A Caribbean Cruise on two wheels, Touring French/Dutch Paradise, St. Martin
The last thing I thought about before departing for a Caribbean trip was bringing my riding gear with me. Let's see, a trip to the islands: Sunscreen? Check. Swimsuit? Check. Mask and snorkel? Check. Leather jacket? Hmm. Riding boots? Err, no. Next time, I'll know better.
Danielle and I came to the Caribbean with family and friends and stayed on the British Virgin Island of Anguilla. Our story begins when Danielle and I chose to take a side trip and elected to check out nearby St. Martin, 150 miles east of Puerto Rico. Initially, I imagined traveling around the island inside one of the ubiquitous private/public commuter vans among the locals. Boring? You bet. Sure, our range of possibilities would be limited, but it would be simple and cheap. However, I am always on the lookout for a good adventure and riding in passenger vans doesn't qualify as an adventure.
Please wait! Don't leave me! Captain Steuben, have mercy! Fortunately, enthusiasm and a spirit of adventure triumphed over paranoia and reason. And that's what biking is all about, isn't it?
It isn't worth lugging your own bike to the Caribbean to tour the islands. In case you weren't aware, St. Martin isn't foremost on the list of hot touring destinations. Still, it is worth a spin around if you are in the area and get the chance. There are a couple of places where a decent scooter or semi-decent motorcycle can be rented for a reasonable sum. After a few well-directed questions upon our arrival in Margot, the main town on the French side of the island, Danielle and I headed towards Vers Baie Nettle (whatever that is) on foot. Along the way, Danielle was tempted by the plethora of la touriste foofoo shops and le rip-off boutiques, but I managed to coax her into the scooter shop without any relationship-damaging sparring. We selected the sole street motorcycle available in the cheapo price range, an old Yamaha 125. Danielle was leery but acceded to my pleadings and reassurances. Carefully, we got on said bike and gingerly made our way into the heart of the island. With our day-trip gear, it was a tight squeeze on the tiny bike. But hell, what is an adventure without a little discomfort?
I learned afterwards that Danielle's reticence to get on the bike was caused by her fear of burning her leg on the tailpipe and not because of an actual fear of riding. One day it will register in my head that women simply think differently than men. I completely avoided mentioning the host of other dangers we might face as intrepid adventurers on two wheels in an unknown world. For example, there are runaway beer trucks and gravel-strewn corners. There is also the fact that I had just gotten used to driving on the left side of the road in Anguilla, a British protectorate, while on St. Martin traffic flows on the right side. Then are the confusing yellow, red, and green Rasta-crossing zones. But everything would be fine. True, Danielle wasn't wearing the most ideal of riding outfits, but dammit, the dress looked good. Cargo carrying space was at a premium, so we improvised and I wore my backpack on my chest, which gave Danielle room to grab onto me from behind. Her floppy straw hat wedged quite nicely between my shirt and the fromer backpack, now a frontpack. It was a very tidy arrangement, if somewhat unconventional. Adventurers aren't supposed to look prim and proper, anyway.
We were ready for adventure and adopted the "don't worry, be happy" attitude for the day. Congested island roads awash with loony drivers in four thousand-pound vehicles? No worries, mon. Complete lack of protective riding gear and old, hardened tires? No worries, mon. Not enough sunscreen? No worries, mon.
Getting onto the road required a slight adjustment for me. Okay, stay right, Kerry. And away we went, destination: Philipsburg. Traffic was fairly heavy between Marigot and Philipsburg, a town over on the Dutch side of the island. On the way over we stopped at the local HD/Honda/Sea Doo shop and took a gander at what kind of machinery they had in stock. Considering St. Martin is an isolated landmass of some 37 square miles, they had an impressive array of motorcycles, particularly the custom Hogs shown below.
Thankfully, the place was overrun with camera toting American tourists let loose from a Carnival Fun Ship that had just dropped anchor in Great Bay, so Danielle, who by this time appreciated the mobility afforded by our trusty little Yamaha, was more than willing to continue our tour of the perimeter of the island. The spirit of exploring lives! The heart of the island is comprised of a series of large hills rising up from to a height of 1400 feet at Pic Paradis. While we didn't actually get anywhere near the summit, there were some noteworthy hills, such as Naked Boy Hill, that took everything our rent-a-scoot's engine could muster to get its two full-sized human passengers up to the top. Wide-freakin-open and losing speed and gears 'till we were barely moving in first. Right on, Naked Boy. We conquered you on our mighty St. Martin mount.
My stretchy-dress-wearing companion enjoyed the wind in her hair and the close proximity of roadside chickens and goats. Caribbean touring exposes one to a number of hazards not normally present on the superslab in America. Passing through Orleans back on the Frenchie side again, we wound our bike towards what looked like the most visually appealing beach we had encountered so far. By golly, wouldn't you know it? It turned out to be the aforementioned Orient Beach, home to those who are allergic to swimsuits. Game for a walk on the beach and welcoming a respite from sweating on the cycle, Danielle and I took a little stroll to take in the scene. The area seemed to be a weird combination of gaudy, American-style beach bars, and fashionable, European, we-are-comfortable-with-our-bodies attitude. Heh, heh, heh, you said 'a-tit-dude'. Yeah, yeah. This rules! St. Martian rocks, man. Shaddup, Buttmunch, look over there! Gak!
Since our ferry departed in the late afternoon and there was a whole section of the island we had not yet visited, we left Orient Beach. Shortly after passing through Grand Case Village, we were lured down a little side road by a sign indicating it led to a Friars Bay. Halfway down the road, the surface deteriorated into uneven gravel. Oh boy, just the kind of surface I prefer for two-up riding, wearing shorts on a tiny street bike, with terrible visibility due to overgrown vegetation. Still, we arrived in one piece, we needed a good swim and this looked like a relatively private beach where we could doff our dapper riding duds, dive in and take a dip in the drink.
We had discovered the picturesque little beach in Friars Bay and its calm, aqua-blue water. We wasted little time leaping into the water and basking in the warm Caribbean ocean waters.
There should be a place like this to wash off the sweat of the day near the end of every ride. People visiting St. Martin rarely shift the old energy meter out of low gear and seldom stray from the slow lane. It is a place where tomorrow will do. As such folks come from all over the world to vacation. We were far enough away from Kathie Lee and her Funship guests that no Americans were in evidence. The mix of languages spoken at this beach was a testament to the international flavor of the island community. Parlez-vous Espanol, mein herr? Da? Bravo.
With Danielle sporting a healthy sunburn on the tops of her legs (she had to hike up her dress to straddle the seat) from all the outdoor riding we had been doing, we reluctantly remounted and headed back to Marigot. Danielle, whose enthusiasm had initially been lukewarm to say the least, ended up loving our Island Chopping experience. Admittedly, it is a fun and efficient way to get around. Any vehicle other than a
motorbike would have been a problem to park and nowhere near as good for spontaneous sightseeing. It is the difference between looking out at a strange environment as you pass through it (as with a car), and actually being a part of the environment you are passing through.
We dropped our scoot back at Eugene Moto and walked back to the wharf area to pick up our ferry back to Anguilla. While we awaited our ears were talked off with tales of Tyson biting Holyfield's ear, the hot topic of conversation on the wharf. "No, mon he didn't speet it out, him chew it up and eat it." Danielle was horrified. Still, everything was good. An adventure had occurred, fun was had, and motorcycling made the experience. Our little Yamaha did us justice on that day. Next time I'm headed to St. Martin, I'll give Eugene a call and, by golly, I'll talk him out of his personal Ducati. I like it. St. Martin II, the Monster 900 Tour. Hey Danielle, I've got an idea ...