Prep

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Monday, it’s time to make lists, clean house, and wind down or up for the trip. What clothes will be going along this time round? The laundry needs doing. We need to take stock of the fridge and meal plan so nothing spoils. All the while my day dreams slip off to landing and seeing the mountains in the distance. Walking shoes that will take me to breakfast and dinner alike. The warm balmy breeze welcoming me back once again. This will be my first Fourth of July on the island. I’m not sure what to expect. Deep down I’m hoping that the Flamboyant trees will be blooming. I need to reel in my thoughts and focus on the tasks at hand knowing it brings me one step, one day closer to returning to the island I love so much. Happy Monday!

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7 until 10

A week from today we are privileged to have another ten days on our favorite island. Arrangements have been made, friends contacted, and now we must figure out how to fit in everything we’d like to do. It will be a whirlwind tour. Even as I write this my minds eye sees you the reader come up with the perfect itinerary for your own adventure on SXM. In between trips to the island we peruse social media groups for photos and progress since our last visit. Add the new places that have popped up into the mix and the ten day gift also presents a challenge. We are already joking that we’ll need a vacation from this visit!

Duck

 

 

One of the meats we look forward to eating on the island is duck. In fact our first time eating it was in Grand Case. I never even imagined we would enjoy it so much. Duck is a rich and flavorful treat not readily available in the states. Restaurants rarely offer it and when they do, it’s expensive.

St. Martin has spoiled us in so many ways. There is a first time for many things here. Just another reason to return. We go out of our way to make sure duck is on the menu with each trip. The French side, especially, has no shortage of options. Our food porn friend declares Le Piment to have the best duck on the island. They switch up the accompanying sauce making it hard to have a favorite. He also introduced us to Alina’s duck sushi. The outermost layer of the roll is wrapped with cooked duck pieces. It was a surprisingly tasty combination that is worth repeating.

In Marigot, O’Plongoire serves up a delicious version with a reasonable price. We’ve repeatedly treated ourselves here.

This past winter we had the privilege to be invited to home cooked versions. It is easy to find in the Super U. We were so thrilled that our friend Tanja treated us to a meal. She’s an awesome cook. Our duck dinner began with a with duck breast salad and then the main dish with a lovely sauce. We had visitors in February who also cooked for us. Lee allowed us to observe part of the process. Duck confit, the fat is rendered and saved. The legs were then browned on the stove top. He usually finishes them off on the grill but it wasn’t available. His side dish of smashed potatoes was cooked in the duck fat which was quite memorable topped with rosemary. He made it all look so easy. We appreciated our friends’ generous hospitality and culinary skills. We hope they’ll invite us again next year!

Sitting here in the states, I’m missing the island’s warmth, our friends, and access to amazing options like duck. At least living by a lake I’ll enjoy watching the ducks while reminiscing.

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Replacements

 

 

Where to go? What’s left and what is new, that is the adventure! This special year continues with surprising changes. Way back in December it was slim pickings on the French side. Every month just keeps getting better.

Our favorite schedule used to be go to Orient Beach and hang out at Aloha. From there we’d walk the beach and hope to play volleyball at Club O. At the end of the day we’d race over to Grand Case to catch the sunset, usually at Calmos Café. Both were destroyed by Irma.

Our return to Orient brought us to the Club O section with the opening of the Perch Lite. Later Chez Leandra gave us another lunch option. It was Alamanda, though, that captured our heart and filled the void left by the loss of Aloha. Romain was so welcoming and friendly. We watched the progress of the poolside bar being built and drawing locals on the weekends, especially with their happy hour. It felt like home as we kept returning and seeing the usual suspects. Then they added a lunch menu with some great options. It was wonderful to see their business grow right before our eyes. By the time we had to leave, we were regulars. It was tough saying goodbye.

Grand Case had a few options but our early pick was Les Baines. We enjoyed the quirky, creative seaside bar. It was the perfect sunset replacement for Calmos Café. They offered food and live music. They drew a good crowd and also were friendly. Unfortunately they were closed down by the government. They tore the place down and had to pay a fine. The face of Grand Case will be changing based on the new set of rules. We went to Max’s Place and really enjoyed it as well.

By the time we get back on the rock there will be so many new places to choose from and try out! ….and boy we do look forward to it!

 

Smells and Sounds

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I found myself breathing extra deeply the last days of our trip. One more chance to take in the warmth and color of the sea. This March the colors were so intense, it was hard to wrap my mind around. Walking Orient Beach one last time to felt the calm water lap up over my feet and the sand beneath them. How I love the sound of the ocean. The breeze tickled my face and the air was filled with the aroma of barbecue ribs and chicken.

