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First impressions of the island that will be my new home
Posted by: Warwick (
Date: September 23, 2009 10:57PM

I have just returned from a weekend on St Martin which will soon be my new home, and thought I would share my first impressions.

Having never been to the Caribbean before, I can't honestly say what I was expecting, but I do know that what I experienced was not whatever it was I was expecting smiling smiley

The very first impression was from the air and I defy anyone not to be enchanted by that unbelievably blue sea and the island rising majesticaly from the ocean. Landing over the famous Maho beach was exciting and the airport was a pleasure - we were even welcomed with rum - that is a first for me at an airport!

Out of the airport and into the car and suddenly that spell of idyllic enchantment was broken and I came back to the real world with a thud. The roads, the traffic, the driving. After having been spoilt by the orderly and picturesque roads of rural New England for the last 15 months it was all a bit of a shock.

However, as I travelled north towards Anse Marcel it dawned on me that the island was a lot like a mini-condensed version of South Africa, my native land. There was the opulance and the poverty side by side, the shiny new luxury vehicles and the minibus taxis side by side, the renowned French restaurants and the simple but no less flavourful roadside stalls grilling ribs and chicken. The cultural mix too reminded me of life in Africa, although there is the sense of less racial tension on the island than you experience in Africa, all the peoples seem to cohabit peacefully which is wonderful.

Home for the next 2 nights home was the Radisson. The setting of the hotel is fantastic and the staff were amazing, every single one of them went out of their way to do everything possible to make the stay memorable. Rooms were large and airy and the grounds manicured to perfection, and then of course there was the beach.......I need say no more!

Alas, I was not there to lie on the beach all day, but scouting for a place to live. First things first I needed a sim card. So back to Marigot I went. Choice betweeb Dauphin and Digicel. For anyone wanting any info on cell phones on the French side, it appears that Dauphin is the best option if you will be making a lot of calls to the French side. Sim costs E25.00. Digicel on the other hand is probably the better option if you plan on making calls outside of the island. E20.00 for a sim with E5.00 call time credit included, and all calls to anywhere in the world cost a flat E0.30 per minute rate.

Armed with my phone I set off looking for realtors. Warning to people looking to rent on the island. Without a "history" on the island and copious amounts of paperwork, if you rent through an agent expect to be asked to put down a hefty deposit of between 6 - 12 months rent - it seems there are a lot of people that rent and then disappear into the night, and the agencies are being very cautious.

Marigot itself was a little sad. Being September nearly everything was closed and boarded up. The Royal Marina was almost silent with just a couple of restaurants remaining open. I would say that if you are looking for action September and early October are not the best months to visit the island. It is, however, the perfect time for people to visit if you are looking for a relaxed, unhurried type of vacation, where you just want to unwind and soak up the scenery.

Philipsburg was quaint, at least Front and Back Streets, outside of those two streets, not quite so quaint. I can only imagine what it must be like when several cruise ships dock at the same time.

I could not resist a trip to Maho beach at peak "arrivals" time on Saturday afternoon. Watching those planes land is every bit as spectacular as the pictures and youtube videos had led me to believe. The Sunset Bar is a great place for any spectator to hang out and they serve some of the best chicken wings I've come across.

Talking of food, I would recommend Villa Pizza, as you come into Cul de Sac (at the point where the road turns to Anse Marcel) if you are looking for a lovely, informal spot for a relaxed supper, not to mention their house banana vanilla rum - hic!

Many people on this forum ask about food prices and, at least in the restaurants, I found them to be comparable with the US. Once you add drinks into the equation you will probably pay less in St Martin than in the US - at least in the more informal restaurants. I never ate in any of the famous Grand Case establishments so cannot comment there. One thing that is different from France, is that service, I found was generally not included. Prices in the grocery stores were more than in the US, but not hugely so (at least not from New England prices - I know some folks from other parts of the US get sticker shock when they come to New England, but for a New Englander prices were not so bad).

The fact that such a small island, only some 37 square miles can vary so much from one side to the other was a constant amazement. The first and glimspe of this was on the drive from the airport to the hotel. As you left the Dutch side the roads went from pot-holed and narrow and disorganized to wide, clearly marked and new! Although I was advised by someone who has lived on the island for many years that the two sides seem to take it in turns redoing the roads, and that probably in a few years from now the Dutch side will be new and wide and the French side will be pot-holed and chaotic.

