Our very kind host at our Playa del Carmen Airbnb delivered us to the ADO bus station, and within moments Aaron and I were on a nice, large tour bus headed for Cancun. I have forgotten the exact cost, but I'm pretty sure that the 2-hour nonstop excursion to the airport didn't run more than $8 US per person.
At the airport, we had a small issue. Apparently when we paid the 500 pesos per person to enter Mexico a couple of weeks before, they had issued us paperwork that we were supposed to keep. I distinctly remember throwing it away, since I didn't want to carry around more stuff than I needed. Well, it turns out that it was needed.
Next time, I'll pay more attention. We had to fill out the same forms again, which wasn't a huge deal. What was kind of a bigger deal was that we had to pay 500 pesos each again. Thankfully, I still had that much cash on me, but it was a bummer to part with around $60 US unnecessarily.
I nearly went crazy on a family mid-air after one of their children spit on me (she was trying to spit on her brother... but still... ugh). Unfortunately, we had to go through customs and security in Miami, even though we were headed back out of the U.S. again. Aaron told me to run ahead because he had gate checked his guitar and would have to wait for it to be unloaded. I understood that he would meet me at customs. I waited and waited, but never saw him. Finally, after becoming certain I must have missed him and even more certain that I was about to miss the flight to Saint-Martin, I went on through and ran like a track star to the gate. He hadn't been able to find me and had headed on there to wait. Our flight was a bit delayed, so all was well and I had a few moments to compose myself again.
Around 9 p.m., we arrived in Sint Maarten, the Dutch side of the island. After going through customs, we were unhappy to see that TSA had inspected our checked bag and not bothered to close it properly. It was whirling around the baggage claim half open, our stuff scattered about the carousel. We scanned the area for our belongings, stuffed them in the bag, and thankfully saw the bag that contained our shoes just as we were leaving.
The delay meant that the rental car area was deserted. A few airport workers remained, and they managed to find someone to take us to the area where the cars actually were, a small drive down the road. A little bit of luck was shining on us. The driver lamented how far we would have to drive, all the way to the other side of the island where the French rule and its name is spelled Saint-Martin. After we got the car, it took us about 30 minutes. What a trek! :-)
Our accommodations were at a huge development called Mont Vernon, which I doubt is much like the Mount Vernon that was inhabited by George Washington. There were buildings and buildings along the mountainside, named after various Caribbean islands, looking down to Orient Bay.
During our stay in Saint-Martin, Aaron and I spent the most time at Orient Bay, on the island's east side. It was a nice walk from our place, and a beautiful beach, even if they were contending with the smelly sargassum seaweed that had also plagued beaches in Belize and Mexico. The water was a beautiful clear blue-green, and several islands could be seen across the bay.
We visited one of those islands, taking a short $10 Euro per person ferry across (they use Euros on the French side, and primarily U.S. dollars or the Antillean Guilder on the Dutch side). Pinel Island was a lovely little uninhabited mountainous spot. We hiked around most of it, then settled at the area near the ferry where there were two beachside restaurants, taking a dip in the water to cool off.
Another day, we headed to Friar's Beach, a calm, clear spot on the island's north side. The northern beaches didn't have the seaweed of the eastern beaches, and have very few waves. Taking a short trail on the east side of the beach, we climbed through an iguana-filled wonderland to Happy Bay Beach, a rocky and isolated spot with few visitors. Snorkeling was fun there, with little schools of colorful fish about the rocks.
We explored other beaches on the island, including Cupecoy and Grand Anse, but our favorite besides Orient Beach was the one along the town of Grand Case, also on the island's north side. There were patches literally covered with sea glass, and we spent two full days gathering pounds of it to take home. It was a fun treasure-hunting adventure, and each day after our "work" we relaxed at a LoLo restaurant, which is basically a local open-air diner.
There was delicious food to be found at the grocery store, too. I ate far too many buttery croissants and way too much Emmenthaler cheese. It was amazing to see how many items were imported all the way from France, including milk, cheese, fresh mushrooms, yogurt, and much, much more. Things are pretty pricey there, and I'm sure that trek across the Atlantic doesn't help. Another thing I noted in Belize, Mexico, and Saint-Martin is the lack of refrigeration. All the milk sold in Mexico and Saint-Martin is shelf stable, meaning you don't have to refrigerate it until you open it, and all the eggs in all three locales are stored unrefrigerated. Think of the energy we would save if we did the same in the U.S.!
Our time in Saint-Martin was so enjoyable that we extended it to a second week, and considered staying a third. We thought about heading to Puerto Rico or Miami as next stops. I'm not entirely sure why, but we decided on Tucson, Arizona instead. We truly had no idea what a fantastic idea that would turn out to be. We left Saint-Martin on Sunday, September 3, and it was sadly hit by Hurricane Irma at category 5 strength on Wednesday, September 6. I have no idea what the state of Mont Vernon is, but the latest news says that 70% of the homes on Saint-Martin were badly damaged or destroyed. And of course, Puerto Rico was hit and Florida is currently under siege. We're thanking our lucky stars to be at 2,400 feet above sea level in the Sonoran desert.