Maho Beach, Sint Maarten

The Jet-powered Caribbean Beach

A landing like so many others
Jet Blue plane flies over Maho beach with some bathers reacting, others not at all.
jet blast warning danger-Maho beach-Sint Maarten
Passerby passes by the jet blast hazard warning, at the edge of the runway at Princess Juliana airport.
photographic crowd
A small crowd of spectators follows the take-off of a jet.
one of the big ones
KLM plane about to touch the runway at Princess Juliana airport in Sint Maarten.
one save yourself who can
Bathers and onlookers protect themselves from the effects of the jets of a plane about to take off.
Plane over bathers-Maho Beach-Sint Maarten
Plane about to land over bathers in the sea at Maho Beach.
photographic choreography
A group of visitors to Maho Beach photographs a plane flying over them, about to land.
sunset beach bar
Sunset Beach Bar customer seems to be part of the decorative aero-mural.
within reach
Woman stretches to reduce her already short distance to a jet plane about to land.
flight times
Surfboard with aircraft arrival times at Princess Juliana airport.
Plane over sunset-Maho beach-Sint Maarten
Bather photographs an approaching plane at sunset.
At first glance, Princess Juliana International Airport appears to be just another one in the vast Caribbean. Successive landings skimming Maho beach that precedes its runway, jet take-offs that distort the faces of bathers and project them into the sea, make it a special case.

Our first approach to Princess Juliana and Maho Beach proved, shall we say, conventional.

Forty minutes after taking off from Terrance B. Lettsome Airport, on the eastern end of the island of Tortola, British Virgin Islands, the small turboprop window framed the approach to the final destination.

On the left, diffuse, almost submerged in an oil-turquoise-emerald sea, a long, flat island that could only be Anguilla. And as the pilot steers the plane onto the runway, the western peninsula of Sint Maarten, the Dutch “half” of the Lesser Antille of St. Martin.

It was largely filled with the Simpson Bay marine lagoon, one of the largest in the West Indies. Closer to us, the coastline of Les Terres Basses (French) and, below, the Lowlands and Maho, already Dutch.

We continue to download. There are hotels and condominiums that close Maho inlet, seconds later, the lonely runway of Princess Juliana.

The pilot holds the Twin-Otter almost midway through its 2.300 meters, at the point that allows him to cut across to the Terminal where we and the five or six remaining passengers would disembark.

This initial introduction to SXM aviation – as the Sint Maarten airport is known in code – had little or nothing to do with the next ones.

We settled in an opposite corner of the island, over an overly urbanized and bright bay, perhaps for this reason, punished by the Atlantic.

The following afternoon, without haste, we went around São Martinho to the north, against the clock. We crossed from the Dutch to the Gallic zone. We went back to Dutch.

Leaving behind the French-speaking capital Marigot and surrounded by the Simpson Bay lagoon, we find ourselves once again in the vicinity of Maho. We have known for years of the curious relationship between its beach and the airport onwards. It was time for us to witness it.

At a final roundabout, we reject Airport Rd. Instead, we point to the slender Beacon Hill Road that runs along the back of the runway. In a lucky streak, we took a place at the entrance to the road, almost inside the first of the two bars that close the cove, the tropicalian “Driftwood Boat.”

To the sound of Bob Marley, of course, an international assortment of guests chug beer and cocktails one after another in a Caribbean ceremonial of life that the sunset would soon turn golden.

Landing on Sunset, Maho Beach, Sint Maarten

Bather photographs an approaching plane at sunset.

From there, like so many other visitors dressed in swimsuits and bikinis, we walk over the wall that separates the sand from the road. We do it until we reach the middle of the beach and the center of the track, barely concealed by an insignificant railing for its function.

The beach is small, even more so on a high tide that generates waves that are too vigorous for the normal Caribbean standard. The waves roll over the sand. Only the wall on which we were balancing holds us back.

At that late hour, the planned landings were few and far between, on top of smaller aircraft, almost all propeller-driven. For that reason, but not only that, a bunch of adventurous bathers had fun on top and bottom of the waves, oblivious to the observation of the horizon to which several others continued to indulge.

We remain for some time in a hyperactive mode of recognition. We noticed a silhouette cut to the south. We examined the map of the region and found that it was Saba, another Dutch island, this one and only Dutch.

Without us knowing then, a few days later, we would have to move there. We went to the opposite end of the beach, marked by the bar competing with the “Driftwood Boat”. We find the greater good “Sunset Beach SXM” filled with murals and motifs alluding to Maho's aeronautical obsession.

At the entrance, an illustrated surfboard with an airplane on a sunset flanked by coconut trees lists the Arrivals at Princess Juliana in different colors.

The “Sunset Beach SXM” was even equipped with a webcam that displayed images from the “Flight Radar 24” website and which allowed customers to follow the movements of the planes, the sounds of air traffic controllers, etc.

The bar menu has pizzas named after the airlines operating on the island and the most emblematic shot of the house is the “jet blast".

Flight Times, Sunset Beach Bar, Maho Beach, Sint Maarten.

Surfboard with aircraft arrival times at Princess Juliana airport.

By the end of the day, none of the target planes would land so we left the beach. We crossed the south of the island again. Delayed by an unexpected rush hour traffic, we re-entered the Villa Twin Palm which had welcomed us after eight.

The afternoon reconnaissance allowed us to know the estimated times for the arrivals of large planes, concentrated between 11:30 am and 15 pm. We schedule the resolution of annoyances (purchase of local SIM card and the like) and exploration of the island accordingly.

