Phillipsburg, Sint Maarten
We arrived at Sint Maarten (that’s the Dutch spelling for their side of the island) shortly after dawn under clear skies. Since our tour wasn’t scheduled until 10:30, we could take our time about breakfast. As I was waiting for Ellen to get ready, I wandered out on our veranda and noticed a barge pushed by tug boats inching up to our aft starboard side.
It looked industrial with a small crane in the middle of an otherwise flat and unremarkable deck, but there was nothing about it to suggest what it was there for. It was soon tied up to the ship, and I made a mental note to stop at Guest Relations to inquire about it. Curiosity, nothing more.
After breakfast, I stopped at the main desk on deck three and asked the young lady what the barge was for. She looked at me funny – she’d never heard the word ‘barge’ and so didn’t know what to make of my question, and in fact, didn’t even know there was such a thing tied up to our ship. Finally, she wrote the word down and promised to call our cabin when she had an answer.
Good as her word, we found a message upon returning from our tour that she’d learned it was called a ‘bunker barge’ and it was there to pump fuel into the ship. I’d never thought about fueling a cruise ship although, logically, I know it has to happen sometime. I could picture the captain swiping his American Express Gold Card on a giant gas pump somewhere and telling the attendant to “fill ‘er up.”
On St. Martin (the French spelling for the French part) we boarded a conventional-size tour bus and headed out for our first stop, another spiced rum tasting at a little place called Ma Dou Dou. And here I thought we’d had our last morning rum sampling of the voyage. This was just a slightly fancier version of Melvena’s craft the day before on Dominica, including the same “hard wood” concoction. Again, I can safely report, it’s a myth…
Our next stop on the French side was the parfumerie, Tijon, which Ellen was greatly looking forward to, hoping to mix up her own special scent. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens with tours, we learned we only had twenty minutes at this stop and so there would be no time for creating a perfume. The owner of the shop, whom I had met a year ago and about whom I had written in this blog, was apologetic but there was nothing to be done about it.
The third and final – and longest – stop was a beach restaurant called Le Tí Provençal where we were treated to a cooking demonstration – and tasting – primarily aimed at the men in the crowd as a way to impress their spouses by cooking at home. This was treated as such a ‘blue moon’ occurrence that it was hard for me to identify with since I cook a lot at home.
The chef prepared a very lightly spiced conch dish, followed by a chicken curry (he insists on using the thighs since they are juicier and don’t dry out like the breasts do) and finished with Bananas Foster. He claimed that if the men in the tour cooked his simple versions of these dishes just once every three-to-four months at home, they would get a free pass for any transgressions that might occur in the interim. If that’s so, I have enough points to last me well into the next decade. That is, if I were ever to transgress…
When we arrived back at the pier, we took a few minutes to prowl through the ubiquitous souvenir shops but found nothing we couldn’t live without, i.e., rum, t-shirts and jewelry.
Since I have neglected to mention any stats about the island yet in this post, here are some: Sint Maarten/St. Martin is about 37 square miles and some 80,000 population, and 90 percent of their economy depends on tourism; it was the first – and only – island we visited where people drove on the right side of the road like we’re used to; the brown pelican is the official island bird; English is spoken everywhere on the island, along with French, Dutch, Spanish and probably a few others; if you make a phone call from one side of the island to the other, you’ll pay an international calling fee; and they were hit hard by a major hurricane in 1995, according to our driver, and are still recovering. (I hope you paid attention to this paragraph because there will be a quiz on this later.)
We also noticed a large – and I mean LARGE – yacht tied up one pier over. Security at our ship speculated that it belonged to a Russian billionaire. That sounded like malarkey (thanks Joey) to me, so I researched it. Damned if it didn’t turn out that the Eclipse IS owned – no malarkey – by a Russian tycoon named Roman Abramovich and is the largest private yacht in the world at 557 feet in length and it cost well over a billion dollars. Jeez…
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