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Enjoy some pictures from the split island of Saint Martin/France und Sint Maarten/Netherlands Antilles

St. Maarten Map

Map of the Caribbean

                                  Saint Martin                               France         

 

       Sint Maarten

 

Netherlands Antilles

 

click a picture to see details

 

 

 

Two country Welcome signs
Monument between the Dutch and
French part of the island
Philipsburg is build on a small land spit
 

Saint Martin/Sint Maarten - "The friendly Island"

We are standing on deck enjoying the cool, salty sea breeze as the French Captain Marc Maurois calls us to take the aperitif. The table for lunch is already set, very special, very festive, as it seems to us. But apparently this high standard is normal on "MV Cap Canaille" of the French Line CMA-CGM. According to the captain, a good atmosphere and especially good food is very important on sea to keep the crew in high spirits. What we are served today is simply first class cuisine and shows again the uniqueness of the French culinary culture. Already taking the aperitif something special is served: Anchovy in puff-paste. As appetizer follows a well-arranged plate with shrimps and salmon, as main course chicken with plums and noodles, and as desert a selection of cheese and ice cream with whipped cream. Emil, who does not like fish at all, gets a special treatment: Liver pie as appetizer. Of course there is also red and white wine. Everybody is in good mood and the conversation with the captain and the crew from Romania is easy going so that we really regret when berthing the next day at Philipsburg in Sint Maarten. It is raining heavily and dense haze hides the views, as we drive through the open harbor gate into this small tax-free paradise.

 

Children have a lot of fun on
the raft at Le Galion Beach
Overlooking Marigot Bay and
Marigot from Fort St. Louis
Sea birds gather in a lagoon
 

Contrary to our expectations, we find the French Saint Martin and Dutch Sint Maarten very hilly and after the intensive rain incredibly green. The vegetation explodes and escalates virtually under our eyes. What is unique is that two countries share this island since 1648. One side is Dutch with Philipsburg as the capital of this part of the Netherlands Antilles; the other side is French with Marigot as the capital as a part of the Overseas Department of Guadeloupe. Negotiations are currently on the way about changing the status of the island, so that the Dutch Sint Maarten would become an own Overseas Province of Holland and the French Saint Martin an own Overseas Department of France, i.e. that neither Curaçao nor Guadeloupe is governing anymore the island. No borders exist between the two mini states, only a monument announcing the entry into the other side. We are fascinated by the enormous diversification: In France, the Euro is the official money (the US$ is also accepted, sometimes even 1:1, sometimes at a very bad rate - depending always on the market situation), in the Netherlands Antilles it is the Antillean Guilder - called also Florin -, with the US$ as a parallel currency. In France we find the high standard of the French Cuisine, while in the Dutch part Fast Food corners like Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's are common. On French beaches, it is allowed to bathe topless - on Orient Bay there is even an official nudist beach -, while the Dutch side prohibits strictly topless bathing, but amazingly casinos and adult entertainment establishments flourish instead. France and the Netherlands Antilles do not celebrate the same holidays either. For example Monday of Pentecost is only a holiday in France. There are also two airports, the Dutch one being bigger and the International one. Throughout France, of course French is spoken, on the Dutch side nearly only English. Seatbelts and helmets are compulsory in France, not so in "Holland". It would not have been at all of a surprise to find out that they drive on different sides of the road.....! A disadvantage is that phoning from one to the other side is very expensive, as "overseas tariffs" are charged. In addition to all those diversifications is the fascinating melting pot of the people with their different cultures. According to a recent newspaper publication, people of 114 different nations are living currently in Saint Martin and Sint Maarten. We like this cosmopolite island from the very beginning.

 

The Court House dominates the
Main Square in Philipsburg
Busy Front Street in Philipsburg
The Liqueur Store in Philipsburg
honors our entry in the Guinness
Book with a case of Guinness Beer
 

Our place to stay is at the Toyota distributor in Philipsburg - a real lucky chance! We are allowed to sleep in the air-conditioned office of the worskhop manager and we have DSL-Internet access outside the working hours . The first chance we appreciate because of the considerably rising temperatures, the second one because we are trying our first steps of web paging to activate our website ourselves, which was sleeping since March 2000. All those commodities we are enjoying again and again in the future too, as this easygoing island is becoming for us the hub to other Caribbean destinations. And for our LandCruiser, which burned its clutch on the steep roads of the Virgin Islands, it is the right place to refurbish it and order new gaskets for the engine in Miami. Without this Toyota Distributor we would have been "lost in deep water"! But the hospitality goes still further: On our last day before our departure, suddenly Pamela, Martha and Rey show up in the service manager's office with happy faces and surprise us with T-shirts full of signatures and blessings from the management and the whole crew, two lovely beach towels with Caribbean motifs and a huge box with all kind of wonderful "goodies" - a gesture that touches us deeply and is a further proof of the friendliness and hospitality of this island. No wonder that many sailors get stuck here. It is a small world that practically offers everything one can desire.

 

Having lunch at Simpson Bay A ride into the refreshing water Early morning at Great Bay
 

We never get bored. One thing, which is quite famous in Philipsburg and where it is always exciting, is the International Juliana Airport at the Dutch side. Here, jumbo jets thunder only a few meters over the heads of the people at the beach - an extraordinary sight! One day, we are really happy to find a parking space right behind the landing strip, because we want to make close-up pictures with a plane flying directly over our car's roof rack. But what we underestimate is the immense air pressure that such a giant aircraft produces when taking off. When it is the turn of an Airbus of Air France to take-off, the sand comes blasting like in a desert storm. We just can run into coverage and have no time to close the car's windows. The result is that everything in the interior is completely covered by sand. The sunglasses of an English tourist, who is standing right besides us, are just ripped of his nose - never to be found again - and he has to search and fish his different bathing utensils and clothes out of the sea. Apparently it also has occurred that windshields just broke or cars have been turned over, or even people were injured. But nobody can be made responsible, as there is a big warning sign pointing out clearly that there is a danger of low flying planes. We find it positive that this "tickle of nerves" is not forbidden - one reason more why we like this island.

