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As you probably know, Uncle Dave’s real job sends him to exciting locales like the middle of Iowa corn fields and soon, the banks of Lake Erie in winter where he installs and trains casinos on his company’s software. He has also seen the recovering Katrina victim, Gulfport, MS, and now has ventured for two week to a vacation paradise a couple of hundred miles Southeast of Puerto Rico that is known as St. Martin or Sint Maarten, depending on which side of the island you’re on.

That’s right. Split crosswise, the Northern half is governed by the French, while the Southern half (also called Netherland Antilles) is Dutch. Euros is the currency of the North, Dutch florin or guilder of the South. 220v power North, 120v power South. French spoken North, English, Dutch and I at least one other language I couldn’t recognize, South. Of course, this is touristville so US dollars and English are welcome everywhere.

The split isn’t only between countries. Resorts, plantation style mansions in the picturesque hills, and multi-million dollar, multi-story yachts in the harbors bespeak of a wealthy lifestyle that can only be waited on by dark skinned natives who live in old, rundown houses scattered everywhere, often with piles of junk surrounding them. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any really good photos of the latter because they are usually in locations where there’s literally no place to stop the car or good places to stand that aren’t obscured by foliage.

The resorts (I was ensconced in a timeshare/hotel/resort on the Western border, Dutch side) are washed down daily by smiling staff, everyone of which say “good morning” as they pass. As one talkative worker stated, everything is for the guest. Most likely she, along with other staff, got to work on foot. A certain we-are-all-in-this-together mentality makes hitchhiking and picking up strangers a common practice in a place where few can afford a car.

I witnessed a telling event at my hotel. There’s a gate at the entrance. Returning one afternoon, a line had formed both ways. Turns out the guard was calling someone regarding a nice car attempting to leave contained four blacks. If they had been white, the gate would have gone up after a glance from the guard. Once it was ascertained they were guests, the gate went up and we all could pass. Everything for the guests.

For the seamier-side adventurers, there are strip clubs stocked with staggeringly gorgeous Eastern European women who are there on three month “contracts” (visas to the US are impossible for them to get while places like St. Maarten are easy) and are kept as virtual prisoners to prevent them escaping. If you want more than a hands-on lapdance, there are brothels in the hills stocked with Spanish speaking women. Or so I’m told. ;-)

Front Street in Philipsburg has got to be a mile long and has shops selling everything from T-shirts to fine, expensive jewelry. No tax and all at unusually low prices. Ah, the joys of no import barriers. And then there’s the food! Two weeks and not one bad meal.

I did get a case of the touristas Christmas day that lasted somewhat until I got home, but don’t know if it was something I ate or if the constant feeding frenzy my legs provided the bugs had finally caught up with me. Yes, this is a tropical island with humidity, bugs, humidity, narrow, twisting roadways, humidity, underpowered, tiny, tiny cars, humidity, a herd of goats running through downtown and (if I forgot to mention) it’s hot and humid.

But then there are the beaches, the food, rum based concoctions, the shopping, the slow pace (“things happen on ‘island time’”) and everything else a Caribbean island should be. Yes, there are times Uncle Dave loves his job!

  1. Jeanne says:

    Uncle Dave’s real job sends him to exciting locals??? You do mean locales, right? Anyway, great piece!

  2. Uncle Dave says:

    Actually, I’ve met some exciting locals, too, but details aren’t for publication! But I fixed it anyway.

  3. Dugger says:

    I was in Sint Maartin less than 48 hours ago. No mention of the European style topless beaches?

    Come on liven it up!

  4. Uncle Dave says:

    #3: Lap dances and whorehouses are less lively than topless beaches? Interesting viewpoint. Have to say I never got to one, although one of the others on my team did.

    Where did you stay? I was at Oyster Bay.

  5. Dirtboy says:

    I also did some work in St. Maarten installing and training on a telecom billing system for prepaid cards.

    I went in the off season and the place was dirty. The island was covered in cactus and trash would blow across the island and catch on the plants. It looked like a garbage Christmas tree. I asked some of the locals and they told me that right before the tourist season opened they had an island wide cleanup and put all the trash on a barge. It makes sense; there really isn’t any room to put in a landfill and cleaning up more than once a year can get costly for such a poor nation.

    The buildings on the dutch side were a beautiful pastel, and thats where most of the shopping was located. The french side was mostly casinos and houses of the rich and famous.

    The island locals were extremely friendly and I had a great time. The food was excellent and exotic. We stayed at the Atrium just inside the dutch border in the south.

    The island is so small that nearly all of the local news affected everyone. A murder had taken place shortly before I arrived and it was in the paper the day I started. Everyone in the office knew the boy who was killed. I asked about it and I was told that on the island there is a tradition of camaraderie amongst the people and they are like one big family. Its like that with every bit of news. Everyone knows everyone else and things like that affected the entire island. Makes me wish our own small towns could achieve the type of social interaction this entire nation has.

