December 23, 2012
Our first stop in the Caribbean was on the island of St. Maarten. It is the smallest island in the world that is split between two countries, in this case France and the Netherlands. The island is 34 square miles (87 square kilometers) in area, with about 60% belonging to France, although the Dutch side has a greater population.
Our ship docked on the southern Dutch side in capital city of Phillipsburg. Before we left the ship we did a little Internet research on Trip Advisor and discovered that there are public van buses running around the island. We thought it would be fun to see both the French and Dutch sides of the island and visit our 41st and 42nd countries on this journey in just a few hours.
A local in Phillipsburg told us that the bus to the French capital city of Marigot ran along Back Street. Since it was Sunday, we were cautioned that we may have to wait a while for a bus to come. This was not the case at all, as within three minutes, a van with a Marigot sign drove toward us and we flagged it down. Rather than have to worry about the two different currencies on either side of the island, we paid the driver in U.S. dollars. So for $2.00 each we were off on the winding road north to Marigot. As we drove the bus stopped frequently to let passengers off, who would just say “stop”, or to pick up others who flagged down the vehicle from the road. Little Town of Bethlehem was playing on the bus radio and several in the van hummed along to the tune.
After about 20 minutes of driving we saw a monument on the left-hand side of the road that designated the border between the Dutch and French sides of the island that was established in 1648. The driver did not slow as we drove by and we noticed right away that the signs were now all in French, rather than in English on the Dutch side. In ten more minutes we arrived in Marigot.
Once we confirmed with the bus driver where to pick up the return van to Phillipsburg, we left the vehicle and headed up to Fort Louis. Built n 1767 during the reign of Louis XVI, Fort Louis is the largest military monument on the island. We climbed up to the fort, which today consists of a few remaining walls and old cannons. We were the only ones there and sat on a bench for a time admiring the beautiful view of Marigot and its adjacent lagoon.
We spent some time walking around Marigot and its waterfront before hailing another van to drive us back to Phillipsburg. Now, back on the Dutch side, we set off to explore this town. Its main historical landmark is a Courthouse, built in 1793. It has been re-built several times since then, due to hurricane damage. We especially liked its pineapple crown at the top of the building.
In addition to Back Street, where we had hailed the bus to Marigot, Phillipsburg also has two other well-known streets, Old Street and Front Street. As the entire island has duty free shopping, there were many stores to explore on both these streets. We also walked down the boardwalk, which runs adjacent to a long beach on the Great Bay right in the center of town.
For a small island, St. Maarten had a lot to offer and see and we enjoyed going back and forth between the two countries in just a matter of hours. We are looking forward to our other Caribbean island visits over the next few days.