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Double Dutch Treat - Two Pairs of Days on St. Maarten

Beaching it and an amazing “Yoda Guy” museum

sunny 86 °F

A quiet, 2-day stop in St. Maarten on my way to Saba began in Philipsburg

The Dutch-owned island of St. Maarten was not my true destination. I was actually headed to nearby Saba, but the only way to get there was through St. Maarten. The connecting flights didn’t line up so well, so I ended up booking two nights on “the Friendly Island” (as its license plates proclaim) both before and after Saba. I hoped it would be a double Dutch treat, so to speak. I am not a big beach person, but a day here or there in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean never hurt anyone!

Heavily dependent on the cruise ships, Philipsburg has not recovered to its pre-Covid crowds

The airlines have completely messed up the arrivals on the island, with American, Jet Blue, Air France, and Delta (who I was flying on) landing a half dozen international flights within an hour or so of each other. This results in a massive backup at immigration, which has only exacerbated the new Covid-19 restrictions. All visitors to the island must be fully vaccinated, but also take a Covid test within three days of arrival. Not everyone had their paperwork in order, so that slowed things down even more. It was almost two hours before we made it through the gauntlet and were checking into our hotel, a small locally-owned one named Alicia’s Inn.

Still very pretty and pleasant to walk around, Philipsburg is putting on a brave face

After semi-unpacking, it was time for a wander around Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side of the island and where we were staying. Although there was a smattering of traffic, it seemed fairly quiet for a weekday afternoon in a capital city. The most noise came from young islanders popping wheelies on their motorcycles - I guess we were supposed to be impressed. Even the teenagers popped wheelies on their bicycles. We noticed that at least half of the stores were closed as we wandered through Old Street onto Front Street. We would find that Philipsburg had not recovered from the Covid interruption in travel to the same extent as the rest of the island.

After about 6pm, the streets of Philipsburg empty out quickly

We were shocked to see three cruise ships anchored in the harbor. Where were all the passengers? The streets should be teeming with passengers on day trips. We looked closer and saw no one on the railings or on the balconies. A bartender confided that they were empty, though one would be loading up and setting sail in in a day or so. Philipsburg was geared to the cruise traffic, and until it picked back up, it remained somewhat of a dusty ghost town with only scattered businesses open and trying their best to put on a brave face.

On our second day in St. Maarten, our destination was the beach!

After doubling back and exploring the concrete boardwalk along the shore, we decided the heat was telling us to stop somewhere and enjoy a beverage to refresh ourselves. I’d spotted the Dutch Blonde Beach Bar which sported a sign advertising local craft beer. That made the choice easy, so we climbed to the breezy second story beachfront bar and restaurant. They had 3 local beers, the first being the namesake Dutch Blonde. Tasting it, I was reminded of my visit to Curaçao a few years ago. All the beers there had a thin, almost wheat beer taste. Even beers like Amstel and Heineken (world’s most over-rated beer, I call it) had that taste that it normally doesn’t have at home. All except one of these had that same taste, too.

We rented two beach chairs and an umbrella the day (plus 6 drinks) for $25

The bartender was originally from Holland and very friendly. We peppered him with questions and he filled us in on how things were on the island. We decided to have dinner there, too, and I enjoyed my Chicken Satay. After eating, we wandered back to our hotel for a bit before venturing out again at dusk. Philipsburg did seem to shut down shortly after dinner time. There were still some locals out and about, but the boardwalk and Front Street - where the hotel’s and restaurants were located - was shuttered. Our first flight that day had left Columbus at 5:30, which meant a 3:30am wake up. So, an early night was probably a good idea!

