Saint Martin / Sint Maarten: One island – two countries
Continuing the Caribbean junket, it’s time for Saint Martin / Sint-Maarten, one of the destinations I actually planned for, because of a very unique beach.
This island is similar to Hispaniola in that it is one island, comprising two countries. What sets this particular island apart, however, is that it comprises two European countries – many, many miles from Europe. We will take a look at both Marigot and Philipsburg, the French and the Dutch island capital, respectively. We’ll also traipse down to the intriguing experience that is Maho Beach.
‘A beach?’ friends asked incredulously when I told them. ‘You get bored after a few hours laying about in the sun!’ And they are right. With a few exceptions, beaches get old pretty quickly. But you see, Maho is much more than a beach. And, while yes, you can come here to lay about slowly grilling your bod’, most come for an altogether different experience. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, let’s have a peek at Marigot, the capital of Saint Martin.
After arriving on the island in the early hours, I head for Marigot to catch the morning ferry to Anguilla. The British island is a mere 20-minute journey from Saint Martin’s capital. Well, it turns out Marigot is closer to the airport that I thought, so I have plenty of time while waiting for the ferry.
Hm… how about L’Express Bakery at the corner over there, just across from the harbour? Breakfast it is then. Coffee and croissants. Trés français! I’m enjoying Saint Martin already.
Hungry? In Marigot I am spoiled for choice, with numerous bars and restaurants lining the harbour area.
Returning from Anguilla after lunch, I decide to have a closer look at Marigot before finding my lodgings over in the Dutch part.
Marigot is small. Apart from the active port, you can visit the ruins of Fort St. Louis. It’s a bit of a climb, so I sorta, kinda plan to come back and do that the next day. But I never get around to it. Gotta save something for another time, right?
Not sharing. Find your own coconut!
Then there is Le marché de Marigot. It is open every day, from 0800 to 1300. Fish auctions on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Well, I just missed the Saturday one, and I’ll be gone by Wednesday. I wonder if they throw fish around, like they do at Pike Place Market in Seattle… Another save for another time.
There are several daily connections to Anguilla and St. Barths from the ferry terminal in Marigot
Faire du shopping in tropical France?
You can stroll along the short Rue de la République and take in the slightly crumbling traditional Creole architecture. There are designer shops, as well as local arts and crafts; think necklaces made of sea shells, bags made from coconuts, and the like. At the other end of the scale is a small, snazzy shopping mall, Le West Indies, a contemporary and quite beautiful building.
OK, let’s go to the Netherlands.
I am staying at Mary’s Boon in Simpson Bay, a lively, rambling, cosy hotel on the beach.
We are also near the airport. At first, it is a bit disconcerting to hear the deafening roar of planes just above my head. But it’s funny what you get used to, isn’t it? Soon, it has an almost comforting regularity to it, and if a few hours passes without hearing a plane taking off or landing, that becomes disconcerting.
How close is that airport?
Turning right from my room, just past the swimming pool, there it is: American Airlines in plain sight, about to rev up those engines. Just metres away.
Turning left from my room, this is the view:
Also, the chicken and mango salad is delicious. (Nope, nothing sponsored here, I just enjoyed the place).
And so I have had breakfast in France, lunch in the British Isles and dinner in the Netherlands – all on the same day. The geek in me is pleased.
Being so close to the airport, I decide it would be fun to do an interval run around its perimeter. And so I do. 4 minutes run: 2 minutes walk. It takes about an hour, mostly because for much of the way, it is only narrow strips of gravel or grass along a rather busy road. Every few minutes, I have to turn my head to check oncoming traffic. Occasionally, I have to press up against a fence or a tree to avoid being run down. Also, photo stops. Soon it feels like the intervals are reversed.
As you can tell, circling the airport was not the best plan. So here is an idea for the transport/tourism authorities of Sint Maarten: build a running track around the perimeter of Princess Juliana Airport (SXM). Running – or walking – around an entire airport, why, that could be a tourist attraction in itself.
Along the way: Taylor Made fishing charters, the causeway bridge connecting France and the Netherlands (also locally known as the 3 o’clock bridge, because there is always a traffic jam here at that time), the shipyard, and a stranded KLM plane. The Airbus A330 had a nose wheel steering malfunction just after take-off and has been here about a week when I run past.
The courthouse, the church and the clock
The capital of Sint Maarten has a long white sand beach and a boardwalk along Great Bay, full of bars with names like Dirty Sanchez, The Love Boat, Big Bastard’s Beach Bar, etc. Classic Caribbean cruise ship harbour. But pleasant enough.
Ga winkelen in tropical Netherlands?
Another part of the cruise experience is shopping, and Philipsburg has plenty of it. Jewellery sellers and high-end fashion brands abound, especially along Front Street. Behind that is Back Street, with more shops.
Also, pragmatic naming, don’t you think? I like it.
Along Front Street, a man lures me into his beauty shop, all Spider to the Fly-like. He has a new revolutionary product, you see, and he can show me in just 1 minute. This miraculous mix will remove the wrinkles at the sides of my eyes. Guaranteed! All for the ridiculously low price of 200 Euro for a jar.
‘Hm… I quite like my smiling wrinkles,’ I tell him, (that’s what they’re called in my language). ‘Think I’ll keep ’em.’ Seems he doesn’t have an appropriate counter argument in his repertoire. And what can you say to that, really? But we part on friendly terms, and he gives me a free sample. Later, I give it a try. Curiosity always wins. Sticky stuff, feels like glue. I hurry up and wash it off, just so I won’t go blind or anything. Did I miss my chance to have a wrinkle free face? I guess we’ll never know.
Further back, behind Back Street, is Market Place, with souvenirs, clothes, various and sundry:
Philipsburg Market Place
If you’re not all that into shopping, you can check out the colourful street art.