"People are beginning to realize that we need to live in accordance with the law of ecology, the law of finite resources, and if we don't, we're going to go extinct."
St. John seemed at war with us for some reason on our first few nights there, and we were clearly not well-prepared for the battle. So, following our nights in the Tent of Doom at Cinnamon Bay Campground, we opted for something hopeful-sounding: an eco-tent at Concordia on the southern tip of the island. I found Concordia in an online search and thought it sounded very intriguing. It was a complete ordeal to get the phone number to call from Cinnamon Bay to reserve our stay the following night.
Upon arrival, we realized Concordia would be anything but a repeat of Cinnamon Bay Campground. This place had so much to offer.
We stepped into the breezy space between the registration desk and centrally located bathrooms and felt the sun pouring in from every angle. Just past the check in desk area, a group of people were practicing yoga and a sign asked us to be respectfully quiet. So I took a picture.
We had breakfast and waited for our tent to be ready, breathing deeply on the sunsoaked deck as we sensed something good on our travel horizon. That breakfast was incredibly delicious, and I'm willing to bet that part of the reason is how much anticipation we were gaining with each moment. It was also just excellent food.
As we ate, we noticed various oddities in the construction of the place. The restaurant appeared to have PVC piping running along the edges of the roof to catch rainwater. There were storage tanks beneath the deck. It intrigued us.
After breakfast and vast ocean views, we were given tent E21. "Tent" E21 was centrally located and we were told by the staff that it was their favorite tent.
We set out, key in hand and soon discovered that the word "tent" was a total misnomer for our lodgings. We walked along a vast network of raised deck walkways, then headed up some rather impressive stairs. The pictures on the left only begin to do
justice to these stairs that ascended at least 5 or 6 storeys at this point. The two pictures show roughly two thirds of the stairs going from the front desk to our room. Halfway up, we saw the pool on our left. Everything seemed to be held up on an intricate network of decks tens of feet above the ground.
The deck for the pool hovered high in the air suspending hundreds (thousands?) of gallons of water above the ground. Beyond it, the jungle lay in wait guarding access to the beach and a jewel bay.
The pool itself was large and was graded according to the hill, rather than according to regular pool structure. It was deeper on the downhill side instead of on one of the two ends.
After the pool, we came to a flattened area on the walkway. The walkway extended flat to the left and right, and we were told to go right. So we followed the wooden walkway until we came to a sign marked "E21." And this is what we saw there.
The "tent" waited below on a deck of its own. At a first glance, we thought for sure this would be two tents, but it turns out the small room on the left is the bathroom and the right side is the tent itself. The entirety of space beyond this sign was ours. There's a deck in front of the "tent" and breezes that come wafting through constantly. We were like kids on Christmas surveying this view after our nights in the Tent of Doom. This structure could hardly be called a tent with any sense of accuracy to the word. Below is our view from the deck. You can just see the PVC pipe that goes along the roof to catch rainwater.
We were entirely taken with the scenery. This shows, just a little further down the walkway from our "tent," the view of the other side of the island. This is what's on the other side of the jewel bay.
This is just another angle from the many walkways. It was a treehouse resort. The entire thing built on massive deck structures about 30 feet in the air gave a sense of awe and whimsy to the entire experience. Signs along the walkways instructed visitors to toss food items (not trash, but actual food) into the jungle for recycling through the eco system. Hermit crabs scuttled in the underbrush curating their meals from the tossed remains of the resort's visitors.
We did our best to find a way to give you a grand tour of the tent, and the best picture we could get of the outside was not of our tent at all. This tent is similar to ours, with a few exceptions.
Ours had no walkways in front of it, so it was entirely private except for an odd quirk where the toilet can clearly be seen from the walkway 30 more feet up the hill. This picture shows the ventillated loft above, the zip-windows open, and the general layout, and you can kind of see the solar panels on the front of it as well as the water tank for storing water underneath it. I actually think our tent may have been larger than this one as ours was a full two storeys.
Next is the interior of our tent. You can see the ladder leading to the loft area, which holds two (comfy) beds. The windows are all zippered and waterproof. The tent itself is built like a house with wooden framing and then thick, plastic-coated canvas on the outside.
We were both madly impressed with the structure of the house. It seemed like the builders had thought of everything. There was potential for air movement everywhere. And it was a beautiful space that inspired us. The only flaw we found
was that, since it was built on a deck, mosquitos could enter the tent through the floor. So we spent a little time killing any we could find, and I laid out our sarongs on the floor to cover the gaps.
