One month ago to the day, there I was, sitting in Miami International Airport preparing to board a flight to Sint Maarten. I was in a position of knowledge, having closely followed and written about the island every day since Hurricane Irma hit. And even though I’d been reading and writing about things for nearly four months, I was still uncertain of what my experience would be like.
— SXM Strong 🇸🇽💪 (@SXMStrong) December 27, 2017
Deep down, under all the excitement and emotion, was a nervous anxiety. As the plane came into land at Princess Juliana International Airport, it all came back to me. You know, that feeling of flying into SXM, looking out the window desperately trying to catch your first glance of the island, and then peering down at Maho Beach as you fly over. It happens so fast.
In the days that followed, I spent a lot of time touring the entire island. I drove around it at least once every day over the seven days I was there, some days more than once. I went to Orient Beach, Pinel Island, Grand Case, Friar’s Bay, Marigot, Sandy Ground, Baie Rouge, Cupecoy, Maho, Simpson Bay, Philipsburg, Pointe Blanche, Middle Region, and both French and Dutch Quarters. Click on any of the links to see the video.
I visited restaurants, bars, local businesses, and more, trying to meet people and find out how I could help. Every day — with the exception of New Years Day, when I got a chair at Chez Raymond’s and just relaxed — was filled with movement and learning.
I listened as people told me about their Irma experiences, with one couple recalling how they were sitting huddled with family in a bathroom for over seven hours, laying in a bathtub under a mattress, surrounded by pillows. No electricity, just the sound of wind, rain, and loud banging as who knows what slammed into their home, while they embraced in darkness and fear.
And as that conversation unfolded, I glanced to the side, tears welling in my eyes, to see the beauty of Saint Martin. The sea looked stunning that day, just as it did every day I was there. But at that moment, it looked more beautiful than I had ever seen.
To understand what it was like being in Saint Martin during Irma is impossible. But listening to people tell their story gave me an understanding, a unique insight. You see, it’s different sitting with someone, looking into their eyes, seeing their emotion as they tell you a story about how they sat in darkness, fearing for their lives, with absolutely no way to communicate with anyone, including people who happened to be in the same room.
The noise from the storm was so loud, the danger so eminent, that trying to have a conversation with someone who sat inches from you was nearly impossible. Try to imagine that. See, impossible.
One moment, you’re scrambling around trying to get last minute supplies from the store, the next thing you know you’re surrounded by water. The phones don’t work and all you want to do is call your mom to see if her and your son are doing ok. Standing on furniture as the water comes up to your neck, sensing your doom, only to have the water slowly recede. The gift of another day on earth will be yours.
These are but just a few of the many thousands of stories of survival from Hurricane Irma. But whatever you do, don’t feel pity. The resiliency shown by the people of Saint Martin is awe-inspiring. To look around and see the progress that has been made since that fateful day is nothing short of unbelievable.
Every beach I toured wasn’t just swimmable, they were pristine. On Orient Beach, where structures once stood, you could still see debris from the buildings, but that is back off the beach and not near or in the water. That was pretty impressive considering what the island had been through.
All of the roads are clear, and it’s easy to drive a car anywhere you want to go. A lot of businesses were open, and the ones that were still closed were mostly hard at work repairing and preparing to open soon. Since my trip, Piazza Pascale and Rainbow Cafe have both reopened in Grand Case. They join Spiga, La Villa, Sky is the Limit, Scooby’s, Talk of the Town, Bistros Caraibes, and others that have reopened (video here).
Yes, this island has changed, but think of it like this: Remember the first time you visited the island? You didn’t have favorites yet. Go back with that frame of mind. I saw that posted on Facebook and I couldn’t agree more.
How often in life do we get the chance to redefine things, meaningful things? How many times do you wish you could just start over, begin fresh?
Hurricane Irma has given Saint Martin a new start. A new beginning. If you love raw nature, beauty in it’s most basic element, then do yourself a favor and go to Saint Martin. I assure you that you won’t believe how much your favorite island has changed. You’ll find yourself loving the island and it’s people more than you ever did.
The beauty of Saint Martin is thriving. Don’t miss it.
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