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St. Maarten after Hurricane Irma

Heartbroken by the devastation 7 months later

The half French, half Dutch Caribbean island of St. Maarten was once a beautiful, lush, vibrant, cosmopolitan island – before Hurricane Irma. Now it is mostly battered, bruised, desolate and unrecovered – even after 7 months; certainly, the north, east and west faces of the island.

St. Martin's beautiful Mullet Bay beachFor the great shopping port of Philipsburg and bustling Simpsons Bay – still mostly in pretty good shape with the restoration efforts focussed here for the cruise passengers, it welcomes the cruise ships and happily welcomes the influx of tourist dollars. The other areas are much harder hit and in no shape to rebuild anytime soon. Follow the experience of Ste. Martin’s rebuilding efforts here and check in with some of the business properties as they look to rebuild from the devastation – like Club Orient through their Facebook updates.

Explore St. Maarten on ATV

or explore the beaches on horsebackWe arrived to the St. Maarten port of Philipsburg via the Cruise Terminal and connected with Johnny’s Scooter Rentals to take an ATV and tour the island to see it’s state of rebuilding 7 months after the devastation of Hurricane Irma. Johnny’s Scooter Rentals was still in progress repairing their own roof and repainting the hurricane-damaged structure but warmly welcomed us and booked us in for our tour. Helpful with advice of where to explore and where was unsafe to travel, we completed the driving lesson for the newly replaced 4-wheel ATV’s and embarked on our adventure. [Note: Johnny’s Scooter Rentals offers organized tours of the Island as well as stops at highlights like Maho Beach and the Philipsburg shopping district, but we chose to explore on our own].

Traversing the perimeter of the island on ATV

St. Maarten resort devastation 7 months laterOur 4-hour tour took us around the island from the Dutch side port of Philipsburg through the French side of Ste. Martin (Oyster Pond, Quarter of Orleans, Orient Beach, Grand Case and Marigot) around and through the Dutch side of Sint Maarten at Simpsons Bay, Cole Bay and back to Philipsburg. The devastation was shocking and literally broke our hearts. Even 7 months later, restoration was mainly focussed on the southern port and airport areas while the northern (and east/west sides) were still severely broken and damaged.

On our tour, cars were abandoned where the storm surge pushed them, boats littered the beach and hillsides, beachfront resorts were simply abandoned for the storm surge damage to their buildings and grounds. Following from that is the economic devastation to the population of the island. Jobs are few and far between, but the spirit of rejuvenation seemed to pervade as the slow process of regrowth began.

Orient Beach and Club Orient

Club Orient devastationEmotionally, I am connected to the island through the vibrance and exposure of the beautifully vista’d Orient Beach and Club Orient resort. One of our first international naturist experiences was at Orient Beach and the nude beach section at Club Orient. Like the island of St. Maarten split Dutch/French, so too was Orient Beach split clothed and un-clothed. It’s vibrant cosmopolitan acceptance of come as you are to celebrate in your swim suit or sans suit offered one of the few clothing optional beaches in the Caribbean. For thousands of tourists, this nude beach space offered many a chance to grab their courage and celebrate the naked freedom of walking such a beautiful stretch of beach completely open and free. The naked openness of hundreds of naked bodies sunning in the sands of Club Orient Nudist Resort emotionally began sprouting the seeds of a naked body acceptance movement that, for many, hopefully has triggered a self-acceptance of our bodies as beautiful in every form.

Orient Beach - a few years agoOrient Beach, when we last visited a few years ago, easily held a few thousand visitors and was lined along the beach with tiki hut restaurants, shops and vendors with gorgeous mountain views and blue-green Caribbean waters. Once that vibrant tourist destination and cruise excursion stop, this day the entire strip of beach held maybe 20 people and was decimated in it’s hurricane storm surge devastation. Not a tiki hut remained, not a restaurant, shop and barely any hotels were open – heartbreakingly gone and destroyed!

Club Orient chalets off their foundationsClub Orient Nudist Resort was a collection of maybe 50 beachside condo structures with it’s own restaurants, stores, resort streets and greenways – a vibrant, welcoming nudist community. Now, it is destroyed and not a single sign of habitation exists. Buildings are off their foundation, windows blown out, roofs destroyed and it’s cosmopolitan vibrance of naked body-acceptance for those nakationers wiped out. [My heart goes out to the Club Orient team, their families and their community (as well as for all the islanders who have been displaced in the wake of hurricane Irma)]

A gem of future hope are the resilient beachgoers who frequented the beach at the rebuilt the Perch Beach Bar. A small collection of about 20 nudists and beach visitors have taken root to begin the seed of restoring the vibrance of Orient Beach and the naked sunning opportunity of the Club Orient nudist portion of the beachfront – I look forward to returning and celebrating the revitalized Orient Beach strip!

St. Maarten is still a beautiful islandAs a special note, Club Fantastico (another nudist resort opportunity in the Orient Beach area) was restored and open for business with a handful of condo properties in varied stages of restoration.

On the positive side

The south coast was in much better shape than the other coasts of the island. Many resorts and vacation properties were vacant or in the process of repairing, but many were up and running and welcoming visitors.

Maho Beach

Maho Beach is back to businessThe shops, restaurants and Casino were in operation at Maho Beach, a very popular tourist stop where the airplanes land at Princess Juliana Airport over the beach area as low as 20 or so feet overhead. Crowded with excited thrill seekers, both the area under the flight path and the beach area were crowded favorites in the Caribbean sun.

Contrasting with that are the boats askew in the harbors, toppled in the storms heavy winds. Luxury yachts, small fishing boats and even a pirate ship were all treated equally in the hurricane force winds.

Port of Philipsburg

shops along the beach in PhilipsburgOpen and ready for business with shops, bars, restaurants and high-end luxury shops – the shopping port at Philipsburg certainly was the first to reopen and welcome tourists. A beautiful bay setting with beachfront for swimming, pathways for strolling (or a Segway tour), and hundred or so shops for spending your dollars, you can find the spectrum of goods from tourist knick-knacks to local artisan goods to high end duty free shopping. Spend your dollars, enjoy the ambience and help the island rebuild.

It’s no surprise the devastation of ground zero from a Category 5 hurricane making landfall. It’s heart-breaking to see such lush vibrant landscapes and tropical island beauty washed away in the storm surge. I’m sad for the loss of Orient Beach and Club Orient’s naturist opportunity (a rare gem in the Caribbean), but I’m encouraged by the seeds springing forth in the handful of Orient Beach beachgoers (both naked and clothed) at the Perch Beach Bar, by the resorts and vacation properties (Club Fantastico and others in the area) rebounding, and the vibrancy of the existing tourist destinations of Maho Beach and the port of Philipsburg. I look forward to returning in a few years and comparing and contrasting the visits over the years. Best of success St. Maarten / Ste. Martin in your rebuilding …

Have you visited St. Maarten before or after Hurricane Irma? What were your highlights or thoughts? We’d love to hear. Drop a comment below and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Viator

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