The Caribbean Adventure

18 June 2012

For me, it was time for a real holiday away from home. No driving 3000 miles on a road trip, or jumping from country to country around Europe. I wanted to put my feet up, have someone pass me a cold drink, and do nothing… absolutely nothing. Thankfully, I finally found the time to do this, for the most part.

Erin and I both had Delta miles burning in our pocket for the past year or so and decided that this summer (once she finished teaching for the year), we needed to use them. After spending a few weeks squinting at the Delta routes map, writing down different cities, doing some research, and then crossing them off again. We finally settled on a trip in the Caribbean: fly into St Kitts and Nevis and then fly home from St Maarten.

Getting to St Kitts, however, was no easy task. There was only one flight a week on Delta and it was at 10am on Saturday morning. For me, that involved taking a red eye out of Denver to Atlanta, noting that I never sleep on flights. For Erin it was much more of an adventure as she started at 6pm the day before by flying to Salt Lake City for a 6 hour layover before heading back eastward to Atlanta on the red eye from there. After successfully meet up in Atlanta, and a small injection of coffee, we were off to St Kitts.

When we arrived, not only did we get to walk down the stairs off a huge plane (you will see that this trip ended up being the adventure of Andrew drooling over planes), but we probably went through the most friendly passport control I have ever gone through. Then it was into a cab for the trip over to our hotel resort. As I said before this trip was all about relaxing, and since the flight was free we splurged a bit on the beautiful four-star Marriott resort on the island for our stay.

After getting to our hotel, being greeted with an option of (multiple) complimentary drinks while we checked in, we dropped off our bags and headed down to the beach to put our feet in the sand. I have never been to the Caribbean before, and let me be the first to tell you. It is beautiful!

After taking a bit of an adventure down to a different beach to check our side of the island out, it was off for an early bed time. I honestly think that it was the first time I had gotten in bed before midnight (let alone at 9pm) in over two or three months.

The next morning was the day of doing nothing. Erin and I sat on the beach writing in journals, playing sudoku puzzles, and occasionally dipping into the water. With the exception of seaweed being everywhere, the water was very calm and over 80F. Not too shabby. After finally getting tired of being lazy, we challenged each other to a few games of giant checkers and shuffleboard before hunting for a place for dinner.

We ended up settling on a local Italian place down the road that was run by a cute Italian couple that decided to “retire” on the island. The food was absolutely amazing, and was made even better by the fact that the owner would come over and chat with you, or even bring you some fresh aloe leaves from out back for your sunburn. It is also officially the first restaurant where I have given the owner a hug and kiss goodbye on my first visit.

The next day was our first true adventure, and the first day of not sitting on my butt. We woke up early and rented a car for the day, something not too exciting except for the fact that they drive on the left side of the road in St Kitts! Let’s just say I got a little excited. Not only was driving on the other side of the road crazy, but since the country is so small (just 20,000 people) whenever someone wants to stop and grab something to drink or talk with a friend, they just park their car in the middle of the road.

Driving around the island was beyond beautiful and we capped it off with attempting to enter the city center of the capital of Basserette. After parallel parking the car, something that I could do with my eyes closed in the states, but was a challenge being in a right hand drive car, we wandered around for a bit. Erin and I are both not really city people so we did not stay for long, but we did stay long enough to stand out like a sore thumb. Being off-season, there very few tourists on the island in general, let alone wandering outside the protected walls of the resorts. Therefore in the city center Erin and I were probably the only white people for at least 10 miles, and the locals made a point to inform of us this (very kindly, I think they were confused what we were doing). Before we headed out, I found an amazingly delicious (and cheap) ice cream shop.

After leaving the city we headed to the southern point of the island were we found the most amazing bar/restaurant/cafe located in a cove. After a short break there for late lunch and drinks, we finished the loop around the island ending back up at our hotel. That night we headed back to the same beach we visited the first afternoon for a delicious lobster dinner before turning in for the night.

The next morning we attempted to go ziplining in the rainforests up around the volcano, but our plans fell though when the place decided to close for training (aka fixing broken stuff). Instead we spent another day sitting on the beach, playing checkers, and wandering around the resort. For a relaxing trip, it probably wasn’t the worst idea.

