The week before I started my new job, I took an emergency vacation to a land I had never been to before.
This is my story…
I arrive at St. Maarten airport and it is hot! Lots of American tourists — mostly college students and older couples. I grab a taxi to meet my AirBnb host Monika in Mt. Vernon, Hope Estate. After climbing a steep hill to the house, I find Monika coming out the house to meet me. She introduces herself and her house to me. We start chatting about where I’m from, what I’m doing all the way out here, and asks what I’m interested in. I said I’m here to relax but love dancing, great French pastries, and exploring. She mentions there’s a dance festival on the beach having it’s final day today and asked me if I wanted to go. I say “Yeah!” and we head over there.
We at this place called “Happy Beach” and there were two DJs stages on the beach, both playing Drum and Bass. The tickets were $50, which I thought was quite steep, but I didn’t know the average price for things like this on the island. I walked along the beach for a bit, amazing how clear and warm the sea was. I started drawing the sunset on one of the rocks nestled in the sand.
I bought some chicken and rice from the tents (pictured on the right) since I was starving. I was sweating in my white pants and polo from the heat, so I walked back to the house to change into swim shorts and ran into Monika who was at the house. It turns out she also has two other AirBnB guests in the house besides me, Alex, a police guard from Brazil, and Michael from France.
We grabbed some delicious calamari and tartar de thon from a nearby restaurant on the beach and headed back to Happy Beach to dance some more. Only Michael & I had the wristband tickets to enter the beach, so we found a hole in the gate to the beach and I took my band off my wrist and slipped it through the fence to let Alex in. We explored the beach a little more and took some photos in a lighted triangle frame. We then danced in the main stage until 3am or so. Unfortunately the main stage had monotonous Drum & Base music with some occasional good mixes. There were VIPs behind the DJ. A Brazilian woman danced with a Brazilian flag on the side of the stage the whole time. At around 3:30 am, we started walking back. Alex and Michael put their thumbs out to start hitchhiking and so did I. After a lot of taxis, one lady stopped for us and asked where we were going. “Hope Village” we replied and hopped on in. She talked a bit about how the island had changed since she was a little girl and she asked us where we were from. Towards the end of the trip I reached for my swim shorts’ pocket for a tip. I gave a $5 I had before exiting and climbing the hill to the home. Until then I didn’t realize Alex and Michael also lived in the same building in different rooms. I took a quick shower and met up in the pool to relax and chat for a bit. After 30 minutes or so we went to bed, around 4am after a shower.
My extreme dancing fatigue resolved after I woke up, around 11am. With hunger reminding me to get out, I decided to head to Orient Beach in Green Cay, not too far from my AirBnB. While starting my walk, I noticed my wrist buzzing. My fitbit animated fireworks indicating I had reached 10,000 steps for the day. 9,500 of them were from dancing the night before. I desperately needed to buy sunscreen, so I stopped by the next mart to buy Banana Boat 30 SPF sunscreen and 1.5L of water. I stopped at The Yellow Submarine and ordered a Galette Fermière avec salade for brunch. I told myself I’d have to come back for sunrise sometime.
After the beach, I went south to the Dutch side to explore the other side of the island. Along the dirt path, I passed a few construction sites and some sheep, cats, and shipping containers. This guy on a bike asked me which neighborhood I was living, where I came from, and then if I wanted any weed. I politely answered his questions and moved on.
I explored the Quarter of Orleans, passed some lovely buildings and the Arnell Medical Center. Trying to get a good view, I started walking inward towards the middle of the island. I passed by a few dogs and black pigs. Far enough in, I was walking on an unmarked dirt road where cacti, rocks, and brush were beside me. I turned back as soon as I heard more aggressive unleashed dogs barking at me.
Back in the Quarter of Orleans I found a local bar with a pool table to eat at. I ordered some ribs with rice and beans. I was the only one in the bar and one of the locals who looked like he was working as the bartender asked where I came from, where I’m staying, and what I do. Then he asked if I wanted to play pool. I said “sure”, excited to play for the first time since college. It turned out that he was very good and I in comparison was very bad. I had only sunk two balls in before losing. I was asked in the middle of the game if I could buy him a Corona🍺. I did at the end of the game, and we fist bumped and I departed. The neighborhood I walked to after that was called Oyster Pond. Occasionally dogs would bark at me as I walked past their homes and some would scare the living #%$* out of me, especially if it was dark. I eventually realized they wouldn’t bit me even if they weren’t fenced in.
I passed a few homes, a “China Town” which was really one shop and walked under the amazing start-lit sky. On the way home, tracking my way by Google Maps, I passed by “Sushi & Juice” bar. I was instantly in love. I was the only customer inside. Outside they were playing Kung Fu Panda on a projector. I went inside, said “Bon Soir”, and looked at the French menu. I then ordered the tuna/salmon poke bowl with a fresh mango smoothie. While waiting, I tried to read the French newspaper 97.150. I then went home and reached 36,764 steps for the day, 20+ km. Wow.
