Technically, it’s not a rainforest. Technically, it is considered highlands. This is what I remember from my natural geography class in college. Whatever the botanists call it, it still looks and feels a lot like a rainforest! There are even rumors of monkeys high in hills. We didn’t see any on our hike, but we did see a lot of butterflies and many points of interest! Come join us on our hike to Pic Paradise at Loterie Farm on the isle of Saint-Martin.
Loterie Farm is east of Marigot on the French side of Saint Marten. It is definitely a place you should go when visiting the island. It has a pool, a crazy zipline, dining, and (of course) hiking trails. The cost of hiking is five dollars or five euros. The money is more than worth it, I promise.
I and my friends decided to take the long hike with the scenic view at the top. It took a couple hours to complete, but we were glad we did it! This hike is now on my list of favorite hikes, up there with the glacial lake in Red River Valley, Badlands, and Kenya’s Great African Rift.
We grabbed hiking sticks, consulted our map, and hit the trail.
The first thing that we noticed were the obstacle courses and zip-lines in the trees above us. I felt like I was walking in Tarzan’s tree house!
There are several points of interest on the map. The first one we came to was the natural spring.
Once we arrived at the spring, the trail began to climb steeply uphill. It was a little slippery on the mossy rocks, but the climb was worth it once we made it to Chewbacca View Point.
We could see for miles from the viewpoint! Of course, most of that was just ocean water. The view gave us perspective to see how small Saint Martin really is. But what a beautiful watery wilderness the Caribbean Sea is! We could see three different territories from our lookout point. We could also see the ruins of an old fort.
The next stop on our trek was the old well.
By this time, we were all getting a little nervous about the ant armies that covered the trails. Stacey kept us safe by spraying our shoes with OFF.
Fortunately, the bugs are our biggest problem. There are no snakes on Saint Martin. European colonists imported mongooses to catch and kill the snake population.
Now we just have a mongoose problem.
Beyond the well are ruins of the old sucrerie. Ruins are my favorite hiking gems, so I was pretty thrilled to see them.
We pressed on as the trail continued uphill. We discovered such things as curious creepy crawlies,
What Aquila called the Sexy Tree (I guess it is just that gorgeous),
And this odd statue of a double-jointed man in distress. Naturally, Kayla decided to empathize with him. Social workers are very good at that.
We finally reached the lookout point at the top of the mountain!
You can even see some ghostly islands in the distance. I believe they belong to Saint Bart’s. I expected to see a pirate ship sail out of the mist at any second, but all we saw was a cheerful little sailboat.
To get to the lookout, we had to walk down a narrow path through tall grass. It made some of us itchy, but it was nice to have a break from the tree cover and feel the ocean breeze. It was also a great place for taking photos.
Kalie was kind enough to pose for me.
The trail seemed to go out into the middle of nowhere, so we eventually turned around and headed back to the mapped trail.
On our way back, we found something attention-grabbing that was not on the map–graves! Or at least gravestones. Some of them were broken, so we weren’t sure if they were even in the right place. They were about 150 years old.
The entire hike, we were surrounded by clouds of butterflies. They’re hard to catch on camera, but I did my best! There were hundreds of white butterflies and the occasional yellow one or orange monarch.
We arrived back at the base camp tired, sweaty, and dirty, but happy and refreshed! What a wonderful way to spend a sunny morning in the Caribbean. We will be back.
Photo credit: Breana Johnson, Stacey C, and Kalie L
Meet my friend Aqiyla! Today she is going to teach us to make a yummy Caribbean dish called macaroni pie. Aqiyla hails from Canada, but her family is actually originally from the Caribbean. This is a meal that her grandparents brought from these sunny islands years ago.
First, gather your ingredients:
-2 or 3 eggs
-1 1/2 cup condensed milk
-Cheese to your liking
-Oil or nonstick spray
-Salt and pepper
Next, boil, your macaroni. You want it to be al dente at this stage, so don’t let it get soggy!
While the macaroni is boiling, crack 2 to 3 eggs in a bowl and beat them. We used three eggs, but you may only need two. I bought the baby eggs because they are literally half the price of jumbo eggs at our neighborhood Asian market.
