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Things to Do in Saint Martin with Kids

There is so much to do in Saint Martin/Sint Maarten! Go beyond the beaches and explore some of SXM’s kid-friendly activities. Discover ruins, fly through a rain forest, or feel the whisper of a butterfly’s wings. Make your time on Saint Martin the best family vacation ever!

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The Zoo may not be as large or as varied as animal parks in big cities, but it is the perfect size to see with kids in an afternoon. Learn about endemic animals as well as exotic species.

How to get there: Drive to Pond Road in Philipsburg and go north on the Saltpicker’s Roundabout. Turn left at the end of Pond Island and follow the signs.

Cost: $10 for adults and $5 for children

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The Butterfly Farm is a magical place for kids. Walk through a butterfly enclosure and let the papillons softly land on you. Learn about different types of butterflies and moths.

How to get there: Drive toward Galion Beach on the east side of the island. Take the turnoff to Galion Beach, and the farm is on your right.

Cost: $14 for adults, $7 for children

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Loterie Farm has something for everyone. Located on the grounds of an old sugar plantation, this site is loaded with both history and modern outdoor entertainment. You can take the nature hike, relax by the state-of-the-art pool, or try one of the three zip lines: the kids’ Tarzan zip line, the ropes course zip line, or (for the very adventurous), the extreme course. Keep an eye out– you may see the resident vervet monkeys! The park is closed on Mondays.

How to get there: Go north from Marigot and turn left at the “Pic Paradis” sign. The park is on your right.

Cost: 5 Euros for the hike, 25 Euros for the kids’ zip line, 45 Euros and 65 Euros for the medium and extreme zip lines. Pool chair a towel is 25 Euros up, and is required for pool entrance. The park takes US dollars as well.

Buffalo Wild Wings has a fun kids’ area at the Blue Mall in Cupecoy. I haven’t been there personally, but I hear that it’s a favorite with the expat kids.

How to get there: Blue Mall is located west of Maho in near Cupecoy Beach.

Cost: Price of food

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Seaside Nature Park is a little slice of farmland heaven. You can ride horses on the beach, play on the playground, or feed the animals at the petting zoo. The park also has a playground and a trampoline!

How to get there: From Maho, go through Simpson Bay to Cole BayTurn right just before Daily Extra Supermarket, and take a left at the end of the road (From Philipsburg, turn left when you come down the hill to Cole Bay Go through the one-way street, turn left, and then go right before Daily Extra Supermarket). You have to drive through the GEBE power plant, which seems odd, but you are going the right way!

Cost: $60 for a an hour trail ride on the horses. Petting zoo is $5 per adult and $3 per child. Bags of feed are $1 each.

Feeding the Donkey and Horses in French Cul-de-Sac is a great free activity to do on your way to the beach or Pinel Island.

How to get there: From Marigot, go north until you find the round-a-bout toward Pinel Island in French Cul-de-Sac. Turn left at the school and then follow the road past the school and up the hill to the donkeys and horses.

Cost: Free!

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Carousel is our favorite ice cream store. Not only does this place offer delicious ice cream and cotton candy, it also has a full-sized carousel in the back!

How to get there: Located in Simpson Bay

Cost: $3+ for ice cream. Carousel ride is free with purchase on Wednesdays.

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Sonesta Kids Zone is a great place to drop off your kids while you relax at the pool. The awesome staff will take care of your kids with games, movies, and fun while you get a break.

How to get there: In Maho. you can’t miss it.

Cost: In order to visit the Kid’s Zone, you have to either stay at Sonesta or purchase an all-inclusive day pass, which is about $90/person for adults.

The Movie Theater is perfect for those days when your beach plans got rained out. Tickets are actually cheaper than most U.S. theaters.

How to get there: Located in Simpson Bay

Cost: $7

Free Outdoor Movie on Mondays at Porto Cupecoy is a fun way to end the day. Just be sure to check the exact time, as they often change it, and ask ahead of time for the title and rating of the movie. Sometimes it’s a family movie, and other times it’s an adult movie. You can buy popcorn and ice cream at Rendezvous.

How to get there: Drive west from Maho and Cupecoy or south from Marigot.

