First off, let me get this out of the way. I am not going to feel weird writing about taking what may seem like an extravagant vacation with my family. I will not be ashamed of being successful (by which I mean "marrying a successful woman") and enjoying the rewards of all the hard work we (by which I mean "she") do. Does. Whatever. Just back off already, Occupiers.
The flight there was fine. Our idea to take a red-eye was genius: the kids slept all the way there, with a few hours of wakefulness during a layover in North Carolina. Before we knew it, we were buzzing the beachgoers at Maho Bay and touching down on the airstrip that, as it turned out, was separated from the pool at our condo by an eight-inch thick masonry wall.
|Taken from our condo pool. Idiots line up on the beach every day to get blasted by the jets. (Okay, we tried it too.)|
The first thing we did, after collecting our gear, was try to get in touch with one of my wife's many siblings. Yes, there were even more of us descending upon the island. We were to meet up with all five of my wife's sibs and their spouses/partners and children. There would be sixteen of us in toto.
But how would we find them?
We texted. We skyped. We WeChatted.
There was no response.
So we walked around the airport for a few minutes, and soon started seeing family members with our actual eyeballs. Who knew they were good for anything other than looking at iPhones?
The digital disconnect--and the fact that it was no big deal--would become a theme of the vacation. Before we left, the extended family had had an extended email conversation about how we would communicate while we were on the island. Everyone had a favorite app that had worked in other countries they had traveled to. Everyone bought some kind of data plan or texting package. We had joked about bringing walkie-talkies.
It turns out that the walkie-talkies would have been a good idea, because all of our high-tech appery was virtually useless. The cellular service and wi-fi were so dodgy that it wasn't even worth it to try. And yet, we were able to go on excursions around the island in our three-rental-car convoy every day, and not get separated. We would come up with a plan, rally the troops, and move out. Just like the cavemen did it. Before the trip, I had thought about the cool pictures I would post on facebook, the hilarious blog posts I might dash off, etc.; but I soon realized that it was just as enjoyable to move from one fun moment to the next, without everyone stopping to memorialize and broadcast it. Also, I realized, upon going through my bursting inbox once I returned to civilization, that I don't give a shit about 90% of the emails I receive.
Then we picked up our rental minivan. I didn't take a picture of it because I'm an idiot, but this little Suzuki made our Sienna seem like an RV. An RV with a jet engine in it.
|I stole this image from the internet, but it's basically the same vehicle we had, except ours was older, and, I'm sure, much squeakier.|
Once we installed the giant American child-safety seats and a few passengers, the minivan was completely full, and the rental agency guys were nice enough to dispatch another car to carry our luggage, which would have had to ride on our laps otherwise, to the condo. Luckily, there was no place on the island where you could--or would want to--drive fast, because with the AC cranked and seven passengers on board, the Suzuki struggled against light headwinds. And of the noises that constantly emanated from the suspension, steering column, and air vents, Livvy had this to say: "Maybe the guy whose car this is likes squeakiness. He probably thinks it sounds like beautiful music."
What can I say about a perfect beach vacation? Every day was pretty much like this: My sister-in-law and I would go for a run** in the ridiculous heat and humidity, then join the rest of the crew for breakfast. We would usually take a couple hours to mobilize, because first some of us would go grocery shopping, and then some of us would build enough sandwiches for a picnic lunch for sixteen. Then we would head out to a new beach that someone had heard about. Usually, each beach was more amazing than the previous one.
One day we went into a town called Marigot, on the French side, that was supposed to have a lively outdoor market and a quaint shopping district; but instead, it was just blazing hot and mostly closed for siesta when by the time we got there. Everyone in our party was hungry and grouchy and we moved on to the next town, Grand Case, which was supposed to have amazing food (we hadn't brought a picnic that day because of the supposedly amazing food). When we arrived in Grand Case, some of us groused about the fact that a lot of the restaurants were closed (it was 3:00 pm), and that the beach wasn't quite beautiful enough. After some blended drinks and--yes, amazing--grilled fish, we realized how spoiled we had become in just a few days.
|This is the beach we had been complaining about when we were hangry.|
In terms of flora and fauna, the snorkeling wasn't the best ever--not compared to Hawaii or places like that--but it was very pleasant, since the water was crystal clear and bathtub warm. A lot of the adults in our group were novice snorkelers, as were my little nephews, so it was very exciting for them to see some colorful fish, conchs, sea stars, etc.. We had bought masks and snorkels for Maddy and Livvy, but they were weirded out by the idea of breathing through a tube. So, wearing their (USCG-approved) floaties, they just held on to our hands as we went out for sometimes hour-long snorkeling jaunts. Livvy, as is her wont, would talk the whole time, asking questions about whether grinning sharks were friendly or if clownfish were in real life, and causing whomever was dragging her around to stop constantly and chat while treading water.
