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Trip Report Trip Report - St. Martin - Long

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Just got back from St. Martin and I’m posting a trip report already. (I kept notes during the trip, so it’s easy.) First comments, the trip was excellent and we loved our time on the island. Very relaxing and just we needed.

Flight – we flew Westjet direct from Toronto on Thursday, Nov 25. I like Westjet a lot more than Air Canada and fly with them when I have the choice, but we had bad luck on our flight back (Dec 2). The incoming flight landed at SXM, but there were mechanical problems that they weren’t able to repair. So the flight was cancelled and we spent the night at the Sonesta Maho and flew out the following day. We had a similar experience in February while flying to Buenos Aires. Only that time we were left in Santiago and the earthquake happened, so we had to stay there for 6 days. I am happy that to say that the trip extension in St. Martin was noneventful :)

Accommodation – we booked a studio on VRBO and loved it. It’s #224981 on and it was perfect for us. The location is incredibly private, with a small wild beach below the property, and about a 15 minute walk from Orient beach. It’s very quiet, no street noise at all. They have 2 dogs (both friendly but they stayed out of our way) and 2 cats (we only glimpsed the younger one a few times, but the older one is very friendly and vocal – since I’m a cat lover, I really appreciated the feline company). I would definitely stay here again. We had a king sized bed and huge bathroom. There is a functional outdoor kitchen, lounge chairs, nice teak table & chairs outside, with another table indoors. Nice swimming pool. Francoise, the owner, provided a finette, butter, home made mango jam, coffee, juice, eggs, etc. for b/fast our first morning, which was much appreciated.

Car Rental – we booked a Kia Picanto through Automax. The rep was waiting outside for us when we arrived and they were there at the airport when we dropped the car off. Cost is aprox. $200 USD for the week, and that includes insurance. We had absolutely no problems with the car. My husband doesn’t drink so he was the designated driver. I think a car is almost a necessity on the island unless you just want to park yourself on a beach for the full week.

Restaurants – we were trying to do this trip fairly cheaply and I am happy to say that it was entirely possible to eat well and enjoy ourselves in St. Martin without spending a lot of money. First night, we decided to walk somewhere for dinner and ended up at Pizza Villa. Extensive menu, not just pizza, but we ordered a very nice thin crust white pizza and a goat cheese salad. A couple of times, we ate in the lolos in Grand Case for lunch (Talk of the Town and Rib Shack) where we spent about $15 for the 2 of us. Can’t beat the price! On our trip to Marigot, Francoise recommended Le Lunch and we were really happy with the choice. I had excellent sushi (tuna 4 ways) and my husband had couscous royale – lamb, merguez, chicken, chickpeas, veggies and so on. It came to 34 euros + tip so very reasonable. Another day, we had lunch at Friar’s Bay Cafe - the stuffed mussels are divine, and my husband enjoyed his Creole plate. On the day that we drove to Philipsburg, I had forgotten to bring any restaurant info with me and I had no idea where to go, but we were really pleased with Antoine’s – the nicoise salad was delicious and felt healthy. I also had a guavaberry colada – delicious and probably not so healthy :) On our last full day, we had a snack & drink at Karibuni on Ile Pinel (the frozen mojito was really good and assiette plate was definitely enough for 2). Since it was our last night, we went out for dinner to Le Ti Bouchon, which was a short walk from the studio. The food was very good and I especially loved the dessert (an amazing napoleon), although the scallops and risotto that my husband had were also really good. I had a chicken & lobster dish, with the most amazing basil rice and provencal vegetables. (I don’t know how rice can be amazing, but it was so tasty and green.) Our appetizers were also excellent. That was a bit of a splurge meal, I guess.

The rest of the time we ate meals in our studio. We picked up groceries at the US supermarket towards Cul de Sac so most nights we would have pate, cheeses, etc. for our dinner. We had also bought pasta, lardons, fresh tomatoes, so one night I made a pasta. I added soft goats cheese and Ma Doudou hot sauce, and voila, we had dinner. B/fast was always at the studio – good bakeries on the island (Serafina’s in Marigot is especially good).

