Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Heaven on Earth (St. Barts 2006) Part 1


The trip started out with a bang, literally. Up to this point everything had gone as smooth as silk. All three of our flights were on time. I had just signed the paperwork at the car rental agency, declining the comprehensive insurance offered. We had just gotten into our rental car, a brand spanking new Diahatsu Terios. When Georg took off the emergency brake the car suddenly lunged forward. We careened perilously close to a parked car and slammed into the rear of our villa rental agent’s vehicle with a sickening crunch. The amazing thing was, Paul, the rental agent, hopped cheerfully out of his car, barely looked at his own auto, bounded over to us and said in his cute French accent, “ Nothing happened, everything OK, don’t worry.” He ran back to his car and proceeded to lead us to our villa. It wasn’t until we parked at the villa, that we were able to take a good look at the damage, which was considerably more than “nothing” on our car. To be honest, the back of his car didn’t seem to be in worse shape than before. It seems dents and dings are the norm on this island of narrow roads, switchbacks and hair-raising inclines.

We tried to shake off what had just happened as Paul presented us with a tour of Villa Santal, on the hill overlooking Lorient Beach. In the distance we could see several islands, including St. Maarten from which we had just flown. The view took our breath away, as did the house. We entered through double doors which stood wide open and we could see straight through the house to the deck, the Jacuzzi and the water. Soft Reggae music wafted through the house. The interior was all white with bold blue accents, reminiscent of the colors of Greece. The high ceilings peaked in the typical “case” style of the Caribbean. The living room with white wicker furniture looked out upon the deck, the umbrella table, chairs, hammock and swimming pool. The entire wall was open to the outside. He led us into the comfortably air-conditioned master suite, one of two bedrooms on opposite sides of the house. In the bathroom were hibiscus and bougainvillea blossoms on the tub and on the decoratively folded towels by the sinks. Small bottles of expensive Ligne de St. Barth bath products framed each sink. From the bedroom we could see the brilliant turquoise water. One door led to a small garden with another umbrella table and gas grill, lounge chairs and access to the pool. The other door led out onto the main deck. Off the bedroom we could see a small office with a desk and fax machine. As we bade goodbye to Paul, we asked him if we should lock the house when we left it. His reply, “Oh no, we never lock anything on St. Barts – it is very safe.”

The fridge had been stocked with some items, including bottled water, beer and a large bowl of fruit, and we helped ourselves to some cold beverages as we discussed what to do next. We decided not to worry about the car situation that day. It was 5:00, we had been awake since four in the morning, we were tired and hungry and were not in good shape to make any decisions. With trepidation, we decided to venture out to find the nearest market, Oasis, for provisions.

The road leading to our house was extremely steep and in order to get out Georg had to gingerly back into the narrow driveway across from us. No way would I be driving on this trip, but I could navigate, and I carefully noted each landmark as we drove, so we could find our way back again. No major shopping was going to take place today, only the necessities for a light dinner and tomorrow’s breakfast and, of course, the famous vanilla rum I had read so much about. Most meals eaten out on the island culminated with a complimentary house-made shot of Rhum Vanille. I found out that it is mighty tasty with tropical fruit punch. Georg made me several that evening to perfect his technique, before he fell asleep watching French cable TV.


Refreshed and ready to face the new day, we awoke early to a pot of good St. Barth’s coffee and a dip in the pool. The sky was blue with puffy white clouds and I worked on my tan most of the morning, going back and forth from the pool to the hot tub when I wanted to get wet. At 9am the front doorbell rang (and it literally is a brass bell mounted to the doorframe). The villa owner, Michele had come by to adjust the water pump. He was extremely gracious with his French accent, telling us to make his home our home and if there was anything we needed we should feel free to call. A short time later the bell clanged again. It was Stephanie, our maid. She informed us (there was that cute French accent again) she would come by at 10 each morning, if that were all right with us. She would do any dishes, mop the floors, make the bed and change the towels. Georg was in heaven. We had a young French maid! Too bad she was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and not a short black skirt with an apron and fishnet stockings.