When your macaroni is done boiling, drain it and mix in the egg. Make sure to stir it in quickly, so that you don’t end up with giant chunks of scrambled egg as they cook in your hot noodles!
Also, preheat your oven to 350* F or 170* C.
After the egg, mix in your condensed milk. Make sure you have enough enough to thoroughly coat your noodles with a thin film of milk left at the bottom of the bowl. This means you’ll need to stir it in a bit at a time and fold it into your noodles somewhat slowly.
Next, salt and pepper to taste.
Now, your macaroni is ready to go into the baking dish! Grease your dish and pour in the macaroni.
I used a pot because I don’t own baking dish.
That’s how it goes when you sell everything and start over.
Once you pour it into the dish, sprinkle cheese generously, according to your preference. Yum.
Put the macaroni in the oven. Let it bake for 30-45 min. When it the cheese looks dark, crispy, and bubbly, it is done!
Serve and enjoy!
This was a win at our house. It’s simple to make and a good break from the pasta dishes I routinely make for dinner. We’ll be adding this to the recipe box for sure!
If I’ve learned anything about cooking Caribbean, it’s that Caribbean food is extremely diverse. The people who make up Sint Maarten are from every corner of the world. We come from Haiti, Curacao, the United States, India, Brazil, Serbia, Tanzania, and Syria… we are from across the globe, and we are Sint Maarten.
That being said, this dish is not traditionally Caribbean. It’s Lebanese. Our friend Soubhi introduced it to us about a week ago at a potluck. I asked him for the recipe, and here it is!
Normally, getting my face slammed into gritty sand and then dragged for a few feet isn’t my idea of fun. But sometimes, the pain is worth the ride.
I think that’s how life is.
You see a big wall of water coming at you, and you feel your heart leap into your mouth. You can choose to duck your head and swim under the wave….
…or you can put yourself right in front of the wave for the chance to be lifted high and ride, exhilarated to the shore.
And then you’re so pumped you go do it again.
Isn’t that why we do the hard things we do? We do them because they give us a sense of purpose, they make us stronger, they diminish our fears, and they make life a ride worth living. What would life be if every time we found an opportunity, we just ducked our heads and swam under it? We’d never make a difference in the world. We’d never follow God’s purpose for our lives. Sure, if we avoided the wave, we’d never have them drag us under and smash us into the ground, but then we’d never learn how to get back up and keep going. And we’d never find what it’s like to (as the Beach Boys put it) catch a wave and sit on top of the world!
That’s why Neil Armstrong went to the moon. That’s why Martin Luther took a stand for Biblical truth. That’s why Irena Sendler smuggled 2,500 Jewish babies out of harm’s way. That’s why Harriet Tubman risked everything to work the underground railroad. That’s why we’re going to medical school and living on this tiny little island in the middle of the ocean.
We have to take those opportunities, we have to follow our calling. We have to ride those waves to get where we need to be. Otherwise, we’re just floating in the ocean.
What do you get when you combine packed buses, hundreds of purple t-shirts, smiling faces, and a giant rain storm? No, not the first day of your third-grade church camp– but good guess. You get American University of the Caribbean’s 2015 Community Action Day!
I love organized service projects. Our undergrad university put on a day of outreach each spring, and all the students got a day off classes to do yard work for the elderly, paint over graffiti, etc. I was happy to find out that AUC does essentially the same thing, although a day off school is not an option here. The event organizers offered about two dozen different CAD activities, and students and campus groups could sign up for whatever they choose. Ben and I decided to go help with the Little League Player Development Program, since I already volunteer with this organization.
We met our group at AUC and took a bus over to the baseball field. Not too many kids had arrived before us, so Coach Tom gave us a tour of the team’s clubhouse. The clubhouse is a wonderful place. It’s made up of three shipping containers– one filled with science stuff, one dedicated to reading, and one full of exercise equipment. Every week day and Saturday, the kids come to the clubhouse for tutoring and baseball practice. Coach Tom and his wife, Lisa, along with whoever shows up to volunteer, help the kids with math and reading. This kids are rewarded with baseball cards and time to play with toy trains and the science projects.