The most obvious difference was language. I only came across one person speaking Dutch on the Dutch side, but the French side was almost universally French. I was quickly reminded that my French is very rusty, and thank goodness that everyone on the French side seems to be at least bi-lingual if not trilingual.

All in all it was a very interesting weekend, and I am looking forward to returning in a few days time to continue my search for an apartment and the next step towards settling into my new home!

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Re: First impressions of the island that will be my new home
Posted by: GaKaye (
Date: September 24, 2009 07:26AM

Interesting observations, especially that they are from the point of view of a future full-time resident and not a tourist. You certainly would look at things differently! The only disagreement I have with your statements is that in most of the French side restaurants, the service is indeed included. I have encountered only one that I can remember where it is not.

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Re: First impressions of the island that will be my new home
Posted by: John (
Date: September 24, 2009 07:57AM

Thank you for your observations but being that you have only experienced 2 days of the island, I would wait a little longer before actually claiming to see the island as it is. It's like a person walking into a job on the first day and seeing everything wrong that everyone is doing and how it could be made better but given time, you will see that everything has it's positive and negative aspects and some day you may see the Dutch side as having all those things that are missing from the French side. It's nice to live in an idealic setting but when realty sets in, you may come to depend on the Dutch side to support your needs. Both sides have their pluses and negatives. Wait before judging.

And so I do appreciate your first time observations but it is skewed with lack of knowledge about the island and one thing that should be pointed out is that the "poverty" sections you think you are noticing are not really poverty sections but the way the residents have lived for many, many, many years prior to the tourist invasion. Also, you may be seeing hurricane damaged areas that is a way of life on the island. A good percentage of the residents are very happy in their surroundings and there is nothing wrong with this. That is the way it has been and hopefully they will continue to live their simple, happy lives without all the stress that us tourists find trapped inside our own bodies.

Good luck in your new adventure and I hope that you will come back to gobeach after living there 6 months to give us your new and enlightened perspective of the island smiling smiley


Life is not a child's game of follow the Leader. Instead, life is more about finding one's own purpose in life....your life's plan, and then making a positive difference on earth.

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Re: First impressions of the island that will be my new home
Posted by: Tabba Khady (Moderator)
Date: September 24, 2009 08:25AM

Thank you for your report, a very good first impression in my opinion from someone who just arrived, and most of your views are share by long time residents.
However as GaKaye stated, the service charge in French side restaurant is included, and if you were charged of it beside the prices labeled on the menu, well it is because they took advantage of you and were dishonnest. By french Law they are not allowed to charge the SC on the top of the bill. Hopefully you will boycott those place in the future or let them know that they are dishonest.
John, I disagree partially with your statement since we do have poverty on the island, and on both side. It is maybe the way they have lived during many years or the way they are used to live because they do not have much choice and for the only reason that they are on the poverty level. William could talk a while about it since most of the kids he is teaching are concerned and they don't understand why some people that they view as "rich Americans" or rich Europeans" have so much and they have so little or none... and that it is so easy for them in their mind to just go and take (steal...) from them. Poverty is a factor of crime, and we do have crime on the island as we all know. So basically he is trying to teach them that the easier way for them to "get" is through learning and not stealing.. get an education and get a good job.
Warwick, I am a bit surprised that the Agent asked you for 6 to 12 month deposit for a rental as the norm is usually 2 month deposit and one month rent... Did they gave you any reason for that? did you provide proof of employement and proof of income? Really I am surprised.
As far as the road being better on the French side, it is obvious since few years, but hopefully the Dutch side will continue to update their infrastructures. It is true that in the past, some years the road were better on one side and two years later they were better on the otherside. But since a while the French side upgraded faster than the Dutch side. The Dutch side will eventually catch up.
It is true that the French side is very french, language wise, and that the French is being spoken on the side more than the dutch on the other side, but this is because of historical reasons and also due to the fact that you have a lot of French Metropolitan living on the island. It is also true that most of the people speak several language, which is very convenient.

