Thursday, July 1, 2010

Plane Charter and Piloting to St. Martin

Captain Petrillo here. That's right, I went flying yesterday. What a blast! I met Mike from Fly Windies at the airport with 3 other passengers who were heading to St. Martin for some R&R for a few days. We paid our airport departure fee, went through security and wandered down the runway to our plane.



The little thing was a Piper Aztec that Mike had owned for 2 years, but I was afraid to ask the age of.



Not that I'm really skittish on small planes anymore (once you jump out of one, your perspective changes), but I was hoping this wouldn't be my last picture.



We all piled into the 6-seater and got ready to rumble.



Time for take-off! Going up, up, wahoo!



He hugged the coast for awhile giving us a nice view of the island. Oh, so here's what that horse racing track we have yet to go to looks like.



Nothing but water on the other side.



Once we turned toward St. Martin and got out over the Atlantic, we ran into some storm cells here and there, but stayed under them.



There were rainbows everywhere. I mean everywhere. Here was the first one.



I thought it was cool until I saw 2.



I thought they were cool, until I saw this one. It just got brighter and brighter. There turned out to be several of these. It was really beautiful.



There's St. Barths!



Then it was time to land.



We were there in exactly 27 minutes. Are you kidding me??!! Instead of 9 hours of slogging through the seas, we were now in St. Martin in less than a 1/2 hour. I so have to get me one of these!

Once in St. Martin, we greased the palm of a guy who picked us up in his van and took us to the terminal. Once checked in, it was time to head for our rental cars and go off our separate ways. I stayed with Mike as he really knew his way around the island. Over our 3 years on Jacumba, Michael & I have probably spent a total of 6 months in St. Martin, but we took buses most of the time. When we did drive, Michael was always at the wheel, so I wasn't sure I'd be able to get myself around in the time allotted. Sharing a car with Mike was the way to go.

First we hit Philipsburg and headed to my favorite electronic's store. We've bought many a phone and camera there, not to mention a computer. I bought more of the same. Mike was amazed that I knew exactly what I wanted, bargained the price where I wanted, and out we went. Did I mention I've been to this store a lot (and hate shopping, so do what I have to do to get in and out)?

Then we headed for Cost-U-Less. I had forgotten....A moment of awed silence please. Look at this produce section. Heaven. I've landed in heaven.



Plus I discovered that they had some "new" vegetarian stuff that we were absolutely going to have to try. Fake brats? Fake chirizo? Fake smoked turkey roast? By now I had learned that Mike was going to have a pretty full flight back, so I was going to have to limit myself a bit. Yeah, but we need a new beach chair, 8 bed pillows... stuff! I was going to have to practice some restraint. Ok, I'll only get 4 pillows. I must have this soft, zipperless cooler though. I am so sick of the zippers on our stuff disintegrating and rendering everything useless! I also got a couple of freezer bags for all this frozen stuff I was buying. Ok Mike. This is my "dream" cart. Tell me what I have to take out. I gotta give him credit, he assured me we'd get it all in (and we did). Next stop? Le Grande Marche across the street.

Of course, I shot right over to the freezer section, where a huge display is just for us "backpackers" as Mike called us. Fake deli meat, fake ginger chicken, fake hot dogs, on and on and on. Fake Canadian bacon? I haven't had that in years!!! I took all of it...



I just had to look. Here's the soda aisle. Sigh. (That's right; I'm taking pictures of the supermarket aisles. What of it?!)



I was not leaving with out some creamy, French brie cheese. Yes please!



And walaa. I was done! Mike was still shaking his head that someone else would share his (anti)shopping technique and felt we were shop-mates, not soulmates, get it?.

We hit one more warehouse where Mike had to pick up some stuff for his St. Kitts/Nevis clients and then our shopping was done. We headed to the airport to drop it all off so that the guys there could load it all onto the plane. More greased palms. This is when I noticed that my new freezer bags were not staying closed. Hrmph.

We still had a 1/2 hour to kill before another store delivered Mike's called-in customer purchases to the plane (at 2:30), so we went to Mike's favorite Italian restaurant tucked in somewhere.



I just got a mixed salad as I was picturing myself scarfing down a baguette (yes, I bought 2) and some brie with Michael later.

Time to drop off the rental car and head back to the plane. When I paid the departure tax, Mike warned me that it could be anywhere from $10 to $40 (all depended on the agent). I lucked out when they treated it as the transfer it was, and only asked for $10. Then we waited for the guy who's palm we greased earlier and we were whisked away to the tarmac. The 4 rears seats had been removed and the plane was packed to its gills (by the 2nd guy we had tipped). Looks like the rental cars we had when we shopped there in the past doesn't it?

vs

Shopping done; time to go. We were going to take off right behind this big guy. You first!



