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How do you say "Oh Crap" in Dutch?

Location: Marigot, St. Martin and Philipsburg, St. Maarten

Yesterday we took our first island exploration. When we arrived on Sunday, we didn't get further than the pool; Monday we explored Grand Case on foot (and the supermarche); and Tuesday we went as far as the Grand Case Beach Club where we wiled away our day listening to the tiny waves hitting the smooth pebbles. That meant Wednesday it was time to step it up a notch. 

We had heard that there was on outdoor market on Wednesdays and Saturdays in Marigot, the French capital, just ~ 10 minute drive away, so we had an "early" breakfast (~ 9am ;)) and set out.

The food part of the market was fascinating - it was all spices and local hot sauces, bananas and tomatoes, and a crazy old guy selling homemade hard cider. I bought a small bottle just because I couldn't understand what he was telling me it was; I had asked enough times in French, that I had to just buy it to avoid complete embarrassment (I took one sip, and let's just say "hard" was an understatement).

But the food section was actually much smaller than I expected. The rest of the market was taken up by dozens of stalls of what we like to call "Aquiffas." This is a term Steve coined several years ago when we were in Hawaii, early in our relationship, and a friend's girlfriend convinced me to buy a floral scarf to wrap around myself as a dress or skirt. Let's just say the item in question falls into the category of "seemed like a good idea at the time." Since then, aquiiffa has come to symbolize the phenomenon one experiences while on vacation, when items you would never in a million years consider purchasing at home suddenly seem indispensable, and the most practical, useful item ever known to man (or, more specifically, to woman).

Now, let's be clear - there are certain items that are indispensable in a tropical climate that I will never get an opportunity to wear in northern California. However, this market did not carry those items.

The market was filled to the brim with floral prints and see-through white pants; beach bags with hideous St. Martin logos all over them; useless tchotchke; ugly oversized golf shirts. In short, it was the tourist nightmare we weren't looking for. In fact, for the first time, we started to see people with cruise badges on. Since the cruise ships only dock on the Dutch side, we were hoping to be insulated from them, and in general we are, but here we began to encounter them. So, after perusing the useless items (except the spices - soooo many yummy spices and sauces, I wanted to take them all home to try), we decided in for a penny, in for a pound. We bit the bullet and headed to Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side.

Forget for a moment that my husband is apparently incapable of reading a map, and managed to get us lost ON AN ISLAND... and that the French have a nasty habit of putting speed bumps in the middle of a road, with no signage whatsoever, disguised as normal road so you hit it at great speed and completely strip off the bottom of the car (nothing important down there, right?)... eventually we arrived in Philipsburg and Front Street, the shopping capital of Sant Maarten.

Our ostensible goal was to find a camera store (one had been recommended to us by our hotel) to purchase a tripod for my husband and a waterproof case for my camera for snorkeling/diving. I suspect the real goal was to remind ourselves that we were already in the best spot in the Caribbean, and we should never, ever leave Grand Case.

Philipsburg was complete and utter mayhem. Front street is jam-packed with electronics and jewelry stores, and more tourists than you can possibly fathom. When we made our way through the alley to find a lunch spot on the beach (recommended to us as yummy, and lived up to its billing), we were confronted with the cause - the FIVE ENORMOUS CRUISE SHIPS all docked in one spot. HUGE ships. We attempted to count the number of rooms on one of the ships. There were at least ten rows, of what must have been 10o+ rooms per row, per side of the ship, plus whatever interior rooms and statesrooms they must have had. I'm guessing there were easily 5k-7k people, on each ship.

The beach was overrun with people, 10 rows deep of lounge chairs. The water was a scene from rush hour, with jetskis, banana boats, sailboats, all barely avoiding crashing into one another. It was suddenly obvious why people complain about the Caribbean being overcrowded.

I know I've made my thoughts on cruise ships known before. But to see these people! Normally self-respecting women proudly sporting their aquiffas (some of them see-through, in the worst possible way). Things you know they wouldn't be caught dead in within their own homes, much less in public. Even worse - we saw the ultimate - the MATCHING AQUIFFAS. A woman of a certain age (i.e. could have been my grandmother) was wearing a floral print dress tied around her neck, with a matching oversized handbag. Spectacular. I saw women going to lunch in just their bikinis.

And every single American in that authentic island restaurant ordered a hamburger for lunch. When you're on an island for exactly one day, really, you order a burger? That doesn't really give you license to wear that "I've been to Sant Maarten" t-shirt, now does it?

But I digress. By the time we found our camera equipment (at an admittedly great price, I think), and made ourselves numb from shopping for jewelry (sales people were beyond pushy), we were desperate to return to the haven of Hotel L'Esplanade. We continued counter-clockwise around the island and - miracle of miracles - found our way home in ~ 20 minutes (compared to the ~45 it took to get there), despite a couple of additional u-turns. At that point, it was 4pm, and we were beyond thankful to belly up to our quiet pool bar and let Allen chase all our stress away.

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Reader Comments (2)

Great post, reminds me of when all the ships used to come in at Nassau Harbour. People walking down the main shopping street in bikinis drinking daiquaris and massive crowds at McDonalds. Tourists! Enjoy yourself. Marigot is definitely more charming than Philipsburg.

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnatol

Hi to you and Steve, What a wonderful travelblog you're creating. I love it! Rand and I are going on a bareboat sail off Tortola in April with a bunch of friends and were looking for a place for a few days of R&R just for the two of us beforehand. I'm thinking of reserving at L'Esplanade based on your praise. Do you still like it? XO Ellen

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEllen

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