One Love, One Island
Orient Bay, looking south from Mont Vernon.
I will always remember Saturday April 14, 2018, this was the day I was on the first flight by United Airlines, going back to St. Maarten/St. Martin.
The pilot welcomed us to their inaugural flight. First flight, by United Airline to the island after the devastating hurricane Irma in early September last year.
Landing at Juliana International Airport, on the Dutch side of the island gave me the first impression of what was to come. I knew that the airport terminal was non functional, however arrival and customs process were surprisingly easy and well organized in the air-conditioned tent. Luggage was delivered by hand by friendly airport staff. It appeared that the main terminal was without roof and everything inside, from counters to all electronics had been damaged. It is estimated that it will take two years before it is back to normal operations.
Main Terminal, Juliana International Airport, St. Maarten
Arrival area in an air-condition tent/building next to the main terminal. Departure is to the left and behind the arrival building.
Driving from the airport to my apartment in Hotel Residence Mont Vernon on the French side of the island it became evident that hurricane Irma not only did damage to man-made structures but to the island’s lush vegetation . Looking around, the vegetation was void of that wonderful deep dark green color which dominates tropical countries. It was more like hills scorched by a burning sun, yellow in color and leafless trees. I noticed several houses without roofs and some had broken concrete, some structures totally demolished next to an untouched building. But all in all what stood out was the vegetation. My beloved palm trees barely standing up!
This picture was taken back in 2016 at the same place as the picture below. Same view, except the picture below was taken after IRMA struck the island.
This picture was actually taken in April 2018, almost seven months after Irma made landfall.
When I passed through Grand Case, there were buildings destroyed here and there, but the expensive hotels along the waterfront looked untouched. And luckily the Lolos ( the open restaurants, serving mainly barbecued food ) had either survived or had been rebuilt ready to serve tourists and locals alike.
Finally got to my apartment. I had not been there for close to eight months, due to Irma and the fact that no airline was flying. It was an anxious time.
Hotel Residence Mont Vernon
But, finally here I was. Entering the apartment I realized right away that some cleaning was in order. Spend the rest of Saturday unpacking and cleaning. Besides I was pretty exhausted from the trip, so I stayed in and went to bed early.
Sunday woke up early and had my coffee overlooking Orient Bay, the Saint Tropez of the Caribbean. I went for my walk along the beach, which I have done a hundred times before. But this time it was different.
Places I had frequented in the past was no longer there. None of the many bars and restaurants were there. All gone!
Orient Bay, void of any of the many restaurants and bars that lined the water front.
There the strength of Irma showed its powerful force. All the beach front hotels, restaurants and bars were gone. Not a single one survived.
Not a trace, not even a small reminder or token saying: We were here. We hosted your wedding, your Saturday buffet of all you can eat. Everything lost except the memories.
Here are some of those places that made up those memories and made Orient Bay what it was all about:
The following pictures are from WAIKIKI, one of the larger restaurant and bars along Orient Bay.
Set up at WAIKIKI was an early morning task. Every evening the beach was cleared and the following morning hundred of plastic chairs with red canvas-covered futons and umbrellas were set up again for the next “batch” of Tourists.
Just up the beach behind these rocks were WAIKIKI. Now just the memory. Not a single sign, not even a chair or red cover is to be found.
I continued my walk along Orient Bay, trying to comprehend the devastation and thinking of the people of the island who had to live through it. However you do not necessarily need all these restaurants and bars to enjoy Orient Bay or other beaches on the island, which has ove 30 beaches to enjoy. Sure they were an excape to have some food or just a drink. And people enjoyed that. However St. Martin is much more than eating and drinking. Orient Bay is one of the most beautiful and picturesque beaches in the Caribbean. It has the best kite surfing, excellent windsurfing as well as other sports. Not to mention the bay itself with its crystal clear azure waters is always georgious to look at and if you feel inclined to take a quick or for that matter a long dip in the luke warm water, it’s right there at your feet where the water meets the sand!
The whole island was affected by the hurricame. Some areas less affected than others, nevertheless everybody on the island was affected. If your place of residence was still standing after the hurricane passed, the real challenge came in its aftermath. How to cope with no water and electricity in a modern society, where we take municipal services such as those for granted? The many people I interviewed, told me “Irma was nothing compared to what was to follow”. Namely living for several weeks without running water and electricity. Food was scarce as grocery stores were damaged, rationing and looting.
Warehouse in the Hope Estate area.
Front of the RIU resort in Anse Marcel. Notice the roof missing.
The lobby behind the pillar facade in the above picture.
What used to be a restaurant in downtown Marigot
Building in downtown Marigot, before Irma
Building in downtown Marigot, after Irma
Some buildings escaped the destructive winds of Irma, as the above pictures show. Buildings you would think would collapse at the first gust of wind compared to recently build structures that did not survive the close to 400 km wind speed.
However, I would like to end this on a positive note. Most people I talked to are very optimistic about the future. They are sure that the island will once again become what it was before Irma made landfall. Little by little, each day brings the island closer to that reality. Tremendous progress has been made, but there is a formidable task ahead to rebuild the island. The cruise lines are now making regular calls to Philipsburg on the Dutch side. This brings a lot of people to the island. This is good for tour operators and shops in Philipsburg as well as Marigot on the French side. But it is just for a few hours, at the end of the day the floating hotels depart, saying goodbye to the island and the transient tourist are gone. Restaurant and bars sits empty again! The island’s infrastructure relies on tourists. Tourism which is the lifeblood of the island is only very slowly beginning to return. However with so many hotel rooms gone due to the descruction of Irma, the number of tourists that come for a week or longer find accommodations is very limited. So many resorts and hotels are closed and when they will reopen is anybody’s guess.
Not officially, but most people I talked to, think it will take two to five years before the island is back to what it was before Irma struck.
One important thing that I left to the very last, so it will have an ever lasting impression, is that the weather has not changed! That is one thing Irma did not change. The weather on St.Maarten/St. Martin is still a warm average of 28 degree celsius ( 82˚ F ) year round, day and night.
After all most of us go to the Caribbean for the sunny, warm weather. Correct? And perhaps an ice cold beer!
See you soon on St. Maarten/St. Martin. And for my STAR WARS fans don’t forget to visit the Yoda Guy’s museum on Front street in Phillipsburg.
I love this island!
About the pictures: all pictures are taken my myself and are not enhanced or color corrected in any way.