Here we go again.



See the beach (Maho)? It's a big deal for people to come lay out there as the planes go directly above them at a very low altitude (there have been many a picture in magazines world-wide capturing this combo). A restaurant nearby used to have a speaker system that would let you listen in on the pilots landing & taking off. I'm supposing 9/11 stopped that particular attraction.



Once up, I wanted to know where the GPS was. The radar. The auto pilot...Next thing you knew I was flying the plane. All by myself! Fasten your seatbelts people you could be in for a bumpy ride. When Mike showed me what we didn't want to do and put the nose pretty vertical and then tipped us back down, I thought my stomach (and salad) might find its way out of my eye sockets, but I was sure not to do that while I had the yoke (either lose my lunch or put it in a vertical stall). Because we were so heavy, the nose did keep wanting to creep up, so I had to concentrate on keeping the horizon exactly at nose level. Heading 160? No problem (sort of). I kept us in the air for 10 minutes. No really, where's the auto pilot? Oh, his name is Mike.

As we got closer to St. Kitts, we decided to see if we could buzz Michael who was supposed to be working on Sandy Bank (remember, our favorite Sunday beach?). These pictures are just not going to do justice to how low we got. Pictures that would have depicted this were blurry (maybe from my sweat oozing down the lens)



As a matter of fact, we got so low, we almost didn't get back up. I think Mike forgot about how heavy we were and with some island-wind affects had a hard time getting us lifted again, but after a lot of coaxing (and me restraining my urge to grab my yoke and yank up too), up we went. Whew. After all that, Michael wasn't even there. Hrmph.

Turns out we were heading to Nevis first. Where's the rest of the runway?



We offloaded the groceries for the Nevis businesses with me noticing how melted everything was, reloaded the St. Kitts stuff, paid the customs agent (a process that could have taken hours, but went pretty quickly this time - maybe the fact that it was time to go home - 4:30 - helped) and then we were off to St. Kitts.

This time we buzzed Michael's work compound, but still he didn't see/hear us (it's below us in the picture)! At least we had an easier time getting air beneath us again. Just for the record, Mike doesn't normally do such stunts (although he used to - his experiences are amazing), but this was a special occasion.



Then it was time for our final landing.



When we took our stuff off of the plane, I noticed that none of my freezer bags had stayed closed. Glad the stuff was soy and not the real thing, yuck.

One thing I've heard a lot of complaints about is checking into this island. Either by boat or plane. As many times as we've been in and out, we have never had a problem. Not even a little bit. Today, I got a taste of it. A mouthful actually. Mike sent me in to at least fill in the immigration form. The woman in the resident line (yes, we're residents) had her head on the desk, but I stood there patiently anyway. After another agent cleared her throat, mine looked really pissed and waved me up. Here's the conversation:

JerkAgent (disgustedly looking at NiceAgent): What plane is she on?

NiceAgent: Who?

JerkAgent: Her.

NiceAgent: Ask her.

JerkAgent: Who?

NiceAgent: The girl in front of you.

JerkAgent to me: What plane are you on? There aren't any planes here.

Me: I came with Mike on Fly Windies from St. Martin. He does this every Wednesday.

JerkAgent (look of utter contempt): Then you have to wait for him. (Head back on desk)

Amused, I asked her if she could at least give me the form I needed to complete. Surprisingly, she did.

Once Mike came inside, JerkAgent asked him when "she" was leaving and when I told her I lived here so was staying, her whole attitude changed. ??!!! I don't know if she just assumed I was some hoighty-toighty visitor in a private plane stupidly standing in the wrong line or what, but even if I was - this was her way of welcoming me to the island? Nice.

That whole hassle was erased, however, when I went through customs without owing any duty. The food for personal use was a no-brainer, but they might have charged me for the cat food, cooler, etc. Mike got snagged and had to pay $175EC ($65US) on some printer cartridges he had bought. Ouch. Believe it or not, that still put the cost of the cartridges at less than what he would have paid here (they were $15-$20ea in SM and $40 in SK). Sheesh. This load sure doesn't look like much does it, but you'd be amazed. It was totally worth it.



Michael & I got home at the same time and he was amazed at all the goodies. Now that's a beautiful thing (good thing I "restrained" myself or it all wouldn't have fit).



Michael couldn't wait to break into the brie & bread. Me neither! Ooh la la!



Michael then went to a going away party, so I made myself up some cottage cheese, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and bananas. Nirvana.



Dessert (I only bought one bag of these. Two M&Ms for me...two M&Ms for Mike...).




It was totally exhausting and perfect. Tonight's dinner? Pasta with garlic, oil, and fake shrimp. Plus, the 2nd baguette. It's going to be delectable.