Tag Archives: American University of the Caribbean

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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Saying Goodbye, Caribbean Style

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American University of the Caribbean knows how to say goodbye in style. Dr. Testa, the senior associate dean, is moving on to a new place and a new position. So, the school threw him a tropical party for the staff and students to enjoy!

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The funniest part of the celebration was the Dean Testa bobble-heads that faculty members auctioned off. The best part was the yummy food. There were so many things to taste! Fruit juice, ice cream from Carousel, fresh fruit, coconuts… yes please!

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One of the tables was made to look like a traditional Caribbean dress, complete with someone wearing it.

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We managed to get one of the last coconuts from the coconut man.

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To top it off, a local youth drumming group came and played a few songs. It doesn’t get better than tropical fruit and steel drums! Happy trails, Dr. Testa.

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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.

 

 

105 Boats

One hundred five. That’s how many boats I could see from the balcony this morning as contestants from the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta began their race around the island.

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The Regatta is a huge deal for us islanders. It’s the biggest event of the month! Traffic has been backed up for days, and the Cupecoy folk can hardly get to the other side of the island. Earlier this week, Stacey and I tried to get to Philipsburg for our volunteer tutor job, but after almost an hour and only three miles, we gave up and went home. It doesn’t help that the only way from the “arm” of the island to the main part of the island is across one of two bridges, both of which are up for hours a day to let regatta boats in or out of the lagoon.

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Despite the traffic, it’s pretty exciting. Many people from Ben’s school are planning to charter a boat and go watch tomorrow’s big race on the water. I’ll be watching from the cliffs, or maybe even paddle out on my surf board for a bit.

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I caught sight of the race-ready boats this morning while taking the pups to the beach. By the time I got home, the sailboats were full speed ahead, and I had a chance to watch for a while from the balcony. If I didn’t have a lot to get done today, I would have stayed out all morning!

 

 

This boat, Phaedo 3, won this morning’s race by circumnavigating the island in a record-breaking 1 hour, 19 minutes and 59 seconds. When I saw it, I was sure it had a motor. It was flying along! I love this photo–the sun’s reflection makes the boat look like a starship of the future.

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Tomorrow will be another day of wind and water! I can’t wait to spend the afternoon with Ben and friends at the water’s edge.

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“Well, it’s not far down to paradise, at least it’s not for me
And if the wind is right you can sail away and find tranquility…
Sailing, takes me away to where I’ve always heard it could be…
Just a dream and the wind to carry me
And soon I will be free…”
~ Christopher Cross

Art in the Park and Canada!

We’re bound for Canada! But first, we’re participating in Art in the Park right here at home. One of my favorite memories of my childhood hometown is Art in the Park. Flagstaff, Arizona held it this festival annually on the lawn of the library. It’s something I missed when we moved to Phoenix. Now that we live in Sint Maarten, Art in the Park is back on the agenda!

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Some of my paintings that will be for sale at Art in the Park 

The best of SXM Art in the Park for me is that I get to be a part of a booth this time. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I volunteer with a local Little League team that incorporates academics into its daily program. This summer, we all get to take a trip to Canada to watch the Blue Jays play! The Rotary Club is sponsoring the trip, but of course we are teaching the boys responsibility by having them fund-raise as well.

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The kids have been working on their merchandise for a long time. Coach Tom and his wife, Lisa, came up with some great ideas. The team has a rock tumbler, and they’ve polished a couple hundred rocks over the last few months. We’ll put magnets on these and sell them for a few dollars. The kids are also making lanterns with a Canadian maple leaf on the front. I’ll be contributing some of my paintings to the fundraiser, as well.

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K. shows off one of her favorite rocks

Here’s how we made the rock magnets:

  1. The kids ran around the baseball field, gathering various little rocks.

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2. The first week, Tom tumbled the rocks with some abrasive. They came out clean, but still pretty rough. The kids washed all the gritty gray liquid off and Tom added new abrasive.

