Eco-friendly digs

I'd been given a choice of lodging on St. John: should we stay in a cottage at sea level or in a "tent cottage" high above the coast? The cottages at Cinnamon Bay were tempting: they're clustered just a few paces from one of the best beaches on the island, cottage amenities are similar to Maho's, and the main buildings (including the bath house!) are nearby. But I told Stephanie, "I think if you go to a vertical island, you should at least camp halfway up a hill."

At the Maho Bay Camps registration area, we found that we'd been assigned to tent cottage E26. Steph looked stricken, and when I checked out the camp map, I saw why - it was uphill from the lofty main buildings and a less-
than-convenient hike from the nearest bath house.

Fortunately, our registration clerk took pity on us: we got C9, halfway down to the beach. It's one of the few units with a ceiling fan - and it's right next to a bath house! Some might prefer the "A" units, closer to the water and usually commanding great views. It's a long climb up to breakfast, though, so if A unit residents are like me and need coffee to wake up, I'd suggest packing it in (along with fresh water!) the night before. We had a hard enough time remembering to take beverages and ice back to C9, and it was days before we thought to secure orange juice for the bananaquits (tiny yellow birds who are, apparently, sugar addicts).

The Maho Bay quadrant of the island is named for the beach maho, a type of hibiscus which flourishes on the shoreline; we hung our T shirts on its branches, as is the custom, but it wasn't blooming for our visit. Maho Bay Camps opened in 1976 with eighteen tent cottages and a fierce commitment to be "green", in modern terms. The wooden walkways are elevated to preserve the forest undergrowth and prevent erosion, and recycled materials are used wherever possible. Although I'd steeled myself in anticipation of roughing it, I was pleasantly surprised: the tents have electricity (much of it generated by photovoltaic cells) and are built to maximize the effect of cooling breezes. The bath house water is recycled - clean enough for showers and brushing teeth, but not potable. It isn't heated, either, but if you time it right (after 3:00pm, when the maintenance staff completes its bath house duties), your shower can be lukewarm.

I'm a night person and Steph's a day person. I worried about that - until the evening of our first full day! It was understandable that we'd crashed early on our travel day, but I awoke at 7:30 (still the middle of the night, in my terms). It wasn't the sunlight; I can sleep with all lights blazing. It wasn't the noise; tree frogs are quiet during the daytime, and the muffled voices of other guests were barely audible. (Anyway, at home I sleep through thunderstorms.) Stephanie was gone, so I hustled up the walkway toward the pavilion - and met Steph coming back with a mug of coffee for me. Have I mentioned how much I love her?

That night and virtually every night, we were lucky to stay vertical until 8:00. I like to explain it by paraphrasing a T shirt popular on the island: "Adjust your latitude". We had books and magazines, thanks to a "free shelf" in the registration area, and I had committed to keeping a travel journal (housed ignominiously in a 4x5" spiral notebook), but we managed to get them all read and written in daylight. We came for the sun, after all; I've learned not to question island magic.

Breakfast (under $5) and dinner ($17-$23) are offered at the Maho Pavilion Restaurant, a few flights up from the registration area. Don't be misled by the cafeteria-style service; the food is outstanding! There are four entrees per night, including a vegetarian selection, and dinner includes unlimited iced tea and salad bar. On various nights I chose pan-seared scallops, chicken with mole sauce, gnocchi in a vodka cream sauce... and was never disappointed.

The pavilion: T shirts, flip-flops and incredible food. The venue is used for movie night and visiting lecturers, too.

View from the pavilion: moored sailboats and Whistling Cay. At night, St. Thomas twinkles in the distance.

Lunch, snacks, beer and smoothies are available just above Little Maho beach at the Beach Cafe, which shares space with the Water Sports Center.

Most glass at the camp is recycled, and objets d'art from this effort are available for sale. Free glassblowing demonstrations are held several times each day, too. Here, Tom works on a prototype vanity counter for one of the Harmony cottages, using glass chips suspended in a matrix.

There are 114 tent cottages, so I was unsure of my navigation skills on Maho's myriad walkways. Stephanie had it down, but thanks to whimsical trail markers (Lizard Lane; the Mongoose Highway) and the map issued to all guests, there's little chance of getting lost. In any event, staff members make regular rounds, checking on all aspects of the property. (C9 is on the Tree Frog Trail.) All stair treads have bright edges, and posted signs remind guests that the trail can be slippery when wet. It can also be dotted with iguana poop, so watch your step!

Although the tents are screened, shades afford privacy, and each unit feels like a solitary getaway in the jungle. We could see portions of other units, through the trees and down the hill, and there was quiet foot traffic on the walkways surrounding us, but our closest neighbors were non-human. The loudest, and most comical, were pearly-eyed thrashers: robin-sized birds with cute protruding eyes and a feisty suspicion of each other. We had frequent visits by black hummingbirds, and the tree frogs "sang" all night.


Our cottage was well-appointed. In the first two photos, only a few of the items shown are ours: beverages, lighter, sunglasses, paperback and a shirt on the clothesline. We called the white plastic chairs "butt-pinchers", but there's no escaping them on the island, and they start pinching only after an hour or so. Our twin beds were comfortable - I'm going on Steph's say-so, because I can sleep on a picket fence - and when we reported that our ceiling fan was wobbling, the maintenance crew had already noted it and scheduled its repair.

There's a "lockbox" in each cottage, and guests are urged to bring a padlock. However, before we went to Waterlemon Cay for an extended snorkeling session, I chose to stow my camera in the safe at the registration area. (The cottage lockbox is made of plywood, and its hinges could easily be removed.) We didn't see or hear of any pilfering, though, on the beaches or anywhere else.

Just outside our door (to the right of our couch) and up a half flight of stairs was the bath house. The ladies' room had a set of 4 sinks, stalls and showers; it was spotless, and there was never a wait for anything. Instead of paper towels at the sinks, Maho launders old towels and cuts them up to washcloth size, for guests' use in drying splashes on the counters. Towels and washcloths are, of course, provided in the cottages.

The faucets are spring-loaded, to save on water, and the shower's rope pulls do the same - though I admit they tested
my ingenuity while rinsing shampoo out of my long hair.

I include this sign to illustrate once again Maho's commitment to the environment, but I also found the last phrase to be both con-
siderate and funny. Most rest rooms on the island post similar reminders and instructions on operating the fixtures. These practices aren't difficult, and following them makes a big difference. Take heed, and take the lesson back home!

Here's the vertical spur of Iguana Alley, which doglegs down to Little Maho beach. All manner of watersports equipment is available for rental further down; we got a couple of foam rafts (and laughed ourselves silly trying to roll over on them while floating).

This sloop cut back and forth in Maho Bay, randomly emitting a conch shell call. I never caught 'em at it! Whistling Cay, in the background, arguably gets its name from the Dutch word for change: wissel. The apocryphal story is that the small building on its shore (conveniently obscured by the mainsail) once served as a customs house, but this is unlikely given its limited access on a small gravel beach.

                                  Nice hair, Yez.

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