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Peeling rubber, crossing borders and getting sunburned

1._Posing_on_an_ATV~ Doing an island tour on an ATV ~

By Rik Haverman

When you think of an all-terrain vehicle (ATV), you perhaps think of an Australian farmer gathering his cattle, a rapper/pop star strolling down the streets or just people having some off-road fun. That the four-wheeler is actually a great way to explore our sunny Friendly Island might be a bit of a surprise.

That, however, is exactly what Chin-Te "Mr. A Te" Hoy offers his clients. His company, Solid ATV/Scooter Rental, offers a complete island tour (Dutch and French side), with a guide included, as well as private rentals.

For starters; what exactly is an ATV? Sometimes called a quad, an ATV can be best described as a small motorized vehicle with four wheels, designed mainly for off-road functions. It can have many practical uses, such as agriculture, but to many, the ATV is purely an instrument of fun tasks.

Solid ATV rents the vehicles from Goldfinch Road #2 in Pointe Blanche. The building looks much like a garage, with the door open so you can walk in easily. The building consists of one large open space where so many ATVs are stored that it is difficult to walk up to the reception in the back. Tetris-like skills must have been needed to store all the four-wheelers. However, Mr. A Te assured us that "normally, almost all the ATVs are rented and the building is a lot emptier!"

AFTER THE paperwork, we were offered our helmets. Ironically, I was offered a beautiful Minnie Mouse helmet while my girlfriend got offered a more masculine head protector. Still puzzled over what that says about me or my relationship, we were introduced to our tour guide. Going by the descriptive name Dusty, his fun attitude immediately made a good impression. Enthusiastic and open, Dusty's personality was a prelude to a fantastic afternoon.

He started to explain calmly what the functions were for all the buttons and pedals on the quad. This was a necessity for me; I had never driven an ATV before. After the explanation, I inevitably drove on the road in fits and starts. As a result, Dusty signalled my girlfriend and me to the side of the road and took the time to explain again. This time he clarified that I should handle the accelerator gentler. After this last information, my driving improved significantly. No worries thus for the novice quad rider, Dusty will come to the rescue.

AFTER DRIVING for some time, enjoying the sun and the views of charming St. Maarten, the tour guide pulled us over for the first stop. We stopped at Oyster Pond for a great view over the bay area. Dusty pointed out where the different hotels are situated and gave us some time to enjoy the view and take some pictures. The latter I enjoyed more than the knowledge of the location of the regional resorts and inns. When Dusty indicated that we had to leave again, I drove the quad on the road, smoothly this time, following our tour guide.

The next stop was the Coralita lookout point. We crossed the border and found ourselves on the French side of the island. This lookout point is also known as the Rotary Lookout Point, since it is sponsored by the Rotary Club of St. Martin/St. Maarten. Located on the Rue de Coralita, between Baie Lucas and Baie de L'Embouchure, the lookout point offers a fantastic view of the area. Standing on the elevated wooden platform, we enjoyed the panorama of the Atlantic Ocean, the coastline and St. Barths in the distance.

AS OUR journey through St. Martin continued, I found the road somewhat hillier here and more driving skills were required. Especially the turns demanded vigilance. Steering was quite heavy, so at the first corner, I was a little frantic behind the wheel. No fear, beginning four-wheelers, with a little practice, taking corners improves significantly.

The third stop was quite unexpected. Out of nowhere, Dusty signalled us to stop next to what looked like some ordinary roadside bushes (located somewhere between Baie Lucas and Orient Bay). It turned out to be one of the most exciting stops during the tour. While I was dismounting the quad, I noticed the first iguana, only because Dusty pointed the animal out. After that, our attention was drawn to the bushes and we were astonished to find a whole gathering of iguanas there. Apparently, the passing traffic had thrown food there so regularly, that the iguanas gather there now en masse. It was an amazing sight everywhere I looked; I didn't see the reptiles at first, but when I looked more closely, there were whole crowds of iguanas. I can honestly say that these reptiles are masters in disguise.

SOON WE hit the streets again. As I got more and more pleasure in driving an ATV, I was almost disappointed that our next stop occurred. Nevertheless, this stop was once again impressive. The idyllic Orient Bay is where the clients of the island tour will reside for an hour during their trip. It is a perfect opportunity to enjoy the beach, have a drink at Pedro's Bar or, for those who like to get rid of their clothes, visit the nudist seashore. We decided to only stroll along the side for the fully dressed and visit some bars and shops. After this moment of relaxing, we were eager to get on our steel steeds again.

It took some time before we arrived on the following "checkpoint." When I was driving down the streets, I got surprised by the diversity of SXM. For me a new resident of Philipsburg, the French side was quite unknown. It baffled me how different it was from the parts of The Friendly Island that I was familiar with. I was enjoying the green environment on St. Martin, when I noticed that the sun stung my skin and it was then I remembered that I hadn't applied sunscreen. At the moment that I'm writing this, I'm still paying the price for that. So, my dear readers, when you are planning to drive a quad in this lovely weather; please use sunscreen.

EVENTUALLY, after a joyeux ride, we arrived at the fifth stop: the French side capital of Marigot. Once more, we were offered to enjoy our surroundings while the tour guide watched our vehicles in the meantime. Therefore, it is possible for the participants of the tour to visit Marigot thoroughly: the many market stalls, restaurants, bars and the central marketplace make this visit worthwhile. Fort Louis, on top of the hill near the stopover, is of course a must-see for everyone with some historical interests. Nonetheless, Marigot was the last stop in French St. Martin. For our next stop, we would cross the border to enter Dutch St. Maarten again.

The sixth and second to last stop was inevitable: Maho Beach. That this number one tourist attraction of St. Maarten has been included in the tour didn't come as a surprise. At Maho Beach, we enjoyed a drink, watched some planes land and take off, and finally hopped on our quads again. The last stop followed fairly quickly. We parked our ATVs on the side of a road, located on a hill near Little Bay, overlooking Great Bay and my new hometown of Philipsburg. With the risk of sounding repetitive; again Dusty gave us the chance to appreciate the amazing scenery. Let me reassure you, although the panorama-stops were reoccurring during the ATV tour, it never got boring. St. Maarten's surroundings are simply too astonishing for that.

AT THE end, we arrived back at Solid ATV/Scooter Rental. After dropping off our vehicles, we walked away with a satisfied feeling. The tour was an ideal combination of the fun of riding an ATV and gaining a good overview of what St. Maarten has to offer. The quad trip made me encounter spots of the island I had not seen yet as a new Friendly Islander. Last, but not least, Dusty was a great tour guide, patient, informative, enthusiastic and will make the tour an amusing experience for everyone.

Solid ATV/Scooter Rental is located at 2 Goldfinch Road, Pointe Blanche. ATVs (300cc, 350cc and 400cc) can be rented for prices between US $85 and $105 a day; $10 insurance will always be added. The Guided ATV Island Tour lasts about four to five hours and costs $120 (single driver). For more information, contact www.sxmsolidatv.com, 1 721 542-4407 / 523-2616 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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