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St. Martin’s

  Fri. 3/22/02- Williamsville, N.Y.

           We arose early. It was 15 degrees outside and 
  four new inches of snow had fallen. Aye yei yei! I hit 
  work very early . The morning was filled with Òexit 
  preparations.Ó A four-hour phone conference with the 
  NYSERDA people, on energy efficient purchasing, saved me 
  a ride to Albany and occupied most of the day.

              I left marching orders for the next two 
  weeks and set out for home at 2:00 P.M. After a quick 
  closing up of the palace, Precious and I loaded up the 
  chariot and set out along 290 E. to 190 N., crossing over 
  the Lewiston/Queenston bridge into Canada.($3.50 CDN)

              The Queen Elizabeth way was crowded with 
  traffic as we approached metro Toronto. We followed the 
  401 North and exited onto Dixon Rd. N. to find the 
  Carlingsview Inn, where we would be staying for the 
  evening. ($105 CDN) We checked in and then drove our car 
  to the Òlong term lot.Ó 
The hotel allowed guests to 
  store their vehicles for up to two weeks. A shuttle 
  returned us to the Carlingsview where we settled into 
  their ÒGreek RestaurantÓ for dinner. A glass of merlot, 
  some Greek salad and an excellent Calamari platter made for a 
  pleasurable repast. ($51 CDN) We were tiring from the 
  already long day and turned in by 9:30 P.M., fully aware 
  that we had a 2:45 A.M. wake up call coming.

  Sat. 3/25/01 Toronto, Canada

              We arose at 2:30 A.M., cleaned up, had 
  coffee in the room and readied for the 3:15 shuttle to 
  terminal #3 at Pearson International airport. Check out 
  was quick and we emerged into the cold night air for the 
  15-minute ride to the airport.

           We checked our bags into the ÒAir TransatÓ 
  station and were assigned seats on the 6:25 A.M. air 
  transat flight # 660 direct for St. Maarten's Queen 
  Juliana airport. The security checkpoint was uneventful 
  and we stopped by a coffee shop for liquid adrenalin and
 
  muffins. The airport was already awash with travelers at 
  4:00 A.M.

            We walked for a time, running into several 
  people from Western New York who were headed to various 
  other Caribbean destinations. Boarding the huge ÒairbusÓ 
  was easy enough. All 350 of us settled in for the ride. 
  I read Òtell no oneÓ by Harlen Caben for the next four 
  hours. The flight was pleasant and uneventful. We 
  arrived at Queen Juliana airport on St.Maarten at 11:30 
  a.m. local time (one hour before E.S.T) It was hot and 
  very humid out. The baggage carousel was a mob scene in 
  the small airport. We waited patiently and finally 
  fished our luggage from the morass of packaged clothing. 
  A few buses ferried the lot of us over to nearby ÒGreat 
  Bay HotelÓ on Great Bay, just outside of Phillipsburg, 
  the Dutch Capital. It had been named after an early 
  Scottish governor, for some reason not explained to us.

             The hotel lobby was tropical and attractive, 
  even with t
he swarm of clamoring guests. We opted for a 
  few rum punches while the throng clamored. The view out 
  onto the Caribbean was pleasing. An impossibly bright 
  cerulean sky and a light turquoise ocean framed the pool 
  area, lined around with swaying palm trees. It was like 
  viewing a living post card. We talked to people from 
  Lackawanna, Cheektowaga, Fort Erie and Buffalo while we 
  waited to get checked in. That ended any plans we had 
  for anonymous, riotous living in a foreign land. We met 
  and talked with Diane and Tom Wicher for a few minutes. 
  They were just off a 7-day Windjammer cruise and staying 
  at great Bay for two nights. Diane and I work together 
  at the Rath Bldg in Erie County. The world keeps getting 
  smaller and smaller. 

            After checking into room #217, we had lunch on 
  the second floor, ocean-patio restaurant. Fresh salads, 
  soup and fish made for a relaxing noon meal as we 
  watched the activities around us. The Great Bay hotel is 
  a
n Òall inclusive.Ó A six-story wing of Òocean frontÓ 
  rooms meets in a vee with a smaller and newer three 
  story ÒMiramar wing.Ó At the junction of the vee is a 
  three-story lobby, dining & casino complex and an ocean 
  front pool and patio restaurant. It is user friendly and 
  always bustling with activity. The beach in front of the 
  hotel is large and the ocean fairly calm in the bay. 
  Phillipsburg is a ten-minute walk, either down the beach 
  or along a fairly safe street into town.

          After lunch, we walked the beach into 
  Phillipsburg. We could see across the bay, the huge 
  cruise ship docking facilities at Point Blanche. Some 
  days, as many at six of the huge sea going behemoths 
  make it into port. The beach is tidal, with a 
  pronounced 45-degree slant that makes walking difficult. 

           The harbor area of Phillipsburg focuses around an extended, 
  cross- shaped dock area for ship's tenders, separate 
  from the huge Ponte Blanche facility. A small  ÒWha
tley 
  SquareÓ forms a ÒUÓ shape onto the harbor dock. A 
  courthouse, several shops and a Burger King make up the 
  pedestrian square. Cabbies, hangers on and other lay 
  abouts gather in front of the Burger King daily to socialize 
  and figure out how to hustle the tourists.

             We walked back to the Great Bay Hotel along 
  the beach and settled in by the pool to swim and 
  relax. ÒGuvavaberry ColadasÓ a pink frozen Òumbrella 
  drink,Ó drew our attention. We sampled them, enjoying 
  them immensely. We met and talked with Jack and Charleen 
  Brown from, South Buffalo. Jack also works with me at 
  the Rath County Office Building. I guess we were going 
  to be paragons of virtue on this outing. As the golden 
  afternoon drew to a close, we repaired to our room to 
  shower and prep for dinner. 

              As evening dawned, we walked through the 
  open and airy foyer of the hotel enjoying the warm night 
  air and the beautiful visage of ocean and night sky 
  before us. I 
signed up for an hour of internet access at 
  the desk to help stem the vandals at work from 
  depredations in my absence. Poolside, we enjoyed a glass 
  of Merlot and talked to an older RCMP Constable and his 
  wife, from the Kitchener area of the Niagara Peninsula 
  in Canada. It is these chance encounters with people 
  from everywhere that make travel so enjoyable.

              Dinner tonight was a very good buffet in the 
  second floor dining room. Salads, pasta with clams and a 
  host of other attractions were enjoyable. Bring on the 
  bicycle pump, we were going to be much inflated 
  physically in the next two week. After dinner, we talked 
  with the Wichers again and visited the small casino to 
  make our contributions. In the Casino, we ran into 
  Buffalo Parking Violations Director Lenny Sciolino and 
  wife Linda. We agreed to meet later in the week for 
  dinner.

              We had one last glass of Merlot while 
  looking out over the moonlit bay in the warm tropical 
  
air, before retiring. It had been a long and pleasant 
  day and we were ready for the arms of Morpheus.

  Sunday 3/24/02 St. Maarten, Dutch Antilles.

              We were up at 6:30 A.M. It was already sunny 
  and warm. Another 4-masted windjammer had moored in the 
  bay and rode the swells with a fleet of  sloops. We 
  headed into Phillipsburg for an early walk. A passle of 
  goats were munching contentedly on the grass in a 
  drainage sluice. The islander's houses, that we saw, 
  were  ramshackle affairs. Several roosters were still 
  crowing their morning alarm and even one monkey peered 
  out at us from his small hut. The islanders were 
  friendly when you greeted them. A big smile and a Ògood 
  morningÓ were ready for you if you asked for it. What I 
  did detect, upon reflection, was that the islanders have 
  been relegated to a permanent sub culture on their own 
  island. Most of the tourist appeared to be afraid to 
  make contact with them. In any case, we went out of our 
  wa
y to correct this inequity on any small basis that we 
  could. Not every American is ugly.

              The street names still reflected their Dutch 
  origin. Schmidsteed, Stillesteed and other nomenclature 
  remembered a time when Phillipsburg had been a Ducth 
  village. As we neared the center of town, the jewelers, 
  boutiques, restaurants and other merchants crowded out 
  the small residences. The Methodist Church and the 
  local ÒOranje SchoolÓ are the most prominent gathering 
  places for natives. Phillipsburg even has a McDonald's 
  and a Burger King. We admired some of the quainter 
  architecture as we browsed the town. From behind us, on 
  the central square, emerged a ÒPalm Sunday ParadeÓ down 
  Front St. A large number of islanders marched, like a 
  St. Patrick's Day group dressed in their finest. Here 
  and there you could spot a tow headed Dutchman, but most 
  were of the uniform coffee color of the St. Maarten 
  islanders. All of the smiling and happy marchers were 
  
decked out in Sunday best and headed for Palm Sunday 
  services at the St. Martin of Tours Catholic church on 
  Front Street. We watched them walk by, enjoying this bit 
  of island culture not listed in any of the guidebooks.

                 ÒOld StreetÓ is a gated and secure alley 
  of expensive jewelers and upscale merchants. We window 
  shopped the pricey stores and then continued on our 
  walk, passing the St.Martins home for the aged. Across 
  the street, the colorful ÒGuavaberry EmporiumÓ hawked 
  its native product in bright pastels and bursts of 
  yellow and purple. The small marina, apart from the 
  Pointe Blanch cruise ship docks, held a few quaint 
  restaurants and more tee shirt and notions kiosks.  When 
  the ships were in port, this town becomes awash in 
  shoppers, all eagerly scurrying from boutique to 
  boutique in search of the fabled Ò duty free bargain.Ó

                    Unlike many of the Caribbean islands 
  we encountered, not a single panhandler along o
ur line 
  of march accosted us, a testament to the relative 
  prosperity of the island's economy. We walked back along 
  Front St., passing the island's cemetery. It is similar 
  to that which you find in New Orleans, with above ground 
  biers of stone and concrete.

