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How Many Countries Can You See From Fort St. Louis?

French half of Caribbean island has a colonial fort with a gem of a view

sunny 84 °F

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Fort Louis on the French half of St. Martin has a wonderful view from its ramparts

Zero, one, two, or three? How many countries can you see from Fort Louis? It rhymes, but also asks an interesting point. When you visit a place like St. Martin, the French-owned half of the Caribbean island divided between it and Dutch St. Maarten, where are you? Are you in a separate country? Are you actually in France? Could you claim to have been to both France and the Netherlands by exploring both halves of this island? Or are they their own entity, like I like to look at them? Thus, my question. On my most recent trip that covered St. Martin, St. Maarten, and Saba (a,so Dutch owned), did I visit three countries? Or two, or one, or none?

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The French flag flies over St. Martin, but should it count as a country visited?

Since they all have their own flags, governments, and personalities, I am sticking with three. My trip to St. Martin was by far the shortest of the three. We took a taxi from our hotel in St. Maarten, crossing the border to visit the colonial era fort named after the French king. Our taxi driver dropped us off in downtown Marigot at the foot of the stairs and pathway that lead to the hill overlooking the harbor.

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View from the bottom of the hill looking up at Fort Louis

My research warned that there were 99 steps to the top and to be prepared for a steep, hot climb. After our hiking on mountainous Saba, this was mere child’s play! We ascended relatively quickly, stopping to take some photos of the fort’s stone walls gleaming golden in the morning sunshine. Looking to our left we nodded - the view from atop would be spectacular as the reports said. There are a number of weathered markers in French and English throughout the fort’s ruins. The first, just inside the opening that was once a gateway, pointed out the loopholes constructed for the soldier’s muskets to fire at attackers. I was struck by how identical they looked to medieval loopholes in castles for archers or crossbowmen.

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Once you reach the top of the hill, you are greeted with a stunning view of both the French and Dutch halves of the island

The island that St. Martin and St. Maarten share has a bewildering number of bays, inlets, and coves. These stretched out before us, gleaming bright blue in the late morning sunshine. In each of them, a scattering of yachts and other boats were anchored like white pearls strewn across a blue tabletop. Lazy wakes marked a handful in motion, but mostly it was a picture of calm. Marigot was laid out below us with brightly colored buildings, busy streets, and markets. A lone cannon lay rusting in the grass, an impotent threat to the boats ignoring it below.

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Rusting cannons and semi-ruined stone walls sit above the harbor, built to protect its ships

In some places the walls had crumbled away, in others they were in good repair. I love to wander ruined historical sights like this. Yes, I also enjoy those that have been reconstructed to the majesty of the olden day’s, but there is something romantic about a windswept hill with the crumbling remains of a spot that was once important enough for men to bleed and die for. I slowly circled the fort, looking out over views to the nearby islands in the hazy distance. I switched back and forth between my telephoto and normal lens, trying to capture that shot the sums up the view from a sun-dappled for on a hill in the Caribbean Sea.

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Built in 1789, the walls for the fort were built to repel attacks of the Dutch, English, and Spanish colonial rivals

I climbed to the crumbling remnants of the fort’s highest buildings. There a modern aluminum pole was implanted in the ground and the French tricolor flapped proudly in the breeze. The 360 degree was phenomenal, though the wind gusts buffeted you and made you struggle to steady yourself for your photographs. Descending to the far wall, I was surprised to see two more cannon still mounted on their wooden carriages. Chances were, the carriages were probably decades old done during a renovation, while the barrels were obviously centuries old originals. As it was, the carriages were falling apart under the cannon’s weight. One of the cannons was a definite “long gun” — I guessed a 12 or 18-pounder. The placard confirmed it would indeed hurl cannon balls weighing 12 pounds at ships far below. I looked around for a furnace to see if Fort Louis had one to shoot cannon balls that had been heated to red hot before firing. The biggest risk to mariners in the days of wooden sailing ships was fire, and one red hot cannon ball wedged in its timbers could consume a ship with flames in minutes.

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A 12-pound “long gun” has fallen from its reconstructed wooden carriage atop the walls of Fort Louis

It was a perfect sunny day to enjoy a scenic view. The steady breeze kept it from being too hot, and there were only a handful of other visitors to contend with. Finally, after we had taken all of our photographs, we descended the steps to Marigot below. This island being under French influence, it was easy to find a cafe with outdoor seating along the Main Street. We refreshed ourselves with an ice-cold peach tea, while watching the traffic motor by.

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The Dutch half of the island looms in the distance, easy to spot on a clear day

We had noticed an outdoor local souvenir market and decided to visit it. Most of the shops had similar items. I was tempted by the colorful, button-up tropical shirts. My batik shirt from Bali is getting old. I purchased it there more than two decades ago, and love its lightweight fabric that breathes. This fabric didn’t seem like it would do as well, so I passed. Suddenly, I was caught by the sight of African-style, carved masks. Their bright Caribbean colors spoke of the melding of Africans brought to the Americas, persevering to create a new culture and artwork. Perfect! I bought it as the token of my visit to...was it one, two, or three countries?

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A view from the fort’s walls at the marina anchorage

Posted by world_wide_mike 19:34 Archived in Saint Martin

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