Day One

Monday, another start of a work week. It is no different on the island. Rush hour traffic snakes along the main streets delivering workers and school children to their respective destinations.

My goal was to walk the short distance to the Daily Express to pick up a few essentials. With shopping bag in hand, I headed off. It was more dangerous then anticipated with cars parked all over the walkways. Pedestrians take their lives into their hands needing to step onto the street to go around the parked cars. Islanders live with these conditions daily. Today it became mine.

At one point only a toe path space was left. I stopped to allow for a couple of people to pass from the other direction and then went on. It made it halfway through, when a car slammed with full force into the one and only pothole in the street. The only pothole was also a deep puddle! There was no place for me to go as the wave of filthy street water that completely showered me. So much for driving etiquette concerning walkers! It was humiliating.

My heart sank as I neared my destination. The store was shut up tight. Now I would have to return home empty-handed, wet, and traumatized. Thankfully the walk back was uneventful and I made it home to lick my wounds. Such was my welcome back to the island this go round. I can laugh about it now, but I was a bit shook up at the time.

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Fly on the Wall

Some tourists visiting the island sure do have great expectations. There is a mindset that focuses only on what can be consumed while treating people as a commodity for their own pleasure. Entitlement often comes with privilege. Chatter revolves around tips and tricks for handling staff and island time. Snapping fingers command service with a smile. It is the only acceptable response. “Let’s not eat on the beach. If we show up at the restaurant, we’ll get better service”.

We overheard a woman on the phone from a bus tour, “there is so much devastation on the island”. From her bus trip from P’burg to Simpson Bay, this was her announcement to her friend. To think how quickly the area the bus passed bounced back after Irma. I can’t even imagine what she’d say if she had seen even more. Wow, this is what is being said about our little island!

Being a fly on the wall is overrated — it also can serve as a reminder to not behave this way ourselves. Overhearing negativity, one-upping, and sometimes lack of graciousness toward locals makes us feel sad that our paradise is being so harshly critiqued. Our true love for the island and its people began when we ventured out from the trappings and confines of resort life. Spending time on both sides is not just fun, it is enriching. Fear is boring and prevents growth. The whole island awaits exploration and appreciation.

The Best of Everything

Not everyone gets a good deal in life. We all do the best we can to get by and/or thrive. Some are lucky at love while others face many heartaches. Children, too, can be a source of joy and/or sorrow, at times simultaneously.

Overall, we’ve been fortunate and careful with our funds. Money is a fickle thing at best. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been coming to the island for twenty-two years.

Each trip has been an education for so many things about life, love, and injustice. Coming to SXM has greatly affected our world view. The influence of the island spills back on our friends and family back home. The changes that take place on the island have repercussions almost in real time. Other countries may not feel such impacts till later, lulling people into a false sense of security. Our individualism can block our ability to empathize with the plight of others, and they themselves may not even see how they are affected. It is alive and well on the island too, but silence is not an option here, and road blockades in protest bring about a quicker resolution. I am thankful to be able to see into this island world and its complexities. I think it has enriched Bill and I, and helped us see some world issues more clearly.

Each trip here, we are as thankful as the first very first time. Leaving will be hard but we know we must, need, and want to. We have a life elsewhere that is really great too. I can’t wait to visit with family, especially the grandchildren. Those kids are a blessing we never thought we would have or deserved. They enrich our life in ways never imagined. We also enjoy special times with family and friends to catch up on their lives and all that entails.

We live part-time in some incredible places. We are filled with love and joy, realizing what a unique opportunity we have. I get to go home and paint colors and vistas, faces and places that inspire my soul. I know how blessed I am. It’s all a gift. Hopefully our gift is the kind that keeps on giving. Celebrate with us, we feel overflowed at this moment with the best of everything.

One love, one life, one island!

Another Sail, Another Sunday

What is it about gliding across the water by just the power of the wind? Songs, poetry, and stories take time to paint a picture of the feelings such an experience evokes. The sound of the ocean water lapping against the hull, along with the graceful movement of the boat, somehow gives the soul a smile. The wind fills the sails like it fills the lungs while blowing through my hair.

Quiet. The absence of human mechanics in both sound and smell is a reprieve from modernity’s grind. What a way to enjoy this beautiful Sunday. The views of the island reveal shapes and shadows with secrets from this vantage point. No sitting in traffic. Except for buildings and boats, human presence is diminished. It doesn’t matter that there are other passengers, I feel like this is all for me alone.

There is something about sailing and time standing still. Yet the day disappeared so quickly and I’m back on land.

Smells vs Aromas

Smells can be good or bad, but aromas elicit positive responses to their presence. Everyone can agree that being in a confined situation, some smells are at best annoying and at worst downright suffocating.

Open spaces lend themselves to more freedom while posing as less of a threat. For instance, barbecues give of smoke mingled with savory roasting aromas. It may be a combination of good and bad. The good part may even work as an advertisement that it’s time to eat. On the other hand, an older man walking by on the beach, tooting with each step, raises not only awareness but concern of being downwind. I cannot unsee those cheeks!

