Tag Archives: Marigot

Seeing Myself on the Canvas

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It’s not every day that I get to model for a famous artist. But today was not just another day!

Sir Roland Richardson is called “The Father of Caribbean Impressionism.” He’s one of Saint Martin’s foremost citizens, and has made significant contributions in the art, history, and literary aspects of the island. Internationally, he is best known for his vibrant oil paintings. He and his wife, Laura, run his art gallery out of a historic building in the French capitol, Marigot.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may have read about the day that Roland painted Stacey. Today, it was my day to sit for the master. Last time I visited the gallery, I mentioned that my husband, Ben, is from Africa and I have a few sets of clothing from Tanzania. He asked me to wear one for a painting, so I chose a colorful dress and head scarf that Ben gave me for our first Christmas and a cowrie shell necklace from Ben’s mom. The outfit not only reflects the Johnson family heritage, it also represents the island’s African influences and the narrative of many of Saint Martin’s citizens.

The painting took about four hours. As he worked, Roland told Stacey and I about the island’s history. He knows more about Saint Martin history than almost anyone! If you’re around Marigot, French Saint Martin on a Thursday, stop into his gallery to watch him paint a portrait and ask about the island’s past. Roland is a wealth of fascinating information on the Caribbean.

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Don’t you love how the painting turned out? I can’t wait to see it displayed in the gallery! What a wonderful experience.

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You can see more of Sir Roland Richardson’s work at his website here.

Photo Credits: Stacey Culpepper

I Went to the British Isle

I went to the British Isle. No, not the one in Europe– the one next-door to Saint Martin. Anguilla may be Saint Martin’s closest neighbor, but it is nothing like it! Join my friends and I as we add a stamp to our passports and explore a new place.

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Sint Maarten only allows foreigners to stay on the island for three months at a time. I’ve heard that Americans can stay for up to six months, but with security on the island tightening every day, I decide it would be wise to take an international excursion before my three months are up.

Sandy, Emily and I drive together to Marigot, the port on the French side of the island. It’s a busy day– the cruise ships came in the morning, so the pier is buzzing with tourists. We finally find a parking space and make our way to the ferry.

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The ferry is a little bit confusing, because there are three lines to wait in before entering the ferry, and none of them are in any particular order! The employees and border officials are kind and helpful, though, so we quickly figure out what to do. Soon we are sitting on the ferry with stamped passports. The ferry costs $20 per person, in addition to a $5 port fee.

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The boat ride takes us about twenty minutes. I enjoy the rhythm of the ocean and the sea spray. Some of the passengers are worried about feeling seasick, but fortunately the ride is short and they are OK. Anguilla’s coastline becomes more and more visible, and soon we can see beach houses and boats.

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Soon, we arrive at the island! We eagerly pile out of the ferry and head through the customs line. Two more stamps for our passports. We walk out of the building and into the courtyard, where we are suddenly overwhelmed with people trying to rent us cars or offer us taxis! I am convinced that we’ll be able to use public buses once we walk out onto the main road, so the three of us refuse their offers and begin walking. All we see are a few houses and some goats.

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We walk about a quarter mile with no success, when a taxi pulls up beside us and offers us a discounted ride. “There aren’t any public buses here,” he explains, “Anguilla doesn’t have enough people to support public transportation.” We take his word for it and hop aboard. Each person costs $18 each way, but the third person in our group only costs and additional $5. We only have to pay $11 each– more than a bus would have been, but less than a car rental.

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We drive from Blowing Point to the capitol, The Valley, which is in the center of the island. It is so different from Philipsburg or Marigot, the capitols on Saint Martin! There are relatively few buildings– mostly government offices, schools, and restaurants. No tourist shops and no large hotels to be seen. We opt to take the bus all the way to Shoal Bay, which is the island’s best beach.

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Once we get there, we’re glad we did! Shoal Bay Beach is perhaps the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been to– and that’s saying a lot, considering that I live a short walk from Mullet Bay Beach.

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We are instantly greeted by beach attendants and restaurant employees. I am afraid that they will smother us while trying to sell their services, but they do not. They are friendly to us and seem to be more interested in our enjoyment than in pressuring us to rent an umbrella or buy an expensive meal.

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We chose the more casual of the two restaurants, Uncle Ernie’s. The conch looks delicious, but we all decide on the $5 grilled cheese and fries. The food is good, and the meal is big enough to keep us content for the remainder of our trip. The ocean is calling us, so we leave a tip for the staff and head for the sand.

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I immediately wish that I had brought my snorkel gear– the reef looks amazing! One of the beach staff tells us that we can see parrotfish and sea turtles a little way out. I make a mental note to at least bring my goggles next time I come.

