Sint Maarten by Bicycle

Wednesday January 21, 2015

Maho Beach, St. Maarten

Enough was enough and it was finally time to get ourselves off Serendipity for a proper day of sightseeing. After a few false starts earlier in the week, we found ourselves at Island Water World this morning just after 9, ready to go. Not that we were about to take a tour of all the marine chandleries on the island, although I’m sure that could fill a full day as well, but we were there to take advantage of their bicycles. For a deposit of $50/day/person, they have a small group of bicycles to use and since we like free (or at least, returned money) to us it was worth it over taking the mini-van taxi’s across the island.

As we were handed over the keys to our locks, we hopped on and hobbled through the narrow path that leads to the front of the store and out to the main street. On to destination 1 for the day, Maho Beach. Probably one of the most famous stops on the island, it draws tourists from near and far for one reason. To have huge jumbo jets fly over your head as their tails seem to just skim above the water and the sand as they make their landing at Princess Julienne Airport. Ever seen a photo where there’s an extremely low plane, people, and water in the background? This is that place. Also referred to by it’s airport code, SXM.

Although there is a schedule somewhere or another of when the big planes land, we never found it and figured that if we stayed at the beach for an hour, something was bound to come careening in, right? Turns out, it is best to check the schedule first. Arriving so early may have been one of our downfalls, but as we set our bikes down in the sand at 10 am we overlooked a mostly empty beach and no planes on the horizon. Grabbing a couple of cold cokes from a drink stand set up to cater to the many needs of it’s hundreds of daily tourist, we sat to wait. 20 minutes and nothing.

Then over the horizon I could see the light of a plane making it’s approach. Getting all giddy and bouncing around like a child I grabbed my camera out to prepare for the moment I’d be squished like a bug….only to find out as it got closer that it was just a little puddle jumper. Three planes later and that was all I had come in contact with. At least the sun had started to poke out from the somewhat overcast sky and threw light onto the water turning it all shades of brilliant blues and turquoises. Plus the looming shadow of Saba was visible off in the distance and it was, for a short time, just a nice are to sit and be.

As the morning drifted on, more and more people began to show up at the beach, staking out seats in the sand just in front of the runway. There also appeared to be a photo-shoot happening where we spied (and tried not to stare at) a leggy blonde switching between different swimsuits in preparation of that perfect shot when a 747 would be above her head. It started to become that the only way we knew when a plane was coming (even just the smaller ones), is when her entourage would disperse from touching her up and she’d begin posing.

Then it was the moment we’d been waiting for all morning. A large jet was on it’s way in. A few private planes had already come through and sent their jet of air into the sand and crowd, but we were ready for something bigger. Gathering with the crowd at the mouth of the runway, we waited as the little dot grew bigger on the horizon and prepared to swallow us whole. Thinking that ‘Ok, this is the time the big guys are starting to come’, I lived the moment behind my camera lens and thought I’d wait for the next one to really experience it.

As it came over our heads it cast a shadow on the beach and left strong gusts in it’s wake. Cool to see come in, but apparently it’s when they’re taking off and flying over you that you get the winds that will knock you off your feet. As soon as it landed Matt turned to me and asked “So, ready to leave?”  I guess this wasn’t an all day plan of his and waiting around yet again to actually experience one of the big blows from an engine jet sans a camera up to my face wasn’t going to happen.

Princess Julianne Airport

waiting for a plane at Maho Beach

Maho Beach, St. Maarten

puddle jumper over Maho Beach

Back on our bicycles we took off on the long way around the island to get ourselves to the French side.  There was a lot of huffing and puffing on some minor hills and went to show me just incredibly how out of shape I actually am.  Losing 5 pounds on an ocean crossing does not equal fit.

There were some very lovely cottages we found along the way and some very large shopping centers nestled inside resorts that were very obviously for the rich and famous.  We’re neither, so we stayed far away.  Getting from Dutch Sint Maarten to French Saint Marten our next big goal of the day was finding lunch which also meant switching back from US to Euros.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but I’ll just let you know we didn’t quite care for the French side as much as the Dutch.  To us it was touristy and expensive and not what we were looking for.  Don’t get me wrong, if you’re headed there on a vacation or you’re willing to splurge a little I think you might enjoy it very much. French pastries and little cafes…. But since we’ve gone into a budget lockdown with all the increasing costs of rebuilding a boat we have yet to lay eyes on, we’re on the cheap route from here on out in the Caribbean.  Don’t feel too bad for us though…we’ll hopefully be back here in about a year and ready to make a few splurges.

Marjiot Bay, St. Marten

St. Marten

With our stomachs still rumbling we got back on our bikes to get to the cheaper Dutch side of the island.  It wasn’t until we were just about back to IWW to return our bikes and giving up on the idea of food altogether that we stumbled across a Colombian restaurant that one of our neighbors in the anchorage told us about.

Before I could even fully settle in my chair I had an ice cold Presidente in my hand and an order in for a shredded chicken meal served on fried plantains.  I had no idea what it was, but it sounded interesting.  It did not disappoint my expectations.  Holy crap.  In fact it was probably one of the best meals I’ve had in such a long time.  When I get back to Florida and have full run of a grocery store I might have to move heaven and earth trying to recreate it myself.

Colombian meal

I’m sure there’s still a ton to Sint Maarten and Saint Marten that we didn’t get a chance to enjoy or experience, but I’m not sad about that.  Even after just a week here we’re realizing that we want to come back in the new boat and see what the rest of the Eastern Caribbean has to offer.  A little more researched and with slightly deeper pockets.  And of course, with good friends by our side.

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