Visiting the Caribbean islands can be a dreamy escape that is not too far if you call the East Coast home. Unfortunately, these warm tropical waters can fuel massive storms that test the limits of the delicate balance of these beautiful islands. As we are now at the height of hurricane season, I wanted to share with you the beauty and the reality of visiting several Caribbean islands in the aftermath of two major hurricanes.
In January of 2018, I took a cruise that started from the busy port of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We set out past the tall buildings and wended our way to the open ocean with anticipation and excitement for our first island experience in Sint Maarten. We knew that Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria had torn through the Caribbean in September of 2017, and we were aware that there were going to be results of the devastation. Part of why I wanted to go on this trip was to document how the islands had been affected.
My first stop was in Philipsburg, Sint Maarten, an island that is still part of the Netherlands. It’s easy to put aside that bright-eyed tourist feeling after seeing the wreckage left by back-to-back hurricanes. 92% of buildings were damaged or destroyed and the relief effort was still in full effect while we were there.
And the skeletons of ships lined the shoreline, abandoned and left to rust. Even though most of the damage had already been cleared up, I can only imagine the exhaustive heartbreak from the loss of homes and businesses and how it affected the lives of the locals. My heart went out to the people of Sint Maarten.
We had a bite to eat for lunch at Le Tropicana. The French restaurant was damaged during the storm, but they were able to rebuild relatively quickly. During our delicious lunch that overlooked the marina, we met some genuine and warm people who visit the island every holiday season and always looked forward to Le Tropicana’s incredible deserts. From our exchange, it was heartwarming to hear that although these travelers knew that their favorite vacation spot would not be in pristine condition. Yet, they still chose to return to and support the local community.
After our meal, we reboarded the ship from Philipsburg to our next stop in Saint Lucia. As the ship began to move and the breeze stirred on the bow, I peered out to the many miles of ocean that lay ahead of us to get to the next destination.
Once we got there, from our perspective, Saint Lucia was not as badly affected. Apparently, the hurricane had passed north. Cruises come and go to this 27-mile-long lush and tropical paradise that offers hundreds of sights and dozens of activities such as zip-lining, sightseeing, or horseback riding.
After setting foot in the Castries, we went on a hike along the coast and up into the mountains. We wish we had more time to explore the other activities that Saint Lucia had to offer, but the views of exploring that area were worth it. We walked on a coastal path which then led us through some fields that offered vistas of the Castries.
The next day we arrived in the crystal-clear waters of Barbados. One of the most interesting facts we learned about this island is the flying fish. I couldn’t capture any pictures of one, but I promise, it’s one of the most beautiful fish you will ever see. They are also used as the main ingredient in the national dish of Barbados.
One of the most memorable tours we went on was to St. James Parish Church, which is the oldest church on the island of Barbados. Although there is no record of the exact date of its original construction, this building has been rebuilt after hurricanes that date back to 1675. It is an architectural testament to the resilience of the islanders that choose to restore what nature tried to destroy.
The following day we stopped in Fort-De-France, Martinique. We visited the Garden of Balata, which is a magical oasis of tropical plants and exotic flowers like this Heliconia. These incredibly unique flowers produce nectar that only specifically adapted hummingbirds can drink from.
After so many island-hopping adventures we took the Kon Tiki party boat tour around the island of Saint Thomas. It was fun to see the different nooks and crannies of the harbor and catch different sights than the views that one would usually see on a large cruise ship. The energy was festive with a steel drum band and rum punches amongst a lively crowd ready to have an enjoyable and fun afternoon.
We headed back home with a complex combination of feelings about our unique and interesting trip. The heartfelt experiences of speaking with the people in Sint Maarten about the tragic reality that they were living through, mixed with the moments of levity and natural beauty while witnessing these incredible islands.
However, that is what I love about travel. It shows you different perspectives and gives an appreciation for the island lifestyle with a meaningful reality check that these are not just tourist destinations. They are places where people live, work, and raise their families. And although we are just visiting, it is important to soak up the lessons that are offered simply by being somewhere new.
Thanks for reading,