Cost: Free!

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Free Kids’ Movie Night at Kim Sha Beach is a good Friday night activity. Adults can also enjoy the food and drink selection at Buccaneer Beach Bar.

How to get there: Coming from the airport, drive through Simpson Bay and turn right after Burger King. Park at Buccaneer Beach Bar.

Cost: Free!

Layla’s Restaurant and Play Ground is one of the few jungle gyms on the island. Enjoy the French Caribbean and let your little monkeys play the day away.

How to get there: Coming from Marigot, go southwest to the “handle” of the island. After Sandyground, you’ll see Layla’s on the right.

Cost: Price of food

Coconut Trees Go Karting is great for older kids and teens. Enjoy some healthy competition and adrenaline!

How to get there: Located in La Savane.

Cost: $15

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Feeding Fish in Simpson Bay Lagoon is always fun! You can feed the big tarpon from the Simpson Bay bridge, or you head over the north side of the Causeway and feed the fish by the sunken sailboat.

How to get there: The bridge is the best place, but you can go almost anywhere!

Cost: Free!

Aquamania Playstation is basically a floating playground! It’s a jungle gym on a boat. All the monkey bars, swings, and slides with none of the bruised and scraped knees.

How to get there: In Simpson Bay, park at the beach lot east of the bridge. Walk south on the beach to Aquamania on Kim Sha Beach.

Cost: $10 and up

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Port Marigot Fish Market and Farmer’s Market is lots of  fun for the whole family. The fish market is a good way to view sea creatures without getting wet. Take your kids around 8 or 9 in the morning to get the best peek at all the fish and lobsters. The open-air farmer’s market is open almost daily to greet visitors fresh off the boat. Find lovely local art, cheap souvenirs, and fresh produce. Oh, and don’t forget to get a fresh coconut with a straw from the coconut man!

How to get there: Located on the waterfront road in Marigot.

Cost: Free!

Fort Louis and Fort Amsterdam are two of Saint Martin’s oldest structures. Fort Louis is an easy hike up a few flight of stairs and offers a stunning view of the surrounding area. Fort Amsterdam is a short walk up a slope. In addition to having a beautiful ocean view, this fort is also the site of a pelican nesting ground. Be sure to keep an eye on your little ones– both forts have a steep drop.

How to get there: Fort Louis is located in Marigot. You can’t miss it. Park in town and walk up, or take the back road to park near the top of the hill. For Amsterdam is just southwest of Philipsburg. Approach Divi Little Bay Resort from Philipsburg (or use the Sonesta to make a u-turn if coming from Cole Bay) and make a left into Divi’s road. Park before the gate and let the guards know where you’re going. Walk to the far end of the resort until you hit the fort.

Cost: Free!

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Beaches are, of course, the most popular family activity on Saint Martin. The best beaches for kids are Friar’s Bay, Pinel Island, Simpson Bay Beach, Indigo Bay, and Galion Beach, Kim Sha Beach, Divi Little Bay Beach.

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Caribbean Zoo with Kids

One bird.

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Two birds.

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Red bird.

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Blue bird.

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These colorful birds are just a sample of the animals at Sint Maarten’s zoo. Although the zoo is small, it has more than enough animals to delight anyone. There is a lot that makes this place special. One of those special things is that much of the zoo consists of endemic animals.

Endemic [en-dem-ik]  (Adjective):

“Belonging exclusively or confined to a particular place.”

This morning, Les Fruits de Mer, an organization dedicated to preserving and educating about the islands natural environment, hosted the Endemic Animal Festival at the zoo! The zoo was open to the public for free for three hours. I’ve been wanting to take some of the kids from our little league team to the zoo for a while now, so I was happy when Coach Tom asked for volunteers to drive the kids from the baseball field to the event.

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There is nothing quite like exploring the zoo through the eyes of a child. I love to see toucans, but even more, I love seeing little eyes light up when they see toucans.

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The Endemic Animal Festival was awesome. There were several activities for the kids: little jars of shrimp to examine, a checklist of animals separated in endemic and non-endemic categories, sidewalk chalk, and coloring. Anilda loved the coloring and crafts! I was impressed with the volunteers. They were so sweet with the kids, attentive to them, and made learning about the animals fun.

