Shutout in Sint Maarten

My first full week on St. Martin was one of relaxation. The easygoing routine that I settled into was less the result of a need for rest than an attempt to slow my rate of spending. The weak dollar makes high living difficult on an island where everything is priced in Euro’s. On Tuesday, Zach and I set out on an excursion to Philipsburg, on the Dutch side of the island. St. Martin is split between the French (St. Martin in the north) and the Dutch (Sint Maarten in the south), making it the world’s smallest land area to be shared by two countries.

Local lore has it that the colonists split the island by having a Dutchman and a Frenchman stand back to back at one end of the island and walk in opposite directions around the coastline. It’s said that the Frenchman drank wine during his walk and the Dutchman drank more potent gin, which explains why the Frenchman covered more ground. In the subsequent years, the two countries coexisted peacefully largely by ignoring each other. The border is marked only by a small monument and there is no need to clear customs and immigration when moving between the two parts of the island.

Our mission in going to Philipsburg was to find a good place to watch the Champions League semi-final soccer match between the Audentes-favored Chelsea and the opposing team, Liverpool. We were told by the few people who would talk to us on the French side that the Dutch side had the better bars to watch the soccer game, which made sense since I couldn’t imagine the French caring much about a game between two English teams. Plus, we figured that the Dutch side would be just as European as the French side and that it would be easy to find a vibrant place to watch the game.

As usual, we were mistaken. Philipsburg was a row of duty free shops catering to cruise ships. The day we visited we were unfortunate enough to have the company of three cruise ships. Far from feeling like I was in Amsterdam, I felt like I was in Orlando; the streets were packed with portly, camera-wielding tourists and the line for McDonald’s overflowed to the street. Unable to find an acceptable place to watch the game on the two main streets, we asked a couple of security guards at a casino. They directed us to a place called 51/50, about five blocks away from the main drag.

We eventually found it and slowly walked upstairs, where we were greeted by a bouncer who asked how we found the place. Somewhat surprised by the tight security for a sports bar on a Tuesday afternoon, we were granted entrance. Immediately upon entering, it became obvious that the “sports lounge” was actually a gentleman’s club. There were lounge chairs, shag carpeting, and comely women milling about. There were also several big screen TV’s and it probably would have been a nice place to watch the game, aside from the discomfort of watching the game in a chair with my feet higher than my head and the propositions of whores interrupting the flow of the game. We quickly extracted ourselves from the situation and finally found a cheesy tourist bar showing the game.

The game was a miserable, dull affair and Chelsea crashed out of the tournament with a 1-0 loss. In retrospect, we should have stayed at the “sports lounge” to watch the game; at least then someone affiliated with Chelsea might have scored. Back on the French side in Marigot, we caught the other half of the semi-finals on Wednesday. The game was exciting and the cafe filled up in the mid-afternoon with all of the local shopkeepers leaving their nearby shops to watch. On Friday, Zach flew back to the U.S. He returned to his home in Tennessee where he will spend a couple of weeks before proceeding on to a summer job in Alaska. He left behind his surfboard, so I am looking forward to giving that a try.

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