90 miles upwind from the Virgin Islands you come to the island of St. Martin. Half french, half dutch with the line that goes through the middle seemingly inconsequential. Different rules apply when checking in. It costs more on the dutch side, with strict regulations and fees, but is way casual on the french. Just go to the Budget Marine and fill out the form on their computer. The business owner looks to make sure your passport and ships documentation numbers match. After that he could care less. As long as you check in and out from the same side you can travel throughout the island.
When in the french half I am back in France. The pastries are mind blowing and literally bring tears to my eyes after so much bland, english food of the last few months. Chocolate croissant, and a cafe au last. Oui, merci boucoup. Endless restaurants, patiseries, and the usual local ladies selling bright caribbean shirts and dresses made in China. People so wonderfully french. A kiss on the cheek, then the other. Bonjour, bonjour. Not right down to business, but happy to see each other with a twinkle and a smile. French fashion invites me to let Elia dress me up as a little french man in my new lime green linen shirt.
Anchored in the massive inner lagoon that has access through two antique swing bridges that open twice a day. We enter into a Mad Max world of rusted out ships sunk during hurricanes, boats in the anchorages funky, dirty, falling apart, some still lived on. Over 200 cruisers anchored, out of the wind, out of the swell. Each of those boats is emptying their heads into the water, so you don’t want to swim, and probably a good idea to wash your hands if you touch the lines that have been in the water.
On the Dutch side, of the lagoon are the mega yachts. Steve Jobs Apple boat nestled among the gleaming white and polished chrome. They wait here for their next cruise, getting repaired, having their stainless shined daily by the shore bound crews, who at night are seen drinking hard in the bars, in their matching shirts with the boat name on the front and the line drawing on the back.
Walking through town the sidewalks incomplete or mostly non existent with gaping holes to swallow the ankles of the inattentive. Cars whistling by, inches from our side. The smell we call sargasso of open sewers drifts by briefly as we walk the back streets. Car horns blast insistently in greeting. Dark skinned kinevils on scooters pull off 100 yard wheelies.
Rent the car, to the east side of the island. Beaches named Cocoa beach, Waikiki, huh? Where are we? Stunning white sand. Turquoise waves breaking. Parade of umbrellas and beach chairs, with topless ladies of many generations browning all of their parts. Jet ski’s zip along. Para sailors glide overhead. And the breeze, always the trade winds blowing strong from the east.
Over to the dutch side on the $2 bus. We are the only white people aboard. Sweet smells of sweat. Quiet with the occasional, “stop de bus” heard. Hard to know where the line between countries is crossed. Into the main town of Philipsburg. Looking out into the harbor are 4 mega cruise ships regurgitating humans continuously onto the streets. They have a look these cruise ship travelers. Older, pasty, eating too much, drinking too much, They drop into a town on their excursion. Take some pictures. Soak up their 15 minutes. On to the next stop.
Which brings me to the joy of Orion. To sail away from it all and anchor off where the cruise shippers don’t reach and the tourists can’t go. Drop the hook, and dive into the crystal clear water. Just the turtles, coral, fish, Elia, and me. Peace.