After she left we knew we had to face the music and drive to the car rental agency to let them know about the damage to the car. We figured we might as well get this unpleasantness over with. To our surprise, Yvette at Soleil Caribes was extremely sympathetic and understanding. She assured us she would do everything she could to minimize our liability. We had used our Platinum Visa card to reserve the car and there was a good possibility they would cover the expenses. We would get a phone card, call Visa and let her know the results. She kept insisting that they wanted visitors to have a good time and no bad experiences at all on St. Barts and as we bid adieu we kissed European-style – on both cheeks. Georg and I left shaking our heads in wonder at the hospitality and politeness of the French people on this island.

Across from the airport was the supermarket Match and we stopped by for a phone card and some staples for the week. Back at the villa, there was just enough time for a quick dip before we had to get ready for our dinner reservations at Wall House restaurant in Gustavia and the other side of the island. On the map, it seemed like it would take us awhile to get to Gustavia. In reality, it was only 10 minutes. There are two major hubs of activity on St. Barts. Gustavia is one, St. Jean is the other. They were both aglow with lights from the busy restaurants and shops. The ambiance was very much like St. Tropez, only more tropical. Gustavia has the harbor where some very large yachts come in. Our restaurant, Wall House was right on the waterfront and open air. We were seated at a table overlooking the water. I had read the tasting menu was a very good value and we opted for that, with Georg and I having different entrees to share. Tapenade with small toasted crostini to start, followed by watermelon gazpacho in a tiny demitasse cup, cold seafood roll, grouper for Georg and crispy chicken for Margaret, mango and lemon granita and a dessert trolley, from which one could pick any items you wanted. Georg had the crème brulee, of course, which our waiter flamed tableside, and Baba au Rhum, and I had chocolate tarte and floating island. As if that wasn’t all enough, after our meal they brought over a tray with glasses and a decanter of complimentary of Rhum Vanille. The rest of the evening was spent on our very romantic deck and in the hot tub gazing at the star-filled sky.


The day dawned bright, blue and clear with a few white puffy clouds. Much of the morning was spent just relaxing on the deck. I alternated between the pool and lounge chair, reading Memoirs of a Geisha. Georg adopted the hammock and spent much of his time reading about how to use his new video camera. We didn’t feel hungry for breakfast after last night’s ample repast and we decided we didn’t need breakfast. At about 11:00 we were on our way to Saline’s Beach. We made a short stop at the Ligne St. Barth store where the products are made and packaged, so I could purchase some of their sunscreen I had read so much about. We arrived at the parking lot for Saline and found it was a bit of a walk with our beach chairs, backpacks and umbrella. But what a view once we got there. The water was the most brilliant turquoise I have ever seen! The beach, framed as they were on both sides with green cliffs reminded us both so much of Kauai. It was very hot today and a bit breezy, which was a Godsend, but the umbrella wouldn’t stay put and we didn’t stay long. There was some brief, but mostly discreet topless nudity here at this and one other beach on the island.

We had intended to have lunch at a nearby restaurant called Tamarind. As we left the parking lot we picked up a young man who was hitchhiking. He spoke very broken English, but we were able to find out he was here for the day from St. Maartin. He went on his way once we got to the restaurant, which, we were to find out, had just closed after high season. It might have been an interesting experience. It was like someone’s backyard with an assortment of electric outdoor couches, futons, hammocks and benches arranged haphazardly around a huge Tamarind tree, hence the name. I had read there was a resident parrot that kept the patrons entertained. We ended up driving back to St. Jean and having lunch at Andy’s Hideaway, where the motto is “Warm beer, bad food and a view of the parking lot”. Not so. The Caribes beer was icy cold and our food was delicious. We had cod fritters as an appetizer, and Georg had jumbo shrimp in Creole sauce, while I had the duck salad with fois gras. Their specialty is flame grilled thin crust pizza, which we resolved to try sometime this week. The ambiance was comfortable, Caribbean colors and ceiling fans, open to the outside and a very friendly staff. I had read about Andy on the St. Barts forum online, where he himself often posts. He’s very tall and friendly with a British accent and chats up everyone who comes into his restaurant. Later that evening we actually returned to pick up some carry-out pizza to enjoy for dinner back at the villa. Thin crust, wood-oven grilled pizza is they speciality and we thought of our "pizza night" friends back home and wished they were enjoying it with us here on St. Barts.

More tomorrow...

No comments: