If Hettie and Ronnie ever invite you to spend a week with them at their vacation home in Sint Maarten, jump on it! They coached us through the requirements to get in and out of the country: covid insurance (Visitor Protection Plan), pre-authorization to enter, self monitoring (temperature checks) the first four days in country, and covid test appointments required to return home. They brought hosting to a whole new level by planning and arranging everything from meals to transportation to excursions! Plus their balcony, which overlooks the busy port, is perfect for enjoying beautiful sunsets, colorful bananaquits, gigantic rainbows, el fresco meals, and a great view of the fort where Peter Stuyvesant, one of the first governors of New York, lost his leg to a cannonball while he was governor of the Dutch Caribbean.
We visited a very small museum dedicated to the rich history of this small slip of land, the smallest island in the world divided between two countries, France and the Netherlands. It was actually claimed for Spain in the late 1400s by none other than Christopher Columbus! When its 34 square miles were divided in 1648, France got the northern sector, 60% of the landmass, and the Dutch got the remaining 40% in the south. The French side is called Saint Martin and the Dutch side is called Sint Maarten. The island lies about 190 miles east of Puerto Rico and was sadly home to many enslaved Africans who were imported to work cotton, tobacco, and sugar plantations located on both sides of the island. After the abolition of slavery in the mid-1800s, plantation culture declined and the island’s economy suffered until, in 1939, Sint Maarten received a major boost when it was declared a duty-free port. The economy received another shot in the arm when tourism started developing in the 1950s.
Today Princess Juliana International Airport is one of the busiest in the Eastern Caribbean. Snow birds and tourists come to enjoy the 37 beaches on the island as well as delicious food, a laid back atmosphere, sunshine, and recreational activities (think steepest zipline in the world!). American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine brings just shy of 7,000 students to the island plus staff and faculty. Thousands of day trippers on the many cruise ships that pull into port head to the beach or tour the island or go into town to stimulate the economy. Speaking of town, we checked out the two main cities on the island: Marigot on the French side and Philipsburg on the Dutch side. Marigot has signage in French, bakeries and pastry shops with traditional French items, and grocery stores with loads of imported goods. Sales people speak in French or accented English. Philipsburg, on the other hand, had not a hint of the Netherlands other than some grocery items in the large, well stocked stores. We visited both the French and Dutch handicraft markets that are slowly recovering from the last devastating hurricane, the damage from which is still abundantly evident on both sides of the island. We bought souvenirs and a few gifts, but the big bucks were spent at Kay’s Jewelry Store. Hettie is on a first name basis with the owner, sales people, and jeweler, so she was welcomed with hugs, high fives, and fist bumps and we received a warm welcome as friends of hers. With Hettie’s help on my first trip to the island in 2016 I bought what I call my family ring, a ring with one stone for each member of the family. We now have three new members, so I traded in the old ring for one with three additional stones. Bob, my salesman, was a huge help with this purchase and also repaired a few things I brought along.
Saint Barthelemy, St. Barts for short, is only a 45 minute boat ride away, so we decided on a whim to check it out. We docked in the capital and only town, Gustavia, which is situated on a well-sheltered, yacht-filled harbor lined with impeccably maintained designer stores, government buildings, and high-end restaurants. Because its rocky, arid soil couldn’t support plantations, the population of the island is mostly of Swedish and French descent. The official language is French. This 11-mile-long, 2.5-mile-wide upscale paradise has no public transportation or bus system. Most travelers rent a car, motorbike, scooter, or bicycle, but we opted to conquer it on foot. We strolled, explored, window shopped, visited two old churches to light candles for Josie’s Aunt Jerry, and enjoyed an expensive lunch at Shell Beach, one of 14 public beaches on the island. With six miles under out belts we were back in the center of town where we stopped for $5.70 Coke Zeros and $5 scoops of ice cream. If the yachts in the harbor were not a big enough clue, the price of our treats along with the Porsche taxi we spotted were sure signs that this is a playground for the well healed. In total contrast to all the opulence was a handsome, well-fed rooster proudly strolling right down the middle of the sidewalk.
When we went through immigration at the ferry station in preparation to leave, the gentleman noticed that we have a French last name. He asked where Dan’s family hailed from in France and we told him we only know they immigrated to the States from Canada. With our tickets and passports stamped we settled in to wait for the ferry. About 10 minutes later the immigration fellow strolled over and explained that he has more than a passing interest in genealogy and he had done a quick check to see where Dan’s relatives originated. He even went to the trouble to print a map of France and mark the city of Chaumont. Wow!
Our lovely week sped by and before we knew it we were packed, had negative covid tests in hand, and were settled in at the chaotic, busy, noisy airport to wait for our four-hour flight home. We left laden with a duffle bag of pate and other delicacies, fun memories, and gratitude for all the effort Hettie and Ronnie put into our visit. They could easily go into the hospitality business! We’re giving them five gold stars!
….Fun Facts about Sint Maarten/Saint Martin…
Although Euros and Dutch Antillean Guilders are the
respective official currencies, the dollar is by far the most common currency.
It boasts the oldest open border in the world.
For over 400 years, salt was a main source of income. The natural salt ponds
provided the salt needed to keep food and goods fresh on transatlantic journeys.
One of my two favorite roundabouts has an impressive multi-piece monument dedicated to salt pickers.
Philipsburg is the only capital city in the world located on a beach!
St Maarten’s own Guavaberry is the official Pirates of the Caribbean rum (rhum) at Disneyland Japan.
English is the first language of locals. Most Sint Maarteners learn Dutch as a second language though.
The local government also uses it when communicating with the Dutch government.
3 thoughts on “Sint Maarten (February 5-12, 2022)”
Another fascinating blog, Schele!
Are you going to wear your ring when you come here in a few weeks? Can’t wait to see it!
Not this trip because it will not have arrived yet…..but by June I’ll be able to show it off.
So good mom!!!! 37 beachesâthat is a lot of sand baby!!!
Matt Mongeon, PMP, Technical Project Manager II
Engineering Management Office
PMP,ITIL Foundation, RCV, OSA, SOA, PPO
5159 Federal Blvd., San Diego, CA 92105
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