3. The second week and third weeks, the rocks were tumbled again.

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A. found an amethyst!

4. The fourth week was the last week of tumbling. This kids washed them off and shined them. We put a little lacquer on them to make them even prettier.

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5. Finally, we glued the magnets on the back. They’re ready to add some natural beauty to your fridge!

The older boys worked with volunteers to drill holes in coffee cans for the lanterns. Then everyone had a chance to paint the leaves Canada red.

Stacey and I are working on an informational display for the festival, too. All the kids and volunteers traced their hands on the background.

If you’re on Saint Martin, come visit us this Sunday (February 14) at Emilio Wilson Park in Cul de Sac between 10 and 4:30! Just head to Philipsburg, take the round-a-bout north instead of heading east to Cost-U-Less, and look for the park on your left a little past the baseball field. Let’s send these kids to Canada!

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One of our boys and Fred, a real, live Canadian! Also, note volunteer Andrea’s enthusiasm in the background. We have fun here.

 

 

 

Thanks to Stacey and Tom for providing the pictures for this post!

Papa Dan’s Pizza, Behind the Scenes

This is a special installment of Foodie Tuesdays! Today we are going to visit one of Sint Maarten’s best restaurants, Papa Dan’s. Come with me to discover delicious pizza flavors and the elements of business on an island.

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Papa Dan’s is located near American University of the Caribbean, between Tung Yuen Market and the coffee shop. It has been operating for nearly a decade, and has become an important part of the local community. The restaurant is hugely popular with students; at any given time, one can see AUC students walking briskly to class or study group with a pizza box in hand. It’s little wonder that the shop attracts so much local business. The surrounding neighborhood is constantly filled with the aroma of baking pizza, and once you try a Papa Dan pizza, you’re hooked. Why? Because there’s a lot more to Dan’s pizza than just pepperoni.

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I arrive at Papa Dan’s on this warm tropical morning, camera in hand. Dan Passerieu greets me at the back door and gives me a quick tour of his little kitchen. Cooled boxes of fresh toppings line one wall: cheese, veggies, meat, and tomato sauce for the traditional and barbecue sauce, jalapenos, pesto, and honey for the adventurous.

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The first thing you will notice when you visit Papa Dan’s is that the menu is no ordinary menu. Dan shows me the lists of pizzas and explains where some of the unique combinations came from.

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Student’s Special, a combination of mozzarella, Gorgonzola, pepperoni and honey, was the first special he created. Dan tells me about the history behind this pizza. Before Dan lived on Saint Martin, he ran a restaurant in Paris. He first came to Sint Maarten to visit a friend of his, who was a student at AUC. Dan fell in love with the island, and decided to stay.  His friend was a regular visitor of the shop, and always ordered the same thing- pepperoni. Finally, Dan insisted that he had to try something else, and concocted Student’s Special for his friend. Before long, Dan was getting constant requests for this pizza, so onto the menu it went.

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There are actually three other pizzas inspired by students. Dan named these pizzas after regulars from the school who ordered the same combination of toppings every day. If you visit Papa Dan’s, be creative with your toppings and tell your friends to order the same; who knows, your creation might end up on the menu!

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My personal favorite is Sugarmama, a combination of Gorgonzola, mozzarella, goat cheese, and honey. I would never have thought to put honey on a pizza, but it’s a surprisingly delicious addition.

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Making specialty pizzas on Sint Maarten is not all culinary art and creativity. Running a restaurant on an island poses special challenges. Dan’s current problem is a late shipment of mushrooms. Because everything has to be imported from the U.S. or Europe, he explains, you can’t always get what you need as soon as you want it. If a shipment is delayed, there’s nothing you can do. That’s the island life.

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I watch as Dan creates a pizza. First, he prepares fist-sized lumps of dough.

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Next, he runs the dough through a rolling machine.

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He tosses the circle of dough in the air.

