Monthly Archives: October 2010

A Tale of Two Beaches (Part II)

Paradise

A couple of posts ago, I lamented the ruination of stunning beaches with ultra-tourism.  Today, I have better news: one of the most stunning beaches ever to bless the earth.

So, start by covering up the snapshot on the left and picturing the most perfect beach you can imagine.   OK, take your hand away: is this the beach?

Soft, fine white sand, stretching as far as the eye can see?  Tick.  Gently lapping turquoise water? Tick.  Plenty of shade from palm trees?  Tick.  Friendly locals?  Tick.  A few beach shacks and perhaps tastefully-done hotels?  Tick, Tick.

On Sunday I visited the gorgeous island of Anguilla, just a 25 minute ferry ride from St Martin. (Of course, I forgot to bring my passport and had to take a later ferry).  Anguilla’s beaches are frequently listed on “Top 10 beaches” lists (go on: google it).

After, I was accosted by an Anguillan taxi driver who offered me a good deal to travel with two women from New York, we headed to Shoal Bay East, reportedly one of the most glorious beaches in the Caribbean, if not the world.

Enjoying the ride

After an eventful ferry ride (one young guy had been drinking until what must have been well into the morning and spent the whole journey either lying on the seat or riding with his head out the window, much to the horror of all passengers unfortunate enough to have ended up on his side of the boat).

The journey across stunning cerulean waters (a colour I learned of by watching The Devil Wears Prada, although I absolutely promise this water was the same colour as Anne Hathaway’s sad jumper) landed us on Anguilla, and immigration and customs was a seamless affair.  20 minutes later, we were deposited in paradise.  Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.

I couldn’t wait to jump for a swim, then couldn’t bear to get out; my fingers shrivelled and my tan darkened as I cut through the water.  Schools of fish, both big and small, joyously hurled themselves out of the water (imagine the thrill, for them and for me!).  With only a few people about, and a smattering of lounge chairs, this was something ripped straight out of a travel brochure and a million holiday fantasies. 

An eyesore under construction

 There was only one thing wrong with the entire glorious picture: some Texas zillionnaire had bought up land and was constructing a home of what must be unprecedented magnitude and the most hideous design imaginable.  Proof positive that money can’t buy you taste, I guess.

Whilst it wasn’t the soul-shifting experience of Tobago, it wasn’t difficult to fall head-over-heels with this spot.  I splashed around and gazed at this for hours.   At 4pm, we were due to head back, as I needed to catch the 4.30pm ferry.  However, the New York chicks decided that 3.57pm was the right time to head back into the water for a swim.  The taxi driver and I fumed, especially as I had warned them the driver would be here any minute now…

Not to worry, even inconsiderate women and poor-taste construction were nowhere near enough to ruin an afternoon spent in the lap of absolute perfection.

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A Tail of Two Doggies

Marigot is the capital of the French side of St Martin/Sint Maarten, and what it lacks in authentic charm, it makes up in restaurants and patisseries (so who am I to complain?).  The action centres around the Bay area, and a lovely marina. 

Twice a week, local women fling open their stalls and sell clothing, nick naks, spices and fresh fruit and vegetables in permanent buildings that line the waterfront.

The statue dedicated to local market women

There is even a statue dedicated to the local women who operate these stalls.

Scrummy banana-crusted snapper and crispy garlic sauteed potatoes

I decided to lunch on the marina side, and found a delightful restaurant who served me up gorgeous snapper with a banana crust and crispy-garlicky potatoes on the side (a true winner).  The staff were absolutely delightful, as most people here seem to be (living in paradise makes it hard to be grouchy, even for the French).

A pair of chocolate labs, living it up

As I enjoyed my lunch, little motor boats would pull into the marina, and more often than not, they had dogs on board, enjoying the adventure, wind blowing onto their wet black noses and through their doggie fur.  The waiter reported that many families live on boats with their dogs, and come to the marina for their supplies. 

One boat held two gorgeous chocolate labradors, who leapt happily off as they moored and the family tripped into the restaurant for a bang-up lunch.  I overheard them saying the dogs were father and son and…well…it was difficult to miss a particular feature of both dogs that made me avert my eyes but would have made most grown men green with envy.  (Yes, I know you could do without that sliver of info, but be glad I didn’t try and catch it on film).

The over-developed equipment issue aside, lunch was a most pleasant experience.  I could do this for a living, I reckon.

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A Tale of Two Beaches: Part I

Breakfast on the balcony

I know that you won’t be surprised to discover that there are seemingly countless stunning beaches here in the Caribbean, and many islands (like Antigua) are particularly renowned for their beaches.  The debate is often which are the “Top 10” beaches, and with so many candidates, even just in this region, how can you ever choose?  Unfortunately for me, St Kitts is a volcanic island so its beaches are often made up of darker sand and, although the water is a stunning blue at the right time of the day, and usually incredibly clear, it can affect the appearance of the beach and downgrades the feeling of paradise that other more starkly white-and-blue beaches deliver.

Breakfast view

Since I swim to keep stabilised during my long absence from home, when visiting other islands, I always try and check out the beaches and enjoy a swim.  If an island is particularly famous for a beach, it will go straight to the top of my “must see” list.

Orient Bay (condos in the distance)

St Martin is well known for gorgeous beaches that truly are the real deal: fine white sand, clear turquoise water…but, given that St Martin’s main gaggle of tourists is from the US, well, suffice it to say that some areas have lost some of their European charm as they’ve given way to the tourist dollar. 

One beach that is listed as a “must visit” in St Martin is Orient Beach, in a large bay.  Even the au naturale crowd have set up camp at the southern end of the beach, a sight you don’t see in the English Caribbean since toplessness result in fines or averted gazes more than free-wheeling fun in the sun.

Fun in the Sun

On my first morning in St Martin, after enjoying a croissant breakfast on my balcony overlooking a gorgeous view, I headed straight to Orient Beach.  On the approach, it’s as if a little “community” of hotels and restaurants have sprung up around the beach.  I followed the road around roundabouts to find just what the guide books had promised – a lovely beach.

But there was one thing wrong: it had been over-run with tourist activities, as “Watersports” signs and at least 7 sets of rent-a-lounge-chair-umbrella combos lined the long stretch of white sand.  Local women trawled the beaches, approaching every tourist with offers of towels and bags, and it seemed tough work to move them along if you weren’t interested.  Condos in dull designs lined the northern stretch of the beach.

I suppose I understand why things get like this: these islands are so dependent on tourism that infrastructure is inevitable.  And families on holiday have everything they could want: water sports, good food, and stunning scenery.  But is it really relaxing to line up head-to-toe in rows of sun lounges, a la sardines?

For my part, next time I’ll go in search of one of the smaller, more secluded beaches, which thankfully there are still plenty of.

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Viva la Patisserie!

I’ve complained in several posts now about how terrible bakeries, bread and cakes are here in St Kitts (and in most of the Caribbean).  Honestly, I can’t say I’ve been moved to even mild joy by any of the bread here, which is functional but lacks any real artistry.  Having so little nearby is one of the reasons I have been so excited to visit San Juan in Puerto Rico, where the pastry tradition is alive and well.

A good sign: baguettes galore!

It makes perfect sense, then, that a visit to French St Martin is going to bring numerous wonderful bakeries and patisseries into my path (such a shame).  After not too much sniffing around on my part, I discovered the marvellous Sarafina’s  in Marigot, the capital of the French side of the island.

It’s a large bakery and patisserie, open early and with a large local following.  Comfy red wicker lounges line the external row of the sitting area, and they even have some scrummy-looking ice cream, in addition to the looooong display of cakes, quiches, filled baguettes, pizzas and other baked goodies.

Tres Magnifique! Apple galettes to die for

I made a couple of stops here, including for breakfast where I had one of the BEST almond croissants of all time (flaky, moist, full of almond paste but without that odd almond essence aftertaste) and grabbed a baguette with jamon, fromage and salad (I don’t know the French word for salad…) for sustenance on the day’s sightseeing.  I even brought two loaves of crunchy bread back with me St Kitts to supplement the very ordinary local supply 😉  (I had to declare it to the Customs Officers, but luckily they only cared about electronics, something St Martin has in cheap droves)

The three clocks on display show times for "Paris", "St Martin" and (incredibly) "Sidney". Next time, I must ask why

Since I know the readers of this blog are rather fond of food shots, I made sure to grab as many snaps as possible without looking too embarassing. 

Decisions, Decisions

Of course, I have already booked my follow-up visit to St Martin in about 4 weeks’ time, where I plan to take a day trip to the famous St Barths, which is reportedly even more French than St Martin (read: less friendly) but nonetheless absolutely beautiful and home to many of the Rich and Famous crowd.

I wonder what their bakeries are like…

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St Martin and Sint Maarten

Check out the 747 flight arrival times on the surfboard blackboard

There is an island in the Caribbean which has a few claims to a modest type of fame. 

Perhaps most notably, it is the smallest land mass in the world that is shared by two nations: France and The Netherlands (although it literally just became independent of the Netherlands, it remains a Dutch territory).

Measuring up at 87km2, it is divided with a wiggly line cutting across the island from East to West.  The Dutch side, Sint Maarten to the South, is a little smaller, and they seem to have ended up with a massive body of water off to the West side of their bit of the island.  At just 20 mins flying time from St Kitts, it was an easy decision to visit, especially since the idea of knocking off a French and Dutch Caribbean island all in one visit seemed rather efficient.

I think they mean us to be careful

Sint Maarten has not, apart from language and a few place names, much charm to it at all and largely caters to American tourists with loads of timeshares, condos and a Surfers Paradise-feel, as well as numerous casinos and strip joints.  St Martin, however, the French side of this island, clings fast to its European roots and French restaurants and boulangeries abound.  They even have different currencies: both the dosh and the power kinds, with the Dutch side taking US dollars and (so I hear) the Dutch Antilles guilder, and US electric outlets, and the Frencs side accepting Euros and using European electical outlets.

I am staying on the French side, but visited the Dutch side to both arrive (the bigger airport is there) and to visit a bar where the main sport is watching jumbos take off (blowing sand in everyone’s faces) and land over a tiny beach and creating serious photo opps.  The flight arrival times of the big planes is listed on a surfboard, and everyone gathers around, cameras at the ready, come landing time.

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Monkey Magic

OK, it seems that many of you missed out on the TV show Monkey (which, from my searches might have actually been called Monkey Magic).

This is really something you should all know about, so I have given you a couple of You Tube links so you don’t miss out ;-).  It’s strange – I find this easier to watch now than I did as a kid, but it doesn’t rank up there with the samurai show I used to watch on weekend mornings (you know, the one with the dudes in black outfits who jumped backwards onto rooftops?  I think that is what Kim is referring to in her comments on my last post).

(PS – I’m technically in France right now.  Will update you shortly)

Here is the intro.  I love the line “But remember: the phoenix can fly only once its feathers are grown”.  Monkey is the first guy with the bad sideburns.  Creepy Pigsy is the dude with the big ears.

This is a rather nifty long scene. 

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Monkey madness

Did any of you ever get the creeps from that TV show, Monkey, when you were a kid?  You know, the Japanese one with the girlie-looking Buddha dude?

I remember it showed weeknights and my father and brother used to LOVE it, so we got stuck with it all the time.  As for me, I thought that the whole thing was odd, and Pigsy in particular used to annoy me silly.  The only good idea was that Monkey used to travel about on a pink cloud, which seemed excellent unless you were talking long distance travel.

One of the sights that I had to get used to early on was the monkeys, who live wild in the bushland behind my hotel, and all over the island.  I even got to pat one once, but only because a local was holding onto him.  Just today, I had a near miss on the road as a monkey dashed across in front of my car.  Lucky for both of us, he was a fast little critter.

The monkeys generally keep to themselves when the weather is bad, and then emerge when things are a little drier.  One afternoon, I came upon a whole group of them, playing and darting about, and they hung around just long enough to let me get some snaps.

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