St Maarten Report 25 Dec 2009

St. Maarten is one of the Virgin Islands and happens to be shared by France and the Netherlands. The East half of the island is French and treated by many as the upper class part of the island, while the West half of the island is Dutch and treated as a much more plebian population. Personally, I didn’t see much difference. The island is mountainous in the center and at some parts close to the shoreline, but is flat and coastal for a large portion of the island. Drivers drive on the right side of the road as they do in the US.

Port in St Maarten from an overlook across the bay

The day was sunny as we started but the forecast indicated some chance of showers later in the afternoon. We got an early start. Here is the general route.

Our Norwegian Jewel was berthed on the East side of Great Bay in the French part of the island. The port around the ship was mostly new with one and two story stucco or brick buildings containing small shops selling souvenirs, small bars, clothing stores, and some offices for real estate sales, rentals, attorneys, etc. Many of our shipmates didn’t get out of this area. There was plenty to eat and buy. Many diving tour firms were hawking their tours at the pier.

We rode through the crowd and headed north around the built up area adjacent to the bay. This is a primary beach area for tourists on the island. People could have drinks on the beach, rent diving equipment, and shop for clothes immediately adjacent to the beach. This part is called Phillipsburg and houses many of the business from the French side. We intended to save our tour of Phillipsburg for the end of the bike ride. Behind the shops and living area of Phillipsburg lies the Great Salt Pond. We rode along the road between the Pond and the back side of Phillipsburg for the better part of a mile. Construction could be seen ongoing all along the road. Many of the homes used by the workers of French St Maarten were here, two story apartment buildings with laundry on the walkways. Many people used cars to get around, but I’m sure many also used mopeds and walked.

The view above Little Bay

In the distance on the far side of the bay, we could see taller buildings, probably condos and time shares, which were relatively new and certainly upscale.

Exclusive secluded housing area on St Maarten

We made our way to the Belair section of town through an industrial area which probably supports the cruise and shipping industry. Soon, the rode began to rise and we encountered many serious hills, probably making their way up 500 feet at the lower levels and more than a thousand feet as we got to the overlook toward the Dutch part of the island. Looking back, we could see a very nice area which we learned was Little Bay. Although we tried to get there by road, we couldn’t find a path. I now believe the tip of the point on the East side of Little Bay is not reachable by road. The several thousand people who live in these upscale apartments and condos get in and out by boat! But it seemed to be a very nice place.
We made it up most of the smaller hills, but we then turned to the road going over the big hill—the one that rose about 1500 feet or more. We definitely did not make it up this bugger in one ride. It took all of a half hour, several water stops, and not a little walking. At the top, we found a great lookout with a small café serving only water and other beverages. We stopped for a 20 minute rest. The building was topped with a six pointed star, but I doubt this was intended to be a Star of David. The proprietor was friendly and talked about what we would find on the Dutch part of the island. He warned us to be careful on the road down because some tourists are not as careful as they should be.

The view of the Dutch part of the island from the summit

The way down nearly wore out our brakes, but it was a pleasant change from the way up. I vowed to find a way to avoid climbing this hill again on the way back. As we approached the bottom of the long hill, we could tell the difference between the French and Dutch sides of the island. We rode through slums and then casinos and bars and restaurants for this, the main part of the Dutch side. At Cole Bay, we rode onto the beach and Jessica even went into the water, again cooling herself off by dropping her head and hair into the Caribbean Sea. There were tourist vacation hotels along the beach and many people were outside playing volleyball, floating in the waves, reading and trying some of the beverages offered locally. We continued on for a significant flat portion of the ride around Simpson Bay, past low areas which were wet and barely above the water. We passed the Dutch airport (Princess Juliana) and moved into the Mullet Bay golf course. A ride through a golf course here was pleasant, but I don’t think the course was of Jack Nicklaus quality. There were many foursomes on the course, but the balls were flying everywhere, seldom in the fairways. On our right for most of the ride through the flat area is a salt water pond called Simpson Bay Lagoon. As we rode around the lagoon, I recognized many large waterbirds which I had only read about before—herons and egrets, especially.
Moving north again, we eventually passed the border between the Dutch and French parts of the island. The street names took on a French hue and we were happy to be making time over the flats. Again, we began to see upscale homes, many being newly built. It seems the French are emphasizing homes and condos for their building boom while the Dutch are emphasizing casinos, hotels, and restaurants. We got to the north side of the Simpson Bay lagoon, where we began to see glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean north of the island. This reminded me of Kailua in Hawaii with beach houses, but much more spread out in St Maarten and with many more large trees. The houses were, in general, very secluded. The road shoulder was sandy, and this area is rightly called Sandy Ground. Having been on the road for almost three hours by now, we decided to look for a place to stop and eat, but the area had few commercial establishments. Eventually, we came upon a small seaside hotel called Le Buccaneer (I think this correct). We parked the bikes outside and entered an empty bar area with only a bartender apparent. He directed us outside to tables on the beach under palm trees. The site was gorgeous. We could see a harbor far across the bay with a few boats moving around. We chose a table and ordered. We settled for an appetizer with several separate portions of dips and spreads along with French bread. It was wonderful. I chose a conch steak platter and Yaffa chose a vegetarian plate. This was accompanied by beer and limeade. The meal was wonderful and perfect for tired bicyclists.

Le Buccaneer beachside restaurant outside Marigot

Lunch on St Maarten

After about an hour at lunch, we embarked again for the remainder of the ride. We rode for a few miles just inland of the beach first through forested areas and eventually into the outskirts of the town of Marigot, with small two room houses and stores. We entered a more heavily opulated area with bars hotels, car repair shops, etc, and then turned south at a major intersection for the trip back to the ship.

Two brothers pose outside Marigot on the French side of St Maarten

This took us first through a mile of urban streets and then through rolling hills lined with cattle farms. We entered another more urban area as the route began to climb a 300 foot hill. As we topped this hill, we spied our choices for the homestretch. One choice was the short cut over the hill along a road which seemed to rise at more than 45 degrees as it climbed 1000 feet.

Are you kidding? Closeup of the route not taken. Cars coming downhill seemed to be moving very carefully.

The road not taken for the ride back to port from Marigot

Option two was a less styeep route which would add several miles to our route. We chose option two and embarked on the climb which required a few rest stops and walking periods itself. Eventually we came back into site of the ocean and familiar roads from earlier in the day. We retraced our earlier route from Cole Bay back toward the Great Salt Pond and eventually onto the beach along Great Bay. This was the most difficult ride of my Caribbean and Yucatan adventures.

As we reached the beach in Phillipsburg, we stopped to look for curios at the shops along the beach. We also stopped at some of the high cost import stores to check out some of the clothes, but they were way out of my desired price range. The stores were very nice though. Finally, the ship was in site and we made our way into the protected port area through port security. Upon arrival at the ship, I headed immediately for the top level buffet where I imbibed at least four glasses of iced tea. This ride was one I was glad to have made, but one which I also was glad to be over. I looked forward to flatter routes tomorrow.


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