Philipsburg had an interesting little historical museum with artifacts from different time periods

For breakfast the next morning we found what appeared to be the favorite spot - the Coffee Lounge. Lots of selection from light Continental breakfast to full-on American or British heavy morning meals. A good handful of diners enjoyed the air conditioning inside like us or sat outside and ate breakfast. The plan for the day was simple: hit the beach! We borrowed beach towels from our hotel and headed for the boardwalk. We picked out one of the places renting beach chairs and umbrellas - $25 for two chairs, an umbrella, and a bucket with six drinks (your choice from water, soda, beer, or cocktails). The water in front of our chairs was crystal clear and that bight, turquoise blue the Caribbean is known for. The waves lapping the shore were gentle, and the sand was powdery white. Postcard-perfect beach setting! We settled in, applied our sunscreen, and relaxed. There were less than a dozen other beach goers in sight up and down the length of the beach. As it turned out, we were the only customers our beach chair rental guy had all day. I felt bad for the locals. Normally, a place like this would be packed in summer, I was guessing. Covid’s miseries across the world seem to never end. After several hours in the sun and warm water, we decided that our pale skins had probably reached their allotment of sunshine.

An enthusiastic 19-year-old, budding Indiana Jones runs the museum in Philipsburg, St. Maarten

We went back to the hotel to change, then headed out to do some museum hopping. First up was the local historical museum. Their extensive and informative website got my hopes up. The displays were interesting, with artifacts from St. Maarten’s Arawak Indian days, through the colonial periods when the Dutch, Spanish, English, and French warred for control of the island. It also covered more recent History up till modern times. There were extensive sections on slavery in St. Maarten, as well as the various rum and indigo industries.

The “Yoda Guy” Exhibit wouldn’t look out of place on the planet of Tatooine

A 19-year-old man seemed to be the local authority, a budding young Indiana Jones who had explored the breadth of the island’s historical sights. He entertained all half-dozen or so visitors with a PowerPoint he’d created to cover St. Maarten’s history. His passion was for the archeological sites on the island, many of which he had scoured the overgrowth and vegetation for signs of himself. He liked to use his drone to help him find the sites his research told him about. He was quick to admit when he wasn’t 100% sure of whether he had truly discovered the factory he was looking for or not. The presentation went on for a bit longer than the average attendee would probably want, but it was enjoyable listening to his passion for history and his confidence in addressing the visitors at his young age.

One of the many creatures Museum director Nick Maley worked on was the beloved character, Yoda, fo course

The next museum was one I originally wasn’t sure I wanted to go to, but the reviews were all spectacular. The “Yoda Guy” Movie Exhibit is the brainchild and labor of love of Nick Maley, the man who designed or helped create many of the creatures from the Star Wars movies. As the museum’s name suggests, he was pivotal in bringing the beloved Yoda to life. He worked on more than just the Star Wars movies, being part of nearly 60 science fiction, fantasy, or horror movies.

An amazing amount of props, memorabilia, and mementos of the Star Wars movies is inside the exhibit

Maley has stocked the surprisingly sprawling museum with a huge variety of exhibits. These include mannequins dressed in the authentic costumes from the movies, story boards from the Star Wars films, and video players with clips looping interviewing Maley or his colleagues on the movies, including the actor who portrayed Darth Vader. There are some exhibits covering movie magic in films he didn’t work on but whose story is pivotal, such as Terminator 2. His passion for film making comes through on every exhibit. He hopes his story and exhibit will inspire the next generation of youth to follow his footsteps in a career he has obviously treasured.

Most of the exhibits contain video or audio loops that go into fascinating detail

When we arrived at the museum, with its exterior that would look appropriate on the planet Tatooine, we climbed the stairs to the second floor, reading the posters on the wall. Upon arriving in the small lobby, it appeared to be deserted. The lights were on, though, and we could hear the recordings in the various exhibits playing, we rang the “old-school” silver bell and no one appeared. We rang again and Maley finally appeared, apologizing for our wait. I had read that he pops in occasionally and lucky guests can meet him, but there he was in person welcoming us and explaining the story behind the museum. I have to admit to being a bit star struck, as I had read up on the museum beforehand.

