Along for the ride:

Saturday, January 5, 2013

We packed our suitcases and left our baggage behind

White Christmas trees line the beach.

We woke to quiet on New Year's morning. Home, after ten days of noisy toads outside our window at night and bustling, chirping, sugar finches all day. Friends, from The Artistic One's past, had been inviting us to visit on St Martin's Island, since they moved there in 2004.
This is the view from their property, at the top of the hill.

Half French, half Dutch, the island is a cruise ship port of call and has the main international airport you'd fly through on your way to St Barthes or Anguilla. It really does have white sandy beaches and warm turquoise waters with coconut palms swaying in the sea breezes.

We were not sure that we would get there and even less sure we'd get home to California. When I went to check in online, the morning of our departure, TAO handed me his French passport. In his mind, he was off to France and that was all he needed, with no thought to the return journey and getting through customs and immigration in the US.
 Insouciant Mer-Man

What should have been a simple step of pulling his blue passport out of his passport file, turned into a major search, which was unproductive. Coat pockets turned inside out, unzipping every compartment in all the suitcases in the garage and, finally, heading out hours earlier than planned to see if the missing passport was at the office for some reason. Niet, Nada, Nichs!
I keep photocopies of TAO's documents, for obvious reasons. I was able to use his passport number to check in and print boarding passes. SFO has a self-serve scanner at check-in and the young woman who looked at our passports was comparing photos to passengers, not passport numbers to boarding passes, so we slipped through O.K.
Landing In St Maartens with an EU passport was not a problem and we were met by warm air and smiling old/new friends. After a shower and change we went to the supermarket together, as it was Christmas Eve and provisions must be gathered. There was no doubt that we were in a French community, except the fresh produce was virtually non-existent. Not a salad to be had.
The veggies come in from France but won't land at the international airport, as it's on the Dutch side of the island and there must be some taxes or some other deterent. The goods are flown to French Guyana and transferred to a smaller plane that flies in weekly to the local landing strip.  The cauliflowers on display had brown spots and were definitely worse for wear.
After the first few days we discovered that the Dutch markets had lovely fresh produce and we kept making forays to supplement our local diet of Foie-Gras and sugary rum drinks, to keep scurvy at bay. Our hosts told us that they once went to the Dutch produce store but no one spoke French so they don't like it.
Yachts being spruced up for incoming owners.

We went from table to beach, to table, to pool, to table. We had some of the best rose wines, no matter where we were.
YoYo, the iguana, made a surprise appearance by the pool.

Not exactly dressage, but a once in a lifetime moment, nonetheless.

Lovely daughter and I had a private guided ride. We cantered along the sandy beach paths and experienced the joy that these horses have in going into the ocean. They really wanted to go deeper and swim. 
When it was time to head back to the US, we were prepared to leave TAO behind, if he wasn't allowed on the plane. We managed a smooth departure but were a bit apprehensive about  what might lie ahead.
Customs and Immigration in Charlotte, NC, as 2012's last few hours trickled down. Surges of humanity, all with somewhere to be, other than at the airport. A customs agent who took our party of three in turn. 
I remember a song from Sesame Street, "One of these things is not like the other ones. One of these things just doesn't belong", that was how our passports looked; two blue and one burgundy. We were in the US resident queue. Eyebrows were raised. "He is a US citizen" I said. "He just doesn't know where his passport is". "We have a photocopy and his original citizenship certificate. Will that do?" The agent checked in his computer and TAO must have been in there without too many red flags. He considered a moment and let us through. I thanked him heartily and let him know I was aware he could have made our passage much more difficult.
Safely back home in California in the small hours of the first morning of 2013, greeted by temperatures close to freezing. We were as disoriented as if we'd been away for months. 
St Martins is our new favorite destination. We'd go back in a heart-beat.


  1. I feel warmer just from reading your post. We went to Phoenix to visit friends with a stop on the way home at Avila beach to visit a relative. May have been our first excursion away from home over Xmas. May be a future pattern.

  2. I freely admit that I usually much prefer my horse nestled with onions and a good sauce, but your photies are indeed superbly radiant. It sounds like a fantastic wee trip was had by all. Good for you hen.

  3. Beautiful and great to see you got to horse about :) Love the iguana although only on the photo, not keen on such animals in real life!

  4. Looks like paradise, minus the fresh vegetables which I do like very much. Glad you had a wonderful time.

  5. I'm jealous .
    We had the lovely fresh Dutch vegetables alright .... but the north of Holland doesn't do palm trees or riding through the surf , especially not at Christmas
    A perfect holiday !

