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Saturday, 2 March 2013

Sint Maarten, and the Orrient Experience

DISCLAIMER: For any families following this blog... this chapter MAY or MAY NOT include discussions of nudity, and alcohol consumption, leading to additional nudity. Please read with due consideration!

Arriving back on the boat in St. Kitts, with only two nights left, we quickly found Lou, ordered another round of Mojitos. Our minds scrambled for ways to get back to the Caribbean, on our own boat, at the earliest opportunity. Lottery, inheritance from a long lost relative we didn't know we had, selling one or both children!? Many ideas raced our brains. Few seemed logical, practical, AND legal! With daylight slowly shimmering away, we had great hopes for a future in the Caribbean, but were a little short on the how.

It was formal night on the ship, so we left for our room, in hopes of getting to our 6:00pm seating sometime before the 8:00pm seating. Remarkably, we managed to make it before 7:00pm. By now our fellow seating guests had become used to us showing up late, so they were impressed by our 6:45'ish arrival! We sat, got a glass of wine, and placed our orders.

Then came a 'values check' moment that became a large factor of why I write this Blog today... Our waiter, a Philipino who's name I never came to understand, began to tell the table his story. Until then, to me, he was a hard working man, extremely friendly, and fun to have as our server. He told the story of how his wife had cancer. He talked about how he would leave the home for 5-6 months at a time, to work aboard the Carnival Victory, leaving his family at home. Even when his wife became sick, he had no choice but to go away to earn a living for his family. He talked about when the call came to inform him that his wife had passed. It took a few days for the company to finalise his travel arrangements, and he talked about how he continued to work until it was time to leave. His tone was so matter of fact. Even as tears rolled down my face, he continued to explain that earning a better life for his family means making sacrifices. Instantly he became my hero. A shining example of someone stronger than I'll ever be! I began to reflect on my life, and my priorities. He was struggling to provide for his family, to give them a better life. He missed out on a chance to say good bye to his wife, his 'best friend' to do this. I realised how many things in my life that I take for granted. In that moment, I completely lost sight of the things I don't have, and appreciate the things, the opportunities that I DO have.

After composing ourselves, we left the dining room that night with a new purpose and commitment to a life lived and to be lived. We headed over to the cigar lounge. I figured if I'm REALLY going to start living my life, best to start with a nice cigar. Unfortunately we bought cheap cigars in St. Thomas. But the beer was cold!

As we sat enjoying live music, cold beer, and our cheap cigars, we were joined by John and Jodie, from Florida. We hadn't seen them since the Piano bar a few nights earlier. We shared stories of our last few days, and looked ahead to St. Martin the next day. Jodie asked us our plans for the day. We had only a vague idea of renting a car, to drive around the island. She asked if we were going to Orient Beach - the nudist Beach. We had heard about it from just about everyone. We figured NOT going there would be like going to Arizona and not seeing the Grand Canyon, so we planned to check it out. To use the Grand Canyon example, we had NO plans to go scaling down the side of the Canyon! so to speak. When we shared that with John and Jodie, she quickly informed us they were nudists. We wished them well, and said we would see them back on the ship!!

Morning came, and again I was wide awake, early, taking in every bit of view I could get on the approach to the harbour! While the landings were always somewhat serene, St. Martin had an indescribable energy about it.

We disembarked the ship with no more of a plan than to rent a car, and drive the island. Oh, and checking out this Orient Beach, to see if it was all we had heard! We didn't know where to rent a car, but reasoned there had to be somewhere, close to the dock.! On the dock we asked for directions, and got lost! We asked for more directions, and they sent us back the way we came!? Confused frustrated, and wanting to get to a beach, we spotted a shack, renting four wheelers. As we approached, we noticed they also had dune buggies. Sweet! $150 later, we were in motion! The dune buggy was a little rough, but they promised to come get us if we had any problems! Five minutes down the road, we put that to the test! We were getting splashed with gasoline on every bump and corner. We discovered they guy hadn't put the gas cap on correctly. When we asked them to catch up to us with a replacement... they couldn't. Quick repair and we were back on our way!