Beaches – we drove around the whole island and visited a few of the beaches. We really liked Friar’s Bay (excellent restaurant) and nice place to hang out for the day. We walked over to Happy Bay (Happy Beach?) which is lovely, but I appreciated the facilities at Friar’s Bay. I think that the guy who was looking after the lounge chairs was a little surprised that we wanted to sit in the shade, but over the years I’ve learned my lesson – my pale Scottish Canadian skin does not take well to tanning. We walked over to Orient a couple of times – yes, there are topless bathers all along the beach, and at that end, definitely more nudity. The water was wonderful and the people watching (and I don’t mean that in a rude way) was fun. On the way back one day, we passed a couple who were wearing identical thongs in the same mauve print and she had on a matching bikini top, plus they were wearing the same Adidas hats. I almost laughed out loud when I saw them. On our last full (or what we thought would be our last full day), we went to Ile de Pinel. We caught the ‘ferry’ over to the island and parked ourselves on the lounge chairs near Karibuni. Snorkelling was disappointing – the water was way too murky. I couldn’t see a thing. We hiked over to the other side of the island (gorgeous views!). The beach was nice, but I definitely prefer Friar’s Bay. It’s very popular and there were lots of people – many of them seemed to be wearing wristbands, so I assume they were part of an organized tour or maybe staying at an AI. Almost no toplessness on the beach but we noticed 1 man, lying on his stomach, who had pulled his trunks down - not an attractive view.

Shopping and activities - We checked out Francoise’s gallery (Gallery Camaieux on Rue de Kennedy) and bought a small painting – the artist lives in France, so I guess it’s not Caribbean but it will be a lovely reminder of our trip. At the market in Marigot, I bought a tagua bracelet. That was about it for our shopping, other than a couple of bottles of rum Ma Doudou (the banana / vanilla is like a liqueur and their ‘rum shack’ was close to where we were staying), plus some of their hot sauce. At the duty free at the airport, I bought a bottle of single malt for my father. I checked out the Pandora beads, but the one I wanted was $45 US and it’s $50 CAD here at home – not much of a bargain, so I passed on it.

On the Sunday afternoon, we drove to Sunset Beach Bar and watched the planes come in. Seeing them land is one thing – seeing them take off is another. The wind created by the big KLM jet knocked people around and a chair & umbrella from the beach ended up in the water. We got a picture of the Westjet plane landing.

We basically drove all around the island. Late one afternoon, we took the road up to the Radisson and stopped to look at the view. The area is lovely but that whole beach strip seemed really boring (in my husband’s words, it has ‘no juice’).

General - I know it’s a matter of taste, but we’re so glad we stayed on the French side of the island. The Dutch side seems so built up and didn’t appeal to us as much. I know that the beaches are lovely and there are probably a lot of great restaurants, but it felt like we could have been anywhere. I think if we had stayed at a place like the Sonesta Maho for the week, I would have gone nuts. I really didn’t like that area at all. The hotel was very ordinary, or at least our room was very ordinary – I’m sure that Westjet was not paying top dollar. We had the dinner buffet and the breakfast buffet courtesy of the airline. I know we could have gone out for dinner somewhere nice, but by that time I just wanted to go home. All I can say is that the Sheraton in Santiago, even in the aftermath of the earthquake, was a lot nicer and the food was much better. (One odd experience at the Sonesta – I needed to send an email to my office to let them know that I wouldn’t be at work on Friday. I couldn’t get the internet to work in the room, so I used one of the computers in the lobby. It was slowest connection I’ve ever seen – 10 minutes to send 1 short email. But – and this is where it gets odd – the guy next to me was surfing porn on his computer – I kid you not – it was disgusting. Maybe my impression was unfairly impacted by that image!)

There are mosquitoes here and like mosquitoes at home, they love me! I have a lot of bites, but I’m told that malaria isn’t a problem here. (I hope West Nile virus is not a problem either.)

Getting money was a problem on the French side – I posted last week about that. We used USD most of the time, but we also used euros some of the time on the French side, especially if the exchange rate wasn’t good.

Overall – it was an excellent vacation. We aren’t really beach people but 2010 hasn’t been a great year for me and I really appreciated being able to relax and wind down, read lots of books and get some sun. I’m already thinking of where I’ll go next. I had a great itinerary to Ecuador already planned but the chances of getting 2 weeks off work are slim to none. So now we’re thinking a week in Barcelona in May, completely different from St. Martin. Too many choices, not enough time!

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