Ahh! Stable ground. Fresh
off the Grand Princess cruise ship I took in the salty
and humid early morning air as I strolled along the
squeaky clean sidewalk at the A.C. Wathey Pier at Pointe
Blanche, in Dutch Sint Maarten.
Sint Maarten is the
world’s smallest land mass that is home to two
sovereign nations…Dutch on the south side and
French on the north. Sint Maarten is part of the Netherland
Antilles, along with Curacoa, Bonaire, Saba, and St.
Eustatuis. St. Martin is part of the French overseas
Department, governed by Guadelope. Dutch Sint Maarten
is bustling with the traffic generated by the cruise
ships and the Princess Juliana International Airport.
French St. Martin stays to itself…the culture
and cuisine that is French is abundant there.
As I was corralled into
the “Group C” sea kayakers’ spot on
the sidewalk, I took a peak at the ocean to my left.
Although still a touch gray under the rising sun, the
water seemed to beckon me with the promise of turquoise
colors and warm temperatures. The sense of hope afforded
me the strength, after a late night on the cruise ship,
to keep up with the group as we made our way to the
bus that would take us to well-known Simpson Bay.
small shopping pavilion at the port was reflective of
Dutch architecture, with soft pastels and wooden eaves,
notably clean and neat. The sights I digested that morning
reminded me that I was, indeed, partaking in international
My husband and I hopped
on the bus and cruised along while we took in the surprising
vistas of low, arid terrain covered in desert vegetation.
So this is a Caribbean island, I thought to myself?
(Our upcoming sea kayaking adventure would soon confirm
that it is indeed.) Diane Scott, of Tri-Sport Outdoor
Activities, provided an informational history brief
of Dutch Sint Maarten and French St. Martin along the
way. She dispensed just enough material to spark my
curiosity of the island’s unique background. A
short and pleasant bus ride away, we arrived at an old
resort on Simpson Bay Lagoon.
Simpson Bay is one of
the largest landlocked bodies of water in the Caribbean.
Located on the southwestern side of the island, narrow
isthmuses rim Simpson Bay. The lagoon is part Dutch,
part French and is known as the busiest water sport
center on the south side of the island. Diane explained
that in the summer months there are hundreds of boats
in the lagoon, making for more of an adventure for kayakers.
Simpson Bay Lagoon offers tranquil waters for kayaking,
especially in the fall months when the boaters are in
Our kayaking adventure
began with a quick lesson on paddling by avid triathlete,
Malcom, the founder of Tri-Sport of Sint Maarten. Tri-Sport
is not only an adventure outfitter, but, as I was told,
is THE retail outlet for outdoors sporting gear on the
island. Diane and Felipe also joined us as our guides
around the lagoon. From start to finish they were excellent
teachers, guides, and hosts.
My husband and I decided on the tandem kayak, despite
the legend that it’s the “divorce kayak”!
The first 10 minutes on the water were critical. We
proceeded to delicately tell the other how to kayak,
until we realized that, what do you know, we were both
doing something right…we were leading the pack!
Before we knew it we were paddling like a team, our
hearts were beating steadily, we were taking in the
view, and we were half way to Explorer Island, our destination
for the day.
At Explorer Island we
had our choice of swimming in the clear waters, diving
off the rustic floating platform, lounging, or playing
paddleball. Pumped up by the thrill of the open water,
and the stimulation of rich exercise, we choose all
but the lounging.
paddled up to the shores of Mt. Fortune for a short
time, then, paddled adjacent to the Conch Cemetery,
that is based on a local legend. After a momentary glimpse
at the Conch Cemetery we headed back out on the water
to kayak towards our next stop…the mangroves.
It is here that we encountered a bit of wildlife. The
mangroves provide shelter and nourishment to many sea
creatures, including the sea cucumber and the Upside-down
Jellyfish. Fortunately, we were able to locate and palm
both. I never knew you could hold a jellyfish without
experiencing a great deal of pain, but indeed you can.
These jellyfish just need to be held…held correctly
that is. They must be held from the bottom, not the
top where the stingers are located. The lofty and intriguing
sea cucumbers, on the other hand, can be handled more
enthusiastically. Although your imagination might roam,
in the end you’ll decide they do indeed look like
Our kayak back to the
resort was challenged by the requirement of staying
clear of the “sinking sands”, the sand bar
made of drudged up sand excavated to create Simpson
Bay Lagoon years ago.
Back at our starting
point we were rewarded with Carib beers and relaxed
chat with the refreshingly hospitable staff of Tri-Sport.
