Day 96 | Le Baie de Petites Cayes

Our friends wanted to see a new beach. So we did! A first time for all of us! We carved out time, packed a picnic and off we went. We drove toward the dump on the French side. What we were expecting was a half hour hike. Where’s the path? There was quite a bit of activity that helped us find our way, thankfully. On the north side of the island, we found a tiny path hugging the mountain side. Higher and higher we climbed. The ocean far below crashed upon the jagged rocks. One false step could be the end. Afraid of heights? Stay the course, wedging feet in between shear rocks at times. Leveling off the trail seemed to get easier in this section. Young guys carrying surf boards passed us! Wow, I thought we were going at a good pace. Slowly the trail lead downward to the sea. Shells, spent corals, and rocks now under foot. Our ankles were taking a beating. Each step on the loose surface clanged like porcelain dishes being roughly treated. Now a rouge wave could have its way with us. Out in the waves surfers gathered looking for the perfect ride. The path was busy with travelers in both directions. Some places made passing scary with no room or safe place to go. Not a place for children! This trek was turning out to be more of a challenge than we thought!

We approached a rock out cropping. From here we could finally see the entire cove, the Petite Caye. Carefully picking our way through more coral and rocks we gladly stepped onto the sand. Others had already claimed spots with shade. We noticed behind the trees a tent and hammock. Hope they don’t need to run to the store for something. We settled in near a sea grape tree. It provided a nice canopy with shade. Once the blankets were laid out it was time to explore the beach and cool off in the ocean. There were double sets of breakers and the tide had a strong pull. Rocks pelted our feet and ankles making it hard to get in and out of the water.

Our friends made some delicious sandwiches and we shared a bottle of wine. Nice and relaxed we took in the beautiful views. We noticed the ground started moving…..hermit crabs! They were the biggest ones I’d ever seen, heading for our picnic! We shared some bread causing the crowd to maul one another. A smaller hermit completely engulfed by another the size of a baseball. Yikes! There were other stirrings as well. Iguana? Lizards? No! A mongoose! Scurrying within two feet of Bill’s head as he relaxed on the beach! It was just under the leaves of the tree! I went back in by the tree trunk and watched only to see two more mongooses! A whole little family! Looks like the hermit crabs have a predator! There was a small water supply nearby as well. What a perfect spot for them. They knew we were there and how to be close and out of reach at the same time. A squirrel’s head without ears and bushy long tail like a cat they slinked along the leaves on the ground, barely visible.

Our spot was getting too sunny after all and we packed to leave. Honestly, the thought of the trail going back was daunting for me. We stopped at the rock out cropping and enjoyed the tide pools. We lingered taking in the waves at a safe distance. They were so high compared to being seated in the pool! It was majestic! It was hard to believe so many surfers out in those waves!

The hike back went more quickly than expected. We looked forward to happy hour to refresh and cool off. There’s another path from Anse Marcel into the caye. Apparently we had taken the easy way! Well I guess we won’t venture on that one! Actually, I think that hike satisfied my curiosity and visit some other beach that’s easier to get to!

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Day 95 | Buried Treasure

In 2011 friends of ours from back home joined us on SXM. We tried to see as much as possible. We went to Marigot market on one of the big days. We met so many fun people and had crêpes at Arawak. At one point earlier I had been side tracked on that main strip. I had lagged behind with the camera and gotten engrossed with what I was seeing. A man came out near where I was and started talking to me. I had questions about a smoker. He gave me a tour and then convinced me to go back to his restaurant a few steps away. Actually, he grabbed my arm and pulled me back. He urged me to try his rhum infusion. Pineapple, star fruit, and ginger looked so amazing in the glass vat. Bill and our friends finally noticed I was missing and back tracked to find me. When they did I was enjoying a shot of his wonderful concoction. He quickly poured three more so we all could enjoy a sip. I have to admit, I was a little scared at first. Such an outgoing personality! I wish we had stayed there for lunch but it’s hard to get two people to agree let alone four! He was so generous sharing his rhum, hospitality and stories. Somewhere in mind and soul this is a memory. It has stayed with us since then in the back of our mind, speaking into us what the friendly island looks like.

This year in early February we were all sad to hear that a restaurant owner in Marigot committed suicide. It is a small town, this island. It was all over Facebook and in the local news. Something about the man seemed familiar. Could it be? Was this the same gregarious personality who brought a smile to my face? I think it was him. There was his name, his restaurant. We went back to Marigot. I think it was him!

It was.

Chabin! Thank you for your kindness and making a lasting impression on me and so many others! Such an amazing treasure…and the island didn’t know it.

Day 94 | Still Amazed

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Wow! Look how saturated the colors of the ocean are!

