They say that the first time is just an experiment. Anything more than that is a habit, an addiction, or a label. I suppose, then, that I am beyond the experiment phase… or should I say ‘we.’
It’s been several years since we have been on a real vacation so I felt we were due. Oh, we’ve been on trips where I have to drive to a destination, and we may have stayed there for several days or even a week. Then I would have to drive back. That’s not really a vacation. It is more like work away from home. I hate driving. Most of the time I am faced with what many would call an adventure. To me it is Hell. I hate driving. This trip would again be a real vacation where we would fly to our destination. Have a great time, then fly home.
Our last real vacation was to Jamaica. A real neat island in the Caribbean and just a stones throw from Cuba. We couldn’t see Cuba from where we were on the island because we were on the Southwest side of the island at a place called Grand Lido Negril and Cuba was North of the island. Of course, that was then, and now it has changed hands (the resort, not the island) and at the time of this writing it is owned by the Breezes organization. I did a short write up for the family after we returned which can be found at http://www.lrim.com/vacation
Anyway, once we arrived at the resort we were promptly asked if we wanted a unit on the family side or on the ‘clothing optional’ side. Jackie and I looked at each other and as if we read each other’s mind we simultaneously said ‘clothing optional!’ And thus it began.
This year we wanted to again go to the Caribbean. First of all it was just beautiful there, but mainly because it was January and only a fool lies out on the beach in San Francisco in January. So the Caribbean it would be. Now to select which island we would visit. We really didn’t want to go back to Jamaica even though I am a creature of habit. I would have been quite comfortable back in Jamaica but I realized I needed to continue to broaden my horizons some but mostly I wanted to take Jackie to a different destination. Otherwise she might develop my ‘old man’ habits.
When I started to search for a destination I remembered the time we had in Jamaica and wondered if I could find a place that would compete with our past experience there. After many hours searching I decided on St. Martin. I remember seeing a segment on National Geographic channel about the 10 most dangerous airports of the world, and St. Martin was like number six. (I dare not mention this to Jackie.) And although the airport was a mild attraction for me it was the beach at Orient Bay that convinced me that we would go there for this vacation.
The resort there was a fair size resort. We didn’t want to go to a real small resort. The bigger the better, we thought. And it wasn’t an all-inclusive resort as was the resort on Jamaica, but there were benefits that outweighed the negative of not being an all-inclusive. And this resort (Club Orient) carried the name of the beach so we felt it would be the best there. As you remember, the accommodations we secured on Jamaica were on a clothing optional beach. As it turns out, the entire Club Orient was clothing optional. Not only was the beach clothing optional, but you could dine, shop, take a stroll, or just lay out anywhere on the resort without a stitch on. It was amazing!
We were quite excited to once again be going on a real vacation, but slightly ill prepared for the airlines, the airport security, the parking lot, the TSA, and all the other alphabet soup of initials of whatever government agency would try to make our trip miserable. We encountered them on every leg of the trip.
I am usually not the frugal person but this year I had to act the part due to the economy. Even we are struggling this year and I suppose an explanation is in order. You see, I have been accumulating frequent flyer miles with Continental. Well, it might have been frequent many years ago and not so much lately. Back in the ‘90s I did have occasion to make numerous business trips and had the forethought to join Continental’s frequent flyer program. In flying for business I was able to accumulate about 90,000 frequent flyer miles. Just enough to fly to Europe first class, it seems. But then, what would a trip to Europe be traveling alone? Anyway, I opted to use the frequent flyer miles for our trip to St. Martin. Total out of pocket cost? $170 in taxes. Total cost in aggravation? About the same as if we had driven!
Although Continental does not offer the most direct routes when requesting to fly free I was able to secure the most direct route possible. You see… Continental only services St. Martin through Newark. So, we had to fly about four hours North to catch a plane to fly about five hours South. We left Houston in 40 degree weather to travel to 14 degree weather just to change planes to travel to 74 degree weather. Quite confusing.
When the list of flights was on the screen I had to scan about 4 pages passing up the flights that connected through Chicago then Newark, or Dallas to Denver to Newark, or Fayetteville to Charlotte to Newark, or Atlanta to Newark, finally arriving on the last page to discover the Houston to Newark to St. Martin flight. The only other alternative was to fly from Houston to Panama on Continental then from Panama to St Martin on one of their ‘code share’ airlines. ‘Code share’ always scares the bejeebees out of me. Well, I had never been to New York and the Newark airport was just across the river. So, I decided to select a flight that would stay overnight in Newark and give us enough time to see a Broadway show on the way.