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We sun for a while, and then wade in the clear blue ocean water. Sandy and I decide to catch some waves before heading back to our towels.

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The beach is about 2 miles long, so we decide to go exploring. Every time we think we’ve found the most beautiful spot, we turn a corner and find something even more amazing. We finally come the eastern end of the beach. We strain our eyes to see the tip of Anguilla in the distance.

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Four-thirty comes to soon. One of the beach staff comes to tell us that our taxi is waiting, so we pack up and head to the taxi. He takes us a different way back to the ferry so that we can see more of the island. We have gorgeous view of Saint Martin almost all the way back.

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While we wait for the ferry, we wander around the beach near the port. I am amazed to see how close Saint Martin looks! Anguilla looks very far away from Saint Martin because it is such a flat island. Saint Martin’s hills give us a better perspective of the distance.

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We get our exit stamps, pay the $20 ticket and $8 port fee, and climb onto the boat. We’re tired now, and happy to clamber down into the cabin of the ferry, watch the sun set, and enjoy the movie being played on a small screen at the front of the cabin.

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We enter Marigot port and get our last passport stamp of the day.

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Anguilla looks so small from the harbor! It’s hard to believe we were standing on the other side not half an hour ago. We turn our backs on the lights of the bay and head home. Behind us, the flag of Anguilla waves farewell.

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Welcome to American University of the Caribbean!

Today is the day! We’ve been dreaming of this day, planning for it, and praying for it for many months. No, it’s not our wedding. We already did that. Today is Ben’s first day of medical school!

Like the dorky picture-snapping wife I am, I took a “first day of school” photo and posted it on Facebook.

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This is technically the first day of classes, but Ben has actually been on campus all week. We first stepped onto campus for our campus tour last weekend. Our first impression of the school was that it is spacious, clean, secure, tastefully decorated, and has a great view. We also thought that the campus is pretty big, but anything looks big compared to our undergrad university. Our campus tour showed us the “welcome center,” or guard shack, as it is commonly known, where security checks in and out every single person who enters campus. The next stop was the rotunda, a large, circular room in the center of the main building. Here, there are stairs that go to a second floor, which contains a few lecture halls, the library, and other rooms. On the same level as the rotunda is a nice recreational building with a ping-pong room, a room with couches for chilling and studying, a yoga room, and the gym. I was most excited about the gym. I’ll be spending a lot of time there. It has several treadmills and ellipticals in addition to other workout machines that looked like they are in great condition.

Pumpin' iron
Pumpin’ iron

There is also a cafeteria near this area, and the prices aren’t bad. Ben got a chicken wrap, an apple, and a bag of chips yesterday as a free new student gift, and he liked it. I think it would usually cost $5, which isn’t bad at all, considering the price of food on this island.

If you walk straight from the front door into the rotunda and then out the back door, you will arrive at note services, more lecture halls, and study rooms for rent. There is also a basketball court and the smoking area. I have no idea why anyone would be going into medicine and also be a smoker, but to each his own.

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Basketball Court. Too bad I took this at night– the lagoon is in the background.

Through a patio garden area, down the steps, and across the street is The New Building and the dormitories. The New Building has many lecture rooms, offices, a smaller cafeteria area, a study zone, anatomy lab, the auditorium, etc. Ben will be spending most of his time here. His class is the biggest at the school so far (about 280, I think), so they will be living in the auditorium for most of their classes. During anatomy lab, they will be upstairs working in small groups. Thankfully, each person gets their own anatomy lab locker, so nothing that smells like cadavers and formaldehyde will come into our apartment!

The auditorium
The auditorium

Behind The New Building is a stunning view of Simpson Bay and the mountains that make up this island. Beautiful.

Mural outside Ben's classroom. It represents giving a bright future to the island's children.
Mural outside Ben’s classroom. It represents giving a bright future to the island’s children.

Besides a tour, the school has hosted many other fun and/or required pre-class events. There were several shuttle runs to the grocery store over the weekend. Saturday was a beach volleyball game and Ben got his ID badge that same morning. Sunday was registration in the morning and a welcome meeting in the evening. Happily for us, the evening event was catered with a delicious meal! Nothing says “happy students” like free food. After the welcome meeting, everyone was invited to compete in a scavenger hunt (this provided the lovely photos for this post) and an ice cream mixer.

Boats in Simpson Bay Lagoon
Boats in Simpson Bay Lagoon

Monday included seminars on wellness and professionalism. If I had named them, I would have called the sessions How Not to Die and How Not to Lose Your License. Most of it seemed like common sense to me as I flipped through the booklet, but it’s always good to hear good advice, especially during times of transition and stress. Besides, there are a lot of ways to be stupid and get in trouble on this island. Hopefully people will take the warnings seriously, because coming to class with a massive hangover is not a good way to pass one’s Step Ones.  There was also an assessment and a reading quiz on Monday over the book Short White Coat. 

