You won’t believe that I wrote this entire blog a few weeks ago and then when I hit publish, it was all deleted and I hadn’t copied it beforehand. So, it took me awhile to get over my frustration and re-write this blog. So originally I was in the dive shop on a Sunday, but now I am sat at my kitchen table and it is a Friday.
I wanted to write a post about crime in St Martin. I had a phone call the other day from a customer called Chad, who was staying at the Westin for a convention and he wanted to book some diving for him and snorkeling for his wife. We had a long conversation as he has a lot of questions about the safety of St Martin and what was my opinion as a local. That still sounds quite cool… .that I am a “local.” 🙂
This is what I said… well, not exactly because I wasn’t recording the conversation, but basically. Actually, after writing the entire blog and coming back to this sentence, what I said to Chad was much shorter. Otherwise I would have bored him to death, and that would’ve been a crime. If you are reading this now and want to skip to the end to read a summary, it won’t hurt my feelings because I will never know about it.
So….. It isn’t so easy to answer that questions with a “Yes” or a “No.” There is crime on the island. Any time you get somewhere where affluent tourists are put in close proximity to impecunious locals, there is going to be some crime. Especially opportunistic crime. (Points for me if I have forced you to look up a word in the dictionary.)
For me, there are a couple of problems with just stating that SXM is unsafe. The first one that come to mind is what I like to call “Vacation Head Syndrome.”
“Vacation Head” is a syndrome inflicted upon many tourists when on vacation (and also prior to actual vacation and immediately after) in which they do not use their same common sense that they use when they are at home.
I get this, I totally do. Vacation is a time to relax, to de-stress. Many of you are coming from busy jobs and complicated lives, so you don’t want to be worrying about things when you are on vacation. So, I do sympathize. However, this can often create situations that are difficult to remedy and some times dangerous. Let me give you an example. The other day we had a couple diving with us and the wife (maybe girlfriend) accidentally locked her keys in the car. OK, not a big deal. However… the car was still running. How she did this, I am still not sure, but I am fairly certain that this was a classic example of “Vacation Head Syndrome.” Luckily Chris was able to pull the spark plugs (or some wire thingy magigy) and stop the engine so that it didn’t catch on fire and she could go on the diving trip as we waited for the rental car company to arrive.
I have tons of examples; people showing up for their trips on the wrong day, people leaving their phones at the dive shop and getting on the cruise, people leaving with out their shoes, people stopping in the middle of the road to look at an interesting piece of garbage. It just doesn’t end.
Part of “Vacation Head” is also an unrealistic idea of safety that one should feel when on vacation. This means that people step off the plane into the warmth, they breath in that humid air and then breath out, and they feel good…. they feel safe. They feel… invincible.
“Look how beautiful that sunset is, no one would ever steal anything from me here.”
“Should we go to that special beach while we wait for our hotel room to be ready? We can just leave all our luggage, and passports in the car while we swim. We can even leave the window open. No one would every break in when the weather is this good.”
“Wow, that was such an amazing dinner, the food in Grand Case is everything they said it would be. Look honey, you have a hundred dollar bill hanging out of your purse, isn’t it so great that no one in this beautiful little village would ever take that?”
And I totally get it, I really do. You are on vacation, you don’t want to have to think about all the potential hazards that could come your way. The thing is, you have to. You wouldn’t leave your purse on your car seat back home and go for a swim, nor would you walk around late at night in an unknown area. You just wouldn’t.
Okay, here is another thing to mention. People love it here, they LOVE IT. I do too. They go home and they dream of the island. Before they get here, they research everything and then they find someone who also loves St Martin / Sint Maarten. Then they start a chat group, or a Facebook group. There are quite a few (some that are actually rival FB groups if you believe it?) Then the whole sensationalism thing happens. Chad (you remember Chad from the beginning of the blog?) Chad told me on the phone that he heard about a restaurant in Grand Case that was held up at gun point and everyone was robbed. Well, I never heard about this, and I live in Grand Case. I’m pretty sure if an entire restaurant was held up at gun point and everyone mugged, I would know about it. Have there been instances of crime in Grand Case? Yes, yes there have. Normally at about 2 in the morning when people are drunkenly walking back to their hotel from the Blue Martini or Calmos or something like that. Or someone that left their window open and the purse is gone. There are bigger cases of crime here, sadly; car theft, muggings, and things like that. It’s just that those impecunious locals here see all the money you are spending, and they want some. It isn’t right, but it is unavoidable in tourist locations.
He also said that he heard it was unsafe for a woman to be driving around by herself….. Well, I am a woman in my now-mid-thirties (yikes, that feels weird to actually write) and I drive around by myself all the time. I sometimes find that I am in the car driving around the entire island in one day because the traffic is so horrendous (that is a subject for a whole ‘nother blog!) And I feel totally safe. HOWEVER, there are places that I don’t drive around by myself at night. Just like there are back home in NY.
Let me tell you about those sketchy places in St Maarten and the places I avoid.
You should avoid; Sandyground, the French Quarter and The Dutch Quarter. You can go through these places in the daytime. You can stop, go to a bakery, buy some fruit, talk to the locals and shop. But in the night time, when the sun goes down, you should just drive right through or if you are all by yourself, just stay on the main road. I would also avoid walking around Marigot at night. Unfortunately it isn’t as safe as it used to be. Day time, fine. Nighttime, no.
Oooooh, this brings me to another point.
Rental cars. For some reason the government on the Dutch side decided to make it a law that all rental cars have to have a specific letter on their license plate so everyone in the entire world knows that it is a rental car. Guess what letter they chose? That’s right, when you are rent a car from Dutch rental car company, you get a license plate with a big fat “R” on it. Does it stand for “Relieve me of my luggage?” Or perhaps “Requisition my wallet from the front seat?” Or perhaps “Rifle through my personal belongings?” I am not sure. Perhaps. It does, however, stand for “RENTAL CAR.”
So, I recommended to Chad that they rent a car from our friend Don, who runs GCL Car Rental. He used to be our neighbor and he is just the nicest guy ever. He runs a French car rental company and besides you sitting in the passenger seat with a map open, you can’t tell the difference from any other car on the French side. There are no distinguishing signs on his car that would let you know this. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell him Sally sent you! 🙂
Wow, time for me to wrap this up and spend some time with the little boy. Who I also feel totally safe bringing up on this island.
For people that wanted to skip to the end for a summary on how to avoid any nasty incidences in St Martin / Sint Maarten please read below:
1. Try and be aware of the “Vacation Head Syndrome” and use the same common sense you would when you are at home. Don’t leave valuable items on display in your car. Don’t walk around late at night in places you don’t know. Don’t lock yourself out of your when it is still running 🙂
2. Please be aware that some people tend to exaggerate crimes that happen here. Think about if that same crime happened when you are at home, would it be as big a deal. So, take a pinch of salt with some of these stories you hear, folks!
3. Rent a car from the French side. (Sorry Dutch side car rental business owners!!!) so you don’t advertise you are a tourist.
4. Don’t put yourself in situations that are dangerous and you are vulnerable. Like getting really wasted and not having a designated chaperone.
That’s it for now. I hope this was helpful! Enjoy that unavoidable Vacation Head Syndrome when you get to the island! I know I will enjoy your funny escapades.
(Sally wrote this blog 🙂 )