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March 11, 2003
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Moped on St Martin/St Maarten

Today is St. Martin/St. Maartin. It's an island split between Dutch and French sides, with guilder and Euros as currency, but anyone will take an U.S. dollar. It was also a day when we had to tender to get on shore, which means that the pier was full up and we had to park out in the bay, let down four, powered lifeboats, and get a ride into town.

There were, all together, seven cruise ships in port. The excursion offerings were meager, though I might have liked seeing the butterfly farm. Also, it turns out that the island is actually quite small, on the order of Kauai, which isn't that big. So it was possible to do something we'd thought of doing last night, which was take matters into our own hands, rent a moped and just look at what there was to see on the island. After being so heartsick at being led by the nose, it was something we could *do* about it all.

So we did.

For the first time this trip, we actually got up early, skipped breakfast and headed out as soon as we could. It was a good thing, too. Today was a 'tender' day, since there were so many ships in port, the piers had been all taken, so we were anchored out in the harbor, and had to take tenders (self-powered life boats that could go running back and forth to the town's main pier) into the city. John got our tender tickets while I showered, and we were in the second set of people that could go out, which turned out to be a good thing.

The bay had water that was so rough they had a hard time getting the tenders to work out. Things were bouncing around so much they had to turn the whole cruise ship to a different angle so that they could even get the smaller ships to stand by the bigger ship without getting bashed so much that people couldn't get on or off the smaller ships. As it was, it was rough enough that it was kind of exciting to get on and off the smaller ship as it bobbed by the bigger one. There were always two crewmen on either side of the door to the smaller ship, grabbing people by their upper arms and shoving them into the boat. I was glad that they'd gotten it to be smoother than before. If this was smooth, I didn't want to know what rough was.

The drivers of the tenders had a great time just blasting the engines all out to get to short as quickly as possible before going back for more people. We got there very quickly, were dropped off onto the very still dock, and wandered into a city that was half asleep, still.

Ship time was an hour earlier than shore time, but we kept our watches on ship time as it was ship time that determined when the tenders were going to stop going back and forth. It was important to know. One cool thing was since we were tendering, we got a free ride right into the shopping district, usually it's a five dollar water taxi ride. The water taxis were doing fine, though, with all the other ships.

We walked around. It was nice to walk around without dozens of people trying to sell us something, get us onto a taxi or whatever. Since it was half past eight, there were only half a dozen taxi guys trying to give us rides. We denied them gently, and found a little alley to a restaurant on the beach that said that they served breakfast. It was a quiet little place. Not fancy or posh, but they said that they served local food, and when the waiter offered the local fruit juice, I asked for that and got fresh papaya juice, rich and fragrant. The French toast was eggy, sweet, crusty crisp on the edges, nearly custardy in the center. It was far more substantial and complex than the crustless, sugar coated, triangles of Texas toast available on the ship.

John got a croissant that was crisp and flaky with that deep richness that only real butter brings. It wasn't chewy or spongy like the ship croissants. The coffee was brewed when we ordered it, and there were three kinds of tropical fruit jams to go with the French toast and croissant. It was a wonderful breakfast.

It also made it very evident to me the difference between food held on a steam table and food that was made fresh to order.

We asked the waiter about scooter rentals on the island and he told of us a shop down the street and around the corner. He said that he could even have them bring the scooter to the restaurant if we wanted, but we thanked him and said we wanted to walk a bit further. We walked by all kinds of tourist traps to the scooter shop ourselves and got a great rate for a fairly powerful scooter that both of us could fit on, no problem. The price included map, helmets, insurance, and a very, very sturdy lock.

We headed off in the general direction we thought we should go and immediately took an unexpected turn. I giggled. "It's not the wrong way if you didn't have a way you had to go." said John and I agreed. We just wandered, and found ourselves going around the island wintershins instead of clockwise. It made it very interesting, and I think that we did it the only way that would really have worked in the long run, due to some astonishing hills that we just managed to go up the way we did and some hills that we managed to get down, but I don't think we could have gone up with the both of us on the scooter.

