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Thread: St Barth over Thanksgiving 2017

  1. #1
    KevinS is offline
    Senior Insider Joined: Jul 2003 Posts: 21,436

    St Barth over Thanksgiving 2017

    I don't normally write trip reports. I generally let my on-island posts suffice. This year, post-Irma, I think that a trip report is appropriate. I have no skin in the game other than as a longtime island visitor, so there is no spin here.

    Many families have traditions for Thanksgiving. We’ve been visiting St Barth for Thanksgiving for over 30 years, so celebrating the holiday on St Barth has become our Tradition.

    After Irma, we had to reassess. St Barth was hit hard by Irma, as were neighboring islands. Gateway airports such as San Juan and Sint Maarten were heavily impacted by Irma and Maria. However, news from the island got a little better each day. A favourite villa became available. Acceptable flight options were worked out, and we went.

    First, let me say that the island is far from “back to normal”, but it is most definitely ready for some (but not all) visitors to return. It’s closer to normal for visitors than it is for residents, some who have lost everything, and many who still have major repairs to make to their homes.

    We found an island that had rapidly turned green again, with many palm trees in the process of regrowing their fronds, and with flowers beginning to bloom. Still, there are a lot of missing trees and tree canopy, as well as newly-opened sightlines. The local Rotary club has committed to replacing all of the trees around the harbor, as they have done in the past. (Donations are welcomed.)

    We found that the island is cleaner than expected. Huge amounts of storm debris have been collected and consolidated for removal. Truckloads of debris were removed from remote places such as Morne Rouge by volunteers. The remaining debris that I saw was limited to a few sites - demolition in progress and debris not yet removed, or storm debris consolidated but not yet removed.

    As noted above, a favourite villa became available. The villa which we rent at this time of year is on the beach, is unusable at present, but is projected to be available at the end of February. The villa which we usually rent in April also sustained damage, but has been repaired to like-new condition. The clients who were scheduled to be there for Thanksgiving were forced to cancel, and their loss became our gain.

    Owners of rental villas are working very hard to make any needed repairs, so that they can accommodate guests as soon as possible. A second villa from the owner who I rent from was also repaired and available, with guests for that villa arriving just a few days after us.

    We found rental cars available. I forget exactly how many cars Odile from Gumbs told me that she has out on the road right now. I think that it was 73 cars. She had a brand new Suzuki Grand Vitara for me, with 24 km on the odometer. I returned it 300km (180 miles) later. Every agency at the airport was staffed, and presumably had cars available, as there were cars in the reserved rental agency spaces.

    We found roads that, with the exception of some undermining in Grand Fond, were normal, with the usual amount of construction. If you remembered to avoid school start/stop times, and the related bus and mom-taxi traffic, then traffic was generally lighter than normal. (I failed on this once, but very quickly adjusted to staying out of town at that time of day.)

    We found parking to be tough at times, especially with the pay lot now being free. By falling back to the old-school timing tricks, we worked through that issue.

    We found many of our favorite restaurants open, with others working hard to reopen after completing repairs. Tamarin reopened while we were there, and others will reopen soon. With some restaurants closed, others were busier than I’m used to seeing - Le Repaire for weekday lunches for example.

    We dined out (Le Repaire, La Crêperie, Bistro Josephine, L’Esprit, Tamarin, Vietnam), we dined in (twice for lunch, once with a takeout pizza from Les Bananiers, and I cooked breakfast on most days), we hired a Chef to come in for a dinner with friends, and we were twice invited into friends homes for dinner, one of which was for Thanksgiving Dinner.

    We found the grocery stores to be pretty well stocked, but multiple freezer cases were empty at Marché U. If I couldn’t find a particular item that I wanted then I could either find an acceptable substitute, or I could find the item in a different store. I did most of my shopping at Marché U, with stops at AMC and the airport Superette. All were open with the exception of U Express at Oasis, Mini-Mart, and La Vie Claire (which opens next week). I didn't cook dinner while we were on the island, but I did window shop at Boucherie Che Yo and saw great looking meats.

