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Wednesday Market - Place du Marché

Marigot, Saint-Martin (March 2011)

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Marigot Place du Marché

Saint-Martin

The island of Saint Martin is split between a Dutch and a French side, with the town of Marigot serving as the French capital. Located on the western side of the island facing towards Anguilla, Marigot is also the largest French town with about 6,000 residents. It has been the capital for centuries with Fort Louis built on the hillside in 1789 to protect the already bustling port (see my Fort Louis page). Modern-day Marigot has the feel of a town in mainland France albeit with a Caribbean breeze and a subtropical climate. We wanted to make sure we experienced Marigot when it had an opportunity to shine during its best light, on a busy Wednesday market day. We drove down from Grand Case where we were staying early that Wednesday morning so we could avoid the largest crowds. We wanted to experience the market before everything got picked clean by the descending horders.


Marigot Panorama

Marigot Viewed from Fort Louis

Getting to the market was a breeze. We simply cut perpendicular from the main road traversing the western side of the island into Marigot proper until we reached the harbor. There wasn't an parking in the immediate vicinity of the market -- the day was already getting started -- so we continued along the waterfront until spaces opened up. Although we didn't realize it at the time, we were lucky because every available parking place was taken probably within the next half hour. Later in the day the entire town of Marigot practically gridlocked with traffic and we had a much more difficult time leaving than arriving. The not-so-secret strategy is to start early for the best shopping choices, for the least traffic, and for the only reasonably available parking.

The market can be seen in this photo I took from the hilltop vantage of Fort Louis. It's the nearest section along the waterfront on the right side of the image; the small parking lot is closest and the market is immediately behind it.


Marigot Market Stalls

Permanent Stalls at the Marigot Market

One portion of the market is dominated by permanent vendor stalls. This is where one would find seafood straight from the boats as they were unloaded early in the early morning. Once that wrapped-up there were still plenty of other vendors selling all manner of fruits, vegetables and spices. This felt like a "real" market, one existing primarily for locals to stock-up on fresh seafood and produce. Tourists milled about this area too but not to the extent they looked through the stalls with souvenirs and knick-knacks.


Marigot Artisans

Artisans and Craftsmen

Temporary tent-style stalls formed another section of the market. These are the type that spring forth like mushrooms on major market days (Wednesday and Saturday) to join their permanent cousins, to grow the market to more than double its original size. Here people browsed through clothing, jewelry, and various crafts. Some where intricately handmade and others were undoubtedly spit-out by a factory somewhere in China. All of it was fun and and most of it was reasonably priced.

This was the only place on Saint Martin where we felt a bit uncomfortable. It's a safe environment but our urban sensitivities still gave us pause for concern. It would be a pickpocket's dream with the throngs of cruise ship passengers flooding the market, paying little attention to their belongings or their surroundings. I have no problem with the people who like to cruise between the islands other than their sheer numbers undoubtedly change the character of any small town when several thousand of them descend en masse. On the other hand, we realized that the size and variety of the marketplace would be due in large part to cruise ship schedules. The market would be a lot different without them. With that in mind, we did some shopping in the scrum but retreated to the quieter sides of the market when we needed to come up for fresh air.

The ruins of old Fort Louis can be seen in the background of this photograph at the top of the hill. That was one of the places where we retreated when we needed a little elbow room.


Marigot Lolo

One of Many Dining Choices

We stopped for lunch at one of the several lolos surrounding the marketplace. A lolo is a casual creole restaurant serving simple fare such as grilled or barbecued meats and seafood along with abundant side dishes. They generally don't have walls, nor do they need them, with only a roof separating dinners from the great outdoors. This one was known as Chez Coco -- La Maison Créole. We tried the oxtail stew and the curried goat. Both were excellent and quite inexpensive. While the meals were priced in Euros they also accepted Dollars at a very attractive rate as is common on the French side of the island.

This was an ideal location for a leisurely meal, but more importantly an ideal location for people watching as the many varied characters wandered through the Place du Marché on a busy Wednesday.