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The boys explored the zoo while Anilda colored. We caught up with them later, and here are a few of the things we saw:

Some of the boys were particularly interested in the snakes. Sint Maarten doesn’t have any snakes in wild, because European settlers released mongooses to kill them off. I tried to get a picture of the zoo’s mongoose, but it made a wicked fang face at me and hid in the shadows. Although the wild has no snakes, the zoo has a nice collection. Gabby was fascinated by a small snake that some of the volunteers and zoo staff were holding. They even let Gabby hold it for a minute!

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A few hours after the event, Ben and I went exploring on Green Cay. We saw an Anguilla bank anole lizard, and Ben pointed it out to me. “That’s an endemic animal,” he informed me. I guess everyone learned something new today! What wonderful memories.

A Gem in the Prickliest of Places

My top fears? Finding a dead person in a public restroom, centipedes, and stepping on a sea urchin.

Some say it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Whether or not she coined the saying, I believe that it’s a good one to live by. I don’t think it means that we should always do dangerous or ridiculous things. I think that it means we should slowly widen our comfort zone, one baby step at a time. When we first moved to the Caribbean, I was terrified of sharks. Irrationally so, especially since there has been no shark attack in Sint Maarten for about thirty years. I was shaking during our first snorkel expeditions. Soon, I was able to go further and deeper and enjoy it more. Now, I can happily surf offshore for hours with barely a thought in the back of my mind.

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Sea urchins still plague me, though. Ben got some spines in his feet during a tropical storm, when the urchins were washed onto the beach. My friend Jay got a massive urchin sting from barely brushing up against one while floating in a tide pool. The last thing I want is to be stabbed AND stung at the same time!

 

On Ben’s first day of break from medial school, we decided to explore a few little-known cays off the coast of Le Galion beach. This place is hard to find, but it’s amazing. In the winter, you can watch wales migrate from viewing towers. Year round, you can walk or snorkel to small cays in the shallow water.

Walking through the water to the first couple cays was easy. But the path to the last cay was slightly terrifying. We began to the slow trek through the rocky water, avoiding the little spiky balls of evil that dotted the sandy ocean floor. The water was only about ankle-deep, but the waves breaking on the nearby rock barrier sometimes spilled violently over into the shallow zone, roughening the water and obscuring our view of the rocks, shells, and urchins below. Slowly, we picked our way through the obstacle course. I prayed that I wouldn’t feel a needle-sharp spike shoot through the soft soles of my flip-flops. Why didn’t I wear water shoes?

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About halfway across, I couldn’t find a good place to set my foot. I searched carefully beneath the ripples, trying to find a clear spot. All I could see, for yards around, was the minefield of sea urchins. I could hardly breathe for a moment. My whole body froze. So this is what it means to be frozen with fear, I thought, How silly. I guess I can get out of this the same way I got into it. Still, I had an awful vision of slipping on a mossy rock and landing prone on the urchin-covered rocks. Ben stopped picking his way through the water and looked back at me to make sure I was OK. I looked at him, then back at the water. The red centers of the small black urchins glared at me from between the rocks, like wicked red eyes. “I don’t think I can do this,” I said, “There’s literally nowhere to walk.” Ben waded slowly back to me, watching his steps carefully. “Get on my back,” he said, “I’ll carry you.” He turned, and I jumped, clinging to his neck for dear life. He cautiously moved through the rocks, the thick rubber soles of his shoes protecting him from the smaller spikes.

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Before long, we reached the island, and Ben deposited me on the dry rocks. We had made it! And it was so worth it. The small island offered a gorgeous view of Saint Martin. Waves beat against the rock on one side, and a brilliant blue tide pool calmly beckoned on the other. A magical, lonely, unspoiled place.

 

Often, the places most worth going have a scary path. You have to face your fears and step out into an uncertain place to get to the solid mountaintops and peaceful tide pools of life. But you don’t have to do it alone. We need each other to face our fears and support one another. Don’t live in your comfort zone! Get out and do something that scares you, and don’t be ashamed to take a friend along.