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Next, Dan smooths a spoonful of sauce on the pizza.

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Finally, he adds cheese and toppings. This pizza is pepperoni. Dan’s favorite combo is mozzarella, mushroom, spinach, Gorgonzola, garlic, and honey.

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He places it in the oven. The warm scent of baking dough fills the little kitchen.

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Hot pizza, ready to eat!

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Before I leave the kitchen, Dan slides a hot pizza from the oven into a box and hands it to me. The distinctive scent of warm goat cheese floats up from the box. I smile, looking forward to the sweet-and-salty Sugarmama ambrosia that awaits me.

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Making the Dean’s List

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Med school is a beast. Last semester, Ben spent ten to twelve hours daily on medical school activities: lecture, studying, practice problems, tests. He worked hard, and it paid off. He finished the semester with a 93% average, honoring all his classes.

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American University of the Caribbean recognizes its honor students each semester with a ceremony and dinner reception. It was awesome to watch my smart, handsome man walk across the stage and receive his Dean’s List certificate!

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A few other awards and honors were recognized during the ceremony. One of these is the community engagement award. Ben G. (not my Ben) and Kyle M. received this award for their work with the SXM Little League Player Development Program, the tutoring and baseball program I volunteer with. One of the faculty members read a speech written by each of them. Hopefully, a few other AUC students had their interest piqued at the ceremony and will start volunteering with us, now that Kyle and his wife, Andrea, are leaving the island.

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After the ceremony and my enthusiastic admiration of Ben’s certificate, we headed to the student lounge for some free food and conversation. I was impressed to see prestigious faculty helping to serve the food. That shows what kind of community we enjoy here at American University of the Caribbean.

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Hopefully, we’ll be here again at this time next semester! Please keep Ben in your prayers as he works hard toward his goal of becoming a medical missionary and hospital founder in East Africa.

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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Buccaneers!

 

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In Sint Maarten, there a lot of airy little restaurants on the water. Today’s destination for the American University of the Caribbean spouse’s crew was Buccaneer Beach Bar. Despite its name, this is actually a great place to take kids. It’s right on the beach, and the water is shallow. It’s also a calm area, even on days when other areas of the island have big waves.

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They also have a delicious assortment of non-alcoholic drinks in addition to their bar menu, and classic beachy food.

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If you make it to SXM, make sure you visit one of our on-the-beach restaurants! Who doesn’t want to lounge on a beach chair with a plate of fries and a glass of something cool and sweet?

 

 

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We saw this tiny stingray lazily drift around the bay

Med School Block Week

Well, it’s here again.

Block week is the week before blocks, which are a set of important tests that happen four times per semester at American University of the Caribbean. It’s the time when many pizzas are consumed, many blank stares are met with, and many Netflix shows are ignored.

I am always glad to not be a student during block week, but I admit that it’s a little rough on the spouses, too, especially the first time around. I last semester, when we were experiencing our very first block week ever, I wasn’t sure I was going to survive. I can’t go to sleep unless Ben is there, so I stayed up late every night waiting for him to get home. There was a night he never came back from the study rooms, and I finally fell asleep at 2:00 AM. Those of you who know me well will understand what a struggle it was to go to bed that late! Now, I’m more used to it and it’s a lot less stressful to Ben. It’s just a part of life.

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But block week isn’t all bad– at least for us spouses! One thing we all look forward to is bake sale. During the weekend before block, the AUC spouses organization holds a bake sale in the main building of campus to feed hungry students and spend time with each other. We sell nachos, drinks, and desserts to make money for our group activities. Last semester, we made enough for us to go to the zoo, do craft nights, and spend a day at an all-inclusive resort.

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Bake sale is great because we get to meet and encourage hundreds of students. I love talking to them as they pass through the line. Another great thing about bake sale is eating the dregs of the chocolate frosting out of the container with a spatula and not being judged. And of course, getting free nachos is always awesome. But the best part is spending time with friends and making new ones!