For my sensitive olfactory, the beach is just as difficult, at times, as being in a small space. As a child I would become nauseous in the backseat of the car while my father enjoyed his cigarette. Since the Red Piano gave up on being a smoke-free zone, l cannot go there.

Maybe others think it to be an overreaction when following a diesel truck, I feel as though I’m dying. Breath is life. Breathing oxygenates the blood delivering each cell energy, life force. At my last doctors visit it was revealed to me that I hold my breath, blood work yielded proof. Yoga and meditation teaches and trains deeper breathing, through the nose, opening the lungs to their full capacity.

We spend most afternoons on the beach. Besides the tooting incident, l found we needed to park ourselves upwind from “cigar man”. His particular choice is extremely harsh and strong, I cannot tolerate it. There are other odors, though, that are unavoidable. The use of spray sunscreens falls under this category. Call it OCD if you’d like, when the smell hits me, it’s as if I can see the micro particles fill my lungs as I choke. It cannot be healthy to inhale that stuff!

Even the volleyball court is not safe from the odious odor of B.O. This was not a normal sweat — from a guest player, no one knew. I happened to be next to this nice person and follow them around the court with each rotation. It took a hot second to figure out where the smell originated. I wonder if they even realized the offense? I know that when my breath dies, I need help figuring it out — poor Bill. I think I’ll go brush my teeth now!

Why did the Chicken Cross the Road?

Traffic continues to worsen on SXM. A fifteen minute trip may take an hour and requires a great deal of patience. Tour busses, trucks, cars, motorcycles and often pedestrians must share the road. It’s now common to have a third lane for motorcycles taking their lives into their hands passing everyone. Drivers have to keep an eye out for them as well as the occasion where the cyclist chooses to pass on the right instead.

An increase of cycling has also been added to the mix. All that being said, accidents happen more frequently with greater casualties. Seems to me that since Irma, drivers seem less patient and gracious than before.

Animals are unfortunately caught in the cross fire and face untimely deaths. This trip has had far too many dead cats, dogs, iguanas, chickens and even a monkey. There are many things that truly cannot be unseen, like the chicken foot reaching up in the air as it lay dead on the road.

Just last night coming home from dinner through Quarter d’Orleans we passed a dog in the road. It had just been hit and was writhing in howling pain. The mournful sound of its cries are burned into my memory. We hope he made it, poor thing.

Last month we almost lost a dear friend in a highly publicized head on collision. The teens in the other vehicle were traveling the wrong way in the roundabout at the causeway bridge toward Marigot. They were hospitalized with life threatening injuries. Everyone was relieved to know they would survive. A split second has the power to drastically change lives. We are so thankful our good friend suffered only minor injuries while his car was totaled. Being the kind soul that he is, he reached out to the other family to console them.

Drive responsibly! Be kind and allow pedestrians to cross in front of you. Courtesy goes a long way too — letting other vehicles into the traffic flow or to make a turn. Aggressive behavior causes accidents, not to mention drinking too much alcohol. As a guest here, remember you’re on island time and share the road.

Keeping in Touch

Blues seas, rainbows, and mountainous landscapes are the only constants to count on on this ever changing island. Each visit brings new surprises along with changes making it hard to keep up sometimes.

Back in July, new businesses were open only to find them gone in November. It’s a good thing there are so many groups and individuals on social media! They share photos and posts documenting progress, rebuilding, and the latest business and restaurant openings. It is sad to hear tourists are being discouraged from visiting the French side. Some taxis were not traveling to Orient Beach….hopefully that is no longer true. Three large beach bars, Club O’s purchase of new umbrellas and lounges, the expanding Perch Lite Bar and grill — are all busy attending growing crowds of visitors. It has ramped up to be a successful high season. Grand Case enjoys continued restaurant and beach bar openings as well.

“What’s new?” Keeps exploration alive and well. By next year things could be completely different again. In the meantime, it has been a celebration to be able to participate in SXM’s progress. Pics and posts will continue as new friendships are forged along the way. A mixture of emotions come as some favorites are no longer around. Sadness and joy mingle when remembering what was, while continuing on the journey forward into the future.

Inspiration now will bring paintings later.

Dress Code

Sun, sand, beach…shorts, t-shirts, bathing suits, and flip-flops are the appropriate attire. Travel guides to the island mention that although this is fine for the beach, more modest clothing is appreciated and even required elsewhere. While tourists receive quite a bit of latitude in shops and restaurants, locals do not. They even are openly rebuked by what many refer to as the “Fashion Police“ of SXM. With the constant temperature between 80-85°, the blood does thin over time making long pants and sleeves wearable.

Imagine having to pay your bills in person, first of all, and then be told to leave because of inappropriate attire. Sound bizarre? Well, it’s true!

No flip-flops, certain types of shorts, t-shirts or polos, short or tight dresses or skirts, and whatever is deemed too revealing for a women’s top. This can mean backless, plunging neck lines, spaghetti straps, or sleeveless.

Government offices and courts strictly enforce the invisible dress code here on SXM. I have even heard of a friend being fired from her job for wearing shorts to work.

