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The Voyage of Spectacle Thoughts on Saint Martin

The Voyage

Spectacles

Andy and Melissa are sailing around the world on their 48-foot sailboat, Spectacle.

The Position

Bali, Indonesia

The Pictures

The Voyage of Spectacle

Thoughts on Saint Martin

The Obelisk at the Border Makes for a Tame Crossing between France and HollandOn the north end of the Eastern Caribbean chain, the island of Saint Martin overlooks British (and super ritzy) Anguilla with another popular French West Indies enclave, St. Barts (also super ritzy), about 13 miles to the southeast.  With both Dutch and French sides, Saint Martin is the smallest island in the world shared by two different countries (about 38 total square miles).  After multiple skirmishes involving the Spanish and British and area indigenous peoples, the island’s border between Dutch and French has remained pretty much consistent since the agreement in 1648.  That border is totally open marked by a small obelisk and a Bienvenue / Welkom sign.

As big fans of French culture and cuisine, we planned to make landfall on the French side.  Marigot, the main town on the French side, is hustling and bustling … not much late nightlife but plenty of restaurants and shops especially given the nearby ferry dock. 

Built in 1767, Fort Louis was named after the famous and ill-fated French king, Louis XVI, and was established to protect Marigot from foreign invaders, particularly the British.  At the end of Rue de la Republique and in the shadow of Fort Louis, the Fort Louis Marina is definitely a landmark in Marigot and a great central point for island travel.  We quickly adopted a local café, the Deli Spoon, befriending the jack of all trades wait person, Carole, and taking advantage of its great food and coffee, high speed internet connection, and friendly regular clientele. 

The main drag in Grand Case (about 5 miles northeast of Marigot) hosts the French side’s cuisine trophies, and we spent many a long, wine-swilling, cheese-tasting, multi-course-enjoying evening there.  We visited the infamous Orient Beach with its beautiful views and white sand beach like talcum powder, oh and, naked sun worshippers everywhere.  And of course, we hit the infamous Sunset Beach Bar in all its glory, complete with 747s skimming the roof of the bar on their final descent, best bikini body contests, and shots.  We were mightily impressed.

We ventured to the Dutch side of the island several times … the Sunset Beach Bar, an expensive trip to Budget Marine (now renamed “Break-Your-Budget” Marine), and Kim Sha beach for the marquee event closing the Heineken Regatta.  Against our better judgment, we also made a trip to Philipsburg.

Most of the travel guides describe Saint Martin as a crassly over-developed island ruthlessly pursuing the tourist dollar.  Throughout our stay, we found this synopsis to be totally silly as we experienced nothing but happy-go-lucky, as well as happy-to-help, locals.  No hustling, no pan-handling, no aggressive sales tactics, no thinly-veiled street scams, no “special” pricing, no shamelessly tacky crap stores, nothing.  Frankly, French Saint Martin has been our stand-out favorite Caribbean island thus far.

The Beach Boardwalk at Phillipsburg, Saint Martin, Dutch SideSadly, Philipsburg is a whole different ball of wax.  With terrible traffic and little parking, the entire town is quite commercial and charm-free except for the areas easily walked by cruise ship tourists in a 3-to-4-hour shore excursion.  The beach boardwalk is somewhat picturesque with a nice anchorage, millions of beach chairs, and generic bars and The Problem with Phillipsburgrestaurants.  The huge shopping street is jampacked with cruise ship patrons walking in circles and methodically muttering the words “duty free” under their breath.  The retail competition, especially among jewelry  stores, is ferocious and palpably desperate.  We bought some consumer goods, mistakenly ate at a French restaurant (on the Dutch side? Hello!), and high-tailed it back to France in soul-crushing traffic.

Grazing Pigs and Chickens in PhillipsburgIn lieu of a specific event, a mandatory trip to the island’s best chandlery, a flight, or a jaunt to the Sunset Beach Bar, there’s little reason to cross the border.  The picture to the right sums up our thoughts on Philipsburg.   

 


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