Borders? We don’t need no stinking borders. You didn’t really think I’d go all the way to St. Martin and sit on the beach all week, right? Well I’ve done a bit of that too — and I’ll focus some attention there in my next post — but today it’s all about all the awesome border crossings adventures I’ve experienced on this very compact island. As I’ve mentioned before, and as most of you knew long ago, the island of St. Martin is split by an international border. The northern portion is a part of France and the southern portion is a part of the Netherlands.
It would be difficult to tell that an international border had been crossed here without a couple of strategically placed markers. There are few other roadside formalities. Sure, there are changes in official languages, currency, electrical voltages, vehicle license plates, etc., from one side of the island to the other but the evidence is rather more subtle if one is simply driving within the general border area.
I’ll cover my crossings from west to east on this embedded map.
View Saint-Martin / Sint Maarten Border Signs in a larger map
I think I’ve hit most of the major road-accessible borders on St. Martin except for the farthest western spot between the Lowlands and Terres Basses, on the western swing around Simpson Bay Lagoon. Frankly, I don’t want to go back towards the airport after suffering through traffic congestion immediately upon our arrival. A drawbridge goes up several times a day to let mega-yachts into the lagoon and it gridlocks traffic in every direction for a half hour at a shot.
We’ve been spending almost all of our time on the French side far away from the large resorts and casinos, and I’m not keen on going back into the crowds. I’ll declare my efforts "close enough" for my purposes. The border might be marked at its westernmost point or it might not. I’ll leave that for someone else to report. Now you have a reason to visit, too!
There are two large obelisk-shaped border markers that I observed along major roads between the French and Dutch sides. I encountered the first one soon after leaving the airport (once I got through the traffic), at Mount Concordia heading between Cole Bay and the island’s French capital of Marigot. It is dated 1648 and 1948. The first date represents the negotiation of the Treaty of Concordia when the two nations decided to split the island after Spain abandoned it, rather than fighting each other for full possession. This second date commemorates the passage of three centuries of friendly relations, the marker having been commissioned and placed along the border at that time.
The second obelisk can be seen on the route between Philipsburg, the capital on the Dutch side, and Quartier d’Orléans on the French side. This one also features the 1648 notation for the same reason. A small convenience store sits directly on the Dutch side, providing easy parking to access the marker.
The road between the eastern obelisk and Oyster Pond provides a unique opportunity along its final stretches as one nears the ocean. I’ve consulted a number of maps and it seems as if the road either straddles the border for a segment, parallels the border on the Dutch side, or crosses back and forth several times by a few feet. In any case it’s very close to riding the border. In this image, heading away from Oyster Pond moving west, the Dutch side is to the left and the French side is to the right.
We’d just spent much of the day at the beach so my wife was in a pretty good mood. She was willing to not only indulge my border hopping escapades but to serve as my official photographer as I drove. She said, and I quote, "Your little geo-geeks will love this stuff." I do. I hope that’s true for you too.
The easternmost road traversing the border can be crossed right at Oyster Pond. It’s not marked by an obelisk but by a simple wooden sign, "Bienvenue en Partie Française / Welcome to the French Side." Otherwise it’s not particularly remarkable. Oddly, I didn’t see a similar sign welcoming one to the Dutch side. Either I missed it, or it fell over, or the French have a greater appreciation for welcoming signage.
There is one more border oddity, and this is the best one. At the farthest point of Oyster Pond, where the road simply can’t go any further due to the ocean, one finds Captain Oliver’s Resort. They take justifiable pride in their hotel that’s located on the French side and their restaurant and marina located on the Dutch side. The harbor waters belong to the Netherlands and the resort placed their restaurant on pilings above the waters intentionally. Diners must cross an "international bridge" to get into the restaurant.
I didn’t find out about this place until after I arrived here. Otherwise I would have seriously considered staying at Captain Oliver’s simply for the geo-oddity joy. Maybe next time.