10 November 2009

Paradise Redux

Okay, so I took most of last year off. Call it a BlogBlock. Now I have a new computer and by the time I accommodate myself to this new machine and new operating system, both will be obsolete. Then again, so will I. So I had better make some hay while the sun shines, (substitute here, if you will, some other hackneyed metaphor, but it must involve sunshine, please.)

Blogging has become a much bigger deal since I started Marty's Blog several years back. I am not even sure Al Gore had invented the Blogosphere yet. But this venue is an outlier. I do not offer my readers an opportunity to share their views with other readers. If they have something to say, which I heartily encourage, they say it directly to me via email. After all, this is about me, not you.


Well, not about just me: about us and St. Barths--our Paradise island so full of contradictions. Natural beauty, gentle people, good food, and always maintaining a firm grip on the third world.

This is our traditional November trip. We come down for ten days and"open" the house, (a fiction--Dawn and Dina open the house, I just putter about replacing light bulbs and going to the hardware store.) Overall, the regimen is the same: exercise and errands and stuff in the morning, beach in the afternoon, cocktails on the deck at 4:30 sharp. As the sign says, "Respect Our Traditions."

But I get ahead of myself. First, one must get here. Jet Blue arrives SXM at about 3:30 PM, leaving only two hours before they shut down the SBH airport. No problem, tho, just call my friend Rodrigue at Winair and get two seats on the 4:30 to St. Barths, right? Hah. Rodrigue had no airplanes. None. Even two months in advance, no planes. "They might give me another flight later on, but now, nada." Yikes. No ten-minute thrill ride on the rubber-band plane. We don't even get to experience the classic confusion at the new St. Maarten airport when one tries to check in to Winair for the flight over here. I still remember fondly (not really) our last trip here when we rushed to the Winair departure area and saw the new electronic gate sign flashing "Flight 615 Boarding now". I sped over, handed the attendant our boarding passes, and she looked at me and rolled her eyes. (Eye-rolling is part of the Winair SXM training program. Every agent has it down pat.) "That departure sign? Pay no attention to that sign, mon. 'They' just do that. Right now we have no airplanes, ... none."

Okay, Plan B. The dreaded SXM-SBH Ferry. The Vomit Vector. One hour and twenty minutes of pitching and rolling, with each passenger presented with his or her own Tall Kitchen Garbage Bag. Yippee. Two years ago there were two ferries, the slow one which was very bad, and a "high speed" boat which was just plain bad. Then the high-speed boat came apart on one trip--yup, I am told the engines came off their stringers in rough weather and the boat drifted for several hours before it was found and towed ashore. Now this year we have another second ferry, the Great Bay Express. Departs Bobby's Marina in Great Bay, at 5:30 PM. You know what you are in for when the advertisement reads "Departures two to three times a day." Hmm. Not confidence inspiring. But you gotta always remember the words we live by: "Hey, relax. This is the Carib." We book the ferry.

So at 3:40 pm we roll our luggage out of Princess Julianna to the cab stand, put our bags in the trunk of the lead car in line, and I tell the driver we need to go to Bobby's Marina (which is in Phillipsburg, as is the airport) to catch the ferry. The driver asks what time our boat departs, and I say, "Plenty of time, almost two hours from now, at 5:30 PM and she says "I dunno if we can make it." For the next ten minutes we crawl ahead at two kilometers per hour while she complains about the traffic and assures us she will certainly try to get us there on time, and I tell her trying is not enough, she either gets us there on time or we are sleeping in her house tonight. You see, I have been down here but fifteen minutes or so and an not yet fully Caribified. Relaxing takes practice.

Our cab driver solved the traffic problem by expelling us! No shit. Ten minutes out she pulled over, got out of the car, hailed one of her friends driving a van, and introduced us to our new transport. Actually a great improvement. This guy was much more optimistic, and, it turns out, realistic as well; we were delivered to the dock one hour later--plenty of time.

Ahh, the Great Bay Express--an older steel boat, freshly painted, just fine. Maybe 70-80 feet long. With this boat, from this marina, the trip to Gustavia Harbor is but 45 minutes. In itself, a big improvement.

We check in at a shed near the road where a guy takes our passports and promises to give them back on the boat. Scary, but, ya gotta start relaxing sometime, and this is it. Luggage check-in is very Carib. We walk our luggage down the pier to where the Great Bay Express it tied up. There are no moving belts, no agents with computers that print sticky luggage tags, no security checks. What you get is a smiling strong guy standing on the edge of the dock who takes your bag, raises it over his head, (Pinks's weighed sixty pounds), leans forward over the water, and hands the bag off to another strong guy on the boat who leans over the bow gunnel and lifts the bag onto the boat, then tosses the case onto the bow deck, where all luggage is haphazardly piled. If that process does not sound suitably daunting, please recall that boats have a pointy end up front, called the bow, and fat part in the middle, called the fat middle- or midships, or something like that, so when the fat middle is snug alongside to facilitate boarding, the pointy end is actually several feet away from the dock, making the baggage transfer operation all the more impressive.

