The Long Road To Sint Maarten

Stansted: My flight was from Luton but a sanctuary for the Yellow Van had been discovered by Neil, not far from Stansted airport in Essex. I gladly accepted the invitation to travel the day before and spend the night with Neil and Ginger Baker. Neil is an engineer and Ginger doesn’t mind tools in the kitchen and the vice clamped to the kitchen worktop. Neil is the master of the house. Ginger is a cat; Ginger doesn’t mind about much at all.

Gibraltar: I was on the wrong side of the plane to get the view as it rounded the rock on the approach to Gibraltar Airport. 7pm and dark with a cool breeze. Claes picked up my laptop bag as we walked to Joshua moored just over the Spanish border at La Linea. The loose plan was to sail and pick up tips with Claes’ business: Picture Perfect Adventure Sailing. I was happy to go with the flow, so we hung out like old friends even though we had only met a couple of times in Sint Maarten less than a year ago. I had no sleeping bag due to opting for only cabin bag travel. so sleeping in clothes with 2 blankets was the new model of rest in the unusually cool Andalusian nights.

Tarifa: Returning from a day sail in Gibraltar Bay, I saw Dunstan waiting on the pontoon near Joshua. He dropped by and invited us to Tarifa. I was planning on seeing him anyway so this was convenient. Tarifa marks the meeting of the Mediterranean and Atlantic and is always windy – except for the 2 days I was there. Frustrated Kite Surfers flew their kites on the beach hoping for a little more power to take them onto the water. From the battlements of Castillo Guzman de Bueno, you can see the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and the buildings on the shore, appearing closer than they actually are, the straits busy with commercial shipping.

The Rock: The Cold wind blows from the north east. There is snow in Estepona just up the coast. I had packed for Sint Maarten so had the bare minimum with me to keep me warm. I set off toward the John Mackintosh Library in Gibraltar and stopped at the Lord Nelson for breakfast, warmth and WiFi. On the way to the library, I noticed steps going up castle street toward the Moorish Castle. My boots like hills so I turned left up hill surfacing out of the shade of the Main Street shops.

Bathed in the warm afternoon sun and sheltered from the north easterly breeze, I wandered up the winding tracks to the cable car station. The nimble footed and light-fingered macaques were at work on the terrace, mugging tourists and tormenting the cafe owners by letting themselves in. I paused to take some pictures and rest my shoulder from the weight of the laptop bag. But now it was all downhill from here. Continuing south along the ridge I came to the Charles the V Wall. A narrow high wall with staircase along the top leading down the Western face of the rock, castellated on the south side but only a thin steel rail on the north. Tall and narrow, it looked like a tightrope walk to me. Douglas lookout was closed for renovation and I continued to O’Hara’s Battery. It was closed since it was after 5pm but this was where the top of the Mediterranean steps emerged from the eastern face of the rock.

At this time of day, the Mediterranean steps are in the shade. The steps looked like they could be steep and exposed to sheer faces but it wasn’t clear looking down from the top as it wove it’s way through the shrubs. Each side of me along the ridge I could see sheer cliffs wondering how steep it could get. I’d go down and have a look and turn back if need be and if I had any energy left.

The Mediterranean Steps are one of the most beautiful walks I have been on; steep in places and level at others as it undulates down and along the rock face. Abandoned gun placements make interesting wild-camping spots for future reference. Sealed up cave entrances guarded the secrets of the Gibraltar Tunnels. Rounding Europa Point into the hazy orange sunset

Malaga: The highway from La Linea to Malaga follows the coast of the Mediterranean in sweeping undulating bends that looked fun for motorcycle or car. I was a passenger, grateful for the lift to the Malaga Airport. I had checked in online and needed to drop no bags so I was straight through to the gate just as it was opening for boarding. 2 hours later I was at Paris Charles De Gaulle.

Paris: There was still ice on the puddles next to the taxiway. I headed for connecting flights and was accosted by a man in a black with an ID lanyard.

  • “Do you have a connecting flight?”
  • “Yes”
  • “Do you need to collect your luggage?”
  • “No.”
  • “Where are your flight details?”
  • “Here.”
  • “No, you still have to go through immigration.”
  • “Then I have to go through security again?”
  • “Yes.”

My flight was for tomorrow and I was hoping to spend the night at the gates since the seating is generally more comfortable. Finding a secluded alcove to myself, I settled down for the night lulled by reassuring announcements that my baggage would be destroyed if I didn’t have it with me. I was next to full height window panes as that whole side of the airport appeared to be, and the cold of the night brought a convection current down across my legs. I dressed in my waterproofs I had brought with me for sailing to add another layer of insulation and slept as best I could.
I was the only one in security as it opened so straight through to the gates with 6 hours to spare.

the flight was full and I was the last one on. An old French couple were next to my window seat. the woman got up to let me through to the window seat but the man remained just looking at me until several requests gradually raising in pitch by his wife. Settling down, I noticed the man’s torso filled the space of his seat which meant that his arm was over the rest to my side. I tried to wedge my head into the window porthole to catch up on some sleep over the 9 hours that I’d be in the air. this was pretty comfortable until the times my head slid forward past the ledge and catching myself before impact on the retractable tray and a sly glance at my neighbour to check whether I should feel embarassed or not.

St Maarten: On the approach to land I was reminded how beautiful the island was. the Sea was as blue as the sky, and both seemed to merge into a pale stripe hiding the line of the horizon and the 27C sunshine was a welcome break from the onset of the long British winter.

Glee was pretty much as I left her – only a little rustier and tidier due to the kindness of the people looking out for her. After a couple of beers and a quick catch-up at Li Far East. Johan gave me a ride out to Glee, as my dinghy had been decommissioned on the Glee’s bow.

There were no sign of any cockroaches so the dumping of food stores and baiting of the food spaces did the trick to eradicate them while I was away. But the main thing was that I was home.