Shoreside Fun on St. Maarten

It’s a thin strip of sand wedged in between the teal Caribbean Sea on one side and a narrow road, fence and the end of a runway on the other. And conditions are perfect — for a lot of things. The weather is the finest it’s been in a week: hot sun in a cloudless sky and just enough breeze to lull you off your guard and make you think that you are, in fact, not getting scorched. As are many hundreds of others, drawn out by the proximity of sun, sand, beach bars and commercial aviation.

Among the throngs are an enormous percentage of Europeans, and that’s both good and bad. Good, given the miniscule (and often topless) bikinis worn by the females of the species; bad, given the European lack of familiarity with the notion of individual space: while sitting on the beach reading, I was surrounded — literally — by an extended family of French folks. One, seemingly the elder statesman of the bunch, just put his towel ON my foot before slidiing it three inches to my left and then settling in with a cigarette and a puddle of suntan lotion. If I understood French better, I could easily be adopted by the family, and one of the beach vendors just told me about the deal on gems and jewelry in Phillipsburg I could put to use for my lovely women. Whatever.

The Euros also bring with them their unique fashion sense. In addition to the aforementioned and much-appreciated tiny bikinis (sue me), there’s also the comedy of a man in designer denim-and-leather cut-off shorts (I am not making this up), Jackie O sunglasss and a tramp stamp. There are, of course, far too many men with large paunches hanging over their tiny Speedo-type suits, and even one guy who’s 300 pounds if he’s an ounce bodysurfing in gym shorts. Some of the finest people-watching in the world here.

And then there are the airliners. As they come in for landing on the adjacent runway, they pass by at maybe 30 to 50 feet overhead. It’s amazing to watch something that big actually flying. Thus far we’ve seen Cessna Caravans and DeHavilland Twin Otters, along with 737s, 757s and Airbuses, but here comes the big boy: Air France’s four-engine jumbo. Wow! WAY impressive, even if you’re not an airplane nerd like I am.

On take off, the real fun ensues. Jets taxi into position and bring their engines up to full power on the displaced threshold, perhaps a plane length and change from the fence beside the road. As the jets spool up, the wash throws everything behind them — pebbles and trash on the runway, sand on the beach, water on the surface of the sea and even tourists holding on to the fence for dear life — into the ocean. It’s equal parts comedy and, quite often, tragedy. There are undoubtedly some Darwin Award winners in the group holding on to the fence; search YouTube for “St. Martin airport” and see what you find.

And before you ask: yes, this Darwin Award winner went out there in the wash behind an American Airlines 757. Hey…when in Rome, right?

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