Maho Bay Camps get 2- season reprieve

10/31/2010 12:02 AM

10/31/2010 12:02 AM

Good news in travel was recently supplied by the three families that own the land on which Maho Bay Camps (www.maho.org) are located on the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Although Maho's lease is scheduled to end after the upcoming winter season, the landowners have agreed to extend the lease period for still another full winter season — in fact, until the summer of 2012. And there are hints — only hints, not guarantees — that a further extension may be granted after completion of the winter season in 2012.

Thus, one of the finest (and most unusual) moderately priced resorts in all the tropics is still available for the best kind of holiday. The loyal, nationwide clientele of this unusual property has lived under the threat that their cherished holidays would come to an end just a few months from now. And now that threat has been removed — at least for two more winter seasons.

Maho Bay Camps consists of more than 100 tented bungalows on small wooden platforms cantilevered over a hillside overlooking one of the most enthralling sights in all the Caribbean, on the tiny and largely undeveloped island of St. John (it has only two other large hotels) in the Caribbean. The bungalows (more like canvas-sided huts) are connected to each other, to the dining area on a big wooden platform overlooking the Caribbean, and to toilet and shower facilities, by wooden walkways carefully elevated from ground level to avoid disturbing the undergrowth of grass, flowers, weeds and plants.

Meals at Maho Bay (costing $17 on the occasion of my last visit) are mainly vegetarian and quite tasty; bungalows rent to two people for a total of about $80 during off-season, about $50 more in high season; wonderful lectures and films on the Caribbean are presented many evenings; the beach below the housing area is a glorious expanse of sugary-soft white sand; the usual standard of dress is shorts, T-shirts and sandals; and the clientele often are a mix of well-read, intellectually curious and unpretentious middle-income people from a fascinating range of professions and academic activities.

Incidentally, under the now-diminished threat that it would be forced to close, Maho Bay Camps has been frantically building another resort of eco tents known as Estates Concordia on the other side of the island of St. John. Estates Concordia takes advantage of every new source of sustainable energy (solar panels, wind-generated power, recycled water and the like) and is an important model for the future creation of alternative housing. However, its situation is not nearly as enthralling as Maho Bay's, and I am less than enthusiastic about recommending it for a vacation, at least in its present form (and it will undoubtedly be improved). It also is more expensive than the original Maho Bay Camps. At the same time, it will be cherished by people with an intense interest in the future survival of mankind after traditional forms of energy are exhausted.

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