Friday, January 6, 2017

October 2016: Part VIII - St Martin

After breakfast on our final cruise day, we walked down to get our rental car. Several rental companies are set up right there at the cruise port. I'd chosen Hertz since I could book it all online, but they were still closed at 8:00am when their business hours say they're open and when I'd booked our reservation. The other companies tried to sell us a rental, but they backed off when we explained that we had a reservation already. We waited for about five minutes when a Hertz employee came around the corner. We thought we'd finally get our car, but he said the lady would be in to help us in a few minutes. She was taking a walk. We waited a bit more, then a bit more, and at 15 minutes Coastal Car Rental made us a good offer again, so we took it. It was Hertz's own fault losing our business for making us wait that long when they knew we had an 8:00am reservation. Unlike St Kitts, renting was far less in St Martin than a taxi around the island would have been, and it was right side driving. Hoorah!

We did go up a bit of a hill on our way over to Dawn Beach. It was narrow and winding, but at least it was paved. There were lovely views driving along the hill but no designated point to stop and pull over for a picture, and we never did figure out how to get down to the down to the beach area since Google told us we'd arrived at the beach before we ever did. We just picked a random point to pull over for these shots.

From there we continued on to Rotary Lookout Point. There was a large platform for us to climb up and read all the interesting facts about the area. You can't tell from the clouds behind us, but the sun was out bright just opposite us. I'm straining hard to keep my eyes open in this picture on the right.

We then drove up to Orient Beach, but didn't stay long since we had a lot on our itinerary. It's also rumored to be a nude beach, though the people I saw had on swimsuits, so I hadn't planned on swimming there anyway.

Next we drove over and up into the mountains for ziplining at Lotterie Farm. We'd heard about beautiful Pic Paradis, the highest point on the island, but had also heard that it's extremely common to have your car broken into if you drove up to the peak yourself (there's still a 10 minute hike from the parking lot, so that's plenty of time for thieves to rob you). In order to avoid that possibility, one website suggested taking a two hour round trip hike up to the peak from Lotterie Farm. You pay $5 a person and can park and hike on their property. That was our original intention, but we ended up getting there at 9:50am, just in time for their 10:00am ziplining tour, so we did that instead.
We were very happy with our choice since it was super fun, and it still gave us a pretty good workout. We were very sweaty when it was over. It was different from the other ziplining I've done in that you get much less guidance from the guides. The ziplining I've done always had one guide go ahead to receive you and one hang back to help everyone get on, but here there was just one guide, so you had to figure things out a bit more independently. For the very first zipline they drive you up to a high point, you strap in, then you run until the ground gets steep and off you go (Oscar's doing it in the very middle picture above). There were also several obstacles getting from one zipline platform to another, like walking down logs or on a tight rope. One platform had a crazy amount of ants crawling everywhere! We strapped ourselves in and got moving as fast as possible on that one. They swarmed on you the instant you got on.
Oscar's a much smoother zipper than me, though I've zipped more. I was trying to pull my legs up like you're supposed to in order to make it all the way across. It felt like they were up, but apparently I didn't do it enough because I sometimes had to manually move myself or have the guide help me for the last few feet. Oscar never had a problem with it.
Oscar and the husband of the lady behind me got through first and then shook the tightrope as we crossed it. It was actually pretty fun if you held your ground, but terrifying if you tried to move while it was in motion.

By the time we were done it was almost noon, so we knew we wouldn't have time to hike up to Pic Paradis and decided to take the risk of going up there ourselves. We didn't leave anything valuable in the car or anything that looked valuable, and luckily, the car did not get vandalized. The view was absolutely lovely though very distant.

We stood on the information sign to get this view then decided to head back. It was very hot in completely open sunlight. The car actually wouldn't start at first when we got in, but eventually we got it going.

Our next stop was Fort St Louis. A sign on the gate said the fort was closed, and we nearly turned around, but then we discovered that the gate was still open and the grounds were accessible. There were spectacular views everywhere you looked! I actually preferred it to Pic Paradis because the view is so much closer.
I love this photo sphere I got of the 360 degree view around us.
No one else was there, so we took a few selfies as we explored the grounds. I did something stupid and nearly fell off the tower trying to lean out where the flag is. It reminded me that no picture is worth injuring myself over, especially because the better view of the bay I was trying to lean out for was easily obtained by taking just a short walk behind me further into the fort.
You could not turn your head any direction without seeing a gorgeous vista.

After that we tried going to Maho Beach where the airplanes come in. I'd seen a snorkeling excursion for it on our cruise, but of course, it was super pricey like all the other excursions. I still wanted to go since I'd seen pictures online like the one on the right, and I assumed it'd be easy enough to just drive there ourselves. Unfortunately it was way too crowded and there was zero parking, plus I could not figure out where I could change into a swimsuit even if we did find parking. I think the only way to do it would have been to change on the ship beforehand and take a taxi. At least we found this bird when we were getting turned around and managed to pull over and get a picture just before it flew off.

Driving around the airport is stunning, but it's such a busy traffic area that there's nowhere to pull over and get pictures. We would have needed to be out on a boat to really take it in. I pulled these photos off the internet, with the one on the right showing the lagoon from an aerial view. I had my jaw hanging open the whole time just goggling at the sights as we drove around that narrow strip of land. I didn't even try to take pictures since they would have turned out terrible inside a vehicle in motion.

Eventually we did see a place to pull over. I'd noticed a sign that said "Rotary" and wondered if there was a platform nearby like the rotary lookout we'd seen at the beginning of the day. We'd missed it on our drive by, but we walked a little bit back on the highway and did indeed find a platform. The view was nice, though not as good as the beautiful lagoon around the airport. This was more industrial and residential.

We found a few more pretty sights as we drove, but we missed one I'd had on my list - Fort Amsterdam. It would have required a crazy sharp turn to get into it directly from the highway, which was too difficult for our car to do at the speed we were going with cars on our tail. We thought about getting turned around for it, but it was going to take some time to backtrack, and we were crazy hungry by then (it was after 2:00pm). We decided the view couldn't be better than what we'd already seen, and we'd had more than enough historic fort sightseeing already. I also figured it'd be a similar view to what we'd get from the top decks of the cruise ship since it was directly across the bay from the Fort.
I was right. The view of Great Bay from the ship was still pretty darn great. I couldn't believe we'd circled the entire island, seen many beautiful sights, and done a ziplining tour all with two hours to spare before the boat left port.

That evening we had a delicious meal (which of course we weren't hungry for after eating lunch so late, but we still came up to enjoy it), excellent entertainment from the staff, and our last towel creation was in the shape of a heart. What a fantastic cruise!

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