The island of Saint Martin is actually 2 countries – Dutch (southern) and French (northern). There are no guards or border crossings between the two – only a monument to peace and the flags of the 2 countries. Both flags are red, white and blue – the Dutch side flag has horizontal stripes with red on top, the French side has vertical stripes with red on the right. The only way to know you’ve changed countries is by the main spoken language – French or Flemish, and that the exchange rate for US dollars is better on the Dutch side. Dutch Sint Maarten trades $1 USD for 1 euro, but on the French side, the euro is worth more.
On Wednesday I had booked to go on a day sailing trip, but the wind was from the south instead of the east and waters were rough, so my trip was postponed till Friday. For my first full day on the island, I decided to explore. I took my rental car on a big loop – Orient Beach south to the Quarter Orleans, to just north of Phillipsburg, to Simpson Beach and around the airport, west to Cote D’Azur and up to Nettle Bay, east to Marigot, north to Grand Case and east back to Orient Beach. The island roads are narrow and often have cars parked on the side… I was glad to be driving the standard island rental car – a small white Hyundai.
St. Martin has steep mountains rising up from the sea and the roads go up and down and curve around. I would have liked to be driving a Porsche… except the roads are not in very good shape, with potholes and rough patches. The views are scenic… but no good places to pull off and take photos. Also, February is high season and traffic is heavy. Locals get around by mini-bus (like a narrow tall mini-van), with a label on front of where it’s heading to. Retired seniors wintering on the island say rental cars are too expensive all the time and often use local transportation, except when they make a grocery run. But unless one flies in and wants to stay stuck in some large tourist resort, a rental car is a must.