Last year I was on a trip by myself. I don’t mind traveling alone, I dive and read during the day and go to bed early. It’s really quite lovely. But I decided on that trip that the next one was not going to be alone. And alone I was not. I just returned from a trip to St. Maarten with 21 other people. Arriving, I knew 4 of these people but spent the week getting to know the other 17. Awesome group, so much fun!
As has become the norm with me and air travel, my flight did not exactly go off without a hitch! As you might remember from an earlier post I try to stay positive and not stress about things that are out of my control. I stayed calm and read a book when we boarded and sat at the gate. The departure time came and went and we were still sitting there. The pilot came on to let us know that we were just waiting for the baggage to be loaded, another 10 minutes he said. 20 minutes later, the pilot came back and told us that there was an “issue”. He said that our luggage had been loaded onto a plane headed for Cuba! What? How does that happen?!?!?! Fortunately the plane headed for Cuba had to be de-iced and wasn’t in the air yet. It was taxiing though, so it had to turn around and come back to the gate. Our luggage was unloaded from that plane and loaded onto our plane, and TWO HOURS later we were on our way! It’s interesting because before take off I always say a prayer asking God to get the plane safely to the destination. Based on my last flight when I landed in Albuquerque and my luggage was still in Toronto, I added to the prayer. I also asked God to ensure that my luggage arrived in St. Maarten with me. I said this prayer 5 minutes before the pilot told us about the issue!
When people mention excursions or tours on vacation I cringe. I get very bad motion sickness. Anything that starts with “We will pick you up in a van/shuttle/bus at your hotel at 7:30 am” makes me feel ill just thinking about it. So when there was mention of all of us going on a tour, I was hesitant. It’s not that I didn’t want to go, I just didn’t want to spend the entire day feeling terrible.
The group wanted to rent a boat and go to the other islands around St. Maarten. But going to the tour desk and booking the tour (like most tourists do) just seemed too boring and mainstream. Instead we stopped a guy walking down the beach wearing a lifejacket. Seriously. We asked him if he knew where we could get a boat to rent. He did. He said he knew a guy (I can’t make this stuff up). In the morning, 2 vans showed up. The driver said “Are you going on the boat trip?” The question didn’t seem very specific to me. We’re on a Caribbean island, there are probably a lot of people going on a “boat trip”. But we said yes and got in the van. We drove for about 15 minutes and pulled into the parking lot of an Italian restaurant with gates on the front of the building. I thought it was a bit concerning, in addition to the gates I didn’t see any water. (This reminds me of the trip to the Polish Yacht Club, a yacht club with no water in site!) The driver took us through a door next to the restaurant. What we walked into was a beautiful wooden bar with a marina in the back. Who knew?
Despite the sketchiness of how the whole booking process went down, there were 2 nice boats with 2 amazing guides. It was indeed the price that the guy in the lifejacket on the beach quoted us! We had an AMAZING day! Our first stop was Tintamarre. We jumped off the boat, swam, snorkelled and saw 3 turtles! Next we headed to Pinel Island. The island is a nature reserve but there is a restaurant, bar and lounge chairs and umbrellas to rent for the day. This beach is picture perfect! Our next stops were Creole Rock for more snorkelling and Friars Bay Beach which, being on the French side, was topless much to the delight of the guys in our group.
Lunch was at a “local” restaurant in Grand Case. This is not the type of restaurant that I would necessarily have gone into if I had been walking down the street. BUT as we know, never judge a book by it’s cover (or a restaurant by it’s facade – more similarities to the Polish Yacht Club). The BBQ was fantastic! Ribs or chicken with 5 side dishes on each plate!
What an incredible day! Not everyone is comfortable going off the beaten path and finding locals to take you out, but it is more often a far better and authentic experience than booking the trip through the tour desk. In fact, as we were coming back into the marina we saw an enclosed boat going out with rows of tourists looking out the windows. I was sad for those poor tourists!
A Caribe Cargo ship went down in Hurricane Luis in 1995. This was the destination of the first of 4 dives that I did in St. Maarten. It was an amazing dive! 70 feet down, I saw turtles, many sharks (3-5 foot reef and nurse sharks), huge lobsters, a giant stingray hiding in the sand and a barracuda which I steered clear of!
An amazing trip with new friends and old, fun, relaxation and adventure! Hope they invite me back next year!
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour and catch the wind in your sails.
EXPLORE. DREAM. DISCOVER. ~ Mark Twain