Tag Archives: Sint Maarten

St. Martin – Final thoughts

Last sunset at Mullet Bay, St. MaartenThe highlights of the trip for me were in the ocean. I love being in the ocean, swimming, and checking out the fish. The variety, the color, the number of the fish was very cool. The coral was excellent in many places, and lots of fun to explore. I wish the ocean had been calmer, but what can you do? The fine sand beaches were remarkable, and getting in the ocean was always easy. The trip with Octopus Diving out to Creole Rock and Turtle Reef was truly memorable, and something I would do again in a heartbeat.

Grand Case, St. Maarten The food was too often, not very good. With the exception of the one meal at Captain Oliver’s, a lot of the rest were most UN-memorable. The second meal at Captain Oliver’s was a major disappointment, mostly I think because the bad singer really put us off, although the steamed shrimp with lime is an amazing appetizer.

The food at the restaurants in the Oyster Bay Resort where we stayed was not that good. Beau Beaus was bad bad bad – they are fine for a lunch time burger and beer when you hop out of the ocean, but the fries were a greasy mess, and the Caribbean fare was truly a mess. Infinity was slightly more upscale, but only in terms of price. The food was decidedly average, and sometimes plain awful. Mr Busbys on the Beach was a daytime wash-the-ocean-salt from your mouth type of joint, with no food worth recommending. It turned into Daniel’s in the evening, and was a pasta joint, with too high prices, not something I care to eat.

The Border CrossingThe dinner at Big Fish was nice, though, close to Oyster Bay beach, right across from Daniel’s. Nice food, thoughtfully and attractively presented, with excellent service. I can recommend that restaurant to anyone. It is also where they should send the chefs from the Westin to learn a thing or two.

Germain's PlaceThe food at the lolos, the roadside snack shacks was kind of like a Subway or a Burger King – you know you’re not getting excellence, just food. I would liked to have tried other lolos but my traveling companions (the rib fanatics!) insisted on returning to the same one over and over, even to the extent of sitting at the same table! We got to be regulars, that’s for sure! We never did swim at Grand Case beach tho – just over on Creole Rock/Turtle Reef which is opposite the Grand Case beach. Ate there 3 or 4 times, but never swam there.

Pedestrians, St. Maarten The driving was like other Caribbean islands – chaotic, noisy, smelly, and bumpy. The number of vehicles belching pollution is really shocking. I would estimate that one vehicle in 300 (wow that’s an exaggeration, but man – TONS of cars are belching something) would pass our AirCare program. The roads were filled with enormous potholes, and numerous unmarked speed bumps. More pedestriansGoats, cows, pigs and dogs freely wandered the roadways, creating even more chaos. Drivers are aggressive, driving far too fast for conditions, and the congestion sometimes bordered on the insane! There are only a couple of traffic lights on the island and they’re hilarious. Kind of like when it snows in Vancouver – people aren’t sure how to drive. We saw a couple REALLY late cars racing through the intersection at the lights.

The road to Friar's beachWe had awfully cool trips to some neat locations, like Friar’s Bay, a real favorite.  But the road leading to it was a wild ride, but we did it a couple times! Mullet Bay was really awesome. We went twice and had a blast. The driving on those crazy roads was in a lot of ways a highlight too. Driving near PhilipsburgSeeing crazy mountainous roads, driving over nothing more than dirt paths to reach beaches. It was really a neat part of the trip. Getting lost, I’m really good at going down the wrong road. “Turn here M” “where?”  “At the corner you just drove past!” lol But man, we saw that island!

Christmas lightsI had read that driving at night in St Martin was scary, and I was a bit paranoid at first, but it was part of the fun too. Christmas lights everywhere. A creche with a couple Santas as wise men, in the church yard. Lots of festivals were starting, the decorating going on in earnest. Route 66, man... Even the long two hour ride home from Mullet was worth it. Sitting there, windows down, we crept along, saw a fist fight, found the Argentine steak joint, saw the place with Route 66 signs all over place, guys popping wheelies with all manner of two wheeled vehicles, even three wheeled vehicles – motorcycles with two wheels in FRONT! It was a real slice of life.

