After a day at sea, the second leg of our Caribbean Cruise took us to St. Maarten. With no on-shore agenda planned, we spent a relaxing day shopping in some of the jewelry stores and boutiques, and walking the streets of Philipsburg, the main city on the Dutch side, even drinking one of the local equivalent of Corona – Caribe beer (there is no local restriction against the consumption of alcohol on the street). We stopped for a leisurely lunch at one of the small, local bar/restaurant establishments, with “tiki” roofed picnic tables outdoors on the sand. The small, downtown harbor was quiet and the water clear.
I know very little about the Caribbean. I believe it gets its name primarily from the Carib natives, who chased the earliest known inhabitants—the Arawak natives—from the island and were the inhabitants when French commercial interests first began to cultivate tobacco on the northern part of the island as early as 1624. Over the years, the island was seized and controlled, alternatively, by the French, Dutch and English. In 1648, the French and Dutch agreed to split the island into a French zone to the North (“Saint Maarten”) and a Dutch zone to the South (“Sint Maarten”). But control see-sawed back and forth, primarily between constantly warring England and France, over a 100 plus year period. Finally, in 1816, the French/Dutch zones were restored, and over time, each became a part of their parent’s sovereign nation. Not surprisingly, for a location that has 340 plus days of sun each year, St. Maarten’s economy is primarily tourism, with 85% of its workforce serving the tourist economy. While the island does export sugar and guava berries, agriculture makes up for a scant 1% of the economy, and the island is heavily dependent upon imports.
Today, the island is geographically divided, roughly 60% French and 40% Dutch. The French city of Marigot (we did not get there) is the most populous city on the island (which has an overall population of 75-80,000). However, the Dutch have a slightly larger overall percentage of the population. We spent our entire part of a day in Philipsburg (one of the downsides to cruises is that your time in any port is usually limited to only part of one day).
We took the popular water taxi from the cruise dock on the Southeastern part of the island over to the dock near downtown Philipsburg. After you exit the taxi, the first thing you see is the white sand beach, with azure-blue, clear water, backed up by colorful architecture immediately behind the beach and green mountains back to the East.
Ashore from the dock you see the Philipsburg Courthouse dead ahead to the North. In that direction, a block up brings you to the busy, downtown shopping district, which runs West to East. We did not make it to any other island location during the short stay. I came away from St. Maarten wishing I had more time to explore, and to enjoy the festive, but “laid back” island life. Everyone seemed welcoming and friendly. As I mentioned last week, I was pleasantly surprised at the photographic fodder everywhere I turned. St. Maarten, I will be back!