(A post script as prologue) St Maarten March 2012
If island life is accessible, that is to say, attainable by way of immersion and happenstance, it must be stuffy, and anti-climatic; thoroughly arduous...like trying to complete your daily routine of hand written tasks, almost crossing off the last chore, stepping in line, and someone new and unfamiliar getting in line just ahead of you, not knowing they need cash, attempting to promulgate the unfairness of the situation, sunlight slowly trickling down the back of the day, limping to the rear of the sky's limited stage: again, stuffy and anti-climactic.
Certainly Isla Pinel is a stark contrast to St Maarten life, in relation to St Maarten life as it relates directly to tourists; which is to say the way the USA olympic team of (insert sport here) might closely be found to have ties with the wanderlust youth of, say Czechoslovakia; slim, as it were, to none. And in the deep, mountainous cold theme being presented forthright, I imagine its distance to be properly visualized as the furrowed brow, bushy and winterized just above the ocular orb of the island's (St Maarten) eye. Once we are cast to its (Isla Pinel's) banks, via barge-like sailing vessel, equipped to house passengers and nothing else, (and brought to our attention in French then, once more over in English, we know that there have been on numerous occasions where those who found themselves tempted, as we all do at one point in our lives, once in a great while, to keep their hands outside the proverbial "ride", ala Disney World or local Carnie fair-- the one's (local Carnie fair) held in one of many strip mall parking lots (it seems always to rain throughout their stay (the back alley Carnival that is)! Moving on, once landing, limbs still intact, one (meaning at this point myself) must find their (my) way to two shores (these shores, unlike others that stand in distant physical relation to each other, are like dueling beaches, faced back to back, beach shares and umbrella set ups facing opposite directions, pistols in hand, friendly but, when paced out to their respective distances, turn aim and fire with the intent on winning!) Once settled, curiosity abounds as, save for the two beach clubs, Karibuni, far side of drop off point (which is to say above 200m from the dock we are strewn from) and Yellow Beach (literally their (Yellow Beach's) first chair-umbrella set up are 2 feet from the dock; who would want all the foot traffic going by? Newly excited parishioners of this fabled isla, come to pray on its banks in nude fashion, twirling in the minor cough of a breeze, to roll around in ecstasy for hours, nary a thought of the foreboding sun, hung like a menacing eye of God, burning through the atmosphere with epic attempt to char skin and judge silently; why sit there and know, inevitable you will then get the same, now, burnt-frustrated-ill-willed-half baked-full loaded-mish mash of foreign touristas, stumbling by (way to early I might add, as I see it in my mind) too early for the arrival of the boat-barge-vessel, floating Church of a sanctuary, and have (you too close umbrella-beach chair set up taker) must be forced (by your own earlier pre-mature choosing) to watch as they (the arrive-to soon-for my departing boat-barge-vessel-floating church to salvation) standing-half drifting in the windy near distance (meters away to stay in the metrics of my mind) to your entrenched position (because maybe you have a morbid curiosity to watch all this unveil, and it that vein this choice was a simple and strategic one (the choice to take these first beach chair-umbrella set ups: and you would sit their never lowering the umbrella, feet still dry and sand free save a few specks that bouncled their way from the sand bottom of your Crocs, your nose white-frosted like it might be served up for breakfast with a glass of milk, where your lotion-unused die to full splay of your beach umbrella, you the morbid curious cast away for a day) and in this now anxious to see human misery type mentality, take mental 8mm film, it exposing and leaving incendiary indelible frames, ticking away as they curse and spit sand and tanning lotion, wade in the shallow murkiness of the trickling waves, clearly to urinate, as they hope in due time their wooden ladle of the ocean will whisk them away to the larger island, to their Kia Piccanto or capital W White Toyota Yaris, baking, as well, at the banks of the far side of this small Sint Maarten channel; again I ask, why would someone want this beach chair-umbrella set up position? (though in my dialogue, I think I answered my question!)
23 March 2012 (final day-final thoughts)-written in the travel log of NBBC villa rental
It is with clouds in the sky, and rain by and by, that we pack our bags and say goodbye. The sun, peaking through the clouds thin curtain and the breeze now rising to a steady gust, provide a vigorous wave good by as we set our compasses north back home. Here is what we suggest before you get to this point in your journey (I hope you read this first?!)! We suggest starting each morning with a fresh baguette and pan au chocolate (chocolate croissants) which can be purchased at the Patisserie just across the way (left out of gate-please walk) and paired with any other breakfast items as proper accoutrement sitting on the porch and deciding the days planned adventures! Once your stomachs are properly attended to, and using the right side button of the safety gate clicker you are given upon your arrival, so as not to open the wrong side of the safety gates protective arm (a common mishap of yours truly) take a right out of NBBC and head to Baie Rouge. Once the road curves hard left for the first time, take the very unassuming (as most things St Maarten are) road (if you can call it that) to the oversized unpaved lot ahead. Get there early (and for that matter, get every where early, I promise it is worth it; you get the best of everything here when you do). Follow the sound of crashing waves down the stairs to the right, through Gus's Beach Bar. Note: do not pay the men at the top of the stairs for beach chais. Save money and pay the woman at the beach bar. Be careful not to park in a corner of the lot, or like myself, you can get blocked in by some over sized, over priced SUV. If you happen to pass this beach road, or are heading out to another beach another day, follow the road just a bit further to the gated entrance of Terres Basses. Do not mind the gate (something I wish I was told on day one) just let the security officer know you are heading to the beach. Follow the road to the left, where directed and be prepared to drive for a little while. Go slow, as dogs and other native wild life abound. When you come to an intersection where their is a small island in the road, turning left takes you to Baie Longue, right to Baie aux Prunes. Baie Longue has no immediate amenities, but this adds to the seclusion. Take in the scene as you look out into the vast ocean, and marvel in the striking beauty of this long stretch of unspoiled beach. While the shore is gorgeous the swimming is spotty, as large rocks line the beach near the waters edge. There are a few respites of rocky ocean shore, but the current is strong, or was the day we were there. At the end of the beach, off to the left (south east for those keeping track) is, as we would later find out, an exclusive beach resort and villa rental; we did not venture down to the umbrellas. It was Sunday and we saw only a handful of people, this was a quiet beach to say the least. Very quiet!