Shopping is mainly for cheap Chinese mass-produced trinkets, with little in the way of locally produced goods. Most stores carry the same tacky items. You have to hunt for the gems, which, you know, naturally, we found!  Walk the boardwalk in Philipsburg, through hundreds of stores, and see the same items over and over. Go to Marigot, and see the same items, with a 15-20% higher price.

Church overlooking Belle PlaineI love Hawaiian shirts, and loaded up. I think I lost the bet, um, 4 times over! Tim is getting the hang of ’em too! The Rima store- the guys who make the shirts I like – right by the Heineken Plane was a fave stop for all the stuff in one spot. haha Although lots of stores on Front and Back Street had unique ones. Lots of masks, you have to say you “bought” them on St Martin lol because most are from Indonesia, or Africa. Only local one we found was by a St. Lucia artist.

Turtle at Turtle Reef The Caribbean is really about the sun, sand and water sports, though. And I loved all three. The sun was great – temperatures were in the mid to high 80s and never felt overwhelming. There is a nice breeze that keeps you from overheating. The ocean was always at a nice warm temperature that was attractive. While we primarily love to snorkel, there were lots of other ways to enjoy the water. Like in a hot tub! haha We jumped in for happy hour nearly every night, before dinner. They were nice relaxing hours, trying to spot the rays we knew were out there in the ocean. Would have been great to have gotten a real calm day there, off of Dawn Beach.

Sunset in St. Maarten Bottom Line: Would I go back to St. Martin? Yes, but certainly not to Oyster Bay Resort, and not right away since I’d rather we get an exchange someplace new. The thing is, the Oyster Bay resort is too isolated, making the drive to most of the calmer beaches too lengthy – usually an hour or more, and sometimes two hours.  Parts of St. Maarten are set up as cruise ship destinations – that is, a way to strip you of your money in the few hours cruise ships are in harbor, and Marigot, even more so – man they just didn’t care when you told them what they sold it for in Philipsburg! lol But if we could get a place nearer Philipsburg it would be cool, even out near the Argentine restaurant. There were a number of timeshare looking locations we drove by. Lots closer to the calm beaches. Or even the French side, up around Grand Case. Then you’d avoid the major traffic snarls, be close to great restaurants, and the best beaches for snorkeling. And you’d be closer to Octopus Diving!

Turtle Thursday!

Creole RockToday we have made reservations to go on a snorkeling trip with Octopus Diving out of Grand Case. One of the stops was to be Turtle Reef, in hopes we’d get to swim with a turtle or two.

Our dive teamWe made our way to the Octopus Diving shop and met Aure, our French dive captain, and Sally who would accompany the diver, both merrily decked out in Santa hats. Aure was a very cheerful fellow, and he explained the various things we should see on our first stop, Creole Rock. There were just the four of us on the boat, with one other fellow who was going to dive.

Queen Angel, Creole Rock We walked to the beach, hopped into the ocean and waded out to a fast looking boat called Octopussy. It was kinda cool that there was no dock, we just hopped into the ocean and waded out into about chest deep water and climbed up the ladder.

It took about 3 minutes to reach Creole Rock – I told you it LOOKED fast and it was very fast! We tied to a mooring ball, and Aure explained some of the things we could see, and where we might find them around Creole Rock. Eagerly we got ready and jumped in.

Black and silverThe water was warm, very clear, and very calm. We saw TONS of stuff. I even managed to get a few decent pics too! I had talked about a cool looking half black, half silver fish we saw a few days ago, and this time I managed to get a picture worth putting up. We’re still not sure of the name of this fish (called a coney actually) but pretty cool; he was hanging with the houndfish.

Very cool crab We saw a couple of unique crabs, one with teeny tiny claws smaller than the fingernail on your pinky. We saw just tons of different grouper, from the beautiful Nassau grouper, to the wonderfully colored tiger grouper. There was a very large Queen Angel, and lots of Sgt Majors of course. The Sgt Majors here seem much larger, in general, than we’ve seen on other islands.

Anenome and friendAure mentioned there was eagle ray and a big barracuda named Bob, around the rock, but we didn’t get to see them. It would have been very cool to see the ray, but alas, next trip I guess!

Because Creole Rock is a protected site, there was an abundance of coral as well. There were lots of gorgeous anenomes, waving gracefully. We’ve learned to check around them carefully for other small creatures, like crabs and sea horses.