    We found the gas station to be close to normal (a few pumps blocked off with cones for a bit) with no worse than normal lines. I was able to refuel once during the day with no line, and again at night with a chip-and-pin card.

    We found that many shops were open, but not all. Hérmès was the only luxury boutique which I noticed was open, but there may have been others, and many appear to be preparing to reopen. A higher percentage of locally-owned shops were open, and I patronized several - Pati, for the usual shirts etc, M’Bolo for Rhum Vanille Sec, Case in Blue for inexpensive freshwater pearl necklaces, Ets. H. Ledee for alcohol, Global Distribution for bulk water and a few other items, La Cave du Port Franc for Champagne, and Le Gout de Vin for wine. The shops at Villa Creole had their typical lack of parking, so I filled a friend’s cigar request by shopping in Gustavia.

    We found good, but not universal, cellular coverage - about the same as usual. We found good, but not universal, cellular data (and more Orange 4G than previously). We had landline service in the villa, and good wi-fi download/slow wi-fi upload, which is not unusual for that villa. We found wi-fi in every restaurant where we had previously found it. I made multiple landline and cellular calls back to the US, with just one dropped cellular call. I carried a Satphone, but other than testing it once, never powered it on again.

    There were things that we would like to have done, which just didn’t fit in. We would have liked to have dined at Eddy’s. I never found time to walk up to the lighthouse and Espace Météo. I’ve heard good things about a new, young chef at Le Diamant, but we never made it there. We would have liked to have dined at Bistro Josephine again. There’s a “next time” though, and we’ll be back on the island in 4.5 months.

    So, it is time to write about some of the bad. There has been an incredible amount of work done to make repairs, but there is still much to be done. There are still many, many buildings with destroyed roofs, including the St Catherine of Siena chapel in Colombier, some businesses, and many residences. Some vistas look as beautiful as ever, until your eyes move to the roofless villa nearby. There are many cars on the road with damaged windows, and some with no windshield. It’s widely known that the 5-Star beachfront hotels (and their waterfront restaurants) won’t be open, in most cases, until at least the Summer of 2018. Many restaurants are still fighting to reopen, including Orega, Bagatelle, Bonita, Shellona, Baz Bar, Nikki Beach, Maya’s, and La Guerite. Some of them will open by Christmas, and others will require more time. Some restaurants won’t reopen - Côté Port and perhaps La Gloriette. Segeco, my go-to place for everything liquid, sustained significant damage and is only servicing commercial clients at present. The power infrastructure still needs work - power lines are rigged temporarily in spots, and are sagging in places. The landline infrastructure still needs work, as some still have no phone service – for example, there are phone lines laying in the road in Saline. The cellular infrastructure still has weak spots, such as Saline. But things continue to get better every day. And that will continue.

    There are also new beginnings to report. Ociela, a new restaurant with a Mediterranean menu, has opened in the former Strand space, just above Black Ginger. Hervé, proprieter of Côté Port and founder of numerous other restaurants on the island, is working hard on his latest project, QG (Quartier Generale, Headquarters in English), which will open soon across from the Post Office in Gustavia.

    I would also like to acknowledge the experiences and hard work of the people of St Barth. They went through a terrifying experience with Irma, and they survived. After the hurricane passed, they came out of their homes into a shockingly different world. They came together initially to support each other. They’ve since done an incredible amount of work to get the island ready for visitors, including getting roads, shops, restaurants, and other businesses ready. The beaches have been cleaned. Volunteers have collected debris from all over the island, including out of ponds and on remote hillsides. The incredible amount of hard work comes with an incredible amount of stress. If you’re close to someone on St Barth then please give them an extra hug - they've earned it. Universally, people who we know in restaurants and shops, were excited to see us come back. They said that the return of regular clients gave them hope for the coming season. If you're on the fence about returning to St Barth for your annual trip, my advice is to go.

    St Barth isn’t back to normal, and it still has a long way to go, but it is getting there. If you can be happy on a St Barth that doesn’t have 5-Star hotels and beachfront restaurants then you’ll be fine. If you can’t imagine visiting a St Barth without Sand Bar and Nikki Beach, then this isn’t the right time for you to return. For me, if time permitted, I would go back again tomorrow.

