Friday, March 2, 2012

Parking Ticket Payment, Caribbean Style

We have been seeing the minibuses that run between Marigot, St Martin and Philipsburg, Sint Maarten, for some time, and were debating on sailing versus bussing to Philipsburg. The last two days have been very windy, which started to roll us quite unpleasantly. Sailing became out of the question, even staying in the boat was an ordeal. Perfect day to take the bus and pay for our big crime!

This morning (March 1st), about 10:00 am we braved the waves and made the dinghy ride to the village. It was a good thing that the minimal wetness around our backsides dried up quickly in the heat. We signaled to the driver, and got in the minibus almost as soon as we got to the main street. There were a few other passengers, all islanders, each of whom were characters in their own right. Two passengers and the driver were speaking an unfamiliar (to me) language, which Al deciphered as Spanish. Since it is very hard to understand what islanders say, whatever the language, we were not surprised, but Al was disappointed that he could not follow their conversation. Instead, he read the short passages written on small papers pasted on the top of the wind-shield, and interpreted them as showing the driver`s devotion to Jesus. That was a good sign, since he had a screw driver in his hand, and was telling a story by using it in ways that did not seem savoury to me. I didn’t want to be judgmental, but he seemed to me that he had used it as a weapon. Oh well, we would be out soon.

Close to the end of the trip, which was about half an hour, Al asked the driver about the address to go to pay the fine, which was printed on the parking ticket. The driver and a lady passenger disputed about the location, but we tended to believe the driver. We thanked the lady, and she said she tried to help, but she must have been mistaken. Anyway, after everybody left, the driver showed us a building in the heart of Philipsburg, a block away from the main road; and cautioned us twice that we would have to walk up there. We assured him that we could walk a few steps, and thanked him. Of course, Al also thanked him in Spanish. We were granted a smile, the first time on that day.

We walked over to the modern building, but could not see anyone in the corridor to ask where to go, other than an elderly man talking to two people in the half open door of an office. He graciously told us to climb the stairs to the top (third) floor. We went up, and saw the sign at the locked door for the Prosecutor`s Office. Al pressed the button, and shouted through the intercom that he wished to pay for a parking ticket.

We went in, and handed the ticket to the nice islander lady at the counter. I remarked that we must have committed the biggest crime in Sint Marten, and sat at the side to wait. It was a large deserted office, nicely decorated and cool. She started reading the ticket, while half listening to Al. After a minute, she asked what Al wished to do there. He was surprised, and replied that he wanted to pay the fine. She laughed, and said that this office would not accept any payment. We would have to go to the Receiver`s Office to pay. Apparently there the only thing we could have done was to dispute the ticket, and get a date for a court appearance.

Anyway, when Al asked if the Receiver was at the address shown on the ticket, she said that the address was wrong, they had actually moved to an office behind the Sint Maarten University, wondering why they had not changed the ticket. She asked if we were driving, and I said ``never again in Sint Maarten, we can walk``. She gave us directions, and told us to walk up to the traffic circle, where the statue, depicting a slave breaking his chain of slavery, was erected. I knew where it was, so we went underway immediately. However, before we started, Al asked if the office would be closed for lunch, but she said no, they were open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Good, because her own office, and any establishment in Marigot would be closed between 12:00 am and 14:00 pm for lunch.

We walked the short distance. The only hardships were the heat and the lack of side-walks. The traffic is relentless, some drivers not very courteous, some are. When we came to the circle, I looked at the imposing statue, and felt sad that the blacks had broken the chains of slavery, but not the ones of poverty in some parts of the Caribbean.

We reached the far corner of the salt pond from the main road passing under it. There was a nice green topped building facing the pond, behind a white squat one. I was getting prepared to walk up to the green top, thinking it to be the university, but saw its big sign in front of the white building. When we got there we saw that right behind the university, the grounds of the stadium started. We were baffled, where the heck was the Receiver`s Office? Al asked a man walking towards us, and he pointed to the back of the university building, and said that we should go through the doors that had the signs “in” and “out”. The only other sign giving away that it was a government office was the Dutch and Sint Maarten flags flying on the posts in front in the genera area. I thought the Receiver was hiding from the public eye.

We went in, and saw a crowd of people making queues in front of some counters. That was more like it. I was hard pressed to believe, that we were the only people trying to pay a fine in Sint Maarten! An usher helped Al, and put him in front of a short queue. After half an hour, we were free of the burden at last.
The last time we drove by Philipsburg, we did not have the opportunity to see the city because of the narrow streets and lack of parking spots. I am kind of glad that we came back by bus, and explored the nice beach, and the restaurants surrounding it. We had a good time walking about, admiring the calm harbour and having a nice barbecue. The restaurant we went in attracted its customers by the awesome aroma coming from the large coal spit, but the service could not be slower, even by Caribbean standards. I saw a young couple coming in, and sitting at a table, after looking around for a hostess. The guy had a Canadian flag attached to his back pack. His poor wife was anxiously looking at the elderly waitress, who seemed to ignore them. I whispered to the girl that she should relax; they would get served sometime soon. She brightened up, and thanked me for the tip. It is hard for Canadians to expect such treatment, but they are generally not aggressive like Americans to attract any attention.

When we returned to Marigot, I asked Al to spend some more time on land, since the wind was still blowing hard. We almost decided to sail back to Philipsburg, and wait for the weather to give us a break for our passage to Statia (Island of St Eustatius). Al is looking at the weather forecast, and changing his mind every minute about what to do. We could go around the island to go to Philipsburg, and stop at Simpson Bay to clear into the Dutch side; or pass through the lagoon and come out to Simpson Bay, which would shorten the way considerably. However, the lagoon is occupied for the week-end, starting on Friday, because of the Heineken Regatta. Tens of sailboats are to start the race from the marina of Port de Plaisance, which is located in the lagoon. So tomorrow is not a good time to go through the lagoon, but we are bored of staying put in Marigot. Well, tomorrow is another day.

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