Part 2 of my Caribbean Adventures
(Click here to read part 1 Travel Day Good Times)
Getting to St. Barth from Boston is a pain in the ass.
It is literally easier to fly to London or Paris from Boston than it is to fly to this tiny Caribbean island 1,751 miles away. That’s part of the reason it has retained its exclusivity for the rich & famous that you read about in the tabloids…lounging on mega-yachts and frolicking on the beaches of the island. If you don’t have the means to pay for a private or chartered plane, and most of us don’t, you will certainly pay with your time, taking at least 10-12 hours, door to door. If you have more than one layover and/or weather or mechanical problems, you’re probably facing 16-24 hours. By comparison, you can hop on a plane in Boston, and arrive in Paris Charles de Gaulle (3,448 miles) or London Heathrow (3,265 miles) an average of 6.5 hours later. I rest my case.
It’s been ten and a half hours since we walked out the door of our apartment and we’ve still got an hour to go before we arrive on St. Barth. We’re comfortably sitting in the Tradewinds Aviation lounge in San Juan’s Aeropuerto Internacional, each of us having cracked open a couple of beers. (Relax, they’re 8.5 oz. slims! Perfect size for the Caribbean where beer turns warm within minutes.) Javier comes out and greets us once again, instructs us to please follow him, and yes, we can bring our beer with us, then leads us out to the very sexy looking Pilatus PC-12 that Tradewinds is known for. He then proceeds to inform each of us, for weight balance reasons, where to sit on the plane. After a brief greeting and safety overview from the pilots, we’re wheels-up in no time. It’s a comfortable flight to St. Barth with just occasional Caribbean turbulence and a beautiful view of the Virgin Islands below.
Landing in St. Barth is an adventure not to be missed.
There have been many articles, blogs and videos that have come out in the past ten-ish years about ‘the most dangerous airports’. St. Barth seems to make the list most of the time, in varying degrees of rank. Close neighbors, St. Maarten and Saba airports, which I have flown into as well, also tend to make the cut. Saba, with its shortest runway in the world, to me, is the scariest. I Imagine it’s the closest you can get to what it feels like to land on an aircraft carrier and still be on land.
Pilots that fly into St. Barth require special training.
To land on one of the shortest commercial runways in the world, pilots must perfectly execute a nose-dive over a steep hill, which is crowned with a busy traffic circle. They need to avoid the hill, the cars and the pedestrians taking pictures, (see photo above) then immediately pull up on the nose (or whatever the technical term for doing that is), and land softly on the runway, then SLAM ON THE BREAKS so we don’t go off the other end onto the beach. In a ‘perfect’ landing, the pilot doesn’t even need to use the entire tiny runway, they turn off half way down and proceed right to the “parking spaces” in front of the terminal. In a ‘good landing,’ they use the entire runway to slow down, turn at the end, giving passengers a nice view of the beach and St. Jean Bay, then turn and head back to the terminal. A ‘bad landing’… well I won’t talk about that. I’ve not personally had one of those, but have seen them on YouTube and don’t care to experience it first hand. The plane basically ends up on the beach.
Our pilots execute a perfect landing.
We pull up to the terminal and exit the plan. Walking to immigration, I glance up and see my great friend Nadja and her daughter waving at me. It makes me feel warm inside, like I’ve just arrived home and I feel a little nostalgic. Because I’m American, I had a hard time calling this place home when I lived here. For 9 years I considered it a place I lived, but I didn’t consider it home. When I moved away, it broke my heart just as much as it did when I left my childhood home at 20 years old and moved to California. I know now, since leaving, that I will always consider this tiny rock my past home filled with ‘family’.
I smile to the tall, dark & handsome Gendarme behind the immigration window, and
receive yet another St. Barth stamp in my passport. I notice the stamp is a new, much improved design since I left in 2014.
We move to the baggage area; 20 feet away, collect our bags and step through the doors into the Caribbean heat. Nadja and her daughter are standing there with big smiles, along with an old friend who now works as concierge for the villa agency we’ve rented from. He’ll escort us to the villa. We are also met by Philippe from Oscar Car Rental, who’ll show us to our convertible red Mini Cooper, the perfect size car for these driveway-width island roads. I open up my bag, give items Nadja had ordered for Carnival to her, give her a hug, then hop in the car and we’re headed to the villa.
I’m surprised at the sight of all the cars.
It’s been a year and a half since I’ve left and my friends had told me how crowded the island is since my departure- I see that they haven’t been exaggerating. It’s crazy how many cars and scooters there are now. I silently wonder if the island is slowly losing its charm with so much traffic and so many people?
The concierge leads us through the Port of Gustavia, then back out of town and finally off the main road and down a road I have never been on before. It’s a tight squeeze down a steep, barely one-car-width road, which we all discuss “what the hell do you do if you encounter another car?” The appropriate answer being: the guy going up the hill has to back down. The road hairpin curves sharply to the right, still descending, then, at the bottom, turns to dirt for 50 feet as it sharply turns in a tight squeeze around a small local house. Suddenly the road is paved again and sharply inclines up another hill where our house for the next 5 days is located.
We have arrived!
It is 6:15 pm. Just over 12 hours since walking out the door of the apartment, we have finally arrived. It’s been a long day, I am exhausted, we all are, but there’s still a bit more to do. A tour of the villa is in order, deciding who gets which bedroom, changing into shorts, unpacking, finding 220-110v converters for our electronics, plus we need drinks, and we need to decide on much needed food!
First, let’s take a moment to admire the view…