                     At the Great Bay Hotel, we had a 
  delicious breakfast of fresh fruits on the ocean 
  terrace. We talked again with Lenny and Linda Sciolino, 
  from Buffalo. Then we swam and sat poolside in the warm 
  morning sun. Life is good sometimes. Mary attended a 
  10:00 A.M.  orientation meeting to see what excursions 
  and events were offered for the week. She signed us up 
  for a Monday morning Island tour and for an excursion to 
  St. Bart's on Wednesday. I took a break from the searing 
  sun to send e-mails to the office and a few message 
  replies. The sun was getting to us, so we walked over to 
  the Òquiet side of the complexÓ and sat under a shaded 
  awning reading for a few hours. (Demoliti
on Angel-
  R.Craic) The waves were crashing on the rocks beneath 
  us, the sun was shining and the warm breeze from the bay 
  caressed us as we relaxed on the terrace.
  Across the bay, a huge container vessel traversed the 
  harbor to the cargo complex next to the Pointe Blanche 
  passenger terminal. The jet skis were flitting across 
  Great Bay, like dragonflies on a pond in late summer. A 
  painter would fall in love with the place in a minute. 
  Every hour of the day brought a new shade of color to 
  the sky, sea, mountains and flora. I thought of the 
  American Painter Winslow Homer. He would have loved the 
  place and painted here forever.

                    We wandered down to the beach and 
  waded into the surf. The rollers were powerful enough to 
  knock us over and we laughed and played like kids at 
  beaches the world over. An outside shower washed the 
  salt and sand from us as we headed to the room to change 
  and have lunch on the ocean terrace. Our room spa
rkled 
  from the maid's attention. For a $1 daily tip, they will 
  virtually scour the place for you.

                     Lunch was relaxing, looking out over 
  the ocean. Mixed salads, with rice and vegetables were 
  of good quality. After lunch, we swam for a time and 
  then settled in to read our books under the shaded 
  awning. A Òguavaberry coladaÓ during the mid afternoon 
  was refreshing. Poolside, the staff was conducting an 
  arm wrestling contest. It reminded me of the old movies 
  depicting group recreational activities, in the 
  Catskills, during the 1950's. Ugh! 

                     By late afternoon, we had had enough 
  of the heat. We repaired to our room to read and cool 
  off in the air conditioning. The cabana boys were making 
  a racket as they recovered, washed and stored their 
  small fleet of jet skis from the beach. It looked like 
  the concessionaire paid off the extra help at night, in 
  Heinekens. After a time, the boys got a little noisy.

       
               At 7:00 P.M., the sun had set and 
  the moonlight shining over the bay was picturesque. 
  There were lights strung in the rigging of the two 
  windjammers at anchor in the bay. We stopped by 
  the ÒChrysalis RoomÓ (bar) for a glass of merlot before 
  dinner. There, we met and talked with a very nice couple 
  from Montreal, Tim and Liz Snow. We chatted for a time 
  and then headed into the formal dinner seating at 9:00 
  P.M. Melon, potage St. Germain (split pea soup), red 
  snapper, napoleon _clairs for dessert were washed down 
  with a decent ÒCote du Rhone and good coffee. It was a 
  delicious repast. I could already feel my waist 
  expanding.






                      After dinner we walked the grounds 
  enjoying the cool breeze and the gorgeous surroundings, 
  before heading to the room to read and lapse into 
  conversation with Morpheus. It had been a wonderful Palm 
  Sunday on St. Maarten.

  Monday, March 25,2002 St. Maarten, Dutch Antilles. 

           
      
 We arose early and prepped for the day. It was 
  sunny and warm out at 7 A.M. Breakfast on the ocean 
  terrace is a pleasant ritual that we could repeat 
  forever. We watched two of the mega- ships maneuver into 
  anchorage at Pointe Blanche. The other sloop's masts 
  rolled back and forth to an almost silent musical rhythm 
  as the sea swells rocked them gently at anchor.

           The 9:30 A.M. island tour was to be conducted 
  on a huge air-conditioned bus. I continually marvel at 
  the driver's ability to negotiate the narrow and clogged 
  roads. He said, in wry humor, that the Òbiggest vehicle 
  had the right of wayÓ and I think he meant it.

          Our first stop was on a hilltop over looking 
  Great Bay. The Paradise View restaurant, some clothing 
  kiosks and a scenic over look, including the Òlove 
  rock,Ó enable one to look far out onto the Caribbean, 
  including St. Bart's and some of the smaller islands. 
  This great expanse of turquoise blue sea and cerulean 
  sky dotted with fluffy white clouds became a favorite 
  vista on which we could serenely gaze forever. The ocean 
  views on the island understandably dictated the price of 
  the land. Just opposite the paradise restaurant, a 
  hillside lot for a lovely villa had just sold for 
  $500,000, and that was just for the lot with a view. 
  Aye, caramba! In general, the higher the altitude, the 
  better and more luxurious is the quality of housing on 
  the island. I think it exemplifies a similar American 
  concept of Òdoo doo running downhill.Ó

          Along the road, we came to a smallish sign that 
  read ÒBienvenue Partie Francaise.Ó It is the unmanned 
  border that separates the small island into the Dutch 
  and French territories. St.Maarten / St.Martin has 
  managed to stay at peace with each other since its first 
  European settlers arrive in 1648. The original natives 
  of course had been either slaughtered or shipped into 
  slavery. Large numbers of African slaves had been 
  
imported over the years to work the sugar cane 
  plantations and the salt recovery facilities that 
  comprised the main sources of commerce on the island.

            The driver cheerfully pointed out to us 
  the Òisland traffic police.Ó It is a local joke. The 
  goats and sheep of the island are prone to wander onto 
  the roadways causing an immediate jam of traffic, thus 
  slowing everyone down. The natives used it as a double 
  entendre to poke fun at the police establishment. It is 
  tongue in cheek plantation humor. To the casual eye, the 
  goats and sheep look alike. But, the goats have their 
  tails turned up and the sheep have them turned down. Why 
  that is, or how the islanders worked in even more 
  scatological humor, at the expense of the local 
  gendarmes, we were mercifully spared.





           We swung around the one main road that circles 
  the small island, passing the magnificent expanse of 
  Orient Bay,  one of the finer beaches on the island. 
  The ÒFrench Cul de 
sacÓ or 
Anse Marsel,Ó is a small one-
   way offshoot that leads into a pricey resort area. We 
  then passed through another side-shunting of Grand Case. 
  Here you will find some twenty excellent restaurants 
  that draw hundreds of tourists nightly. The narrow road 
  gave us passage, with a clearance of inches, from 
  surrounding vehicles and pedestrians. Grand Case is one 
  of the original settlements on the island. The hillside 
  building lots along the road way here are as equally 
  expensive as on the Dutch side. In one development, the 
  lower lots started at $83,000, the mid hill lots at 
  $123,000 and the upper lots were Ònegotiable.Ó 

          The bus then wallowed into the French capital, 
  Marigot. The huge chariot bulled its way past streets 
  crowded with shops and busy with commerce. We were let 
  off on the waterfront, near the ferry docks. A series of 
  open-air concessions hustled the colorful batik scarves 
  and sundresses and the ever-present tee shirts. We 
  sho
pped for a time, admiring the blue and red coral 
  necklaces and other jewelry, before stopping 
  for  Òdesigner waterÓ at one of the small kiosks. 
  Everyone here spoke French. If you don't have any 
  language skills, it could prove troublesome here. We 
  browsed the streets and shops in a quick survey, 
  determined to return for a much more leisurely visit 
  later in our stay on the island.




           The bus lumbered on down the road, returning to 
  the Dutch side and Great Bay. We had some wonderful 
  salads and Mahi-mahi for lunch on the ocean terrace, 
  admiring the living tableau of ocean before us. After 
  lunch, I sent a few more messages into the ether of 
  cyber space and then we settled in by the pool to swim 
  and read our book. The routine was getting comfortable.

          It had to be in the 90's, so we didn't last too 
  long. We browsed the hotel shop for post cards, 
  international stamps ($1) and bought a fifth of 
  Stolichnya for $6.50. We repaired to the r
oom to cool 
  off, read and have a conversation with Ozzie Nelson.

           It was still hot out at 6:30 P.M. as we met poolside 
  for the Òmanager's cocktail party.Ó  We didn't get the 
  concept. What were they going to give us at an all-
  inclusive resort, more free drinks and more free food? 
  It turned out to be sort of lame. We again met up with 
  Tim and Liz Snow and chatted with them poolside before 
  joining them for a buffet dinner on the ocean terrace. 
  We enjoyed their company and conversation for the 
  evening. 

           By 10:00 P.M., we were tiring from the day and 
  headed off to the room to read and retire. We went 
  reluctantly. The weather was so beautiful and the 
  surroundings so attractive, that you hated to turn in 
  for the night. But, alas, we were not 25 anymore and 
  needed our sleep. Reading ÒA darkness More than nightÓ -
  M.Connelly





  Tuesday- March 26, 2002 St.Maarten, Dutch Antilles

             We arose early. It was cloudy and warm at 7 
  A.
M. We set off walking through Phillipsburg and 
  continued beyond to the Cruise Ship docking facility at 
  Pointe Blanche. It appeared to be all of fairly new 
  construction. The facility was gated and guarded, so we 
  could only observe from outside. Four huge ships were 
  berthed at present, with legions of buses ready to take 
  their aging cargos sightseeing around the island.

              Later when the hordes walked in and out we 
  could easily slip by, knowing that Òwe all looked alikeÓ 
  to the guards. Beyond the cruise ship dock lay another 
  huge Òcontainer shipÓ dock area. Here is where virtually 
  every consumable item is shipped into the island from 
  mainland ports, thus adding to its cost. Very few items 
  are either produced or grown on St. Martin. The fish of 
  course come with the place.

              From the roadway we spotted several nimble 
  footed goats, munching on bushes and walking on the 
  severely sloped hillside. Their agility was amazing, as 
  they 
wandered through the burnt out shrubbery. A light 
  sprinkle cooled us off as we walked back through town. 
  In the islands it always rains for a few minutes every 
  day. You continue on what you are doing and dry off in 
  the sunshine. Near the marina, we were accosted by 
  a Òtime share monsterÓ who was hawking visits to the 
  Oyster Bay complex. We just Òyeahed herÓ until she gave 
  us literature and moved on. If you argue with these 
  peddlers, sometimes they just become more obnoxious.

              Most of the shops were still closed this 
  early hour as we walked back through town. At the Oranje 
  school, the children were just coming to class. Each was 
  dressed in an immaculate plaid jumper and white blouse 
  or white shirt and dark trousers for the boys. They 
  looked and sounded like school kids the world over. We 
  stopped by the Burger kind for coffee and wandered out 
  on the dock in the main square. The first few passengers 
  from the mega ships were j
ust coming in on ship's 
  tenders. We sat for a time and watched the activities of 
  the port. All ports are an endlessly fascinating series 
  of stories and events that are fun to observe.