 

The Cruise Ship Terminal in Philipsburg
can be busy like a bee-house
Baptism at Simpson Bay
Organ Pipe Cacti are a common
sight in Sint Maarten
 

In the two weeks of our first visit we drove 240 km on the 34 km2 big Dutch side and 209 km on the 53 km2 of the French part. Eight times we crossed the border. And each time it was a highlight again, as practically from everywhere the turquoise sea, white sandy beaches, picturesque lagoons, spit of lands and high masts of luxury sailing boats rising into the blue sky are visible. Before reaching "St. Martin/St. Maarten", we were told many times that it is totally overbuilt. Partially it might be true, but on the other hand the houses are spread out giving never a feeling of claustrophobia. From the two capitals we prefer actually Philipsburg. This town is built on a small spit of land between the ocean and a lagoon. Its two front streets are lined with luxury jewelry, electronic and camera shops, expensive boutiques with first class brands and souvenir shops. It is lively, colorful and very busy, especially on days when Cruise Ships call in - sometimes up to four at the same time - and the visitors' head to the hundreds or even thousands into the duty free shops. Digital cameras are one of the favorite buys. The smart salesmen are mainly from Indian origin. On our first day when we parked our LandCruiser at the sea front, one vendor after the other came from the near shops. All were so fascinated of our story that all wanted to make us a present. The result was that within one hour we got exactly eleven T-shirts, two shorts and two baseball caps. This is Sint Maarten! Marigot - the other town - has much more of a French flavor, unfortunately also a stop-and-go traffic nearly all day long. The Mediterranean charm is visible in many places, which makes it in its way special too. Most of the marinas for sailing yachts are found here, while the bigger cargo freighters are mostly handled on the other side of the border.

 

The colorful houses of Orient Bay Resort Nudist Beach at Orient Bay Time Sharing Complex at Fort Amsterdam
 

The hurricane season started already at the beginning of June and will last until November/December. The Caribbean forecast for this season expects around 12 tropical storms, of which 3 to 4 could turn into real hurricanes. If one hits the island, mostly the destruction is horrible. Hurricane "Luis" for example demolished in 1995 about 80% of all buildings. Scattered hotel ruins still can be seen today. After such a hurricane, electricity and water supply are not functioning anymore and can remain cut for months. People, who have an own water cistern, are better off of course. But everybody is helping everybody in such difficult times. And when finally after weeks of interruption the refrigerator is suddenly functioning again, the joy of sipping a cold beer is big. We have been told that our more than four ton vehicle could easily fly 30 meters and more through the air, if such a hurricane with force 5 is approaching. Despite that such a phenomena is still missing in our adventure box, we are not really keen to experience it, and if, then only from far away.

 

Spider Lily -
a fascinating tropical flower
Pope-Head Cactus. They
grow mostly in families
Colorful Caterpillars
 

Our plan was to visit the three neighbor islands of Antigua, Anguilla and Montserrat before heading to the US Virgin Islands. But new, tough restrictions - called ISPS - implemented by the Americans for all ports worldwide from the beginning of July make us anticipate the US Virgin Islands. Captain Marc already warned us that he couldn't take us anymore to US harbors after this date. Shipping lines - especially also captains - and also ports get so many new security issues to observe that they can hardly deal anymore with all the additional enormous paperwork. In our case for example, we would have to establish a list stating each single item in our car and submit it 96 hours in advance to the US port the vessel will call. If at a check on arrival something is found which is not listed, the vessel could be searched thoroughly or even asked to leave the port immediately. The whole extent of these new regulations is still unimaginable. But also in this respect, St. Martin is again diverse: While the Dutch Port Authority in Philipsburg is more strict concerning its access, the French Marigot harbor is much more easygoing.

 

KLM Jumbo thundering over our
heads in Philipsburg Juliana Airport
Fisherman cleans his
catch at Simpson Bay
View of Marigot from Pic Paradis,
the highest point of the Island
 

It is Saturday, June 5th, as we board together with our LandCruiser for the second time "MV Cap Canaille", this time with destination Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas in US Virgin Islands. Our departure is not so sentimental, as we know that we will soon come back again. A cruiser's horn is just announcing its departure as we slowly sail away from Great Bay, where we spent many nostalgic evenings watching the cruise ships disappear in the evening glow to their new destinations. Today, we are also on our way to new horizons, with much anticipated joy!

 

Youngsters in good mood
visit us at Mullet Bay
At Great Bay in Town Center
A Cruise Ship is leaving the harbor of Philipsburg in the warm evening sun
 
 
Articles in newspapers about us in Sint Maarten/Saint Martin:
Article: "St. Maarten 147th country in Swiss pair's world tour by car", May 22, 2004
Article: "Tour du monde: 582'000 kilomètres en vingt ans", May 25, 2004
Article: "Emil et Liliana Schmid Le tour du monde de deux aventuriers suisses", May 29, 2004
Article: "Around the world in 20 years", December 2004
Our 20th Travel Anniversary on the island of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten in the Northern Antilles/Caribbbean
Leap in time forward to the 25th Travel Anniversary in Tahiti/French Polynesia (Pic. #88)
Leap in time forward to the unusal 30th Travel Anniversary in Angola (Pic. #145)