An American in paradise, the photo essay

Saint Martin/Sint Maarten, 18° 4′ 0″ N, 63° 3′ 0″ W, West Indies, Lesser Antilles, Leeward Islands, half French, half Dutch, 100% island with diverse cultural roots. 1. As promised, my companion, Gizmo 2. Front Street in Phillipsburg, which runs parallel to Back Street.  This bustling stretch in the Dutch capital is filled with shopping, food and bars.  Parking is difficult here, but if you drive around long enough, something will open up.  Just be sure you practice parallel parking first. 3. Oyster Pond, quiet calm waters and Orient Bay, French side, clothing optional. 4. This scene happened more often than not, which one is mine... 5. The blue waters of Anguilla 6. Sunset cruise on the Lambada.  The little girl has a striking resemblance to the girl in Water World 7. The streets and cafes of Marigot, the French capital 8. My delicious Mahi 9. Back to Little Bay 10. The last sunset I really need to invest in a better camera to capture the colors of the Caribbean, but I also like the "pocketableness" of my little Canon Powershot.  These photographs give you a sense of what it was like, but nowhere near the experience.  Until next time!
filled with shopping, food and bars.  Parking is difficult here, but if you drive around long enough, something will open up.  Just be sure you practice parallel parking first.

Voyage home

Whoa, that was close.  I am usually pretty good about leaving enough gas in the truck to get home from the airport, oversight.  By the way, I felt like I was driving a tank, or mom's old station wagon, compared to my super sub compact of the last week.  Just a quick post as I get laundry completed before retiring only to be back at the airport in the morning. I arrived at the airport in St Martin promptly at 11 for a 245 flight.  Due to rum smuggling, I had to check my bag.  Boy, if this works, I'll be amazed.  Having not checked luggage in probably 3 years, I was nervous.  Departure tax is $30, but most major airlines include this in their fares, so customs and immigration was pretty easy.  I settled at a beach bar, minus the beach and add an airport with a direct view of the runway.  There are some things I just don't believe in.  The fact that an Airbus A340 can actually fly is one of those.  I was proven wrong as I witnessed one take off, on a short runway, too.  I struck up a conversation with a young couple next to me and learned that he was heading to North Carolina through Charlotte.  We talked about other travel destinations and about me traveling alone.  That's another post, my friends.  We parted ways. I soon learned that my outbound flight was delayed.  No worries, used to it. I did eventually get on the plane and sat in 10C, and as people boarded, I felt a strange feeling like I had done this before.  I did sit in 10C on the way here, but something else felt odd.  Just as I had 2 empty seats next to me until the majority of the plane boarded on the way here, I did again.  And then up the aisle comes the same couple that I sat with just 8 days ago, in the same seats, again, me, little freaked out.  So we shared stories of the week and I learn that this is their 6th time here.  Of course I will be coming again, same time, same plane, same seats?  We'll see! Well, delayed... it was really delayed, to the extent that when we landed in PHL, I had exactly 17 minutes to go through immigration, get my checked bag, go through customs, recheck my bag, go through security, navigate from terminal A to B (which I think has terminal C stuck in between) and board an 830 connection.  Sorry folks, but that just isn't going to happen, and it didn't.  Luckily, I guess, this was not the last connecting flight of the evening.  It seemed like half of the plane had connecting flights before 930, or at least the half within 5 rows of me as we exited the plane.  Although I felt rushed and some little spark of hope in the way way back of my head said it could be done, I had pretty much accepted that I was not going to make it.  I still tried,  however, by the time I had retrieved my checked bag and was standing in line for customs, it was already 830.  No problem, I'm in PHL, flights are always late.  Nope, the airline had already rerouted me on the later flight, for once, a Philly flight was on time leaving and 1020 became my new departure time.  Sure as you know what, new flight, delayed.  Finally boarding the plane at 1130, I learn that Mariah, maybe 6 or so, has a seat up front and mine is right next to her mom, and she really wants the window seat that I'm in.  I also learned that they were on the same inbound from paradise, and Mariah loved the beach and the other place they went with lots of pools and that she lives in Durham.  Ok, I'll totally give up my seat for you! So here I am, at 3am, waiting to flip the clothes so I can get a few hours of sleep.  I'll leave you with a couple travel tips before I retire. 1. Rent a car, rent a car, rent a car... you cannot possibly experience this island without renting a car (am I being repetitive?) 2. Pen, simple little archaic instrument, do not go anywhere without one (immigration forms, directions, notes, etc) 3. Paper - I carry a small  notebook, see #2 4. Explore, there are 37 beaches, all unique, I did not even hit 25% 5. When you do take the wrong turn out of Marigot (I learned this today on the way to the airport) you can pick the road back up to Phillipsburg if you go past the airport to the far end of the runway 6. Snorkel, I need to learn this one myself, from what I've heard, it's pretty good 7. Eat, 400 restaurants offering almost any cuisine 8. Bug spray, if you are off the beach in the morning or evening hours, you will need it 9. Most places are closed on Sunday, which makes it an ideal travel day 10. RELAX G'night!