              We tried to obtain some Euros at one of the 
  Dutch Banks but they made a production of it, so we 
  passed. Watching the buildings tradesmen and other 
  skilled workers, we noticed that they were all French, 
  even on the Dutch side. The islanders were treated like 
  the old Irish in America, Ògive them a shovel or a 
  broom.Ó It was another indication to me of a subtle 
  caste system on the island. 

              Back at Great Bay, we enjoyed  breakfast on 
  the terrace and then settled in by the pool to swim, 
  read and relax. In the course of the morning we talked 
  again with Tim and Liz Snow and enjoyed their company. 
  We ran into Linda Sciolino who told us of their 
  adventures yesterday in Marigot. We had seen them nearby 
  when our bus was leaving Marigot. Appa
rently a cab 
  driver had been extremely ticked off that their bus was 
  blocking a dockside roadway. In a fit of desperate road 
  rage, he boarded their bus, and proceeded to drive it 
  forward taking out all of the decorative steel roadside 
  pilings and causing a ruckus. 


              The Gendarmes were called 
  and another bus had to come and take them back to Great 
  Bay. I guess it doesn't pay to irritate some people. We 
  made plans to meet with them later that evening for 
  dinner in Phillipsburg.

               The pool, a lunch on the terrace of crab 
  soup and salad and finally some more time on the beach 
  occupied the rest of our day. Mary frolicked in the 
  Ocean while I watched for sharks and pirates. Jet skis 
  were gliding by, kids on banana boats were being towed 
  by power craft. It all kept the eyes busy with, a framing 
  back drop of huge cruise ships and some elegantly 
  rigged, lateen-sailed pleasure craft. It was another 
  beautiful afterno
on in paradise.

                 By 5:00 P.M., we headed in to shower and 
  dress for dinner with the Sciolinos. We met them in the 
  Lobby with their friends Sam and Sue, from Buffalo of 
  course. Lenny also had included two Buffalo Teachers, 
  Chris and carol, one of whom lived in our condo complex 
  in Williamsville. Oy vey, the world gets smaller. We 
  decided to walk into Phillipsburg in the warm night air. 
  The eight of us wandered across Front Street safely and 
  found ÒAntoine's.Ó It is a nice French restaurant, right 
  on the beach. We settled in with three bottles of a 
  decent French red, and ordered several different types 
  of everything. Mary and I had the Òprix fixeÓ meal of 
  salad, red snapper, sorbet and coffee. Everything was of 
  good quality and elegantly presented. The owner and 
  maitre 'd was both charming and helpful. My French came 
  back to me fairly readily and we bantered a bit. We both 
  knew my accent was impossible but he tolerated it with 
  good
 grace. Although we thought him the quintessential 
  Frenchman, both of his parents were indeed Italian 
  nationals who had emigrated to Normandy after the Second 
  World War. Appearance is always deceiving. In any case, 
  we had a delightful dinner with lively conversation with 
  all manner of topics bantered about. It was fun for all 
  of us. The tab was a reasonable $50 per person, not bad 
  for a gourmet dinner on a Caribbean Isle.

             The night air was warm and muggy as we walked 
  back amidst the roosters, monkey and goats along the 
  way. We stopped by the hotel Chrysallis lounge for a 
  nightcap and talked amidst the eight of us. Outside, the 
  heavens opened and a torrent of rain let loose. We had 
  timed it well. We were tired from another long day of 
  fun and relaxation at the beach, so we begged off, 
  returned to the room and read for a time before 
  surrendering to the sand man.

  Wed. March 27th, 2002 St.Maarten, Dutch Antilles




              We 
       敗 ̀
were up early at 6:30 A.M.. It was cloudy 
  and warm out. Across the bay, three new cruise ships had 
  docked at Pointe Blanche. Phillipsburg would rock and 
  roll today. We prepped for the day and breakfasted 
  lightly on the ocean terrace. We were headed for St. 
  Bart's this morning and the ferry ride over can test 
  your ability to hold down food. ($88 each for the 
  excursion)



               A huge air-conditioned bus picked up a gang 
  of us at the hotel including Jack and Charlene Brown, 
  with whom we would spend most of the day. The ride was 
  brief and we soon found ourselves on the ferry dock in 
  Marigot, standing in line to pay the balance of our 
  fares. A brief but heavy downpour caught us in the open 
  and we laughed at the cool rain as it poured over us.

               The Ferry was  double decked and good 
  sized, with open compartments and benches topside. We 
  sat topside to enjoy the pleasant view of Marigot and 
  St.Maartens on the 90-minute ride ac
ross the straight. 
  The sea was listed as calm, but the rollers were in the 
  four to five foot category. Their rhythmic rise and fall 
  made several of our passengers utilize the barf bags on 
  the boat. I felt sorry for one poor girl hanging over 
  the rail, green-faced and retching. If you are prone to 
  motion sickness, you might want to consider Dramamine on 
  these passages.

              As we approached St. Bart's, several large 
  outcroppings of rock sprung jagged and lunar-like from 
  the ocean, guarding the entrance into Gustavia harbor. 
  The town is named after a Swedish King Gustav dating 
  from a time when the Swedes had once claimed possession 
  of the island for 93 years. I would not want to make 
  this entrance at night. 

            We arrived in Gustavia at 11:00 A.M. and were 
  immediately scooped up by a cabbie with a 12 passenger 
  SRO van. (standing room only) St. Bart's is a small 
  island, some 20 miles square and inhabited by some 7,000 
  souls. I
t has been a French territory for the last 123 
  years. Its language and customs are decidedly French.
  The aforementioned cabbie took us on a whirlwind 45 tour 
  of this little island pointing out former homes of Liz 
  Claiborne and Rudolph Nureyev. He had all the verbal 
  range and authentic charm of day old bread. We let our 
  eyes do the touring. The roads were impossibly steep and 
  winding and made the narrow roads of St. Martin's seem 
  like super highways. I would not want to chance driving 
  here during tourist season. 

            ÒLorien CemeterieÓ passed by on our right. It 
  has the same raised concrete biers as St.Martins. But, 
  the custom here is to decorate the graves of loved ones 
  with Òperpetual floral arrangements.Ó (plastic flowers) 
  As tacky as it sounds, they are rather beautiful 
  garlands of faux Bougainvillea and other colorful 
  tropical garlands strewn across the graves. It actually 
  looked rather pleasant and restful in the morning sun.

          
    The greenery here on St. Bart's is much 
  lusher, due to its windward location in the Antilles. 
  The rain must fall much more frequently here on 
  St.Bart's. I noticed too that they Ògrew rocksÓ just 
  like in Ireland. What I mean is that the soil is so 
  strewn with rocks, that former generations had taken to 
  making rock fences, rock boundary markers and every 
  other utilization possible to clear the rocky soil of 
  its stony impediments.

              Mr. glamour tour dropped us off at a small 
  commercial strip near the Plage St.Jean. Part of the 
  tour includes a lunch at the ÒCreole Restaurant.Ó The 
  Browns and we stopped in this open air, covered patio 
  and sat down for lunch. Designer water, Mahi- Mahi and 
  salad, with good coffee and a glass of merlot, were 
  wonderful. Fresh Ice cream topped off this pleasant 
  noonday repast on St. Bart's.

            We browsed a few stores nearby, but as is the 
  custom in these parts, all of the commercial shops 
  clo
sed down between 1 & 3 P.M. for the French version 
  of Òsiesta.Ó Not terribly disappointed that I didn't 
  have to look at another thousand tee shirts or items of 
  jewelry, we walked down the road to the plage St. Jean. 
  The Eden Roc hotel is located here. It is the first and 
  most famous hostelry on St. Bart's, opening in the early 
  1950's when the island had been a truly exotic 
  destination. It was hot and in the 90's, with high 
  humidity. We walked up and down this delightful beach 
  enjoying the bright white sand, pleasant surf and each 
  other's company. We always take time on these visits to 
  reflect on how fortunate we are to travel to places like 
  this and have each other alive and well.

           The beach and the sand bunnies occupied my line 
  of sight for a time, but the heat soon drove us into a 
  beach bar named ÒThe Pelican.Ó For $8, we had a glass of 
  designer water and enjoyed the beach tableau. The Browns 
  joined us after a time and we chatted amiably abo
ut 
  nothing in particular except how nice it was to be here. 
  Another brief torrent of rain exploded from the skies. 
  We sat under the straw umbrella and enjoyed the rain 
  falling upon the beach and the water. The piccolo mostri 
  (little monsters) swam in the surf, unaware perhaps that 
  it even was raining.

            At 3:00 P.M. approached, we reluctantly 
  gathered up our gear to meet Mr. Personality in front of 
  the Creole, for the ride back to Gustavia. It was only 
  10 minutes drive and we again took in the sights, crazy 
  drivers and narrow roads. In Gustavia, we wandered 
  through the few seaside streets browsing the pricey 
  shops and enjoying the French nomenclature of the 
  signage. A stroll through the marina left us in awe of 
  the huge private power yachts that lay at anchor. 
  Several were from the Grand Caymans, including one 
  beauty named the ÒTrue Blue.Ó Another Ketch, newly and 
  elegantly rigged, hailed from Greenwich, Connecticut. 
  She is christened ÒTico
nderoga.Ó These sleek craft 
  looked like the money that they must represent. You have 
  to try not to gawk, like a hillbilly, when you see such 
  material ostentation so casually on display.

            We sat for a time at a quaint and open-aired 
  seaside caf_, enjoying caf_ au lait. The waitress, who 
  was not selected for a Mensa membership, charged us twice 
  for the coffee. Not wanting to be embarrassed, I figured 
  $26 for coffee? It must be expensive stuff! Precious, of 
  course, tackled the management and we were correctly 
  charge  $6. Another brief rainstorm opened over us as we 
  sat and we again enjoyed watching the rainfall on the 
  sea.

