Thursday, February 4, 2010

"What I Did On My Winter Vacation" by Tim

We just spent a week with our friend Tim. Some may recognize his face from his recent appearance on the cover of a senior lifestyle magazine. Even though Tim is so much older, we became roommates in college. I invited him down to the Caribbean but, after all the abuse, I don't know why. Following is his account of his visit to St. Martin, our first guest blog entry.

What I Did On My Winter Vacation

by Tim

I arrived on Wednesday afternoon after being up for 30 hours… a boring story of being stranded in O’Hare airport with nowhere to sleep. Clearing customs in St. Martin was no problem, and the hotel shuttle was waiting for me right on time. I wasn’t in my hotel room for even 5 minutes when there was a knock on the door, and Jim and Wendy came in to greet me.
This would be the last time the entire week that Jim & Wendy were early, but I soon learned that time in the islands and especially on a boat passes much more leisurely than back in the real world. There are no schedules, and things just take longer there. It’s no problem to adjust to a life with no appointments to make or keep. A few rum-punches or cold ‘El Presidentes’ and a beach chair can occupy an entire day if necessary.

After a quick shower to wash off the mainland, we walked the streets of Marigot for a few hours, had a very nice dinner at a little open-air (actually, they all are open-air) restaurant, and tried a couple Island beers to go along. By 9:00, now 39 hours with no sleep, I was ready for bed, and we called it a night.
Cruise ship off Tim’s room

Thursday dawned – (yes, I was up before the sun every day) – cloudy with a light breeze. My room on the first floor had a wonderful view of the north side of St. Martin, and each morning there would be a new cruise ship or two anchored out there, along with maybe 50 sailboats or yachts. Breakfast was included with my vacation package, and was wonderful. There were fresh fruits, melons, cheese and cold cuts, baguettes and croissants warm from the oven, along with eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, and hash browns every morning. Juices, coffee, and pretty much anything you could ask for were also available.

With the cloudy weather, we decided it would be a good day to see Phillipsburg, so we took a bus over to the Dutch side of St. Martin and checked out some of the smaller shops. We picked up a few items, some souvenirs/gifts for me to bring home, and a couple bottles of rum for Merengue. We stopped at a couple markets and caught another bus back to Marigot for lunch. We spent the afternoon on the beach at the hotel, and then had another great meal downtown.

Friday Jim dropped off Wendy so she could update the blog, while we motored over to Phillipsburg in the dingy to pick up some supplies. We met back in Marigot a few hours later and had lunch, and then went for a short swim back at the hotel. Then the three of us dingied back out to Merengue for the afternoon. For those of you who have known Jim from the college days, he was in his glory, whining about the engine, about the weather, about pretty much anything and everything… just like old times for me! Jim messed with the engine while Wendy spent some time straightening the boat and I just laid back in the cockpit sipping a rum and ginger ale while giving my unwanted opinion on what Jim ought to try to repair next. I didn’t overdo it, just enough backseat driving to keep him in a slow-burn state of mind. Wendy smiled the whole while, enjoying our verbal skirmishes, before she too joined us topside with a cocktail of her own. The engine eventually started and kept running for the next couple hours. We again boarded the dingy and motored over to the Yacht Club to watch the afternoon boat parade.
We didn’t make it over there in time to see the departing boats, but did get to see the new arrivals as they passed beneath the raised bridge. I was and still am duly impressed with the size and beauty of some of the vessels that passed by, some of which I’m sure cost more than I can comprehend.

Jim and Tim at the Sint Maarten Yacht Club

Jim remarked that the weather was clear enough, and that we were in a good spot to try and capture the ‘green flash’ at sunset. I set my camera to take 5-shot bursts, and we walked over to the other side of the road to try and get a picture. We stopped in the middle of the bridge, steadied the camera on the rail, and began shooting the sunset. I was extremely lucky and got the shot we were looking for. THE GREEN FLASH DOES EXIST! Next was dinner at ‘Lady C’s’, a floating restaurant next to the Yacht Club and then back to Merengue to have one more cocktail and just relax for awhile before Jim took me back to Marigot.

