Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, two names for one rather small island. This now peaceful Caribbean island has a long and bloody history. Violence began long before the day Columbus first sighted the island in 1493 on November 11, the holy day of Saint Martin of Tours. He claimed the island for Spain, naming it Isla de San Martin. Throughout history, the island changed hands many times between Spain, France, Holland, Britain and Denmark. Before the Europeans came, fierce Caribs conquered peaceful Arawak natives on Saint Martin and all around the Caribbean. They disposed of the men by having them for dinner. With the men out of the way, they took the women (who probably had no choice in the matter) as wives. The word cannibal comes from the Spanish pronunciation of the Arawak word for Carib.
Dutch settlers came for the island's abundant salt, used as a food preservative in colonial times. Spaniards conquered the Dutch, evicting them from the island and enlarging a fort the Dutch built for their own use. Meanwhile French farmers came to the island to grow tobacco. The Dutch returned and eventually the Spanish left. In 1648 the French and Dutch squared off, each with a man starting from the same point and walking opposite directions around the outer edge of the island. The dividing line drawn from the place they started to the place they met gave France the larger share of the island per a treaty signed at the top of Mt. Concordia. All these years later, we can only speculate why the French ended up with the lion's share. Did the French man cheat and run? Did the Dutch man fall asleep on the job? Was the terrain that much harder to cross on the south side of the island? Or did walking the coastline of some large bays on the south end take more time than the slightly straighter northern coastline? Perhaps the French fleet of warships just off the coast influenced the final outcome. Whatever the reason, the treaty did not end the squabbles among nations at that time. Several countries claimed it for their own as it changed hands 16 times among the French, Dutch and English until 1816 when peace finally came with the restoration of the French and Dutch zones. The Concordia agreement, still in effect to this day, is now the world's oldest still-active undisputed treaty.
Other nations weren't the only thing islanders had to worry about. Pirates of the Caribbean brings thoughts to our minds of movies and Disney rides. We may smile at those words, but a couple centuries ago they brought fear and terror from the threat of attacks far greater than those of the current pirates near Somalia. Pirates ran rampant throughout the Caribbean, attracted by the growing number of merchant ships, especially those carrying silver from Mexico or Peru. The Caribbean covered too broad an area for even the many Spanish forts scattered throughout the region to keep pirates under control. Warring nations encouraged more activity from pirates and smugglers, often pleased when pirates attacked their foes. With no organized opposition, pirates found safe haven on Saint Martin. Rumors of buried treasure still float around the island, but whether there is any truth to those rumors nobody knows. I wonder if it is a coincidence finding the word rat in the middle of pirate.
Present day islanders no longer have to worry about attacks from pirates or warring nations. Nature on the other hand knows no boundaries. The more people build the more she has to destroy, and occasionally Saint Martin falls in the path of a hurricane.
The official languages of the island are Dutch and English on Sint Maarten and French on Saint Martin, but most people on either side of the island speak English. With an area of only 37 square miles, this is the smallest island in the world currently claimed by more than one nation.
The temperature remains about 80-82 degrees year round. People pass freely from one side of the island to the other. The border between the French and Dutch sides is marked only by monuments and signs. No customs delay travel, though traffic jams might.
Beaches on Saint Martin provide more than the usual beach-going entertainment. Maho Beach on the Dutch side lies just across the street from Princess Juliana International Airport. Airplane fanatics flock to Maho Beach for exciting photos and videos of close-ups of the underside of 747's.
On the French side, nude beaches attract a different sort of attention. With white sand and warm blue water under the clear blue sky, there's a beach somewhere on the island to satisfy everyone.
Saint Martin has activities of all kinds from zip line adventures to snorkeling and diving, horseback riding, hiking, biking and water sports of all kinds. We visited Sint Maarten on a Holland America cruise and took a snorkel trip on a sailboat to the nearby island of Tintamarre. Along the way, the boat crew pointed out many vacation homes belonging to famous people. The boat anchored between a beautiful white sand beach and a rocky point. A small coral reef near the point revealed a multitude of brightly colored fish and some spiny black sea urchins. I had a chance to test my underwater camera, though fish are not the most cooperative of photo subjects.
The French and Dutch sides of the island use different currencies, but either side accepts American dollars. Both sides have abundant duty-free shops. People visit Phillipsburg, on the Dutch side for its nightlife, casinos, and jewelry shops. Cruise ships dock in the busy terminal there, unleashing a multitude of passengers to give the island's economy a boost. A ship from Celebrity Cruises
docked across from the Holland America Westerdam we arrived on. After our wonderful snorkel adventure we hopped on a water taxi for a quick trip to the heart of Phillipsburg to take a peek at the beach and shops before our ship left port. We didn't have much time, but got a quick look around town for some photos and a peek in a few jewelry shops.
French Marigot has restaurants that rival anything New York or Paris have to offer and the latest French designer fashions. The French side also has an airport where smaller planes take tourists island-hopping to places where large jets can't go. Bus tours bring cruise ship passengers to the French side of the island.
Simpson Bay Lagoon, the largest lagoon in the Caribbean, has just two narrow channels with drawbridges that connect it to the sea. Sailboats, yachts, mega yachts and luxury marinas call the lagoon home. Condos, hotels and time-shares line its shores. This vacation paradise attracts many people, some who return year after year. After our short visit as a cruise ship stop, we also would like to return and see more of what this beautiful island has to offer.
by Lois Beath http://mycruisestories