           By 4:00 P.M., we were dockside and ready for 
  the return trip to St.Martins. We enjoyed the view of 
  Gustavia and surrounding hills on the passage outward, 
  sliding through the jagged stone and menacing portals 
  that guard the harbor's entrance. This time, the skipper 
  ferried us around the other side of St.Martin. So
me 
  vagaries of current made it easier to go that way I 
  guess. We sat rocking back and forth on the swelling 
  sea. Only a few of our passengers Òmade it to the railÓ 
  on the way back. Two girls must have had an 
  interesting Òfive hundred dollar lunchÓon St. Bart's. 
  One was clearly shitfaced. We watched the sea and the 
  sky as we circumnavigated St. Martin and were grateful 
  when Marigot hove into view. Ft. Louis, high on the 
  promontory overlooking Margot, reminded us of the many 
  naval battles that had raged through the Caribbean in 
  the 1700's and 1800's, between France, Spain, England 
  Holland and assorted flotillas of  Buccaneers. 

             It was closing on six P.M. and the light was 
  fast fading as eight  of us boarded a large bus for the 
  journey back to Phillipsburg. The driver told us that we 
  had to drop off two passengers at le Meridien resort in 
  the ÒFrench Cul De sacÓ on the way back. Thus began the 
  tale of the Òlard ass bus.Ó To get to the L
e Meridien 
  resort in the French Cul de sac, you had to follow a 
  narrow road high up over a pass and then down to the 
  beach. We made it there all right, but coming back, it 
  started to rain. The rain made the newly paved asphalt  
  slick as a baby's bottom. The lumbering bus tried and 
  tried, like the Òchoo choo that could,Ó but its wheels 
  began to spin and smoke on the slick pavement. We were 
  getting a little apprehensive in that the road is 
  narrow, the drop off precipitous and we were sliding 
  backwards. The driver, clearly a cool customer, noted 
  the heft of several of us Òbeefier 'passengers.Ó He 
  politely asked all of us to sit in the back of the bus 
  so that our added weight would give the bus more 
  traction on the slick surface. Sure enough, the added 
  weight of the Òlard ass passengersÓ gave the bus the 
  traction it needed to make it up and over the pass. It 
  was getting to be a long day.

             By 7:30 P.M. we arrived back in Phillipsburg. 
  It 
was raining and we were tiring. We showered and 
  changed and made ready for dinner. We were joining the 
  Brown's for a drink in the Chrysallis room and then 
  dinner afterwards. The bar was noisy and they were 
  preparing for Karaoke. Ugh! We exited with our glass of 
  merlot and joined the procession for the 9 :00 P.M. 
  seating of dinner. Tomato juice, green salad, minestrone 
  soup, red snapper and apple pie alamode, accompanied 
  with great coffee and cote du rhone, made for another 
  memorable repast. The bicycle pump was in over drive. We 
  were tiring from the day and shortly after dinner, bid 
  our adieu's to the Browns to return to our room to read, 
  write my up my notes and fall in with Morpheus. It had 
  been another interesting day in paradise.

  Thursday 3/28/02  St.Maarten, Dutch Antilles


               We arose at 6:30 A.M. It was cloudy and 
  delightfully cool out after yesterday's rainstorms. We 
  watched a few new cruise ships enter their moorings, 
as 
  we readied for the day. We walked about a mile up the 
  hill to the Divi Resort on Little Bay. This resort is 
  upscale and prosperous looking. We walked though it's 
  grounds, heading up the hill to the commanding 
  promontory that holds the remains of Ft. Amsterdam. It 
  is the Dutch bastion that had secured Phillipsburg 
  against assault for the last few hundred years. Future 
  American Colonial Governor of New York, Peter Minuet had 
  served here and lost his leg to a well placed canon ball 
  from an attacking marauder.

               The fort stands now mostly in ruins. A 
  broken skeleton of masonry with several rusting iron 
  canons gives remembrance to the active military garrison 
  that was once quartered here. We could look out on a 180 
  degree arc and appreciate the commanding presence that 
  the fort must have once been.

            The canon caissons were wheel less, some of 
  them of iron construction, some of wood. The 
  initials ÒJ.J.WÓ emblazoned on o
ne of the rusting 
  armaments, is perhaps reflective of the canon 
  manufacturer in far away 18th century Holland. We walked 
  amidst the brambles and bushes that once had been so 
  busily trod with men serious of purpose and enjoyed the 
  vista of ocean and sky before us. And now, like all 
  things manmade, it was relegated to the dustbin of 
  history. Phillipsburg, and our own resort at Great Bay, 
  sat in miniature across the sparkling bay in the morning 
  sun.

            We left the many ghosts of the fort and 
  stopped by the boutique in Divi to purchase some 
  designer water. We then sat for a time and admired the 
  ocean as it crashed upon Little Bay and the Divi resort 
  shore. It is another island of prosperity and plenty 
  amidst the tropics. The walk back was slow and 
  unhurried. A crew of workmen were digging drainage and 
  electrical conduit ditches along the shoulders of the 
  main road. I felt an empathy for these ÒIrish workmen of 
  the Caribbean.Ó

      
       Breakfast on the ocean terrace was pleasant 
  as usual. Then, poolside to swim, read and relax. 
  This Òroutine in paradiseÓ was getting pleasant. When it 
  heated up too much, we shifted our gear to the Òshaded 
  sideÓ and luxuriated in the cool breeze as we read our 
  books. Life is and can be good when you let it happen.





                Late in the afternoon, we decided to walk 
  again into Phillipsburg. We browsed some shops and 
  stopped by an Òinternet officeÓ where I checked in and 
  sent some messages homeward. We talked with a young 
  Swede who was visiting the island for a month. His 
  English was flawless. We chatted about his pleasant and 
  scenic homeland. We had visited Sweden a few years back 
  and Mary had stayed there for one Summer in high school, 
  so we had topics of mutual interest.

               The town was awash with bargain seeking 
  cruisers. We wandered into the Supermarche in search of 
  tanning oil and a few toiletries. It was getting hot 
  
out. We picked up some designer water and sat dockside 
  watching the flow of cruisers, scurrying back on ship's 
  tenders, to their floating hotels. It reminded me of the 
  scene in ÒE.TÓ when the mother ship sounded its pleating 
  call summoning the awol E.T. back before the ship lifted 
  off. The comparison was appropriate. These folks were 
  mostly of American or Western European origin, coming 
  from lands and customs that might well have been as 
  foreign as outer space to the native islanders. If one 
  of them got Òleft behind' they would probably be just as 
  lost as ÒE.T.Ó

                 On the way back to the hotel, we passed 
  by the Methodist Church. A packed service for islanders, 
  all dressed in three piece and lace finery, was in 
  progress. It reminded me of the movie Hawaii. The 
  Europeans there had the similar silly notion of making 
  local people dress up in heavy European clothing under 
  the boiling hot son. I am beginning to wonder more and 
  more, wh
at imitates what, life or art?

                At the hotel, as we sat reading on our 
  balcony, a monster rainstorm drifted through the bay. It 
  rained so hard that the cruise ships 'disappeared from 
  sight.Ó We watched it contentedly, enjoying the tableau 
  before us. A glass of wine in the lobby before dinner 
  was relaxing. A Buffet supper on the ocean terrace was 
  pleasant. It seemed like we had always been here. After 
  dinner we talked to a wild woman from Orchard Park. 
  Kelly Davison and here husband had been on a fishing 
  charter and caught a 28-pound Mahi Mahi. The ship's 
  skipper had offered to filet and prepare it for them 
  tomorrow. This wild woman and her gang were hard 
  chargers who were pounding down the beers with both 
  hands. We smiled at their antics and moved onward headed 
  for the casino where we fed money into the slots for a 
  time before giving up.

              It was 76 degrees out at 9 P.M. The full 
  moon was shining over the bay and we did
 not want the 
  night to end. We sat and talked for a time and then 
  reluctantly repaired to our room to read and surrender 
  to the sandman.


  Good Friday, 3/29/01 St.Maarten, Dutch Antilles.

              We arose later this morning and set out by 
  7:15 A.M. for a return visit to Ft. Amsterdam, on the 
  rise above the bay. It was Good Friday and the traffic, 
  the workman and everyone else had disappeared. We 
  enjoyed walking in the morning sun. Divi and Fort 
  Amsterdam were as equally deserted, as they had been the 
  day before. I guess no one really knows the full impact 
  of 9/11 on commercial tourism yet. We watched the funny 
  looking Pelicans and ante-deluvean frigate birds coarse 
  high above us in the cloud-peppered, cerulean sky. They 
  looked graceful, gliding on the thermal currents. We 
  enjoyed the silence as we watched them descend to the 
  water searching for small surface fish for breakfast.

                This time, we noted the date 2/14/22 
  engraved
 on one of the canons. We wondered what century 
  it pertained to, 18th, 19th? The view today was just as 
  beautiful. We tried to envision what it was like with a 
  fleet of enemy ships rounding the headland and coming 
  under fire from the semi circle of canon run out and 
  fired by sweating Dutch soldiers. The acrid smell of 
  gunpowder would be hanging in the humid air. The lethal 
  grape shot, from the enemy ships, must have caromed off 
  the masonry with deadly effect, the hapless gunners cut 
  down in mid stride, like Peter Minuet. And now, all 
  lay quiet in the morning sun. We stopped for designer 
  water, at Divi, and then ambled back to the hotel for a 
  breakfast of vegetarian omelets on the ocean terrace. It 
  was a routine we were happily getting used to.

                After getting settled at the pool, we 
  walked along the beach into Phillipsburg, noting the 
  beach bars and restaurants that were all so 
  uncharacteristically quiet. There was only one cruise 
  shi
p in port today. Most of the floating monsters were 
  homeport bound with their complement of shopped out and 
  sunburned passengers.

                 The shops were all closed in 
  Phillipsburg. We ambled about noting the large number of 
  locals who had gathered in front of the Burger King to 
  swap stories and socialize. I wondered at some far 
  distant island descendant, making historical reference 
  to some Concordia or other that been negotiated in 
  the ÒGrand forum of the burger kingÓ on St.Maarten. 
  Maybe the Roman Senate was just another fast food joint 
  of its time that had been Ògilded by historyÓ into 
  something grander than what it was. That is part of the 
  trouble with the tropics, you get to day dreaming about 
  all sorts of things that have no bearing on absolutely 
  anything.