About 25 kids showed up on Saturday, and all the volunteers sat down with a child or two to help with reading. As they finished, kids and AUC students moved to the field to practice baseball.
In the Caribbean, storms rise up out of nowhere and drench the earth with driving rain. It’s rainy season now, so it was not really a surprise when the heavens opened and poured the waters of all the seven seas upon us! We all congregated under tarps and into the containers to wait out the rain.
When the rain let up a little bit, Lisa drove Ben and I next door to the local university, where the Migratory Bird Festival was being held. She went back for a few kids at a time when the weather finally cleared. We colored some pictures of birds, learned about their feeding habits, and adopted a Gaiac tree to raise. Since Sint Maarten has been in a drought this year, there was an exhibit on drought and how it affects the birds–ironically, it was partially damaged by the rain and had to be moved inside!
At noon, we walked the kids back to the baseball field. Most of the other volunteers were playing catch with the kids. We said goodbye to everyone from the team and piled into the bus to head back to Cupecoy. It had been a great morning.
What’s better than a god cup of tea? A good cup of tea to enjoy with a friend. One thing I love about American University of the Caribbean is the people I have met! The spouses organization provides constant opportunities for the significant others of students to spend time together and build relationships. Last week’s activity was decorating sharpie mugs and sugar cookies! Every single mug was absolutely adorable. If you’ve never made a sharpie mug before, you should try it! They are cheap, easy, and leave plenty of room for creativity.
First, gather your materials. You will need sharpies, a white mug (cheaper ones are better because the glaze melts easier in the oven), and rubbing alcohol.
Second, find inspiration! I posted several photos here to give ideas, and Pinterest has hundreds more.
Third, wipe your entire cup with the alcohol. Try not to touch your cup too much because of the oils your fingers leave.
Design away! The alcohol can remove any unwanted marks.
Allow the sharpie to dry overnight
Bake at 350* F (175* C). Put the cups in the oven before you turn it on and leave them in until the oven is entirely cool. Otherwise the mugs will crack.
Repeat step previous step.
Enjoy! Be careful with your cup. Do not wash in the dishwasher and be gentle when you wash it by hand.
Those of us in the expat/foreign student category can name a lot of reasons why we chose to live overseas. I’m sure the most common answer is “I wanted to experience a different culture.” We talk about the people we interact with, the things we see, the food we eat. But reasons why one benefits from life overseas goes so far beyond just the obvious, beyond the great Instagram moments and the postcards home. Here is a list of some of the reasons why I think living overseas is great.
Less choice in the grocery store
The water goes out now and then
Frustrating cultural nuances
Fewer people you can relate to
That whole confusing English-metric conversion problem
It’s not as safe
Pause. You’re wondering, why are these positive things? Aren’t these some of the reasons why most people never move internationally? Probably. But I would argue that they are also some of the best things that you will experience while living overseas.
Power outages are arguably the most annoying part of my daily life. We have weeks where the power stays on for days at a time and other weeks where I spend three hours every afternoon with no power– thus no internet, no AC, no cooking. The whole island is on the same power grid, so if something goes out, the whole island suffers. This is with the exception of the medical school, which has its own reliable generator. Our apartment, however, is at the mercy of the power grid. While it bugs me, this has made my life better in a few ways. First, it teaches me to be more flexible. If I have plans that require power, they have to change. That’s all there is to it. My attitude doesn’t change the fact that we have to eat cereal for dinner. But I can choose to have an enjoyable bowl of cereal by iPhone light or to have a miserable cereal dinner by iPhone light. I’m learning to go with the flow. Secondly, lack of technology forces me to look around and remember all the other thing I can do! Reading, games, art… sometimes it’s good to take away the digital options! Also, the power outages bring us together. We all open our doors to let cooler air in, drop in to a neighbor’s apartment to see if we blew a fuse or if the power is out everywhere, and stop to have conversations.
2. Fewer options in the grocery store.
Personally, I like this because it make shopping quicker. With fewer brands and options, I can pick choose what I need and move on. It also makes my cooking more basic and my cupboards less crowded. I know what my staples are, I know what they ought to cost, and I know what I can make from them. Easy.
