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The International Writers Magazine: Travel

Sleepless in St John
John M Edwards
John M. Edwards succumbs to the lures and snares of Caribbean ecotourism—especially on the romantic eve of the legendary “Miss Lucy’s Pig Roast Full Moon Party”!

I’m stuck at a remote eco-camp called Maho Bay Camps, holed up in my hut hidden in the canopy--in fetal position, utterly alone, unable to sleep, sweating bullets, breathing shallowly, swatting mosquitoes, and suffering from a zinger of an inner-ear infection.


My Cruzan rum hangover had only cost five bucks, but I can’t even make it over the intricate series of wooden boardwalks to the communal bathroom block. Indignant, I pee over the balcony directly into Rockefeller’s rainforest. On an island literally taken up with two-thirds of national park, I’m sleepless in St.John.

I look kind of candyass in my baggy green bathers, but I make my way past the fashionable surfettes down the way-steep steps to Little Maho Beach, of course, disturbing a wild mongoose on the way. This is one of the nicest slices of sand in the American Virgins, the sand so fine you could cut it with a Platinum Card. Next thing you know, I’m plopped in the gentle waves, floating like an Alka-Seltzer in the clear surreal waters. I felt like a kamikazee mosquitoe floating in a glass of ginger ale. Oh, Oblivion!

Better than St. John’s Wort at curing the blahs, the blue waters and white beaches of the island of St. John come as a much-needed wake-up call. I was a little uncomfortable with how comfortable this model eco-resort turned out to be. Maybe I’d never leave. Indeed, a lot of the guests—many of them “four-hour workers” who stay for free—had been here for over a year. They all had that far-off look in the eyes which comes from too much sunlight on the beach and too few phonecalls home. The scene resembled some sort of weird windsurfer cult, where time stands still and everyone knows your name, then waves and lethargically greets you “hiya.”

I walk uncertainly on the beach, ear acting up (a no-see-um had flown into my ear canal and got stuck), toward the topless sunbather near the rocks, where I set up my towel at an almost respectful distance. Out on the virtual blue watercolor, a handful of Hobie Cats, windsurfers, catamarans, and kayaks move around listlessly, waiting for Happy Hour—when everyone drops everything to powwow over cheap Carib beers.

What’s more, with the legendary “Miss Lucy’s Pig Roast Full Moon Party” coming up, a buzz was beginning to build on the island. Ah, the lures and snares of Caribbean ecotourism!
I had flown to St. Thomas and taken a boat to St. John to recover from writing a fantastical novella and a nasty divorce. I had been here several times before, staying with my family in rented villas with David Hockney-style pools and panoramic postcard views. In the back of my mind, I would keep my eyes open for real-estate opportunities, even though almost everything good cost over a million and resorts like the world-famous Caneel Bay cost over 500 smackers a night. An advertising copywriter, working for a glossy mag, might have described it thus: this treasure island is trés cher!

But Maho Bay Camps, which cost me less than 50 bucks, proved to be a good prescription for paradise. Founded by Stanley Selengut in 1976, Maho Bay Camps was created so travelers didn’t have to rough it to be close to nature. Selengut’s idea was “to provide intimacy with the great outdoors, in one of the world’s most beautiful settings, with comfort and convenience, and at low cost.”

Selengut All the cabins are almost entirely built out of recycled materials, powered by the sun and wind, and built with site-sensitive techniques that enhance and preserve the fragile ecosystem. Now with 114 units and 3 sister resorts (Harmony Studios, Estate Concordia Studios, and Concordia Eco-Tents), Maho Bay is among the world’s most highly acclaimed ecotourism destinations.

Most people can be found “limin’,” which according to the local lingo means just hanging out, chilling. And therein lies the trap! At isolated Maho, accessible only by a terrifying road, I ate mostly at their Pavilion restaurant, went night swimming at nearby Big Maho Bay (accessible by goat path and flashlight), listened to the cicadas mimic “Blue Danube” while scribbling down notes in my journal for this piece, and checked out the phosphorescent plankton floating like stars on the water at night. All without leaving the site. At their general store, you can buy nail clippers, suntan lotion, sandwiches, and Australian Yellow Tail Shiraz. You can even pay for the whole mess by credit card.