As much as I would have liked to seen Driving Miss Daisy with James Earl Jones, it appears that some actors actually want a night off and his night would be the night we would be there. Oh well, saving $200 seemed a frugal thing to do. Instead we went to a comedy club. Caroline’s Comedy Club touted itself to be the premier comedy club in New York and even though the talent that night was unknown to me I thought a comedy club would be fun. I suppose it was, if you are 20. I am more of the Bill Cosby fun kind of person. Today’s comedy is apparently filled with not only profanity, but disgusting situational comedy. Even Eddie Murphy was mild compared to this comedienne. She had one of those single name names. Like Beyonce, or Madonna, but I cannot remember her name at the moment. Maybe later. She was a black comedienne. I don’t know off hand if that had any affect on the audience composition but Jackie and I appeared to be one of only four white couples there. We did feel just a little out of place but no one seemed to pay us any mind. I wish James Earl Jones wanted off on Monday instead of Sunday.
Everyone raves about New York for some reason. I found it just horrible. It’s not even portrayed accurately in movies. Take downtown Houston, for example, and narrow the streets by half, reducing the lane widths by half, and multiply the number of cars by 4 and the number of taxicabs by 10, and you will just about have New York. Well, I can say that I have now seen New York. I need a tee shirt now. One that says ‘I survived New York,’ or ‘I went to New York, rode a taxi, saw a show, and all I got was this lousy tee shirt.’ I was glad to be leaving Newark. I finally got to see the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, and Manhattan as we were climbing out and turning South for St. Martin.
The St. Martin airport is situated on the beach. And I mean on the beach. From the surf there is maybe 50 feet of sand, then a very narrow two lane road, then the fence at the end of the runway. The aircraft approach so low over the beach that photographs can be taken of people on the beach showing aircraft lower than the tops of their heads! It just seems that way, of course. It’s all done with mirrors I bet. But, a main attraction there is to hang onto the fence as an airliner is departing. Or at least attempt to hang onto the fence. Those that are unsuccessful end up in the surf.
I had originally planned for a 4 day trip and had all the arrangements worked out based on that but eventually changed it to a 5 day trip. As a result the only thing that did not get changed was the day that the resort would pick us up at the airport. So, we rented a car there at the airport instead of waiting on renting one at the resort. After all, it’s an island. You can’t get lost…
Halfway from the airport to the resort we could see the traffic backed up at least 2 miles going up the mountain so we opted on taking the route clockwise around the island instead of the recommended counter clockwise route. What difference would it make? We wanted to see the entire island anyway. Now was as good a time as any to go through Marigot instead of Phillipsburg. Needless to say, the roads on St. Martin island are less than perfect. In fact, they appeared to be about half as wide as the roads we left behind in New York, and in a state of repair of those found in most ‘second’ world countries. Despite having spent the majority of my life within the confines of the U. S. we would eventually arrive at Club Orient safely and with about 4 hours of light remaining for the day.
The room was ready and the first of my surprises for Jackie was waiting for us. After about 9 hours of travel time from Houston to Newark to St. Martin, and another hour on unfamiliar roads, I knew a massage would be just the thing for us both. Was I ever right! It was just the thing that we both needed to get loosened up after that flight. Immediately following there was a wine and cheese get together for everyone at the resort. We had to at least look relaxed for that even if it would be our first encounter with a clothing optional event other than a beach.
By now you are saying ‘what is all this baloney about ‘clothing optional? What you are describing is a nudist resort, isn’t it?’ Well, like so many other things today terminology changes. Stewardess’ are now Flight Attendants, Maids are Domestic Engineers, and nudists are now naturists. It is a Naturist resort. Regardless of its label no one paid attention to our ‘less than perfect’ bodies and we had a great time.
First thing the next morning we had to make a run to the resorts general store for a few things. Coffee, breakfast rolls, a few staples, and some sun tan lotion! Then it was the beach. I was content to simply lay on the beach listening to the surf relaxing in an attempt to simply forget about the rest of the world for a few days. Of course, I did have a plan and I had to try and keep on track. I really wanted Jackie to try scuba diving and the locals on the beach had a ‘Intro to SCUBA’ program where they took someone out in just about 15 feed of water and taught them just enough to breath under water for about 20 minutes. You could only go with an instructor but that is about all that was needed. I was certified back in ’97 but since Jackie had never before been diving she would have to be accompanied by the instructor. So we made it to the dive shop and were fitted with wet suits and gear and proceeded to board a boat that would take us on a 5 minute trip out to Green Key, and island within the confines of Orient Bay. However, being January, even in the Caribbean the wave action tossed the boat around pretty good. (And those that know me are already starting to laugh.) I was doing just fine until the crew discovered a sailboarder had taken a spill in the bay and was in need of assistance. We stopped to render aid to the fallen surfer, picking up his gear and taking him aboard to deliver him back to the shore. Well, the 60 seconds or so that we stopped to get him on board was enough to render me completely disabled due to seasickness. Once the boat was ashore to deliver the sailboarder I had to excuse myself from the remainder of the dive. Jackie would go ahead with the dive and return with a less than excited look about her. She wasn’t really impressed. Oh well, this surprise didn’t go over so well. Maybe the next will work out better.
