Written by: Ankie Nieuwenhoven
My nationality is Dutch, I am 53 years young, blonde with a history as a bar and hotel-restaurant owner along with a variety of other careers along the way. Seven years ago, I moved to St. Martin from The Netherlands/Holland. (We have such a small country, we have multiple names for it. And no, I do not wear wooden shoes.)
One of my jobs on the rock is playing tour guide. Since I live on Great Bay beach (yeah, I know, lucky me), I can bicycle to my “office” – the Dr. A.C. Wathey Cruise and Cargo Facility aka The Cruise Pier or simply The Pier. I also am able to watch the cruise ships come into the port from my house. This is a wonderful sight, especially in high season (December – May), when we can have as many as six ships per day. I stand on my deck drinking coffee and take in the most beautiful traffic jam in the world. The most to ever dock/anchor in Great Bay at one time was nine, though six a day is pretty typical for at least two days out of each week. Just think: with about 4,000 passengers per ship with 2,000 crew each multiplied by six is a whole lot of people to suddenly arrive on a 37 square mile island!
My bicycle is the only handmade Batavus on the island, so I take really good care of it. It has little green and black leopard skin socks on the handlebars and a very long, steel-wired lock. When I first moved to the island, I always had this black, sticky stuff on my hands after cycling. This turned out to be the rubber of the handlebars that melts in the sun (a problem I had never encountered back home!). Green is my favorite color, hence the green socks, as well as the green horn it sports up front. Everyone on island uses their horns ferociously to say hello, thank you, and to generally make some noise, and my bike is no exception. I usually cycle over to the Pier via The Boardwalk. It is nice to see the beach boys setting up each morning. They range from dope-smoking, yelling, rude ones to very nice, happy guys. One of them calls me “Duchess,” for instance. Either way, I am usually stoned by the time I reach The Cruise Pier. (Just a little joke, haha, but I could be if I wanted to be!)
At the main entrance of The Cruise Pier is a security booth manned by about four security officers. I always take off my sunglasses – because I was brought up that way – and hold out my pass for one of the officers to scan. Once all is approved, I get back on the bike, hoping it’s not going to be one of those days when I’m held up. Somedays, I am stopped and informed that there is “No driving on the pier.” It is a two lane road which leads to the parking lot where busses, taxis, and people who work on the Pier park. These instances, I am told to “walk it to the parking lot” and all I want to reply is, “You have got to be kidding me, it’s a bike, not a bus!” But I know I have to keep my cool and play the game; the worst way to handle security here is sarcasm, lest they think I am undermining their intelligence. And so in these times, I simply walk my bike until I am out of sight, then get back on to cycle the rest of the way to the parking lot where I lock my bicycle.
On a six ship day, arriving to the port is is like being transported to Hong Kong, New York City, London, or pretty much any major metropolis. Crazy busy, bustling, and fun! The energy is contagious as most of the guides know each other and everyone is ready to make some money. To gather your people, you must first go to the “Shore Ex” (the Shore Excursion Manager), to report that you are so and so from such and such company and what time your tour is and find out how many guests are on your list. You then go to your designated spot and hold up your sign and wait for the guests to arrive. Meanwhile, you shoot the bull with some colleagues and tourists and generally have some fun.
Upon arrival, some guests will be there already waiting because they want the front of the bus. Being on the Pier first does not necessarily mean that you have the front seat since they are for the older and disabled passengers, but many a visitor does not understand that logic. Once my guests arrive, we make our way to the bus. Now, a cruise ship is about 800 ft in length and they are able to dock two in a row on The Pier, which means a walk is in order. Let me tell you, the majority of the people that book a cruise do not like to walk! “It’s sooo hot!” they whine. My advice? “Go to Alaska next time.”
Once we get to the bus, the fighting over the seats begins. When there is a problem and guests ask me to sort it out, I always have my answer ready: “Considering that we are all adults and I am not a Kindergarten teacher, I do not get involved in your seating choices, unless it comes to the disabled or the elderly.” I realize you have to be very careful how you say this kind of thing because cruise ship people expect to be bowed to and treated with the utmost respect, but once they start acting like children, all bets are off in my book. The key, I’ve found, is to be humorous and overpowering at the same time. Keep smiling and remember that they are our guests who may have saved up a lifetime to come to the Caribbean. This is all easily managed at the beginning of the season, say December. Though I must admit that when it gets to be March, it takes all my willpower to not become the drill sergeant from Hell.
We move about our day, throughout which the guests pepper me with questions, most being the same ones I heard the day before.The number one question I always get is, “Do you like living here?”
“Of course!” I answer affirmatively while thinking: No, I hate it here, sunshine all year long, flip flops all year, no winter coats, and beer that is cheaper than water. Pure awful. Obviously.
Another favorite, more of an observation than a question, is: “It must be great to be able to go to the beach every day!” Little do they know that we island girls also have to do grocery shopping, house cleaning, laundry, cooking, children stuff, bill payments, and all the other things that pretty much every person in the world must do. The business of living is still the same on an island. But I don’t want to burst their vacation bubble, so I just give them another cheerful, “Of course!”
Though there are some exhausting aspects to spending your days tour guiding, the one consistent benefit that keeps me going day in and day out is the reminder that, of course, they are so right. It IS great to live on Sint Martin! The friendly island, the noisy island, the gourmet capital of the Caribbean island. And it sure beats sitting in traffic in Europe, or wherever, to go to work each day. Give me the sunshine and the beach boys along the boardwalk any day.
And as for the tourists, without them I would not have a job. Besides – let’s be honest – it is sort of gratifying to be the envy of 54 guests a day!