St. Martin & Sint Maarten

I lucked out more than once with accommodation on the island. First, I found an amazing couchsurf host on the French side that had a car and an interest in running on beaches, dining out and gambling for free drinks. I stayed with him at the start and end of my trip, and only had to pay for one night in a hostel which turned out not to be a hostel, but a crew base for yachtees. If I wasn’t working boats, I was a tourist, and was supposed to pay for the expensive hotels and resorts, but I accidentally snuck thru the cracks to pay $40 a night for a bed instead.

feasting on the beach

I did a bit of kayaking, beach lazing, swam with horses, watched planes land and take off at SXM and got lost amongst the cruise ship crowds every once in a while. I tasted some rum, rented a few beach chairs, and enjoyed pampering myself without having to drive anywhere (the island has great public transportation).

Great Bay beach, where the big cruise ships dock

I wanted a manicure and pedicure at the same time, and found a salon in Philipsburg where two latina girls were free to do both at the same time. I cringed in my seat as the cut, shaped, filed and exfoliated every digit, drawing blood a couple of times, but they were so into singing along with the Spanish gospel music playing from their phone that they didn’t notice me holding my breath.

swimming with horses

Whether you’re on the Dutch or French side, it’s a hit or miss what language to approach people in. Most spoke to me in English, Spanish or French, but drivers would also answer in Dutch and Creole, so it’s a wonder how much must get lost in translation, or never said at all. The French side had more exclusive Frenchies, white and wrinkled, sunkissed Metropoles who can’t speak a word of English and never let a dollar pass thru their hand – they live in a mini France, in French, with Euros and their Carrefour supermarkets, filled with delicacies and wines only from France.

Maho beach under the airplanes

The island is still re-developing from the disaster of Hurricane Irma, and dozens of buildings remain roofless and abandoned. Entire hotels have literally blown away, at least substantial bits of them, and parts of the facades or building frames stand like haunting reminders of the power of mother nature. Debris and dirt are still scattered anywhere that doesn’t matter, since people have seemingly given up trying to clean up all the mess – it barely seems possible, especially knowing the hurricane season will come back again and again.

yet another perfect beach

Saint Martin

The island is called Sint Maarten on one side, and St. Martín on the other, since this island is split between the Dutch and the French. There’s no official border between the two, just a road sign welcoming you to the ‘partie Francaise,’ and the French side is a little more than half the island since the French guy cheated . Apparently, a Dutch guy and a French guy met at one point on the coast of the island, and agreed to walk away from eachother along the coast until they met again half way around. The French guy started walking north, bought a lot of wine, and then cut straight across the middle of the island to meet the Dutch guy still walking along the shore. Thus, the boundary was drawn in favour of the French.

Sail boats racing past Simpson Bay

The island really feels like 2 completely different places. The French side actually speaks French, while the Dutch side is full of massive hotels and resorts and I didn’t hear a word of Dutch spoken. Both sides speak English, and accept the dollar, but the Dutch side uses another currency called the Guilder, and the French side uses Euros but accepts the dollar at par. The French cars have EU license plates, and the Dutch side have Sint Maarten license plates. They have separate healthcare systems and education programs, and the French bike and play soccer while the Dutch prefer baseball, basketball and cricket.

Arriving in St. Martin after the tiny virgin islands was like landing in a European Vegas in the middle of the Caribbean. The airport was as big as a shopping mall and cleaner than a hospital, and the road to town was lit up with restaurants, bars, casinos, and hundreds of boat masts. It was a Friday night, the second day of the Heineken Regatta, and the island was bustling like a mini sincity.

The Heineken Regatta nightly event at Marigot

We followed the Regatta Events and the hundreds of beautiful boats racing, first at Phillipsburgs boardwalk, then in Marigot where we met some Russians to dance and drink vodka with. One of them didn’t speak a word of English, so we used google translate on my iphone to communicate. I met the one and only Dutch person on the whole Island that night too, and for whatever reason he assumed I was dutch when I asked him for a table for two in English. All the other people I spoke English to thought I was American, and the French people I spoke to in French thought I was Spanish. Noone ever guessed Icelandic, of course.

I spent a few days beaching, first in Orient Beach, an infamous nudist beach where old, French men like to parade around their jewels, and then at Baie Rouge, where wearing a thong bottom got me a free massage on the beach. Me and Matt stayed a couple nights in Simpson Bay on the dutch side, where the old American tourists where a bit more tame.

I enjoyed the Frenchness of the French side – the delicious bakeries, baguettes, wine, and even creperies. I made the mistake of buying a chocolate crepe from a food stand thinking I would get something equally delicious as in Paris, but instead got a pre-cooked, thin pancake, heated up on a pan, drizzled in Hershey’s chocloate sauce, and folded 3 ways to make an inedible catastrophe.

Baie Rouge

I couchsurfed the French side, in Anse Marcel on the north side of the island, which is a small residencial complex only steps away from the Radisson Blu Resort. I had access to 3 different pools, a beautiful beach, and a jack Russell terrier named Poissette to keep me company since Yoann, my host, was working all day every day. He had the evenings off to show me a few cool places, like Lolo’s BBQ restaurant – the best local food in St. Martín, the Shore Nightclub -what I’ve always pictured Ibiza to be like, and Sunset Bar – a famous beach bar on a thin strip of sand between the ocean and the airport runway where planes fly so low you almost get blown away!