Comments, criticisms, or (one can hope) compliments are more than welcome! Please let me know what you think, tell me I'm crazy (I suspect this) or what you'd like to hear about. Comments are screened before publication, so if you want to share something with me only, just put that in the comment and I'll keep it to myself.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Hold On to Your Hat

Bernard of Clairvaux - Abbot, Theologian & Poet (1153)


This morning we arrived at Phillipsburg, St. Maarten, the only of our cruise stops to which I have been before.  In 2000 I was on a cruise on the Norwegian Sky that called here, and in 1998, my family rented a condominium on the island's southern coast for a week.

Much of my focus on St. Maarten centers around the airport.  On our way to our first visit, a combination of ineptitude and lack of information on the part of US AIr led to our being stranded in San Juan's airport. Both the ticket counter of US Air and our connecting carrier LIAT were abandoned at 3 in the afternoon, and when I finally roused a young woman by shouting "hello!" through the open doorway into the office, she half-listened to my story and then said casually, "All the flights are full.  You come back tomorrow night."

In those pre-9/11 days I was a little more, um, assertive with airline people than I would be now, and my family unanimously elected me to make it clear to US Air that spending over 24 hours of our vacation in this airport was not an acceptable option.  There were a bunch of sightseeing companies with planes for hire right there in the terminal, with tanned pilot types standing around doing nothing, so I asked the ticket agent why one of them could not bring us the short distance to St. Maarten.

"Oh, it's very expensive," she said dismissively.

I went for broke.  "Not for ME, it won't be. I already paid to get THERE, not HERE, and at this point I don't care if you have to BUY the plane.  Go ask somebody."

Apparently realizing at that point I was not going to give up, she shuffled off to make some phone calls, probably interrupting several more naps and finally speaking to the airline's headquarters in Virginia before returning with the pretty startling news that they could -- in fact -- pay one of these planes to get us to our destination, leaving within the hour.  I was pretty proud of myself, until I saw the plane:

Mom, Dad and our pilot with the Air Culebra Piper Aztec we
flew from San Juan to St. Maarten in 1998
This thing had none of the stuff I associate with planes.  There were no walkway or even stairs to get into it: you trotted across the tarmac, stepped on the wing and dropped right into your seat. There was no aisle, no bathroom, and no flight attendant.  And even if there had been one, there was no beer for him to grab if he decided he'd had enough of us and made a break for it.

Once my parents and sisters were settled in, the only seat left for me was right inside that open door, i.e. that normally reserved for the co-pilot! 

"Don't touch anything!" my sister stage-whispered from the third (and last) row.  Yeah, not a problem.  My experience skippering one of these puppies was limited to the Microsoft variety, and I was not about to try to change that now, even in the highly unlikely event that it was offered.  I contented myself with alternatively holding on for dear life and taking pictures to the degree that I could.  Our pilot pointed out Culebra, the small island in between Puerto Rico and St. Maarten where he lived, and then -- asking if I wanted a photo -- tilted the plane to get the wing out of the shot.  Um, thanks!

Now, I'll say this.  If you had asked me under different circumstances if I wanted to go up in a plane the size of a Volkswagen Microbus, I would have most likely laughed at you over my shoulder as I hurried back towards the sane people.  But when that plane was the only thing standing between me and a night on a drab gray chair trying to drown out 24 screens of CNN, I didn't think twice about it, and I don't think anybody in the family did either.  And -- having done so -- I can tell you it was an awesome ride, especially being able to look right out the front as we approached St. Maarten and landed again.

Air France A340 about to land.  Thanks to Gina for this shot.
The Princess Juliana International Airport is on the Dutch half of St. Maarten (the French spell it St. Martin), and its single runway begins just a dozen yards or so from the famous Maho Beach, where planespotters delight in the jets thundering close overhead as they  are about to land.  Supposedly people used to also hang on the fence when an airliner was getting ready to talk off (the prevailing wind is normally such so that flights take off and land with their backs to the beach) and then allowed the accelerating engines to blow them backwards towards the water, but now there are signs warning against such activity.

There are bars at either end of the beach with the flight timetables posted and radios tuned to the conversation between jets and the tower. We had intended to spend some time there today, but we ended up only being able to pass by it.  Friends from our cruise got to enjoy it, however, and shared some of their photos with me.

Instead, a Certain Party -- who does not beach -- and I contented ourselves with crepes at a sidewalk cafe in Marigot, on the French side.  But next time I'm bringing my earplugs and making a day of it.

No comments:

Post a Comment