Travel, if one is willing, permits you to see how people live in different places. Our Christmas cruise took us to three islands similar in many ways but also very different. They are geographically close, in the eastern Caribbean near South America. They were created by volcanoes, are small in size and population, and gained independence relatively recently. But St. Maartin, St. Lucia and St. Kitts are each very distinct.
Partitioned in 1648, this 37 square mile island is the smallest island in the world divided between two countries. Sint Maartin is the name of the Dutch forty percent of the island to the south. Saint Martin is the name of the north French sixty percent. Slightly more of the approximately 80,000 inhabitants live on the Dutch side which became a “constituent country” in the Kingdom of the Netherlands in October 2010. The French side continues to be governed as an overseas collectivity of France.
Although there is talk of building a cruise port on the French side, the current large port with relatively recent facilities is in the Dutch capital Philipsburg. The Dutch side has its own currency, the guilder, and the French side uses the Euro. Both accept U.S. dollars.
Cousin Doug, seeking a retreat from work, has been traveling there regularly since about 1990. He prefers the “European style” secluded beaches and restaurants on the French side. Another friend enjoys the Dutch side which was first to promote resorts, including gambling, and offers more tourist activities.
If it is your first visit, you should definitely take a tour that shows you both sides of the island. But for myself, although it is clearly the most prosperous of the “three saints,” I find the island too crowded with resorts and people.
However, we did enjoy sailing (and partying) and walking around Philipsburg and Marigot, the French capital, and their markets. As everywhere in the Caribbean, the air and water are wonderful.