Whether you’re staying in St. Maarten for a week on your own or just for the day on a cruise ship, the fastest way to the heart of the island is through its people.
Sure, locals are everywhere, but some stand out more than others; some provide you the opportunity to experience something unique, a pathway to connect with the destination through their lives and creations.
Next time on St. Maarten, we recommend crossing paths with these three folks. In addition to being memorable personalities, each offers their own glimpse into Caribbean culture and helps you see a different side of the St. Maarten community.
Mighty Dow for Steel Pan Lessons
Love local music? You’ll definitely want to carve out some time to get to know the Caribbean’s most famous instrument, the steel pan, also known as the steel drum.
A great way to do so is to connect with one of the island’s most prominent musicians, the Mighty Dow, called “Dow” by friends for short.
Dow runs Dow’s Musical Foundation in Philipsburg with a goal to preserve the legacy of the steel pan – and ensure its future – through a music school and local workshops. In addition to hosting after-school programs for kids, he also teaches lessons to curious visitors.
Full of flair and passion, Dow makes learning this unique instrument fun, entertaining and educating in an outdoor, open-aired classroom as he introduces you to how the pans are made, tuned, and played.
You might be tempted to just listen to Dow play (and record his antics), but take the lesson seriously – by the end of it, you’ll have learned a classic song or two (feeling hot! hot! hot!) and, if you’re inquisitive enough, a whole lot about the island and its people.
If you’re staying multiple nights on St. Maarten, be sure to ask Mighty Dow for his recommendations about local music and where to find it around the island.
If you’re interested in taking a lesson, it’s best to make contact before you arrive on island. Message Dow on his Facebook page to set something up.
Rab Bushman for Garden-Grown Food & Reggae Flair
Fans of home-grown and natural food will want to make a beeline to meet Ras Bushman, owner of the Ital Shack near Philipsburg.
Mr. Bushman opened the restaurant as a way to express what it means to be Rasta, a way of life also known as “Ital.” It operates on the basis of wanting to survive on only what is naturally provided by God, or Mother Nature. In Bushman’s view, all things in nature – fruits, veggies, herbs, and spices – come from the Almighty and should be held scared as such.
Don’t worry – there’s no religious adaptation required. In practical terms, Mr. Bushman simply wants to encourage people to eat natural and organic, avoiding anything produced or packaged. Thus each day his restaurant serves a different meal to guests, based on the time of year and what’s available from his garden. A soup is usually prepared as well.
We recommend settling in for a plate of whatever they’re serving, knowing it will be fresh and clean eating. Mingle with the locals who pop in on their lunch breaks, or call ahead to see about live music on the weekends.
Most of all, get to know Mr. Bushman, and be sure to ask to see his book. It chronicles some of his world travels as he went looking for inspiration and a better sense of self, which ultimately led him to the Ital lifestyle.
‘The Captain’ for a Unique ‘Lolo’ Experience
Found all over the island, a “lolo” is the street name for a local food stall, typically run by a family and operated as a semi-permanent eatery. They come in all shapes and sizes, serving a variety of local specialties, such as grilled meats, Johnny cakes, and stuffed crab backs.
One you will definitely want to check out is Captain’s Rib Shack, located in Simpson Bay. On a visit, you’ll most likely bump into the Captain himself as he takes orders from the picnic tables, grooving along to local bands and performers that set the vibe for his street-side hangout. Don’t see him? Hint: His shirt or hat gives it away. Still don’t see him? Ask around.
Aside from crossing paths with the Captain, the lore here for locals and visitors alike is the barbecue: pork ribs, chicken, fish, shrimp, and lobster. Choose from a variety of sides and daily specials, and don’t miss all you can eat ribs on Thursday nights for $18.
Captain’s Rib Shack is a great stop for a beer and meal after a sunset sail with Aqua Mania Adventures, which conveniently operates out of Simpson Bay, just a ways down the road.