My daily mantra.

Pinch me! I’m still here in this beautiful place!

I don’t want to go to bed, the morning will be the next day.

Another gorgeous day on the beach.

Look at all the different blues! It really is this color.

I want to swim in it.

It is cold, only at first.

Ahh, the water washes over me. I float, I swim.

The waves are so noisy. Even though the water is calm.

The stillness soothing.

Movement messages my muscles. I stay in the ocean until my body cools off and the air feels chilly.

At first as I lay down on the beach blanket. I’m cold.

Slowly the warm air and sun’s rays heat me back up.

I sit up to enjoy the lovely breeze. Sleepy, happy, sandy watching the blue. I am comforted by the warmth and the saturation of colors surrounding me.

The sounds of the waves and crackling of the palm leaves console and convince my mind to let go and just be.

Sail boats on the horizon. The sails are bright white, all lit up by the sun. They glide along quietly, gracefully.

Look at the colors of the ocean! Look how saturated they are!

My daily mantra.

Day 93 | Humming Bird

Today I saw a humming bird. He was bigger than the ones back home. Flitting, pausing, suspended in space as he sips nectar from his flowery meal. His humming sound gives him away, alerting those who know his voice. Sometimes it’s scary to be in the flight path. It feels like a near miss! Thank goodness he knows what he’s doing! Look at the length of that beak! Why, it’s the perfect straw always at the ready! Flit, flit, sip, sip, zoooom – he’s gone! When the sun shines on him at a certain angle, the feathers look almost iridescent. This guy is a dark teal green. I saw another one with a crown colored bright lime green. Hmm, which bloom do they like best? The feeders work well to attract and offer nourishment. I have seen them back home dive bombing one another for control of this food supply. So far here on the island I’ve only seen them individually around flowers. I hope all the work and effort they make is worthwhile!

Day 92 | The Tree of Life

Islanders have always known the value of the Moringa. They eat the leaves. They make bush tea from it’s stems and leaves. They consider it to be so healthy, “Tree of Life” is its nickname.

Development on the island has cut away many of these trees. There was no thought to any value here.

It became popular among health gurus bringing scavengers trying to harvest life from what did not belong to them. They then turn around and charge the rest of us a pretty penny for their effort.

Will there ever be balance and respect again? Do we realize how many other countries have such wonderful natural resources? Corporate greed seeks to take and privatize these resources. They want to take and not give. The people who could use what was freely given are denied access.

The Moringa is there to give life to all in a particular area where it grows. I’m sure that each part of the globe has their own version of Moringa or life giving plants and trees.

In the beginning there were no corporations. In the beginning there was a garden that had enough to share with everyone.

The islanders now have an even greater respect for Moringa and are trying to grow more once again.

Day 91 | Narratives, The Stories You’ve been Told – 4

The young man at our luncheon with Ruby Bute was sharp and so full of stories! It was from him we first heard of One Tété Lokay and that there is a statue of her in a roundabout on the island. Which roundabout? He explained that it was the one leaving Marigot toward Grand Case. (Theodore Bonev designed it and she was unveiled in 2007. He is an artist whose watercolor works are on display at the Tropismes Gallery, Grand Case.) This statue is the true Statue of Liberty. What do you mean the true Statue of Liberty? Then he went on to explain the story of the US statue and this version we never heard before!

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

So is engraved on our Lady Liberty standing above Hudson Bay. This symbol of freedom was a gift from the French. So it seems this woman in the harbor is not the original gift, though. No. The first one was rejected and revised. It had been fashioned after a young black woman, who was the model. Not only was the original a black woman, she had broken chains at her feet. It had been the black soldiers who played a pivotal role in the Civi War bringing an end to slavery. The fore fathers decided it wasn’t a good idea for the recovering country to honor the black role in breaking the chains of bondage.

“When the statue was presented to the U.S. Minister to France in 1884, it is said that he remonstrated that the dominant view of the broken hackles would be offensive to a U.S. South, because since the statue was a reminder of Blacks winning their freedom. It was a reminder to a beaten South of the ones who caused their defeat, their despised former captives.”

Did you know that? Taught that in History class? What else don’t we know? What else has been kept from us? Is our country writing its own version of history? If so why? How do we find out what the truth is? Mainstream websites for Lady Liberty deny this other version. In the end, this is a controversial subject. How did our St. Martiner friend know this version and Bill and I did not? We need to own our whole narrative in order to better get along with our neighbors. Then we can empathize with other people groups and seek to change the narrative going forward.

