St Martin, Dutch and French Island

Saint Martin (French: Saint-Martin; Dutch: Sint Maarten) is a very small Caribbean island. The 34 square mile island is divided roughly 60/40 between France and The Netherlands - the two parts are roughly equal in population. The division dates from 1648. The southern Dutch part one of four constituent countries that form the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The northern French part comprises the Collectivité de Saint-Martin (Collectivity of St. Martin) and is an overseas collectivity of France. In 2009 the population of the entire island was 78,000 inhabitants. Many years ago we walked round the island

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Saint Martin View from our cabin Now to hit town ... We met locals, from the soft .. ..to the fierce.
The beach is long and sandy. We walked to the far end where Chris had a swim. Walking back we found this charming bit of old island culture.
The Pasanggrahan Royal Guesthouse - 'Pasanggrahan' means guesthouse in Indonesian. It has been a rooster farm, a governor's residence and a residence for the Dutch Royal family. It is today the oldest hotel on Sint Maarten and still retains its West-Indies colonial style. It is right on the beach, and a perfect place for a beer.

In 1493, Christopher Columbus embarked on his second voyage to the New World. Columbus sighted Saint Martin on November 11, 1493, the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours. Therefore Columbus named the island San Martin. This name was translated to Sint Maarten (Dutch), Saint-Martin (French) and "Saint Martin" in English.

At Columbus's time, St. Martin was populated by Carib amerindians. The Caribs' territory was not completely conquered until the mid-17th century when most of them perished in the struggle between the French, English, Dutch, Danes and Spanish for control of the West Indies. The Dutch first began to extract salt from the island's ponds in the 1620s. The Spanish recaptured St. Martin in 1633 and, one year later, built a fort (Ft. Amsterdam) to control access to Great bay salt pond. The Spaniards introduced the first African slaves to the area in the 16th century but the main influx of African slaves took place in the 18th century with the development of Sugarcane plantations by the French and Dutch. Slavery was abolished in the first half of the 19th century, which led the British to Chinese and East Indians as labourers. Thus, St. Martin and the other islands are populated by a mixture of Amerindian, European, African, Indians and Asian peoples.

Border crossing between St. Martin and Sint Maarten. In 1648, France and the Dutch Republic agreed to divide the island between their two territories, with the signing of the Treaty of Concordia. Folklore surrounds the history of the border division between St. Martin and Sint Maarten that was agreed on at that time. The legend is that the inhabitants were told to choose two walkers, one by the French community and the other one by the Dutch community, who were put back to back in one extreme of the island, and told to walk in opposite directions. The point where they eventually met was set as the other extreme of the island, hence the frontier was created.

Today we walked along the beach, past scores of beach chair and sun umbrella operators - yours for the day for $25 - till we were far enough from the ship for cruise boat passengers not to venture. It was a lovely beach and an echo of what was the Caribbean. Chris stopped for a swim at a hotel at the far end - whist waiting for her, I was expelled by a security guard. It turned out it was an "all inclusive" resort hotel, and one had to be wearing their coloured wrist band to enter.

We walked back through Philipsburg, where the main street consisted mainly of jewellery and souvenir shops aimed at the daily cruise passenger market. Apart from the Pasanggrahan Royal Guesthouse, and a couple of other old buildings, you would be pushed to tell St Martin from a myriad of other Caribbean Islands whose economy rests in the hands of the cruise boat operators.

Our Norwegian Getaway Cruise