“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains the unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” – Nelson Mandela

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Floating off the coast of Orient Bay.

It’s been a rough 9 days adjusting back into my routine but I have finally stopped expecting to hear the ocean outside every door and window. I have been to Sint Maarten three time now and each time it gets harder and harder to come back.

Getting there leaves you feeling like you spent 24 hours raving in some sort of tubeular disco with babies and bad drugs since you often depart around midnight. It’s beyond worth it, there’s nothing like collapsing in a chaise on your balcony after two 4 hour flights and a 2 to 12 hour layover in someplace as unfortunate as the Ft Lauderdale airport to soak in this view.

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The View from our room at Oyster Bay Beach Resort

The flights and layovers this time around were fairly painless except for not being able to sleep on the red eye flight. US Airways has the shortest seat belts I have come across. I rarely ever need a seat belt extender and if I do it’s because it barely wont clip. The seat belts on all 4 flights were really short. It’s kind of nice to know that the next time I fly that I wont have to even think about if I will need an extender.

We rented a couple of cars and my mom, nephew and I ended up with a Toyota Yaris that had bad breaks, a transmission I was sure was going to go, and had no power which is kind of an issue on an island that is nothing but hills.

I was determined this trip to spend as much time in the water as possible and I am pretty sure I achieved my goal. I earned the nickname Baywatch from my sister because I kept having to save people in our party from drowning. The first of which was my poor mom in what was probably the funniest moment of the trip.

I bought an iPhone and Lifeproof case specifically to be able to film and take pictures in the water. As I was showing my mom a video I had taken we failed to notice that a pretty decent size wave was coming for us. Since I am considerably taller than my 5′ mom the wave slapped her in the face while I just stood on my tip toes to keep it out of mine.

We both start laughing and as I am cackling and yelling out to my sister “did you see mom get hit by that wave?” a second wave knocks her off balance causing me to laugh so hard no sound is coming out and I can barely breathe. All of us are dying laughing while I am trying to help her up another waive has knocked her to her knees and myself off balance, causing an effect similar to that of trying to pick up a greased watermelon out of the water. The next thing I know a waive has knocked her face first into the water and all I can think about is oh fuck how are we going to explain that we let mom drown in like 3 feet of water (my mom has Parkinson’s and her drowning was a big fear of everyones). At that point I just grabbed for whatever I could get a grip on which happened to be the straps of her swimsuit and I hoisted her out of the water like Mufasa raising Simba to the sun À la The Lion King.

My Mom was saved and we all laughed so hard our sides hurt. My sister was like all I see is you picking mom up by her swim suit and her little legs kicking trying to find the ground.

The island is surrounded by reef so everywhere you go you will likely run into fish or some other marine life. I was supposed to spend 4 or 5 days with Octopus Diving getting my PADI scuba certification and taking an underwater photography course. However because of my size my primary care doctor ordered a lung test and that test came back positive for Asthma which caused me not to pass the necessary physical. I didn’t want them to have to refund all of my money so I booked a snorkeling trip with them instead.

I showed up on Monday and the wonderful and kind owner Sally got me fitted for fins and a mask, and then sent me and 5 others off with JT our captain/guide for the afternoon.

Octopus Diving is on the French side of the island in Grande Case, and the water on the french side as we departed was clear and smooth. We took a short 5 minute ride out to Creole Rock which is a French nature reserve.

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The view leaving Octopus Diving

I couldn’t wait to get out in the water and jumped over the side of the boat into a cloud of colorful fish, and tiny little baby Jellyfish. Once I found out that they couldn’t sting I rather enjoyed swimming through them and looking at there iridescent veins that changed colors and sparkled in the sun.

The fish at Creole Rock

The fish at Creole Rock

We got to spend an over an hour at each location, and I could have spent all day at Creole Rock. I got super excited as I saw a Cuttlefish crawl out from some rocks and change colors to perfectly blend in with his surroundings I thought he was an Octopus at first but was informed otherwise by someone in our group. The water at Creole Rock is about 30 feet so I didn’t get a close look at him but it was still pretty cool to see him dramatically change colors.

The guy diving in the video was our guide JT and he was down there for forever before he had to come up for a breath. It was pretty impressive.

We went to Turtle Reef next which was about 10 minutes away from Creole Rock, 30 feet deep, and out in the middle of the current with nothing around. There were lots of fish here including a puffer. One person in our group saw a turtle but they were over 100 yards away from me when they called “TURTLE” so by the time I got over there he was gone.

The next day a handful of us went out to check out Le Galion which is considered the children’s beach because it’s barely enough water to float in for at least 100 yards off shore. It was mostly sea grass with clusters of rocks that housed tons of tiny little colorful fish. At one point I ended up being circled by 8″ yellow and blue fish (I thought I had gotten video but failed to notice I put my phone in the float backwards so all you could see was orange). It was a really cool area but it had tons of trash in the water which made me really sad.  I came really close to what I thought was a bigish sized jelly fish only to find when I calmed down that it was one of those cheap shower caps you get from a hotel.

Hands down my favorite day of the trip and possibly my favorite day ever was Wednesday when we chartered a 46′ catamaran with Private Yacht Charters called the Seaduction. My poor mom ended up sea sick with our first mate Toni taking care of her most of the day so we could get off the boat and enjoy the surroundings. We went to Creole Rock again which was fine by me since I knew the kids would get to see a lot of cool stuff there.

After that we were off to Penile Island. We had lunch on the boat and then our captain Johann took my Mom and nephew ashore to shop for souvenirs while we snorkeled the reefs. We saw a starfish and the kids saw a cluster of lobsters.

Next we were off to the place I had been looking forward to all day, the island of Tintamarre. We were told there was a 98% chance that we would see turtles and I was hoping this wasn’t just a sales pitch.

When we went to Turtle Reef JT told us to be ready when the boat stops because your most likely to see turtles when you first get there because they are curious about the boat, so before they could even pull the chain for the steps when we got to Tintamarre I had my flippers and mask on ready to go.

As I jumped in I was radiating the thought come to me my turtle friends swim with me! Over and over again. We hadn’t been in the water for more than 5 minutes when we saw the first one. I had just started running film on a stingray I had found when Chris yelled turtle. I paddled as quickly as I could. Tjhe water was probably 50 to 60 feet deep so he looked like a rock with flippers. As everyone else in our group made it over to where we were the turtle began to surface and I had to try not to bump into him he got so close to Ty and I before he took off away from us.

Coming up for some air.

Coming up for some air.

We saw at least 4 or 5 more turtles. At one point I could see three at once. Then I shot two of the most amazing things I have ever captured. I hung out over two different turtles for 15 minutes each with my finger on the shutter button waiting for them to surface and praying for the right light and angles. As I was swimming after these fantastic creatures I had one of the moments you swear is a dream.

After about an hour I reluctantly swam back in so we could make the journey back to our harbor and the rest of the night was spent riding the high of that experience.

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The quote I used for this blog really reminds me of the refection I did while I was there, and how I have changed since the first time I visited the island. Three years ago I was deep into a heavy dance regimen for the first time in years, bored  with the job I was in, but otherwise feeling alive again for the first time in a long time. Last year I went alone, was unemployed, terrified and unsure what the future held, and not really sure of my worth to society because I had been defined by my job for so long. I came this year on the edge of a giant cliff of change, looking back at how much I have grown, and pleasantly pondering how I will have changed by the next time I return.

I apologize for the super long travel post but I figured since they are off topic of the main theme of the blog I figured I would just make them one long blog per trip so those uninterested can easily skip over it. The next post will be back to our same bat time same bat station.

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