 

 

Spring Break!

The best thing about being a teacher is being a grown-up and STILL getting spring break. I’m not in education anymore, but my friend Ally is, and she decided to spend her spring break on the island with me!

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Those of you who are also expats know just how wonderful it is to hear from friends back home. You also know that it’s a hundred times more wonderful to have them come visit you!

I spent the days she was here showing her all the best parts of the island. If you have a few days on the island and don’t know what activities to choose, these are the things to do.

We managed to hit seven of Saint Martin’s 37 beaches in four days:

Airplanes at Maho Beach, SXM’s best-known tourist attraction.

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We relaxed on Mullet Bay Beach.

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Indigo Bay Beach is beautiful. Kito wasn’t too sure about the waves.

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We decided to be ‘Mericans and get McDonald’s ice cream at Great Bay Beach in Philipsburg.

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Plum Bay Beach had impressive waves the day we went. We tried to get a Little Mermaid-style splash photo…

We also went to Kimsha beach and Long Beach for a few minutes, but didn’t stop to take photos.

Naturally, we had to take advantage of the clear water at Mullet Bay and go snorkeling.

We spent some time in both of the island’s capitols, too.

Philipsburg is the Dutch capitol. Jack Sparrow apparently lives there.

Marigot is the French capitol. We visited Roland Richardson’s art gallery, Fort Louis, an open-air market, and my favorite French bakery, Sarafina’s.

Stacey and I also took her to Fort Amsterdam and Pic Paradis, the highest point on the island.

Of course, the week went far too fast. But it left us with many new friend memories!

No matter how far away you move, some friendships will never feel the distance.

Flying Like Tarzan

I have always thought that being high above the ground is one of the most exhilarating feelings in the world. I was the kid who climbed up so high in the trees that the branches were almost too thin to hold me. One of my top bucket list items is to jump out of an airplane.

Naturally, when we found out that there is an epic zip-line on our island, I was excited to try it out! Both Ben and I had been waiting all semester for a chance to try it out. We finally went with my family when they came to visit over Christmas. IMG_2882

The scariest thing about the zipline is the amount of freedom you get. There’s a quick training at the beginning and people along the way to make sure you know what you’re doing, but you get to strap and unstrap your own harness to the  cables and go as fast as you want. In the U.S., they make you sign your life away and still have extra safety straps and all sorts of things to make sure you don’t stub your toe and sue them. Here, you can’t really sue anyone. So you get the extra freedom and less assurance of a pain-free experience.

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I’ll take the freedom any day.

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That’s one thing I love about Saint Martin: fewer guardrails. You can climb all over Fort Amsterdam and practically hang off the cliff, if you want to. They don’t care if you touch the 300-year-old walls and they assume you’ll be smart enough to not walk off the edge.

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It adds a little more adventure to life.

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Two Girls Downtown

Sand and sun, tanzanite, johnny cakes and chapels. Downtown Philipsburg is as eclectic and international as you could ask. Philipsburg is the capitol of Dutch Sint Maarten, and its narrow streets hold a mixture of history and modern trends. Alyssa and I took an afternoon to explore this mix of past and present.

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Visitors to Sint Maarten often arrive by cruise ship. The first thing these tourists see is the Boardwalk, which is a sunny strip of sidewalk that borders Great Bay beach.

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Philipsburg was founded by a Dutch Navy captain named John Philips in 1763. Until the 1950’s, this area was relatively quiet, as far as tourism goes. At one time, it contained Sint Maarten’s only port, and saw just a handful of large boats each year. Later, as the island’s tourist industry expanded after World War II, bigger piers were built to accommodate cruise ships. It became one of the Caribbean’s busiest ports, and today thousands of vacationers stream off the gangways each week.

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The Saint Martin of Tours Catholic Church is located on the Boardwalk. The St. Martin of Tours Parish is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year! The church was named after the island’s own namesake, a 4th-century bishop whose feast day is November 11. When Christopher Columbus “discovered” Saint Martin on November 11, 1493, he named the island in honor of Saint Martin’s feat day. Naturally, the island’s  first Catholic church was also named after this saint.

