Caribbelgium—It’s Better On The French Side
“Caribbelgium is what this island ought to be called,” writes Correspondent Paul Lewis, continuing his New Year’s Caribbean cruising.
“Half-French and half-Dutch, St. Martin or Sint Maarten has no internal frontiers, and its two linguistic communities mix freely, united by a common ability to speak English, run duty-free shops, and extract money from visiting cruise-ship passengers.
“If only Belgium’s perpetually feuding French- and Dutch-speaking communities could make common cause like those of St. Martin or Sint Maarten.
“Legend has it the island was discovered simultaneously by Dutch and French warships whose captains, with improbable good sense, decided not to fight over it.
“Instead, they agreed to set off on foot in opposite directions to see how much land they could cover in a day and claim for their respective countries. Impaired by a heavy beer intake, the Dutch captain was able to claim only 16 square miles, against 21 square miles hiked by the more sprightly Frenchman.
“Philipsburg on the south coast is capital of the Dutch half. It boasts an 18th-century courthouse with a pineapple on top and has a shipyard doing repairs. Otherwise, the town is made up mostly of duty-free shops, sheltered by a line of palm trees, selling the usual selection of watches, clothes, and jewelry.
“Neither in the capital nor elsewhere in the Dutch half is there the faintest hint of Dutchness. In smarter areas, the shops and malls seem transported straight from Florida. Elsewhere, Dutch Sint Maarten seems rundown and poor, with tiny, decrepit houses and narrow bumpy roads.
“French St. Martin, on the other hand, is better organized and definitely French.
“The postage stamp capital of Marigot has everything you would expect a French town to have–a Boulevard de France; an Avenue Général de Gaulle; a Prefecture; a Hotel de Ville; gendarmes riding bicycles along its miniature streets; and, above the town, a tricoleur fluttering from the ruins of Fort St. Louis.
“In an elegant little wooden marketplace on the waterfront painted blue and white, native island women sell fish, fruit, vegetables, long sticks of cinnamon, and mysterious potions in reused bottles. Hippy French vendors are moving in on them, setting up rows of stalls selling the usual tourist nonsense–homemade jewelry and printed clothes from China. Not all is lost, however. The Marigot waterfront still has airy French-colonial restaurants, offering real bread, grilled shrimp, and cold rosé wine.
“Unfortunately, bottom line, neither Sint Maarten nor St. Martin is particularly attractive in a part of the world that is still very attractive. But of the two, St. Martin is definitely better.”
“My wife and I are registered for your Live & Invest in Panama Conference in February and really looking forward to it. However, we were watching the ‘Househunters International’ episode on Panama the other night and were concerned to hear the couple featured in the program talk about how much they miss their dogs, as the pets have had to be in quarantine for four months. That is unacceptable for most dog owners, including us. Could you send us the official Panama regulations regarding this?
“It would be a great service to add a short session on this subject (even if it is a negative for moving to Panama) to your conference schedule.”
— Jeff C., United States
Panama Circle Member’s Liaison Marion de Mena replies:
“No, no, no, that’s absolutely not true! I just confirmed with the Panama Ministry of Health that the process remains as I have always known it to be. There is a veterinarian at the airport. When you enter the country with your pet, you must be prepared to show the pet’s medical report (indicating all vaccinations), in either Spanish or English and bearing the Apostille, to the vet on duty. In addition, you must pay a processing fee of US$130. However, you then take your pet home with you the same day. You are meant to keep your pet in quarantine at home, but there is no patrol for this.
“Note that no vet is on duty at the airport on Sundays. If you intend to arrive in the country on a Sunday, therefore, you must make special arrangements in advance and pay an additional US$50 to have the vet meet you when your flight arrives. If you do not make these arrangements in advance, you will be required to leave your pet at the airport until the next working day.
“Even if you are not arriving on a Sunday, it is a good idea to confirm that the vet will be at the airport when you’re due to land. The vet is normally there Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. But this is Panama. Better to double-check.”