Besides snorkeling and swimming, we did a lot of playing in the sand with the kids, taking our traditional ridiculous pictures (some of which I will probably share here once I get a hold of them from the auntie with the big camera), and resting on the beach.
|Maddy snorkeled too hard. Oh yeah--we also brought that shade structure in our suitcases.|
|Traditional Silly Photograph, 2007, Fiji: using forced perspective to make it look like my tiny wife and tiny sister-in-law are hanging from my arms|
|Traditional Silly Photograph, 2013, St. Maarten: Using regular perspective and actual tiny people|
Resting was another big theme. Especially for me. I haven't slept so much in...maybe ever. After we came back to the condo post-beach (we had three 2-bedroom units), a few of the adults (I was always one of them) would take all the kids to the pool while the culinary auntie and her assistants prepared a delicious feast. We would have some blended fruity drinks before dinner, and maybe some wine with our meal, and then I would get the kids into bed. "I'll just lie here with the kids until they fall asleep," I would say to the child-free members of our gang, "and then join you at the casino/bar/disco." And then I would sleep for ten or twelve hours. We did go out and rage the first night, dancing like college kids to DJ EXPLOSIONMASTER!!, and there was that "boys' night out" that I am not allowed to talk about, but mostly I just slept a lot. It was awesome.
On the last night (or what was supposed to be the last night) of our trip, Livvy said she wanted to to take her snorkel to the pool. We thought she was just messing around, but we humored her. But after a week of watching all of us snorkeling, it seems she had totally figured it out. Soon, she and Maddy both were paddling around the dark pool, chattering unintelligibly through their snorkels, and popping up every few seconds to announce, "Daddy! I saw a blue light!" or "Daddy! I saw your foot!" I was so proud. Now, if they would just learn how to swim without the floaties.
|Here's Livvy snorkeling in the pool as we were missing our plane.|
Yes, you read that caption correctly. We missed our flight. Mistakes were made. An iPhone calendar with the flight information entered onto it months before the trip converted the flight time of 2:45 pm to 5:45 pm when we traveled into a different time zone. And because we didn't have reliable internet, and somebody else in the group said they had learned that all the flights were on time, we showed up at the airport having watched from the pool the departure of the plane we were supposed to have been on.
And then it got worse. We were put on standby for a flight the next morning. We spent the night at the hotel across the street from our condo, which had a very Jersey Shore vibe, compared to the quiet spot we had spent the week. The flight the next day was delayed when a passenger got sick and the plane had to land to get him to the hospital. We sat in the airport for six hours, not even knowing if we would get seats on the plane, before we finally boarded. The kids were great, but growing impatient. There was some crying in the airport, and some, "I wanna go ho-ome!" But we were on the plane! And about to take off! We didn't actually have a connecting flight or a place to sleep in Philadelphia...but still, we were leaving!
As we settled into our seats, the pilot came on the PA to make an announcement. He hated to tell us this, but...it was too late. We hadn't made the cutoff time before the crew was legally obligated to take a nine-hour break. So we got off the plane, dragged our suitcases, carry-ons, and car seats onto a bus, and spent another night at the Jersey Shore Hotel. At least it was on the airline's dime this time.
The next day, we finally got our flight off the island. It was...fine. The kids were squirrely and we were all sick of airports and we had hot dogs from a pretzel stand for dinner in Philly, but we got home.
As sucky as the trip home was, the trip overall was everything I had hoped it would be and a lot that I had never even considered. I've already forgotten the misery of the airport; and just thinking about how much fun we had together as I was writing this made me forget about how obnoxious my kids were yesterday. If that's not a successful family vacation, I don't think there is such a thing.
*We carried all that and got away with only checking two bags and the car seats. We are excellent packers.
**I decided, in preparation for this trip, that I was going to lose 20 pounds. I knew we would be at the beach all the time, and that there would be cameras. I was determined to not feel uncomfortable with my shirt off, and I got pretty serious about it. (Of course, I only started getting serious about it like three weeks before vacation.) When increasing gym time and cutting out beer didn't immediately get the drastic results I had hoped for, I started running, which I have tried to do in the past, and really, really, really hated. But this time, for some reason, I'm starting to like it. And while I didn't lose 20 pounds, I lost 10; and, I don't know, I must have redistributed some weight or whatever, or maybe I'm delusional, but I feel about 80% less self-loathing about my appearance.