But something was missing from my ecotourism adventure: a femme fatale. One of the lures and snares of gung-ho green living among the backpacking cognoscenti is that the most attractive women hang out at the cheaper places. But right now, aside from an unapproachable bombshell model and cattle rancher with an androgynous-sounding first name, everyone seemed to be more or less taken. Also, there was kind of a “camp” mentality: no conversations in common areas after ten; clean your own cabins and haul your own garbage; no smoking even in the open air.

Simply put, at Maho, there was no place to socialize at night.

One day I took Frett’s Shuttle to see the other beaches (Cinnamon Bay, Trunk Bay, Hawk’s Nest Bay, and Caneel Bay). They are all mind-boggling. In the capital of Cruz Bay, I ordered a “Bushwacker” at Woody’s, from a busty gal in a T-shirt (who I bumped into later in Cape Cod!) and wandered around like a wounded animal the rest of the day, mouthing “moisture!”
Finally, I found a so-called date, an attractive waitress and actress who had a boyfried. We went to pretty much the best restaurant, aside from the luxurious Asolare with the quintessential view, called Paradiso. We discussed the local legend of the “jumbies” (the spirits of the donkeys) that purportedly haunt the island. Later, at Duffy’s Love Shack, especially when AC-DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long!” came on, I felt like I was making progress. But when we returned late at night, she only let me kiss her on the cheek, then trotted away—even though I’d spent hundreds of dollars! This sort of thing is one of the snares of romance in the Caribbean.

On my last night in St. John, I at last experienced the supreme letdown of Miss Lucy’s shindig (basically just two amateur guitarists and ten revelers): an amusing embarrassment where I wolfed down my overcooked pork shavings lickety-split and then abruptly left. Instead I went back to Duffy’s Love Shack for some real action, and a young woman rushed me at the bar.
“I noticed you today on the beach,” she said with ample cleavage.

After shooting the breeze for a while, she suddenly asked how old I was—a trick I always fall for. I mentioned that I was old enough to have been in a high-school garage band with Page McConnell, the keyboardist of PHISH.
“If you weren’t so old, I could really go for you!”

Needless to say, we were soon off, hitchhiking back to Maho, since no taxi dared the twisting turns of the trunk road at night. After being dropped off on the beach, near the goat path, we tumbled around in the sand for a while. “Slow down, “ she kept saying.
I invited her to my hut, and she accepted. I told her she resembled a Renaissance nude.
“You mean I’m fat, “ she said with a laugh.
“No, perfect!”
So did anything happen? “I guess I was really drunk,” I commented before we drifted off to sleep. Then the gecko that came gratis with my cabin sounded the alarm—but the girl was gone. She had left an e-mail address on the table. I had a boat and plane to catch.
Stanley Selengut, I presume. Unfortunately, Maho Bay Camps loses its lease in 2012, when the entire op moves to sister resort Concordia near Coral Bay. There is a local Taino Indian legend that on this date the world ends. This, of course, was not the kind of date I was looking for—I would have been happy with the model/cattle rancher. No matter how you sliced it, the Caribbean was a tourist trap—but it’s kind of nice to have a safe haven for both adventurous travelers and affluent jetsetters out of the view of the hoi polloi. . . .
© John M. Edwards September 2011

Bio: John M. Edwards has traveled worldwidely (five continents plus), with stunts ranging from surviving a ferry sinking off Thailand to being caught in a military coup in Fiji. His work has appeared in many magazines such as CNN Traveller, Missouri Review,, Grand Tour, Islands, Escape, Endless Vacation, Condé Nast Traveler, Adventure Journey. He recently won a NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) Award, a TANEC (Transitions Abroad Narrative Essay Contest) Award, a Road Junky Hell Trips Award, a Bradt Independent on Sunday Award, and 3 Solas Awards (sponsored by Travelers’ Tales). He lives in New York City’s “Hell’s Kitchen.”

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