You step off the plane and onto the tarmac in Sint Maarten and listen to the heat ring out like a tautly strung rope. A car rental service picks you up, and takes you to their main office where you rent a tiny Hyundai 10 ($112 USD) with the trunk space of an orange crate and the height of the tallest kid in your fifth grade class. Then you ride to your resort ($184 a night) or hostel ($20) and unload your stuff. Hopefully you read ahead and opted to stay close to Philipsburg, but far enough away that you can load up your Hyundai and hit the French side (Saint Martin) of the island to buy a couple of baguettes.
A hurricane just came through so the roads are washed over and sand invades like a simulation of desertification. You’re hungry. Your room still has water on the floor from the hurricane. Just then, it starts to rain. The rain is flipped horizontal and more water weasels its way in to join its buddies for some Brownian Motion. You leave and talk to the front desk about the water. The harried CSR looks at you blankly and feeds you the same line she has told every other partially submerged boarder: they’re working on it — going from room to room and mopping up the mess. You ask her where to get some groceries (you motion with a quick shopping cart for some reason) — she points you three blocks down the road. You hear a song that’s catchy and you think you like it. You’ll hear the same song approximately 56 times during your one-week stay. 112 times if you add another week.
You arrive at the local grocer. Rum samples are offered without anyone monitoring intake. You slug a few paper cupfuls, because what the hell — it’s vacation, right? The rum is good and tastes like molasses, citrus and paper cup. The store manager smiles at you. “How nice,” you think. At first you shop healthily, everyone does, buying fruits and vegetables and chorizo and eggs. The hurricane has prevented any boats from restocking the grocer shelves so you settle on almond milk in lieu of skim. Later you will fall in love with almond milk and believe that your cereal has never tasted so good. The fact that you are on vacation at a Caribbean paradise has no bearing, nor that you smoked island ganja an hour prior. Almond milk passes the cereal test (also known as the Lucky Charms Brown test and the Captain Crunch Berry Purple test) with all the right colors.
You happen to walk by the samples and slug another paperful. The other cups were what, ten minutes ago? You’re probably already sober. Shopping becomes a bit more frivolous. At first it’s baguettes and salami added to the basket, then make way for Cheez-its and Fig Newtons and chewy Chips Ahoy. You check-in with the samples again and almost drop your cup. You just saw the price of alcohol. A fifth of your favorite whiskey is ten bucks, normally sixty. You realize the island is duty-free. You finish your cup and wish your friends were here to make purchasing a fifth socially acceptable.
You then remember that you had been traveling with your friends all along.
It’s a massacre. Five new bottles jump into your cart, along with mixers for bloody marys, local lager for micheladas and a glut of limes and agave to make the best GD margaritas this island has ever seen (at least for the week). You return to the room. The water is present and accounted for and a hurricane aftershock rages outside. You don’t care, you’re a king with enough food and beer to last three weeks. Cannabis is readily available in Sint Maarten, but the good herb is illegal. And, you brought some well-packaged baked goods from home.
It’s an amazing week. You eat brownies (Headband, of course) and go to the famous Sunset Beach Bar and pretend to touch a plane as your friends snap you cheesing. You head to the Red Piano and sing Neil Diamond with fellow expats even though you consider yourself more of a Neil Young. It’s pouring rain and you and several new friends sneak into a ritzy resort pool and swim in your skivvies. You share some Dutch Treat caramel with some Dutch medical students and skimboard or swim or play volleyball at Friar’s Bay, then meet up again at a club in Phillipsburg. You go to the French side and buy baguettes and eat the baguettes with some medicated honey that you found in your bag. A night at the casino yields 60 more bucks which you use to buy your friends hamburgers. Your last night arrives, and your new Dutch friends take you down to the phosphorescence and you smoke silently and wade in to the bioluminescence like they do in The Beach.
You swear you will be back and your Dutch friends say you better and to bring some more of that caramel. The plane takes off and you fly over the Sunset Beach Bar.
Someone snaps a pic of their friend, pretending to touch your plane.