An American in paradise, a mini series, the finale

It's a different sun, a different air, a different water.  It's a slow down to island time. Whether a day, a week, a month, you will feel different here. It's about sinking into crystal clear waters, it's about power under sail, it's about conch fritters and rum punch. It's about music and fun, good times and sun. It's a love affair. I spent the greater part of yesterday soaking in UV rays that I probably didn't need, I'm sure that payback will come in time. Afterwards, I made my way to Simpson Bay for a sunset cruise on the Lambada. She sets sail from the Pelican which is fairly easy to find if you take a left at Hollywood Casino, parking however, is a challenge. I scored after two times asking the resort parking attendant where to park and she ended up letting me park in the guest lot. Main sail hoisted and I sunk into not a care in the world. Perched topside on the forward port hull, my mind drifted. Two hours later, I really didn't want it to be over, my therapy session was done and I needed to return to my room. I've almost learned to navigate the island, at least the southern portions. This was my first time driving at night, though, and my regular landmarks were not quite as visible, but I managed to make it back. Today was a return trip to Marigot, and I'm glad I did, the street was bustling with vendors selling local everything. I had two things in mind, rum and some good food. Maaya is the place to go for duty free in Marigot. My only advice is (as with any duty free I've found here) if you are using American Express, tell them that is all you have and they will most likely accept it. I had read some forums before arrival that AMex was not widely accepted, this is true, unless you present as your only method of payment. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted. Cash always talks! I found my rum, now for food. It must have been cooked on a million degree grill, because the outside of my mahi steak was crunchy and the inside was moist and tender. Bistro de la mer filled my taste buds with deliciousness and a side of rice. Good food, check, time to head back. I made the same wrong turn as the other day, mental note, when leaving Marigot, it's a left on the roundy, for next time! I experienced my first "I need gas" moment on the way back. First of all, everything is in liters, secondly, the pump attendant doesn't really pump your gas, just stands there to usher you expecting a tip. No worries, 22 liters (I think I read it right) and a three dollar tip later, my lawnmower tank is full. The remainder of my afternoon was spent soaking in Caribbean waters as the sun sank deeper and deeper into the horizon. I left the soothing waters in time to climb back up to Fort Amsterdam armed with a camera. The wind atop the peninsula is pretty strong, but I had the best seat in the house for my last St Martin sunset. I did some experimenting with my cameras (I think I've actually figured it out) exposure settings and I think I got some good sunset photographs (to be posted later). I'm hesitating right now to continue writing, or wrap it up, my mind is so at ease and relaxed that listing 10 things seems distant. Maybe I'll leave it with Just3Nights in Vegas and Just7Nights in St Martin and call out a vacation I have shared with you... As the calypso rhythms echo across the bay, I wonder. I watch the mother next door dance with her baby boy, I miss my kids. I watch the couple on the beach slow dance, maybe next time we can dance, if I can muster up enough to ask you out. Yeah, there's no 10 specifics tonight, just me, drinking a rum punch, listening to music, dreaming, and dancing.... Reflections my friends, cheers!