Cool grouper, Creole RockAfter a long, satisfying snorkel, we packed back onto the boat and made our way to Turtle Reef. We excitedly discussed all we’d seen and before we knew it we were at our second destination. At first, I’m sure we all had reservations as we were stopped “in the middle of nowhere,” close to nothing! Diving in, we were rewarded with some of the best coral we’ve seen, with the possible exception of the coral gardens on Grand Cayman.

Turtle at Turtle Reef Because we had mentioned over and over that we were really eager to see turtles Aure jumped in with us and took us to a spot where there were usually turtles. This man can dive! Holy crap, he got down so deep and was able to just hover deep in the water! When we get down as deep as we can (no where near as deep as Aure) we simply begin rising to the surface! It was very impressive.

He found us a large hawksbill, and I managed to get a decent shot or two of her, even though the water was quite deep. She swam around about five to six feet off the bottom and we frolicked around trying to get close. We saw another smaller one too!

Turtle at Turtle Reef We saw another pair of turtles later, pointed out to us by Sally and her dive companion, but I’m not sure they were not the same pair we had already seen – you know what they say – all turtles look the same! haha

We saw a bunch of puffer fish, various sizes and just cruising about. That was pretty fun too – they are a cute fish to see, and always make Pam laugh. There were yellowhead wrasse that we soooo large! At least five times the size of the largest we’ve ever seen.

Coral near Creole Rock,It really was a remarkable dive. In spots it was just a little too deep for snorkeling (unless you can dive like Aure!) but more than worth seeing. There were lots of portions of the reef easily visible and only five to six feet deep, so I’m not saying it wasn’t a blast, because it was! I’d go back in a heartbeat.

A rainbow points the way to Octopus Diving And trust me, the Octopus Diving crew were fantastic. Friendly, efficient and knowledgeable, it was easy to trust them. They put us at ease and made us feel safe. If you come to St Maarten, you will have no better experience than to go dive with them! The end of our dive was greeted with a large rainbow, ending right at the Octopus Diving shop! How much better recommendation do you need??

This post is getting very long, but I have to mention dinner. We drove over to near the airport, to try the Rancho Argentinian Grill. We had gone to the Westin, and Maggie, Tim and Pam all had the Certifiied Angus Beef tenderloin steaks. I told them that Argentinian beef was better, but they were naturally skeptical. Angus Beef, as the Westin proudly proclaimed, is a label that less than 8% of beef is able to receive. Well, all three felt the Argentinian beef was clearly better! I had said a couple of times that it was even better than Alberta beef, and Maggie conceded this was the case too! So I’m glad we got there – it’s nice that it was not a disappointment!

Rancho Argentine Grill, Simpson BayBut Pete – I felt the El Gaucho in Aruba was better. Their steaks were cut thicker, I think. But I have to give Rancho kudos for better ambiance. A lovely space, huge and airy. The room had to be 60 feet tall, with huge pieces of cloth, like sails, billowing down to the wall. We sat basically right on the wharf, surrounded by 150 foot sail boats. Amazing.

Mullet Bay

Mullet Bay, St. MaartenWednesday dawned clear and warm – barely 90 degrees, so we put on our sweaters and headed to Mullet Bay. It is a large sweeping bay, on the south side of the island. It’s also near the main airport, on the Dutch side, one beach over from the famous Maho Beach. The water was warm and calm, with a beautiful soft sandy beach, about a mile long, in a long gentle curve.

Octopus We entered near the left side, and quickly found tons of fish, some we’d never seen before. It wasn’t long before we saw our first octopus. He was partially concealed under a rock, and stayed there, watching us warely as we dove to take pictures of him. We left him alone and quickly found another slightly larger octopus also partly concealed. We took a few pics of him. We found a third octopus hiding under a large rock. He’s probably the biggest one we’ve found on any Caribbean island. We struck out across the bay to the far right side and quickly ran into another octopus. That’s right! We saw octopus all over this bay! At least eight, maybe more, including one little tiny one about three inches long.

School of fishThere were lots of fish I tried to get pictures of, but following my recent lucky string, I got El Zippo. Sorry folks, but I just suck with a camera. One of Olympus cameras has bitten the dust. It keeps saying close the cover, when it is! LOL Anyway, we’re down to the old repaired Olympus, and it doesn’t work completely. All the buttons except the on/of and the picture clicker don’t work.

