As far as sovereign island land masses in our region are concerned, it is one of only two shared by two countries. Unlike the lengthier and decidedly more infamous border that separates Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the dividing line between Dutch St. Maarten and French St. Martin is open, free, and breezy.
Indeed, this uncommon border has long been among the most peaceful the world has ever known; a distinction, legend suggests, has roots in its very origin.
This tale dates back to the early days of European colonization of the Caribbean in the 1600’s. It’s said that both French and Dutch settlers arrived and staked claims to the island at the same time, the French along the northern coast and the Dutch in the south.
Neither side wanted to cede their claims to the other, so there was a brief, somewhat contentious period of discord and debate. Eventually, though, the two sides settled on a resolution quite novel for the times – they agreed to share.
An even more novel approach was applied to determining the border – they decided to go out for a walk.
As the story goes, sole representative from both the Dutch and French sides were selected and made to stand back-to-back in some extreme point of the island. They were then made to walk in opposite directions along the coast. At the spot where they met, both sides agreed that a horizontal line would be drawn setting the border.
Looking at a map of St. Maarten/St. Martin, you might surmise that the French rep had a head start, cheated by running, or was more physically fit than his Dutch counterpart. (French St. Martin is a good five square miles larger than the Dutch side.)
Historical details are sketchy, though locals swear it’s all true. Whether you believe the story or not, it’s still a neat little legend to consider as you breeze back and forth over this friendliest of borders born of compromise and a bit of hiking along the sea.