Beyond the feature: Caribbean camping for the NYT

This weekend I had a spread in the New York Times Travel section on camping on the Caribbean island of St John. The article focuses on the Maho Bay Campground, a truly special place that, as things stand, could disappear in 2012 when their lease expires. Their only hope lies in the Trust for Public Land, a non-profit conservancy that could purchase the land on Maho’s behalf.  Read more about their campaign here.

The NYT also ran a slideshow on the island, as snapped by NYT photographer Steve Simonsen. Steve is a truly multi-faceted chap, dividing his time between travel photography and being Stoke City’s reserve goalkeeper.

A little extra
Anyway, here is a funny little story from the island, that didn’t end up in the piece. It features the father of the atomic bomb, an Orthodox Jewish sect, and footballing policemen.

The Oppenheimer House on St. John

On the northern coast of the tiny Virgin Island of St. John, as the road cuts a wobbling arc through the forest around Hawksnest Bay, a small unmarked drive peels from the tarmac towards the beach, invisible beyond a thicket of palms and cactus scrub. My girlfriend and I had come looking for it. The path lurches downwards after twenty feet, levelling out on a dirt car park next to a modest yellow building backing into the trees, with a covered veranda looking out to sea. A line of lilting palm trees fringe a tiny strip of sand flattened by the soft, repetitive laps of the tide.

It was here that J Robert Oppenheimer, the “Father of the Atomic Bomb” came to spent long periods of his twilight years, retreating frequently from his New Jersey home for peaceful island reclusiveness, until his death in 1967.

After a protracted dispute over the property’s succession (it was donated to the undefined “people of St John” in the will of Robert’s daughter, Toni) the seafront house was eventually turned into a community centre by the island’s vast National Park. On our visit, we found the old Oppenheimer house buzzing. Dozens of children were scurrying around the front porch, collecting tiny crabs found crawling between lumps of white-streaked driftwood.

The Orthodox Jewish children (and me) admire a tiny crab

Watching parents relaxed under the veranda, as a stream of keyboard music and intermittent drums escaped from the inside of the house. Our visit had coincided with the annual festive holiday of an orthodox Jewish community from St Thomas, the largest U.S. Virgin Island. Orthodox Caribbean Jews, eh? Who knew?

It was an unlikely scene. A beautiful Caribbean beach overtaken by a religious sect pumping out music in the belly of J Robert Oppenheimer’s old beach house. It was compounded when two local police trucks swung down the drive and disgorged three topless officers, who tightened their shorts and promptly jumped into the water. Before long, a football was being thrown between them.

A very special little island indeed.

Linkeage
Finally, here are a few links I garnered during my research for the piece. All well worth a read, particularly the Arthur Frommer piece at the top, which outlines the campground’s imminent demise:

Maho Bay is Launching a Desperate Campaign to Fund its Purchase by the Trust for Public Land [Arthur Frommer]

Where is the cheapest bed in the Caribbean? [Spendtrhift Shoestring]

Camping and eco living in the Caribbean [Caribbean Inspired]

Paradise Lost? [American Way]

A Harmonic Convergence of all Things Lush and Green [St. Petersburg Times]

Paradise Lost? [Plenty Magazine]

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My New York Times Travel articles
My Guardian Travel articles

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10 responses to “Beyond the feature: Caribbean camping for the NYT

  1. Pingback: Augmenting reality in London « Benji's Blog

  2. I think experienced campers probably would enjoy tropical camping a lot more than somebody who just thinks it would be fun. The tropics can be pretty miserable without a hotel, if you’re accustomed to air conditioning and screens on the windows to keep out the bugs. I’ve known quite a few first time campers and hikers who noticed nothing but the misery, so maybe a hotel would make a better base camp, and a tent for a side trip.

  3. Pingback: Beyond the feature: Egypt in sound, colour and video « Benji's Blog

  4. Thanks for sharing. I will surley visit again.

  5. You need a whole different set of tools and skill sets for camping in the tropics. It shouldnt be taken lightly, and no-one should try it unless they first of all have an understaning of the climate and what sort of dangers and risks that poses to the non educated camper.

    It is great fun, but be warned, dont put yourselves and others at risk because you have not done your homework. Then Enjoy.

  6. Hi, I am doing research for a project about caribbean beaches and found your blog very informative. Thanks

  7. hey guys, we sell some camping stuffs such as telescope, spy camera, etc. check it out!

  8. What a stunning location. Lets hope they find a solution.

  9. I love your blog.It’s great fun but must warned.

  10. This was a great location to spend a luxurious camping experience. This was very informative. I hope they could solve the problem.

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