After long days at the beach, just seconds down the road, left out of NBBC (Nettle Bay Beach Club, direction east) is a Pharmacie and small super marche. While there is a larger, though less inviting Park and Shop just down the road, and then a Super Super Marche just over the bridge in Marigot, this small plaza should afford you all the amenities needed to keep you feeling at home at NBBC. They take US currency and Credit Cards. (there are no ATMs until Marigot) If and when travelling to Marigot and Beyond, be sure to check with the draw bridge schedule, as it rises a few times a day, and the traffic gets congested. (Think, one main road around the island) When heading beyond Marigot to Grand Case or Orient Bay, take the first rotary once in town down to the water and then follow the water route to the end of the road taking a left toward the Yacht Club and out of town. This is the fastest route.
A note on Grand Case: Your best bet is to bypass the first sign that signals you into town, allowing your self to travel out over the multiple speed bumps towards Hope Estate. You will see a second sign alerting you to head to Grand Case. This road turns into the main drag into town, eventually becoming one way (heading west back towards Marigot) By doing this, you can see all of the main town drag where the action is. Once at the end of the road, you will be back at the entrance into the town proper. Parking is best done on the side of the road, just after the end of the main st, then doubling back on foot towards the restaurants. Parking can be hard to come by and the side streets are dimly lit.
We found pleasure in Orient Bay at Waikiki Beach Club, (use second-gated road entrance to access the middle section of the Bay) the air there is certainly a far cry from Baie Longue. Here there is energy abounding and the scene is very vibrant. Views extend out to Illet Pinel and Caye Verte, and between these views are Kite Surfers gliding by, strewn with the larger parachutes of para-sailers taking in the best view of all. Chair rentals range in price, but Waikiki is central to all, and $20 gets a set and a beach umbrella along with beach side service. Resting on your lounge chair, cold drink in hand, helps ease the worries of of home, and is a key ingredient to relaxation totale. (Use coupon for a free drink in one of the tourist maps) Just past the second road to Orient Bay, the third road (stay left and take a left) takes you to the furthest point of Baie Orientale. There you can partake in the most unassuming of all meals that we had in our food adventures at Aloha!
While we had adventures, not quite finding Dawn Beach and the beach bars of Oyster Pond, we also bypassed Phillipsburg; we need something new to do when we come back. If you have the hankering to gamble you need only visit one of the many casinos on the island. Any of them, really, cause they are all the same. Princes Casino was our favorite because the on-site ATM was broken so once our mad money was spent we up and left. To get here, you head south our of Marigot, following signs for Simpson Bay and Phillipsburg. It is on the right.
Lastly (maybe) you must take your camera and undying thirst to Sunset Grill at Maho Beach. If you have left Orient Bay, go by way of Phillipsburg and into Simpson Bay, once over the bridge out of Simpson Bay, round the airport and head to the rotary near Casino Royale. Follow the road on the back side of the airport and park in the lot just past Sunset Grill. Sit on the beach or on the deck of the bar, listening to the feed coming in over speakers strewn about, tapped directly into Air Traffic control. On the chalk board near the steps to the beach, the daily arrivals, times, and airlines are posted, Sit back and watch as the planes come rolling in, just out of the reach of on lookers below. While watching any plan land, a jumbo jet over a puddle jumper is the key to some real excitement. Once you gain the respective nerve do to a few margaritas or Caribe's, set your sights on the far end of the beach, where the brave (or drunken, rather) go to get jet plasted by departing flight's jet engines. As the turbine's heat up, the thrust they exude sends the curious drunkard to being flung across the sand into the water!
Finally, as the sun sets make you way through Maho and Mullet Bay through the golf course, and north west through Cupecoy and you'll find yourself en route home, to the perfectly positioned Casa De La Mer! Lay the towels out to dry after cooling off your sun drenched body in the pool, light some candles, uncork a bottle of champagne as your worries melt into the evening- drunk on the night, the weather, the air, the breeze, filled to the brim with St Maarten...
Matthew and Tiffany
Milford CT, USA