The following is a classic example of how, when I'm leaving some 'exotic' location, I sometimes say "well I'll never be back here again" as those words seem to ensure that I will be !
In December of 2005, Deb, Den and I went on a cruise which took in 9 Southern Caribbean islands. One of the first was St. Maarten or to be more accurate, Sint Maarten as we went to the southern half which belong to The Netherlands and not the northern half which belong to Ze French ! Zut alors.
With our cruise ship berthed with several others at Wathey Pier, we got a water taxi across Great Bay to the capital 'city' of Philipsburg. We strolled along the main street with all its gaudy tourist shops and then hit the beach for a spot of R&R before heading back to the ship.
You don't get much time when visiting 9 islands on a cruise !
It was only when we were sailing to our next destination that I remembered the main claim to fame of Sint Maarten, namely Princess Juliana International Airport, or more precisely, its airstrip.
Yes this is the airport where pilots have to come in so low over the beach that lies just by the start of the airstrip that those on the beach can almost touch the undercarriage. Then when large jets are taking off, they use the same airstrip and as they increase power for the start of takeoff, the hardy, or foolhardy souls on the beach line up to be blasted back down the beach and, in some case, end up in the water.
None seem to care that a stone or other object could also be blown back at them with potentially fatal results. This is the jackass generation after all and they live for the thrill.
So in 2005 as we headed towards another awesome Caribbean sunset, I uttered those infamous departing words as I really did want to return to go onto that beach when a large jet was landing. I really didn't think it would happen though.
Fast forward to April 2010 and as part of a more relaxing cruise (only 4 islands this time), we were back in Sint Maarten. This time I wasn't going to miss the opportunity of going to the airport and Maho Beach and so we hired a taxi and went straight there. As they approach the beach, car drivers have to look carefully to make sure no planes are about to take off or else they could end up closer to the beach than they'd like to be.
Our driver dropped us off at the Sunset Bar, just past the beach and we walked back to the mid point to wait for the Air France jet that was due to land just after noon. As the time approached, the word soon went around those on the beach and all eyes scanned Simpson Bay towards the horizon. Suddenly a sharp eyed kid next to us said he saw it and in no time the dot became a recognisable plane.
I was poised with my still camera and passed my video camera to Deb so we'd be sure to record the event one way or another......or even both. I wanted to pan around to follow the plane to get the classic view I'd seen so often on the internet. I also wanted to zoom in as much as possible so the plane would fill the viewfinder but in doing so, I overcooked it and chopped off the tail of the plane !
I was so annoyed with myself and although I fired off a series of photos, this was the side view I really wanted to be perfect. Hey ho.
Maybe third time lucky ! Who knows.
Not long afterwards, a large jet taxied to the end of the airstip close to the beach, turned around and lit up its afterburners ! From the relative safety of the side of the beach, we watched dozens of people lining up to be blown away and getting their wish. Some did in fact get blown into the water but I think theyere showing off and did the last few yards themselves with no help from the rapidly departing jet.
It was quite an experience and one I'll remember for a long time. Worth going back for !