First stop, the beach bar by the airport. Anyone who's been to St. Martin or heard about St. Martin, has heard about the beach by the airport! When I was in college, I got my first experience of it. We were going to Dominican Republic, but made an unscheduled stop in St. Martin. As we made our approach, all I could see was water! I'm pretty sure I could count the fish in the water, before we got our first glimpse of land! A little unnerving! The end of the runway is about 75' away from the edge of the water, with beach, and road in between. As a past time, beach goers enjoy standing in the jet wash as planes rev to take off. There is a bar adjacent to the runway's end, on the beach, where people gather to watch the planes come in. Standing there, you get a sense that you can almost touch the plane's wheels as they come in.

While we did see a plane take off, we were too early, and too late to see anymore than a small island hopper land. Onward, we weaved around the twisting roads, from the dutch side of the island, Sint Maarten, to the French side St. Martin. We drove through a small town Les Terres Basses, and stopped at Baie Nettle. This was a gorgeous harbour full of sailboats, catamarans, and yachts. Luckily, there was still at least a few spots where I could squeeze in the Tranquilo! There was no need to further convince Leanne. However, we were still curious about this OTHER beach we'd heard so much of. So we motored on.

As we drove through the French capital, Marigot, we again took note of a place we must come back to! It is a clean, vibrant town, with cute shops, and borders onto a lovely beach. But it wasn't Orient beach, we needed to keep going! At this point, I feel I should point out that Orient beach was said to be known, FIRST, for it's beauty. It had a clothing, AND clothing optional side. We were determined, as we were, for the sake of the NICE BEACH! Honest!!

A short while later, we saw the turn for the beach, and headed down the gravel road. As the road worsened, we wondered if we had missed something, but continued. After passing a cow, and a few other oddities, we came upon a parking lot with a pub, and a rather deserted beach... was THIS the infamous Orient Beach? Trying to be cool, we stopped at the bar, ordered a drink, and eventually asked that question. We were told by a tall french blond, that it was around the point, but we could walk there. She went on to say we would have to walk through the clothing optional section to get to where us prudes would spend the day. We asked for driving directions!

Within a few minutes we were back in the dune buggy and it was a quick re-route over to the beach that was our target. We parked and found our way through the cluster of bars, to discover one of the most beautiful beaches I've seen! To be clear, we were on the clothing mandatory side, so it was simply nature's beauty that left me so awestruck! Turquoise blue sea, met bleached with sand. The beach curved like a boomerang, for a total of about 2 miles. As a back drop, there were bars all along the western border. You can rent loungers, and be served food and drink right to your lounger, all day. The 'optional' side was hidden behind a point to the south, allowing for family outings on the side we set up on.

After taking care of business, setting ourselves up with loungers for the day, we got on to thinking about what was 'beyond'?? We didn't have to rely on our imagination too much, as there was a proud naked man standing at the northern edge of the nudist portion, pointing the way to the ocean. Clearly we weren't venturing over until he no longer occupied the narrow passage way!

Within a few minutes, the coast was clear, and we snuck around to the forbidden zone! While we weren't sure what to expect, I don't think we expected it to be quite what we saw. People were going about their beach routines pretty much the same as on the other side, except that they had more areas to cover with SPF15. Or in this case, perhaps SPF45!

As we walked along the beach, our solid definition of what SHOULD be covered up, somehow didn't seem quite so bsolute. All the dreams I had as a child, of finding myself in public, naked, suddenly didn't seem quite as terrifying!? I was quickly beginning to feel like the odd one out! As though to put an exclamation mark on that sediment, I suddenly heard "SHAWN!!"!? We turned to see John, and Jodie waving at us! They were "comfortable in the lifestyle" on their loungers. We were not anxious in any way, to get to know them THAT well! We waved, and moved on... briskly!

