next to the bathhouse.

One thing I discovered was that every section has tents with fantastic views! For instance, if you were in tent E15 you had a fantastic view of Big Maho Bay and an extra large porch (due to the fact you entered through the porch to get in the tent.)  The C-section tents had some nice ceiling fans and solid wood floors which helped when things were buggy. And last year my E-section tent had deer running around all day in September and October.

A quiet and shady E-section tent (taken during the final season of Maho Bay Camp, which is the reason for the poor condition of the wooden boardwalks.)
A quiet and shady E-section tent (taken during the final season of Maho Bay Camp, which is the reason for the poor condition of the wooden boardwalks.)

But better than all of those sections, my favorite was the F-section tents! When we first arrived and found out we were staying up there for the first time,we were a bit reluctant. It was more of a climb to the F tents and they felt removed from the rest of the property. But when we arrived at F4 to see the view, it took our breath away! It was like having a room at the Maho Bay or Trunk Bay overlooks, only better. We were higher and could see further. And we could plan our day by standing on our porch in the morning. If there were rain clouds anywhere, we were going to see them!  F-section tents were distinctly hotter during the day than most others since they were so high on the side of the hill and had minimal shade, but they had a breeze and the F-section had a relatively private bathhouse. Making the hike up to the F-section was more than worth it when you were rewarded with the view overlooking the north shore of St. John.

View of Maho Bay and Cinnamon Bay from the F-Section high up on the hill.
View of Maho Bay and Cinnamon Bay from the F-Section high up on the hill.

Island Lullaby

St. John Night Music:

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….