An American in paradise, a mini series, part three

image Wednesday and Thursday have been my lazy days.  Aside from a trip to La Grande Marche for mid-week groceries, I've been relaxing in a beach chair not really doing a whole lot of anything.  I had not planned on posting tonight, but after 8 failed attempts of uploading one picture to Facebook, I changed my mind.  So here it is, the best sunset so far.  I wish photographs could capture the feelings better as the sky burns red and orange with tints of pink.  It's one thing to see it, it's another to experience it. I forgot last night that, believe it or not, I'm fragile. In the process if climbing out onto a rock to photograph the sunset, my knee decided to fail and down I went. Initially, I escaped with only a small gash in my ankle, however when I woke this morning, I realized I had a pretty good sprain. I spent a good deal of time walking it off today when I was not soaking in the sun. Still a bit tender, but I'll live. There really is something about this island, maybe it's the people, as friendly as I've ever met, and I'm sure it has something to do with the constant breeze and temperatures in the eighties. Message to my ex: put the kids on a plane to SXM and let me know what time they land, I'll pick them up... Message to my parents: please Fed-Ex my laptop and the rest of my clothes, sell the house and whatever else is left... Message to HR: please email me a change of address form... Reflections. 1. Tomorrow I shall find a proper cat to sail on 2. Plenty of time to think 3. About where I am 4. And where I'm going 5. Do I really have to go to Indiana next week? 6. I have not touched email all week (with one slight exception) and it's been wonderful, but will probably be hell when vacation is over 7. No two sunsets are ever the same 8. I finally remembered to get bug spray, haha mosquitos, can't get me now 9. Next trip will need to be two weeks, I've only two days left and still lots to do 10. Cheers

Just for you Q

image image image

I'll justify this post by the fact that I left after I saw Just10Lizards.  This is Fort Amsterdam, the oldest fort in the Dutch Caribbean and sits high on the cliffs between Little Bay and Great Bay, a short five minute walk from my room.  It's a little on the cloudy side and trust me, pictures do not do justice to the true color of the water.  Love to my Chi peeps, miss ya!

