Baie Nettle, Marigot, St. Martin - There comes a time in every relationship when the honeymoon ends and la realité sets in. All the bad habits, the pimples and morning bedhead come to light and you wonder, “what was I thinking?” Well, it’s not quite like that, but now that we’ve been in St. Martin for about a month, we can see some of the reality to living here.
Firstly, it is the issue with computers…. There is always some obstacle here!! The latest one is that I plug into the outlets in my apartment and sometimes the battery charges, sometimes it doesn’t. I walk around the apartment with cable in hand and test each outlet. There are some days it works in the bathroom, other days it doesn’t; some days it works in the living room, other days it doesn’t; some days in the living room, other days it doesn’t. My computer also has some weird issue with Skype, where the system crashes every time I try to use it. I finally unistalled it, but unfortunatley cannot skyp with anyone.Another thing I still cannot figure out after all this time is the bus system and fares. Firstly, the buses are not buses like we are used to, but privately owned mini-vans with three rows of seats in the back. There is no rhyme or reason to the color, model or size…. Just random mini-vans. Some have little signs on them so you know for sure they are public transportation, most do not. I therefore find myself flagging down vans that are not meant to be public transportation, but rather a regular driver who is minding his own business driving down the road in his mini-van, or it could be a flower or pizza delivery van or something else, but you don’t know this until he is close. The drivers and I share a good chuckle over this as they wag their fingers “non” at me through the windshield, and I see on the side of the van as it goes by, “St. Martin Windows & Glass” or “Pizza au Emporter” or some other name.
Then there are the fares…. How much does the bus fare cost, you ask???! I have no idea! At first, we were told US$ 1 - one US dollar each… which equals $3 for the three of us. We paid that for the longest time until I take another bus, the driver tells me that it is only $2: 1 for me and fifty cents each for the kids and to fight it if someone tried to tell me otherwise. So, the next time I get into the “bus/van” I don’t have US Dollars, but Euros, so I’m thinking, “well…. The exchange rate for $2 US dollars would be roughly 75-95 cents, in Euros,” depending on the exchange rate that day, so I give the guy 1 Euro – and I thought I was being generous!!! Boy…. Did he read me the riot act! In French and Creole! And even though I kept calmly saying, “Sir, I’m not from here, just tell me how much it is…” he kept going on and on about “the high price of gas and if you don’t have enough you should have told me!” I gave him 3 Euros and got off his bus/van.When I have asked around, people tell me the buses cost ONE… one DOLLAR or one EURO it doesn’t matter. Half the time I never see people paying… so I don’t know if they’ve bought some sort of pass, or they know the driver of the bus/van, or it’s that informal communication that goes on in different cultures that we tourists, as outsiders, never quite seem to understand. Whatever! I now just act like I know what I am doing and hand the driver 2 Euros and get off the bus… they have not disputed it since.
I have found a solution to this issue by resorting to alternative methods of transportation…. And Dad, close your eyes/ears…. I have actually hitch-hiked with and without les enfants. This is very common on the island since the buses/vans are not reliable. And it is not weird looking old men who do it, it can be a family with children that pulls over to pick you up. I do feel safe when I do this, so Dad, please don’t worry.So, now let’s talk about my cuisine. Yes, I know, très quaint… it’s outside, you never get food smells inside the house, and you squeegee the mess from each meal right off the balcony, yada-yada-yada. But no one ever tells you about what to do when there are massive monsoon-like rains… how are you supposed to cook then? Lately it has been raining quite a bit – every day there is a “YELLOW” warning meaning pre-hurricane - and it comes on kind of quickly… so you could be out eating and all of a sudden, “grab the plates and the food!” and you’re slipping and sliding all over your squeegee-ed tile floor trying to get inside! Or let’s say the rain has already passed and you want to eat, well now all your dishes and glasses and pots and pans, and table and chairs are – you guessed it - WET! People don’t seem to complain, so I do as the Romans do and just get out a little towel and dry my things and make our meal.
On the bright side of things, I have been meeting some colorful characters during our stay and it is such a small island, I run into people all the time. I like that part of it! There are two women from my complex, both who work at the boulangerie I always go to use their Wi-Fi (pronounced “wee-fee” in French). One is my next door neighbor with the big German Shepherd whom I see from my kitchen during mealtimes, and the other I will call Topless Girl, because, well, she is always topless at the pool. The next door neighbor loves to bake and the smells emanating from her outside kitchen are irresistible… she has baked and then given us brownies and cookies on a couple of occasions, much to the kids’ delight! Then there is the masseuse who is very nice, and her Private Eye Investigator boyfriend who used to work in Special Ops under Sarcozy. I guess he retired as a Colonel in France and came here to live, and now has a profitable P.I. business trying to catch spouses in illicit activities. He says there is a lot of business for this here in St. Martin and in St. Barts. There’s the Brazilian who is a renowned piano teacher on the island and of course, Sylvan the restaurant owner and Delfine, the waitress. All of these people live in the complex but frequent the same boulangerie, supermarkets and travel the roads at the same time I do, so they may be the ones I get rides from on occasion.I continue to take French lessons from my very good teacher. She is the mother of Liam, one of the children who go to the same school as the kids. She teaches English at the school but also teaches French to foreigners, as well as does translations for the courts on both sides of the island. We share a passion for linguistics and for the subtleties of different languages when we compare them. I enjoy my time with her, since I can really practice understanding the nuances to the French language and culture. Through her, I see that life in St. Martin is difficult from many people… very expensive and “not what it used to be.” There are the wealthy few and the rest of the population is struggling. I hear often that “there are no jobs.” And I can see poor Sylvan at the restaurant has no business. The bad economy has affected everyone… and I have heard more than one person say the Americans are not coming here as often.
So, life goes on…. And Sebastian is still on the boat. We spoke on Thursday before he left Bermuda – so he’s 2 days into his trip - en route to the Azores. ETA: 20 days. He says they are sailing well and fast and have implemented a routine of sailing shifts between the three of them during the entire 24 hour period, not just at nights. It appears that is working better for them.At the marina here in Marigot, I ran into one of our sailing buddies from the Bahamas. He ended up coming over for dinner last night to get caught up. It was nice to have company, although I find that I am keeping myself very busy here with the kids’ and my activities.
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