Kind Regards,


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Re: First impressions of the island that will be my new home
Posted by: John (
Date: September 24, 2009 09:38AM

Hi Philippe...

I do not want you or the poster to take my comments the wrong way but I too felt like him/her on my first 1 day visit and so I speak through experience.

I am not saying that there is not poverty but there is a difference between poverty where eating and surviving is a day-to-day struggle and living a slower and more relaxed way of living that we are not accustomed to. Many of what people see as low income housing is really what was the way it was many years ago. When you read books about how life used to be on the island, we still see that way of life today but it is now mixed with a massive amount of high-end living and so the differences between the two are enormous and would make people think that there is a massive amount of poverty (see definition above).

Yes there is "poverty" compared to what we are accustomed to and this can and does cause apathy among the children which could then go either way.... it could cause the children to strive to educate themselves to "achieve" like their wealthier neighbors or it could lead to jealousy and hate which could cause them to steal and cause problems. What William is doing is so very admirable and so very important when there is such a gap between incomes. Showing the children what is possible is good but most importantly and hopefully without losing their roots of a simpler life.

When we first visited the island on a one-day cruise, I swore I would never return. I hated to see the "poverty" as this visitor mentioned and could not understand why anyone would want to live amongst the poverty of the island. I assume that you are now saying that I was gravely mistaken and yes, I was totally wrong. I have never met such kind, helpful people who take the time of day to say hello and truly mean it. I now see the island as it really is and I am just letting the poster know that a 2 day impression is far from reality when describing the island. He/she will find that they will depend on the Dutch side almost as much as the French side and he/she will also find that the Dutch side does offer a great amount of friendliness and sincere kindness that may be lacking elsewhere. All I'm saying is that I would love to hear from the poster 6 months ffrom now and how much they utilize the Dutch side and the differences in personalities between the two.

Sincerest regards... Vicki

PS.. I loved that quote William gave you this morning. I have already passed it on to someone I love who needed to hear that as well.


Life is not a child's game of follow the Leader. Instead, life is more about finding one's own purpose in life....your life's plan, and then making a positive difference on earth.

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Re: First impressions of the island that will be my new home
Posted by: Warwick (
Date: September 24, 2009 09:59AM

Hi Vicki,

Thanks for both your posts. I am perfectly well aware that I can hardly "know" the island after a 2 day visit, and hence the title of my thread being "first impressions"

On the subject of poverty, I am not a naive westerner who has never ventured outside of a pristine Beverly Hills type environment. I have spent much of my life traveling through all corners of the world, from the luxury of the French riveria to the absolute poverty of some African townships and just about everything in between. And frankly there is poverty on the island - poverty in the strictly financial sense - is what I mean. It is not mass poverty, or sprawling slums and the type of destitution you see in many other parts of the world. I was in no way taking "spiritual" wealth into the equation, and I am quite sure that if you add life satisfaction into the mix that many of those living in "poverty" would be elevated out of that classification.

I am also curious as to why you seem to think I have a negative opinion of the Dutch side - as this is not the case. I mention the roads, and I am sorry, but this is an irrefutable reality, the ones on the French side are in better condition. Other than that I really do not see any anti-Dutch sentiment in my post. I am also very aware that the Dutch side will almost certainly be the more important in terms of commercial and quite possibly social needs.

My thread was not intended to be negative and if that is the way it came across know it was not the aim. It was intended to be a simple observation, and the 2 days there dispelled any overly rosey images I may have had of the island and at the same time dispelled any fears I may have had.

I look forward to learning a lot more about my new home and am sure that it will be a long and rewarding journey.



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Re: First impressions of the island that will be my new home
Posted by: John (
Date: September 24, 2009 10:48AM

I didn't think your post was out of line or overly negative but if you re-read your lines at the point just after landing, some may have taken serious offense. I enjoy reading people's honest opinions about their views of the island but I truly would have rather you waited until you actually got a feel for the island before posting what you thought you saw. Yes the roads may be pot-holed in places but you made it appear that the entire Dutch side was strewn with pot hole after pot hole. This is not true. Being that you were unfamiliar with the winding roads, yes, you may have thought they were scrambled and making no sense but truthfully, you were just not used to them and thus thought they were too confusing. Give this time as well.

