I’m hitting you with another travel post. It’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes. I have spent a month in St Martin prepping for an owner trip that never happened. They cancelled too close to the arrival time for me to stop the delivery of food flown from Miami. The crew have eaten well this last week, as you can imagine. I am ready to seriously cook and share some new dishes here on the blog, but in the meantime here we are.
I have been to St Martin many times with my job, but this is my first time back after the Hurricane Irma devastation 2 years ago. There is still a lot of damage however the island is definitely open for business. There are private jets taking off hourly, marinas are filled with yachts and super-yachts and the larger, mega-yachts are out at anchor. There also seem to be a healthy amount of tourists everywhere. The place feels busy, which is obviously good. But the evidence of destruction is still almost everywhere.
Security does seem to be tighter than before, with private security companies protecting the major tourist hubs as looting still occurs, so I am told. I don’t see any Dutch police, but over on the French side the Gendarmes are everywhere, patrolling the streets in the mighty Duster SUVs. I have also been told that after the Irma hordes of men were looting and stealing everything they could get their hands on. Human nature is bloody scary. We all like to think that if it happens to us we would take the high road or whatever, but when chaos reins the layer of civility peels off faster than a ripe banana skin.
I read somewhere that the Dutch government has given 500 million euros to the World Bank to distribute for aid. They refused to give the aid money directly to the government here for fear of corruption. I never used to believe corruption was as big a of an issue as it until I experienced it first hand while living in Toronto, of all places. A story for another post, perhaps. I am not sure how things have worked out in St Martin, but what is certain is that the Dutch side - which has always been more commercially developed - appears to have rebuilt more houses and buildings than the French side.
I have gone a bit serious on you and made most of this post about my observations on the hurricane aftermath. I mean, look at all the photos I’ve picked. I guess it’s all the remnants of destruction that are still present. I couldn’t escape it even in my favourite spot on the island which is Grand Case. Grand Case is a small seaside town located in the north-west area, with a glorious sandy beach and the island of Anguilla visible in the distance. Roughly half of Grand Case is still in ruin, with houses blown away and roofs ripped off. There are some restaurants open along the front and about half of the little boutiques which line the main street are open. But, it is not all grim.
Whenever I have the opportunity I like to cycle around the island. This usually happens on a Sunday which seems to be the BBQ day here, and after a 40 km bike ride it is lovely to sit down to a massive plate of chicken and ribs. There are several BBQ restaurants on the beach in Grand Case, with live music and frozen strawberry daiquiris, and this is where you can find me at the end of each of my marathon cycling sessions. Whereas on the Dutch side English appears to be the dominant language, in Grand Case like elsewhere on the French side français reigns supreme. So, I get to practice my French too. It is an almost perfect way to spend a Sunday, if you ask me.
Apparently a lot of people have just not returned to St Martin after they had lost their homes, and to be honest I am not sure I would choose to live here with the knowledge that perhaps every 5 years you have to rebuild your home with very little chance of any help from insurance companies. However, it is a lovely place to visit and the people are incredibly friendly and obviously quite resilient and still full of joy. Life seems to be slowly returning to normal and I look forward to seeing St Martin completely rebuilt.
Photos are mine below. Photo above belong to a colleague of mine named Michael Siddall. Click on any of the photos gets you to his instagram page.