It has been a year since I spent spring break on the island of St John in the US VI. Do I think about it almost everyday? YES! It was a wonderful and inspiring trip.
How can a spring break vacation possibly have anything to do with my home blog you might wonder? Everything and everything!
My husband and I had always dreamed of taking our kids to St John to snorkel the reefs. We are more of a beach family than a snow family. Our family vacations are few and far between but always involve being outside and off the grid. No phones, no computers no I-anything! Our children like our adventures and the family time.
St John is a magical island with half its land in the US National Park System. This assures the beaches are protected with little development. Radios aren’t even allowed! The journey to St John takes some effort and our trip from Kansas involved cars, planes, train (Atlanta Airport concourse change), taxi, and a ferry ride! We started at4am and arrived a little after 3pm in St. John. We were tired, slightly cranky, excited and even overwhelmed by the rapid change of climate and pace. A sign all was well and an adventure was about to begin? (Besides driving on the wrong side the road?) A sea turtle emerged to swim beside the ferry between St Thoma sandSt John. Just seeing a big turtle in the stunning turquoise water encourages us to take care of our small part of the world everyday!
Maho Beach Camps is an amazing place to stay. Imagine a screen porch with a cot and the sound of the ocean. Simple but really what exactly do you need on a vacation? I need a change of scenery and a chance to reenergize. Great food including the golden pancakes and self serve hot coffee available at sunrise is a treat. I like to experience new places and learn from them. I also like having space to breathe and see nature quietly at my own speed. It grounds me to wake when the sun blazes through a tent window and fall asleep to the sound of the nearby beach after an exhausting yet exhilarating day hiking or snorkeling or even just lazily watching the waves. The first night the rustling below our tent did cause a slight worry. Was it a giant wild iguana or an animal with large teeth no just a tiny hermit crab! Marcel the Shell was on vacation too!
The Camp was developed in 1960’s on leased land with the stipulation that the land could not be altered. The lease is up and the camp is on borrowed time. It had been a dream of mine to go ever since a family from church took their daughters. They wanted their family to experience the coral reefs. The reefs are fragile and take many years to rebuild after a storm and easily damaged by human touch. One bad swipe of a snorkel fin can cause incredible harm.
The tents are built individually or in pairs on deck platforms high above the natural terrain to not impede water, nature and wildlife. Gently placed with care the tents provide stunning views and privacy as the land steeply slopes to the beach. Some tent walls are screened while others have an opaque canvas. The sightlines limiting seeing into tents are protected by the height between the boardwalk and a set of stairs to each tent. It still marvels me the overall layout of the camp. Simple yet effective! The boardwalks connecting the tents also protect the fragile natural floor. The many stairs are daunting at first. Especially when realizing each tent doesn’t have running water. Infact the only potable water is by the check in desk. All water on St John is trucked in. Very little fresh water is available on volcanic islands as St John and St Thomas are. Seeing and hearing the water trucks everyday throughout the islands made me think twice about all the water I use year round. The showers are located in a shared bath house. The showers involve a pull string to ensure not a drop is wasted. The showers are also cold! After a day at the beach all is well and an afternoon shower is slightly warmer!
There are nightly activities and a wonderful sharing library to exchange books. This area is also a brilliant idea to leave what you don’t need to travel home with. We bought beach toys and left them for another family to enjoy. Sand castles are a big deal in out family!
We rented a Jeep from Thomas (who still is a contact on my phone never know when we might return and need another ride!) and visited a different beach each day. Each beach had its own unique ecosystem and different species inhabiting the reefs. Wild goats kept us company at Lemon Cay! We were often the first to arrive on a beach as the early sun after an early turn in had everyone up and ready to start another day’s adventure. The hot pancakes and fresh fruit breakfast also provided encouragement!! One day we walked the coral reef trail a guided tour by a US Park Ranger downhill through the trees and along the stone walls of an old Sugar Cane Plantation. The end of tour left us on beach waiting for a boat ride back toCruzBay! It was a shady day enjoying the inland part of the island.
As an architect what did I learn?
1. It is possible to build very gently to protect the terrain.
2. Raised boardwalks are an ideal way to limit impact on the existing grade and keep from “Cow paths” shortcuts being created. It is too far “down” to veer off path!
3. The parking lot can be far away and kept screened with a short-term drop off provided!
4. Tents/rooms can be far away as long a cart is provided for initial luggage gear move in.
5. Access to potable water and limited use of fresh water by pull strings is tolerated once the beauty of the area and effort it takes to get water is understood
6. A space to share books and leave groceries is a great idea at any vacation spot! A board with an area to note what you saw each day is nice to see what everyone else is doing too!
7. A store that is within walking distance and safely within the “no cars allowed area” is a treat for kids. Everyone on vacation needs space to safely explore and enjoy Root Beer that served in cool bottles!
8. Having only limited lighting ensures privacy and a big starry sky at a “campground!” Keep that flashlight handy!
9. A casual dining system of ordering at the counter and waiting to be called for terrific food actually encourages conservation with travelers from all over while waiting. This casual interaction happens readily table to table! Friendly staff helps too!!
10. Having a beachside rental for chairs, paddleboards and snorkel gear made it easy to enjoy the beach right away!
The list goes on and on…Spring 2013 see you there!