  6. Silliyak, a spot of sunshine to break winter's back is just the ticket.

    Chef, I didn't include our nastiest menu-item: sea-urchin omelette, made with canned sea-urchin. Manners oblige, but really?

    Wiola, thank you. I did manage a private lesson since my return. Much more on track for me.

    Stephen, I think it was a problem limited to our somewhat provincial hosts. The restaurants had marvelous stuff. I wouldn't want to put you off.

    S&S, I did think of you as I wrote this. Holland has other great Christmas traditions. You don't need palm trees.

  7. Loved the iguana!
    I did laugh at the reason for not going to the Dutch stores, though. Took me back to la belle France in a trice...

  8. looks like you had a great time - although i'd be worried about using a pool that is frequented by a giant iguana

  9. Fly, everyone (but our hosts) is at least bi-lingual over there. English is the common denominator.

    Pixie, it was the "slippery hazards" that the iguana left behind on the edge of the pool that were less than charming. The iguanas are as common as squirrels are here (although a lot slower). We had to stop the car to let them cross the road sometimes.

  10. Beautiful--and to think you have friends there to visit any time they will have you. An amazingly wonderful vacation, and you deserved it.

    As for TAO and are brilliant to have made copies, but I would suspect finding the original or getting a suitable replacement would be a high order of business at this point. Who knows when you may want to jet off to paradise again? *S*

  11. Jean, the passport just showed up. It was in the glove box of TAO's car. He had put it there as back-up ID because he had lost his wallet with his drivers license in it. Sort of a "For want of a nail, the battle was lost" sequence.
    We had a discussion about leaving a note in his passport file next time he decides to store it somewhere obscure. I'm not holding my breath.

  12. Does TAO worry you sometimes or have you given up?

    Whatever, you had a lovely break and that straight after a European trip, you lucky lady. I envy you your top up of sunshine.

    Have a splendid new year.

  13. Friko, I have developed a couple of self-preservation perspectives. One is "I'm not his Mother", another is "This is part of who he is and has always been. A leopard has many other qualities, even if we don't like spots"
    It's also fun to exercise my skills. I'm quite proud to be able to talk my way past US Immigration without a passport.
    I was also fully prepared to leave him there, if he didn't get in.

    1. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! As proud you should be. Very well done!

  14. Sea urchin-omelette? Not even fresh sea-urchin? What kind of a world do we live in?

  15. Chef, Nasty, Nasty, Nasty, it was.

  16. Congratulations on your "Stay Calm" approach to the missing blue passport schtick. Very well done. Your trip sounds as if it was just the ticket and I'm really happy that you made it as a family. I stole that "happy sea horses" photo right off your blog. I'm sure you won't mind. My local area is crawling in equestriany outposts, if that's what it takes to get a visit from you. Of course, it took you 10 years to go see that guy so I won't hold my breathe... Welcome back, painlessly, to the USofA and CA!

  17. I think the passport would have given me a full on anxiety attack, but I'm pretty sure those beautiful beaches would have cured me :)

  18. Ms P. I was missing your input lately.

  19. Sara, I admit that I was less than tranquil in the hours preceding our departure. In addition to passport worries, the day before had reported blizzards across the nation and hundreds of cancelled flights.
    Denial is truly a favored tool. There really is no point freaking out about potential problems which may, or may not, occur. To quote Dorris Day
    "Whatever will be, will be".

  20. Award for you on No need to do anything...just an appreciation of your blog.

  21. oh my.....I can feel the sun...its snowing in London!!

  22. Young Heart, I do follow the European news. Even Cornwall has had snow. So sorry!

  23. Happy to see that you got away to somewhere lovely and had some fun. I hope the memories come in handy when you're tempted to...well, I won't go on.

  24. Deborah, Thank you. Are you still blogging? I've lost sight of your posts.

  25. What a lovely sight this post is to me. We are smack deep in snow and cold weather. I am so JEALOUS.

  26. Maria, a month has gone by, but the memories will linger for a long time. Husband is in the final stages of itching away the sunburn on his legs. (Idiot!)

  27. OMG. I love the name of your blog, its so funny. I will definitely be reading more of your adventures when i lave a little more time. :)

  28. Hi Ms Train Wreck, your name's not so mundane yourself! Welcome. I'm struggling to get some half worked posts to completion.