For four months I couldn’t wait to shower and wash our clothes. The suitcases wait to be unpacked. The clothes carry the scent and sand from the island. These, and our fading tans, are the last of the physical evidence that we were there. I linger over the moments now spent away. The sounds have been replaced with bird songs of spring. The world here is just waking up. The trees barely hold any glimmer of color, with the hope of warmth and sunshine. It’s so different from the tropical sounds.

My skin has shrunk from the lack of heat and humidity — replaced by cool, dry air. Clothing feels itchy and confining.

The transition has come and yet is still in process. No wonder houses are larger on the mainland — there’s less outdoor living. We rented a studio and were perfectly happy. I almost miss the barking dogs. No matter where we stayed, there was always that lone mosquito that would buzz by my ears in the morning light. Even that memory brings a smile to my face though so annoying at the time.

Unpacking will be bittersweet and I will make sure to take time and breathe in the lingering scents of St. Martin that have attached to our belongings. Then sadly wash them all away.

We’ve taken just a few photos and will use them to help remind us that summer is always waiting for us to return. The faces and places we hold dear to our hearts will lure us back.

 

Lemon Droppers

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On Cupecoy a group, a secret society, has formed. There in the shade of Dany’s Beach Bar, they gather each evening. As the sun sets, they form a circle. The ring leader eyes the crowd for anyone who may never have attended this sacred ritual. After they’ve been interrogated, permission is granted to stay and participate. They receive a pin as a token of good will.

Next, those having to leave the island plead their case for why they should be allowed to stay. The group then votes someone off the island.

Servants hand out cups and fill them as each segment of the ritual concludes. The drink has three parts. The first servant distributes lemon, the second pours the clear vodka, and the third adds limoncello. When it’s time to drink the cups are raised and the sacred words are spoken. “The best friends, are St. Martin friends.”

After the final round the lemon drop gang disappear into the night. Thankfully the goat is only Dany’s pet and not part of the ceremony! We did however get our first pins.

And they are right of course….St. Martin friends are the best friends!

Transcend-dance

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Words seem to fail me. So many events scheduled on the same day that something has to give.

At the beginning of our trip we had no idea how long we’d be able to stay. Two weeks were booked with an uncertain future. We ran ourselves ragged cramming in every possible restaurant and visitation we could. Go. Go. Go.

When we were able to find a longer term rental, things settled down to a more manageable routine. We spent less on eating out, cooked at home, and didn’t stay out very late. A different mindset where there was enough time, making room for both margin and waste. The waste was unintentional, yet not enough visiting with friends resulted. The balance between relaxing and scheduling becomes tricky. Each year we change along with our energy level — another area to search for balance. We all end up doing the best we can. Sometimes with regret and other times with exhilaration. We are learning to give our bodies grace for the times we feel we need rest. There are times when pushing through is just as important.

The tail end of this trip has brought us full circle. We rush to fit in one more visit with friends, one more time at a favorite spot, or maybe finally trying that “thing” we promised ourselves we’d do.

Time always runs out. The experiences we have along the way become the postcards of the journey. With each snapshot, a piece of eternity inscribes itself on our souls and eventually is released back into the universe. Both pleasure or pain, joy and sorrow become part of the the expanding energy that transcends both time and space. Our bodies are varied time capsules, revealing its contents when we die and telling the story that never dies..

Dance, when we can, through this thing called life.

Kayak

 

I was nervous about how much strength I’d need. We decided to kayak to Pinel. Maybe the better option would be to rent a double instead of two singles.

We drove to Cul De Sac by the ferry “station” In moments our double kayak was in the water and we were on our way.

The gentle wind blew the small waves toward us making it more work to paddle. It wasn’t too bad though. We also realized this would be to our favor on the return. We paddled past a couple of boats still sunken and silted gray. More changes to the bay with discolored areas shallow with sand deposits. The knobby little island dividing Pinel from Cul De Sac caught our interest with its new small beach. We took it as an invitation we couldn’t pass up. We took time to play in the water and watch the fish swim by. It was another beautiful March day, hot and sunny.

Heading toward Pinel we took full advantage of the protection from both wind and current that the out cropping provided. Paddling here was easy. In no time we made the short crossing to Pinel and landed on her shore.

We hung out by Karibuni where we enjoyed light fare for lunch. The shape of the beach has been re-carved and the two restaurants and gift shop rebuilt. I had fun picking up a couple of items at the boutique before leaving. Days on Pinel are always too short. Today we didn’t even stay long enough to enjoy the mountains of St. Martin change color as the sun moved above them.

The ride back was quick, almost too quick. On the way back we received a special surprise. As we glided across the water, a sea turtle swam by. In the twenty-one years I’ve never had the pleasure. This was yet another magical first. We watched until he disappeared in the matching green growth below the sea. SXM had given us another special memory.

