November 19 – 22, November 29 – December 1 and December 7 -12
As required I was at the airport around 5 am - a couple of hours before the flight and as always I was the only one. Though this time it turned out to be appropriate to be early – not because of the check-in but because the security check of my checked-in luggage was manual... with some excuse of “keeping the security personnel alert” - more likely the machine was broken. I would have appreciated the check-in guy telling me this when he saw me putting the metal-net around my bag. Anyway, the plane was on time and more importantly I got my luggage on arrival.
Saint Martin is French and Sint Marteen is Dutch – it's the smallest island in the world containing two different countries. The Arawaks and later Caribs populated the island for several thousand year calling it Sualouiga after the salt ponds that made settlement difficult. Columbus passed in 1493 naming the island after St Martin of Tours whose feast day it was. However, the Dutch were first to colonise the island using it as stopping-point between Europe and the colonies (Brazil and New Amsterdam – today New York City). After fighting the Spanish off the Dutch ended up splitting the island with the French. The island had plantations until abolition of slavery and by 1930 only 2,000 people lived here. Tourism started in the 1950s helped by the runways built by the Americans during WWII and soon the population increased to 70,000. The Dutch part got “status aparte” from the Netherlands in 2000 and in 2010 became a “constituent country” of the Netherlands. The French part secede from Guadeloupe in 2003 making it an overseas colony.
My host Patrice had the day off from work and was nice to pick me up and drive me back to his place in Nettle Bay. We talked the whole morning until he had to do some chores around the house, and I went for a walk. When I arrived it rained heavily but at noon the weather was beautiful. I walked along the beach to the end of a peninsula where the remains of what used to be the islands largest hotel complex was located – totally destroyed by hurricane Luis in 1995.... like walking a ghost town. I continued along the beach and got to Baie Rouge – and as it is often the case with the French many nude people. The beach was quite crowded in one end but nobody in the other.... the explanation to this was off course that the far end was a private residential area. Some tourists renting a big villa allowed me through their house but the security woman by the gate at the end of the road was less happy. I walked some kilometres along the road to Long Bay – again a big gate but this time no security so I walked through when the gate opened for a car. A couple of kilometres with big houses before I could finally access the beach – again lots of people in one end of the beach and nobody in the other... From Long Bay I walked along the beach to Plum Bay and since there were few people I stayed for an hour. On the way back I walked through the Lowlands with lots of huge mansions - at the main road I was lucky to get a ride back to Nettle Bay.
The next day we started early to do a hike up to Pic Paradis – the highest point on the island. Up through the forest with beautiful views of both the Dutch and French side from the top. Down again we drove to Marigot (main town on the French side) and did the short walk up to Fort Louis – a small and not very impressive fort but nice view of Marigot and the bay. After a morning of sweating we went to beautiful Happy Bay for a relaxing swim.
When visiting the 4 neighbouring islands I stored most of my stuff at Patrice's place which allowed me to bicycle/walk/hitch-hike around the islands and camp in stead of having to pay for expensive accommodation - it's not legal to camp but as most other places in the world nobody seems to care as long as you leave the place as you found it. In between visiting the islands I was back in Saint Martin for 1-2 days where most of the time was used on relaxing and updating my homepage. This was also the case when I came back to Saint Martin after visiting the last island Statia. However, I did find time to “try” the jet blasts at Moho beach, revisit the destroyed hotel at the nearby peninsula this time with Patrice and his daughter Candice, visit a few beaches, etc.
Almost every evening was social with Patrice's friends - either having dinner at home or going out to eat somewhere.... very nice people. In general the weather has been good; there have been showers most days but never very long - the last week it has been quite windy unfortunately preventing us from going sailing.....