Saturday, June 13, 2009

So many islands

From my hotel in Oyster Pond, on the east coast of Dutch Sint Maarten, to Cove Bay, on the south coast of Anguilla, it was a little over ten miles, as the seagull flies.

Last Sunday, with my official obligations at the St. Martin Book Fair completed, and the weather perfect for the beach, I decided I'd nip over one island to the north to have lunch with a friend and a swim. The drive from Oyster Pond to Marigot, the capital of French Saint-Martin, took maybe thirty minutes, skirting the island's central hills. The ferry from there to Anguilla leaves every hour or so, and the crossing lasts a mere eighteen minutes.

I sat on the upper deck of the ferry, the better to enjoy the view and the brilliant sunshine. A young American couple sat across from me--honeymooners, I decided--and in front of them sprawled a mixed party of twentysomething holidaymakers--I heard American, British, and Australian accents.

My friend met me at Blowing Point, where the ferry docks, and we drove a few minutes down to Cove Bay and a breezy beachfront restaurant with a stunning view of the sea. I drank two Caribs--brewed in Trinidad--and ate a bowl of delicious pumpkin-corn chowder, and we chatted about this and that. Eventually we strolled down the beach till I found a swimming-spot that caught my fancy. I had a good soak, reflecting that I ought to go to the beach more often at home, and reminding myself to re-read Naipaul's essay on Anguilla in The Overcrowded Barracoon.

The last ferry to Marigot left at 6.15, and by 7.30 I was back at my hotel, with the beginnings of a tan--and with two new stamps in my passport.

Because in order to make this afternoon excursion--far lass onerous than, say, driving from my house in Diego Martin to Blanchisseuse--I crossed two international borders and answered questions from three immigration officers, and the Anguillan customs besides.

On the one hand, it's deliciously absurd, the way the colonial history of the Caribbean has chopped these little islands up into micro-territories divided by language, political systems, and imaginary boundaries--and nowhere more absurd than in the northern Leewards, where my wish for an afternoon swim required me to travel from the Kingdom of the Netherlands via the Republic of France to a British Overseas Territory, and back a few hours later.

On the other hand, I was annoyed and surprised (I suppose I ought to have known) on arriving at Blowing Point to be told by the perfectly pleasant immigration officer that Trinidadians need a visa to stay in Anguilla. (A fellow Caricom member!) Americans don't, British don't; I didn't need a visa for Sint Maarten; I can stay in Britain for six months without one; but not in little Anguilla! Well, I wasn't staying, I pointed out--I was leaving that evening at sunset.

Cautioning me not to miss the 6.15 boat, the nice immigration officer stamped me into Anguilla--with permission to stay no later than that very midnight.

There are so many islands! As many islands as the stars at night....


FSJL said...

I, on the other hand, would have faced a problem only entering Anguilla. Yet I wouldn't have needed a visa for Anguilla. That's because I have a British passport, but I'm not a Belonger in Anguilla.

Ed said...

I was sure that your immigration officer must have been mistaken, but a check on the IATA database seems to agree with him. Truly bizarre. Guess I won't be vacationing in Anguilla this year.

Ed said...

Apologies for the second comment, but I did some poking around, and Anguilla seems to be the only British dependency in the Caribbean (or nearby) with this requirement. Bermuda, Caymans, BVI all let you in visa-free. Curiouser and curiouser...

Nicholas Laughlin said...

Useful to know, Ed (not that I expect to be back in Anguilla anytime soon). My Footprint Caribbean handbook clearly says visas are not required by anyone for Anguilla--I wonder if it's a newish regulation?