What I'm looking at is ~ a manufactured, superficial little destination with a brightly-colored facade that bases its entire existence on sniping at tourist dollars in any way possible. That's what I'm looking at.
What I see however is a ~ fun little destination of natural beauty which incorporates two different cultures of hard working people banding together to build a brightly-colored facade that bases its entire existence on sniping at tourist dollars in any way possible.
Similar to St. Thomas, you get bombarded with shopping opportunities every twelve feet. The island reigns king of duty-free jewelry stores, and if that's what you're here for, great. I am not, so to me it's a hassle being enticed into another jewelry store every six or eight steps, and I avoid it at all cost.
Here, Dutch and English are the predominant languages spoken, particularly in its capital city, Philipsburg.
I usually arrive at Philipsburg with a mission. They always begin simple and somehow, thanks to my overwhelming sense of theatrics, become more complex as the day wears on.
Once in a while I'll accompany the Conch Fritters with an order of Coconut Shrimp, or perhaps even a chicken or goat Roti, which essentially, the Caribbean's version of a wrap.
Either way, that's all just window dressing to the main event - the first of two Carib beers, conch fritters and the big "chill out".
And each time my waitress passes me, I nod and smile like I haven't a care in the world - I make just the right amount of eye contact to let her know I'm still alive without pissing her off.
I play the part of a good-tipping, small-minded, drooling idiot with Oscar-like precision. I do this to ensure I get my second beer before the water taxi departs.
I make just the right amount of eye contact to let her know I'm still alive without pissing her off.
Historically, a gaggle of waitresses always seem to congregate at the bar towards the back of the dining area with an air of defiance; almost as if daring a patron to glance over and ask for something.
So why do I keep returning? Short answer - "I don't know."
Hey, I'm a complex guy and there could be many reasons. Perhaps it's merely a test of my mettle; to see how much I can take. Perhaps, I have a affinity for the fact that I can mold a defiant IWWA like putty in my hand.
David Henry Thoreau once wrote, "It's not what your looking at, but what you see."
Well, for one, isn't that basic concept true of most vacation destinations? Even spots as benign as Disneyland and Hersheypark follow the basic mantra, "Show me the money."
A great example is Atlantic City - step thirty yards from the boardwalk and you're in Beirut. If that's not a case of slapping lipstick on a pig and inviting you to dinner, I don't know what is.
The island is shared by both France and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, with the dividing line nearly down the middle.
The island's French side, St. Martin, is renowned for its nude beaches, fashion, shopping, outdoor markets, quiet reserve and rich French and Indian Caribbean cuisine. Marigot, the French capital and the island's most populated city offers a little of everything and here, English is the most commonly spoken language along with a local dialect.
Most of my antics in St. Martin/St. Maarten culminate in me doing a sort of walk of shame through the same neat row of palm trees.
Well, perhaps you didn't and it was nothing more than a long-winded preface to a not-so-rosy review.
Or maybe it's just an apology of sorts for making the same mistake over and over, and feeling the need to explain why. In any case, long-winded has gotten me to this point, so why change now?
Digression aside, most of my antics in St. Martin/St. Maarten culminate in me doing a sort of walk of shame through the same neat row of palm trees (see photo at left).
It's almost as if they've painted these palm tree trunks just for me so I could find my way home with no further mishaps.
And like the yellow brick road, I know right where this path will lead. The Barefoot Restaurant awaits.
"There's always two things I immediately check without fail - one, I check to see how much cash I have left and two, I check my watch to ensure I have enough time to eat because here, my friends, "living on island time" is an understatement."
I guess from my last statement, you've gathered the fact that service here may be a tad slow.
Slow with a capital "S" is more accurate.
I've learned the only way around this is to smile at your waitress every time she passes and compliment her as much as you possibly can.
Anything less, and your planned lunch just may become dinner.
I know instinctively by fritter number two, I'll have to reconnoiter the prospects of ordering my second beer. Any miscalculation here and I'll be running towards the taxi with tarter sauce on my cheek.
My expertise in handling IWWA (Island Women With Attitudes) pays dividends and I am fairly confident my brew will arrive before the Mayan calendar ends.
I pop the last conch fritter in my mouth and set the plate aside - and on this occasion, move on to an order of coconut shrimp. To my joy, my second beer arrives as I am making another batch of tarter and hot sauce to slather my fare.
The Coconut Shrimp are exactly what I expected. Stiff little representations of former sea life sprinkled with what's supposed to be coconut. In reality could be anything from a sugary blend of panko to an undiscovered strain of sweetened sand. The good news is the shrimp are delivered on the same bed of wilted lettuce, so at least I know I'll be getting my veggies.
As the last of the cardboard shrimp make their way down my gullet, I suck the life out of my last beer.
The over-priced check which has been sitting in front of me all this time (which is favorable, because I'd hate to ruin a good thing by having to ask for the check), is paid promptly in cash (would you trust an IWWA with your credit card number?). I thank the waitress for her excellent service (paving the way with good relations for my next visit) and relate how good the meal was (always lie in a foreign land).
The restaurant is a composite of St. Maarten itself- a brightly-colored facade with a few flaws. However, St. Maarten and I have an understanding. We co-exist and enjoy what each other brings to the table - I enjoy the adventure it extends and it enjoys the American dollar I bring to its businesses. It works.
And for me, David Henry Thoreau knew what he was talking about when he said, "It's not what your looking at, but what you see." In other words, look beneath the surface and drink up.
Cyrus Wathey Square
Philipsburg, St. Maarten