Published: January 28th 2010
January 28th 2010
Saint Martin is a tropical island in the northeast Caribbean, approximately 300 km (186 miles) east of Puerto Rico. This small island (37 square miles) is divided roughly 60/40 between France and the Netherlands Antilles. it is the smallest inhabited sea island divided between two nations, a division dating to 1648. The southern Dutch half comprises the Eilandgebied Sint Maarten (Island area of St. Martin) and is part of the Netherlands Antilles. The northern French half comprises the Collectivité de Saint-Martin (Collectivity of St. Martin) and is an overseas collectivity of France. The population of the entire island is avout 75,000 (about 5000 more than Sault Ste. Marie), with the Dutch having a slightly higher population. (Those prolific Dutch people, you know!!)
The main towns are Philipsburg (Dutch side) where we are docked and Marigot (French side). The highest hilltop is the Pic Paradis (424 m) on center of a hill chain (French side). There is no river on the island, but many dry guts. These Caribbean Islands are very similar in appearance and have arisen from volcanos. The average yearly air temperature is 27 °C (min 17 °C, max 35 °C) and it is about that temperature today, a beautiful day, sunny and warm with a nice breeze.
Around 800 AD, the island was settled by Arawak Indians who arrived from South America, given the name Soualiga, or Land of Salt. In 1493, when Christopher Columbus embarked on his second voyage to the New World he anchored at the island of Saint Martin on November 11, 1493, the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours. In his honor, Columbus named the island San Martin. This name was translated to Sint Maarten (Dutch), Saint-Martin (French) and "Saint Martin" in English.
On March 23, 1648, France and the Dutch Republic agreed to divide the island between their two nations, so they signed the Treaty of Concordia. At that time, these countries agreed that the residents of either side of the island can be commercially active on the other side without any red tape or border difficulties. Folklore surrounds the history of the once ever-changing border division between St. Martin and Sint Maarten, and a popular story among locals narrates that "to divide the island in two sections, [in 1648] the inhabitants were told to choose two walkers, one chosen by the French-dominated community and the other one by the Dutch-dominated community, who were put back to back in one extreme of the island, making them walk in opposite directions while stuck to the litoral line, and not allowing them to run. The point where they eventually met was set as the other extreme of the island, and the subsequently created line was chosen as the frontier, dividing Saint-Martin from Sint Maarten. Seemingly, the French walker had walked more than his Dutch counterpart (each one earned his land, respectively, 54km² and 32km²). As the first man chose wine as his stimulant prior to the race, while the latter chose beer, the difference between such beverages' lightness was said to be the cause of the territorial differences by French locals, while Dutch locals tended to blame the French walker for running."
This contract of peaceful coexistence turns out to be the oldest active, undisputed treat on our planet. Each partition remains true to the cultural life-styles of their respective homelands...they co-exist in complete contrast but perfect harmony.
In 2003, St. Marten, the French side, voted in favour of secession from Guadeloupe in order to form a separate overseas collectivity (COM) of France. This did occur in 2007.
The status of the Dutch side was due to change to a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands in December 2008, but this has been postponed to October 2010.
St. Martin's Dutch side is known for its festive nightlife, beaches, jewelry, exotic drinks made with native rum-based guavaberry liquors, and plentiful casinos, while its French side, is known more for its nude beaches, clothes, shopping (including outdoor markets), and rich French and Indian Caribbean cuisine. (Thank goodness we docked on the Dutch side.) Shopping on St Maarten and Saint Martin offers duty-free goods in numerous boutiques. Popular goods include local crafts & arts, exotic foods, jewelry, liquor, tobacco, leather goods, as well as most designer goods. (Too bad my sons didn't send me with a shopping list and $ for diamonds because they are a "bargain" here.)
I have not yet won anything in the shipboard casino and have not run into Paula Deen yet but I am looking!! A cruise is a great way to travel but I think I prefer being in or around one place for an extended period as Gail and I did in Puerto Vallarta in 2008 and Arizona last year so that you can really immerse yourself in the culture and get to know the people and the land.
Most if the people on these small Caribbean Islands are involved in the tourist industry and it is a lesson in humility to find out that the average weekly salary is about $120/week for long hours and having to put up with haughty tourists. The week before this cruise, this ship did dock in Haiti just after the earthquake. One of the employees told me of the efforts of the staff to collect funds for Haiti and they did drop off water and food also. Many people in Haiti also rely on tourism so I guess they were encouraged to dock the ship there despite the catastrophe. (Sister #2, Jannette, did want to make a side trip so that she could bring some orphaned babies back to Canada.)
The Sister + 1 continue to have lots of laughs and enjoyable moments!! All are still on board at this point.