Day 90 | Narratives, The Story You’ve been Told – 3

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A coal pot, used for cooking. The lower compartment holds pieces of burning tree branches…making “coal”

Statues, monuments, holidays – these are part of culture to allow people and events to be remembered. In 2007 St. Martin added many statues in various locations around the island. These commemorate the life and culture of the locals, those of African descent. Some of the locals feel it is only tokenism, yet groups gather around a couple of key statues on Emancipation Day. The statue offers a place to go to and remember important historical figures and their contributions to society. It is another way we pass along our narratives to the next generation. It is a way to honor that memory.

Our accidental tourism has enlightened us in so many ways. We have learned and will continue to learn more and more of the island we have come to love and appreciate. So many facets!

One such happy accident happened at a luncheon with Ruby Bute. She invited a group of artists and friends to meet at the Gut Side Restaurant near her home. We ate wonderful creole foods and enjoyed some great conversation. The friends who joined us were a young woman and a man. There was a striking contrast between the two, not just because they are ten years apart. The have been raised completely different. She has been raised up a modern St. Martiner. He has a close family with a wonderful matriarch who has carefully taught him the old ways and stories. Yes, oral traditions living on in this family! He told us that locals never had kitchens! They cooked outside in their coal pots. This kept the house cool. Imagine life on the island before there was a power grid or air conditioning! Coal pot cooking had a whole process. To get the coals, branches and sticks were carefully stacked and then a smoldering fire bring the desired result. The coals are place in the lower part of the coal pot. The top area was shaped like a bowl where the pot is placed. This single burner was used interchanging pots to complete an entire meal. Ruby has a stack of the wood in her yard ready to go. Of course only certain kinds of wood are used. A wood resistant to worms, “coquil” is what they call it. I believe this is the type of coal Emilio Wilson used to sell and deliver.

There was a time before tourism when the emancipated slave descendants were self sufficient. They did just fine without gas, electricity and fast food! They had cisterns that collected rain water. They caught fish and lobster where yachts now empty their bodily waste, often illegally. Other lovely ponds have also been sacrificed for tourism. The most obvious is the Great Salt Pond. (Soualiga, was the name the Indian people, the original inhabitants gave the island. It means land of salt.) The dump now a rising mountain in the salt pond frequently ignites and burns for days sometimes. The sand that is pumped from Great Bay (the migrating sand from Orient Beach) is being dumped into the salt pond. The additional sand and dump are causing the surrounding low lying areas to flood. Before water runoff was dispersed or retained naturally. Big business has paid off environmental agencies to turn a blind eye as they leak raw sewage into the ocean. They have killed an entire reef. (this is near Sunset Beach Bar)

Our friend remembers when St. Martin got electricity. At six pm each night it was shut off, the entire island in the dark. His dad would get the car battery and attach it to the TV so they could watch. Candle lit nights or lanterns, this was the island way.

I encouraged these two to learn the old ways. Find out what is edible in the bush. Learn how to grow food. Learn how to live once again off the grid. With all the over development and pollution tourism may one day disappear. It will have been allowed to take with it the environment of the island, leaving behind trash and sewage.

Day 89 | Narratives, the Story You’ve been Told – 2

The Plantation where One Tété Lokay and so many others worked is on the site of what is now known as the Emilio Wilson Estate. Emilio “Milio” purchased the property knowing his great grandmother had been a slave to the Golden Rock Plantation and that she had been buried somewhere on the property. The property is a historic site. There are burial grounds for slaves as well as ruins of buildings where they worked and lived. Although Emilio never found his great grandmother’s grave he kept the property in tact.

There are still some ruins on the property along with a homeless person and a park. It would’ve been awesome to have seen what the Plantation looked like and how it functioned. Where did the master live? Where were the slave quarters? Where are the grave sites? Field slave and house slaves were buried in different areas. Where was the sugar mill? What did it look like and how did it function? Where did they grow the sugar cane? Virtually nothing left to perceive a former way of life. All the past sins of the slave owner erased by time and overgrowth. Is this by design? Is this a part of history white men don’t want to remember?

Cover and forget indeed! What a beautiful large tract of land! Emilio is dead and gone. Who has a legal say over the property? There are in fact plans for the land. Some of the plans would bring agriculture and education to the youth of St. Maarten as well as a recreational park. Tourists would also have an opportunity to visit and learn more of the island culture. Another plan sounds more aggressive. Apparently part of the land has been sold. Locals say it was a steal. It was purchase by Rain Forest Adventures. Their plans include a zip line down from Sentry Hill. Can you see the parking lots and other types of amusements? Sounds more tourist minded to me. What about the history and culture? The people of St. Maarten should reap the benefits of the island too! After all, they live here!

Want to step down into this rabbit hole with us?  Here is more. ONE. TWO.

