Saturday, July 5, 2014

Sint Maarten/Saint Martin Dutch and French Paradise

Probably this is the world’s smallest island shared by two countries! The Northern part of the island belongs to the French and the Southern part is Dutch. That’s why I write the name of the island in two different ways, in Dutch it’s “Sint Maarten” and in French “Saint Martin”. Both Dutch and French are the official languages in each side and English is widely spoken in the whole island. Like Macau, if we write the name in Portuguese which is one of the official languages, will end with “U”, but if you try to find the postcode for mailing or reading a guide book you may find that Macau will end with “O” which is the way to write it in English.

 Nowadays, Sint Maarten/Saint Martin is one of the most attractive islands in the Caribbean and also a luxury duty free port. The island became a completely tax free port in 1939 and made it a paradise for shoppers. From what I saw, I can say that you will find all kind of high end brands here from cloths, watches, jewelry or lady hand bags, which made me drool while doing window shopping. The street products are exactly the same as in St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands. I found that a wristband watch that I would like to buy is cheaper in Sint Maarten than in St. Thomas.

According to the popular belief, Christopher Columbus discovered the island on 11th November 1493 without even setting foot on the ground and named it in honor of the Bishop St. Martin of Tours. In 1627 the Dutch arrived and noticed that it was a good place to produce salt, because of that, it led to the first Dutch settlement. In 1633, the Spanish invaded Sint Maarten/Saint Martin and finish the fort that the Dutch had started. Later on, the Spanish who controlled most of the West Indies lost interest in Sint Maarten/Saint Martin and then simply left. After that the French started to have interest on it and tried to invade since they already controlled some of the islands in the Caribbean. On the 23rd of March 1648, the French and the Dutch signed the treaty of Partition on the Mount of Agreements or Concordia. The story to decide the border really surprised me; both Dutch and French have to choose a walker. They set positions back to back and walked around the island until they met again. In that point was made the line to divide the island. They couldn’t run only walk. It seems that the French walked faster than the Dutch so they got the bigger piece of land. Some stories say that the French run or even that the French drunk wine while walking and the Dutch drunk gin make them walk slower. It doesn’t matter if the story is true all not. Today we have Philipsburg, the capital of Dutch side and Marigot for the French. 

During our stay, we are only able to stay in the Dutch side due to my visa permission. The Dutch authority allows me to stay up to 3 weeks without the Schengen visa but I must deal with an agent. At the time we arrived in Sint Maarten the agreement among the Caribbean islands which will allow a person with US visa to have the permission to arrive the islands was not in force yet. We arrived too early, they didn’t apply that law yet so my case is considered special. In the other hand, in the French side, the Schengen visa is only accepted if issued by the French embassy!  Technically the two countries are connected without borders and I can go to the French side by bus or walking but what if we have any accident… However, I love this Dutch island. It’s lovely, charming, and easy accessibility with white sand beaches everywhere. If you read in any book, they will mention that Sint Maarten combines more than 120 nationalities. It should be true, we saw people from all over the world like Portuguese, Brazilian, Chinese or even Thai!

The atmosphere is European but the cityscape is still Caribbean style. Yet, the European rules seem not to work here as we see many drivers drinking, can smoking in bars or restaurants, or even car over speed. Although, what happened to me while I crossed a street in Europe with the driver stopping the car before approaching about 100 meters, it happens here! But their way of working, is still with Caribbean mentality, slow pace.  While we were in Sint Maarten, in Brazil was happening the world soccer championship which the Dutch team takes part. I love seeing everyone wearing orange shirts with orange accessories and orange decoration everywhere, it made me miss my country, Thailand, where we wear yellow, the color of our beloved King, King Bhumipol or King Rama 9th, the longest reigning monarch in the world. 

Noel has no problem unlike in British Virgin Islands. We saw people bringing dogs to the walking street or to the beach. As long as you pick the dirt that your dog does, they are all welcome. We didn’t have a chance to bring Noel walk on the “cat walk” yet because here he will become a “hot dog”. The weather here is very humid and hot. The sunrise starts around 6-6.30 am. Then the hot sunny day will begin around 8 am! Not only Noel, even me sometime feel like running to the beach and jump into the water. One good thing is we are able to make a lot of power from the solar panel. To leave the dog in the cannel cost around 20 USD a day which is cheaper than in Macau where we pay around 200 MOP or equivalent to 25 USD. The local vet here seems to be nice and very helpful. They offer laboratory service, boarding, adoption and more. We know from our sailing friends that to board their dog they charge per dog’s weight, and their dog is 90lbs! If you need, Animal Care Center in Cole Bay is a good one.

Talking about money, in both Dutch and French side, USD is widely used. Netherlands Antilles Guilders (NAF) is the local currency on the Dutch side but it is different from the old Dutch guilder. On the French side they use Euro for local currency. Most of the restaurants and shops in Dutch side use the rate 1 USD : 1 NAF, but it should be around 1 USD : 1.55 NAF. Bank and ATM are everywhere. I found that here I get cash from the ATM machine I paid a 5 USD fee which are more expensive than in Puerto Rico where we paid a fee for 3 USD per transaction and maximum per transaction is 600 USD. What I can’t see here is the Post office! Mailboxes are everywhere, the same as FEDEX and DHL. I had to use the service of a private mailing where local can rent a mailbox or pay bills, to send letter and post card to my family; it cost 9 USD, in Puerto Rico only costs around 4 USD.

My most favorite part here is food. Here is heaven for me. You can find all kind of food, fast food, French, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Greek, Mexican, Indian, grilled, BBQ or even a Portuguese restaurant in the French side! Welcome to European territory, here they separate the business and shop like in Europe, Patisserie, cloths shop, not one stop shopping like in US where we can get everything from one supermarket. The bakeries are superb. Mostly are French bakeries, so imagining if you like baguettes, napoleons, tarts, eclaires, macaroons, mille feuilles or palmiers... I love escargots (French for snail) but when we were in Macau we had to go to fine French dining restaurant to be able to have my favorite dish. However, here even the beach restaurant serve it and cost less than 10 USD, 50 % less of what I pay in Macau. Dutch cheese also one of the cheapest items; they sell by whole piece or cut. Our friend told us that they purchase the whole cheese for 30ish USD. Wines are extremely cheap, we find Tawny Oporto wine from Real Companhia Velha for only 11 USD or wine from Chile, Argentina and more for just 5 USD. Can find from both New and Old world and at cheap prices, not like in St. Thomas where we could find cheap wine but mostly from the New World or like in Puerto Rico where more than 90% of the wine in the shelves was from the New World.    

I think most of the people would like to know is how are the beaches in Sint Maarten/Saint Martin. Yes, it looks like in the magazine with white sand beach and turquoise waters. The place where we anchor in Simpson Bay can even see lots of fish and the sandy bottom ground. I notice that this is a high end vacation destination, even more than in St. Thomas. The direct flights from Europe and America make this island easy to access and keep it as a top destination all the time. Try once in your life to visit Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, the lovely Dutch and French Island!
Beach in Simpson Bay
Dutch Soccer Match
Gate to Simpson Lagoon
Guavaberry History
Luxury shop in the front street
Meet new friends and old friends
French restaurant
Sunset in Simpson Bay
View from the hill
Approching Sint Maarten by sea
Beach in Philipsburg
Court House, Philipsburg



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