ST MAARTEN Date: 28th February
Weather: Warm and Sunny all day, few fluffy clouds, 28c
Position: Latitude 18 deg. 0.8 min. N Longitude 63 deg. 2.7 min W
This island is a bit of a strange one, not that it`s any different geographically but the way it`s governed, for there are two parts to the island, one side French and the other Dutch. This division started back in the mid 1600`s , when 4 Frenchmen and 5 Dutchmen were left behind by the Spanish, after several failed attempts to return to their own countries, they decided to stay, and a written agreement was made to divide the island, and that agreement still stands, so we have a two nation island. There are border markings on the roadside, but no passport control. The French use the Euro, and the Dutch use the Antilles Dutch Guilder, for the French,” Marigot” was their capital, and for the Dutch “Philipsburg” is their capital. The island is served by an international airport on the Dutch side, and a smaller inter-island airport on the French side.
This island is a very popular stop for the cruise ships, we berthed on a jetty in Philipsburg and on that day there was another cruise ship there “Celebrity Equinox”, but that jetty had the capacity to take another two cruise ships. The cruise ship facilities with terminal buildings, coach parks , and landscape gardens are excellent, as with our port yesterday in Guadeloupe ,both places are autonomous regions of their own countries (France and Holland) so EU money is available for these places to build such facilities ????
We had a trip booked from on-board our ship called “Island Tour”, so for us it was an early start at 8.30am. We were soon away with our guide, who gave us a lot of the islands history, and a big part of that history was Salt, which passing ships bought. The lagoons which produced the salt are still there today, but no salt production goes on these days, the use of slave labour for salt and other things was part of the islands history.
These Caribbean islands are not very flat, and you always seemed to be going up a steep nip, but on the plus side before you go down again you`re presented with a great view. Our first stop was at for the French capital Marigot, and we were given 1 hour to explore this very pretty place, right on the coast it had a very fine marina with some very expensive yachts and motor launches, but our opinion of Marigot was that it was not in the same league as the south of France. With our time up we continued onward with our tour, I would say this island was not as lush as some of our previous ports of call. We then went back into the Dutch side of the island via a different route which gave us a good overview of the place. Before our tour ended we were dropped off nearer the centre of Philipsburg so we could see what it had to offer. Philipsburg is right on the water`s edge and has a beautiful town beach well served with loungers and sun-shades, all very colourful. Along the beach front there was a promenade with plenty of bars and restaurants a real hive of activity. Running parallel to the beach are two streets, “Front Street” and “Back street” which are the shopping streets, Front street has a few historical buildings within it but this place has a good feel about it, it was clean and very colourful, and the locals were good fun.
After seeing what we wanted to see we decided to make our way back to the ship, and this we did by means of a water taxi, it`s a service which runs from a pier in the middle of the town beach to the end of the jetty where our ship was berthed, we only had to wait a few minutes and we were off. It was a good service, and the fare was reasonable.
To sum up, we have had a good day. Out of the two parts of the island, I think the Dutch came out on top, and would recommend Philipsburg to anyone. So with everyone back on-board we sailed off into a glorious evening to our next port of call Tortola.