Last Saturday, I got a special treat: Steamed lobster dripping with melted butter, and a night off from cooking. That’s right– my man made me a fancy dinner just because my weekend was busy. He and his friend Matt made an amazing seafood meal of baked fish and steamed lobster. You can make it, too!
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!
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
The air around me pulses with the rhythm of the Caribbean. All around me, the crowd lining the street moves to the beat of the music. This is not America, where we stood stoically and watched parade floats drift by. This is the isle of Sint Maarten, and we are a part of the sound and color here.
Today, it is a holiday. It is Carnival, and the children are marching in their very own parade. Miniature dancers twirl in miniature costumes, nearly unrecognizable in paint, feathers, and glitter.
The winners of last week’s junior pageant are here, dressed in their royal finery. They wave to us with the queen’s wave, and we wave back.
The parade is filled with the heroes of a child’s word– princesses, super heroes, minions, even Kung Fu Panda!
My personal favorite were the candy dancers. I loved their giant hoop skirts and sweet designs.
Ben liked the Lionfish Dancers. Their costumes really did look like the fantastic “feathers” of a lionfish!
Although this event was not popular with the tourists, hundreds of locals turned out. Many of the other expat families also came to watch! Some American University of the Caribbean students’ children came to watch friends march in the parade.
If you want to see the future of the Caribbean, this is the place to come. All around me, I saw the future of the islands in the faces of the children. If we want to invest in tomorrow, we must invest in them! Perhaps the whole reason for the junior parade is to remind us of this.
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!
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!
One of the tables was made to look like a traditional Caribbean dress, complete with someone wearing it.
We managed to get one of the last coconuts from the coconut man.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Isn’t a Caribbean Carnival on everyone’s bucket list? It’s on mine! In a few days, that item will be checked off as Sint Maarten’s Carnival kicks off.
Because we’re in the Caribbean and we take any excuse to celebrate, there are several events leading up to actual Carnival. One of these is the Light Parade!
Sandy, Stacey, Aqiyla and I went to Philipsburg to enjoy the music and confetti that lit up the night.
One of the local kids told me that the buildings shake during Carnival. I thought he was kidding, but sure enough, the vibrarions could be felt in the very air. All around us, the environment pulsed to the beat of Caribbean rhythms.
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.
Don’t you love how the painting turned out? I can’t wait to see it displayed in the gallery! What a wonderful experience.
You can see more of Sir Roland Richardson’s work at his website here.
Well, my master’s classes are in full swing and I’m not exactly off to a fabulous start. Admitting that is hard for me, because I’m a type-A personality who had a 4.0 GPA in undergrad. People warned me that taking online classes can be a lot harder than actually going to class unless you’re extremely organized and on top of things. Generally, I am. But I’m a lot better with paper and pens than I am with a double-password access online classroom with instructions in electronic format in a few different places. Find the library on campus? No problem. Find the library online? Well, now. That is a different story.
So here I am, looking at ten articles that I have to read and use to write a discussion paper and post online for the class to read by… well, by last Sunday. I guess tomorrow’s deadline for the unit meant the unit closes then for further discussion, not that the reflection is due then. That is something really I wish I figured out before today. I guess now that I know, I won’t be making that mistake again.
I’m sitting here with my pen and paper, feeling a little discouraged about my abilities to pull this off. School has always been my strength, and now I don’t feel so sure that I can be good at this online school thing. Besides, everyone else in my cohort has a lot more experience than I do. And let’s not fail to mention the fact that this is University of London, and I’m American. Will I be able to remember to spell “analyzing” as “analysing” with an “s?” Or put my quote marks on the inside of my punctuation? Am I supposed to do ‘ or ” for quotes? Will I get marked down for spelling things American-style?
