Sint Maarten, Flagstaff (Southwest Ridge) - 1214ft / 370m

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Difficulty
3/10

I had finally made it to Sint Maarten on my 7th attempt after a bizarre trip ended the previous year when my flight from Curacao to Sint Maarten was cancelled 5 times forcing me to head home. This time I only had the one cancelled flight having spent the previous evening in a hotel in Dominica courtesy of LIAT. I was therefore running a day behind schedule so needed to manage my time well while in Sint Maarten.

 

The short flight from Dominica went well, I had quite a few seats to myself and enjoyed the refreshment along with chatting to a Dutch couple I had spend the last few days with. We said our goodbyes at the luggage carousel and I decided there and then that as it was still before midday I would still just about have time to catch a boat to the British territory of Anguilla. I had planned on spending the whole of today there relaxing on the beaches and heading to the highest point, but the cancelled flight had put a spanner in the works. After it took seven attempts to get here I didn’t want to fly here in the future to visit Anguilla, so I went for it. I left the airport and headed across the road to the dock where there are quite frequent boats to Anguilla.

 

The next one was leaving in 30 minutes, but they were unable to book me on any to return today, that needed to be done from Anguilla as a one way ticket. The woman also said that they only accept US dollars in cash and she wasn’t sure if there was an ATM over there. Brilliant, I have plenty of Euros and Caribbean currency, but I didn’t have enough Dollars left on me to pay for the return trip let alone if it worked out really expensive or I needed to stay there overnight. I told the woman on the desk that I would head to the ATM back in the airport for some Dollars and to reserve my seat on the next boat. I jogged back to the airport passing the Dutch couple who said hi and must have thought… Weird he is heading back inside.

 

 I spotted an ATM machine and started to walk towards it when I heard someone behind me saying… “Hey” “Hey, I know you” I stopped and looked around simply out of curiosity as why would anyone be calling to me but to my suprise I did know who it was. It was Juan, a man who I had spent 6 days with in Curacao earlier the previous year due to the 5 cancelled flights. I said, No way! Haha. He said I saw that I was back in the Caribbean and had been following my high points from the previous few days on Instagram and wondered if I would be heading to Sint marten. Unfortunately, I didn’t have long to chat but it was good to catch up albeit one of those crazy moments.

 

After saying bye to Juan, I headed to the ATM and then jogged back to the port where the woman had sorted the paperwork out but just needed payment. The card machine wasn’t working, and my boat was due to leave so she asked if she could take a photo of my card and would process it later on. I didn’t mind as she didn’t have the ccv code or my address and was genuinely helpful especially compared to the other boat companies around her who looked as if they couldn’t be bothered. I showed my passport and headed to a waiting area with an American couple. We soon boarded a very posh speed boat and I realised it would just be us three onboard along with 3 crew members. We were offered complimentary drinks, all of us opting for beers and we headed off. The views towards Sint Maarten were fantastic giving me an insight into to my high points the following day.

 

After 10 minutes we were offered another beer and gladly obliged, one of the crew members then stood up as spoke to the captain, there was a large water spout in the distance. It was a few km away and the captain didn’t seem concerned. After just 25 minutes we could see Anguilla and were soon pulling into the harbour, it didn’t take the three of us long to go through passport control here. Being a British citizen made it even quicker for me, but I headed straight around to departures to ask what time the last boat back to Sint Maarten would be. I was told there would definitely be one leaving at 6.30 and then depending on passengers after that. I decided I would aim to be back just before 18.00 just in case. I started walking down a long road which I knew met the main road that runs through the Island then turned right which would lead me towards the high point of the island. It was warm and no breeze to keep cool, so I was pleased when a young woman pulled over to offer me a lift down the road. I could hear her music before I even saw her car. I jumped in and say hi, it was impossible to chat as the music was blasting but I appreciated the gesture as it saved me 45 mins of walking. From where I got out the car it was a single road leading all the way to the highest point called Crocus hill (65m) the views down towards Crocus beach were impressive and I decided as I had made some extra time to head down there, to have a more relaxing walk. Lovely sandy beach and very friendly welcoming people there, I unfortunately couldn’t stay long and needed to head back up the hill and towards the ferry. Popped into a large supermarket to grab a few drinks and continued until another woman pulled along side and offered me a lift. Very friendly older lady who told me how the island was still coming to terms and rebuilding after being destroyed by the hurricane a few years earlier. She was also heading to the ferry port, so I got there ahead of time.

 

I was pleasantly surprised to only be charged the resident departure tax rate of $8US when leaving the island, I assume due to my British passport. I booked a ferry to Marigot on the French side of Saint Martin which was nearer to where my apartment I had booked was located. It took about 20 minutes to get there, the passport control officer just said yeah instead of checking any of the passports of a stream of people. Must have been paid commission per person! I headed straight to a nearby McDonald’s which are not seen in many Caribbean countries before heading to my apartment where I had a relaxing evening ready for a very early and busy following day.

 

My alarm woke me up, it was dark outside and raining. Not what I needed as I didn’t really have time to head to the high points then back to collect my bags before going to the airport for a 15:05 flight to St Kitts that afternoon. I had little choice but to get ready and set off, it was only drizzling as I made my way into Marigot and aimed to just walk to the highest points then make my way to the airport hailing a taxi if required and against the clock. I walked past a small bus station, it was 06:50 by now and there was a bus waiting. I asked the driver if any buses went to Pic Paradis which is a popular view point and the highest point on the Island but located on the French side. He said yeah man, this bus goes there so I handed him $1 and waited for the bus to fill up. We left around 07:20 and I couldn’t believe I was going to get the bus right up to the viewpoint as from there it’s a simple ridge walk to Flagstaff the highest point in Sint Maarten (Dutch side) and would now have time to walk from there to the airport for my flight. I had my phone on my lap and watched as we got closer to the road heading up Pic Paradis.

