It’s Caribbean baby – Sint Maarten
When you’re from Poland the Caribbean Islands are not on your vacation radar. Mainly because it’s far away and it appears as an eternal happiness spot only for the chosen people, who can afford it. We often say we would love to go there when we’re down in the dumps, especially when the weather is really bad outside. But for me, the Caribbean islands weren’t just a flight of fancy, but reality with which I had to face.
“Good afternoon “ says the taxi driver.
“Good afternoon” he repeats. Not a word comes out of our mouths. (So rude.) “You know, here you have to say hello to everybody. Otherwise it is seen as a bad behaviour, you know?” he says. Ok, let it be.
“Good afternoon” we respond.
I have to explain myself here. We were surprised by the kindness of the taxi driver ready for some small talk, after spending sometime in Paris before coming to St Martin. Who has been to Paris knows that Parisians are rude and arrogant, especially to foreigners not speaking their language fluently. So a normal trace of kindness took us aback. We didn’t know how to react, as strange as it may sound.
Short story of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin
The island is a part of the Lesser Antilles Archipelago along with Anguilla, Guadeloupe, and Martinique just to name a few. Sint Maarten is divided into two parts: the Dutch and the French (they are a part of COM – collectivités d’outre-mer). This is one of the smallest areas divided into two countries.
Sint Maarten is one of the first islands Christopher Columbus met on his way to the New World. Supposedly he anchored his ship there on 11 November 1493. It was the day of saint Martin, hence the name of the island. In slavery times the island’s production focused on cotton, tobacco and cane sugar. In 1848 slavery was abolished by the French, and followed by the Dutch 15 years later. Nowadays tourism is the biggest pillar of the economy driven by the flood of American tourists.
One tenth of a second – this is how much time we need to assess a person when we first meet. How about a new place? 10 seconds, 10 minutes or 1 hour? Just after the arrival, I am overwhelmed by the sensory stimuli around me.
Humidity in the air fuses with the sweet scent of the exotic flowers. It’s the middle of November. In Poland it’s already raining nonstop and there is 5 degrees of Celsius outside. Here it is around 30 degrees, with the sun in its full heating capacity. I quickly get rid of my boots, slide my feet into my beloved flip-flops. In the background I can hear typical Caribbean music. I can’t resist, but to go to the beach.
I know how to deal with the seawater. First you dip the fingertip to prepare yourself for the temperature shock. Then you proceed with the ankles, knees, and stomach. Rich in the cold water experience I slowly approach the sea. One step forward at a time. One, two, three and… I’m spellbound. The water’s temperature is almost 30 degrees. It is like a private bathtub. Speechless, I lie on the beach. Where am I? In paradise? Is it real? Or is it just a jet lag?
What to do?
If you want to unwind, recharge your batteries, lie on the beach and simply do nothing this is a perfect destination. The island offers 37 beaches ranging from the too crowded to put a needle in to those stranded and pristine places. The abundance of beaches encourages us to take a beach tour around the island.
The beach tour
The one that I particularly like is the Orient Beach (French: Baie-Orientale) on the French side. It is the most commercial venue, however, you can still find a less-crowded place for yourself. It is known for the variety of bars and restaurants along the beach and a swimsuit optional rule.
The Orient beach is the longest one on the island with the most white sand you can imagine. You can as well indulge in some water pastimes like water paragliding or ski-jet. If you like to marvel at the sea wildlife, there is a small reef nearby to snorkel around. And if you like to jump over the waves this is the spot. When going with the flows, I notice that in every one of us, there is a child hidden inside. All we need is to reveal it, usually with the help of some waves and warm sea. Suddenly, the age gap disappears. Everybody is having a great time.
A great beach is hidden somewhere in the middle of a palm grove. You have to reach Friar’s Bay first and leave your car there. Then there is a 10 minute walk among the trees. But it’s worth it. The beach is one of the few pristine and secluded places on the island, that’s why it’s one of the best places to snorkel. However, this is a place for naturists as well, so be prepared for it. The beach does not provide almost any amenities.
Time to spot a plane!
Sint Marteen is best known for its airport. Or rather a runway which ends at the lovely Maho Bay. People come there to experience first-hand the power of the jet engine and the feeling of a plane landing just a few meters above their heads. Wouldn’t you like to have a photo with Boeing 747? And by the way, this is one of the few places on the planet where you can watch the planes from such a small distance. But be careful, spotting planes will get you in the swing of it!
Marigot and Philipsburg
These are the two biggest cities on the island. Marigot is on the French side, Philipsburg on the Dutch. The latter is the capital of the Dutch side. In the past it was a centre of international commerce. Right now you can still find great shopping malls here plus, it is a duty-free zone, so you can find a bargain there. Marigot is Philipsburg French counterpart, serves as a capital too, but on the French side. What I found really amusing was the market that happens every Wednesday and Saturday morning. You can buy local food, artisans by the local artists and some hand-crafted souvenirs.
Because the island is divided into two countries, two languages are in use – English and French. Apart from the standard English, people of the island use as well the non-standard version of a language (creole). Its origins date back to Atlantic slavery trade. People from different ethnic backgrounds had to create their own room for communication, therefore the language has borrowed words from Latin, Spanish, Chinese, English and several others African languages. The language expressed pain and cruelty the people were suppressed to. In the Carribean people often use Jamaican patois.
Tourist impressions/people and architecture
The island bustles with its own rhythm. You can feel it in the pace of the walk of its inhabitants, their colourful attire, and tuning cars. The positive attitude is reflected even in the long fake nails worn by all women. The neglected architecture with a kitschy touch somehow melts with the landscape around it. And the neon sign Joeux Noel in the middle of November was an enriching, refreshing experience.
St Martin is not a place for architecture connoisseurs, museum devouring people who run from museum to church back and forth. This is a perfect place for relaxation. And believe me, after just a few days you will start wondering if this is a place you want to retire in.
- There is no public transportation on the island, so car rentals are the only option
- Going to Saint Martin in November is a good idea if you like not too many tourists. The prices are also lower, so sometimes you can catch a bargain.
- If you’re coming from Europe it’s best to spend money on the Dutch side of the island – they operate in dollars, so it might be more profitable depending on the exchange rate.