                  The walk back along the beach was just 
  as pleasant. We swam in the pool for a few hours getting 
  bolder with the sun daily. Lunch on the terrace (Grouper 
  and
 salad) was pleasant as the day heated up. Finally, 
  we retreated to the room in mid afternoon to chat with 
  Mr. Nelson and read for a time. ( 1st to die- 
  J.Patterson)

                  At 5:00 P.M. another thunderstorm 
  crashed across the bay. We watched and delighted in the 
  arc of the rainbow that spread across the bay. The 
  colorful arc was green on the bottom, yellow on top and 
  red in the middle where the colors merged. It shimmered 
  in the after-rain sun and then faded in the mist. We 
  showered and readied for our last evening at Great Bay. 
  In the Chrysalis room, we joined the Browns for a glass 
  of wine and then met up with Tim and Liz Snow, of 
  Montreal. We joined them for dinner in the third floor 
  formal dining room. Fruit cocktail, Caesar salad, an 
  elegant swordfish dinner, pecan pie, with a few bottles 
  of cote du Rhone and some great coffee, made for a 
  wonderful meal. We were Òmanning the pump.Ó The hotel 
  had put on some island dancers and m
usic for our 
  entertainment, but they were lame. Even the cruise ships 
  do better than that.  We clapped politely and smiled. 
  Everyone has his or her rice bowl to earn.

               The Casino attracted us one last time and 
  we played the slots actually winning for a change. I 
  settled up our bill at the lobby desk, to avoid the mass 
  confusion of tomorrow. We returned to our room to start 
  packing and readying for departure tomorrow.

               In Israel, a suicide bomber had just killed 
  nineteen innocents in an act of calculated madness. It 
  was the real world intruding on paradise. 


Saturday. 3/30/01 St.Maarten, Dutch Antilles

                 We were up early this morning at 5:30 
  A.M. Another 4 masted windjammer was moored at anchor in 
  the bay. We watched the huge Carnival cruise ship 
  arrive, as she made a slow and stately entrance into 
  port at 6:15. It was cloudy and warm out.

              We had coffee by the pool and set out early 
  for 
our last walk into Phillipsburg. We were checking 
  out this morning to move up to Orient Bay. The monkey 
  peeked out at us from his shed and the roosters were 
  crowing to beat the band. The shops were all closed at 
  this early hour, so we walked again through town to the 
  main square and the small Marina. On the beach, we 
  collected a few shells, as we walked back towards the 
  hotel. There was always something going on in the harbor 
  for the eyes to drink in. It had been a good week here 
  on Great Bay, but we were ready to move on.

              Breakfast, at 8 :00 A.M. was already crowded 
  with those unfortunates who must head for the far frozen 
  north today. We met and talked with several people whom 
  we had spent time with over the last week, wishing them 
  a safe journey. We returned to our room to pack and get 
  ready to check out. I ordered a cab for 11:30 A.M to 
  ferry us up to orient bay on the French side.

               Nathaniel Wyatt, a prosperous, 
native 
  islander ferried us around the island's narrow roads, in 
  his immaculately kept six  passenger cab.($25) He 
  lamented the driving habits of some of the islanders, 
  calling them ÒHaitians.Ó According to the natives, no 
  one in Haiti owns an automobile and therefore has no 
  conception of any Òrules of the road.Ó So, those who 
  emigrate to St.Maarten and drive a cab for a living 
  become swash-buckling road warriors who do pretty much 
  what they please when driving, much to the consternation 
  of the other drivers.

              Thirty minutes later, we were standing in 
  the airy and attractive lobby of the Hotel Mont Vernon, 
  on the French cul de sac, on Orient Bay. The hotel is 
  built into the hillside, on several levels, starting 
  with the lobby and dining complex on the top of the 
  rise. Then, 12 three story complexes of rooms, named 
  after  different Caribbean islands, stagger down the 
  hillside to the pool, and beach level complexes. The 
  enti
re hotel had just undergone a seven-month 
  refurbishment. The fresh paint and green-colored, 
  copper, roofs sparkled attractively in the tropical sun.

                 We checked in and were assigned chambre  
  # 3211 in the Aruba building. Conrad, the porter, 
  ferried our bags to the room level with a small truck, 
  as Mary and I descended two sets of steps to reach the 
  room. It is large and attractive, with a deep balcony 
  that looks out upon the ocean and rocky promontory below 
  us. The visage was natural and quite beautiful. We 
  unpacked and settled in. Thus ensconced, we decided to 
  reconnoiter the complex. 

                 Off the main lobby is a bar area. Through 
  it,  sits a dining complex for both breakfast and 
  dinners. A small notions shop is just off the lobby. We 
  stopped in to pick up some snacks, a bottle of wine and 
  some designer water.

                Next, we walked down several more sets of 
  steps to the poolside complex. Three pools, of 
  prog
ressive depths, are surrounded by a huge, hard- wood 
  deck. It is flanked on one side by a pool bar and lunch 
  area. The rest of the large area is surrounded, on the 
  periphery, by a shaded roof with chairs to escape from 
  the fierce sun. The beachfront area is immediately below 
  and adjacent to the pool. We settled in for 
  lunch, poolside at ÒLe SloopÓ and ordered, in our best 
  French, sandwiches and French fries, with iced tea from 
  Zina, the pleasant island waitress. The food was both 
  fresh and tasteful. ($23) After lunch, Mr. Nelson called 
  us, so we returned to the room for a wonderful mid 
  afternoon nap.

               Later that afternoon, we ventured down to 
  the beach. The rollers here are powerful as they crash 
  upon the white-sand shore. The beach is wide and flatter 
  here than at Great bay. We set out for the 2-mile walk 
  up and down this famous beach. The Mont Vernon end of 
  the bay has much rougher surf and is less crowded. As 
  you walk further
 along, the Tiki, Kontiki, Waikiki, and 
  other beach resorts get more crowded. Each has its own 
  distinctive colors for beach umbrella and chairs. You 
  can see collections of maroon, bright green, blue, and 
  yellow umbrellas, delineating the beach boundaries of 
  the various complexes. Para sailors floated overhead, 
  dragged by powerful motor craft and the ever-present 
  wave runners roared by like angry hornets. Scores of 
  bathers frolicked in the surging surf.

               At the far end, of the wide crescent of 
  Orient beach, lies a clothing optional resort 
  named ÒOrient Bay Beach Club.Ó In this arena, anything 
  apparently goes. The Ònaked nedsÓ and ÒnorasÓ lie 
  starkers in the sun, walk around that way and indeed 
  take their meals Òau naturel,Ó if they so chose. 
  Different things for different people I guess. I came to 
  regard the mostly middle age men, walking along the 
  beach, as Ò anciens qui dit regarde moi, regarde moi!Ó 
  (old ones who say lo
ok at me, look at me!)

               Later, we stopped by the lobby to send out 
  a few internet messages and enjoy the warm, evening air. 
  We  sat outside the lobby looking far off to the 
  twinkling lights of passing vehicles on the main road in 
  the distance, enjoying our good fortune in being here. 
  Then, we returned to our room for a glass of wine on the 
  balcony, to watch the ocean, read for a time and turn 
  in. It had been another long day in paradise. In the 
  real world, the Queen Mother had died in England at age 
  101.


  Easter Sunday, 3/31/01 St. Martin, French West Indies.

             Easter Sunday, on St. Martin, dawned 
  gloriously at 6:10 A.M. We watched the sun rise out over 
  the ocean as the water and sky turned different shades 
  of blue. Frigate birds and pelicans drifted by lazily in 
  the rising thermal currents of the morning air. The surf 
  was rough as it broke upon the sand below us.

            We prepped for the day and at 7:00 A.M. set 
  out
 for our customary morning walk. What we ran in to 
  was an eye opener. Unbeknownst to us, from 7 to 9 A.M. 
  on the beach is the early morning parade of the Ònaked 
  neds and noras.Ó A score or more of couples and assorted 
  single flashers walked up and down the beach as naked as 
  the day they arrived here on earth. We came to several 
  early conclusions. One, is that there is a reason the 
  lord made us wear clothes, good taste. The other is that 
  there should be a judge on the beach who points at 
  people and says  Óyou, you can walk here without 
  clothes,Ó  and Ò you, you go back and cover up before 
  you offend most people.Ó Lastly, walking Òau naturelÓ on 
  the beach is best left for the hard bodies of both 
  genders who are under twenty and look good that way. 
  Everyone else should resign themselves gracefully to the 
  realities of their age and cover up in the name of  good 
  taste.

            We finished our eye-opening walk and then 
  ascended  the several sets of ste
ps for breakfast, which 
  is included in the price of the room. A small open-air 
  breakfast area, with retractable awnings, sits in the 
  center of the lobby, office complex. We entered 
  saying ÒChambre- Trente du, onze(3211) to the 
  maitre 'd.  Fresh fruits, omelets to order, and a whole 
  array of breakfast foods were of good quality. A great 
  coffee machine dispensed fresh coffee and even decaf 
  cappuccino.  The Mont Vernon, as we were to discover, 
  tries its best to cater to its guests.

           After breakfast, we walked up the Rue Mt. 
  Vernon to the Rue French Cul de sac and back, a distance 
  of about a mile or so. Rue Mt. Vernon is in pretty tough 
  shape. We espied a few neighborhood restaurants, 
  the ÒTaituÓ and the ÒSol e Luna,Ó and decided to try 
  them later in the week. We also noticed a small French 
  boulangerie and hope to sample some of their fresh 
  pastries later as well. Get out the bicycle pump!

           We were sweat soaked from the walk in th
e warm 
  tropical air, so we cooled off and changed in the room 
  before walking down to the pool. The three pools were 
  empty of piccolo mostri( little monsters), so we swam 
  and enjoyed the pool and the early morning sun. After 
  our swim, we sat on the beach, under blue cloth 
  umbrellas, and read for a time before wading into the 
  rough surf and frolicking like kids. The salty ocean 
  water was novel to us, as it splashed around and over 
  us. I still kept a wary eye out for the great white 
  sharks in the water. I know they are always looking for 
  a tasty morsel like me.

          An outdoor shower cleaned the salt and sand from 
  us as we sat poolside and had some great Caesar salads 
  and forbidden French fries with iced tea.($24) Aye 
  caramba, the calories. From lunch, I could hear 
  the Ònelson songÓ summoning me to the cool air 
  conditioning of the room and a delicious one-hour nap. 
  Life is good when it goes this way.

           In the late afternoon, we
 walked around the 
  rocky promontory below us. The Cliffside here is erose 
  and about twenty feet in height. You can see all of the 
  non-biodegradable flotsam that washes up against the 
  shore and gathers here. We walked around the headland 
  and saw the French cul de sac, resort area in the 
  distance. A rather new time-share complex, just around 
  the bend, appeared to be closed and boarded up. Is all 
  not well in paradise? 

