The Right Attitude

On Orient Beach Chez Leandra has their bar open. Zellman scavenged wood from the debris and rebuilt. He has running water and electricity. Soon a container will be deposited on the slab of the former location. There will be food and working toilet. What a positive, can do, attitude in the face of so many losses.

We enjoyed a drink and listened to his stories. The things he and his wife found funny, you and I, our jaws would drop. Having not had to live with continued adversity has made me weak and him strong.

The aftermath of the storm was worse than the storm itself – is what we keep hearing. Without electricity and water, windows and doors, they survived. They shifted to sleep during the day and battling mosquitoes by night. Taking turns they fanned their young son in order to keep him comfortable. The French military was good to them as they received lobster and other food they could grill. Another nuisance during that time was a rat. The rat would wander into the open home searching for food. The fridge was empty and supplies stacked on top of it. At night they could hear the scratching of the rat attempting to climb and steal their stash. On a separate occasion, his wife heard a noise and shined a flashlight that revealed the rat dragging away her purse by its strap. She had some sweets within it for her son. She didn’t fight the cat-sized rat, she only watched in both horror and amusement. They would make small fires, burning bush or debris to try to deter the rodent’s visits.

She had to ration out her insulin medication. Together they would walk the beach in hopes of balancing out her blood sugar. Food rations tended to be high carbohydrates causing her to feel sluggish as she desperately craved vegetables. Luckily the military was able to help her get much needed medication.

He told us of a friend who had access to a generator after the storm. While he was in the shower he could hear it running when he noticed the power was out again. Maybe it had come unplugged. After his shower he went outside to inspect only to find a running weed-whacker where his generator had been. How clever of the thief to go to all that trouble to create a distraction!

Some of their stories were sad. All of their pets perished during the storm. They had been together in a secured shed on the property with food and water. The door did not hold and the dogs were sucked out into the wind. The family ended up huddled in the bathroom. The only found the one pet alongside the house.

His car had an air conditioner catapulted through the back window. Looking over at his neighbors totaled car he realized he had much to be thankful for. (He would have won the island car prize for using a shower curtain, a most creative option, to cover his missing window).

Looking in their faces you see what the SXM strong attitude is all about. So many losses and yet hope has sprung into action. This is how so many think and live their lives. I am humbled by the lessons they teach and realize I have so much more to learn.

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Road to Ruin

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Off the main route we turned to the right, our usual way into the backside of Orient Bay. Instead we went straight toward Le Galion. The roadside serves as a stark reminder of the powerful force of the recent hurricane. There is no longer a butterfly farm or horse stables. Debris from the devastation from Orient Beach gathered in heaps beside the road. Bits and pieces of wood from the colorful cabanas along with roofs and furniture from the wooden cabins of Club O lie mangled together.

The storm was no joke. Several people have said the same thing, “if it had lasted as long as Maria, there would be nothing left of St. Martin.”

Thankfully, there’s quite a lot left. The French side was definitely impacted more than the Dutch side. Orient and Grand Case are coming back although not like before. We’ve observed that in every area of the island they have one thing in common, community. Spaces and places where people can gather and share a drink and their experiences and most importantly, their stories. So many stories that there isn’t enough paper to hold all the words. Music helps to set the mood and create a vibe calling people to assemble. It’s happening on the French side. They know this high season will be tough but are making the best of it. Alamanda on Orient Beach has a poolside bar with some light fare on the menu. They are open to the public. We went there after yoga on the beach. In the Village there are several restaurants and bars to choose from. Up the hill La Plantation offers a party every Sunday.

Last night we ate at Spiga. They are as amazing as always with fabulous gastronomy. The configuration has changed to include a lovely bar all along the right hand side of the dinning room. The staff was warm and welcoming and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. We drove down the Boulevard and noticed Bistro Caraibes and La Villa had quite a few guests. We’ve already eaten at one of the Lolos. They provide large portions for the prices they charge. We’ve also  been to Les Bains to watch the sunset and stayed for live music. It is becoming the new Calmos Café. The lighting along the street is enough to feel secure walking from car to eatery. There may be less choices but they are open and ready to serve. We are looking forward to Harmony Nights, we heard there will be four in March.