As a side-note, I rarely bring towels of any sort on any trip to the tropics, and I always pack about 6 sarongs. At the outset of each trip, I ask myself if they're really all necessary, and then when I get home, I realize they're all dirty and need to be washed as they've been used for such a variety of purposes, and I'm glad I brought them every single time. The answer to my travel quandry is a bountiful supply of sarongs. They function as a surface to sleep on in the airport, a towel after a swim, a light blanket to keep the sun off, or to keep just a few degrees warmer. They keep bugs out of food and drinks, and even out of tents. And they even work as clothes. Best travel accessory ever.
See the grates along the walls in the top-down photo above with the two beds and all the sarongs? These were extremely clever. They had screen material covering the outside to keep mosquitos out, and the grates themselves provided a way to have cross-breezes through the house without compromising privacy. We couldn't see anyone from any place in our house and no one could see us, yet we enjoyed breezes that felt as if there were no walls around us. It was glorious!
We covered the entire floor in sarongs, and thus erradicated mosquitos entirely for the final two days of our trip. There were five beds in the entire house and each of them had something to offer. The bed shown above in the sunny corner had stunning views of the bay and the jungle and incredible cross-breezes because of the location.
And yet, with all this wonder to enjoy, I think the thing that stunned me most about this place was the kitchen. This house had running water (not potable, that was available at a spout near the pool), dishes, drying racks set up over the venitllation holes to make dishes dry faster, and even a minature fridge that ran the entire time we were there. This was luxury! And to have it all as part of an eco-resort (in a structure called a tent) stunned us. Everywhere, there were little placquards providing information about how to use the unusual items. This place was so cool!
Our deck was cozy and bright with views to take your breath away. And for the cost? Imagine if we'd had enough friends with us to fill this place? At $135 per night with 5 beds, it's just under $30 per person.
In the picture of the deck, behind the camera is the bathroom. Jason is standing in the space between the bathroom and the main house in this picture.
The bathroom was a surprise all its own. It had windows that (except for the glass ones above the water tank for the shower) no one could see into. The walls were canvas and wood. The floor was decking and cement where the shower was.
This shower is my favorite shower of any place I've ever paid money to stay in. I qualify that only because my favorite two showers in my entire life were taken as bucket showers in Africa while I was visiting various people. But I digress.
This shower had a black water tank above the shower area that held enough water for a couple (maybe even more than a few?) showers. We never ran out and only pumped more water once. And then only because we didn't want to run out later. The entire system is eco-friendly. The water is caught in a large cistern 20 feet below when it rains. Then, when you turn the lever to pump water, a solar-powered pump brings water into the black drum above the shower. Since there are glass windows above the black water drum, the water gets warm and can even become hot, which is why you don't fill the drum all the way...that way you can always pump more cool water from below if it gets too hot.
A garden hose and flower-watering attachment are the delivery modes to get the water from the black tank to your body to wash with.
There was also a rather awkward mirror for shaving in the shower area. It meant that throughout the shower, I never truly felt alone because I was there, reflected in a mirror beside myself.
The water from the shower drains out back to the ground, so they offer biodegradable soap to help keep the ecosystem in balance. I loved that the shower was quiet (sometimes, the pipes in normal showers are extremely loud, and I like the silence of a gravity-fed shower).
The picture above shows the breezeway between the "tent" and the bathroom on the left.
The toilet was composting. There wasn't too much to it that was complicated (I forgot to get a good picture, so here it is right before we left with my backpack sitting on top of it). It has a foot pedal to operate it and it doesn't fill with water as most toilets do. But it is clean and effective. The waste from it does not empty back into the jungle, but goes into a container to compost. After it has processed enough, it is removed and reintroduced to the environment.
Our stay at Concordia was restful, even though we filled our time with adventure. In the evenings, we read books, wrote, and played games from Concordia's stash of games.
I beat Jason soundly at several games of BananaGrams, and we made up for our lost sleep from our time at Cinnamon Bay Campground.
During the day, we made discoveries and explored places that I'll share in a couple more blog posts.
I'd highly recommend Concordia for anyone looking for a restful stay on St. John. This place brought our imaginations alive. We're still trying to dream up ways we could apply to the volunteer program and spend a month working on the grounds. No genius plans to make it happen soon have emerged, but as with all adventure, we're not giving up!