i could do a lot of waxing philosophical about how all journeys have a destination and that life isn't about the destination, but mostly i'm writing to say that i've arrived at one particular destination: st. martin/sint maarten. i haven't been able to gather my words as well or as soon as i'd have liked, but with a little encouragement/subtle from a ten-year-old friend who is also traveling and blogging this summer (hello phoebe!), here i sit, contemplating my own journey. fortunately i have the next six weeks to sort through my feelings on the subject. maybe more...
the past few days have been a combination of delicious blur and acute memorization. there are moments where i have to stop and remind myself that this is really happening and is not just some crazy dream. honestly, it's a little difficult when the bright blue caribbean waters are only several hundred yards away. seriously, though, how does a nanny (raised in a small town, who has never traveled extensively, much less out of the country, at twenty-six years of age) end up here, in a beautiful-though-very-americanized island paradise?
my trip began early on wednesday morning. at 5am, we left for the airport in charlotte from winston, arriving just as the sun rose at 6:30. i managed to pack all of my clothes in one very large suitcase. the airline's weight limit for checked baggage is 50 lbs (unless you want to be subject to a $90 fine for overweight baggage), and i just squeezed by at 47. packing into one bag allowed me to take my guitar as my carry-on item, along with one small personal bag containing my cameras, netbook, and e-reader. after breezing through security (a first for me... i always forget something metallic on my person), we grabbed breakfast at an airport cafe and began the long wait for our 9:40am flight.
i spent lots of time walking the terminal with the nanny kid, keeping him entertained, while his mom relaxed as much as possible and sat with our copious amounts of carry-on luggage (her carry-on and personal bag, his carry-on and personal bag, and my guitar and personal bag... plus a stroller). when the first boarding call came, we were able to board first (a HUGE perk of flying with a young child). they handed me a gate-check ticket for my guitar and for the stroller i was pushing with toddler in tow. we were nearly the first passengers to step on the plane, so i asked the flight attendant if i could store the guitar in the overhead. he nodded and asked me to store it only over my seat, and let us pass. that, despite the tired feeling already creeping over me, was a great reason to smile.
it was a short wait to take off after boarding. we had lots of little entertainment items for the nanny kid, but i'm proud that we didn't break out the iPad at all. mostly he played with small cars and figurines, and snacked, but soon his five a.m. wakeup came calling and he drifted to sleep. almost four hours later, i caught my first sight of islands breaking through the blue waters below. my excited squirming woke the toddler sleeping halfway in my lap, and we both smiled relentlessly and chattered back and forth as the plane touched down over maho beach. a perfect landing.
there is a tiny strip of beach (maybe 20 ft), a two-lane road, and a five-foot fence between the water and the end of the runway, and numerous signs stating the danger of standing near where the planes land. people do it anyway, for the rush, for the photo opportunity, and i can't help but wonder how many were under our plane as the pilots guided us in. during rough seas (not hurricanes, just storms), the water often rises up and covers the road and creeps towards the runway. as we were flying in, i saw a gorgeous natural sea cave carved into the cliffs at maho. it was the first sight that truly set my heart beating fast, a promise of adventure and excitement i hadn't yet given myself permission to feel while preparing for this trip.
the next few hours were a blur. we deplaned, acquired our three checked bags, and headed to pick up our transportation. this trip has seen a lot of firsts for me, but none have held the same trepidation as driving my very first rental car (a tiny hyundai i10, with its speedometer in km instead of mph). the roads here just barely qualify for that name. though they are paved, they are cracked and potholed, and barely wide enough in some places for two cars to pass. furthermore, on this first day, the island had recently been subject to heavy rains, so the many gullies had collected up to a foot of rainwater. forwarding these gullies was much like forwarding a river in a bumper-car -- a frightening rush. i kept expecting to see water rising under my feet as i pressed the gas and brakes.
we dropped off our luggage, and headed for a local market. on the first aisle, i spotted the same bag of chips we'd purchased in the airport in charlotte, which are becoming a new favorite of mine. however, the numbers below the rack of items didn't make sense to me. $10 for a medium-sized bag of chips? noticing that i had nothing in my basket, my employer pointed out to me a tiny price beside the larger one: US dollars, versus the Dutch guilders reflected in the large price. the exchange rate is currently about 1 to 2. the chips were still $4, but since we were just stocking up for a few meals' worth of food, i thought it worth it. i also picked up breakfast food (cereal and soy milk), sandwich fixings (wheat bread, turkey, cheese, and mustard), and a few other small items. my total at the register came to 80 guilders, or around US$42. not too terrible, considering that most (if not all) items on the shelves had to be shipped in. my employer assured me that we'd drive to a larger grocery store later in the week to stock up on items the small market didn't carry.
after shopping, we headed back to the apartments to relax for a while, and i began to take in my surroundings. my employers have a one-bedroom, two-bath unit for the two adults and one toddler. i have a separate studio right next door. a lot of the finishes are luxury (stone tile, stainless steel appliances, rainfall shower and jacuzzi tub for one), but the furnishings are simple (the bed, chairs, and kitchen-wares). the linens are nice enough, but laughably, my bedspread is bright pink and red. the balcony is wrap-around, pergola-covered, and amazing, with views of both the ocean and the lagoon. i can watch planes take off all day long, if i so choose, which is a plus when you spend a lot of waking hours with a two-year-old boy.
around six, we went out for my first dinner on the island. my employer chose sunset bar and grille for its food and location -- right on the waves at maho beach, by the runway. true to its name, it does face into the sunset and towards that intriguing sea cave. we watched planes land, listened to the waves lap, and ate well. i had a tuna steak burger with a delicious spicy sauce.
by 8pm, i was crashing hard from a very long day, and very ready to test out my bed. i set an alarm for the next morning, when i would begin work at 8:45. laying in bed, waiting to fall asleep, eyes heavy, i reflected. i've made a lot of choices in my life, some good and some definitely not, but whatever choices i've made have led me to this particular point. in light of that, there are no such thing as coincidences, but i can't rule out luck. i feel so very lucky to be experiencing this, which is something i'll have to remember on the days when toddler-hood takes a turn for the worse. here's hoping that can be mitigated with lots of time in the water.