We love these iconic, picturesque areas of the island and strive to support not only these but all the communities on St. Martin that we come in contact with.

A River Runs Through It

Families of tourists and locals frequented this protected cove to enjoy the lake-like calmness of the water, gently lapping at the shore line. Small children would run in and out without a care while parents looked on from nearby. Volleyball courts stood at the ready under the shade of a palm grove. Patrick’s Tropical Wave was busy setting up umbrellas with lounge chairs. The restaurant bustled with patrons enjoying meals, drinks and conversation. Next door, paddle boards could be rented for a nominal fee. Further down was another shack offering water sport rentals and a quick boat ride for surfers to get out into the curls beyond the protective coral barrier.

Sometimes locals could be seen fishing whether by boat or along the beach. In the other direction, a giant blue floating dock sectioned off an area for swimming lessons for local children. The curve of the bay continued around in a U shape to face all the activity on the rest of the beach. Sea grapes created natural cabanas where small groups set up towels and picnics. The cove finished off as a peninsula jutting out against the open sea. When waves crashed into the very end part, a hole in the stone forced the water to spout out like the blow hole of a whale.

Not anymore.

All these memories haunt us now. What made Le Galion very special while offering shelter from the wind, has changed into a new reality of rooted up trees and toppled palms, rubble, and the most shocking – a new shape. In between where the swimming lessons took place and the Tropical Wave umbrellas ended, the beach is now divided with a gouged out area. Here a new channel has been carved connecting the bay to the salt pond. No more strolls along the entire bay. No more allowing the children to explore the shallow waters edge. No, this newly hewn section is deep, chest high for an adult and it is too wide to jump across.

We sat on a fallen palm eating a sandwich taking it all in. We were surrounded by raw beauty. Off in the distance St. Barths still rises out of the ocean; a blue gray color. Anchored in the Bay close to shore were two fishing boats. A couple of families were set up on the beach. The children were running in the sand. A local sat under a tarp canopy set up in familiar fashion. We were not alone, although the place has a solitary feel. There’s an affinity attached to Le Galion. With a bit of clean up and a willingness to once again rebuild, it can become a thriving place with the vitality that its visitors bring.

Revolution Resolution

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2017… seems like just yesterday it was being ushered in with fireworks over the lagoon on Orient Beach. Loud music wafted up the hill from the parties below. New Year’s day found them passed out on beach lounge chairs. We are usually low key and wake up in time to wish our family well.

This year there will not be any fireworks. This will not dampen the planned festivities around the island though. We watched as trucks pulled up to Alamanda with lights and speakers in preparation for the live musical party they’ll be hosting. Our French friends invited us to join them but we are staying Dutch side. Our plans include a three-course dinner and an eighty’s dance party, costumes are optional.

Many people are looking forward to putting a period on 2017. It began with promise of change or new beginnings, which was embraced as hopeful. So many events have taken place this year with nature especially taking center stage. Extreme weather, war and political meddling have all left their mark on peoples lives. In 2018 we will continue to feel those repercussions. We all hope for a bright future – for ourselves. It feels like a perfect storm is brewing. It is the easiest to see on St. Martin, since it is only thirty-six square miles.

On the Dutch side the dump that fills the great salt pond burns emitting toxic fumes. There seems to be little governmental concern for the health and well-being of the people or the environment. (Though we have heard there are remedies finally coming. We’ll see) On the French side plans to build on an archeological site proceed.

Rules and regulations seem to burden inhabitants while lining the pockets of those in power with money so they can enjoy their lives. Those in power have forgotten they are public servants. Looks to me more like they serve themselves and those who line their pockets while the masses feel the weight.

We can see it easily here with a drive around the island and speaking with the locals. The Dutch side has no unemployment benefits, no job, no pay. Imagine renting a space without a roof, wondering if and when there will ever be one again. Does the landlord have insurance or money to make the necessary repairs? The only appliance that works is the stove. The electrical system is ruined and the refrigerator or maybe the lights, air conditioner (if there was one) or fan do not function.Those with windows and doors find themselves blessed. Those who are lucky enough to have a good employer have been also given food and sometimes shelter.