  6. Uncle Dave says:

    Several of us were going to take the boat trip one Sunday to St Barths (the French spelling), only to discover they only went on two other days of the week. So, we went to the other side of the airport (what an huge place that is — not the sort of airport one would expect here). Ate at the exceptional Sopranos Pizza (yes, they use Tony in their ad, although it’s doubtful he gets paid for — or knows about — the usage) across from Casino Royale.

  7. Billabong says:

    Dave tell us more.

  8. Frank says:

    The Dutch guilder doesn’t exist anymore, we also use euros. There are two kind of guilders used on the Antilles, Aruba has its own guilder and the rest of the other Antilles (five islands) share a common currency.

  9. Uncle Dave says:

    #9: I saw the guilder mentioned on that website I linked to which is why I mentioned it, although I don’t remember seeing anything other than dollars and US coins exchanged anywhere.

  10. Dugger says:

    I arrived for just a day on a cruise ship. Orient beach has the most famous European / Mediterranian style beachs with topless and full nudity common. I was on a catamarran excursion to Tintimar – a deserted island retreat to the Northeast. I saw a half dozen folks on their expensive yachts nude sunbathing on the beach as well as running their boat.

  11. bronwen lichtenstein says:

    Small island, surly locals, big mosquitoes (dengue fever), bad roads, hellish tourism.

  12. Danny says:

    St. Maarten is not so great. In fact, I think it kinda sucks. I spent 4 months there and found that the locals are NOT so friendly unless you go out of your way to show respect to them. I went to the island with the attitude that St. Maarten was not my home and I needed to respect the customs of the island and I still felt like native people were rude. In addition to the complete lack of a reliable communications infrastucture, the prices of doing normal chores like laundry are EXORBITANT. The beaches are nice, but they are often dirty. There must be better islands in the Caribbean, if not then go to Hawaii. This is an OK place to go for a week or two, but that is it. I’m not surprised that most of the nice houses on the French side are usualy empty.

  13. Koolio says:

    Locals in St.Maarten are not rude, I would say it’s the visitors that tend to be stuck up. I have vacationed in St.Maarten numerous times and have rarely had bad experiences with locals. i find that the locals are normally very freindly, compared to other caribbean isalnds. Concenring communications infrastructure, every beach I visited had wifi internet access, and if you have a blackbery, you can connect to Orange’s network, a fech carrier and pretty much chat anywhere.
    My most loved thing about st.Maarten though is the restaurants, they are all exceptionaly great, you won’t have a single bad meal.
    -Now concenring the trash, yes the place is a bit messy with trash, but where in the world isn’t infested with trash? so i think to highlight this point is a bit misleading. their is no where in the world that is perefectly clean, well except singapore.

  14. Alarman says:

    I am leaving for St Martin tonight. Staying at Oyster Bay for a week. Thanks for the good reads.

  15. Sarah Parker says:

    I have a tips for you guys, For people who’ve owned islands, land and run businesses in ST MARTIN ISLAND for a long time, have you thought about any kind of a longevity discount? Maybe lowering prices by 10% after a year or so because we’re dependable sources of income?

  16. St Martin island says:

    St. Martin sounds good place,I greatly believe that every corner of this place is wonderful.


  17. John says:

    St.Maarten sucks!! We were on a cruise Feb 2009 and one stop was St.Maarten. People are nice as long as you open your wallet other than that pretty un-friendly. My oldest daughter had her video camera recording a band and some of the street life and one locals approaced her yelling and screaming that she “could not tape his Island” and tried to grab her camera…and my son in law stepped bewteen her and this mainac. The guy took a swing and my son in law ducked it…the guy was just going off about his island and how we didn’t belong there, one of the band members called for security but no one ever showed up and this went on for 10 to 15 minutes so fine I’ll never spend another moment there or another dime. If we are ever on a ship stopping at that SH*THOLE we decided we would stay on the ship and be treated well.

  18. Wayne says:

    I’m currently in St. Maarten and this dump is the worst holiday ever. As others have mentioned, the only friendly is when you’re handing them cash. The coastal areas are owned by the wealthy or hotels and the interior is a poor slum. I’ve never been so anxious for a vacation to come to an end and wouldn’t ya know it, a damn storm is brewing southeast of here that might keep me here longer. I may one day venture to Hawaii, but the Caribbean will never see another dollar out of my pocket!

  19. yytre says:

    Amazing how you can just walk away from what you describe as “virtual enslavement” of those stripper girls. I would have investigated if in fact they had their passports taken, and if so, hunted down the management and turned them into a bloody stew.


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