3. The water goes out now and then
Honestly, I really don’t like this. It’s gross to have dirty dishes pile up in the sink. It has, however, taught me to prepare and have a few jugs of water in case of emergency. Also, it makes me grateful for having running water at all. It makes me respect people who don’t have running water and work hard to make life work without it.
4. Language barrier
I interact daily with people who speak English, French, Dutch, Spanish, and/or Mandarin. Most people here speak enough English that I can communicate with them. My biggest struggle, honestly, is the heavily-accented Caribbean English that many people use. It’s terrible, but I struggle to understand foreign accents. It’s embarrassing. I have so many uncomfortable moments in buses and at stores! I’m grateful for this, though. It teaches me to go out of my comfort zone and learn to communicate. It forces me to assimilate my ears to local speech. Someday, when I move to a country without much English, I’ll be forced to learn to communicate on a whole new level. The result of this will be learning a new language. And that, of course, is a wonderful thing!
5. Transportation issues
We have decided to live here without a car. I am so grateful for my friends who have cars and take me to the store and everywhere else I go! Besides those who let me grab a ride, my only other option is a bus. We live in Cupecoy, an area with mostly resorts and dining and few locals. Therefore, the taxis come often but the buses are unpredictable. If I want to go somewhere by myself, my options are to wait as long as it takes for a bus to come or walk a mile through a golf course along the road to Maho, where buses come more often. I usually choose the golf course. Once on the bus, getting somewhere is not too bad. I did have a bus driver make me get out in the middle of traffic and then holler at me for not standing in the middle of the road to close the door. Other than that, it’s been alright. Certainly less convenient than having my own car. But in many ways, it’s better. First of all, I get to spend time with my friends when we carpool. I love that. Secondly, when I bus it, I get to be a part of normal life on the island. I meet people I’d otherwise never meet. I get to talk to the bus driver and hear his or her story. I get to learn island etiquette better. Want to be a local and not a long-term tourist? Take the bus.
6. Frustrating cultural nuances
I took a few intercultural courses in undergrad. I remember that we once played a game representing a foreigner in a new culture. We were told some of the rules, but not all of them. We had to figure out the rest based on the behavior and reactions of the players who knew all the rules. That really is what it’s like when you live in a foreign culture. People tell you the obvious differences, but not the more subtle ones. You can let this drive you nuts or you can treat it like a puzzle to be solved. In the process, you’ll get some weird looks, maybe even some dirty looks, but you’ll also build relationships. Come in as a learner, with smiles and shrugs and apologies, and people will often be willing to laugh with you and help you learn. Expand your comfort zone! Step out into new boundaries, and enjoy making those mistakes and earning those little cultural victories. In Sint Maarten, locals greet each other formally with “good morning” or “good afternoon” as soon as they enter a new place. It has (finally) become a habit for me, and I’ve had great conversations with the local employees at AUC and people around town because I’m more capable of communicating respect the way they do.
Just because you seem to have absolutely nothing in common with another person doesn’t mean you can’t learn to relate to them. Widening your definition of what it means to connect with another person allows more people into your life. Diversity is a good thing! Expand your horizons. One thing I love about living here is that most of my acquaintances are from vastly different backgrounds than my own. I can learn so much.
8. That whole confusing English-metric conversion problem
Thanks, America, for having a complicated measurement system that is entirely different from the rest of the world! I’m still not sure this is actually a benefit. And I do love my dual-system measuring cup. However, I think I will be forced into learning how to operate in either system– and maybe even be able to do rough conversions in my head.
9. It’s not as safe
During my rather limited international travel experiences, people in the U.S. have often fretted to me, “But it’s not safe!” “Africa is not safe!” “What if you get malaria?” “Why would you move out of the country? Isn’t that unsafe?” Even, “Be careful of those Islams over there.” I know they mean well but… really? This American obsession with safety is why schools have to have a specific number of inches between the wood chips and the seat of a swing or risk being written up by a safety inspector. To be honest, I’m not too worried about foreign diseases, all my Muslim friends and acquaintances are pretty cool people, and sometimes “safe” is boring. Why else do people jump out of airplanes for fun? I think the biggest thing here is redefining “safe.” In the U.S., we work so hard to stay safe and secure– we probably tend to go overboard, actually. Even so, the U.S. isn’t really safe. I grew up in the city with the highest national percentage of kidnappings per capita. We have all heard the tragic news about recent school shootings across the country. And some freak on the I-10 spent the better part of September lodging bullets in other peoples’ cars. Now, I live in a the region of the world with second-highest AIDS rate. There is a bar down the street where someone got stabbed last year. Muggings sometimes happen on the golf course at night. Also, all weapons are illegal on the Dutch side of the island, so I can’t even carry mace or a pocket knife to defend myself. That makes me feel uncomfortable. Is it safe? No, but neither is Phoenix.
