Friday, March 09, 2007

St Maarten

St Maarten is very popular among boaters so I was eager to experience it for myself. It is the only island in the Caribbean where you find two islands sharing one land mass and it is the smallest island in the world ever to have been partitioned between two different nations. During my short stay I only got to visit Dutch Sint Maarten which occupies the southern part of the island, but hope to return so I may also visit French Saint Martin on the northern side.

We anchored in Simpson Bay, just outside the bridge entrance to Simpson Lagoon, which is known for its excellent marine facilities including mega yacht marinas. Amazing sail and power mega yachts were everywhere. Some yachts had helicopters and boats larger than Event Horizon on their decks. It was unbelievable and among boaters, referred to as boat porn.

This friendly island is a duty-free zone and visitors may stay as long as three months. All welcomed changes for the Event Horizon crew! For only $1 each way I took a bus, well actually a van but they call it the bus (you have to look at the license plates of vans to see if it says bus or taxi), up and over a mountain into the capital of Philipsburg, which is filled with open air kiosks and duty-free shops. My timing was excellent as it was a rare occasion with no cruise ships in town allowing me to have a wonderful experience as I strolled the towns three main and many side streets. I found some men making beautiful baskets from palm leaves which I could not resist. The baskets will gradually turn from bright green into a light brown color as the leaves dry, resulting in a sturdy useful boat item.

This European influenced island is cosmopolitan casual and filled with happy tourists spending Guilders or US$ on the Dutch side and Euro or US$ on the French side. We loved the wide selection of goods, low prices and variety of ethnic restaurants, including Indian which we enjoyed a few times. Most street vendors, shops and bar happy hours sell cold beers for $1 which can be enjoyed inside or on the move. We learned of a new refreshing beer called Amstel Bright (nothing like Amstel or Amstel Light) clearly trying to woo Corona and Carib drinkers. I did a little online research to learn it is “brewed with desalinated seawater and 100% natural Curacao ingredients, Amstel Bright is a light, thirst-quenching Caribbean sensation.” Unfortunately only available in the Netherlands and in the Netherlands Antilles. But Heineken was the beer for the masses as our visit coincided with the 27th Annual Heineken Regatta. Over 200 boats from around the globe racing and a 5-day revolving party all made for an exciting time for both racers and spectators.

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