Mystical Mud Tintamare
Tiny and uninhabited Tintamarre Island seems to have nothing to offer. But some of the locals on St.Martin and St.Barths know the mystery of the island ’s lure is as clear as mud. Only the locals know about the secret on Tintamarre island. If you’re very good, they might share.
By Karen T.Bartlett
The first time I heard about Tintamarre, I was being bounced on the swells off St.Barts while our hired boat captain, Philippe, tried to decide what to do next. The remote island beach bar he had planned to take us to was closed.
"I will take you to a secret place", he announced triumphantly, and with a jolt we roared off on an eastward course. Soon a small island appeared. Eschewing a perfectly nice white sandy beach, Philippe idled around the island until we reached a tiny cove, hidden by smooth black volcanic boulders.
About 150 yards/135 meters out, Philippe cut the engine, grabbed an empty water bottle and dived off the stern without a backward glance. We looked at one another and shrugged before following our captain, swimming toward a tiny patch of sand where the rocks parted. One wall of the cove was a deep sienna red – a porous, iron rich clay, hardened from endless baking in the Caribbean sun.
Philippe scaled the rocky wall with his plastic bottle, now filled with sea water. This he poured down the wall until the soil was soft enough to break off in fist-size chunks. He worked the softened day, adding more water, until he had a gooey ball of glistening mud. Balanced above us, he slathered his entire body with the stuff, then handed down the dripping red potion to our six pairs of waiting hands. We smeared the thick plaster on our bodies, including faces, hair and feet, and basked in the morning sun, occasionally wetting down the mud to keep it from cracking. Fifteen minutes later, Philippe proclaimed the treatment over and splashed into the sea. We followed like red lemmings. Voilà ! The mineral-rich mud sloughed off the dead top layer of skin to reveal a aoft new me. This mystical experience had to be shared, but I had not a single picture to prove an island called Tintamarre even existed. Six months later, I determine to return to Tintamarre – willing to swimm back if necessary – to capture those cliffs on film. Consulting a local fisherman’s guide I realize that Tintamarre is a most 5 miles/8 kilometers from French St.Martin’s tres chic Oriental Beach. Setting up camp at La Plantation hotel overlooking Orient Beach, I am directed to Emmanuel Demanez, an adorable young Frenchman who runs theWindAdventures beach concession at the foot of the hill> ‘Of course I take you to Tintamarre’, says Manu> ‘Oui, I know the clay, I have used eet on my skeen’.
I can’t help but notice that Manu has very nice skeen indeed. Manu’s companion, Cecile, and Claes, from the hotel, will go along. We also invite Patrick and Bettina, who are visited from Autria. No need to swim to the island ; the parasail driver is free early in the morning and will be happy to zip us over in his speedboat.The next morning we get started at 8 a.m. a watery rollercoaster ride across the crests of 6 foot/2-meters swells drops us 10 minutes later on the southern tip of Tintamarre. We slide off the bow into clear Caribbean waters and wade ashore.To reach the secret spot at the northern end of the island, Manu picks his way along a barely visible path across desert-like scrublands, sharp coral rock, the remains of a single –engine plane, stands of cactus and through a grove of weather twisted trees. He pauses to recount the struggles between the French and thre English over ownership of Tintamarre. At one time the island housed a lime plantation, at another time it provided the only landing strip for access o St.Martin. today it’s empty, save for goats, turtles and a lone homesteader trying to get an ostrich farm going. The sun is already high as we reach the rocky coastline. Giant dried sea fans and abandoed fossil shlls are caught in the tidal pools. the terrain suddenly looks familiar ; a few giant rocks in the sea below catch my attention, and the path is now tinged in Crayola orange. A peek over the cliff’s edge and my heart leaps – then sinks. It is exactly the spot where Philippe landed us six months before, but now, at high tide, there is no secret cove, only a raging sea. The cliff Philippe scaled is totally inaccessible.
Manu seems unaware of the dilemma as he presses on. Catching up to him, I point to the red cliffside we have just passed. "That’s it! Just there. But how can we possibly get to it? Im obvious confusion, Manu replies ; "but those are not zee cleefs. They are red. Zee cleefs are white! We are not arrived yet! Ten minutes later the footpath takes a curve, and 40 feet/12 meters straight down we catch our first glimpse of the white cliffs of Tintamarre. It’s like another world. Soft, sandy limestone formations ring in peaceful cove. Even before Manu signals our descent, T-shirts and shorts come flying off. Carefully, one by one, Manu hands us along the swicthbacks of the goat-size path on the wall of the white cliff. While we cool down in the water, he begins to chisel chunks of white mud into a coconut shell he has picked up.
We join him at the water’s edges as he uses salt water and a tick to make a smooth, thick poultice. We know what to do, and soon we are a sextet of white mummies, almost invisible against the white sandy wall. This clay feels totally different from Philippe’s red paste. It’s lighter and smoother. The exfoliation technique Manu demonstrates is different too. With dry hands, we massage the hardened mineral into our skin and let the breeze dust most of it off like a fine powder. The salt spray at the Arc de Tintamarre takes care of the rest.
After the bath, we have an hour’s trek back across the island ahead of us. Just before noon, we emerge onto the white crescent beach where we started. No longer a desert island, it is now host to two dozen or so picnickers. Two bikini-clad Americans approach, one pointing toward the trees from which we just emerged. "Anything worth seing in there"? I glance at Cecile; her eyes dance. "Nope, nothing but scrub brush and a few goats", I say.
Karren T. Bartlett gets slathered with muds, oils and potions at spas around the world in the name of research
Copyright Caribbean and Travel Life. Caribbean Travel Life November 98 Edition.