THE KAERU KID: Two Countries, One Island

I met Kenji G. Taguma, Nichi Bei editor, when he came to Las Vegas for an anime convention. I took him and his brother-in-law to dinner and wished him luck on the new nonprofit Nichi Bei Weekly. He asked if I would continue contributing to the newspaper, and I am pleased to do so with this article about a visit to both the French and Netherlands sides of the Caribbean island St. Martin.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the rest of the world could get along as peacefully as these neighbors?

I easily get island fever unless there is something special to attract me. Also, former Nichi Bei Times readers may recall my disappointing trip last year to Aruba and Curacao. But the lure of very cheap airfare combined with a very low price for accommodations to a place I had never visited was reason enough to go. The only catch was that my flights were on a standby basis and only on a certain airline. Since I am retired and every day is Saturday for me, this didn’t seem to be a major problem (little did I know).

I found a studio apartment for $58 a day at www.st-martin-vacation.com. The pictures were much more beautiful than the actual experience, but overall it was quite a bargain. The owners, Maryse and Gerard, were very nice and provided excellent service. They even arranged a rental car for $145 for the week and provided many useful suggestions.

My standby flight was full, and I had to get to St. Martin or lose my condo reservation. Fortunately, I found a flight on JetBlue for $125 from JFK to St. Martin. However, I then had to buy a ticket on Southwest Airlines to get to New York, so my costs were starting to escalate. The flight on Southwest turned out to be overbooked, and I was offered a refund voucher and a free flight to New York if I was willing to wait for a few hours. The travel gods were smiling on me that day

DAILY LIFE — On the streets of Maho Beach. photos by the Kaeru Kid

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I finally arrived in St. Maarten (the Netherlands side uses this spelling) where the rental car was waiting and was led to the condo located in Oyster Pond on the French side of the island.

I had plans to make day trips to the nearby islands of Anguilla and St. Barts. A 20-minute ferry ride to Anguilla cost $40 roundtrip. A taxi for the day cost $60 and included a visit to Cap Juluca’s luxury resort where villas rent for $500-$1000 a day. Wealthy clients are willing to pay high prices to assure they have privacy.

Anguilla has a population of 14,000 and requires a desalination plant for a water source since it is relatively flat and receives little rainfall. If one does not snorkel or scuba dive, about the only thing to do is have lunch at Shoals Bay and then drive through the small main town before heading back to the dock for the return voyage. I don’t recommend spending money and time coming here because one can do all this on St. Martin.

Upon realizing a visit to St. Barts would be similar but entail a longer, more expensive and rougher ferry ride, I canceled that trip.

Homemade barbecue grilling food to be served at a lolo in Grand Case.

Maryse recommended trying Lolo along the beach in Grand Case for an authentic taste of island food. I misunderstood and thought that was the name of the restaurant, but “lolo” is actually the generic name given to very casual, almost shack-like structures along the beach that grill food on sometimes homemade barbecues. They are very inexpensive compared to regular restaurants, yet their food is just as or more delicious.

One of the unique things to do in St. Maarten is to go to the beach and watch the airplanes approach just above people lounging on the sand. If you would like to see what I saw, check out www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAfQwDizpRo.

Another lunch spot is Orient Bay, located close to the condo. It is a clothing-optional beach where 99 percent of the bathers have bodies that will spoil your appetite.

TAKAAAAI — In Phillipsburg, California oranges cost $2 EACH!

Fort Amsterdam is an old fort on the Netherlands side. But, as access to the private Little Bay Hotel is blocked, visitors must park outside the hotel grounds and walk a very long way up in humid heat. Sorry, pass.

The ruins of Fort Louis, located above the French town Marigot, afford a beautiful view of the town but not much else. There is a lolo called Rosemary’s down by the wharf in Marigot whose menu proudly claims that Anthony Bourdain rated it as the best. Either things have changed, or my taste buds differ from Bourdain’s. The French pastry shops here may not be as good as those in Paris, but they are better than in most countries. Another highly touted local food dive was Johnny B Under the Tree in Cole Bay near Phillipsburg. It is difficult to find, but no effort is too great if readers can benefit. Alas, it just did not look sanitary, and so nothing was consumed here.

HISTORY — The ruins of Fort Louis located above the main French town of Marigot.

Local ice cream made by Etna Ice Cream is a highly recommended treat. Buttermilk slows the melting of ice cream in this tropical climate and also provides a richer taste than mainland ice creams. Another unique island product is guavaberry liqueur. A free taste is provided at the Guavaberry Emporium in Phillipsburg. In general, prices in St. Martin are high since most things have to be imported. As an example, California oranges cost $2 each.

Casinos are scattered throughout the island but they are typically small with poor paying slot machines. The few places with table games have rules to assure a large house advantage.

Another diversion is to ride ziplines above a rainforest. However, closed-toe shoes are required, and my sandals barred me from participation. After looking at the thin line and the braking system, it was not a disappointment to miss this adventure.–

The Kaeru Kid writes about his various adventure travels. He lives in Las Vegas and includes tidbits about the city at the end of each article. He can be reached at KaeruKid@yahoo.com.

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