 

We didn’t stop or turn up the road as I had expected just carried on. That’s weird I thought but there was a town about 3km further on the north coast I assumed perhaps he heads there drops people off then heads back instead of taking everyone up the hill. Wrong again! We continued past the town and was now heading towards the far side of the Island. I stood up and called to the driver and said Pic Paradis. He looked and said, oh no. Sorry man, You should have got out earlier I forgot to stop. He gave me my dollar back and said wait across the road there will be another bus soon to take you back that way. I said fair enough and waited 5 mins before thinking it’s best to walk too just in case as the traffic was really heavy in that direction. I finally got on a bus, but it was no quicker than walking. After 40 minutes we were by the road that leads to Pic Paradis and as I was at the front I mentioned it to the driver just as a reminder to turn up there, but he said yes this is the stop for Pic Paradis just head up that road it will take you there. I said, so you don’t drive up there? No, just to here! Fuck, I thought as It dawned on me I’m now back at sea level and it would have been quicker just to have walked from the hotel save faffing around for an hour and a half with the buses. I had no choice, so I crossed the road and started walking up the steep road that looks crazy steep from the bottom before it weaves around towards the summit. It was hot and humid and having all my gear on my back certainly made me even warmer, but it was on a solid road and steep means I gain altitude quicker which is good as I was now really against the clock. After 25 mins of heading uphill a 4×4 drove up on the road behind me, I was dripping with sweat, but a lift now would gain me 30 mins of time. I waved, and the driver stopped I said Pic Paradis, the driver snottily replied “You are almost there” I knew from my map I hadn’t reached even half way yet. I was annoyed and just said yeah thanks…. Thanks for nothing! He raised the window up and carried on uphill. Smug git! Haha.

 

I pushed on until I reached the end of the road and turn left onto a steep stoney path that lead through bushes before coming out at a dirt path junction, I carried on uphill and reached the Antennas in a compound, The fence had been breached so I entered and stood on the highest point of the island Pic Paradis (424m) The highest point in Saint Martin, French Territory. From there I headed back to the junction and to a fantastic view point. I then retraced my steps back to the road but crossed it and used a path that ran behind a property marked on my map but not obvious from the road. It was overgrown in places but still well defined and easy to follow as It just follows the ridge between Pic Paradis and Flagstaff. There were really nice view either side of the ridge with both coasts visible. I continued heading slightly downhill, there were a lot of spider’s webs crossing the path and some big colourful spiders that I tried to move out of the way and avoid.

 

After a few more ups and downs I could see Flagstaff and the path started to ascend. This was going to be a strange country high point as the summit of Flagstaff was not my destination. The highest point on the border between the French and Dutch side is located on the South West ridge on the densely forested slopes of Flagstaff. I reached the highest point of the path an could see it started to descend from here and would not head to the summit of flagstaff or intercept the actual highest point on the ridge, so I would have to simply head in a line up hill until I reached the actual high point using my GPS. Easier said than done, it was steep and slippery and my bag kept getting caught on trees and vines but I knew it wasn’t overly far and kept heading up. I reached the spot on my GPS and took the usual photos and videos before quickly descending back onto the path that had contoured around the edge of Flagstaff and into the Dutch side of the island.

 

I was pleased it was mission complete, but it was still going to be a big ask to get back to the airport in time for my flight. The path descended nicely but then started heading uphill, almost gaining as much as I had descended. Not good I thought I looked at the map and it seemed the path would do this over several hills. I noticed a vague path that heading towards a town and a road and knew that would be a better chance than staying on the hills. It was rocky, and all the trees and bushes had thorns or barbs which you only remember when its too late and you have grabbed one to steady your descent on steep sections or slippery rocks. Not for the first time on this trip my hands were scratched, cut and bleeding. Can only imagine what the passenger next to me on the flight would be thinking. If that wasn’t enough I felt a sharp nip on my arm and assumed, it was another spikey bush but when I looked it was a large wasp or hornet. I brushed it off and sucked my arm where it had bitten me.

 

I descended all the way to the road and continued walking along the main road until I passed a school and saw a bus waiting at a bus stop. I jogged over and got on board, I said airport to the driver but he shook his head and said I needed to change buses, but he would show me where. After 20 mins we reached Philipsburg and he pointed to a bus that was waiting and said airport on the front, Great news. It set off as soon as I boarded an after another 20 minutes I could see the airport up ahead, I had made good time and decided I might even be able to walk past the airport and visit Maho beach. The famous beach located right on the end of the runway where airplanes touch down just meters from the beach, great photo spot and somewhere I had wanted to visit for years. I spent 20 minutes on the beach and watched a few smaller planes land before a Jetblue A320 landed and I manged to catch it behind me on video. I headed from there to the airport, freshened up and got changed into clean clothes. Typically, the flight to St Kitts was delayed, but only by a tolerable (by Caribbean standards) 1hr 50m!

 

*I unfortunately had no joy climbing to the highest point in St Kitts, 2 days of bushwhacking with a machete, heavy rain and mud. Old route seriously overgrown and not used/maintained since the hurricane a few years ago.