           We admired the wonderful groves of sea grapes 
  and thorny Bougainvillea along the shore, with their 
  delicate and colorful blossoms. The broad-leafed sea 
  grapes have a star-shaped blossom that is purple on its 
  tips and center against a delicate white background. The 
  thorny bougainvillea are a riot of reds and other bright 
  pastels. The flora really added to the beauty of 
  landscape as well as providing their extensive rooting 
  systems that help hold the shore in place.

             A quick shower and a change of clothes mad
e 
  us fresh for dinner. We met and talked with Linda & 
  Peter Brownell, from Vermont, in the lobby. We had 
  signed up and paid for the ÒCanadian plan,Ó which 
  allowed us three dinners at the hotel. We were glad that 
  we did. A warm goat cheese on bread, salad, a salmon and 
  snapper platter and fresh ice cream with good coffee and 
  a passable French red wine made for an exquisite repast. 
  The French do know how to prepare a meal. It was 
  delicious. 

             From dinner, we repaired to our room to sit 
  on the balcony and admire the surf crashing, on the 
  beach below us, in the warm night air. The stars were 
  flickering in the inky night sky and we knew we were in 
  paradise. Life is very good sometimes. We settled in to 
  read ( ÒBlue NowhereÓ - Jeff Deaver) and then let the 
  sandman carry us off amidst the sound of surf crashing 
  on the shore.


Monday, 4/1/02 St.Martin,French West Indies

                 We arose at 6:15. A.M. It was cloudy out 
  and a
 light rain was falling. By 7:00, the Ònaked neds 
  and nora'sÓ had begun their daily parade, so we read on 
  the balcony, enjoying the morning air.

                 We chatted with Linda Brownell in the 
  lobby and then, a leisurely breakfast of omelets, fruit 
  and great coffee started us off for the day. When 
  the ÒparadeÓ had ended on the beach, we set out along 
  the beach for a two-mile walk. We were wearing tee 
  shirts and as much sun block as we could lather on. The 
  sun here is fierce and unforgiving. One missed spot and 
  you get an awful patch of burnt skin. The wind had risen 
  and the surf was much rougher today. Still, the 
  frolickers were out in great numbers and the beach life 
  continued unabated. We stopped at Òpedro'sÓ for designer 
  water and watched the activity up and down the beach. 
  Like harbors, there is always something going on. Next 
  to Pedro's sits the Ònaked egg,Ó a breakfast spot named 
  for its proximity to Òned and nora villeÓ I g
uess.

                  On the beach of the Mont Vernon, Mary 
  and I again played in the surf letting the powerful 
  rollers push us back and forth. I still kept a sharp eye 
  out for pirates and sharks. An outdoor shower to clean 
  off the salt and sand, led us to the pool. We swam for  
  half an hour, unmolested by piccolo mostri.


                    A lunch at Òle sloop,Ó of mixed green 
  salad, ice tea and bread($26) was refreshing. Then, a 
  one-hour nap, in our air conditioned room, finished off 
  a lovely afternoon. Who says life isn't good?

                    We showered and dressed for the 6:30 
  P.M. Òmanagers cocktail partyÓ in the lounge. It  was a 
  lame version of Òname that tune.Ó We met and talked with 
  Doug and Karen from Kalamazoo, Michigan while we sipped 
  some decent cabernet.

                    Dinner afterwards in the dining room 
  consisted of that wonderful warm goat cheese on bread, 
  grouper and tasty sorbet, with coffee and red wine. This 
  was getting to be a life style you could get used to, 
  right up to the point they buried you.

                     After dinner, we walked the grounds 
  in the warm night air, enjoying the quiet and the 
  beautiful surroundings, before returning to the room to 
  read and retire. It had been a nice Easter Monday on St. 
  Martin


  Tuesday April 2nd, St. Martin French West Indies

                 We arose later this morning, enjoying the 
  ability to get up whenever we want. That is the nicest 
  part of being on vacation. We didn't have to do anything 
  if we chose. Breakfast was pleasant as always. We were 
  heading into Marigot this morning to do shop shopping 
  and sight seeing. 

                   The passenger van picked us up in front 
  of the lobby. We were joined by Joyce and Rich from 
  Indianapolis, a very pleasant couple. The ride over was 
  uneventful. ÒJamesÓ deposited us on the Marigot 
  waterfront and said he would return for us at 1:00 P.M.

           
      
   传
        Our first stop was for the bank to raid 
  the cash machine. No luck, it was out. Then a twenty-
  minute stand in a bank line sent us off to one of those 
  larcenous ÒBureau D' change.Ó They are just as larcenous 
  here as they had been in Paris, but at least we now had 
  cash to throw at the locals. It was warm and a light 
  rain was falling. The traffic was snarled with 
  sightseers and locals getting transacting their business 
  after a long holiday weekend.

                  We browsed several stores and then 
  succumbed to the inevitable, buying three island tee 
  shirts for $10. Some film ($4), sun tan lotion ($20) and 
  a gift for Lori Dollman completed out purchases for this 
  round. We set off for Ft. Louis, high on a hill over 
  looking the Marigot harbor. A winding road brought us to 
  a set of stone stairs, a stone escalator, that ascended, 
  switchback fashion, up the remainder of the hill to the 
  stone entrance to the Fort. Though in better shape that 
 
 Ft. Amsterdam, it too lay in ruins. A central keep and 
  the remains of part of the stone parapet were all that 
  was left of this fortress that had seen so much action 
  during the 1700 and 1800's. We admired the view out 
  across the Marigot harbor, under a beautiful blue sky. A 
  few pictures of us, sitting and standing by the 
  remaining canon, competed our survey of the ruins. It 
  was time to move on.

                We walked back down the hill, past the 
  fire department and the hospital and onto the main 
  boulevard. A liquor store attracted our attention and we 
  bought two bottle of good French wine for $9.  From the 
  Ft., we walked along the waterfront until we came to the 
  entrance of one of the more charming areas of Marigot, 
  the Marina Royale. It is a working marina surrounded on 
  three sides with small open restaurants boutiques and 
  other charming tourist attractions. We walked up and 
  down, admiring the bangles and bead and the swirl of 
  people floating
 by. The caf_ American drew us in for 
  coffee ($4). We sat and watched the tourists and local's 
  stream by along with the harbor activity. A light rain 
  began to fall and everyone scurried for cover. It was a 
  pleasant respite for us.

              It was getting near noon, so we ambled back 
  along the waterfront nearer our cab stop. It was hot so 
  we sat on a shady bench and relaxed. Two sisters from 
  Toronto sat near us and we talked for a time. They were 
  waiting for a couple from Buffalo who were spending the 
  day touring with them. The world gets smaller. The young 
  couple returned and we introduced ourselves and smiled 
  at the coincidence. I advised them that as a courtesy, I 
  wouldn't ask them their last name in case I was to see 
  them walking naked along the beach later in our stay. We 
  all laughed at the new island humor and parted amidst 
  well wishes for a nice vacation. They were staying near 
  us at the Le Meridien in the French cul de sac.  We 
  browsed
 the native stalls hawking jewelry and bought a 
  nice coral necklace for Mary. The cabbie was early and 
  so were the couple from Indianapolis, so we loaded up 
  and drove back to the Mont Vernon. It had been a nice 
  excursion into Marigot. 

                    I sent a few messages into the ether 
  of cyber space and then we retreated to our room. The 
  air-conditioned room was a pleasant change after the 
  heat and humidity, so we chilled out and read for a 
  time. It was like recharging an over heated battery with 
  cooler air.

                  We had decided to stem the caloric tide 
  today, so we were going to walk the beach and have a 
  late lunch at one of the many places along Orient Bay. 
  Our walk along the beach brought us to the posted menus 
  of several places. Most of the prices were pretty steep. 
  I guess the tourists sit still for the gouging as part 
  of the price of a day at the beach. We finally settled 
  upon the  ÒKaKoa Beach Bar.Ó It had the thatched roo
f 
  huts with benches underneath and was shaded by large 
  palm trees. We sat and enjoyed some designer water as we 
  browsed the menus. One very loud ÒNew YorkerÓ was 
  carrying on with his extended family on some domestic 
  subject or other. At times like these, we pretend to be 
  Canadians. We had a delightfully presented platter of 
  grilled mahi mahi, grouper and red snapper with tasteful 
  vegetables. It was an elegant and leisurely meal for a 
  beach side bar. ($50) We much enjoyed it, even at the 
  inflated prices.

                  We strolled back along the beach, 
  watching the roughening surf and the white caps out 
  along the horizon. Hard weather was coming in some place 
  in the area. Mary met with the air transat rep in the 
  lobby to get some information. I enjoyed the air 
  conditioning.

                 The day was getting longer and lazier as 
  we sat on the balcony drinking some decent French merlot 
  and reading our books. The surf crashed below us and
 the 
  sky and the cloud formations changed endlessly. I think 
  I could do this daily routine forever. The sun set and 
  the warm night air caressed us. We read for a time and 
  turned in, happy with the day.

   Wed. 4/3/02 St. Martin, French West Indies

            I was up early this morning reading ÒBy The 
  Rivers of BabylonÓ-N.DeMille. It was very windy. The 
  surf was frothing in white luminescence, as it crashed 
  upon the sandy shore. I watched the false light of early 
  dawn arise from the distant horizon and then the full 
  light of the sun as it peeked above the water at 6:10 
  A.M. 

               The Ned and Nora parade was getting boring. 
  I thought about leaving a sign below on the beach that 
  would say Òexcessive sunlight leads to impotence,Ó but 
  smiled the idea away and continued reading. Breakfast, 
  at 8: 30 A.M., was crowded. I think several of the 
  guests were headed home and stuffing in that last 
  caloric overload to carry them on the plane back
 to 
  bumblebee or jerkwater falls or wherever they came from.

                We had decided to walk into Grand Case 
  this morning. A good-natured argument erupted between 
  one of the French staff and Conrad, the porter. Conrad 
  said you could walk there in a few minutes. The French 
  kid rolled his eyes, said ÒMon Dieu,Ó  it would take 
  forever. There-in lay an implied story of cultural 
  differences and impressions. In any case, we set off to 
  see for ourselves. Just over the rise, near the ÒSol e 
  LunaÓ restaurant, Peter and Linda Brownell pulled up and 
  offered us a ride. They were out exploring. We jumped in 
  and chatted with them for the brief ride into Grand 
  Case. It was only about three miles in total, but the 
  road shoulder is almost non-existent and the walking 
  precarious.