Both sides have so many rules and regulations, while insurance companies are on a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” mode. So many people are in limbo, waiting. Businesses often use their own monies in order to open again. Owners on the French side do not receive the government assistance that their employees do. And for those employees now without work, the stipend isn’t enough to live on and people are happy to work. Jobs are scarce.

2018 begins in the height of the tourist season. Resorts are double and triple dipping. They collect insurance, timeshare fees, and assessment fees all the while re-renting undamaged rooms at top dollar. Some, we’ve heard, fired their staff. It is unclear whether they’ve received a severance package even if the newspaper reported that they had.

Cruise ships have been returning bringing bus loads of people to Kim Sha Beach, the new temporary Orient Beach. The French have nothing more to accommodate such tours. Buses and taxis would bring many visitors over to Orient, but not as of yet. There are only two actual beach bars, the Perch Lite on the clothing optional section of the beach and Chez Leandra. The latter will be providing food soon but…there are no chairs. Hopefully Phillipsburg is busier.

The future looks bright for some. The four-month mark is around the corner, though with so many waiting for the basics. The new zip line on the former Emilio Wilson Estate, and before that, a sugar plantation profiting from slave labor. Emillio’s great grandmother is buried on the property where they buried their slaves. His vision was for the people of the island to use some of the land as parks and soccer fields. He entrusted the government with this task. The house was to be a museum displaying things from days of old. His own people in the government sold everyone out to make the zip line deal. He and his brother have nice villas. The profits will go back to the cruise ships. Once again the people and environment lose. The land at the summit had been untouched for almost two hundred years. Not anymore.

It is rumored notaries on the French side have falsified documents and possibly stealing land and properties from locals. We heard Pierre Beauperthuy was murdered possibly for his land. He had an old house with all things St. Martin for the public to visit. His family was given the land by Napoleon.

Piraterring has changed its looks but is alive and well.

It is easier to see it here and we, of course, so want to help out. To right the wrongs, to smooth the way for all people to be able to survive and thrive. This is after all what true community is. Even so, we can leave to our warm, comfortable life where we come from and continue to be complacent about both countries, and the plight of our land and neighbors. We, so far, have escaped their indignities. We’ve learned life lessons from — and changed our “world view” from our connection to the people of SXM.

May we continue to change in 2018 and beyond until we recognize we are all brothers and sisters here to share and enjoy the same planet. The “haves” and “have-nots” were invented through colonization and privatization. We are all God’s children. In the beginning it was dominion, not domination. We yearn to get back to “the garden” where there was plenty and peace.

Reading the Signs

Who wants to pay attention on vacation? This tourist season comes with many signs…hand written or spray painted. “Welcome”, “we’re open”, “warning”, are announced to passers by.

Signs, another casualty of Irma’s winds.

They are important for helping us know where we are and if it’s safe to proceed. In the past we would chuckle at the ones with misspellings or a funny word order that could be taken another way. At night lighting is sparse, they have to order the bulbs for the working street lamps. During the day visibility is much better, as long as they are heeded. One day while in Le Sucriere enjoying coffee and croissants with friends. There’s still outdoor seating with a view of the lagoon. Ghostly gray wrecks floating or partially submerged, covered with silt, while the Rhino Tour weaves in between on their way to Marigot. The bakery has groomed the plants and remaining trees on the edge of the deck and clearly roped off the section damaged by the storm. Iguanas were enjoying the privacy of the unsafe deck. A group of tourists noticed them and had to take their picture. They crossed the barrier and stood surrounding the reptiles snapping their camera phones. Lucky for them the owner was nearby and immediately addressed the group. Hadn’t they seen the sign warning them not to go onto that section? He urged them back toward safety, and they sheepishly complied, quickly leaving altogether. The iguanas, unphased, went their separate ways to enjoy the beautiful day.

All Washed Up

Each day we have the privilege to listen to the waves crashing to shore. We’ve gotten good at predicting how rough it is by sound alone. The weather feels warmer than this time last year. The winds on any given beach are as strong as they are on Orient Beach. The beach bars would all have some kind of tarp to shield patrons from the wind and rain. I think it is windier overall with gusts pelting sand from head to toe. Hair ties are a must to prevent tangles.

