Philipsburg, Saint Maarten – January 5, 2013
The island is divided between two countries. The southern portion, Sint Maarten, is Dutch. The northern part, Saint Martin, is French. We did not go to the French side at all.
With a full day of traveling to get to Barbados and two days of scurrying about tourist sites, we had all decided we would use the day to chill out, no tours. So we settled on a trip to Sunset Beach. The locals call it Airport Beach, for a good reason. It is a small slice of beach located directly at the west end of the runway at Princess Juliana International Airport. I estimate it is only about 200 to 300 feet from the water’s edge. As the planes come in for a landing, they fly directly overhead. It almost feels like one can reach up and touch the wheels.
When we arrived, there were very few people on the beach. Our taxi dropped us off at the end of the beach at the Sunset Bar and Grill. At the entrance to the bar’s patio is a surfboard. It has black paint on it which they used as a blackboard. On the surfboard are listed all of the incoming flights and landing times.
Which way to the beach??
The Caribbean Sea lapped up against the beach. The beach itself was somewhat steep, but it leveled out as it approached the edge of the road that separates the beach from the airport fence. On the other side of the fence was the end of the runway. Rightfully so, there is a sign at the edge of the road with the following warning; “Jet blast of departing and arriving aircraft can cause severe physical harm resulting in extreme bodily harm and/or death.” Well, ‘nuf said!
We picked our spot on the beach. Then I walked down to the water. At first, it was a little chilly, but once I was completely in the water, it was very comfortable. It was amazingly relaxing to bob up and down with the swells, and watch the planes come in one after another. The swells ranged from two to four feet high. I saw all sorts of aircraft including a Cessna Caravan, Gulfstream private jet, Bombardier private jet, and a Boeing 737. If I could only have had a drink in one hand and a camera in the other, I would have been near heaven!
As the larger planes went overhead, I could feel the jet-wash. However, when a jet was ready to take off, the jet-wash would nearly knock my hat off even though I was easily 15 feet below the surface of the runway, bobbing along. When that happened, the jet engines blew large amounts of sand into the sea, usually catching many people by surprise.
I was finally able to coax Leslie, Hillary, and Tyler into the water. Leslie did not like it and went back to our beach spot reasonably quickly. I guess I was in the sea for about two hours. I had an absolute blast!
As we were gathering our things to leave, I saw a Caribbean Airlines 737 waiting to take off. Oddly enough, on the side of the plane near the front was the name of that particular plane; Spirit of Guyana!
While that plane was readying for takeoff, we saw a group of about five people standing at the chain link fence directly behind the flight. Once the jet reached full power, one of the men lifted off of the ground. He held on to the fence and looked like a flag flying in a hurricane! I was so stunned with what I was seeing; I failed to capture the moment in a photograph!
As I tried to take my last photo of a plane landing, I was amazed at how many people had gathered at the beach to watch the show.
Our taxi driver dropped us off at the duty-free area of the port. We looked at some of the shops, but we did not buy anything. We sat at an outdoor cafe and had a beer — what a surprise! Leslie had a Dutch beer called Desperados that she liked. It was beer with a hint of tequila. I did not; it was too sweet for me. While we were there, Tyler tried another Cuban cigar; number two for those that are counting!
Tomorrow, San Juan, Puerto Rico!
Relaxing with a Desperados before boarding the ship again.