St. Martin/St. Maarten, 1983

By Jack Welsch

Images © Copyright 1983, J. H. Welsch
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I failed to make (or at least retain) a diary on this one. Dutch St. Maarten and French St. Martin share the same small island in the Lesser Antilles. The two nations have co-existed peacefully for many years and there is no border control at all. We've been back twice on cruises (once in '90 and again in '98) and we believe development has spoiled the island. While still nice, the quaintness is essentially gone. What's written here describes how it was, not necessarily how it is.

This was our first trip out of the country (except Canada, of course) and it was a great one! We flew from JFK only after a day-long delay due to (allegedly) minor mechanical problems. By the time we arrived in St. Maarten, customs was closed so they simply opened a gate on the side of the terminal building and let us through! We'd rented a car but there is a law in St. Maarten that you can't pick them up at the airport (not that it would have mattered) so a bus took us to the hotel. We stayed at Dawn Beach, which is on the Dutch side. The terrain is terribly mountainous and the roads poor so the trip was a real treat! The next day, a car was delivered to the hotel. The car was tiny; a Hyundai Pony. (This was long before Hyundais were available in the US.) Given the steep hills, this car was grossly underpowered and we often doubted we'd make it to the top. While our hotel was nice, we really preferred the French side so most days we got up and headed there. We found the people friendlier and the food superb. As you can see, I'm among the apparent minority of Americans who find the French delightful and more polite than the average American. I will admit that the ability to speak French helps a lot.

Philipsburg, the capital of Dutch St. Maarten was, even in 1983, pretty crowded on the days that cruise ships were in port so we steadfastly avoided it during those days. At that time, Marigot, the capital of French St. Martin, was still a quaint little town without the pseudo Rodeo Drive that's found now. You could park easily and stroll around without fighting crowds. However, our favorite town was, and still is, Grande Case, just north of Marigot. It's still small but then it was tiny. We found a little ice cream parlor in Grande Case that served home-made ice cream and we went there most days. Another nice restaurant for lunch was Mark's Place in French Cul de Sac. Sadly, both are now long gone, though I understand Mark's has actually moved to P'burg..

All the beaches on the island are (or at least were) public so we tried many but by far the nicest, we thought, was Orient Beach. That happens to also be a clothing-optional beach so it's an interesting experience. There was and still is a clothing-optional resort at the south end of the beach and they were kind enough to give us a tour of the facility. Interesting experience! During this visit in '83, Club Orient was the only facility on this rather long beach but now, sadly, the whole beach is very developed and pretty sleazy. Sad.

Prices were shocking, at least to us. We were spending $100US a night on dinner and, remember, this was 1983. When we looked at the menu at breakfast on day one, we commented on the prices and a man sitting at an adjacent table said, "Well, I didn't come here to save money!" That phrase has carried us through many vacations since then!

One day we took El Tigre, a sailing catamaran to nearby St. Barth's and liked that island even better. We took a taxi to Baie St. Jean where we had lunch and did some swimming and wind surfing. He then picked us up and gave us a tour of the island before returning us to the dock.

This vacation was just about perfect. Like most of them, though, it could have been longer!