OctopusWe’re off to see Turtle Reef tomorrow (Thursday), so we’re hoping this sucker will last, AND that we come back with pics of turtles. I took 170 pictures at Mullet Bay and about 10 were reasonable.

We snorkeled a long time here at Mullet Bay, and just had a blast. We came out for a beer and a rest and plowed back in for another short dive. It was just as fun, seeing another couple of octopus. We saw this really cool fish, divided perfectly in half, one side silver, the other side black, but of course none of the pics I took turned out.

Plane landing Warning sign on Maho BeachThe sun was setting as we came home, and we passed Maho Beach. It is famous for being the closest you can legally get to jets while they are in the air! We managed to see one plane land. We’ve been saying we’re going to have to come to this beach during the day, but we’re quickly running out of time.

Christmas lights on St. Maarten, 2009As we drove home in the dark, we saw lots of homes decked out in Christmas lights. Some are really quite swell and extravagant.

We had dinner at Beau Beau’s because they have a lobster medallions special, starting with a lobster bisque, and an ice cream dessert. You can skip this meal as it is passable, but hardly great.

Slow Tuesday

Public artToday started slowly. We all slept in and didn’t get ambulatory til nearly noon. I went in for a quick snorkel and the water was clear and calm until you got to the reef! Seems like the reef is too close to the surface and it causes too much agitation in the water, making visibility just not good enough to take pictures. There are certainly lots of fish to see, just the photos don’t turn out well enough to post on the blog.

Absinthe ad We drove into Philipsburg again and spent the day wandering about checking out the stores and the people. Legalize limesThere was a HUGE cruise ship in the harbor and the town was full of people. We sat on the boardwalk and had lunch at place called The Big Wood. It was typical fare for lunch, nothing special, but beers were a buck.

I managed to find a couple shirts to buy – which makes the total somewhere near a dozen haha! Never seen such good looking shirts as in this town!

The viewWe’ve fallen into the habit of hitting the hot tub before 5 pm, since there is a 2 for 1 drink special from 4 til 6. We have a couple of drinks, then head home for a nap before dinner! Tough life, but someone has to live it!

Lunch time at the Big Wood GrillFor dinner we headed across the pond to Captain Oliver’s restaurant. We had intended to go to Captain Oliver’s a few days ago but we stopped at Le Planteur, a French creole restaurant that Maggie enjoyed. I thought it was terrible – I mean come on – they served my fish dish in tinfoil! lol – Anyway – it’s too bad we did not get to Captain Oliver’s that day, because it was probably the best food and service we’ve had on the island. We’ve made a reservation for Friday, our last day, for a repeat performance.

Out on the town They picked us up from the hotel, and took us to the restaurant. it sits right on the dock, in the middle of the marina. Tables are set over glass, so you can watch the fish below you, including nurse sharks, large and small tarpon, turtles and many other smaller fish.

The appetizers – fish soup, Caesar salad, snails and shrimp were all amazing. The main courses were awesome. I had the mahi mahi in a Pernod sauce. It came with asparagus, carrots, spinach and potatoes. The presentation was sensational. The tastes were delightful. I couldn’t have dreamed a better dish! For dessert I had Pear Charlotte and while it was not what I expected, it was delicious nonetheless.

Parking is a skill, right?They brought a bottle of Banana-vanilla brandy to the table, and told us it was on the house and to drink as much as we liked. It too was a unique taste sensation.

They had a live musician playing music and singing, and he was very good as well. He was a very good guitarist, playing everything, but he played some Santana tunes remarkably well. It was a really romantic setting, and he fostered that feeling with his choice of songs.

A perfectly delightful end to the day.

Saturday on St. Martin

Beach petsWell the first day of our last week dawned bright and clear (again). I got in the ocean here at Dawn Beach, but the waves are just too strong to make the snorkeling enjoyable. We’ve heard this is one of the best beaches, but only when the current is mild. So far, it has not been mild at all. The swimming is a lot of fun, but again, the current can be challenging.

Two We talked to some locals and they suggested Friar’s Bay as a great snorkeling place. We had already been there and had a nice enough time. They told us that we had snorkeled the wrong side of the bay, and that we should have gone up the right hand side. So, we figured, what the heck, let’s go give it a whirl. And they were right!