The Green Flash
Saturday I was feeling the effects of two days of sunshine, so we spent that entire day on Merengue, played a couple games of Farkle, which Wendy won as the ever-optimistic Jim predicted she would. As usual, he moaned and groaned through both games. For dinner we had fresh mahi, which had been caught by friends of theirs who arrived in St. Martin the day before. It was prepared by Jim along with Christophene, or chayote as it’s known in the states, and was truly marvelous. Jim is a joy to watch as he cooks, although for my tastes, he could have worn more than just the apron. Again, Jim taxied me back to land in the dingy and another day was history.
Sunday most of the shops and restaurants were closed, but the Marigot market was open, and we spent a bit of time there, and picked up a few more souvenirs and things, and had lunch at another nice café that was pretty much a deli, but certainly not like we have here. There was a spread of desserts, sandwiches, pizza, beverages and fresh ice cream to choose from. We ordered, got our food, and went back for a couple beers afterwards. I got my first real taste of the laid-back style of life in the islands. The cashier opened one beer, and then had a couple-minutes of conversation with a fellow employee before opening the second beer and handing them to us. In the afternoon we hit the beach, and then had dinner, and called it an early night.

Monday we rented a car, and headed to Orient Beach for the day. It might have been the ‘El Presidente’ I drank for lunch on Sunday, or maybe the ‘El Presidente’ after lunch, or maybe even the cocktails later in the day, but I broke my vow not to join the crowd at Orient Beach, and proceeded to go ‘au natural’. The sun and wind and water felt great. Renting beach lounge chairs and an umbrella included a free rum punch, and that too helped deter any hesitation on my part. During the afternoon, feeling the heat of the sun, I got a massage with fresh Aloe Vera (you can see the leaves beneath my chair in the picture) juice, which helped ease the burn I was getting in places I never got a burn before. Probably the low point of my week was when the girl in the orange shirt slapped my back and said “You’re all done Pops!”

On the way back to Marigot, we stopped at a couple beaches along the way to see where I might want to swim on Tuesday. We motored back out to Merengue late Tuesday and Jim cooked another marvelous dinner, the highlight of which was his mashed plantains. More rum and ginger ale, more conversation, another dingy ride to the dock, and I had only one more full day left.
Tuesday again dawned with a fairly strong wind, so after a short decision we drove to the far end of Marigot and parked close to a small bakery where Wendy checked email and waited while Jim and I climbed to the fort. After a mid morning brunch, we headed back to Orient Beach, which was very much more crowded, as cruise ships were in port, and again spent the day working on my all-over-tan. No massage today, but I did take the opportunity to get a henna tattoo. I guess it’s a good thing I only turn 60 once!

Back to Merengue for my last night on St. Martin where we spent the time just being together.
Wednesday morning came way too soon. We had one more meal at the ‘Croissanterie’, where we ate on Wednesday night. Shrimp and scallop pizza was my last meal on the island, and it was exquisite.
Alas, my vacation was over. I caught a taxi to the airport, officially checked out of St. Martin, and boarded my plane. It’s worth noting that my flight off the island was delayed, and that I probably could have saved them some trouble in diagnosing a ‘weird noise’ that was heard in the rear of the plane as we taxied away from the gate. I had heard just such a strange ‘weird noise’ from the back of Jim the night before as he sat on the gunnels above the cockpit of Merengue.

I still arrived back in Chicago on time, dressed in my shorts and flowered short-sleeved shirt, having left 86 degree weather to arrive in 15 degrees of winter back at O’Hare. I drove straight back to St. Germain, where it was 14 below, a difference of 100 degrees – a fitting end to my week away!

It was a great time, and I would (with Wendy’s permission) recommend any friends to spend a vacation with her and Jim. They are marvelous hosts, generous in giving their time, and just plain fun to be with. Thank you both so much.
Forgive me if anything is out of chronological order, the week went by so quickly, and was so full of new experiences, that some of them blend together in my mind.

That was Tim's account of the week in St. Martin. However, there are a few things he left out. A couple of examples are:
The capturing of the green flash.

"No Tim, you are pointing the camera too high."

"No Tim, you are pointing the camera too low!"

And, I can't leave out Tim's graceful boarding style. No words can describe the beauty.

But really, it was a pleasure to have you visit, Tim. We look forward to the next visit.
Start planning.