Air Date: Week of August 21, 1998
Host Steve Curwood visited an eco-tourism resort in the Caribbean where visitors stay in tents, use solar power, composting toilets, and have unique ways of dealing with garbage--like feeding it to crabs. From St. Johns in the U.S. Virgin Islands, at Concordia Eco Tents, Steve brought us this report.
CURWOOD: This is Living On Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. A while ago I took a trip to visit some family in the US Virgin Islands, and dropped by a resort on St. Johns that is surprisingly inexpensive even though it has a prime location.
SELENGUT: Off to our right is Salt Pond Bay Beach, which is a lovely protected bay with some of the best snorkeling on the island...
CURWOOD: We're getting the lay of the land from Stanley Selengut, the owner and developer. And he can keep his prices low because his resort keeps people literally close to nature, in tents.
SELENGUT: Living within the Earth's resources is something that we, you know, we have to do to survive as a race. And the resort industry can be a very interesting place to start from, because we deal with some of the most fragile properties. In fact, we're probably one of the most popular resorts in the Caribbean, because there are a growing number of people interested in this issue and these problems.
CURWOOD: Mr. Selengut started his concept with the now-popular Maho Bay Campground. Now he's taken it further with a smaller facility at Concordia State that uses what he calls Eco-Tents. Like the dwellings at Maho Bay, the Eco-Tent is built on a wooden platform with cloth walls and wood frames, with wooden walkways in between to protect the hillside ecology. But as their developer explains, the Eco-Tents go beyond simplicity to include the latest in high-tech sustainability.
SELENGUT: They function sort of like a spaceship. They catch their own water into a cistern and heat the water by solar. They create their own energy with photovoltaics and wind. And this cell electricity runs a small refrigerator.
CURWOOD: Let's go take a look.
SELENGUT: All right.
CURWOOD: This is the way here?
SELENGUT: Yep, right down here.
(Footfalls on wood)
SELENGUT: We're fortunate here because we, there's a couple staying in it, so you can get their experiences.
CURWOOD: Here we are. My name's Steve Curwood. I'm with the National Public Radio show Living on Earth. Hi.
CARLAIN: Hi, Steve.
CURWOOD: Can I ask your name, sir?
CARLENE: Yes, I'm Lance Carlain, and my wife Debbie's down in the lower deck here.
CURWOOD: This is quite a little set-up here.
CARLAIN: This is. I was impressed. I heard we were staying in a tent, and - - is this your idea of a tent? (Laughs) This is more like a canvas cottage.
CURWOOD: Uh huh.
CARLAIN: With 3 stories.
CURWOOD: Okay. Where is your wife? Where's she hiding out.
D. CARLAIN: I'm here, in the living room.
CURWOOD: Hi, my name's Steve Curwood.
D. CARLAIN: Hi, Steve. Glad to meet you.
CURWOOD: And your name is?
D. CARLAIN: Debbie Carlain.
CURWOOD: And what's your impression so far?
D. CARLAIN: Oh, it's just simply beautiful. The harbor is breathtaking. We love our little hermit crabs down on the ground there, they're cool, we feed them our leftovers and they take care of that, so we don't have a garbage problem.
CURWOOD: Wait a second. You throw your garbage over the rail?
D. CARLAIN: Yeah. And the animals take care of it all. We have hermit crabs, we have a few lizards down there, and once in a while the cats stop by.
CURWOOD: And you don't have a problem? Mr. Manager, this works for your hotel?
SELENGUT: The hermit crabs are probably one of the best garbage disposal things you can imagine. At Maho Bay, where we have 114 units, that's not practical, but here with only 5 Eco-Tent units the hermit crabs do a good job.
CURWOOD: When you heard that this was an Eco-Tent, you know, ecologically friendly, what did you think?