The next day found us back on the beach with liberal amounts of sun tan lotion to protect those areas that have not seen the sun since I was 3. This day would be one of total relaxation and no surprises. The water sports center of the resort offered free snorkeling gear and Jackie found that she preferred that over scuba, so she took a stroll down and obtained the gear, returning by way of snorkeling. It was probably five or six hundred yards from our lounge chairs to the water sports center so the walk down and the snorkeling back actually took an hour or so. During this time I was supposed to be timing myself so that neither front nor back faced the sun for more that 15 minutes at a time. Although I thought I was doing ok, I soon discovered that there are parts of the body that was just not meant for tanning. At least not mine. Jackie finally made it back from the water sports center with her gear and a huge starfish that she found on the way back. We lounged for a while longer and had a few drinks from the convenient bar and grill that was a mere twenty steps or so from our chosen spot on the beach. Our drinks of choice were virgin daiquiris or margaritas. The fruity drinks were just the thing for the beach. As the evening drew near Jackie needed to return the snorkeling gear to the water sports center prior to closing and she wanted to snorkel back so I gave her about a half hour head start, watching her snorkel down the beach, and then followed a bit later. I managed to reach the water sports center just as she was exiting the water. I had thought to bring her a towel and a visor to shade from the sun a bit. It was just about time to think about returning to our room to get ready for dinner. Well, getting ready for dinner was simply taking a quick shower to get all the sand out of your hair. It’s not like you had to decide what to wear…
The restaurant was fabulous. Although it was an open air restaurant the moderate Caribbean temperatures kept it a comfortable 75 degrees even at night and even with nothing on at all. There was entertainment every night and the food was excellent. But, since we were not in an all-inclusive resort the meals were charged to our room and the prices on the menu was all in Euros and not dollars. So, that 10 € meal actually cost us $13. Just something we had to keep in mind, although I was not pinching pennies on this trip since I saved about $1300 on the flights. Some day Jackie is going to get me to dance with her. Not this trip.
We awakened the next morning to a startling discovery. It shouldn’t have come as any surprise at all. After all, who goes to a beach destination and does not expect a little sun burn? But I have to tell you, that snorkeling five or six hundred yards really allow the sun to do just exactly what the sun does. And it did it so well! Jackie looked like a white Valentines day cookie with red icing on the back side. I had to get my glasses out to read the fine print but there it was just as plain as day. SPF-3. Jackie picked it out. Well, after locating some SPF-30 for the bulk of our now tender bodies we went on that futile search for some SPF-500 for those even more tender areas. Back to the beach I say. I have not yet forgotten about my world.
The next surprise was more of a ‘she wouldn’t expect this of me’ type of activity instead of a typical surprise. We set out once again in the car to the other side of the island to locate a narrow road which led up the tallest mountain on the island. Standing 424 meters (1,391 feet) Pic Paradis is the highest point of the island and offers some fantastic views. Along the road there was the occasional ‘lookout point’ where we had to stop and take a few photos at each. The road was in rather poor condition and I later learned that it doubled as a hiking trail. I think most all roads on the island doubled as hiking trails. In fact, they were likely primarily hiking trails and used as roads as a secondary function.
We also made a few of the shops along the main roads in Phillipsburg and the cruise line docks, as well as a casino. We thought we would give the Flamingo Casino a try as it had the most recognizable name. Jackie is not much of a gambler so we didn’t stay long. Just long enough for her to win $9 and me to lose $20. The Flamingo Casino in St. Martin is simply not the impressive Flamingo Hotel and Casino of Las Vegas fame.
We stopped by the Marigot Fire Station on the way through. (Jackie insisted.) We were fortunate enough to get there on a day they had chosen to do some rappelling training. I got a good look at the equipment and the one thing I have to say is that those complainers in the Montgomery Fire Department have absolutely nothing to complain about!
I’m sure I am making this sound as if St. Martin is a real third world country. Not at all. In fact, we saw the one thing that I have never seen in the states other than on T.V. A Segway. You know, one of those two wheeled personal transportation devices where the wheels are side by side and you stand on it. I’ve never seen how one operates other than on that T.V. show Royal Pains. Anyway, we both did a double take when we say that. We were driving at the time and nearly needed that extra insurance coverage I wisely opted for at the car rental agency.
We returned taking the same route as on the way down here, but the return trip did not include an overnight layover. We left St. Martin at 1:00 in the afternoon and arrived in Houston just after midnight. It was some trip but I would do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, I have already begun to search for our next vacation. The first criteria? A clothing optional beach!
So it appears that we are now beyond the experimental stage. We have started looking for places in Texas to visit on short mini trips. We found many places we could go, the most famous of those being Hippy Hollow right nearby in Austin. And we have discovered that there are discounts to member of certain organizations. So, now we are card carrying members of the Naturist Society. No longer are we closet nudists. We are naturists and we found a great way to have a great time on vacations. Things are looking up.
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