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The Boardwalk holds many lovely surprises, like the reggae band we found and the little open-air restaurant where we stopped for icees.

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Iced drinks are the perfect refreshment on a warm February day in the tropics.

 

 

For many, the Sint Maarten experience stops here, on the edge of the aquamarine bay with a beach chair and a bottle of Heineken. But there’s so much more to downtown than just the boardwalk! Take a quick stroll down any one of the alleys leading to Front Street, and you’ll enter a whole new layer of the tourism district.

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Front Street is a wonderful place to shop if you’re not into paying sales tax and don’t mind dropping a good bit of cash of fancy goods. It’s also a good place to get a snack from local street cart vendors.

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Apparently, it’s also the perfect street for walking your pet iguana.

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The man who photobombed this picture was a pretty good salesperson. He caught our attention by jumping into this shot, and then managed to convince us to sample his wares. The face cream was nice, but neither of us were willing to pay $120 for it!

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The Sint Maarten courthouse is the most recognizable building on the island. It’s even featured on the country’s flag. It was built in 1793 and still serves as the courthouse.

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Front street is also home to a beautiful Methodist church. We stopped to take a look inside. This building was the first Methodist church on Sint Maarten. It was built in 1851, about century after the Methodist denomination was introduced to the West Indies by Nathaniel Green.

Beyond Front Street is (you guessed it) Back Street. There are many paths to Back Street, but my favorite is Old Street.

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Old Street isn’t really that much different from the rest of downtown, but it does have a certain charm about it. Maybe it’s the 50’s-era car permanently parked in the middle of the walkway, maybe it’s the big blue castle at the end of the street.

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My personal favorite place on Old Street is the art gallery. The family who owns it came here recently from Holland. The wife creates beautiful and unique art for her gallery and teaches art classes on the weekends. Her husband has a windsurf business at Le Galion Bay. His most recent work of art, he told me, is a crayon drawing of Winnie-The-Pooh.

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Back Street is for the locals. The prices here are significantly lower than those on Front Street, and you can find anything from Nike shoes to a washing machine in the stores. The look of Back Street is unique– huge stores sell appliances, old Dutch homes buzz with modern life, and local art covers the walls.

Cannegieter Street, or Third Street, as some people call it, comes next. Every day that a cruise ship docks at the port, Philipsburg Market is open. Dozens of vendors sell their goods along both sides of the road. Shoppers can buy all kinds of islandy things here. The crocheted cover-ups are my favorite.

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Pondfill Road comes last. This street is part of the main road that travels the perimeter of the island. Pondfill also runs along the Salt Pond, where slaves used to harvest salt for their masters. Salt slavery on Sint Maarten began in the 17th century. In 1848, slavery was abolished on the French side of the island, and subsequently Dutch slaves began to escape across the border for their freedom. Because of this, Dutch slave masters released their slaves and began to pay them wages for their work in 1848, although it would be 15 years before emancipation was officially legislated. There is now a monument to the salt slaves in the center of the round-a-bout on Pondfill Road. I took the picture below on Sint Maarten’s Day, when paraders marched down Pondfill dressed as salt pickers.

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As you can see, downtown Philipsburg is more than a place to tan or shop. It is the center of Sint Maarten’s history. There is so much to do and see here, but you have to go beyond the tourist district to see it all! Wherever you are, get out and go exploring. Happy adventures!

 

Some photos courtesy of Alyssa Fry. Visit her blog at ColorMeYellow.net

 

 

 

A Day with the Coast Guard

One of the most important jobs in the Caribbean is that of the Coast Guard. These brave men and women are ultimately responsible for the safety and security of the islands. They are often an unseen presence, but Ben, Stacey, Turner and I had a chance to meet them up close during an event this week.

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Protecting Caribbean waters is an international effort. There are four primary countries that protect Saint Martin: Netherlands/ St. Maarten, France, Great Britain, and the United States. We had a chance to explore a boat from each of these nations and talk to the crew.

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This is the Poema, a Dutch ship outfitted to stay at sea for two weeks at a time. We thought the gun at the front of the ship was pretty snazzy. Not something you’d want to have pointed at you!