On Wednesday we packed our bags and headed to the airport for the day of traveling. First, it was a little 20 minute hop flight to Antigua on LIAT (or as the islanders call it, Leaves Island AnyTime), which turned out to be true but in the opposite sense. We were landing in Antigua before our flight was supposed to leave St Kitts because everyone was already there. After spending our two hour layover using the amazing free wi-fi (both wi-fi and cell service were poor, if not non-existence in St Kitts) and watching the Euro 2012 matches with an entire flight full of people headed to London, it was on to our next hop flight to St Maarten.

This is where the only hiccup of our trip occurred. After getting through the airport we attempted to reach the rental car company I had booked through with no avail, all the while being harassed by other rental companies to use them instead. I stalled for a bit, acting frustrated about them not being there, while checking to see how much I originally booked for. Then went about bartering for the best rate. In the end I actually ended up spending $2 less than I originally booked for.

After grabbing our (very dented — which was probably a good thing) car, we headed off to our hotel. Of course my favourite part of the drive was the fact that about 2km of the road was pretty much a two lane golf cart path through a golf course. Getting to the hotel, we put our bags in the room, had a bit of a tussle with the air conditioner, and then headed off for dinner. Randomly deciding to walk down to the casino at the main road, we ended up dining at one of the nicest restaurants on the Dutch half of the island. It was an amazing and delicious meal (which I felt a bit out of place in wearing flip flops) that gave our room enough time to cool off.

The next morning we headed to the French side of the island, starting off with delicious pastries and walk through the market in the capital city of Marigot. Then, on the advice of the bartender at our hotel, we found the ropes course/ziplining place up a hillside in the islands highlands. It was Erin’s first time ziplining and my first since Belize back in 2009, and so much fun, even though I am terrified of heights.

After zipping through the rain forest we headed to the culinary capital of the Caribbean in Grand Case and scouted restaurants to come back to later. Meandering our way back towards the hotel, we finally stopped at the infamous Maho Beach.

For those of you that haven’t see the History Channel shows or Youtube Videos of St Maarten’s airport runway, it is a plane watchers paradise. Being one of the largest airports in the Caribbean it serves many long haul flights and large aircraft that still have to land on a small runway. Because of this, planes fly over the beach at no more than 50-100 feet while you stand below, usually camera in hand, like me.

After watching a few planes land and depart that afternoon, we headed back to hotel for a quick break before heading out for dinner that night. We chose a place in Grand Case called Bistrot Caraibes, and it was just as good as it was billed. Not only was both the dinner and dessert delicious, but the owners kept pouring us (free) apƩritifs until you begged them to stop. I slept well that night.

The next morning it was straight back to Maho beach to watch the 747 land from Amsterdam, considered the best one to see. After barely-noon beers at the bar between flights, we headed to city center of the Dutch capital for a quick shopping trip (told you we’re not city people) before going back to the beach to watch the departures. During that time, I can now officially tell you that I have been blown over by a 747.

That evening we had some of the best India food at place along the marina as the owner sat there cheering at the US Open on television. If there is one thing I learned from this trip, it is that an owner standing around the restaurant being friendly and going the extra step (whether with service or free drinks) can entirely make the difference between liking a place and loving it.

Our last morning there we headed to the French side one last time for pastries and sitting on the dock before heading to the airport. There it was another typical day of traveling, or as I call it, the game of hurry up and wait. Departing out of St Maarten we departed the opposite direction of all the flights I had watched and got to watch the beach below fly by as passengers.

Landing in Atlanta, the adventure was not over. For me, it was the beginning of a 17 hour layover where I was thankfully rescued by a friend I met at NASA, who graciously offered a bed to sleep in. Erin had a whole other adventure of begging to get on an earlier flight to Minneapolis (without paying extra) just to have a 14 hour layover herself.

Nonetheless, all of this adds up to one of the top 10 trips I have been on in my lifetime. And while it seems like I may have done hundreds of things and ran around the Caribbean like a maniac. In my mind, it was very relaxing. Okay, maybe a bit crazy.

And me being me, the travel never ends as I am off to Los Angeles for VidCon in 8 days!

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