May 1, 2018 Flying to St. Barths post Irma was a combination of excitement and anxiety. “What if I don’t think the island looks that good?” “What if it’s really heartbreaking to see all the destruction?”. “What if I can’t honestly tell clients about my experience?” Fortunately, anxiety quickly turned to super excitement and a big sigh of relief; “Wow. it’s great to be home!”
I’ve thought of St. Barths as a second home for a while now. (After more than three decades of visiting, I know more people here than in the hometown I grew up in). Listening to the stories of friends who were here during the storm was amazing and I soon realized I could not even begin to imagine the magnitude of their experiences.
Some stories were amusing, like the friend who opened her closed and locked safe to have water pour out along with a live crab, or the inexplainable router that was soaking wet yet still working, so friends would come and use her internet. There were wonderful stories of a strong community working together – “I can fix your roof now and you can pay me when your insurance money comes in”, or inviting everyone in your neighborhood for a meal because you had no electricity, the bbq was fired up, and you shared your food because it would only go bad with no refrigeration. The stories all had a different slant – pragmatic, thankful, grateful, fearful, and exhaustion.
Back to the island itself – in a word – amazing! The gardens are colorful and lush and the birds are singing away. The palm trees are in various stages but overall, they seem to be recovering nicely. One surprising aspect is the lack of construction noise. Someone said it was because people are still waiting on insurance claims, which could be a valid point. There is certainly visible activity at the Eden Rock! Workers and heavy machinery are everywhere, although they’ve built a big wall around the property so you can only see in when the entry is opened. The wall, by the way, is painted “eden rock red” with sayings like #stronger than Irma.
The villas we visited were in great shape! The internet in the villas we stayed in, REF, MOZ, and PAT, worked flawlessly, the satellite tv provided the morning news each day, the pools were full, and it was as though nothing ever happened.
Boutique shop windows had colorful displays, there were plenty of options for dining out, and for the most part, the grocery stores were full. There were a couple of times in 11 days where items like butter and yogurt and those type of refrigerated dairy products were delayed, but it was no big deal. When there’s no yogurt, a freshly baked croissant would do, or a fresh piece of fruit. I was very surprised at how nice the fresh produce looked, cheese and prepared food cases were always full, and there were plenty of baguettes always!
The WimcoSBH office looked the same (great), with the concierges in their crisp shirts, bottles of Evian and the NY Times paper on the table for clients, and the computer beckoning clients to “use me for your boarding pass”.
Villa Marie was a treat and looked beautiful! We had an extended tour of the rooms and one of the three villas. I’m excited to suggest it to clients – the rooms are very comfortable and well appointed. The staff is professional and engaging, as well as extremely service oriented. Lunch by the pool is a hidden oasis. The music was relaxing and at the right volume, the pool is surrounded by palm trees, there’s a cooling breeze, it’s quiet and I felt it had an air of sophistication. The menu was limited but the food was very good.
The Christopher Hotel just opened their Mango Restaurant for lunch on Friday. They did an outstanding job by putting a wall around the empty pool and having a handsome valet greet you with a smile upon arrival. I was surprised by all the items on the menu and I would definitely recommend it to clients. It’s a perfect setting for clients looking for a “toes in the sand” lunch and maybe by next week, they hope to be open for sunset cocktails.
Are there signs of Irma almost 8 months later? Yes, for sure. Flamands is a perfect example of what still needs to be done in a major way. Can clients come and have a great time? Absolutely!! A vacation in St Barths is still as special and relaxing as always. Was this the best trip ever? Quite possibly. The stories of community and kindness are a well heeded reminder of how fortunate we are. I think it will be awhile before I complain about slow internet, getting annoyed that a light bulb just burnt out and is considered a major interruption, or that a little snow has temporarily impaired the satellite dish just as my favorite show is about to come on.
St. Barths is truly incredible and never fails to amaze, and it would take a lot more than a major hurricane for this slice of heaven to lose its soul.