Tuesday 19 January – Sint Maarten & Saint Martin
This unique island is a very different type of island to Antigua, with less run down properties in evidence. It is an island probably no bigger than the size of the Isle of Man but is two distinctly separate countries with two governments, and has at least two of everything.
They have lived like this in peaceful co-existence for many hundreds of years and between them have three official currencies, €, US$ and the East Caribbean Dollar, three languages (Dutch, French and English) but have separate governments, telephone providers ( I couldn’t get a signal at all day ) and the normal Government functions.
We have landed on the Dutch side, Philipsburg and instead of just wandering into town, we take a P & O tour which takes us up into the low hills on the Dutch side and down again on the French side after passing the flagpoles that mark the border between the two countries where we see one of the French Gendarmes who are sent there from France for 6 month secondments opposed to those on the Dutch side who are locals.
Our tour guide tells us a lot about the island including average wages being higher on the French side, but not by much, and still only about US$1,000 a month.
Prisoners on the Dutch side have their own jail, on the French side, they are sent to Guadeloupe or France.
Very little difference in architecture but the French have built some low cost houses as a result of some hurricane damage a few years ago.
We get dropped off in the capital of the French side (Marigot) for a bit of retail therapy before boarding a boat for a leisurely cruise on an inland lake to the Dutch side and back to the ship.
I can’t begin to imagine the value of all the boats moored up in Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten; it is obviously the place to be seen.
I even spotted an Isle of Man registered vessel there – not the biggest one but still classy.
The free Rum Punch on the small boat flowed in vast quantities and was, of course, very welcome.
We go underneath the flight path from the airport that is reputedly one of the most dangerous airports in the world as it has a road and a beach immediately at the end of the runway.
Didn’t have the opportunity to sample a take off though but understand it is quite scary.
(This photo is not mine but was found on the internet).
Back to ship for lunch and I head out afterwards for a walk in Philipsburg.
Couldn’t find the jewellers that had a connection with a client from my working days but do manage to find ice cream and exceptionally slow Internet.
Lots of shops selling electricals, clothing and jewellery but do manage to buy a padlock for US$2 to replace the one lost on the way over.
Someone on our ship or the adjacent Norwegian Cruise line ship had a very unhappy ending as an ambulance crew surrounded a body inside the cruise complex with a woman kneeling by it’s side sobbing loudly. Another concerned person removed the covering from the person’s head and started her crying as well. Not a good sight.
After dinner entertainment tonight was by The Brit Tones, four lads singing harmoniously and I managed to walk 6.3 miles).
Next it is off to Tortola, British Virgin Islands (BVI).