Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Border Patrol - Discovering St. Martin Hiking

Easter Sunday, Caitlin's Birthday, how better to celebrate than with a hike!  And it's about time we got off the boat and stretched our legs; I for one have definitely slacked since all our hiking on Dominica and Guadeloupe and was dreading some of those mountain climbs again.

Henry did a bit of research and had the hike planned:  leave Marigot via Concordia, head up into the hills and find the border trail that runs the "Frontiere" between the Dutch and the French sides of St. Martin.  I was a little skeptical since our previous hikes on SXM have usually been rather lacklustre affairs scrambling over rocky debris and getting caught up in dense, prickly undergrowth.  Not my idea of a fun way to spend our Sunday.

Sure enough though, St. Martin delivered with a strenuous but very rewarding hike along the central ridge-line of the hills separating the two sides.  The trail was well-marked and we had lots of choice of trails that even our little tourist map had marked so we had a good idea of where to go.

Lots of pictures but here's the details on this hike:

  • Distance:  8 miles
  • Time:  5.5 hours
  • Difficulty:  medium, some steep inclines and rocky terrain, the only scrambling is if you go off-trail for some view points
  • Note:  We did this hike on Easter Sunday when there were no buses running, otherwise we would have caught the bus at Rambaud rather than walking the busy road into Marigot.  This last stretch is 1.8 miles.

We started in Marigot, headed south through Concordia and up into the hills.

Starting point by the Ferry Terminal in Marigot.  We were treated to a bike race and closed roads on Sunday morning.

Walking through Concordia, this cactus hedge reminded me of what I thought the hedge of thorns would look like around Sleeping Beauty's castle.  No getting through here!

At the end of the road in Concordia we turned left and headed up into the hills on a dirt track - this was our first view of Marigot looking back.  This dirt track was apparently the original road that once connected Marigot to Philipsburg.

At the end of the dirt track we turned into a grass field - we could see our first communication tower in front of us so we knew we were heading to a high point.  Careful of this grass, it can leave you with nasty scratches.

Surprisingly the path ended at a road with a barricade - another view of Marigot, just a little bit higher.

Above the barricade we came out on a border marker - the steps led to a trail up over Concordia Hill.

We turned left and headed the other way following the road to the communications tower.  This road and trail system is right along the border at the top of the ridge of hills.

Along the way beautiful jasmine scented the air.

As we climbed it became quite dry and scrubby in places.

Higher and higher - another view of Marigot.

Along the road we passed new houses and these old ruins.

Again at the end of the road the well-marked trail led off into the bush.

We found some overgrown ruins of a more recent construction - this one gave us views south over St. Peter's and all the way to Philipsburg, on the Dutch side.

We must be high - there's a communications tower AND a huge water storage tank.

We were still following the border trail, marked C2C.

In this area, the border is marked by a low stone wall, and here the trail followed right on top of it.  This was probably the hardest part to walk as the little rocks constantly rolled under our feet.

Another view point, this one with the wind whipping away everything not firmly attached.

Selfie!  That's St. Peter's below us.

Here's the same view without us in the picture.  St. Peter's, South Reward, Saunders, Sentry Hill and Mary's Fancy all nestled in this bowl between the hills.

This was the only real scrambling we did to get to this view point just off the trail.

Still following the border with C2C but lots of other trail choices at this junction.

Almost as high as we can go - Marigot and Anguilla in the distance as the dark clouds roll through.

Taking a little rest along the way, perched on the border wall for a drink and a snack.

Do you see our little friend on the Mt. Flagstaff trail marker - maybe he was telling us to go that way, but my legs didn't want to listen.

Carrying on along C2C we now meandered through a grove of century-old mango trees (oh to be here in the summer with ripe fruit) and then through a small plantation of banana and cocoa trees.

Marigot Bay far in the distance.

Power lines crested over the hill.

The trail led right under the pilon!

At this point we decided not to continue on with C2C and end up in Oyster Pond, so we turned left under the marker tape and headed for Pic Paradis.

More communication towers - must be a high point!  Yes, Pic Paradis is the highest point on the island at 424 m (1391 ft)

A house with a view - of Orient and Embouchure Bays on the east coast.

The trail over Pic Paradis comes out to the road at the gates for that exclusive property.  We've been up here before and been greeted by these same friendly dogs, who proceeded to happily escort us down the mountain.

Just near the gates at the top, around the other side of the communication tower fence there is another trail that descends to the Lotterie Farm.  This was an old supply road joining Lotterie Farm plantation with a sugar mill at the top of the peak.  Along the way look for this beautiful but scarred old tree with buttress roots.

We started seeing signs of old civilization in the hills above Lotterie Farm.  Here, old cane juice distillation pots have been turned into lily gardens and for the unwary there is an old open stone well.

That's where we're heading to - Lotterie Farm buildings in the foreground, Rambaud in the distance.

At this fork we tried the trail to the left but it ended up just at a knobby hill so we returned and took the trail down to the right.

More signs of past settlement - these old grave stones were toppled under the bush.  Interestingly the inscriptions were in English.

Our final descent led through the Lotterie Farms complex.  You have to walk (confidently) through the bar area and past the kitchen to exit but no-one seems to mind.  We've been told that if you start this way, there is a 5 euro fee to access the trails - descending doesn't seem to cost anything.

From the farm you walk up the steep hill to the entrance.  If you walk down the road from Pic Paradis you will arrive at this spot as well and bypass Lotterie Farm.

We followed the road back down to Rambaud and then on to Marigot, unfortunately not finding any buses running on Easter Sunday.  There was lots of excitement going on in town as another cycling race was about to start (with a police escort).

And they're off!!

One final look at our path and the ridge along the centre where we had such wonderful views.

In retrospect this would be an excellent hike in the opposite direction, getting the steep climb to Pic Paradis out of the way early and then for the most part descending across the ridge with just a few short climbs along the way.

Apparently there are about 25 miles of hiking trails on St. Martin and if they are anywhere as well marked and enjoyable as this one, we have lots more to discover.  Finding out about them though seems to be a challenge as there are no hiking maps available in the Office de Tourisme that we have found so far.  Oh well, we have an enjoyable challenge ahead of us!