Two days later, we would move from Villa Twin Palm to an inn by the end of the Princess Juliana runway opposite Maho Beach. It was the perfect headquarters for us to get back to the beach and its interaction with the planes.

Intrigued, motivated by the eccentricity of the new mission, we did it three afternoons on end. One after another, the number of visitors, bathers and the general frenzy never ceased to increase.

As in the surrounding Caribbean, the number of souls available to the islands increases enormously whenever the gigantic cruise ships dock, sometimes at four and five a day. Sint Maarten is no different. We arrived on Monday. Two of these colossi of the sea are moored at the entrance to the Grand Bay that precedes Philipsburg, the capital on the Dutch side.

Hundreds of its passengers disembark already aware of the fame and guaranteed entertainment of Maho Beach. When we got there, the beach and the duo of bars that round it off are at the top.

The two-way traffic on Beacon Hill Road proves to be hell, crammed with taxi-van drivers determined to bill for the week with the torrent of outsiders. "Back to the ship? ride back to the ship?” they repeat it over and over, impatient, as they walk down the alley in slow motion to see if, in that lapse, they can recruit passengers.

The most brazen ones stop completely. They lead to fury those who follow behind in unfavorable positions or already with customers on board, eager to drop them on the boat, to return and get others.

The confusion does not stop there. We are in the hurricane season. One or two stir the Atlantic waters to the north and the Caribbean. Even larger vacancies than those of previous afternoons reach the top of the beach, climb the wall and flood the sand-covered asphalt.

The luxurious vans start to circulate in amphibious mode. That's not all. A secondary wall divides Beacon Hill Road's directions of travel. Unwilling to walk zigzag through the crowd, some vacationers cross the beach on the walls, with vehicles circling at a tangent.

Photo Crowd, Maho Beach, Sint Maarten

A small crowd of spectators follows the take-off of a jet.

Simultaneously, planes succeed each other. Almost all arise from the horizon to the west. In about thirty seconds, they pass from a mere point in the sky to the flying and overwhelming machines that have long ruled the skies. Others complete their pre-take-off maneuver-path with their tails close to the railing.

The first and second, their respective landings and take-offs have long been undisputed protagonists of Maho's aeronautical-bathing fever, the moving targets of all the selfies and photos, these days, the selfies superimposed on the photos, it couldn't even be other way. By that time, we were infected with no return.

Skimming, Maho Beach, Sint Maarten

Woman stretches to reduce her already short distance to a jet plane about to land.

We kept our eyes on the clocks and the horizon. At the slightest hint of Boeing or Airbus, we would enter into a bellicose excitement, uncertain as to whether the pre-chosen places on the beach would be ideal for photographing planes overflying at very low altitudes and at over 250km/h.

The incessant and unpredictable back and forth of the crowd on the beach, the coming and going of the waves and the flow of clouds that so often dazzled the sun and stripped the images of color made the process difficult.

Only practice allowed us to improve. The deserving planes: Delta and American Airlines, the Virgin Atlantic and Jetblue but above all the huge blue and white Boeing 747 from KLM arrived from time to time. As such, we took advantage of the intermittent propeller samples for them to prepare.

Incredibly, the commotion that we have reported so far is only that of arrivals. It is up to us to describe the one generated by the matches.

So far, there has been no reaction from the authorities of Sint Maarten, the pre-take-off position of the largest Boeing and Airbus that serve the Princess Juliana Int Airport it transforms the fever that we've bloomed above into an outbreak of collective madness.

In a flash, dozens of bathers line up on the plane's extension and submit to the power of its engines. When the pilot increases power, the jets unleash a storm of kerosene, dust, sand and objects that takes it all behind.

Bathers and onlookers protect themselves from the effects of the jets of a plane about to take off.

The combative bathers take a few steps back. The ones less prepared for that whirlwind rush down the beach. Needless to say, in order to record the most ridiculous moments of this recreational torture, we had to submit to it.

On successive take-offs, we saw distorted faces and slippers flattening deformed faces. Other faces, voluntarily buried in the sand, such was the pain that the flying debris caused.

We saw backpacks, towels, glasses, hats, whole bathing suits and even one or two people dragged into the water with cell phones in their hands or pockets. And this, just from the top of the beach to the bottom.

Jet blast warning, Maho Beach, SInt Maarten

Passerby passes by the jet blast hazard warning, at the edge of the runway at Princess Juliana airport.

Despite the large illustrative “DANGER” signs posted just behind the fence and the unmistakable message “Do Not Stand, Danger” painted along the adjoining rail, two or three more unconscious bathers insisted on resisting the explosion of the jets, clinging to the railing. By aptitude or mercy, nothing happened to them.

This was not always the case. In July 2017, a 57-year-old New Zealander lined up with a younger group willing to enjoy a Boeing 737 taking off from the fence.

Airplane over bathers, Maho beach, Sint Maarten

Plane about to land over bathers in the sea at Maho Beach.

The 737 even has jets short of the Jumbo Jets and the 767, 777 or 787 models. It was enough to project it against the concrete walls that compartmentalize the Beacon Hill Road. He died shortly afterwards in hospital and became the first mortal victim of this plane spotting bold.

That same night, my right ear felt weird. I didn't call over there. Almost a month, several baths on the beach, itching and small pains later, hours after an additional bath on a black sand beach on the island of Montserrat, the ear got really infected.

Forced us to go to the local hospital. And only a few days ago it regained the holy impermeability it had before we passed through the crazy Maho Beach.

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