Who loves the Twelve Mile Circle website the most? Anguilla, apparently.
I’ve tracked 12MC usage statistics for nearly five years, yet I hadn’t taken the next logical step by correlating this to per capita totals. Curiosity got the best of me and I created a simple spreadsheet comparing numbers of 12MC visitors by nations/dependent territories to their population. Mentally I would have guessed that the United States would have generated greatest 12MC per capita visitor ratio. It’s an intuitive choice because I focus a large percentage of website content on U.S. geo-oddities. I receive hundreds of U.S. visitors every day as a result.
Internationally, 12MC has a robust following in Canada and the United Kingdom, with Australia and New Zealand to a lesser degree. They’re all English-speaking countries. That makes sense. They would be my next set of logical choices. I figured that they would round-out the top tier given the number of visitors each sends to the site even while taking their sizable populations into account. Remarkably, other places seem to love 12MC more than these nations at least on a per capita basis.
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That brings me to Anguilla, a British overseas territory located in the Caribbean. Recent population projections estimate that only about 15,000 people live on Anguilla so it wouldn’t take a lot of clicks to influence my statistics. Still, it’s not just one or two visits to the website. It’s no anomaly. I receive a regular, steady stream from Anguilla; not every day but once every few days. It works out to something like 1 Anguilla visitor to 12MC for every 270 residents.
I’ve never featured Anguilla in an article directly. I’ve also never set foot on Anguilla personally although I’ve seen it from a distance. I took this photograph from the French town of Grand Case on neighboring Saint-Martin last year. Notice how Anguilla appears clearly across the channel
So why do I get this traffic?
I suspect it’s due to tourists who are staying on Anguilla that are planning to cross the channel by ferry to spend a little time on Saint-Martin / Sint Maarten. I featured a number of pages during and immediately after my visit (e.g., Saint Martin Borders and Boundaries and Saint Martin Observations). The web logs seem to confirm this theory. My coverage of Saint Martin seems to have created a nice little statistical clustering causing Anguilla to be the most likely place to send a visitor to 12MC per capita.
Speaking of Saint-Martin / Sint Maarten, this bifurcated island comes in second place and probably for a very similar reason. I had to make some assumptions in order to to calculate this. All of the traffic gets dumped into a generic "Netherlands Antilles" bucket. Netherlands Antilles no longer exists, as we know, and even when it did it didn’t include the French oversees collectivity of Saint-Martin. Nonetheless that’s how I saw it recorded after I deliberately pinged 12MC from Grand Case, clearly on the French side of the border. I guess it must have something to do with where Internet traffic leaves the island by undersea cable. I combined the populations of various components of the old Netherlands Antilles, added Saint-Martin, prorated, and came to the conclusion that the island captured second place.
Caribbean nations and dependencies send an inordinate amount of traffic to the Twelve Mile Circle. Let’s set those aside however and see what other surprises lurk.
The United States — which I figured would be in first place effortlessly — didn’t appear in the per capita rankings until sixth place. Even Saint Pierre and Miquelon beat it. Well, that one I believe is a true anomaly. It all comes down to a single article I published in the early days of the blog.
Still, more readers per capita came from Iceland than Australia? And from Brunei than Ireland? And from New Zealand than Canada and (by far!) the United Kingdom? Some of the per capita results are due to small nations with miniscule populations. Those are interesting side-shows with dubious statistical merit other than some residual entertainment value. However many are not. My biggest surprises were seeing New Zealand so high on the list and the UK much further down on the list.
I think I’ll take a look at the individual U.S. states and see if my conventional wisdom is off-target there too. Meanwhile, here is the Top 25 per capita 12MC visitor list:
- Saint Martin/Sint Maarten
- Saint Pierre and Miquelon
- British Virgin Islands
- United States
- New Zealand
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- United States Virgin Islands
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- Saint Lucia
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Cayman Islands
- Isle of Man
- United Kingdom
- Turks and Caicos Islands
I led-off with Saint Martin geo-oddities as one would expect on the Twelve Mile Circle. However, with that obligation safely behind me I can now begin to act more like a "normal" tourist, or as close to normal as I can muster. I’m not typical when it comes to holiday travels, as you’ve undoubtedly learned while following this blog, but I can relax in a more recognizable tourist fashion when necessary. That’s what you’ll get here today.