This is true for both the Dutch and French side of the island!

Last year we were happy Harmony Night had returned to Grand Case, if only for an abbreviated time. As I stood along the side of the road, I watched as a local woman took to task another younger woman for obviously not wearing a bra. Oh, the verbal spanking was quite colorful!

Such a range of piety exists. Earlier this week this was attested to on a friend’s FB post. The Dutch side has legalized prostitution but one must get dressed up to pay their car tax. (Where does the road tax end up anyway? Certainly not into road improvements!) From the same thread comes a reminder that wearing sunglasses is also offensive.

I suppose those working inside all day in the air conditioned buildings believe fashion enforcement is part of their job description. Why, it is almost laughable that topless and clothing optional beaches exist here!

Blood Moon

Going into the weekend as the moon came into fullness, coupled with an eclipse was certainly something not to be missed.

Saturday, Mullet Beach hosted a full moon party, DJ’d with rave music. The color of the water was stunning. It felt as though it was the very first time. The blues were so intense. Throughout the day various catamaran tours made their stops with tourists holding selfie sticks as they swam to shore. On the beach, Rosie’s and the other bars were were busy accommodating the days visitors. Umbrellas lined the shore a couple of rows deep. Beyond them all the way to the left in the cove was the location of the DJ and where the party began setting up — late in the day. We stayed for sunset taking photos. A food and drink tent was gearing up for the night’s festivities. A pit was dug out for the bon fire as logs and branches were being gathered. On a table near the DJ, white paper bags were being prepared to be used as lanterns to be set on the beach. Excited party goers started to gather and claim positions around the epicenter. Drinking and dancing broke out sporadicly making it difficult to reach the food tent.

Once the sun no longer warmed the cove area, hunger set in and the hopeful wait for vegan food dwindled. The moon rose higher and shone brightly against the deep blue sky. Walking along the beach to catch the last light of day, a young guy exclaimed, “Look at the full moon!” I burst his bubble by telling him it wouldn’t actually be full until Monday even though this was a full moon party.

We stopped at Driftwood and ironically, shared a lamb shawarma for dinner.

Sunday morning we did our grocery shopping before heading to Orient Beach. That afternoon we participated in a yoga class on the beach and then drove to Simpson Bay. We were early enough to enjoy the sunset and did so at Mary’s Boon with rosé. Next stop was Dinghy Dock for the AFC championship game and fresh wahoo. Bill enjoyed the game as I was immersed in a book.

After the game we walked to the car. Looking up at the moon, I wondered if we had missed the eclipse. We arrived back to the Tamarind (where we are staying), walking across the courtyard I glanced up once more. I was feeling rather disappointed until I realized the lunar event was only just beginning. Bill brought out wine and rum as we lounged poolside to observe. We were joined by a couple of other residents and celebrated our own impromptu full moon/lunar eclipse party.

It was truly an amazing sight. Fast moving clouds added to the mystery of the evening as the earth’s shadow slowly made its way over the brilliant white light of the moon. Finally only a sliver of light was left. The shadow had turned its blood orange color. As we laid there we followed the moon’s path in the sky from in front of our gaze — to straining our necks to see behind us. All the while the earth and sun danced together to prolong the eerie orange glow.

Between the mosquitoes and being overcome with sleep, we said goodnight to the moon, leaving nature to run its course without our audience. What a special experience to have shared with Bill on SXM!

The next night, Monday, was another full moon party at Kali’s on Friar’s Bay. We had already exhausted ourselves over the weekend and so, left it for others to carry on.

Moon photo by Lauren Tucker

Lazy Day

Clouds and rain lulled away any motivation to get out of bed. Sleeping, reading, writing, and the internet were the more desirable options. It wasn’t until late afternoon that movement of some kind became a need. A walk down to the boardwalk area offered exercise and entertainment. It had been a slow cruise ship day. The boardwalk was virtually empty with some businesses itching to lock up for the day. Along the way we bumped into a familiar face from the French side. Marina now runs “LOVE” and we purchased a couple of t’s while catching up with her.

Now we were targets looking very tourist-like. A friendly girl took her chance and stopped us. We quickly let her know we lived here and she backed off. From there we visited “Juggies” and chatted with other patrons over rum and beer. Now it was so late in the day, shops were closing and so was Juggie.

The lighting was golden, casting long shadows making it perfect for photographing. All was quiet except for one local beach bar playing Latin dance music. By the swings, young children were playing with parents and siblings. We decided to go to the “Greenhouse” for happy hour. We drank beer and rosé, we people watched. Tourists and locals occupied surrounding tables as the sun set and a shuttle was preparing to leave for St. Barths. In the twilight everyone dispersed making way for the dinner crowd. The Fairway Mark-It was still open for us to pick up a few items. Walking home, we were caught in a shower and we quickly ducked into the Chinese restaurant. The owner’s kids sat at a nearby table doing homework. We ordered inexpensive, delicious food to take out and then continued home once the shower had passed.

We sat out on the patio eating dinner, reflecting on what a nice, peaceful day it had been. So often it is the simple things in life, even on St. Martin, that are so satisfying.