Driving on the “Friendly” Island

I’m not sure if the crazy driving on Saint Martin contributes to the island’s nickname or if it totally destroys it.

To be honest, I don’t often miss the triple-lane freeways of Phoenix, although there are some days that I’d give anything to be flying at 70 miles per hour on an overpass. Saint Martin has one main single-lane road going all the way around the island. A wandering cow in Cole Bay can cause a man commuting from Philipsburg to be late for dinner. It doesn’t help that the driving culture is generally pretty reckless and spontaneous.

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Fortunately, you never really get over 40 mph on the entire island, so collisions usually aren’t too serious. And they do happen often! The ordeal of waiting a few hours for officials to show up and do paperwork is not worth it in most cases, so people usually dust themselves off and keep going. I’ve seen a motorcyclist collide at an intersection in front of me and go flying over the top of my hood, pick himself up, climb back on his bike, and zoom off on the center lane while the freshly-dented sports car rolled along on its way.

Standstill traffic is normal, too. I have literally put my car in park in the middle of the street, locked it, taken my dog on a short walk, and come back to my car just in time while waiting for the bridge in Simpson Bay to go down.

My drive today was particularly aggravating, so I switched my brain from “American time” to “island time” and sat back to enjoy the entertainment of the crazy roads.

First, I drove through a construction zone in Maho. Traffic on both sides of the road was at a complete standstill as two people traveling opposite directions had stopped to chat. One lady even got out of her car to walk up to the window of the other driver’s car! We all had to wait a couple minutes as they finished their conversation before we could continue on.

Next, I watched as someone in front of me became impatient with the slow traffic, pulled out into the opposite lane, and drove on the wrong side of the road until he could see the source of the jam and slide back into the right lane. I thought I was going to watch someone die of a head-on collision.

A bus driver stopped in the middle of traffic to pick up a woman who was waiting, but not at a bus stop.

After this, someone went halfway through a round-a-bout backwards to turn into a driveway rather than going all the way around.

Then, someone flashed me and zoomed in front of me so they could do a left-hand turn in front of me, although I was already halfway blocking the turn and nobody was behind me.

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Going up a hill, a group of bicyclists were holding up traffic as they slowly pedaled to the top.

At the bottom of the hill, a funeral procession had parked in one of the lanes, totally preventing traffic from going up the hill. A limousine was leading the caravan and has simply parked in front of the cemetery. People in suits were milling around the road as behind them, cars waited at least a quarter mile back. I wanted to roll down my window and suggest to the poor commuters to try a different route home, but I opted instead to turn down my Caribbean jams out of respect for the funeral and leave the drivers to their long wait.

Once in Philipsburg, a bus made an impossible turn through moving traffic as other drivers maneuvered around him. I waved to a little boy I know as he and his mom passed me on the road– walking.

People jumped out into the road to cross it and just assumed we’d all stop for them. And we do.

Everywhere I went, people slowed to wave and call out to each other, bus drivers greeted one another with a honk, and greetings flew from pedestrians to drivers and back.Sonesta Resort

Like I said, I’m not sure if this craziness proves that the island is friendly or if it proves that it’s not.

I’ve just decided to just stay as safe as possible and accept it for what it is. After all, I’m the foreigner here and I need to adapt. Even if that means driving five miles per hour, watching bikers fly past me on the center line, dodging goats, and smiling all the way!

 

 

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