We were worried about the condition of the beaches as we prepared for this visit. We purchased water shoes that Bill does not like to wear. I’m selective and use them more on Orient beach than on Simpson Bay.

Since our arrival the waters have continued to shape the beaches – removing more sand, exposing rocks and boulders. This is our first time staying on this part of Simpson Bay. The sand is a treasure trove for different colored sea glass and a variety of sea shells. A rip current delivered a huge amount of conch shells onto a small section of the shore.

It is important to watch where you are going. Expect that one rogue wave or something new sticking up from the sand.

We’ve talked to friends who live in Orient and they are very cautious about swimming. One we spoke to snorkels regularly in order to clear objects from the ocean floor. The storm washed away entire contents of homes in many cases. So far we haven’t had any issues.

We enjoy walking down to Karakter for lunch and a drink. It is for Simpson Bay what Pedro’s on Orient Beach was. How lovely it is to be able to enjoy shelter with such awesome views. On one of our recent strolls we watched as an armchair made landfall. The next day someone had it set up next to the sea wall and was using it to hold fishing gear. You just never know what may wash up next.

 

Happy Bay Ending

We still haven’t attempted the hike over the hill. We’ve instead taken the easier way. The wall in between the path and the driveway has become the sidewalk in. I don’t know why they still bother to lock the gate. The view is amazing. Between last year’s festival and Irma, there’s nothing left to block it. The buildings still stand although many have lost all or part of their roofs. Facing Anguilla, all the way on the right hand side, someone is squatting. Someone with a key to the gate.

Walking down the familiar path, I now miss the cows that used to roam here. They were reassuring to me in this solitary place. Debris of sand and shell mark how far the waves reached. There is no longer any hint of the festival held back in April. The stage and giant tiki sculpture are gone. Danny’s Beach Bar stands without a roof and the tables need chairs. It’s hard to believe he hasn’t, as of yet, made an effort to return.

As on all the beaches we’ve visited so far, there’s a drop down shelf where layers of sand have washed away. No one has come to tend the palms that survived – and those that didn’t stand helplessly lifeless, like telephone poles. The roots are all exposed, a tangled network that once held the ground in place. Everyone’s favorite icon, the giant sea grape now lays on its side half dead; half growing anew.

Walking down to where the path over the hill opens to the beach is also greatly altered. The lovely canopy from the tree in the middle of the path is toppled. Boulders at the end of the beach have moved, but there are still tide pools to enjoy. Then again, the whole beach is still beautiful and to be enjoyed. An umbrella would be ideal to have. We’ve packed a picnic lunch complete with beer and rosé. Fishermen and the rhinos stop by as they have in the past.

Come on Danny come on back! We are here, you have hungry guests. Make the scene complete!

Even with all the visitors there’s still plenty of privacy to have a Happy Bay ending.

My Island Car

Anyone who’s ever rented a car on the island has a pretty good idea what it means to drive an “island car”. We’ve had cars that could barely get up a hill, had no brake lights, were missing mirrors, without mufflers, had bald tires, no radio, no antenna, burned oil, a bumper that scraped the tires, and had the occasional flat tire. Once we even rented a Jeep and in the middle of a down pour the roof flipped back. At this point we don’t even want a new car! We’ve only had them twice in twenty-one years. The first time was when we had spent the day on Orient Beach and it was obvious someone tried to break in. The second time was when we won the rental in a free drawing. We happily turned it in without incident and quickly downgraded to an “island car”. The dents do not bother us one bit. We’ve received the same exact car for the last three years. Actually, we’ve gotten somewhat attached to it.

Since Irma the definition of the “island car” has changed to “hey it runs!” It doesn’t matter if it is completely dented with parts missing, or mirrors dangling, or if it has any glass. The first time I saw someone driving without a windshield I was taken by surprise. After that, I was looking for the most creative use of it. My top three picks were: First, the car where something hit and shattered the drivers side and they carefully removed that section alone. Second place goes to the car where the entire windshield was shattered except for a tiny spot just above the steering wheel. Lastly the car that removed it altogether.