Day 88 | Narratives, the Story You’ve been Told – 1

All story and history began as oral traditions. Even the Bible began this way. After years and years of these stories being passed down many were put into the written word. Story, narratives live on to tell us where we came from. Some of them, cautionary tales to prevent repeating the same mistakes. History often leaves us with only the gist of what may have actually happened. Political powers change and rewrite it to make themselves look better. Unfortunately, often they’ve changed the facts to subdue the people they rule over. History is power, it is powerful. This kind of knowledge is also empowering, especially to those being ruled over, the underdog if you will. Those in society in the margins do well to remember where they came from. Narratives can bring back to them dignity and humanity in the face of cruelty and suppression. It is interesting to me that many who are from the latter group know their story/ies really well. In the face of struggle heroes and heroines emerge to give light and hope.

St. Maarten has its stories as well. Funny how for the former slaves of two hundred years ago, the descendants have oral traditions. This seemed puzzling to me at first since the “Colonial” St. Martin, Dutch and French have well documented history. It really is the white history of the island found easily in books and on the internet. The “slave” version, you need to bump into the right taxi driver or find and older person on the island who is willing to share their narrative. Oral traditions, the stories seem to be missing many details. Some will argue what was true and what has become folklore. Most of these begin with “Not much is known about…” This is the downside of oral tradition.

Colonialism brought African slaves to St. Maarten/Martin to work on sugar plantations. Whites justified this practice through religion and their interpretation of the Bible. Black slaves were considered subhuman property. Their owners could do what they willed with them and they did. The life of a slave meant first being torn from their homeland. They then crossed the ocean in the hold of a ship. they were packed like sardines, in shackles, left to lie in their own excrement. Many did not survive the journey. Once on the island, families were separated, work assigned and torturous punishments handed out. Rape was common place. It was (still is) used to demean and enforce dominance.

Slave trade was rampant from 1775-1784. I can’t account for the time after that until 1802 when Napoleon reinstated slavery. Great rebellions sprang up throughout the Caribbean. Forty six years later on May 27, 1848, slavery was abolished on the French side of St. Martin. This caused much unrest on the Dutch side. Many slaves escaped to flee to the French side. Fifteen years later on July 1, 1863 emancipation finally happened on the Dutch side.

I imagine it was during those fifteen years that many rebellions took place. Insolent behavior punished using cruel torture to set an example for the rest. Not much is known about the young woman Lokay. There is a record of her being sold for 240 guilders. She worked on Industry and Golden Rock Plantations. This woman was passionate for the cause of her people. She escaped and incited rebellion in her quest for freedom. Slaves ran through the thick bush in hopes of gaining their freedom. She was said to go up Sentry Hill in the caves where she would have a small camp fire. Some say she had a lantern. The light could be seen from the plantation below. Many say that even today her light is still visible up in the mountain. Was she taunting her owners? Was she a beacon of hope? It was said that she would go down and raid the plantation for supplies and be with her people. Why shouldn’t they live free?

They hunted her down and brought her back to the plantation. Here she received her punishment. They cut off one of breasts! “Do it again and we’ll take the other one!” they warned her. They made an example of her and the consequences of her disobedience. Now grounded and injured on the plantation, from her people, a bush doctor looked after her injury and helped her back to health. The owners believed that by cutting off her breast it would take away her strength and fertility.

One Tété Lokay once again escaped taking others with her in the fight to win freedom for her people. History remembers her as a human rights activist. She is St. Maarten’s heroine in her stand against slavery.

There are statues all around the island paying homage to the black culture of the island. In the center of the roundabout by Belair is One Tété Lokay working. On the French side is another statue in the roundabout between Marigot and Friar’s Baie. It is of a woman holding a lantern, I was told this was One Tété Lokay. Working and lighting the way. Regardless, she is the heroine who gave hope in a dark situation and is not forgotten.

Day 87 | Looking Back

Back in December, the beginning of our 101 day experiment, we did a quick visit to Philipsburg. In the back streets locals could enter for a chance to win a new ipad. There were tables with yummy food, samples of rum infusions, music and gift baskets. The holidays were fast approaching and the streets crowded.

On Front Street there too were lots of people. All along the side of the street and down between the court house and the pier we noticed statues. Real models on pedestals posing. We later found out that this event was hosted by the Caribbean Living Statues Festival. (The have a FaceBook page.) This group honors St. Maarten’s Historical and cultural heroes and heroines and portrays daily life on the island. Their goal is to show appreciation of the multi cultural diversity that make up the island and all forms of art.

The 2015 display included: slaves, Roland Richardson, Michael Jackson and fairies…..just to name a few. It was great to see all of these young people involved. They were in full dress and make up and never moved a muscle! They did a great job!