               The Brownells dropped us off at the end of 
  Grand Case. We walked along the small beach, beneath the 
  restaurants, whose  second-story, dining patios were 
  ca
ntelievered out over the beach. A pier extended out 
  into the ocean about mid-beach. It was occupied by 
  island children who were off from school for the Easter 
  Holiday. We saw others cooking fish and ribs over 
  barrels and readying for the night's hungry trade. The 
  beach itself was pleasant enough, what there was of it. 

                The town of Grand Case is a narrow side 
  road that splits off from the main highway circling the 
  island. Both sides of the beach front road are lined 
  with pricey restaurants and some small boutiques. At 
  this time of the morning, nothing was open, so the place 
  was virtually deserted. We sought out and found, on 
  Point Chien,  the Grand Case Beach Club. Carl Calabrese 
  was thinking of staying there and asked us to check it 
  out for him. It is gated and fenced and looked pleasant 
  enough of a resort. But, except for the pool and a very 
  small beach, it didn't seem to offer too much. You would 
  need a car to stay there as well.

 
                 We started our walk back to the French 
  cul de sac along the narrow roads. A few bulls were 
  grazing in the pasture and looked dully out at us while 
  chewing contentedly. Some mules and goats, in the next 
  pasture, were doing the same. I wonder what they thought 
  of us, walking by?

                  Before reaching the main road, we came 
  upon the Grand Case airport. We had watched any number 
  of small plains fly out over Orient Bay from here. 
  Orient Bay was just over the mountain and in the flight 
  path of this small strip. And when I say small, I mean 
  small. Built at the head of a former salt pond, it 
  consists of a few one story buildings and some 
  surrounding Quonset huts. It looks like the American  
  mid west in the 1940's.Two fully armed French soldiers 
  are a testimony to the way things had changed everywhere 
  after 9/11. We bought some Evian in a small hut and 
  walked out along the road, in the late morning heat.

                  Th
         桔
        吠h̀旭
e traffic was getting heavier as we 
  stepped carefully along whatever shoulders we could 
  find. When one of the larger trucks rumbled by, we would 
  stand still and scrunch as far onto the shoulder as was 
  humanly possible. We came upon a large portable food van 
  and bought some more designer water. It really is 
  important to keep hydrated in this heat, when exerting 
  yourself.

                   The walk itself was pleasant enough, 
  but I wouldn't recommend it to most. We came upon the 
  turn off for the Anse Marcel (French Cul de sac) and 
  walked along the newly paved roads looking at the flora 
  and fauna around us. I don't think you really see a 
  place until you travel it on foot. There is much arable 
  land here, but none of it is under cultivation, for even 
  the simplest of crops. I guess the water needed for 
  cultivation is not plentiful or regular enough. The 
  island had once fielded several sugar cane plantations 
  and this area had been one of them. O
ur hotel was built 
  on the site of the manor house and took its name, Mont 
  Vernon, from one of the larger plantations.


                  We soon came upon the turn off for the 
  Rue Mt. Vernon and walked a little quicker, with the 
  thought of our air-conditioned room so nearby. First, we 
  had to stop at the cute little boulangerie. We had some 
  good coffee and bought French pastries and a bottle of 
  red wine for the room. The room did indeed cool our body 
  temperatures down to more acceptable levels. We were 
  soon able to venture out for a late morning swim in the 
  pool. Life is hard here: It was windy and warm. Rain 
  was soon to come.

                  A one-hour conversation with Mr. Nelson 
  (nap) in the room was delicious. It revived us 
  immeasurably. Later, we sat on the balcony, enjoying a 
  good cabernet and enjoying the ever-changing tableau of 
  beach and shore life below us. I could watch the sun, 
  the surf and the sky like this forever. A shower 
  freshene
d us up and we headed to the lobby to send some 
  internet messages before dinner. We sat, as was our 
  custom, and enjoyed the daily drama of the hotel lobby, 
  for a time. There always seemed to be some drama 
  occuring here daily. People scurried, complained, 
  weaseled and  acted out all manner of other  
  transactions with the hotel, cab and bell staff. They 
  could and probably have made movies  about scenes like 
  these.

                  Dinner this evening was exquisite. A 
  good French Beaujolais led us into the wonderful goat 
  cheese salad, followed by great piece of salmon, 
  flavored with anchovie butter. Sorbet and cr_me 
  brulet, with coffee, finished this great meal. I could 
  feel the bicycle pump working overtime.
       
                  We sat for a time in front of the hotel 
  and enjoyed the night air. About 9:30 P.M., several 
  locals arrived for a dinner of twelve. As each of the 
  first three tall, coffee-colored Ògangsta-rappersÓ 
  arrived, the
y came in at 10-second intervals. Each was 
  chatting busily on his cell phone, in a recognizable 
  business ritual dating from the 1980's.  This is the new 
  commerce of the Caribbean, ganja moving. It wasn't the 
  1950's and it wasn't Appalachia, but it had all the 
  appearance, to me, of the same meeting taking place. We 
  smiled at their antics and headed for the room to write 
  up  notes, read some and surrender to Morpheus. It was 
  getting long in the vacation and it felt like it was  
  time to go home.

Thursday, 4/4/02 St.Martin, French West Indies.

                 We were up early again. It must be the 
  clean living. We watched the sun rise out over the 
  Atlantic at 6:13 A.M.  and readied for the day. The Ò 
  Nora & Ned paradeÓ  was in progress, on the beach, so we 
  set out over Rue Mt. Vernon and up the road to the 
  French cul de sac. The road is newly paved here, but the 
  shoulders  are literally non-existent. I guess folks 
  don't walk the roads much here a
bouts. We made it to a 
  small rise in the road, occupied by a pharmacy, grocery 
  and gas station. From there, we headed off over land, 
  climbing through a large drainage area, to the crest of 
  the hill. An automobile graveyard occupied a flat 
  portion of the land. A few junkyard dogs were barking 
  and straining at their leashes. The roosters crowed 
  their morning salute, uncaring of any of us. Along the 
  skyline, we could see several nice villas tucked into 
  the hillside. I think the last hurricane that passed 
  through the island made them all think about protected 
  sites.

                  No one else was about as we walked back 
  along the Rue Anse Marcel towards the Rue Mont Vernon. 
  There seemed to be plenty of arable land here as well, 
  but no cultivation of any sort. We stopped by the 
  boulangerie for coffee again. The surrounding 
  residential community stopped by daily for their 
  baguettes and pastries, just as they do in France. We 
  sat for a time and wat
ched the comings and goings of the 
  bakery and then headed back to the room to change for 
  breakfast.

                 Made to order omelets, juice, fruit and 
  great coffee made for Òun  bien petit de jeune.Ó From 
  breakfast, we set out along the beach for another two-
  mile walk. The wind had risen and the surf roughened. We 
  passed by all the sunbathers and even surrendered to the 
  inevitable curiosity to walk along the beach 
  outside Òned and nora ville.Ó As advertised, there were 
  scores of men and women laying and walking about in the 
  same suit that God gave them when entering this planet. 
  Most of the men would look more natural in raincoats 
  but, to each his own.

                 At our own beachfront, we sat under blue 
  umbrellas and read our books, enjoying the sun and surf. 
  For a time we played in the ocean, but the rollers were 
  over eight feet and that depth can hide a lot of sharks 
  and pirates. A light sprinkle chased us under cover for 
  a few minutes.
 Then, we swam for 30 minutes enjoying the 
  clear blue pool, sans piccolo mostri. We were forgoing 
  lunch today to get ready for the caloric onslaught of 
  dinner in Grand Case this evening. Edam cheese and 
  cabernet on our balcony were enough to hold us over 
  until the evening. 

                   ÒJamesÓ had contracted to drive us into 
  Grand Case for dinner at 6:00 P.M. The ride was quick 
  and easy. We were dining at ÒThe Fish Pot,Ó one of the 
  more elegant French restaurants in Grand Case. We knew 
  that at this early hour, only Americans and barbarians 
  ate dinner, but we didn't relish the thought of heavy 
  nighttime traffic along those narrow roads.

                    The ÒFish Pot,Ó has a small awning over 
  its shrubbery-laden entry porch. Just inside, are 
  several seats in a nicely styled waiting area. The 
  dining area occupies most of the patio, which is 
  cantilevered over the beach and surf about 20 feet 
  below. The table was elegantly set, the waiters
 and 
  waitresses nicely dressed. We started out with une demi 
  boutaille (half bottle) of Beaujolais Nouveau and 
  ordered the Lobster special dinner. The Lobster bisque 
  arrived with a puffed pastry cover that you had to 
  puncture with your fork. The scented steam escaping was 
  a delight to the olfactory senses. The bisque was creamy 
  and exquisite. Next, came a platter of one-pound 
  Caribbean lobster. The shell had been cracked and the 
  tail separated for ease of the diner. We savored the 
  lobster, enjoying the meal and each other's company. The 
  waitress was from the French Alps. We engaged her in our 
  limited French. She replied in better English and we got 
  along well. For dessert, that needed twenty minutes to 
  prepare, we had an apple torte with ice cream in a 
  caramel sauce and a grand marnier custard in puff 
  pastry. To say that they were delicious would not serve 
  them justice. We savored everything and finished with 
  some wonderful French cof
fee. This was a meal to 
  remember under the stars on the ocean in Grand Case, St. 
  Martin. We knew how lucky we were to be here and to have 
  each other. The tab and a generous tip ran to $175, but 
  it was well worth the price.

             After dinner, we wandered along the main drag 
  for a time watching all of the many dinner patrons 
  scrambling for reservations. The street traffic 
  continued unabated. It had the look and feel of a 
  carnival under the gorgeous, warm Caribbean sky. We 
  stopped for a time and engaged an African American woman 
  in conversation. She was waiting for a bus to return 
  herself and son to Simpson Bay. She was a minister and 
  from Los Angeles. We chatted with her for a time and 
  then scooted to catch our cab that had arrived to pick 
  us up. James drove us back to the Mont Vernon and we 
  thanked him for his service. ($ 22)

              It was 80 degrees out this evening, the 
  stars were twinkling and we were reluctant to retire
, 
  but we gave into our better instincts. We returned to 
  the room, had a glass of merlot on the balcony and then 
  read for a time before surrendering to the sandman. It 
  was time for us to go home.