An American in paradise, a mini series, part two

When was the last time you were sitting at a beach bar in Anguilla and watched a gorgeous French woman try to catch a chicken with a blue beach blanket?  Yeah, I attract such oddities, or maybe this scene happens more often than not and I'm just more observant...  "What would you have done with the chicken if you had caught it?" In the best English she could (which was pretty good, tainted with an accent that may have come from Heaven), came a simple reply, "in the oven." I had to ask, "what are you going to do now that you have been unable to catch the chicken?"  Her reply, again, so simple, "market."  I suppose the underlying question, though, is what are chickens doing roaming freely at a beach bar?  They are justifying my love for travel, because there is so much out there to see and experience, this time, with a little bit of humor. I spent the morning in Marigot, a quaint little French inspired harbor town on the west coast.  Red brick sidewalks tied the streets to endless rows of shops and restaurants. Open air markets filled the empty spaces with local crafts that I surely didn't need, but still were nice to look at. Catamarans peppered the harbor and inspired me to be spontaneous. My adventure began. Not exactly the cat I was dreaming of, but more of a floating taxi. Though immigration, I checked out of St Martin and boarded for a thirty minute trip to Anguilla. What was I to do once I arrived? No clue! I was slightly concerned about leaving my car parked in Marigot, nothing in it and unlocked (at the advice of my friend at the Westin), but hey, I've no care in the world right now. We set sail, well, we were in motion. The sea wasn't really that rough, but Kim, 23, from Atlanta, traveling with her parents and sister, thought otherwise as the water taxi rocked and rolled in the open waters. She had a pretty good tan, but white as a ghost. I tried to talk her through the trip, keep her mind on something else, she almost lost her cookies twice, that would have been a mess. I made it, she said she was going to swim back. I ran into Kim later that afternoon and bought her a guava berry colada in appreciation for her input in my story of life. Deko was my cab driver, I later learned his real name was Connor, took me to Shoal Beach. I admire the planning of the location of the port and the location of the best beach in the world, it keeps the taxi drivers employed. Round trip, $52, I only mention this because I had only brought a limited amount of cash. I arrived and settled at Madeariman where the beach was turquoise, the sand velvety and the beer cold. Lucky for me, they take Visa, unfortunately, for me, at the current time, the line was down. Maybe it would be back up before I left. I bounced back and forth between the beach and the bar, knowing Deko would come find me when it was time to go. I chatted with Kim for a bit, and Chris, one of the waiters before my ride back to the boat arrived. By my calculations, $26 for the return taxi, $20 for the water taxi and $13 deportation tax was going to leave me $23 short. No worries, Deko could stop at a cash machine on the way, until... The smallest thing said cash machine could spit out was EC$100. Great, I have no clue what the exchange rate is, was this enough to get me back or would I take up residence in Anguilla? Only one way to find out, try. I paid Deko my last US currency (well, leaving me $10) and off to customs I go. Next up, the very apologetic lady I was trying to pay for the return boat was unable to change my bill. I guess this is good only because I had enough. She told me to wait and eventually she would have the correct change. I missed one boat while waiting, she finally had my change not five minutes before the second boat was ready to leave. Mental note, when you don't plan (as is often the case) at least bring enough cash. I sat on the top deck getting sprayed with sea water as the boat sliced through the waves on the way back to St Martin. I ended up really lost trying to navigate back to Little Bay. My sense of direction, however, did get me to Sunset Bar. This place sits right at the beginning of the SXM runway where incoming flights are about 100 feet above the beach and signs warn of jet blast being harmful or fatal. I use my last bit of cash and relax as a couple 747s take off and one Cessna lands. Not only should you ask if places take Visa, which most do, but also be sure to ask if there is a minimum, as most often there is. Finally back to my home for the week and I'm exhausted, but wait, there's live music at the beach bar. Ok, count me in. Sinatra with Caribbean flair, love it! Gizmo kept me company for awhile and I requested Bob Marley's Redemption Song before it was time to turn in for the evening, thoroughly worn out. Reflections. 1. Cash, I've learned my lesson 2. Be spontaneous, but don't forget #1 3. I've discovered almond flavored rum in my coffee this morning as I write this 4. I think today is a low key relax on the beach kind of day 5. A lady kayaking in the bay just flipped, funny to me 6. I really need to find some bug spray, my legs are covered in little bites from some hungry mosquitos 7. I haven't been my usual foodie self on this trip, this is supposed to be the food capital of the Caribbean 8. I'm going to have to make more coffee (see #3) 9. Skype has kept me in touch with the kids, I do love technology 10. This is letting go More to come...

