All of a sudden it became reality here on our tiny little piece of paradise as well…COVID-19.
Sint Martin/Saint Martin is a 37 square mile island in the Caribbean and we are the smallest territory on the planet that is shared by 2 nations: The Dutch and the French. 2 countries, 2 governments but open borders. Well that was about to change.
Being the Location Manager of Flavors Food Tours on Sint Martin I have a very busy and diverse job which I love. I was in the middle of our high season, touring, training guides and generally doing whatever needed to be done to help ensure that Flavors Food Tours was going to have a great season after our disastrous IRMA storm of 2017. This was not to be.
First there was confusion and general disbelief and then the run on toilet paper, water and hand sanitizer started. You have to understand that all items, perishables and non perishables, are imported either by plane from USA, Europe and by boat from our neighboring islands. Unless you ‘grow your own’ you are reliant on import.
The visitors still on the island were trying to go home and when they were mostly gone the airport went into hibernation. Only allowing military and emergency flights to land. This meant that most necessities now had to come in via the Port. Luckily, we have a very organized Port that is used to dealing with up to 6 cruise ships and cargo vessels docking in 1 day. The Port quickly put in place the needed protective measures and protocols to enable food and toilet paper to arrive for the Sint Martin people. Toilet paper has become famous beyond belief and the jokes about it are a plenty.
All of a sudden Sint Maarten was quiet. Eerie quiet. No tourists, no cruise ships, no one on the beaches, no mega yachts and no traffic! This was supposed to be our high season! December 1 until June 1 is when we boom! Then we have hurricane season, but that is another story.
What really demonstrated the impact of this lock down is when the border between the Dutch side and the French side closed unless you have special permission, via a Travel Waiver, which has to be signed by the Prefet, (French State Representative) and the PM or Chief of Police of the Dutch side. The police forces of both sides are at the borders controlling. State of Emergency! Hey, we have the following law enforcement here: Dutch side: Police Force, Dutch Military Police called The Marrechausee, The VKS, voluntary core and 23 Dutch Marines permanently on island and then the extra Dutch Marines who are here to assist during these times. On the French side the Police Municipal and the Gendarmes, the French Military Traffic Police. So, when you are stopped at the border you are subjected to quite a lot of different uniforms in one place! It is not confusing for us but for outsiders it is quite puzzling.
I have to admit that I was prepared 2 weeks before the actual lock down. Having owned a hotel/restaurant in the past I always have enough toilet paper for a month. But the hand sanitizer was a different story. This was sold out in pharmacies and the larger cash & carry establishments. Not to worry, I knew where I could find pure alcohol and after having gone on line I quickly put together a recipe for homemade hand sanitizer. I got on my bicycle and went to Back Street in Philipsburg. Philipsburg is the capitol of the Dutch side of Sint Martin. On Back Street we have more beauty shops than anywhere in the world, I think. All the neighboring islands come to us for their bulk shopping and Caribbean ladies love their hair, nails and make up. Lucky for me! I bought 2 gallons of pure alcohol, put them in the saddle bags of my bike and peddled home where I made loads of wonderful home-made hand sanitizer. Alcohol, Coconut oil and a little Lemon Grass essential oil and voila! Then I realized I needed pumping stations. No problem, Backstreet again, where there are lots of Chinese stores and I managed to by cute, flowery pumping station which are now all over the house, in the elevator and the car. Plastic fantastic says the girl who is an avid Nature Foundation supporter!
Food is one of my 3 loves in my life. Together with ‘My Dave’ and swimming. I swim every day and am very lucky because I live on Great Bay Beach. Food; I am used to being very well stocked up in normal times but now I went crazy! We live in a 5-story apartment building called Ocean’s and since I manage a few of the units I am able to use a few fridges. Believe me, they are in good use! We, on Sint Martin, are so spoiled because we can buy real Dutch Cheese, Dutch Cookies and fresh Baguette all the time and any product from USA, Canada, India…. you name it, we have it! You just have to be able to afford it. I bought 4 baguettes and, as usual, portioned them, put them in zip lock bags and in the freezer they go. Baguette is basically the only bread I eat. Then butter. Oh lala, I have an extreme soft spot for French Butter from Bretagne which has to be lightly salted! So, 8 packs and in the freezer they go. Fish, meat and ice cream…. all in bulk and in the freezer. By this time, I was using another units’ freezer as well since mine was full, full, full.