  Friday 4/5/02  St. Martin, French West Indies.

           We arose at 5:30 A.M. to a light rain moving in 
  from the Atlantic. The gray light of false dawn was 
  followed by sunrise at 6:10 A.M. The weather systems 
  roar through here like freight trains, never remaining 
  for more than a few hours. We dressed and prepped for a 
  walk. 

             An elderly French woman was struggling on the 
  long steps with her bags, so we helped her to the lobby. 
  A warm-smiled Òmerci beaucoupÓ was appreciated. We again 
  walked up the Rue Mont Vernon, to the Rue Anse Marcel 
  and return. We saw the Sol e Luna restaurant and decided 
  we would try it out this evening.

           As we neared the Mont Vernon, we decided to 
  walk along the service road to the beach. New 
  constructio
n was in progress just next to the hotel. A 
  huge construction crane stood starkly, mute and vulture 
  like, against the blue sky. At the bottom of the road, 
  as it emptied into the beach, we followed another mud 
  road that parallels the beach. It led us amidst the tall 
  grass. This area must have been the heart of the sugar 
  cane plantation from the last century. The road led us 
  behind the rear of ÒBoo Boo Jam'sÓ beach bar. A dog 
  barked plaintively as we walked by.

          The surrounding flora is tropical, with palm 
  trees and broad-leafed grasses. The broken tops of some 
  of the palm trees are a stark reminder of the 
  destruction caused by hurricane Luis. It had roared 
  through the island in 19996, virtually denuding it of 
  vegetation and causing general havoc. One modern anomaly 
  caught our eye. A rusting bulldozer sat broken and 
  useless amidst the tall grass. Creeper vines had already 
  started to encircle the faded, rust-stained iron 
  monster. 
It is a reminder to us that all things man made 
  will eventually deteriorate and return to the earth from 
  whom its elements had sprung.

          After our morning walk, we cleaned up and had 
  one last petit de jeune in the hotel. The omelets and 
  other foods were uniformly good every day that we tried 
  them. It is reputation for fine cuisine that the hotel 
  is seeking to cultivate.

          We opted for another two-mile stroll up and down 
  the beach. The Òned and nora paradeÓ was over by now, so 
  we waded in the shallow swells and felt the cool ocean 
  waters bathe our legs. The surf was much calmer today. 
  The sky was that brilliant rain-washed blue that makes 
  the eyes squint from its brightness. After our walk, we 
  read for a time on the beach, watching the surf and 
  people interact. It is a timeless pastime that is 
  restful and pleasing to the eyes.

          The pool was empty of piccolo mostri, and every 
  one else, so we swam laps for forty minute
s enjoying the 
  feel of the sun and wind on us. Tiring some, we returned 
  to the room for a glass of merlot and some Edam cheese, 
  before surrendering willingly to the sandman for a one-
  hour nap. This is a routine that you can get used to. 
  After our nap, we shook off the sleep and decided to 
  walk one last time up and down the beach. Who knew when 
  we would this way travel again?  At the far end of the 
  bay, we enjoyed a  final bottle of designer water at 
  Pedro's, to the backdrop of driving reggae music. They 
  really like this stuff down here. On the return walk, we 
  noticed that most of the Òcruisers Ò had gone for the 
  day. The beach was emptying. We were left with the 
  setting sun, the crashing surf and the warm ocean 
  breezes washing over us. A four-masted windjammer, with 
  sails unfurled, was just rounding the headland. It might 
  well have been a time warp visage from a century ago. 
  This is what the islands are all about, visions in the 
  noon-
day sun. We had walked six miles today and were 
  still going like the energizer bunnies. This is a life 
  style I would like to cultivate.




           We left the beach, reluctantly, to shower and 
  prep for dinner. We were walking up to Sol e Luna for 
  our last evening repast on the island. It was a 
  delightful choice. The staff was polite enough to 
  tolerate my abysmal French and I enjoyed the eclectic  
  exchange. I even got the correct pronunciation for decaf 
  coffee. It is ÒDe Ca.Ó We started with mussels and 
  snails for an appetizer and a vin rouge a la maison. 
  Next, a delightful filet of salmon, avec vegetables, was 
  equally as tasty. A strawberry and ice cream dessert was 
  exquisite. We sat on the rear porch of this quaint 
  neighborhood bistro and enjoyed the outdoor ambiance 
  amidst other diners, thankful that we were here and with 
  each other. The tab was a reasonable $80. The walk back 
  was pleasant. It was 80 degrees out at 9:30 P.M. in the 
  evening.
 The stars twinkled above us and several glasses 
  of vin rouge fired us from within. We sat on our room 
  balcony, watching the stars and the surf for one last 
  time as we sipped the last of a decent merlot. It was 
  time to sleep and then go home.

  Saturday. 4/6/02 St. Martin. French West Indies

              We were up early. It was going to be a long 
  day. We finished packing and then had a last breakfast 
  in the upper dining area. We placed our bags out side 
  the room by 9: 15 A.M., as instructed,  and then sat in the 
  lobby for a time enjoying the interactions of the 
  guests. Sat. is always a big Òturn over dayÓ in these 
  hotels. The action gets fast and furious.

             A passenger van collected six of us for the 
  airport. To my chagrin, the man sitting opposite us was 
  the elderly gentleman that I has seen walking the beach 
  in small silk thong and carrying a black gym bag, filled 
  with the lord knows what. Oy vey! And he looked so 
  normal, with his chatty wi
fe. Who knows what secret 
  lives these people lead all year, waiting for this one 
  week of tropical fulfillment to carry them for another 
  year of some dead end job sharpening pencils someplace. 
  I guess you can't help but understand them. There, but 
  for the grace of god, and a well honed, and innate sense 
  of what truly is and is not ridiculous, go we.

            The cabby tried to rock and roll, but the 
  roads were impossibly crowded through Marigot. Every Rue 
  he turned into, to make time, became a parking lot of 
  Saturday shoppers in the small French capital. No 
  worries mon, this is the tropics. We just sat back and 
  let it happen. 

            Soon enough, we descended upon the madness 
  that is Queen Juliana airport on a Saturday morning. 
  People and cars and luggage were spilled all over the 
  place. We were ushered into a line to check in. That 
  took an hour and a half. It was shaded and wasn't too 
  bad except, we stood next to one of those Òinterminab
le 
  boresÓ who talked on and on and on about family 
  genealogy and other subjects about which he knew 
  EVERYTHING! It was a race between strangling him and 
  checking in at the counter. Luckily our turn came and we 
  checked our bags in. We were assigned seats in row #47, 
  the last seats on the plane. Our tardy cab driver had 
  cost us. A good tip, that we learned too late, is that 
  for an extra twenty dollars, your travel agent can pre- 
  register you for seats on the plane ride home. This 
  would have saved us an hour and one half standing in 
  line and listening to an obnoxious and over bearing 
  cretin.

           Next, we stood in line for 30 minutes to 
  process our Òexit fee,Ó something that came with the 
  tour, but had to be stamped and notarized anyway. The 
  word Òbureaucracy Ò did in fact originate in France. 
  Finally, we merged into the seething throng that was 
  funneling through the security detectors to the boarding 
  gates. The machines must have 
been pretty sensitive or 
  their operators pretty stupid because there was a long 
  line of men who stood with their belts off, because the 
  belt buckle had registered on the machine. Ay caramba!

           The waiting area looked like the American 
  embassy in Saigon, during the last hours before the fall 
  of South Viet Nam. There were literally hordes of people 
  trying to even find a patch of wall space to occupy. The 
  cattle flights all left their far Northern ports in the 
  early mornings, arriving on St. Martin around noon. 
  Then, the process is reversed and these same mega-
  airbuses filled up with sun burnt and shopped out 
  touristers,  returning to their far Northern homes. I guess 
  it is amazing that it runs as smoothly as it does. We 
  ran into any number of people that we had seen during 
  the last week, exchanging brief nods and smiles. I 
  figured if they hadn't tried to engage us socially in 
  the last few weeks, I wasn't going to bother with them 
  i
n the last few hours in a crowded and busy waiting area 
  of the airport. Luckily, the place is at least air-
  conditioned. About 30 minutes late, we boarded the 
  massive airbus after yet another brief inspection at the 
  boarding gate, may Allah curse the bombers and their 
  descendants as they emerge through the slimy reptilian 
  ranks of karmic retribution.

             We sat in our last row seats, glad to finally 
  be under way. Unbeknownst to us, it was to become the 5 
  hr Òflight from hell.Ó One set of parents and grand 
  parents had the seats immediately in front of us. The 
  airline had apparently allowed them to carry their two 
  and three year old children on their laps. These Ò 
  piccolo mostriÓ started to scream, yell, carry on, 
  squirm and run amok from the takeoff onward. Spilled 
  coffee, yelled admonitions from parents and grandparents 
  had no effect. I had hoped for some one to catch the 
  little monsters and gas them to sleep but I guess the 
  humane societ
ies had precluded that option. We read out 
  books in grim silence. The stewardess even gave me a 
  free bottle of vodka to help dilute the aggravation. It 
  is a testimony to the relaxing power of vacations that I 
  didn't run screaming down the aisles.

              Like all tortures, it ended finally as we 
  flew into Pearson international airport in Toronto. It 
  was 34 degrees and cold out. Naturally, we were dressed 
  in shorts. We recovered out luggage, paged the hotel for 
  a shuttle, and stood in the freezing cold while the fat 
  schmuck of a van driver was no doubt feeding his puffy 
  face. I, no doubt, was having a mild reaction to five 
  hours of torture by two midget demons that should have 
  been incarcerated at birth.

             We picked up our car in the long-term lot of 
  the Carlingsview Inn and set out for Buffalo, 90 miles 
  away. It felt good to drive a car again. The traffic was 
  light for Toronto. We crossed the border into the USA at 
  the Lewsiton/Queenston Brid
ge and finally sailed into 
  the palace around 9:30 P.M. The place hadn't burned down 
  or been burglarized and we had made the return trip 
  safely. We straightened up things as best we could and 
  crashed Òstanke morteÓ (dead tired) into the arms of 
  Morpheus. It had been a long and wonderful vacation for 
  two aging honeymooners.

                                    -30-

               Joseph Xavier martin

                            (15084 words)







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