The cruise ship pulls into the broad sweeping bay of Philipsburg, Dutch St Maarten in the Caribbean.
We have not booked any particular excursion today, but have decided to explore at leisure on our own – this turns out to have been a good decision as doing an organised excursion every day in the heat can be exhausting, and we need to have a bit more of a rest.
The weather is gloriously hot and the view spectacular. We set off on foot away from the ship, walking along the road towards the town.
An excellent pharmacy presents itself, and we buy some much needed after-sun cream, for where we have already burned our inexperienced skin.
The general feel of St Maarten is favourable – it looks much more developed and wealthy than Barbados, where we have been staying. Also the weather is better – Barbados was disappointingly cloudy and windy.
As we wander along the promenade alongside the wonderful broad beach, we find that the place is not very busy. The beach is largely empty and only a few tourists like ourselves wander along the beachfront of shops, cafés and bars.
A local woman laden down with brightly coloured bags and scarves, carried on her back and head and in her arms, accosts us good-naturedly, asking that we inspect her wares. We have already purchased so many souvenirs on our travels that we turn her away.
The beach broadens out, and we are offered a wonderful view of our ship in its dock across the bay. There are some palm trees on the beach and white sun-loungers and umbrellas arranged all along it.
I take some excellent photos featuring the ship, the sea, the palm trees and the empty sun-loungers. They are to become my favourite of the whole Caribbean holiday. Such definitive, clichéd shots of an island paradise that they could easily be used on the front of a holiday brochure or in a calendar.
More women carrying colourful gifts along the sand also afford some photographic opportunities, as do a young couple, sunbathing and chatting by the water.
Also, in the trees alongside the beach, I finally achieve my objective of getting some good close up photos of the banana bird – the bananaquit – that beautiful and unfamiliar little thing we first came across on Barbados, which is so delightfully small and yellow, and makes a sound more like an insect than a bird.
More bags and scarves are offered to us from every angle! They are very beautiful but superfluous to requirements!
From several bars, the laid back sound of reggae music emanates.
We choose a beach-front bar and sit in the shade drinking beer. A lizard scurries across the sand at our feet, pausing to inspect us.
We spot several more – some are huge!
I take copious photographs, lizard portraits.
The sky is clear blue, the sand and sea gloriously welcoming (though sadly we didn’t bring our swimwear, not expecting such an accessible beach). The ship – our floating hotel – sits within sight, our home away from home. Later it will sound its deep, mournful horn, calling all tourists back on board for a timely departure. The sound of that call echoing across the bay is strangely exciting.
Sitting for a long while in that bar listening to reggae and enjoying the sunshine, the view, and the lack of pressure, becomes one of the defining and most memorable moments of our whole trip.
Afterwards we walk some more, sit in at least one more café, and browse in various shops, before at last setting off back towards the ship and our customary late lunch from the sumptuous onboard buffet and probably a snooze before embarking on the evening’s entertainment. (Perhaps this is the evening I win my karaoke prize!)
Walking back along the side of the beach – whilst deciding this is one of our favourite places and vowing to return – guess what happens? That’s right, a local woman laden down with colourful bags and scarves tries to get us to buy something.
Oh, alright then – just one more Caribbean souvenir!