I realize that many places in the world are extremely dangerous. There are places with rampant disease, war, religious radicals on extremist jihad, and many other dangers. There are places you would not bring your children to live. There are places it is not wise for many of us to go. I think that there are times, however, that we just have to place our lives in God’s hands and follow Him wherever He asks us to go. For some of us, part of the process of trusting Him is putting ourselves in a place that frightens us. What would the world look like had the Pilgrims, David Livingstone, Florence Nightingale, or St. Patrick been afraid to go where it was unsafe? Where would we be without the men and women in the armed forces who are willing to leave their homes to keep our nation secure? Stepping out a place of security helps us to redefine our priorities in life and to destroy unnecessary fear.
Whether you’re in Sint Maarten battling with a bad attitude about the electricity, in North Africa risking it all to help others, or in the United States stepping out of your comfort zone to engage your neighbor from a different culture, we all have something to learn from our circumstances. Whether you’re living at home or abroad, don’t take the little things for granted. Everything that comes our way can shape who we are.
If you are looking for a nice place to stay on your Sint Maarten vacation, be sure to think about Sonesta Resort in Maho. This weekend, I had the opportunity to babysit there for an American University of the Caribbean employee. The resort is both adult and kid-friendly, with great things to do for all ages. The kids especially enjoyed Sonesta’s giant pool and the kids’ club room! I liked the view of Maho beach from the dining patio.
Somesta is an all-inclusive resort, and offers both day passes and overnight stays. Let me give you a tour of the resort!
Welcome to Sonesta! Your five-minute drive from Princess Juliana Airport takes you past Maho beach to this resort at the entrance to Maho. The first thing you see as you enter is the spacious lobby. Even before you leave the lobby, there is so much to do! The lobby contains a computer area, a casino, a shelf of books, shopping, a grand piano, a ping-pong table and several board games.
If you take an elevator up, you can enjoy the Sonesta Spa, where you can get a nice massage. Of course, I did not do this, but I imagine that it is a good way to relax. Also up the elevator are ten floors of rooms. The rooms are comfortable and roomy.
The best part of the resort, in my opinion, is outside. The pool is amazing! It is at least twice as large as most pools and has a quaint bridge crossing from one side to the other. Sometimes, there is a waterfall over the pool. At one end is a swim-up bar that serves alcohol as well as non-alcoholic drinks. One of the kids ordered a nonalcoholic pina colada that looked delicious.
In addition to the pool, the resort also has a beach entry. Like all of Sint Maarten beaches, it has gorgeous white sand and crystal-clear water.
You can enjoy this view from either the bar or the dining area. The buffet spread for each meal is amazing. Entrees, fruit juice, sides, delectable desserts– yummy! To my great amusement, one the kids came back from the buffet with just a roll and butter. Sometimes there is such a thing as a little too much variety, I guess. One of the cool things about this patio is that you can watch the planes land and take off from Princess Juliana Airport. Maho Beach, just across the bay, is famous for the planes that fly low overhead and blast beach-goers with sand.
There are plenty just-for-kids things to do here, too! Outside is a rainbow jungle-gym for kids to get out their wiggles while parents enjoy the ocean view.
Inside is the Maho Bungalow Kids’ Club. This is a childcare area that is a lot of fun for the kiddos! There is an indoor playground, movies, video games, a giant-sized Connect Four, and organized activities. Eduardo and the rest of the team do a great job keeping kids entertained and safe from 10:00 am-5:00 pm while parents conduct business or enjoy what Maho has to offer. Sometimes they have weekend night pajama parties from 7:30-9:00 pm.
