White Christmas trees line the beach.
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.
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.
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.