The bay was very calm today, with hardly a ripple on the ocean. Entry to the ocean was on some nice soft sand, and we quickly headed over to the rocks. We saw tons of stuff we had not seen anywhere else on the island. AND we saw some things we’ve not seen on any island! For me, the highlight was seeing “stick crabs” — crabs that have long very skinny legs. We had never seen any before, except in nature shows. That was so cool.

Another gorgeous Queen AngelWe also spotted four types of moray eel. There were Queen Angelfish, another boxfish, and Pam’s favorite fish, a Nassau Grouper! There were plenty of other fish we have not seen before and which we haven’t even been able to name yet!

The problem again, is my photography. I’m doing a terrible job of capturing these beauties. You’d think after all this time I’d be getting good at it, but it’s so hit and miss. It’s very discouraging actually.

Cool looking moray eel We had lunch at Friar’s Bay Beach Cafe. If you should come to this beach, be sure to bypass this ripoff joint. We had two clubhouse sandwiches, one meat and cheese sandwich, and “chicken fingers” (with only two “fingers”), two beer and two coke. Price: $117.00… The food was not even very good. Ordinary would be stretching it. Eight bucks for a beer, when the most we’ve paid has been $2.50 anywhere else, even on pricey Pinel Island. Outrageous.

We piled back into the ocean for another leisurely snorkel up the right coast. It was great fun, and we got to see just tons of fish. The water clarity was very good, and we saw more morays, other fun stuff.

Maurice diving to take yet another bad pictureWe got back to the hotel for a soak in the hot tub, then off to dinner at a French restaurant called “Le Plainteur” just across the marina from our hotel on the French side. It is perched on top of a hill with a beautiful view of our hotel and the surrounding hillside. That was as good as it got.

Here it is snowing in St. Maarten!We should have learned from the French ripoff at lunch, but I guess we’re stubborn. The owner’s children playing far too loudly in the dining room was off-putting from the minute we walked in. I ordered French Onion Soup. It was too cold to be called soup really. The Mahi Mahi Creole was served in tinfoil, and didn’t resemble anything Creole I’ve ever had. It was accompanied by a scoop of some overcooked mass of something indiscernible. The plating technique left something to be desired, to say the least! Dessert was Flambeed Bananas that were cooked beyond recognition. For me, this was one the worst meals I’ve ever had to pay so much money for!! Honestly, for “French Food” this wouldn’t even pass as cafeteria food. Again give this place a bypass. You’ll be glad you did.

Downtown Philipsburg

On the Boardwalk    Because I had not used sunscreen the first couple of days, and couldn’t manage another day in the ocean, we decided to head into Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side of Sint Maarten. It has a nice boardwalk that runs along the harbor, with lots of shops and restaurants on one one side. It has a few casinos, lots of jewellry stores, and not much parking!

Philipsburg harbor, from the boardwalkPam figured I’d buy a bunch of Hawaiian shirts, but I bought El Zippo!! Not through lack of trying mind you! They just never had my size! Lots of XXL and XXXL (my old size!!!) but none in my size, in the colors I wanted.

We have always bought a glass fish on every Caribbean island we’ve been on, and we looked long and hard for a cool one. After hours of walking around, it came down to a glass shark or one that looked like a file fish. Since I like file fish better than sharks, we grabbed the file fish. Very cool…

St. Maarten bar  We tried to find a restaurant that served Keshi Yena, but no luck. After some exhaustive internet search, it seems to be local to Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. We had numerous recommendations to try the Holland Beach Hotel, but no luck – they did not serve it and the concierge looked genuinely lost when we asked about it.

The quaint shopping area in PhilipsburgWe asked several locals, and they’ve suggested a couple of Dutch bars on the island and I’m sure we’ll check them out over the course of the week. If you do not know what keshi yena is, it’s a dish made with the hard rind of a hollowed out gouda cheese, with chicken (or beef or fish), olives, some spices and lots of vegetables inserted into the hollow cheese then baked – kind of like a lasagna without noodles. It’s fantastic and Pam and I have tried it on Aruba and Curacoa and we just thought it was available on all the Dutch Antilles islands. But evidently not!