Having walked the longest I had ever walked in a single day of my life, I slept until 1300 or so before deciding I should get out. Fully showered, sun-lotioned, and feeling ready for another adventure, I set out with my hat, sunglasses, swim-shorts, shirt and shoes. Today I was to walk to the top. I was starving when I woke up but luckily had enough water in my 2L bottle. I started my journey and stopped about 2km to get food. I went in this French bakery and ordered a ham croissant, a raspberry tart, and a large sparkling zero calorie orange water/soda. Passing the town of La Savane, I started my journey to the center, highest mountain of the island. On the way along Rue du Pic Paradis I stopped by Loterie Farm for a bite to eat. It was quite a nice resort. On the elevated lounge/restaurant were comfy couches built into the treehouse, friendly waiters and relaxing American Pop along with free wifi. I took the chance to relax and talk to my brother who had sent me a snapchat of his new birthday speakers.
After eating some shrimp and drinking a liter of water, I asked for a bottle to go. I then left to hike to the top, Pic Paradis. I passed some luxury homes and then went up a dirt road for a bit, passed a large satellite tower, went on some smaller trails and then found the million dollar view.
The Google Maps landmark icon was way off. But it wasn’t too hard to find the vista. After admiring the view I started my trek back, walking through Grand Case’s French night market. Merchants were selling everything from art and jewelry to shirts and food like frites belges. I then headed home to Hope Estate to take a nap before dinner. That night I went to the highly-rated nearby French restaurant Le Tiatu. It was just me and the French waiter. I ordered the Duck Confit and finished the night with a homemade dark chocolate cake with an espresso. With early plans for the next day, I went straight to sleep.
I woke up a bit before 5:30 to see the sunrise. I originally wanted to go to (the appropriately named) “Dawn Beach” but determined it was too far and that Orient Beach would have a similar view since it was at a similar angle but a lot closer to me. I was the only person on the beach but slowly some older men, two really buff naked guys, a married couple, and a guy with a metal detector came trickling in onto the beach.
After walking the beach, I noticed this restaurant called La Playa was opening up. I went there and ordered the breakfast bar and some french toast. The bar was disappointing but the french toast was delicious. I then started walking to The Butterfly Farm which had an amazing exhibit. The farm was one large greenhouse room with various tropical flowers, oranges, bridges, trees, and of course, butterflies. This fantastic British biologist told the twenty or so Carnival Cruise tourists and I everything about these creatures from their migration patterns to reproductive cycle. The guide told us ways we could foster butterflies in our hometowns. As we exited we could buy hundreds upon hundreds of petrified butterflies, which to me was really sad since such souvenirs are counterproductive to the butterfly conservation effort. We were also treated with a homemade rum punch for those needed to quench their thirst. I passed by Paradis View which had a small street market and restaurant, but continued on my way back to my AirBnB, all before 11am.
Monika said we could borrow her car to my next AirBnB, asking if Alex and I could drop off some boxes at her bikini shop near the airport. So we drove over and parked near Platinum Room and left our stuff in the car and lugged the heavy boxes to Monika’s assistant in the empty shop. Alex and I then spent the afternoon at Maho beach, which is a famous beach in St. Maarten nestled between the ocean and the airport landing strip.
We saw many planes roar overhead as they came from a tiny gray blur to full 747s roaring overhead. The beach was quite steep which created large waves on the smooth sand which often overpowered the scattered tourists in the water. Alex yelled “Tombo” whenever a wave crashed over a beacher. He encouraged me to say it too with him. I later asked what it meant. It means “Wipeout” in Portuguese, which made sense.
After people watching, and then swimming in the ocean for about an hour, we got a snack at the local Tortuga Beach Cafe where I got something close to a chicken shawarma. Around 5pm I left with my bags to find my 2nd AirBnB stay. After confusing the yacht clubs, I eventually was able to find my AirBnB host Michele at a local healthy joint called “Top Carrot”. Michele’s daughter Nhia recommended restaurants to go to and sites to see on the Dutch side of the island. I got the keys, a quick tour of the apartment, and was off to do what I wanted. Having walked a great way that day, I took an unplanned nap, waking up at 9pm or so. Not having eaten dinner, I put some pants on and carefully exited the apartment, trying to remember how to return home during the night.
Looking for dinner close by, I immediately ran into Pizza Italy where I had a sausage funghi pizza finished with some limoncello. I’ve had my good share of pizzas in my days, but I’ve got to say this was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. The crust makes the difference. After that long day I immediately went to sleep.
I woke up starving and went to this nearby cafe which my AirBnB host gave me a $10 coupon to called Top Carrot. The name reminds me of a childhood memory I have. I ordered the special, a quiche with a “Chunky Monkey” peanut butter banana smoothie. The inside of Top Carrot was very hippie, full of shell decorations, green walls with pictures from movies, and other artisanal crafts. I then went back home writing more entries in this journal and admiring the dock in the sunlight for the first time.
Wanting to do something for this day, I decided to take a trip to the beaches on the Western most point of the island. In particular I went to Gus’ Beach Bar to see the beach on Baie Rouge. After two hours of walking, I pass by a bunch of private estates and come to a lonely, empty beach. I saw a bar counter and tried to order but the woman there said they didn’t serve food (at least at that hour). So instead I ordered the only non-alcoholic beverage they had, a pineapple juice and sat in a white, plastic lawn chair and relaxed watching the waves.