People complain and complain to the point of nausea about how the island is changing for the worse due to the massive amount of construction and modernization of the island, yet when some things are left unchanged, people complain as well. This truly irritates me. I just wish people would make up their minds as to what they really want and stick with it.

There are many people who sit back and fondly remember those dirt and sand roads with the pot holes when the island was just beginning to be discovered. There are these same people who fondly remember the small shacks that the residents lived in and were happy as clams. There was a time that people fondly remember having to dress up for dinner and now only wear jeans or shorts to a fancy restaurant. So one must decide what they really want to preserve.

How I feel is that with this island, you can have your cake and eat it too. I just wish more people saw it this way.

So, no.. I did not dislike your first impressions, appreciate your taking the time to write them, and it was a nice read but again, please come back and give us your impressions once you have lived there for 6 months. Then I will probably be reading what the island is truly like through realistic eyes.



Life is not a child's game of follow the Leader. Instead, life is more about finding one's own purpose in life....your life's plan, and then making a positive difference on earth.

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Re: First impressions of the island that will be my new home
Posted by: mikentara (
Date: September 24, 2009 11:52AM

Great read on the first impressions!
Please don't wait 6 months to post again.
I would like daily reports of your encounters, impressions, frustrations, and experiences!
That way, I can live vicariously through you!
Best of luck and keep 'em coming!!
Thank you.

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Re: First impressions of the island that will be my new home
Posted by: MelissaG (
Date: September 25, 2009 06:17AM

I loved your first impressions. I suppose if I were to go there for anything other than a vacation my first time, I would have had similar thoughts. The roads are crazy. For the "poverty" comment, I used that too for the description of the whole island with some nice houses. I now use the word "weathered" because it seems to suit the island. Sure, there's poverty there, but it's everywhere. You'll have that. Of course you know that too.

I think you did a good job on describing how you seen the island through your eyes.

I can't wait until you get to experience all the "fun" things you can do.

I hope you keep us posted!


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Re: First impressions of the island that will be my new home
Posted by: pasnyder (
Date: September 25, 2009 06:28PM

What made you choose SXM out of so many islands to move to? Just curious. winking smiley


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Re: First impressions of the island that will be my new home
Posted by: Warwick (
Date: September 25, 2009 08:00PM

Hi Pauline,

Well as a EU passport holder I only really had a choice of 4 islands, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St Barths and St Martin. Out of the 4 St Martin has the best connections to the US (and my business is still US based) and has about the best infrastructure and a nice cosmopolitan mix of cultures. To top it all off there are long time family friends from South Africa that have been living on the island for 15 years, so at least some point of contact.


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Re: First impressions of the island that will be my new home
Posted by: pasnyder (
Date: September 25, 2009 09:12PM

W, I think you made the right choice!! Thank you for answering my question.


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Re: First impressions of the island that will be my new home
Posted by: BobP (
Date: September 26, 2009 05:55AM

W, I'm glad you weren't disappointed with SXM and the Anse Marcel area and the Radisson Hotel.We've enjoyed staying there and in the original hotel since 86/87.Many of the same hotel staff are still there today.I agree Villa Pizza in the Cul de Sac is a good quick location for Pizza and dinners.I also agree on your choice of a new home......Bob

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Re: First impressions of the island that will be my new home
Posted by: BIGDENX (
Date: September 26, 2009 12:53PM


What a refreshing thread ! Great reads from so many of you who have the experience and good nature to comment.

Good luck OP on all your future plans and seem to have the attitude it takes to enjoy all the Island has to offer.

You'll also find there are many local residents and ex-pats who will willingly assist you along the way.

Enjoy !


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Re: First impressions of the island that will be my new home
Posted by: Elaine (200.7.60.---)
Date: September 27, 2009 08:42AM


Had to laugh, as some of your first impressions were the same as ours after our first trip. A few trips later and now living here for about a year, most of those first impressions have changed. But not the Dutch sides ability to maintain their roadways! We are reminded of that daily as we leave our home in Cupecoy and bounce our way to anywhere!

Good luck in your adventure on the island. Perhaps we'll meet up in a pothole one day!

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