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I never realized how many knobs and buttons it takes to drive a military vessel. The more I learn about the military, the more I respect and appreciate them. You can see one of the ship’s officers through the window, giving a tour and answering questions.

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Jay and Sandy gave the Poema additional cool points just by stepping on board. Sandy is a classmate of Ben’s at American University of the Caribbean. We stopped to say hey before making our way to the next vessel.

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The biggest boat I’ve ever driven is a canoe. I was happy to sit in the driver’s seat of this police boat, but I’m glad I don’t have to actually steer it.

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After leaving the friendly Nederlanders, we boarded a small floating piece of home.

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We approved of the name.

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As much as I love being an expat, there was something wonderful about seeing the flag of the good old USA. I didn’t realize how much I miss seeing the Stars and Stripes until I stopped for a moment to watch it flutter in the Caribbean breeze.

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Here’s Captain Stacey, ready to embark on the Reef Shark.

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It was nice to stop and talk with some of the American Coast Guard. Expats, no matter their situation, are always eager to talk with someone from the home country. We compared overseas experiences, talked about where we’d been born, and discusses what’s best and worst about the change in location. Suddenly, Arizona and Georgia and Michigan didn’t seem to very far away from each other.

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Turner enjoyed the maps in each boat. Some of them were extremely detailed.

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I had to smile at this quirky hula girl on the dash. She’s a little out of place for a ship stationed in Puerto Rico, but I appreciated the touch of humor in this room of gadgets and gizmos.

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I attempted to quickly attune my ear to French accents after the familiar U.S. drawl of the American officers. The Sualouiga is a fairly large boat, with a massive engine and a larger crew than the vessels we previously toured. What struck me most about the tour was the number of back-up safety features that our guide pointed out to us. Nobody is going to die on this boat!

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Ben admired the wood interior of the control room. He especially liked the classic wheel.

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I wish I could remember how many horsepower this engine has. The boat had two of them, in addition to a couple of large generators. To put the size in perspective, the engine came up to my shoulder. I would have liked to stay longer and look closer, but the engine room was hot and stuffy. We moved on.

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Our next stop was a Sint Maartin rescue boat. It’s a little orange boat suited for choppy seas and quick returns. Everyone on board was relaxing with cool drinks on the hot afternoon, so we took a quick look around, thanked them, and went back to the pier.

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We watched the patrol boats perform crazy maneuvers in the bay.

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What’s a military fair without camo face paint?

We tried shouldering the 100-pound packs the Coast Guard wear to train in. Thy bulletproof vest was heavy enough for me, but Ben and Turner could join the Coast Guard if they wanted to!

Since guns are illegal on the Dutch side of the island, this is the first time any of us have held a firearm in months. They were unloaded, of course.IMG_2183

Our final stop was a huge Dutch ship. We had to wait a bit to go on board, since the commanding officer was preparing to walk down the gangway. It was cool to see the show of military order and respect that accompanied this event.

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The gun at the front of this ship was gigantic. We’ve come a long way since cannons!

 

Ben especially appreciated this helicopter on the ship’s landing pad.

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It’s good to know that our security is in good hands. I’ve always had a lot of respect for US military, but now I have a high regard for Dutch, French, and British military as well. Experiencing the work of international military alliances firsthand is something I’ll always remember. I hope they come together to do this event again next year! It was definitely one of my favorite things that we’ve done on the island so far. Where else can you freely tour and photograph military vessels from four different nations?

The Haunting of La Belle Creole

They have forgotten us. We have faded from memory, like our flesh faded from our bones centuries ago. Yet we are here, invisible yet seeing, inaudible yet hearing, intangible yet sensing. Our spirits laugh with the lapping waves. We cry with the soaring birds. We moan with the wind. And we rage with the storms.

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There was a time when warm blood flowed through our bodies and warm flesh wrapped our bones. We walked on the shore then, cooling our feet in the ancient and everlasting waters. We ran under the tropical sun from shore to shore. Our children dove from the cliffs—how different they looked then!—into the clear waters of the reef. We tasted the sweet meat of the crab and danced in the firelight to the rhythm of the tide.