An Old Street, and  an Old car!We shopped most of the day, and came back to Oyster Bay for a dip in the ocean. We tried the reef out front of our hotel, and while the view was spectacular, we had some difficulty with the power of the ocean waves! There were lots of fish to see, but wow – the waves were powerful and gave us all we could deal with. I almost lost my mask, my camera and my shorts! Not a pretty sight I can assure you!

Oyster Bay Beach Resort We had dinner at Beau Beau’s again. It is a short walk from our condo – like 2 minutes! They had a great Tuesday dinner special. We all started with a salad. then choice of dinner – grouper filet, grilled chicken or a steak, served with rice or potato, with some veggies. Desert was chocolate cake (VERY GOOD). Also included was a glass of white or red wine. All for 25 bucks, INCLUDING tip! You can’t beat that!

Afterwords we headed back to the condo and Pam and Maggie beat Tim and I in a game of canasta. This is the third time that Pam and Maggie have won in the thirty or so years we’ve known each other. As you can imagine, Pam and Maggie were walking on water…. And it definitely needs mentioning on the blog! Congrats ladies!

Tomorrow the weather is supposed to be only 30 degrees celsius, so we’re not sure what to do. So chilly! I’ve heard that Calgary has some snow and about minus 30 celsius weather, so I imagine they don’t have much sympathy for us who have to deal with this kind of weather. Still, it’s not easy.

REMEMBER – GO TO WWW.MAURICEO.CA when this site dies. And it will die sooon.

Pinel Island

He came a-knocking on our door!Well Monday began with a shock. Pam jumped out of bed, all perky and ready to go BEFORE everyone else! It really woke me with a start! I thought there had to be a fire, or an earthquake… although the last time we were in an earthquake, Pam slept through that! So you can imagine, it was very disconcerting for me.

Pinel Island After calling security to ensure all was ok, we decided we should try out Pinel Island. Most of the reviews we have read said that this a not-to-be-missed highlight. It’s a smallish island, fifteen minutes north of our condo, about five minutes across a small bay by water taxi.

The taxi was seven dollars each, for a round trip. Once on the island, the beaches are made of the same fine white powdery sand. There are numerous umbrellas, each with two attached chairs, for rent for fifteen dollars for the day. So that meant $29 for each of us.

A couple of ballyhoo       There is a protected marine park, with bouys lining a “course” for you to swim and see a very nice assortment of coral. There were fish, but not as numerous, or as varied as we’ve come to expect. One highlight was certainly the schools of ballyhoo, who swam with us. In other places, they usually do not hang around, but move off. These guys just hung around and there were a lot of them!

Tim with the largest Sgt Major EVER!The current was quite strong, especially when the course left the protected edge of the island. It was a work out! We saw parrotfish, Sgt Majors, trumpetfish, assorted grunts, damselfish, wrasses, etc. The surprising thing is that we have not seen one of my favorite fishes – I call them “flat bottomed dudes” – the trunkfish, cowfish guys. Not one! Amazing.

Maggie waves at a passing ballyhooWe had lunch on Pinel Island, and wow, that was one pricey meal. A simple hamburger with fries was 16 Euros! That’s $24 Canadian folks! So my recommendation is that you pack a lunch if you’re heading to Pinel! A can of diet coke was a steal at 4.50 Canadian.

It was a tiring trip. The surf was strong and gave us all a good workout. We came back to the condo for Pam waves on Pinel Islanda quick change of clothes and a small nap. As the sun set, we thought we’d try the restaurant in the condo called Infinity, which overlooks the infinity pool.

It’s a very nice restaurant. Cloth tableclothes and napkins add to the sense of well being. The waiter was efficient and attentive. The food was spot on, from the “Classic Onion soup” to the coconut chocolate mousse and tiramisu for dessert. Tim had the daily special, a chicken scallopini served with a pasta in a light sauce, and pronounced it excellent. Pam and Maggie had the chicken stuffed with sweet sausage and were delighted with it. Grunts My roast pork was very nice too. The presentation was on white square plates with a modern plating technique. All in all, it was a terrific end to a really swell day.

By 9:30, I was ready for bed! I might have got a little too much sun, (there is apparently something called sunscreen that can help with that, so I might have to see just what that is….) so tomorrow I think we’ll do some exploring of the towns of Phillipsburg (Dutch) and Marigot (French), maybe take in the forts, and the markets. Pam has wagered that I will be buying AT LEAST three new Hawaiian shirts… We shall see!