After awhile, I continued walking around Simpson Bay Lagoon and stopped for dinner by Rendez-Vous Lounge which was a nice plaza with three or so restaurants, a bakery, palm trees, and a surrounding hotel. I looked at the menus and settled for the Altro Italian Bistro. Treating myself, I ordered Crudo de Tonno with the special of the night, a homemade ravioli. We were treated with a live Spanish Salsa performace in which two ladies danced around the diners with traditional dresses. The two dancers entertained us by chiming their finger symbols and dancing through the restaurants. Satisfied with my dinner, I left my complimentary Limoncello on the table and left, but not without grabbing a sugar-coated cream puff catching my eye by the bakery by the plaza exit. Walking back home I walked to Mullet Bay Beach where I walked in on the sand underneath the star-filled sky. I was excited and fatigued at the same time and decided to head back home to bed.
Today is the last day on St. Maarten and I hadn’t been to the island’s capital and biggest town, Philipsburg. I headed out around 10am and grabbed a croque monsieur and ham & cheese croissant on the way a this highly rated French bakery, La Sucriere.
I ate my pastries along the way to the capitol, walking on a hilly road that is clearly purposed for vehicle traffic. I passed by a large grocery store to have the local food. There were a lot of imported goods and some extremely fresh local produce. I grabbed a liter of milk and a freshly-baked bun for only $2. I then entered the nation’s zoo to have a look at the tropical animals. I arrived to the entrance and saw no one, even inside the entrance building. The place seemed deserted. I browsed the gift shop while waiting around and finally someone noticed me and I bought my ticket. I could immediately tell I was the only one in the zoo. I passed and saw some beautiful macaws without any cage. I soon realized that this isn’t a normal US zoo. Walking around I passed some turtles and saw one flipped over, struggling to flip back upright. I went up to the little guy, stepped over the guard rail, and flipped it right-side up. After passing Toco the Tucan, a large peacock started walking up to me on the pedestrian path.
It turned out there were many peacocks roaming the zoo. I also saw roosters wander next to the turtles.
I proceeded and saw hogs, flamingos, anthropomorphic monkeys, parrots, raccoons, chickens, goats, pigs, rabbits and more turtles. After the zoo I went to the center of town in Philipsburg. It really was a small, quaint, simple town. The most floors I saw for a building was five. There’s a beautiful church in the center of town which is just a mere 2 blocks from the beach. I spent about an hour pondering my life and what was to happen next. I was very surprised when two dogs, a black-furred male was chasing a beige-furred female on the sandy beach. They sprinted chasing each other and bumped into me a couple times. Having relaxed for a bit, I started heading back to my bed to take a nap. I passed out on the couch and wake up an hour later with a rumbling stomach. It had been about 2 hours. I walked over to this nice French restaurant to spend my final night. I ate this large brie en croute and a delicious seared seafood plate accompanied with julienned carrots and seaweed. I loved the live guitar music as well. I quickly went to bed after dinner for a big day the next day and early flight.
My AirBnB host drove me to the airport and chatted with me along the way asking where I had been and if I liked the stay. I loved it and she gave me her card saying she has many placed around the world she rents out and to keep in touch. I took off around 7am and got to Miami. I took an Uber to pick up my ticket to Ultra — an EDM concert I had always heard about my favorite DJs on SoundCloud. I found some lunch nearby Bayfront Park Amphitheater that served raw fish and raw juice. My favorite! I got some Ahi Poke, then dropped my bags at my AirBnB and then ubered back to Ultra. I smiled as I walked with the crowd of dancers in shorts, glasses, and dancing garb. It was about noon and I started to explore the five or so stages. I was at first disappointed after walking through dancers listening to monotonous drum & base but then found the main stage. I fell in love with the music, environment, the friendliest of people, everything. I squeezed my way to the front. After listening to Frank Walker’s future house set, Sam Feldt killed it when he started rocking the saxophone with killer edm beats.
I danced non-stop through Dash Berlin, Aoki, Tiësto past midnight. I was able to make my way to the 3rd row of the main stage. It was a bumping, jumping mosh pit. Some guys offered molly, one girl taught me this cool handshake and gave me a bracelet (as seen in the picture), the crowd juggled beach balls and condom balloons, and this one guy on a wheelchair somehow managed to get to the front of the main stage. We lifted him up and by the look of his smile, gave him the night of his life. I grabbed some Venezuelan arepas at this food stand in the park for dinner since they were the only ones accepting cards. After the short break I listened to the rest of Tiësto’s set in the pouring rain (which felt great since we were hot from dancing). After Tiësto came Above & Beyond, then Afrojack. Having surpassed 30k steps for the day, I stopped dancing around 10:30 and headed back to my AirBnB for some shuteye. I crashed on the bed but woke up ~6am to catch my flight back to SF. I got back around noon and prepared to start my new job at Google the next day.
What a trip!
Thanks to my sister, Michelle, my friends, and the rest of my family who has supported me through the ebb and flow of life.