Island Bus Tour
Island Bus Tour

Yesterday (Tuesday) contained more and longer workshops, as well as an island tour. We stopped in Marigot and visited a French Patisserie. It was actually a pretty good price– four delicious pastries for about six bucks. We also stopped in Orient Bay to see Saint-Martin’s best beach. I have to say that I like Mullet Bay much better. Orient is pretty seaweedy this year, and the beach was pretty busy. It does have a good view of Anguilla and some small islands, though. We didn’t stop anywhere else, but it was nice to drive the perimeter of the island and see the less touristy areas where local people live. I was delighted to finally see some fresh fruit stands! After the island tour, the students went back to school for complementary subs and a meeting with their orientation advisers.

French Pastries
French Pastries

The week is not over yet! After today’s classes, there is a student mixer. Tomorrow is the Spouse Organization’s first get-together. Friday is the white coat ceremony. And from there, it’s all about studying, studying, studying.

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What to Do for a Week in Sint Maarten

We have now been living in Sint Maarten for a week! We have a week yet to explore and enjoy before classes begin for Ben at American University of the Caribbean. We’re going on as many adventures as we can on our beautiful island home. Here are some of the fun things we have done. If you ever come to Sint Maarten, take some time to try a few of these!

1. Mullet Bay Beach

We love Mullet Bay Beach! I can’t believe we live just a short walk away. Mullet Bay has gorgeous fine white sand, warm clear water, and best of all, not too many people. There is even a little beach snack shack with umbrellas and chairs for rent.

Mullet bay Beach
Mullet bay Beach

2. Fort Louis

We took an excursion to the French side of the island last week. On the north side of the town of Marigot, there is a short hike to the ruins of an old French fort. I’m not sure if the best part is the view or the awesome vintage cannons.

Ft. St. Louis
Ft. Louis

3. Fishing

I’m not sure about the French side of the island, but on the Dutch side, one does not need a license to fish. And the fishing is good! We’ve done just about every type of fishing you can imagine. It’s fun, but the downside is that most fish aren’t edible. The majority potentially carry Ciguatera, an incredibly toxic virus that affects people quite badly. Fortunately, the little ones and the herbivores are generally clean. We made fish tacos last night. They were delicious.

Ben catches a barracuda. Can’t eat these, unfortunately.

4. Shopping

Both the French side and the Dutch side have great shopping. Most of it is pretty expensive, but what do you expect on an island? Our shopping has been limited to fishing equipment and groceries for the most part.

I'm not sure what exactly this is useful for, but I've always wanted to be a mermaid!
I’m not sure what exactly this is useful for, but I’ve always wanted to be a mermaid!

5. Snorkeling

The fish here are beautiful. There are few things more fascinating than watching tropical fish go about their little fish lives. The variety and color is amazing! So far, the coral we’ve seen is a bit drab, but the fish make up for it. The other day, I saw a scary huge barracuda and the biggest granddaddy spinefish I’ve ever seen!

One of three good watersports stores we discovered in Marigot
One of three good watersports stores we discovered in Marigot

6. Casinos

I wouldn’t recommend the gambling, and a definitely wouldn’t recommend the bars. I’ve heard of the sketchy and dangerous things that happen in some of these bars. However, the casinos sometimes have pretty great food for a reasonable price at their restaurants! We ate at Thai Savanh’ in Stars Casino for Ben’s birthday. They have a nice patio for dining away from the smoke of the casino.

Thai Savanh'
Thai Savanh’

7. Hiking and Running

We went on Guana Bay hike with friends yesterday. We loved the views! There are so many little islands that you can see from this trail. This is just one of many hikes on the island. There are good opportunities for running, too, whether on the beach or the golf course.

Guana Bay hike
Guana Bay hike

8. Surfing

Surfing in the storm
Surfing in the storm

Ben and his friend Matt bought a couple of surf boards today and took advantage of tropical storm Erika’s big waves. There aren’t too many days with good surfing, so today was lucky. Unfortunately, Ben ended up getting thrown onto a sea urchin, so right now he’s experiencing the bad side of the:

9. Wildlife

The flora and fauna here is awesome! Ben climbs coconut palms so we can have fresh coconut milk. There are a few fruit trees here, too. I’ve already mentioned the fish, and in addition to sea creatures, there are interesting land creatures, too, like the giant iguanas that sun themselves on the golf course.

Caribbean iguana
Caribbean iguana

Until next time!