The first thing we hit was a small bistro village on the French side of the island. There was an entire row of shops and tiny cafes that were just starting to put out signs for brunch and early lunches. We weren't nearly hungry enough to even think about stopping. That may well have been the only thing I regretted about going the way we did. We went slowly through the colorful area, and then got out of town and went up this immense hill that suddenly broke open to our right to cliffs, beaches, and yet more hills. We ended up behind this bus that actually stopped in front of us in the midst of a bad uphill. We managed to get started up again, barely, but then they stopped again, so we bailed out into a lookout.

The lookout was over a cove, with a beautiful view of the ocean, white beaches, palm trees, and some houses lining the area. Seeing the cove below us, we decided to go there, and meandered our way down to it. We found there a family of about a dozen locals with a colorful fishing net, casting it the way the Hawaiians had taught us when we were there, and catching neon-colored fish by the bucketful. We kept going and saw a parasail taking off from the side of a mountain, towards the sea. The funny thing was that after standing there for 20 minutes or so, we saw a number of trucks heading into a landfill just behind the beach. It was a very odd juxtaposition of gorgeous nature and human waste. The water was incredible. There were layers and layers of turquoise, sapphire, and dozens of shades of aqua deepening nearly to black. I think it's a characteristic of tropical ocean areas.

There is also a really tiny car there, it only had two seats in front and a storage area behind. It looked egg like, but was colored deep turquoise. I don't think it was an electrical car, but it was certainly economical and fit the narrow streets very well.

We headed out again, through town, and by a school we came upon a hill. It was a very steep road straight up the hill. John took it as quickly as we could, but only 50 feet up the hill we had to stop because the engine couldn't take us any further. We made a panic stop, and I got off and walked back down the hill. We found an alternative route, as there was a much busier road going around the hill. Following the busier road we made it all the way to Marigot. Marigot was a disappointment. It was the largest city on the French side, but there weren't even half the French bistros that were in the tiny town we first saw on the French side. It was filled with shops, modern, shining, and without much soul. So we kept going.

Not too much further down the road was a set of resorts. It looked like they were mostly condos, filled with tourists. There is a tiny set of shops just outside the condos, including a grocery store that had liters of cold water for less money than the 100 ml bottles on the ship. We bought two, and guzzled one before heading out again.

The next adventure involved a strange turn to the right, towards the sea. There was an obviously gated community to the right, but the guard gate was open for the day. So we headed into a neighborhood filled with mansions, palaces, and walled-in retreats all surrounded by tropical plants, ocean views, and rough, dirt streets. It turned out to be a loop around the top ridge of one of the island's coastline areas. There were hundreds estates. Many of them were under construction, including signs for a giant "Villa Casa del Sol" that enclosed a few acres of forest and a lot of construction workers. There were locals working everywhere, and giant speed bumps that felt like swells on the roads that were paved. It was fun to putter through and goggle at everything. We ended up back along the main road we had first come in on.

There was one more town along the way. It turned out, however, to be a strip of tourist traps. All along the way we kept wondering if we should stop to find something to eat, but never found anything that was appealing enough. Then we were stuck in traffic, enough traffic that when we managed to get up a big hill at the end of town, we decided not to go back. Instead, we headed back into Phillipsburg. Right on the edge of town, we found a huge grocery store, and went inside to find local sauces. There was jerk seasoning, brown sauce, and various mango hot sauces. We got a little of each, along with another bottled water, and as we headed towards the checkout line I found Cadbury Flake bars. I had to have one of those.

While we still had an hour, we decided to return the moped then. Both of us were pretty hungry, and the moped owners recommended a restaurant we never found. A cab driver, on the other hand, recommended a restaurant that John heard as "Del Foot". So we walked back towards the pier, and only solved the mystery when we found the "Barefoot Terrace" right on the pier. I was mildly disappointed, as I commonly think of the piers is being tourist traps, not a place to find local food. However, they had a conch soup and a jerk chicken Caesar salad, and most of the food there seemed fairly simple. So I ordered a conch soup and some coconut shrimp. I really like coconut shrimp, and it seemed like a good idea to buy coconut shrimp were there actually coconuts growing. John really loved his salad. The chicken was very spicy, the greens were very fresh, and by the time he was finished he was sweating. He said it was really tasty as well.

