This morning I awoke to the sounds of hammering and electric drill emanating from the high-rise building that’s in the process of being erected next door to my bedroom, in mid-town Manhattan. Despite sleeping with earplugs, the noises are so intense that somehow they creep into my pre-waking dreams, or worse, just wake me up. Today my brain managed to create an absolute thing of beauty from the agitating noise… In my dream there I was, on the ‘Epic of the Seas’, the largest boat in the world, curled up like a fetus in my luxurious down duvet. At the edge of consciousness I heard the fog-horns as the ship was about to dock at St. Maarten’s Dutch side harbor. I leaped out of bed, on to the balcony of my stateroom, and saw the island spread out in all its glory right in front of me. That’s when I awoke, still fetal, rubbing the sleep off my eyes, and realized I was very far from the Virgin Islands. I said a quick prayer, to get back there ASAP.
The dream reminded me that the Kosher cruise to the Eastern Caribbean’s, one of my most recent ones, didn’t even make it to my blogs. I thought it was perhaps a subconscious reminder to write about this Kosher Cruise, which was indeed a source of wonder, awe and pleasure. We boarded in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and as soon as check in and border patrol were over, the people in our group were directed to the Aria dinning room, where the most beautifully appetizing buffet awaited us, with prearranged tickets to the Broadway show, Chicago.
The first and second day at sea were filled with activities, with stops at Nassau and St. Thomas (shoppers were elated and bought tax free luxury items, like jewelry, perfume and returned to the ship, proud as peacocks, laden with packages and savings). At night we saw a masterpiece of aquatic production, the like of which I’ve never witnessed, by acrobats and divers, a mystically lit and choreographed show, filled with superstar athletes diving off 30 meter high boards into a tiny, oscillating pool, with the water moving to the rhythm of the high ocean waves.
Then came Wednesday in St. Maarten and I got off the boat, deciding to do a solo excursion, my new Nikon SLR readily available in hand, ready to explore the island and it’s inhabitants. I began walking towards the center of town, meeting lots of smiling locals, each of whom had some ‘must see’ tip for me.
As you know y now, I’m a pre-visit research aficionado, so I knew that the Island, as small as it is, had two sides, actually two nations. There was St Maarten, owned by the Dutch, and St. Martin, the French side (uses Euros as opposed to the more Anglicized St. Maarten, where US dollars are the going currency.) The walk itself was lovely, with glimpses to left of white washed beaches, turquoise waters, palm trees, peppered with people selling cold slices of watermelon and peeled sugar cane. On the right there were green hills, and up high, buildings of great beauty, mostly privately owned.
When I got to town center I sat down for a breather and some cool water, from my backpack. The central plaza of Phillipsburg was packed with tourists and locals. Little kids timidly came by and asked to play with my hair, after politely asking their parent’s permission. I got a braid by a tiny little hair-maven, whose parents told me she wants to be a hairdresser when she grows up. In fact, hair, wigs, beauty shops are all big business on the island, since the local women seem obsessed with wigs, extensions and weaves and perms. The stores on the main streets are mainly Duty Free electronics, famous brands of jewelry at discount prices and some designer labels, which sell rather cheaply considering Europeans are used to higher prices, and no taxes on top it.
I decided to explore the back roads, and saw wonderful little markets selling incense, hats, fabrics, and island garments, mostly white to repel the heat. The prices in the back streets were much lower and you could get a real deal if you were willing to bargain. In fact, the same is true in many of the fancy shops of the main street, but somehow the shops selling to locals seemed far more interesting, I got to talk to several people with interesting philosophies and realized once again, that people are Divine Creations, with great similarities, no matter where you go.
There was enough time to take a glass-bottomed boat and look at sea creatures, coral reefs, and shipwrecks without changing into a bathing suit. We passed by the famous Simpson Bay, which moored over 300 immensely large and stunning yachts owned by the worlds super rich. I learned that St Maarten’s luxurious marina is the preferred destination of these mariners, during the months of November-May.
We were scheduled to leave at 5:00 but I wanted one more adventure; I went to the tourist information booth and was told that a trip to Loterie Farm, a private nature reserve is about to leave in 5 minutes and will be back before 4:30. No hesitation, I booked myself on the tour and within minutes was seated in the air-conditioned minibus heading to the green ‘heart of the island’ with its hikes on rope bridges and raw nature. My shoes were perfect for this: I wore my Sketcher athletic shoes with a long white dress, to be covered from getting a sunburn or blisters. It was fun with a capital F. Only one person from the bus shied away from the adventure of walking across the suspension rope bridge. All of us though felt wonderfully brave and I had pink cheeks (so proud!) which a Swedish Tourist captured in a photo I’ve attached, as we were about to leave the island.
‘Love is the most powerful way to create profoundly tangible transformation in everyone who crosses our path. Yet we must be mindful to endow the self with pure, unconditional love and acceptance, which will result in an infinite fountain of empathy and joy, readily available to give others.’
img credit: remax-caribbeanislands.com