As we made it to the end of the clothing optional beach, we felt relief... until it occurred to us that we now had to walk back. The thought of going the long way around was an option. A very inconvenient, out of the way option. As we stood there, working ourselves up for the return trip, our trepidation turned to outright unease, when we realised that John and Jodie were heading directly toward us. Turns out we were standing directly in front of the clothing optional bar, and they were headed in. At this point, I believe the awkward look on both our faces was a clear signal we weren't that thirsty at that moment! They went in, and we headed back.

Walking back, it became less about the awkwardness of the un-clothed, and more about awkwardness of the few clothed. Leanne is a person who often changes in the closet, rather than stand naked in front of even her husband. So no part of me expected her to even entertain the idea it would be more natural to be of the 'un-clothed'. However, when I brought it up, she showed a shocking understanding of that point. Not agreement, understanding! Her response to me was "you TOTALLY want to do this don't you"! Suddenly I was being called out, and I had no idea if I could answer the bell! I stammered back with a philosophical "don't you think if we don't do it, we might experience regret for not trying?" Correct response would have been "maybe, but we'll take our chances"!

I'm not sure what her actual response was, but we quickly found ourselves sitting at the end of the beach, almost daring each other to make a decision... for what seemed like two days! Finally a decision was made. I honestly have no idea who made the decision, or how, but we quickly found ourselves in deep water, and living with our decision! It felt free, exciting, liberating! We expected to hear the applause of the entire beach at this point. I'm sure they all watched us, giggled at us, as we struggled with the question "should we, or shouldn't we"!

We splashed and frolicked in the water. We enjoyed the warmth of the sun, on our exposed skin. As all good things must come to an end, this moment came crashing down too. We realised we now had to come out of the water... FACING everyone!!

We reminded ourselves that we wouldn't be the only ones on the beach naked, and sprinted to our awaiting clothes.

We headed back to our loungers, feeling like warriors returning from victory. A celebration was in order. A bucket of beer it will be! We drank, we ate, we swam, and we walked the beach, WITH clothes.

As it was becoming time to go, we felt we needed to go back for one more experience on the wild side of Orient Beach. Since having beverages of courage, we decided a little more adventure was in order, so we decided to take the "when in Rome" a little further. We would walk along the beach, but in the water, so as to not be too crazy, or exposed. We didn't think about the fact that the water we used as cover, disappeared, as the waves went out! Houston, we have a problem!! Just as we were figuring this out, Leanne also happened to notice our Mormon friends, whom we met aboard the ship earlier in the week. They were headed straight for us!! We sprinted for deep water, and thought we were safe, when suddenly hear someone yelling in our direction, shouting whooohooo! I turned to see her giving us the thumbs up!

Clearly enough adventure for one day, we packed up, and headed back to the cruise terminal! We shopped the shops for a few more gifts, and relaxed at a dockside bar, to reflect on the amazing day we had. Without discussion, we both knew St. Maarten was a MUST stop for our future travels! Future home? With Leanne having Dutch heritage, it was a strong possibility!

Back aboard, it was our last night, so we tried to cram in everything, while reflecting on the day past. We chuckled about our childish embarrassment, and wondered what would happen if we encountered our Mormon friends again? We were certain she would come to understand our embarrassment, and pretend it never happened. No sooner had we finished discussing this, than we saw them both, walking past the casino bar. She ran up to us, and quickly informed "HEY, we saw you today!!". BUSTED, without a defence! Leanne chuckled, and admitted our attempts to run and hide. I covered my already covered parts! She confessed that they were too far away to see anything! Whew. We chatted about a weeks worth of great experiences. As they walked away, she informed us "you looked GREAT!". What did she say about too far away!!??

Note: For any readers wondering about the picture blackout during the 'Clothing Optional' sections... it's a NUDIST BEACH! Did you REALLY think cameras were allowed!? So for any disappointment! Although, I'd rather expect relief!


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