"Two countries in one small island". No wonder it's got two names: St. Martin/ Sint Maarten. I smiled listening to the car rental guy proudly showing us a map and highlighting our planned route with a marker. We were at his office right off the pier where our ship docked. After taking locally guided tours in St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Kitts, we've decided on renting a car to explore this 87-square kilometer island.
For more than 300 years, the island has been shared by both the Netherlands and France. It was a tough tug-of-war between the two even long before that. While they're such intimate neighbors now, one could go between the two with out even going through immigration. Or having passports stamped. One could even easily miss the border if not particularly paying attention for it.
|Iguana is part of the island's native fauna|
|At the border marker|
|Friar's Bay Beach|
On the other side, officially called St. Martin, it's less raucous and more about quiet refinement. The numerous beaches lay waiting for those who seek them - whether to bare some or bare all, who cares. In the main town of Marigot, there are boutiques selling French designer goods and restaurants showcasing the best of French cuisine. .
|Great Bay Beach|
A $40 compact Hyundai was just perfect fit for the four of us. We got into the car, happy at the thought that we're actually covering two territories in 10 hours. Our plan was to basically follow the ring road counterclockwise and hit as many beaches and points of interests as we can manage. To make road navigation even easier, our rental came equipped with a GPS.
"Whatever you do, don't forget to stop by Maho Beach", the car rental guy reminded us. Now I'm really giving him a knowing smile.
"Of course not", I quipped. As an aviation nut, I've been excited watching YouTube videos of airplanes landing and barely grazing above people's heads on Maho Beach. How cool is that? Truly one thrilling experience which dictated the planning stage of this Caribbean cruise. In other words, a personal highlight of the trip for me.
Jetblue A320 on approach to SXM runway just next to Maho Beach
There I was gleefully watching planes after planes landing and taking off. Never has the underside of a plane been so exposed to me even if fleeting. Mostly Airbus A320s and Boeing 757s (Unfortunately, the B747 I was hoping for didn't arrive). It was so captivating I forgot my plan to swim or barely ate a late lunch of French baguette & roasted chicken. The roar of jet engine and the blast of air was an intoxicating brew of thrill and danger.
But what an irony, I came here by boat and what got me excited like a kid in a toy store was a plane.