Dutch Sint Maarten uses the Netherlands Antillean Guilder — to be replaced by the Caribbean Guilder in 2012 — and French Saint-Martin uses the Euro as their official currencies. They seem mere formalities within the island’s tourist universe. The U.S. Dollar is accepted everywhere. I’ve yet to see an actual Guilder anywhere. I suppose they exist but even the ATM’s spit-out U.S. Dollars on the Dutch side.
Back on the French side, in the village of Grand Case in particular we found that many businesses offer the best exchange rate imaginable: they accept Dollars and Euros equally. The catch is that one has to pay in cold hard cash. Credit cards will be charged in Euros. It makes a huge difference when paying 70 US Dollars for something priced nominally at 70 Euros. That works out to $70 vs. ~$100 at today’s exchange rate. I’ll take that trade any day of the week! I get the distinct feeling that businesses on the French side calculate their margins based on dollars and if someone if silly enough to pay in Euros then it’s considered a really, really nice tip. We dash across the nearby border to the Dutch side when we our stash of dollars starts to run low and we lock all but what’s necessary for the moment in the apartment safe.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the Euros I brought with me other than save them for a future trip to continental Europe. There’s no incentive to use them here.
Let’s get this out of the way. Yes I went to the beach. The most famous beach, the one always mentioned on tourist sites as one of the best in the Caribbean, is found on the eastern side of the island at Orient Bay. It’s French so clothing options or lack thereof benefit from more liberal interpretations than one would expect in many other parts of the world. For the record, we remained on the clothed side of the beach, thank you very much. I didn’t want to terrify anyone.
We also learned to keep our field of vision pointed towards the northeast after catching inadvertent glimpses of geriatrics wandering directly up to the boundary of the clothing optional section towards the south, separated only by a line of large stones. It may be the only time in my life that I didn’t want to explore a border. I’m no prude and if someone’s into that lifestyle then I’m fine with it. But it wasn’t like the folks strutting about like peacocks had the bodies of Olympic athletes either.
OK, I think a morning and lunch at this tourist magnet is enough. Can I leave now?
Pinel Island was much more aligned with my lifestyle. It also has a beach but it’s part of a protected marine reserve and it’s much further removed from the crowds. One can only get to it by boat. Little wooden vessels leave from nearby French Cul-de-Sac throughout the day charging something like $6-7 round-trip. It’s a short ride, maybe ten minutes or less, but I suppose it’s enough of a hassle to keep most of the hordes away.
There are a small number of open-air beachside restaurants along the island’s small sandy waterfront. Most people remain here under beach umbrellas while servers deliver fruity frozen drinks, for hours at a time. Others head over to the snorkeling area. That idyllic lifestyle appeals to most visitors but I had to get up eventually and wander about. The park includes hiking trails and it’s a quick walk over and around the island. There I discovered two very nice rustic beaches completely devoid of visitors. It felt like I’d found my own deserted isle.
We don’t normally travel to tourist-infused locations so sometimes it’s been a bit of an adjustment. At lunch in Marigot we sat at an outdoor cafe and played a game of "guess who’s going to get their belongings snatched first." Swarms of buses converged on the Marigot market unloading herds of cruise ship passengers, wearing expensive jewelry, dangling cameras, lugging big floppy purses, and generally ignoring even the basic rules of safe travel by paying absolutely no attention to their belongings or their surroundings. It would be a pickpocket’s dream.
We never observed anything unsavory, but a lot of the online guides and reviews warned against petty crimes of opportunity. We wondered if those might have been rooted in people’s carelessness and inattentiveness in crowded marketplaces. The online reviews create an unwarranted climate of apprehension, in my opinion. Take normal precautions and everything should be fine. This is a safer place than my home neighborhood in the United States.
We then climbed up to Fort St. Louis at the base of the Marigot harbor for spectacular views of the island. Fort St. Louis was constructed in the 18th Century to protect French interests there. Today its ruins have become a popular tourist attraction. You can just see it at the top of the hill in this photo.
I love the "lolo" restaurants, the outdoor barbeque shacks where diners get more Creole-inspired cuisine than one can possibly eat in a single sitting, for about ten bucks. These are a great counter-balance to the extremely expensive French restaurants that are considerably more formal, although we’ve enjoyed those as well. Oxtail stew, curried goat or simply-grilled fish at a lolo for lunch and haute cuisine for dinner. You’ve heard me describe myself as low-brow and high-brow simultaneously with nothing in between? Well, those are the primary dining choices on the French side. I’m in food heaven.
I guess my time on St. Martin is quickly coming to an end. Darn. It’s been a lovely holiday.
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.