Clogs and Conch Shells – St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles

We woke early enough and I was overjoyed that I was not land sick again. We had a smaller breakfast then made our way down to the gangway. It was early on a Sunday and I am not sure what we thought we were expecting to be open at 9am. Aaron and Cort had already left the ship leaving Sus and I to a day for ourselves. We opted to walk instead of paying the $5 watertaxi ride to Phillipsburg, the shopping mecca of St. Maarten.

Before we even left the port, we were bombarded by moped touts trying to wrangle us into some sort of scam. I thought it sounded like a fun time but Sus did not want to venture into that territory. We walked along the windy flower-lined sidewalk which was more or less empty due to the amount of passengers that got sucked into the watertaxi scam. Walking along we met a young man who worked for the US Coast Guard was drinking a beer at 9am. Apparently, it is completely legal to walk around with open alcohol here and visitors are encouraged to take full advantage of this.

We ended up shopping shopping and shopping some more. We took a break and tasted the Caribbean Sea which was an entirely new experience for Sus. The sun was hot like fire and the refreshing but still quite warm salt water was a welcome relief. The sand wasn`t as soft as I would have liked but the water was comfortable and kept me for some time. It didn`t take us long to dry off in the open air then we resumed shopping again. Tho there is a French side to this island we stayed on the Dutch side. Apparently there is a clothing optional policy on most beaches but we didn`t see anyone actually naked.

The stores sold mainly jewelry, alcohol and clothing from places like India and China. There were souvenir shops galore but we were able to resist most. Sus and I got sucked into a few but then again, they were for gifts so we could justify it. We were tempted by the jetski rentals for $40/half hour but opted not. As it was Sunday a lot of churches were open and we could hear energetic singing coming from within.

The air was hot and sometimes we would wander into a store only to grab a few moments of air conditioning. The sales staff are trained well and offer gift after special offer. We found that most prices are around the same varying only by a few dollars. They will try to bargain, trick or compromise you into paying cash for things sometimes even taking illegal methods.

We went back to the ship for lunch and pigged out on fried things before heading back out for a last minute shop. I have been to the Caribbean before but Sus was quite taken aback with the casual and laidback pace of things.

“Does everyone call you “Sweetie” like that?” Sus asked with a slightly shocked tone after we exited one store.

“Uh…ya, that`s just the familiar culture here,” I informed her taking a bite from my juicy pear that I had nabbed from breakfast.

We were some of the last passengers to get back on the ship. Just before we got to the gangway, we heard someone calling our names. We look around surprised and noticed the giant grey Coast Guard ship parked right across from us. From way up high, among the many cute sailors waved our friend whom we had met that morning. We blew him kisses as we hopped back aboard our oversized vessel.

As we pulled away from St. Maarten, the full orange sun hung heavy in the early evening sky. It was like a silent still pendulum caught in the thickness of this moment. It was at that moment that I realized that we were almost done. Next stop would be the end of the cruise and the beginning of my journey home.

Today I am grateful for warm seas.

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