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Then they came—the strange men with strange words and strange clothing. They were harsh and resolute, and we hated them. They brought with them their vicious dogs, their explosives, and their lust. We grew weak, and our children died with raging heat in their bodies. Our women and men died with boils and scars. We wailed as our loved ones died, and we buried them with broken hearts near the sacred islet. I died, and I lay in the chill earth, away from the warm sunlight.

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They left, and came again, this time with their cannons and ships and slaves. They had already forgotten us, and they walked on our graves. I heard their footsteps on the ground above. They dragged their cannons over our graves and shattered our silence with their wars. They annihilated our peace with the crack of whips on human flesh.

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They left, and others took their place. Generations lived and died. We slept in peace for a hundred years, with only the occasional wanderer to stir us.

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They came. Their machines roared, rattling our bones. They dug over our resting places, and built great structures over our graves. I felt the pressure of a great tower over my body. We groaned under the weight. Many people came from the whole world over, and trod on our sacred tombs. We moaned, but our cries were lost in the wind. Our bloodless beings saw the blush of the new bride. Our bleached bones saw the sun-kissed skin of the happy travelers. We remembered what we had been, and what we had lost. And we remembered that we were forgotten.

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Our moans whirled as wind around the whitewashed walls that had become a monument to our destruction. Our screams filled the air, and our souls ripped from our broken bones. We broke through the sandy earth, through the cracking concrete to the surface. We felt again the humidity of the air. We knew again the roar of the sea. Our tears of rage and loss poured from the heavens, and the rush of our agony ripped through the trees. We stirred the elements and raged from sea to sea, screaming our anger through the darkening sky. We saw them pour from buildings and take flight from our island home. We saw them take cover in every nook and cranny. We saw that they were afraid, and we took our vengeance.

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We tore through the quaint buildings, tearing with invisible claws at the rich furnishings of each room. The sound of shattering glass was lost in the volume of our screams. We threw the books, the paintings, the decorations out of the windows and doors. We destroyed their world, just as they had destroyed ours.

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We satiated our lust for vengeance, and we regarded the havoc we had wreaked. Shredded curtains floated in the gentle breeze. Glass and splinters carpeted the earth. Not a living soul was to be seen.

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Only dead ones.

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We could not return to our graves. We could not penetrate the earth again. So we haunted the empty rooms, weeping in silence. We could not return the decayed flesh to our bodies or our island home to our children. We could only swear to defend the site of our sacred graves to the end of time.

 

These eerie photos are were taken in the ruins of La Belle Creole, a resort that was deserted after it was heavily damaged when Saint Martin was struck by Hurricane Luis in 1995. Local superstition states that the resort was built over an ancient Arawak grave site, which is why no modern building projects have been successful on the peninsula. Of course, I don’t believe in haunting spirits or jinxes, but I found the legend interesting and the ruins creepy enough to warrant a paranormal telling of La Belle Creole’s story. 

This is the Life!

Island jeep, surfboards, tropical French countryside. This is the Caribbean life, and we love living it.

Most days are filled with studying for my husband, Ben and his friend Matt. They work hard at medical school, and were both selected as teacher’s assistants in Anatomy for good grades. Their life mainly consists of flashcards, lectures, and tests. But there are days, the best days, when they have a free afternoon.

This is one of those days. As we usually do when Ben and Matt have a break, we wax down our surfboards and get ready to ride the waves.

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We’re rolling down the road with the Caribbean trade winds tousling our hair. Matt’s new (make that old– really, really old) jeep is topless, and I’m amazed to realize how much more I notice without walls and windows to restrict my view of the sights around me. I’m feeling a little squished in the back seat with the surfboards taking up most of the space, but there’s no way to feel claustrophobic in this open jeep. I cling to the side for dear life and lean out of the car a little, enjoying the breeze and the floral scents around me. I jump back a little as a motorcyclist, breaking the world record for the longest wheelie ever held, goes zipping by us on the center line.