The first 2 weeks were spent getting used to the new way of life: not going anywhere, not working, being scared, watching the news, Facebook updates and generally being completely stumped by what was happening all over the world! The Sint Martin people are extremely resilient but have a hard time adhering to authority. The lock down is not easily manageable here. We are a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands and hence receive aid from our mother country. This is in the form of financial aid and the Dutch Marines, the eye candy ladies, who assist in keeping order on the island. But the Marines were not here yet! So, a 24-hr. curfew was put in place. The government finally organized 3 days a week where we can go shopping for essentials…read between the lines here. In the Caribbean this means chatting to all the friends and family as well and getting in the car to ‘have a look around the island’. The challenge of the Caribbean culture practicing Social Distancing is pretty big. We have over 100 nationalities on this island and some cultures think that this virus is a Curse. Well, it is, but not in the way they believe it to be. Very challenging. The government finally also put out notifications in Spanish. Oh the trials and tribulations of living in a multi-cultural society which by the way is one of the wonderful aspects of Sint Martin/Saint Martin.
For me, personally, I had to change gears quickly and I did by starting every day with an hour of Yoga! Yoga for stress relief works great! I still had this video saved because I used it after IRMA B! (The B is not for Baby, by the way.) Figuring out how to plan meals because that is something I never did. I love cooking and usually cook whatever I feel like that day. My Dave is a lucky man.
Yoga, planning meals and cleaning house and then what? Reading is another wonderful pass time and I have read so much that I do not even know what I have read. Sanding and varnishing our wooden doors which was much needed… How about the swimming: Well, I cheated. Bathing suit, ear plugs in, goggles, swim cap, towel around me and mask on and walk around the building to the beach for a swim and then straight back home. Normally I can go out the back door and straight onto the beach. With regard to safety we, the owners of Ocean’s, have blocked our Beach Entrance. Great Bay is surreal at this time! There is no one, but no one in the water! No jet ski’s, no crowd on the beach having Rum Fun in the Sun…just quiet. Well, the Coastguard did not look kindly upon my swimming….I hear nothing with the ear plugs in so it took the Coastguards’ siren and megaphone to get my attention. Long story short, I was told to swim back to where our building, Ocean’s, is and go home. When I got home, I phoned my girlfriend, who happens to be my doctors’ assistant and the next day, I had a prescription that I need to swim! This is true as well since I have Stacia and swimming is one of the cures. Prescription in a Zip Loc bag and tied around my waist and off I go. I have not been stopped again though. Another cure for any back issues is love making…very good as well but I do not need a prescription for this and we have plenty of time. Whatever your situation during this horrible time folks, try to keep the humor please!
Food, food, food and Flavors Food Tours. All of Global Flavors locations, the 3 other locations being San Juan, St. Thomas and Atlanta, decided to start writing more Blogs and posting videos on YouTube. Such fun pastime as well! I had never, ever filmed myself cooking and it was quite funny and took a few takes to get it half way decent. Lucky for me, our colleague Lisa from St. Thomas is a whiz where editing is concerned so all I have to do is deliver the goods. Baking bread, making my own pizza, brewing my own Root tea and coming up with 50 ways to use Pasta! Putting together fruit salads every day to keep our immune system up to par. For me, the lock down itself is not such a terrible thing since I love all the pass times I have summed up. What is difficult is not being able to go out on the road for Flavors Food Tours and have my daily dose of foody fun with our guests!
Our lock down has been extended until May 17 and then we should have a slow return to a completely different Sint Maarten. It will be very interesting to see how the Caribbean fares but we have hope, 37 beaches and over 300 restaurants!
Be safe, be happy and above all stay healthy! Foody love from Ankie. Location Manager of Flavors of St. Martin Food Tours!
Article written by Ankie Nieuwenhoven