Yesterday I arrived with my Yiayia in tow at Princess Juliana Airport on the Dutch side of St. Martin. Saturdays must be one of the busiest days for air travel on the island, because there was a whole lot going on at the airport.
Before getting here I thought I had set up a car rental with a reputable company, but it turns out I did not- we waited over an hour for someone to come and pick us up (who never did), and eventually talked to some locals who arranged a rental car for us with Unity Rentals. I had 2 large duffel bags, 1 large suitcase, and one bicycle box, so we needed something a little larger than a car; we ended up with a Toyota Rav4, which is perfect for our needs, for $280/week.
After getting settled into the rental car, we rode to Porto Cupecoy, the complex my roommate and I chose to live in. She had told me how wonderful it is, and, man, she was not kidding. The complex is situated just on the edge of the Dutch border on the far west end of the island. It is gated as you drive up, has a large grocery store inside its walls, and has numerous additional gates for residents. The style of the buildings is European, and the development is supposed to feel like something out of the French Riviera. There is a large plaza in the middle overlooking the marina and Simpson Bay. My apartment is in the quieter east side of the complex, just overlooking a row of sailboats and the plaza to my left. I couldn't have been more impressed at the quality of everything inside, from the high end furniture, to the construction, to the spaciousness of the condo. There are even Viking appliances in the kitchen. The amenities include a beautiful pool, tennis courts, lush gardens, and a workout space. There are also 4 restaurants within the complex, making it convenient for us to run out and grab a meal without even leaving.
Upon arrival, Yiayia was worn out, so when she laid down to nap I chose to go out and explore a little. It was quite nostalgic for me- the day I arrived in Australia, exhausted from long travel but wide awake because of excitement, I asked directions and walked into Wollongong from my dorm, reveling in my independence and freedom. I still remember the spring in my step as the sun shined down and I waltzed down the street, enjoying the sights and sounds of a new place and trying to remember all the little details, before I knew there was actually a free bus (that I would end up taking on all trips in the future). In the same way I eagerly anticipated the start of my semester in Australia, I drove yesterday eagerly anticipating the start of my next two years in St. Martin. I thought about how when I saw the barbed wire at the airport it really dawned on me that this place would be called home, and for a minute I felt some trepidation (a feeling I have felt before, specifically in downtown Shanghai, China... solved by a trip to Pizza Hut and some beer). However, as I watched, I found more sights I could call familiar... I noticed Mormon missioners, lost in the crazy traffic , in their white shirts and ties- a sight I guess that is now familiar all over the world. I heard Backstreet Boys blaring as I passed by small corner shops- what I know as 'bodegas' in NYC. I noticed Pizza Huts (they must be everywhere!), and KFCs, and also hole-in-the-wall Chinese places. I smelled salty air and felt an ocean breeze (which I have to think must be a universally comforting sensation), and let myself enjoy the windows-rolled-down, summer-all-the-time weather that will be mine for this next season of my life.
My first lesson of this land: late afternoon on a Saturday in St. Martin is not a good time for shopping. Actually, very few stores are open here on Sundays, holidays, or evenings. This convenience that we exploit over in the US of A is just not relevant here, as everything basically seems to shut down completely during these times. Some of the shutdowns this weekend have been due to Carnival, a big annual event that happens here on St. Maarten every year at the end of April until early May. Islanders from Sint Maarten and the surrounding island come and celebrate culture, color, and festivities. There are pageants among the local women, one day of the celebration is a national holiday for the Dutch side, and there is plenty of revelry and fun. So, all I got accomplished was some basic grocery shopping- eggs, almond milk, bread, toilet paper, and diet coke. The grocery prices actually surprised me as reasonable! The Grande Marche even offered plenty of sale items to choose from. However, some things are very expensive, like Tide ($30 for a large jug), and cosmetics/ladies products. The stores here use Gilders, but the price tags also list the Euro and USD costs as well. It really helps you get a good feeling for how the prices all relate to one another, and how relative things cost to one another.
Since today was Sunday things were even more shut down than yesterday afternoon, but Yiayia and I did manage to have a fun and productive day. Midmorning we started our drive over the island exploring westward towards the French border. There are quite a few secluded beaches spread around this side of the island, and it does feel rather remote. As we continued to navigate around, we ended up going in a French grocery store, which was cleaner and better kept than Grand Marche, but everything was in French and Euros, so it was a little pricier than the Dutch side. Pretty quickly we found ourselves in Marigot, and then before I knew it Grand Case. The drive really wasn't all that scenic from Cupecoy to Grand Case. From Grand Case we headed back into Philipsburg, where we decided we should look for internet. Unfortunately the place I chose to live did not have internet set up and since the process takes some time, Yiayia and I were really stuck with no connection home. We found ourselves in Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side, and set off to find the McDonalds, a tried and trusty choice for free Wifi. She is pretty quick, though, and before I knew it she had gone into Effy Jewelry store and asked them to use their phone and Wifi. Since she had been a past customer there, they were happy to oblige, so we called and caught up with home on their lines. I had also been looking frantically all day for somewhere I could buy a phone SIM card so that I could use phone internet for our connection needs until my house wifi gets hooked up. They sent me to Music Man, a store on front street, and I got my Verizon iPhone all set up for use in St. Martin with a new St. Martin number. YAY!
Before heading home, we stopped by a store that was (miraculously)open and bought a fan for my condo, a hamper (surprisingly expensive), an air mattress on sale, and some organizers for my things. The home goods are a little more expensive here than home, especially things like rugs, trash cans, and kitchen accessories. I have really enjoyed nesting in my new place, so much that I haven't been to the beach or pool yet! Those things are not on my to-do list until Tuesday...