Maley has lots of stories and mementos from his years working with the cast of the movies

Gladly plopping down the $15 entrance fee, I spent more than an hour winding my way through the exhibits. It was fascinating and informative. I honestly feel that you do not need to be a Star Wars, or even Science-Fiction fan to enjoy it. Anyone who likes movies would be enthralled by leaning how the creatures were made or dreamed up, such as the iconic Cantina Band in the original Star Wars movie.

The exhibits also details Maley’s Work on other science-fiction, fantasy, and horror movies

So, I am sure you are wondering why such a fascinating exhibit of Hollywood history and lore is in such a remote spot as Philipsburg, St. Maarten. Maley relates that when he decided to call it quits and retire, he and his wife bought a yacht and sailed it throughout the Caribbean. He fell in love with St. Maarten and put down roots there to practice his new passion - painting Caribbean landscapes. He lamented the decline of Philipsburg, and admitted he’s the only one working at the museum, now. Some days, he said he opens the doors and no one walks through all day. Once again, the blight of Covid spreads melancholy where there was once joy. If your travel plans include St. Maarten, make sure you check out this amazing exhibit and help Maley continue to cast the spell of movie magic!

From signed photos to video clips, many Star Wars cast members thank Maley or provide additional insight

The “Yoda Guy” Movie Exhibit was one of the highlights of the first part of our visit to St. Maarten. On our return, we had no major plans for the two-day end cap of our visit. We were thoroughly sated by the five days in Saba, so just wanted to take it easy. One stop I definitely wanted to experience was Maho Beach, though. The St. Maarten airport runway is on one tip of the island and stops just short of the beach there. Prevailing winds mean that most aircraft landing on the island must fly over the beach at a relatively low height. So, if you position yourself even with the airstrip, you get to experience an international jet flight roaring above your head.

”Greedo” - another of the creatures Maley tells the story of bringing to life

I honestly feel that a place like this would not exist in America. The airport and local government would fear someone being injured and suing them, so would fence it off and restrict access. However, in the Caribbean, the mindset is a bit different - to say the least! In my research, I read a blog which claimed that people have been killed being thrown by the jet blast of aircraft taking off. I am typing this on the flight home, so hopefully will remember to research this more fully before publishing this blog entry!

Maho Beach where the lanes fly really low over to land in St. Maarten

We unfortunately arrived at Maho Beach a little later in the afternoon than we should have and missed most of the big jet arrivals. Still, it was great to see the commuter aircraft roar in for a landing looking as if their wheels were going to touch down on sand! There are a handful of restaurants and bars lined up on either side of the beach. Since we had more than an hour before JetBlue’s A320 arrived, we relaxed and enjoyed some refreshments. When it was close to time, we staked out a position even with dead center of the runway. Before JetBlue arrived, we had a surprise when another jet took off (with the wind instead of into it) and zoomed over our heads. A short time later, the JetBlue plane approached. My IPhone camera was fairly handy taking video, so I tracked it as it rocketed over my head, touching down behind me. Very cool experience!

Watch this video of a jet taking off over us

After a short walk on the somewhat rowdy beach (large groups dancing in the surf to rap music booming from speakers), we headed back to check out the beach near our hotel. It was much more tranquil. We were staying closer to the airport in the Simpson Bay Area this time around. It was definitely more active and had more tourists. The stretch of sand adjoining the Buccaneer Beach Bar proved to be a perfect place to wind down our trip. We sat and watched the sun go down, swimming in the warm waters, and enjoying the panorama of scenic St. Maarten all around us. For a place that was supposed to be just a stop on the way to my true destination, I had enjoyed my days in St.Maarten. I hope others follow in my footsteps soon, though, and help the islanders revive beautiful destination of sun, sand, and History.

JetBlue A320 Landing Directly Over Our Heads at Maho Beach

Regional Jet Landing over top Maho Beach, seen from the bar and restaurant area

Turboprop Commuter Landing Over Maho Beach

Another Commuter Prop Plane Landing at Maho Beach

Posted by world_wide_mike 14:47 Archived in Sint Maarten

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