Friday, March 1, 2013

Split Personality

At barely 7 miles across, the dual nation of St. Martin/Sint Maarten, is the smallest island in the world to be divided by two sovereign powers.  Legend has it that the French and Dutch being more civilized than some of their European neighbors did not fight over the island.  Instead, a Frenchman armed with a bottle of wine walked in one direction and a Dutchman equipped with a flask of gin in the other.  Where they met became the boundary, and the French ended up with a bit more because the gin was stronger than the wine.

Philipsburg, Sint Maarten (6 cruise ships)

Today St. Martin (usually used when referring to the whole island) is the best known holiday destination in the Leewards.  The island hosts about a million visitors annually.

Philipsburg, Dutch side

The island went completely duty-free in 1939, so now it is the Caribbean’s number one shopping mall.  The Euro is the official currency on the French side, while the Guilder is the official currency on the Dutch side.  Both sides however, gladly accept the U.S. Dollar.

Orient Bay (on the French side, of course)
Photo by Izzy St. Clair

St. Martin boasts a multitude of beautiful white sand beaches to suit everyone’s taste.  The nude beach once again proved the adage, “those that shouldn’t do, and those that should don’t.” 

Maho Beach, Dutch side
Photo by Izzy St. Clair

While some visitors go to the beach to get that all-over tan, others go to watch the jets land.

Photo by Izzy St. Clair

Watching departures can be even more exciting.

Grand Case, French side
Photo by Izzy St. Clair

Dinning is another St. Martin treat.  While the Dutch side claims the better duty-free shopping, the French side claims the better dining opportunities.  The little town of Grand Case has restaurants lining the beach with each claiming to be better than the others.

The Butterfly Farm, French side
Photo by Izzy St. Clair

Although the island is rather small, there are numerous activities to keep everyone, even Pollie, entertained.  Once checked-in on either side you are free to roam on both sides by dinghy, car, taxi, or bus.

Sandy Ground Bridge, French side

Boats can enter the protected water of Simpson Bay from either the French side or the Dutch side.

Palapa Bridge, Dutch side

The bridge on the Dutch side has a wider opening and can accommodate deeper drafts.

2012 photo, there is more damage now

But evidently, the Dutch bridge is not wide enough for some of the mega-yachts.  Watching the mega-yachts navigate the bridge opening from the Yacht Club deck is a very popular activity.

Mega-yacht facilities, Dutch side

Because of the wider bridge and facilities, you can’t swing a dead lobster on the Dutch side without hitting a mega-yacht.  There is a nominal charge for using the Dutch bridge and they charge a weekly anchoring fee.

Simpson Bay, French side

The French fees are less and they do not charge for the bridge, so you find more cruiser boats and unfortunately, derelicts on the French side. 

A bridge across the Simpson Bay is under construction that will probably separate the character of the two sides even more.  Traffic jams in paradise, both on the French and Dutch side, prompted this project.

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