I was very pleased by the conch soup. There were giant pieces of extremely tender, slow cooked, tasty conch within a curry-based, rich broth with big chunks of vegetables and soft hunks of butter bread on the side. It was wonderful. Especially compared to the dried, tasteless, chewy, terrible conch fritters on the ship. The coconut shrimp were wonderful as well, crisp, and hot with a thick coating that was eggy and sweet and rich with coconut. I really enjoyed them.

While we ate, we saw a huge line down the pier with people standing there the entire time we were in the restaurant. At first we thought that they were standing there in line for the phones. But when we got out of the restaurant, the phones were free. I finally broke down, and called home. Mom and dad sounded a little harried, as Jet seemed to be having some diarrhea problems. They even went to the doctor to get him checked out. I entirely approve of the extra caution. Both John and I talked to both of them for a little while, and Mom got Jet to say hi to me on the phone. That felt disproportionately good just to hear his voice.

It turned out, that the Carnival Cruise ship had had problems with its tendering. They hadn't gotten enough ships out to get all their people back on board. There was no line for our tender. We got back to the ship with no problem whatsoever, and I was very glad of that. I guess that's another reason to never go on Carnival.

We both put on our swimming suits, went to the Solarium, and swam in the cool ocean water. It felt wonderful after the hot day. The hot tub, however, felt really good after the cold swim. Right next to the hot tub was a freshwater shower with a showerhead nearly a foot in diameter. I really enjoyed that shower before lying on one of the patio chairs in the shade and going to sleep. We both took a nap for good hour before heading back to the room, shower, and dressing. We then wandered around the ship for a while, heading up to sit in front of the bridge to get sprayed by the sea. We talked to the guest relations desk, and found out that there is no ship's tour. Which was kind of side, as we really wanted to see more of how things worked. Ray and Joan had gotten ships' tours on their previous cruises, but I guess policy has changed.

For dinner, John and I since we were first to the table, decided to swap seats. When everyone got there, we also swapped stories. Everyone had different adventures today, and it was actually a lot of fun learning about what everybody else learned about and did. The photographers ran around in silly pirate costumes, and completely messed up the pairing because we had all moved around. I thought that was pretty funny. The captain announced that we'd be going about forty plus knots tonight, because we had a long distance to cover before the next island. So I'll get to see if the motion bothers me at all tonight.

After dinner John and I went to sign up for a 4x4 adventure, stopped into the last bit of the comedy routine, which turned out to be the best part, and ended up by the magic pool tables. There are two pool tables on the ship, which have a ball bearing center and a computerized compensation system with cantilevers. The long side of the tables perpendicular to the side of the ship, so nearly all of the compensation is along the short sides. The mechanism makes it so that the pool table surface is entirely stable, even as the ship moves underneath it. It's pretty impressive. It's also mildly spooky to see the table moving wildly up-and-down along the short edges and all the balls on the table being completely still. It's a technology that they use on the oil rigs in the North Sea to keep them stable as people work on them. John and I played two games of pool, while commenting on the tables, listing to the music from the nearby bar, and drinking soda water and beer.

From there we headed to the Seaview Cafe, where I got my mug of chamomile tea, and we headed back to the cabin. There was a rabbit on our bed. It was made by the cabin attendant out of white towels. It was the first towel creature that we had seen, and I really liked it. We got to watch soccer on ESPN, since it was South American ESPN they had real coverage of both European and South American matches. I really envy their coverage. While I watched, I wrote about the day in my black book as my hands are kind of sore from hanging onto the moped.

It was a very satisfying day. We got to eat the more local foods, explore wherever our interest took us, and did something our waiter had actually recommended that we not do. There was something oddly appealing about doing something not recommended by personnel on the cruise ship. While I really enjoyed getting waited on hand and foot, there are aspects of being on a cruise that I really don't enjoy. There seems to be the constant expectation that we support every economy we come in contact with, and all the people doing the work on the ship. It's not unexpected. It is, however, more uncomfortable than I thought it would be. It was really nice, today, to be free of other people and their plans. We'll go back to the program tomorrow, but it felt really good to breakaway from the herd for today.

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