In the middle of this stream of self-doubt, an image breaks in:
These kids are so inspiring. Every afternoon, they come from Dutch, French, and English schools to Player Development Program for further help with reading and math. It’s really hard for a lot of them. Being bilingual or trilingual makes learning to read really, really tough. Some of them are in sixth grade and struggle to read very basic English kid’s books. But they don’t give up, they don’t let embarrassment stop them, and they keep pushing to get better and work up from where they are.
I’ve seen Spanish-speaking kids learn English in two months. I’ve seen kids who struggle with reading and writing spend as long as needed to compose a thank-you letter. I’ve seen kids sit, study, and sound out long words in until they could read the whole book.
To me, writing a short summary of Curious George is not hard. Reading 16 pages doesn’t drain me. Conjugating and pronouncing verbs takes no mental energy. But it does for them, and I would say that they have to work a lot harder to get it right than I’ll have to for my master’s degree. Does it discourage them? Sometimes. Does it deter them? No, it doesn’t.
If a seven-year-old can learn to distinguish vowel names and sounds in French, English, and Spanish, I can learn to use “s” and “u” the British way. If a twelve-year-old can have the courage to learn English as he goes during baseball practice, I can have the courage to post my late work where everyone can see, have a positive, non-defeatist attitude, and do better next time. If a nine-year old can have the humility to do sight-word flash cards in front of his friends, then I can have the humility to admit I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m willing to do what it takes to improve.
You know, the kids at SXM Player Development Program think that they’re learning a lot from me. I guess they are. But I think I’m actually learning more from them. God knew what he was doing when he put me into their world. There’s a lot of determination, courage, and hard work going on at those blue picnic tables. There’s a lot to be inspired and encouraged by. There’s a lot to look at and think, “that’s how I want to be.” I know that if they can work hard and never throw in the towel, so can I.
So I’m going to wipe away these tears of frustration, go back to that online library, and find that PDF e-book that’s hiding from me. I’m going to write my best paper, and I’m going to turn it in even if everyone can see that I’m late. And tomorrow, I’m going to do better. And I’m going to do it with those kids as my inspiration and my encouragement.
It’s hard to believe that we only have a year left on this island. Equally hard to believe is that a year ago, we were at Disney land! Looking back to our trip to Disney puts time in perspective for me. Sometimes if feels like our time on Sint Maarten is an eternal summer that can never end, but our time here is not so very long after all. I don’t know if that makes me happy or sad. I do look forward to a new season and actually being able to have a job, but I don’t want to leave the friends and the life I’ve made here. Time just keeps ticking on.
The reason we went to California was because of Ben’s interview for American University of the Caribbean. We drove six hours to LA (and then another three through LA for the last twenty miles to the interview location) from Phoenix for the interview and a getaway weekend. At first, we weren’t sure if Disney tickets were a wise financial decision, since our med school location was still up in the air at that point. But my parents decided that we needed to go– especially since Ben had never been to a Disney park. So they gave us tickets!
Of course, we had an awesome time at Disney Land. It had been a decade since I’d been, so we discovered it together. I had the layout of Minnie Mouse’s house memorized, but I didn’t even remember that Frontierland exists! The fireworks were rained out, but we were able to see something better– the Abe Lincoln show. Seriously, that’s the best part of Disneyland. After Rapunzel, of course.
Ben nailed his interview. A few weeks later, we knew where we were going to go for med school: some faraway island called Sint Maarten where people stood on the beach and let airplanes fly a few hundred feet above their heads.
We started planning. We had no idea what life would look like. No idea what our home would be, who our community would be, what we’d do in our free time. Everything was behind the next door, and we couldn’t wait to step through it.
We’re kind of in the same boat now. In a year, we’ll leave again. We don’t know what life will look like or where we’ll be headed.
A year ago, we were at Disney. A year from now, we’ll be getting ready to move again. Life changes fast. I don’t want to miss the moment I’m in now. Sometimes, I just wish away time so I can get to the next new and exciting thing. But I know I need to hold on to each precious season and moment. There are so many years of change and adventure ahead, but I’ll never get this day back! So I’ll make the most of it.