An American in paradise, a mini series, part one

I haven't flown the "other" airlines in years, but I was pleasantly surprised this morning after letting the gate agent know that my connecting flight was international, I was moved ahead in the boarding line to ensure I would not have to gate check my bag.  Day one starts out good! It feels more like driving a lawnmower that a car, but I promise, that little four door super sub compact is a car. I have a map, thanks to the car rental agency, but I have no idea how to read historical documents, and with no GPS, I'm on my own, destine to get lost. The path from the airport to the resort should be easy, left out of the parking lot and right at the next three roundies, then go past the resort because a right turn is illegal there, do a u-turn and you're there. Somehow it worked. I'm all checked in and unpacked. A storm had blown up on the south side of the island and it's raining, but I don't really care, I'm surrounded by clear blue water, palm trees and sand. Time to venture out for groceries. Everything is apparently closed on Sunday as I try to pretend I have a sense of direction. I found a C-Store, get a few things and have no idea where I am. In the pouring rain, I somehow manage to navigate back but end up three miles past where I need to be. That doesn't seem bad, but on an island of 36 square miles, pathetic. I'll go look for a proper grocery store tomorrow. Time for a drink. Appropriately, I'm introduced to Old Man Punch, a slightly improved version of Rum Punch with the added flavor of guava, and a little bit stronger. Every bar needs a bar parrot. Gizmo is a scarlet macaw that perches on the back of barstools. She likes fruit and giving (bird) kisses and has stolen the heart of many men. She also likes Corona. I just might be in love, I mean, she's a pretty good conversationalist, but never talks back. We had a few too many and I spent the rest of the evening sleeping it off on the back porch, rocked gently by the sound of salty water slapping the sand. The sun is out today and I can't wait for the next adventure, after coffee, of course. Odd, but French Press on the Dutch side, oh well, it's tasty. I opted out of the $25 three hour bus tour of the island for the 5 hour get lost on your own tour, have rental car, will drive. Ten in the morning cruising Front Street in my lawnmower, um, compact car, and nothing is open yet. Time to explore. Keep the sea to the right and you'll be good. Words cannot do justice to the beauty of rolling mountains of green contrasting the bright blue waters as I wind up and down without a destination. I pass through Dutch Quarter and find myself at Dawn Beach where I park at the Westin and visit for a bit. A lovely bartender suggests a few destinations and a couple of safety tips as well as parking regulations in Phillipsburg (or, how not to get towed) as I swallow the last of my drink and bid farewell. I passed through Oyster Pond and stumbled upon a butterfly farm on my way to Orient Bay where I answered the question, "Why did I not bring swim trunks to the Caribbean?" My, those are some serious tan lines I have, I cannot stay too long, them parts will burn quick in the hot sun. Beach chair: $7 Sex on the Beach (the drink): $7 Sunbathing and swimming clothing optional: priceless (I love the French)! Enough of that for now, time to find swim trunks for the rest of the afternoon. Back to Front Street, I managed to find a decent parking spot, trunks and some Guavaberry Rum. In the process of determining which rum to purchase, I tasted about six, my favorites being the eight year old and the guava flavored. Passion fruit was pretty tasty as well. Which way was it to the car? I ended the shopping trip with a conversation with a shop tender about what I was buying for my girlfriend. Hmm, I replied, nothing as she is a bird at a bar. He laughed and we talked for another 30 minutes before I left. One quick stop for some punch and back to Little Bay I go. Dip me in these crystal blue waters, clothed this time. I spent the afternoon bobbing in the bay. I met up with Gizmo afterwards and we had dinner and a few drinks. Man, you really are popular when you are dating a bird. She finally admitted her age, 22, a little young, but age is unimportant, right? She got a little frisky tonight, biting my neck was a little too forward, so I asked her to slow down. How could I have missed it last night? I've retained the perfect westerly view of a Caribbean sunset. Propped on a rock just outside my back porch, I anxiously waited as the ball of fire dipped further and further into the horizon. Reflections. Number of times I've said no : 1 (beggars are everywhere, looking for a dollar to buy food or beer) Number of times I had to stop due to an iguana in the road: 2 (one was easily 4 feet long) Number of beach bars I have visited this far: 3 (Le Malibu my favorite) Number of times I thought twice about nude sunbathing: 4 (Side note for all you guys out there... It is a total non-sexual experience, quite the opposite of your dreams) Number of Rum Punchs I can consume before feeling tipsy: 5 Number of times I have been lost: 6 Number of people I have said good morning to that don't speak english: 7 Number of hillsides I have seen with goats grazing: 8 Number of times I have checked Facebook even though I said I was not going to: 9 Number of times I did not need a reminder to relax: 10 Be gentle, I have no spell check on this device I'm writing on. Part deuce arriving soon, cheers my friends from paradise.