We disembarked the Holland America Line, MS euroDam and I caught a whiff of some crew chatter about some sort of strike on the island. I didn’t think much of this at the time. Soon we were driving through the “Dutch” countryside and a few minutes later we were driving through the “French” countryside. The island of St. Martin is a divided territory between the Dutch and the French – on the French side the Euro is used and the Dutch still use (at the time of our visit) the Netherlands Antillean guilder as the currency (a relic currency used by Holland prior to their conversion to the Euro).
Our goal was Pic Paradis, the highest point on the island at about 1,400 feet above sea level and near Loterie Farm – a nature destination featuring a restaurant, pool, zip lines and other outdoor activities. From Pic Paradis we hiked back to Loterie Farm through the jungle-like vegetation learning about the various plants and their uses. This was the scripted part of the tour.
The real fun began after we started driving back towards Philipbsurg – soon we reached a stopped line of cars – a few folks capitalizing on the traffic jam came up to us offering to sell us cold beers. Many citizens on this side of the island were protesting about land rights. One of our guides ran to the front of the line and quickly came back motioning us to move over into the left lane and drive up. Upon reaching the front our guides asked if we could get through – but the crowd standing around became excited and denied us entry. The road was completely blocked with rocks and branches and other obstacles – with many people standing around, filming and yelling at people to turn around.
Ultimately we had to all disembark from the bus escorted by both our guides through the crowd of people – we started walking in the opposite direction from the protesters – initially thinking we would be able to get another bus, but then we found out there were more road blocks. Essentially all roads back to the port where our ship was docked were blocked.
So luckily the small community of Grand Case (and its beach front) was nearby and while we waited for the water taxi to rescue us (organized by the ship), we took full advantage of our location to swim in these amazing waters.
The Grand Case, L’Espérance Airport is nearby – lesser known for aviation enthusiasts to watch low incoming planes from Maho each at the end of the runway at Princess Juliana Airport on the other side of the island – but nonetheless still mesmerizing as you look up into the belly of very low landing planes. In the past, I’ve flown into the Princess Juliana Airport over Maho Beach; on our way back to the ship we passed in front of this beach watching the planes descend right over the sandy strip before landing.
Fortunately we were on a cruise hosted tour and the ms Eurodam waited for us – ultimately after we arrived to the port, the ship left only about 40 minutes behind schedule.