As for the actual voyage, Pinks is prepared for the worst. She has taken some seasick med, and when we board we grab seats in the center of the upper deck, in the fresh air. The weather is gorgeous, the sun setting, the air temperature just perfect. The sea looks dead flat (duh, I know better. The "sea" is ALWAYS flat in the harbor.) In all, this is really romantic--a 45 minute sunset cruise to Paradise. The awful taxi ride is already forgotten. Who needs an airplane?

We do, that's who. Ten minutes out to sea we get drenched in a torrential squall. In a matter of seconds, before we could make our way to the entrance to the passenger cabin, we are blinded (my eyeglasses lack wipers) and soaked through and through. And cold. It was raining icewater. How do they do that?

The rest of the ferry voyage is done indoors, in our wet clothes, sitting in an air conditioned cabin. In truth, not as bad as expected, though. Blue is better than green. Just a little pounding through the squall, a piece of cake, and we arrive on time at Gustavia Harbor, where Dawn was to have left our little Daihatsu in the lot. It is, of course, now pitch black, the ferry-dock area is about three feet wide, and the entire passenger population of the ferry is clustered about the bow where the two strong guys are reversing their procedure and unloading the luggage which is now much heavier because the contents are soaked. (They did cover it with a tarp during the trip, but only after the rain slacked off.) There is no shoreside infrastructure to support this operation. There is no room on the narrow dock for both people and luggage and I am astonished some of each did not fall into the water. Repeat after me: Hey, relax, this is the Carib.

As we clear immigration. we see Dawn. She has come down to greet us. Actually, she has come down to give us a ride home because SHE COULD NOT LEAVE OUR CAR IN THE PARKING LOT BECAUSE THERE IS NO ROOM IN THE PARKING LOT. THE ISLAND IS AT CAPACITY. THERE ARE CARS PARKED ON ALL THE SIDEWALKS. IT IS CHAOS. IT IS LIKE CHRISTMAS. WHY? JIMMY BUFFET, THAT'S WHY.

Yup, Mr. Margaritaville, Mr. Cheeseburger in Paradise, is giving a free concert Saturday night in honor of the 60th anniversary of Le Select, the hamburger and beer garden smack in the center of downtown Gustavia. The island is in full party mode and filled to capacity. It is Christmas/New Years in November. More on that in the next chapter. Stay tuned.

We get back to the house, unpack, grab some dinner downtown, and rush back home to watch the Yankee game. Actually what we get to watch is a screen that says our receiver is trying to connect to the satellite and we should be patient. Say after me, "Relax, it's the Carib." We get no tv reception here when there are storms on the western horizon, or when there are storms in Minnesota, or when the bougainvillea sprout a new leaf that intrudes into the sat dish's line of sight, or when the rain gets into the connections, or when Serge, the guy who fixes sat tv, is off the island for any reason.

Screw the Yankees anyway. If the Brooklyn Dodgers were playing in the World Series, I would be upset at the loss of the tv signal. The tv set hates me anyway. It blanked out the Yankee game, and despite great storms in the western sky, the reception was perfect during the fourth quarter of the Giants game on Sunday. I think Serge is an Eagles fan.

On arrival night, Pinks makes a house and garden tour. She talks to the plants, looks in on all the bedrooms, and generally takes psychic possession of our villa. Something like accepting livery of seisin every season. (Lawyer joke. Sorry.) During the tour I hear my name called. Pinks is in the bathroom attached to the mid level guestroom, and was startled when she opened the bathroom door, turned on the light, and a green monster ran across the floor to hide under the sink cabinet. That bathroom is open to the sky, bounded on two sides by concrete walls ten feet high. At the top of those walls is the upstairs garden--home to lots of island critters including a mating pair of iguanas. (When I first saw the big one several years ago, I almost fainted. Maybe six feet long-- mostly tail, prehistoric looking, a fearsome lizard.) Iguanas are an island treasure. Once hunted, they are now adored. But somehow, our iguanas' babies keep falling (or scurrying, I dunno) into this bathroom and cannot get out. No food or water in there. Worrisome. Dawn's 12 year old son Garrison rescued two babies last week, but could not get the third--the survivor that startled Pinks. So until Dawn's kids can get over here, Pinks puts a bowl of water in the bathroom and checks on the little guy every day. He is adorable. Mostly tail, a very light green like the color of a spring plant chute, very shy. Not sure how they can catch him, he's that fast. But they got his sibs, so I guess this little Iggy will be freed soon too. Sure hope so.

One more bit of local color. (Double entendre. You'll see.) At this time of year, we get great sunsets from our pool deck. When the sky to the west is absolutely cloudless at the horizon, you can see the big orange ball slowly sink below the edge of the earth (You know, of course, that the earth really is flat. From our deck you can see that with your own eyes.) Back to my point, if you have properly averted your eyes until the last few seconds, as the last tip of the sun disappears below the horizon you see a fantastic bright green flash, lasting a second or two. So far we have seen that phenomenon twice in the five days we have been here.

So let's sum up: Sunny days, good food, white sand beaches, gin and tonic on the deck, followed by beautiful sunsets, (did I mention good food?), and I haven't even gotten around to the Jimmy Buffet concert.

Okay, I'm relaxed.

A bientot.

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