When we made our first visit to SXM in Nov. 1996, who knew that return
trips would become an obsession? Now, with our most recent trip April
28-May 6, we have 11 visits to this island under our belts! So let this be
a warning to all you first-time visitors...you could become hooked like
We planned our vacation only about five weeks in advance, but yet were
still able to book frequent-flyer seats on American for the dates and
times of our choosing. Airline bookings are down, of course, and by
choosing to leave on a Monday and return on a Tuesday, we missed the busy
Heading down, both our flights, from Chicago to Miami and Miami to SXM,
were half empty. It sure was nice to spread out. We returned home with a
connection in San Juan and the flight from there back to Chicago was
completely full. We felt very cramped after the luxury of having had the
three seats across to ourselves.
We stayed all eight nights at L'Hoste. On several of our previous trips,
we had stayed at St. Tropez and enjoyed it, but with the new construction
in the area, St. Tropez no longer offers an ocean view...the view is very
important to me. L'Hoste was a good choice; it was very, very nice
(however, I'll note that the growth of the foliage in recent months did
limit the ocean view to a slight degree). I would stay there again in a
minute, even though our top-floor room was a little pricey compared to
some of the other places we've stayed on this island. But we got two
nights free as part of a low-season promotion that put our 8-night stay
well within our budget.
We are among the legions of loyalists to Unity for our rental car. They
always give us great customer service, reasonable-enough costs and where
else does your car rental agent greet you with a hug?
We had reserved our usual vehicle, a Suzuki Grand Vitara with A/C and
automatic. However, all of Unity's Vitaras (as well as RAV-4s) were
previously rented when we arrived. Unity gave us the option of a
complimentary upgrade to the next level of car, or to come back in a
couple of days to swap for the Vitara. We decided to go with the upgrade
and got a Hyundai Sonata with only a handful of miles on it. This turned
out to be a great car and John hated to surrender it at the end of the
trip. It made me a little nervous to have such a car in such pristine
condition, but we added no scratches or dings. And even if we had, the
guys at Unity are very realistic and realize that sooner or later, every
car on this island will acquire some "character marks".
Traffic all over the island overall seemed a little lighter this year,
except for the first few days during Carnival. It certainly did look like
the poor economy in the U.S. is taking its toll in the form of fewer
visitors to SXM.
The extent of sand erosion on Orient Beach near Papagayos and Kontiki
surprised me, even though I had read plenty of reports about it. Still, I
was not prepared for how bad it would be, and understand it has continued
to get worse in the two months since we were there. An island resident we
talked to indicated that the erosion is from the string of hurricane-free
seasons; a big storm is actually needed to bring sand into the beach.
My early-morning walks along Orient showed that everything you hear about
people saving chairs is true (or at least was during that time in late
April/early May). It really ticked me off that a lot of people thought
using a couple of throw-away grocery bags was enough to do the trick. If
you're going to try to reserve your chairs, at least do it with something
that has some personal value to you!
On the other hand, the island itself looked great. Couldn't believe how
much vegetation had grown just since April of last year. The area around
L'Hoste was like a jungle and everywhere was green and floribundant!
I may be one of the few people who actually really likes the Village
d'Orient. But then, I'm always one to prefer an urban-type atmosphere to a
quiet one, even on a beach. I think the village is well done and colorful.
Sure, it's not like the old days, but what is, anywhere?
We went to the Grand Parade during Carnival. Quite a sight to see and it
took all afternoon but was worthwhile. So many feathers on the costumes, I
think all the birds on SXM must be naked now! And I think my ears are
still ringing from the music blaring from speakers hauled on flatbed
Of course, like everything else in SXM, the parade happens on island time.
The information I had showed it starting at 10 a.m. Without knowing the
exact route, we knew it would take some time to snake through the streets
before getting to Front Street. So, figuring it would hit the area about
lunchtime, we staked out a spot at Pagano's Bistro for front-row, second
floor seats and ordered some lunch. Soon, 1:00 came and no parade...then
2:00 and still no parade. Finally, just before 3 p.m., we could hear the
thumping samba beat approaching. Fortunately, the wonderful folks at
Pagano's had no problems with us taking the seats for so long...and we had
no problems keeping the tab open with plenty of cold Caribs and Heinekens.
Perhaps two months before we went on this trip, we had seen SXM featured
in "A Cook's Tour", a TV Food Network show hosted by Tony Bourdain. One of
the featured spots was the Freedom Fighters Ital Shack, a Rastafarian
place Tony visited on the show, along with our friend Bulldog from Laser
101. We didn't have the ganja leaf tea like they did in the program, but
we did have the most fabulous homemade all-vegan meal. This place would
definitely not be for everyone but we had a great time and spent about 2
hours talking with Ras Bushman, his wife and the cast of characters that
stops by. I'd say this experience was one of the highlights of our entire
trip. If you're adventurous and open-minded, I highly recommend a stop
here for an inexpensive and healthful lunch.
Other memorable meals included Poulet d'Orleans (also featured in Tony's
show), O'Plongeoir in Marigot and La Playa right there behind L'Hoste. And
of course we had our departure-day cheeseburger at Sunset Beach Bar!
We planned to have dinner our last night at Uncle Harry's, but as we
approached it, we noticed it was totally dark. Hmm, we thought, perhaps
they're just closed on Mondays. We then decided to go to Turtle Pier
instead. They were dark as well. That's when we noticed that EVERY
business in that stretch of Airport Road was dark...every car rental
agency, every restaurant and everything in between. We came to learn the
next morning that the electric cable supplying the area had snapped at the
bridge. Oh well, something to look forward to for next time!
Next time...always seems so far away. At least now summer is in full
swing...if I close my eyes and use my imagination, I can pretend Chicago
Nah, come to think of it, it's just not the same!