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I look behind me, where the wall of foaming water is raging toward me. I feel a little vulnerable way out here in the middle of the water on my board, but my nervousness turns to adrenaline as I face front and paddle like a maniac. I feel the foam first, hear the roar of energized water, and then I’m shooting forward like a rocket. I gather my wits and push myself up to my feet. I balance myself and smile. The reef below me seems to rush below my board. The wave slows suddenly, and the board drops away beneath my feet. I’m plunged into the warm tropical waters below, and I come up coughing and gasping and ready for more.

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I’m in the back seat of the jeep again. It’s a terrifying yet exhilarating experience, sitting in this little island car with no seat belt and barely any seat, for that matter. But I love it. Up the road we go– people, houses, and animals seem to fly by. Ben and Matt joke that driving here is like a video game; you have to dodge the pedestrians, potholes, cars and animals that jump out in front of you at every turn. I watch as the scenery around us changes. We go through the hills, where the goats and cows chew lazily, watching the flurry of human activity on the road. We go past little houses, painted powder blue and pink with neat, white trim. We zip through Grand Case, where women in bright dresses and men with dreads chat in French on the porches of stores and cafes. We crawl through the traffic of Marigot, inching past quaint 19th-century storefronts. Ahead, we’ll pass the oceanfront neighborhoods of the rich and famous.

I bite into the heavenly sweetness of a peach brioche. Stopping at Seraphina’s, our favorite French patisserie, is a surf day tradition for the three of us. Ben and Matt opted for chocolate twists, their usual favorite. We watch the boats on Marigot’s docks bob up and down in the water. In the distance, Anguilla’s long coastline hides the horizon, where the sun will soon set on our afternoon of freedom.

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Yo Hablo un Poco Español

Yo hablo un poco Español. Imagine me saying that in a very bad Mexican/American accent, and you will hear the best of my Spanish. Actually, I’m not sure if the grammar is even correct (perhaps someone can enlighten me in the comments). Sometimes I try “Yo hablo poquito Español,” but either way I am met with chuckles and amused smiles. Not sure if it’s the white girl accent or if I’m just saying everything wrong.

You’d think that I would have learned Spanish just by living near the Arizona-Mexico border, working with Spanish-speaking people, and going to Mexico a dozen times. Nope. Living in Phoenix taught me enough Spanish to pronounce “gila,” “agua,” and “cholla” correctly and navigate my way through Food City.  Unfortunately, the people I asked to help me learn mostly liked to teach me insults and laugh when I asked someone to “give me the hooker” when I wanted lettuce. Thanks, guys.  Muchas Gracias.

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Me in 2007 with my dad and friends in Mexico, not knowing Spanish

 

 

Fortunately, my Spanish has been steadily improving since I moved to the island. On the plane ride here, I set next to a Puerto Rican lady for a few hours. I used all the power of my jet-lagged brain to recall the words I learned in Spanish 101. Her English was even worse than my Spanish, and we got along just fine. Through Spanglish plus hand gestures, we had a conversation about how to avoid pickpockets in San Juan. I understood enough to be glad I was catching a connection to Sint Maarten!

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San Juan

 

Since I’ve been here, I’ve been practicing on the Duo Lingo app and watching lots of Spanish movies. There are a few Spanish-speaking kids in the group I tutor, so while I teach them English, they teach me Spanish. They learn a lot faster than I do. Some of them learned conversational English in a month, and I’m just over here struggling with Spanish adverbs. I told them they must just be smarter than me. They laugh. And then they correct my Mexican accent.

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Teaching as a Learner

There comes a moment in language learning when you realize that you’ve made a major breakthrough. Those moments are some of the best moments of life. It’s kind of like the moment you find out you’re hired or that you won the scholarship. That moment came for me a few days before Christmas when Ben turned the radio to a Christian Spanish station. We were tired, and we just listen to it in silence as we drove. Suddenly it hit me: I could totally understand everything the speaker was saying. I almost jumped right out of my seat, I was so excited. I could understand!

Don’t ever, ever, ever give up on the things that you want to do. Even if they don’t come easily to you.

I’m still struggling with adverbs, and I still don’t know whether I should pronounce “ll” the Mexican way or the Caribbean way. I still can’t speak or hear it as well as I read it. But I’m making progress, and it’s encouraging. Trilingualism, here I come!