As any travel bloggers worth their salt know, on St. Maarten/ St. Martin you've got to visit Maho Bay. Not because the ocean and sand look so spectacular -- although they do -- but due to the fact that one of the shortest aeronautical runaways in the world starts merely steps away from this tropical beach.
(KLM flight ready to land. Photo by Laura Albritton.)
The runway on the nearby isle of Saba is in fact shorter; Saba's strip is the shortest commercial airstrip in the world! But St. Maarten's Princess Juliana Airport's is nevertheless VERY short, which means that major jets must land on a very, very limited stretch of runway, which entails flying extremely low over Maho Beach. This spectacle has become a major St. Maarten tourist attraction, needless to say.
On our way back from an east coast beach, we decide to stop off at Maho Bay and, if lucky, photograph a plane flying in. After all the You Tube videos I've watched, I feel like the Island Runaways team can't miss out on this experience. And post about it for our Island Runaways friends, of course!
(Maho Bay beach. Photo by Laura Albritton.)
But the place is packed. It's a Sunday and apparently, a large percentage of St. Maarten's tourists have exactly the same idea. Every last parking place seems to be taken, and there are travelers everywhere, and I do mean everywhere on the beach. The two beach bars, one at either end of the sand, are jammed to the gills with partiers. In our tiny rental Kia Picanto we circle around on the narrow two-lane road, a road which is squeezed between the narrow strip of beach and the fence which signals the start of the runaway.
Out in the distance there's a drone of engine heading our way.
(Plane coming in for landing. Photo by Laura Albritton.)
Zickie and I aren't immediately concerned. We don't actually SEE the plane at first, because we're paying too much attention to the aggravating stop-and-start traffic in front of us. The cars are barely budging. If the other drivers don't get a move on, we know we won't find a parking place and more importantly, we won't make it onto the beach for the jet about to come in for a landing.
(Getting closer. Photo by Laura Albritton.)
And just then? The car in front of us stops. As in, completely comes to a halt. The driver is not going anywhere.
Then is when I look up and discover, to my absolute horror, that our tiny little rental Kia Picanto appears to be sitting DIRECTLY under the flight path of this HUGE plane. (I think I yell a swear word at this point, but I honestly can't remember.) Meanwhile, the plane is coming closer and closer and closer.
The noise becomes deafening!
We can't drive forward, or backwards. We are DIRECTLY underneath the jet's path. There's nothing we can do but watch it. I can't lie: I am absolutely, one hundred perfect terrified.
"Take a picture," Zickie shouts. That's when I remember that I'm holding the camera. I snap one, two, and then three shots. As the jet goes over our car, I squeeze my eyes shut as hard as possible and pray that nothing bad happens. The plane roars overhead with a huge burst of noise.
Afterwards, we exhale loudly in relief. My ears are killing me. My hands remain gripped around Zickie's camera. Our daughter yells, "That was the coolest thing we've done all day!"
Maybe she's right. It was a pretty darned spectacular view.
Our plan had been to park and watch at a safe distance from the end of the beach. Never in a million years did I think we'd be in a tiny car, under the jet, mere feet from the runway. No way, José! For one thing, hanging out that close under a landing jet isn't safe.
(People waiting for the next jet to land on Maho Bay beach. Photo by Laura Albritton.)
While I'm not repeating that experience any time soon, I've got to admit...it was the most exciting thing I've ever seen on a beach! Or on any tropical island getaway. (But it did take a few minutes for me to loosen my grip on the camera. No kidding.)
Have you watched the planes land at Maho Bay? Do you have pictures? If so, hope you share them with us on Facebook. Cheers, fellow island lovers!