Tide Pools

 

There are many hidden gems on the island, some of which we may never get to. Between Guana Bay and Pointe Blanche are tide pools. We’ve heard about them before and have seen photos of them on some of the message boards. There are trails up in the hillside leading to them from both directions. The Guana Bay side begins at the end of a road, at the top of a hill, and takes about an hour. From Pointe Blanche the path also begins at a dead end taking about fifteen minutes.

It’s funny that we finally made the trek once we moved out of the area. Getting a group and date was the complication. We picked up sandwiches from one of the French bakeries along with water and gathered our little group to go. We parked and made our way across to the far end of a baseball court to find the opening of the path. Here on the eastern side of SXM we viewed St. Barths in the distance. It was too hazy to see Statia, St. Kitts, or Nevis. On a clear day it’s a sight not to be missed.

The first part of the path opened up to be an easy walk that moved out toward the edge of the hillside. As we progressed, in one section, it became a toe path along a cliff with a very steep drop off. We continued to hug the contour of the hills that brought us down to a rocky beach. Deposits of all sorts of dismembered debris were scattered across it — thanks to Irma. We paused to observe our surroundings and take some photos. The views were stark and beautiful with the rocky coastline buffeted by the Atlantic. Nature’s warning of the awesome power of the waves against rocks are dangerous.

We climbed the next hill that was a savanna-like setting with tall dry grasses bending in the breeze. It whispered as the wind blew away the suffocating heat that rose from the earth. The sun was strong on this cloudless day. Bare rock formations rose up high to the front of us, and beside us — a sheer drop off. There seemed to be a fork in the road, the trail now only a goat path. As we approached the edge we spotted the tide pools below. How to get down was the question. I wore sturdy flip flop style sandals, a bad choice for the hike this “walk” turned out to be. Bill chose the direct route to the bottom. The rest of us chose the flatter surfaced rocks. They were still at a sharp angle but I took comfort in the goat droppings. A parallel set of rock rose up as a wall that served us as somewhat of a railing to guide our steps. At the bottom we had to turn right in order to reach Bill. This part was a bit tricky as we crossed over deep crevasses and needed to lower down onto the area where he waited.

When we reached him we laid out beach towels and sat down to enjoy our picnic, before immersing ourselves in the cool ocean. I was glad for the water shoes I had brought. Some of the rocks on the way into the water were slippery and riddled with small sea urchins. Slow entry was not an option. Once we all were in there was no good place to sit and rest. We all squatted using our hands to hold ourselves against the pull of the water. Every so often a rogue wave crashed over the protective stone barrier splashing us. It would’ve been nice to have had some wine and beer for a toast of our accomplishment. Then we realized we still needed to climb back up the rocks to rejoin the trail, all the while careful making our way to the starting point. We decided alcohol would’ve been a terrible idea. The climb required hand holds on ledges and leg strength to propel our bodies upward.

It was good to be with a group on this expedition. The hike back seemed much quicker. Afterwards we went to the boardwalk in Philipsburg to celebrate with wine. Although beautiful, this adventure was not for the faint of heart or out of shape. Cupecoy by Dany’s Beach Bar or Happy Bay would probably make a great and safer alternative. We were glad to have gotten the chance to go and now check it off of the “never done it” list.

Reluctant Reflection

 

Torn between wanting to stay and go, I’m feeling the oppression of limited time, once again. The list of need to and want to do is unattainable. People to see, places to be.

Today the breeze is just that much more delicious as I breathe in deeply. The ocean has somehow reached a new intensity in color saturation. The mountains and beach whispering “stay.”

“The longer we stay, the less time we have.” Since we’ve started musing this sentiment, it continues to ring true even more.

Indulging is difficult to curb when realizing such treats aren’t available where we are going. One more taste of bread and butter. One more glass of rosé. Leaving to go to a place where food is more about quantity instead of quality alone is heart wrenching. The art of cuisine has often been lost in the sea of corporate controlled farming, groceries, and restaurants. Beautiful, tasteless, nutrient deficient but calorie and chemical ridden … how dare it be called, food.

Food is what is alive about SXM. Life giving food. It is instructive to see what a culture holds dear. Room for mom and pop uniqueness is rampant on St. Martin. The diversity heightens the senses and adds richness to each day. To see American fast food chains operating here is nauseating. It is the perpetuating of mediocrity and profit that anyone on the island should not be inflicted with. Western diets are rank with digestive problems in the making. Allergies too are on the rise. The French had a revolution over it.

Food is political, that’s the problem. The subject is a rabbit hole worthy of investigation. The system desperately needs to change.

Sigh.

I’ve begun the process that looks back to what will be left behind and forward to what must be faced. It will be hard work to buy and prepare food that is life giving — worth it, of course. Our palettes will protest at first. We will remember the wonderful meals on the island and be compelled to return if just for that.

It’s not just for that, though! Deep breath.

The list is long, isn’t it? I smile as I run through the many reasons for loving and returning. For now, indulgence is on the menu.