Historically, the AUC spouses organization takes a day trip to Sonesta to celebrate the fifth semester spouses last week in Sint Maarten. I’m looking forward to returning to Sonesta! Maybe Ben and I will even have a “daycation” there after block exams sometime.
The Island of Sint Maarten is home to many exotic plants and animals. From the coconut palms, to the brilliant fish, to the dozens of lizard varieties, to the flowers, Sint Maarten/Saint Martin’s wildlife is one if its biggest tourist attractions.
The iguanas are by far my favorite Sint Maarten land animal. They are brilliantly colored, they are gigantic, and they let you get pretty close to them in some areas of the island. They also run comically and it’s entertaining to watch them scurry away and leap into the nearest body of water if they become frightened. I wish I could take one home to the U.S.as a pet when we leave!
This snail was moseying around our apartment one night when I caught it on camera. I would have caught it in a different way if I had realized what it was. This is one of the Caribbean’s most viciously destructive invasive species: the giant African land snail. It is wreaking havoc on our islands and causing concern among environmentalists. Quite an impressive feat for such a slow-moving animal!
Pardon the fuzzy image below. I think this is a mud crab. He was pretty skittish, so I couldn’t get as good a look at him as I would have liked. This critter’s body was a good six inches long! I found him on the driveway into a friend’s apartment complex. He was intimidating enough to cause uneasiness in one of the residents, who was hesitant to try to get past the crab on his way home.
What I found on my front porch was a little more exciting and definitely less awesome. This centipede was about four inches long. I started screeching when I saw it, and it scurried away, trying to find refuge in our neighbor’s apartment. I wonder what our neighbor thought about the racket outside as I hollered at Ben to get the bleach and kill it, and then danced around shrieking when the dying centipede writhed and wiggled much too close to my feet! And yet I still thought it was worth it to get close enough to take a photo.
As long as I am talking about land animals, I certainly cannot neglect to mention the cows. This cow blocked traffic for a few minutes on our way back from Philipsburg one day. We don’t have any cows on the western arm of the island, but up the hills there are quite a few of them.
These are just a few of the animals living on the island of Sint Maarten. Hopefully, my camera and I will find some more animals to share with you later!
One of the things that I find most entertaining is Chinese-English translation fails. Zero judgment on the people who created these interesting translations– regardless of how grammatically incorrect the translations may be, the translators still speak a foreign language way better then I do! I have huge respect for any Mandarin-speaking person who can learn English and vice-versa. Still, these phrases are pretty funny. The Chinese market next door to our apartment complex carries plenty of plastic imports that make shopping a little more fun. Here are a few:
The Wonderful Life plastic food container. I’m not sure if it’s trying to remind me that my life is wonderful, so I should be happy, or if being happy every day makes life wonderful.
“Happy diary. If you often have smiles on your face good lucks will naturally come to you.”
Matching the positive thinking of Wonderful Life food container is the happy diary. Maybe you can only write positive things in this book. On one page record what makes you happy, and on the opposite write all the naturally occurring “good lucks” in your life. If you think about it, this actually makes sense. I’ll bet that if I wrote down all the happy things in my life and smiled more often, I’d quickly recognize how blessed I am.
The Huahu pitcher!
“Huahu daily-used will become us living of a part, let’s enjoy living for every day.”
I don’t know what “huahu” is, and the rest of the poem doesn’t make much sense, either.
Cookie bear tub
“Cookie bear, Baby happy baby, I want.”
Does the bear want a cookie? Or does it want a baby? Or does the baby want a bear or a cookie? Or is it a baby bear wanting a cookie?
Mini desktop drawers. There are three drawers in this set, and every one of them has the exact same poem:
“Flowers of Happiness. Flowers, dreams can’t answer. Where has, The only way to obtain happiness, boy and girl, wandering in the world, no matter is the numerous hills and streams.”
Toilet soap. Not really for toilets.
Notebook- “There is something better in writing.”
Is it trying to remind me that there are a whole lot of writers out there who are better than I am? Or just that writing is better than not writing? I don’t know whether to feel insecure or encouraged.
That’s all for now, folks! “There is something better in writing” coming in future posts. Stay tuned and please subscribe!