I watched overhead as the frigate birds flew past and
realized just how content, carefree, and relaxed I was,
thanks to the crew of Tri-Sport.
We were exhilarated and
starving by the time we returned to the port. Even after
a fulfilling kayak expedition we still had time to eat,
lounge on the beach, and shop. Excellent! We had to
taste the conch fritters, one of the signatures of the
island. Our visit to a sidewalk café in downtown
Philipsburg was required. Despite the fact that the
conch fritters were a bit pricey and seemed a bit void
of the conch component, our tasting was well worth the
experience. We learned that next time we’ll search
out the best conch fritters on the island, with the
help of the locals.
After filling our bellies
we swam, lounged on the beach, and then headed to the
streets of Philipsburg for shopping. Philipsburg is
the capital of the Dutch side and is plentiful with
duty free shops, resorts, favorable restaurants and
gambling casinos. Philipsburg, built on a sandy strip
parallel to Great Bay, is only about 4 streets wide.
The main streets are Front Street and Back Street, lined
with fine boutiques. Front Street offers narrow alleys
or “steegjes”. Old Street is a gated road
that connects Front and Back Street. The town also lays
claim to the historical Great Salt Pound, which once
providing a splendid economy for Sint Maarten.
Colonial Dutch and West
Indian architecture abounds in Philipsburg, exhibiting
gingerbread designs, porches, rooftops, and pastels.
A fantastic example of this is the Pasasgrhan Inn along
Front Street. The white and green Court House on Front
Street, built in 179, is sought out by many. Simartin
Museum, built in 1989, is the place to learn of the
history and geology of the island.
You can certainly stay
adventurously busy in Sint Maarten, windsurfing, jet
skiing, boogie boarding, hiking, mountain biking, or
horseback riding. Divers can scuba dive at one of the
30 dive sites in the Atlantic and Caribbean oceans.
Waters remain at approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit
year round with excellent visibility, whenever tropical
storms are not threatening. You have your choice of
pristine coral reefs or several shipwrecks to encounter,
including the British frigate Proselyte wreck that sank
in 1801. Its visible from the surface of the water,
so snorkelers can get involved there as well. The Hens
and Rocks dive area offers a 70-foot drop off, perfect
for experienced divers.
too, can be a guest of Sint Maarten. You can cruise
into port, like I did, or take a flight on one of several
major airlines. You’ll need your passport, birth
certificate, or voter registration card with a photo
The official currency
on the island is the Euro, but the dollar is accepted
Remember that restaurants add a 10-15% service charge
to the bill, in place of a tip. Leave more of the green
stuff only if it’s merited.
Sint Maarten is easy. There is one major road around
the island. You can rent a car, jeep, motorcycle, or
scooter from most major rental companies.
Tri-Sport is highly recommended
as your adventure outfitter while in Sint Maarten. Here’s
how to reach them:
Alluring, turquoise water,
soothing rolling waves, and dynamic activities are the
things people dream of, until their dreams come true
in Dutch Sint Maarten.
A Brief History of
The island of Sint Maarten/St. Martin was spotted by
Columbus during his 2nd voyage in 1493. The date was
November 11, the designated Feast Day of St. Martin
of Tours, which gave the new land its name.
Early inhabitants of
the area were Arawak Indians, a peaceful people, in
the small islands of the Lesser Antilles. The Carib
people followed and referred to the landmass as “Sualougia”
or “a place to get salt.”
The Spanish, French,
and Dutch sought the natural salt ponds found on Sint
Maarten as early as the 1600’s. The Dutch, namely,
needed the salt to preserve the herring they were shipping
back to Holland. The Dutch got there first, and claimed
it in 1631. The salt ponds were put into working order
as a saltern, and were in use till 1949. Although it
is partly filled in today, it remains home to wildlife
such as herons and migrating birds.
Fort Amsterdam, erected
in 1631 and captured by the Spanish thereafter, is the
oldest Dutch Fort in the Caribbean. It is a 20-minute
walk from Front Street. Curious visitors can view the
ruins from Pointe Blanche on the eastern shore of the
were established on Sint Maarten in the late 1700’s.
Slaves were used to maintain the plantations. Once slavery
was abolished later in the century, the sugarcane industry
collapsed. In the years to come, slaves intermarried
to eventually form the Creole culture of today. All
the while the French staked their claim on the northern
part of the island.
In the 1940’s Princess Julianna Airport was built.
The port at Great Bay was quickly developed and became
the largest port in the Lesser Antilles, and contributed
to the booming tourism industry in Sint Maarten today.
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