L. CARLAIN: My wife is more concerned with that than I am. I, I think it's cool, but I usually wouldn't make an effort to be all that ecologically sound. But even someone that doesn't pay attention to this like myself, it's pretty impressive. Our power's all generated by a solar cell right behind you, and they catch all the runoff from their roof and reuse the water. It's neat living in a place that's its own power generator, and that's kind of fun to anyone, I think.
CURWOOD: All right. Do you want to show me around the eco-features of your little cottage here?
L. CARLAIN: Sure. First one we're close to is this solar panel in the back of our tent, which you have to lean over to see. We don't pay much attention to it, but I guess it provides all our power.
CURWOOD: Okay. So I'm walking into -- looks like you have 2 good-sized twin beds in here.
(Birds singing in the background)
L. CARLAIN: Our tap here has two faucets. One's for filtered water.
CURWOOD: Can I have a taste?
L. CARLAIN: Sure. Oh, when you run the water, the lights will dim a slight bit.
CURWOOD: Let me try this. Ooh, very pure, very sweet water. Not like city water at all. Mmm. Thank you.
L. CARLAIN: I think our favorite part is the deck out here with the breeze that never ends. Bug-free. And we've enjoyed it a lot.
CURWOOD: How do we get out here?
L. CARLAIN: Right here.
CURWOOD: Okay. Whoooo, look at this! You're out here overlooking the whole south corner of this island. You can look into two different bays. And we're up, how many feet would you say we're up here?
SELENGUT: I would say probably about 110 feet maybe.
(Footfalls on wood)
L. CARLAIN: And this is our shower and outhouse.
D. CARLAIN: We have a composting toilet. You flush it for no more than one second, and it's usually a very good flush and it uses a minimal amount of water. And your own water helps. And then we have the shower overhead. It's like a shower bag basically, but it's a 55-gallon drum instead that's painted black. And it heats up the water.
CURWOOD: Well, do you run out of hot water?
D. CARLAIN: I haven't run out.
CURWOOD: With how many of you here?
D. CARLAIN: There were 4 of us here and I was the last one to take my shower, so -- (laughs)
CURWOOD: Guilt-free shower, use it as long as you want.
D. CARLAIN: That was my idea. They already had theirs, and I'd waited a long time (laughs).
CURWOOD: All right, well thank you very much.
L. CARLAIN: Our pleasure.
(Footfalls on wood)
SELENGUT: There's a secondary purpose to these dwellings. It's not just to have them work well, it's also to have them function as a teaching machine. I mean, like the couple we interviewed, they hardly even knew they were being interpreted. The young man said in the beginning that he wasn't an environmentalist, yet he was lecturing you about how his unit worked. I mean, I guarantee you he'll go home having his perception changed a little bit about sustainable issues.
CURWOOD: How does that work for people who are on holiday? Somebody might come here and say, "Look, I don't want to worry about whether I'm going to have enough hot water or enough electricity, I just want to have a good time."
SELENGUT: Well, I think a resort really can try to be all things to all people, but eco-tourism appeals to a little bit of a different kind of person. A person who's a little more experimental, a little more adventurous, willing to put up with some hardships in exchange for a new experience.
CURWOOD: Have you ever had people come and say, "Oh, I just can't handle this," and they've got to go?
SELENGUT: Not so much here. We only have 5 of these and they're very, very hard to get into. We, you know, they're very popular. And the people who come here so far mostly are people vitally interested, but at Maho sometimes we get somebody that comes in and starts screaming, "My goodness, there is a lizard in our tent," or something like that, and you know you really have to get them another place to stay. (Laughs)
CURWOOD: Mahoe Bay and Concordia State Eco-Tents owner and developer Stanley Selengut. He says his next projects, in conjunction with the National Park Services, are to bring the Eco-Tents to national park areas in California and Hawaii.
SELENGUT: It's almost like painting Tom Sawyer's fence. You almost seduce people into enjoying climbing stairs and (laughs) doing their own thing and pumping water and conserving. You know, it becomes a pleasure rather than a chore, if you can get them over the first couple of days.
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