Some buses look fine at first glance but then all the side windows are missing. Since so many drivers are in the same situation, it isn’t hard to imagine a shortage in replacement glass. Three months and counting, we’ve seen so many creative applications used to remedy their plight. Plastic wrap, garbage bags, surfing materials, duct tape and any of these used in combination with one another. Towels, even though they don’t work that well, are a favorite. I think the funniest, though, was a tarp. At this, point if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry and not stop. It amazes me how everyone has made do with what’s been literally thrown at them.

Cheers to you and your island cars. You always make me smile.

Blue Christmas

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As a child our special time to open gifts was December twenty-fourth, in the evening. My sister and I were sequestered in the downstairs family room, for what felt like an eternity. Mom and “Santa” prepared for the festivities upstairs. Dad would check on us from time to time. Of course he was helping mom put up the tree she painstakingly decorated. The tree would have white lights and be all silver one year, silver and gold another, and there were always those few special hand made ornaments. The presents surrounded the tree, a section of each family member. Stockings would hang by the staircase railing, filled with yummy treats. Downstairs we’d play or watch movies and wondered what some of the thumping sounds were. Once everything was finally ready, we would be summoned by the sound of Christmas chimes played on the stereo, mom’s favorite. It was dark by then and only the lights of the tree and candles lit the scene. We would run up the stairs with excitement. First we were allowed to check out our stockings before going to our section under the tree. It looked so beautiful. We’d take turns choosing a gift and would watch each other open them. There was always that one special item we wished for and somehow it was always the last to be opened.

In later years we asked mom to only put out appetizers, since that was all we ever filled up on. Her wonderful dinners were hardly touched. It was so much work and my sister and I were far too excited and full to eat the dinner. We were distracted by our new toys or clothes.

Funny how family changes along with some of the traditions. Once married and we had our own family, they kept morphing. As our children grew, they preferred opening gifts Christmas morning, so we switched. It was then I realized how much influence children have. We had done the same thing with our parents.

It’s holidays like Christmas that get romanticized. Everyone has a different expectation or vision. The child within us wants to feel special. As children we loved receiving that one gift that was so thoughtful. As we matured we enjoyed trying to give that kind of gift.

The consumer culture has affected the notion of what is special. We used to have to wait for special occasions to receive a gift, maybe it was a much needed pair of shoes or a new outfit for church or school. We lived by delayed gratification and we seemed more thankful. Nonstop purchasing throughout the year sends a different message, especially to kids. Expectations have been raised a bit higher.

One year I hand made all the gifts. It was a lot of work and time consuming, a labor of love. After that, I put the kibosh on gift giving. I was always happy to be surrounded by our family. That was enough.

For the last few years we’ve been away in St. Martin. The rest of the family has made their plans, possibly new traditions. There may come a day when we are once again celebrating together. We’ve left behind gifts for the grandchildren. They are in their magical years when their imagination and excitement are still fresh and innocent.

Again this year we have forgone the cold weather for a blue Christmas. We will celebrate with friends on the island whose families are far away. We will enjoy the warmth of the weather and friendship, never forgetting the warmth of the togetherness of family.

Like Shifting Sand

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Adventure. Travel. Change. There are so many songs written about change, musings of things lost and hoped for. Sometimes these changes are fun and exciting, while at other times they are unpleasant and difficult. Things rarely stay the same though. We grow up, move out, move away, and/or move on. Relationships come and go, even long term ones change. Does anything stand still? As our planet spins within its orbit, is it only the cycles that stay the same? Day and night, seasons, the waxing and waning of the moon; are these examples of ongoing change? Life itself has a beginning and an end, another cycle. During this cycle all the other cycles influence it. A measure of time with unknown length each of us is given.

Coming to the island it seems easier to see. The island has changed not only through storms but the people who visit her. Building, overbuilding, using or abusing resources — all these have an impact causing change.

We’ve enjoyed coming here some twenty-one years now. What has been built up during that time has just been washed away by a storm. A reset in some ways. It has affected adventurers too. Those who came to enjoy working in a beautiful place have had to reevaluate whether to stay or go. This island has always collected the transient and adventurous. Idealistic dreamers in search of pirated gold. Here, there will always be new restaurants to enjoy and new people to meet. Like the shifting sand, people will come and go