  2. #2
    amyb is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Apr 2008 Glen Cove,L. I., NY Posts: 28,232

    Re: St Barth over Thanksgiving 2017

    Kevin, what an honest and thoughtful report. You nailed it.

    We are here. And happy to be here. Everyday is a new adventure, what opened, what is repaired, where to do marketing. I want to mention that the pharmacies are opened and stocked.

    The people are amazing. With quick hugs and smiles wherever we pop in, the island is truly welcoming. So glad to be here. And so glad to have had the chance to visit with you and Kate before you headed home-the long route.
    Remember Yesterday, Dream About Tomorrow, But Live Today.

  3. #3
    tim is offline
    Moderator Joined: Jun 2003 Vélo, Virginia Posts: 16,797

    Re: St Barth over Thanksgiving 2017

    Kevin, outstanding reporting!
    The best moderation is the least moderation.

  4. #4
    cec1 is online now
    SBH Insider Joined: Jul 2008 Posts: 6,771

    Re: St Barth over Thanksgiving 2017

    I agree with Amy, Kevin . . .you've nailed it! The island isn't for everyone now (my long time travel agent just told me about some clients who have canceled their annual SBH trip because teenage boys in the family wouldn't know what to do without 5 star hotels to entertain them!). Restaurants, as many have described, are excelling in service and quality . . . and local residents are eagerly embracing, in great friendship, their visitors. Beaches remain beautiful . . . swimming is safe and enjoyable, as always . . . and the same stunning views are found around the island. Much remains to be done for full recovery, and many residents will endure long, slow trials as they rebuild -- testing endurance and emotions. I found, however, that everyone living on the island was highly appreciative of our presence and the various ways in which visitors are providing support to them.

  5. #5
    elgreaux is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: May 2003 Saint Barth Posts: 11,296

    Re: St Barth over Thanksgiving 2017

    I agree, great report, thanks Kevin, I will finally be back later this week!

  6. #6

    Re: St Barth over Thanksgiving 2017

    We appreciate your most thoughtful and honest report...looking forward for our March return.
    Steve and Aimee

  7. #7
    MIke R is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: May 2003 Stinson Lake - New Hampshire & Provincetown - Cape Cod Posts: 51,935

    Re: St Barth over Thanksgiving 2017

    Nicely done as usual Kevin

    Looking forward to my return in November ....
    "When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace" Jimi Hendrix

  8. #8
    andynap is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Oct 2002 Philadelphia Posts: 45,021

    Re: St Barth over Thanksgiving 2017

    Quote Originally Posted by MIke R View Post
    Nicely done as usual Kevin

    Looking forward to my return in November ....
    Lol. Probably a different isand by then. Keep reading here. Very informative.


  9. #9
    julianne is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Nov 2003 CT Posts: 3,140

    Re: St Barth over Thanksgiving 2017

    Thank you for a thoughtful and interesting report. No surprises. Upbeat yet honest, setting realistic expectations. The people of St. Barth have been through a gut-wrenching ordeal and as long as visitors come with that understanding and empathy, they will have a good experience.

  10. #10
    Theresa is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Mar 2004 Posts: 2,028

    Re: St Barth over Thanksgiving 2017

    Thank you for sharing your experience, Kevin. We look forward to our return. I'm glad you enjoyed Bistro Josephine. It was a highlight of our last trip. We stopped in after a visit to the new lookout area at the hospital. Did you have a chance to visit that area? If so, how did it fare?
    On an island in the sun we'll be playing and having fun.

  11. #11
    KevinS is offline
    Senior Insider Joined: Jul 2003 Posts: 21,436

    Re: St Barth over Thanksgiving 2017

    Quote Originally Posted by Theresa View Post
    We stopped in after a visit to the new lookout area at the hospital. Did you have a chance to visit that area? If so, how did it fare?
    I drove by, but I didn’t stop. From what I saw from the car, it’s in pretty good shape There was some tree damage, and some minor roof damage nearby. The bear statue is resting at one end of the parking lot.

  12. #12
    patcsmith is offline
    SBH Member Joined: May 2008 Delaware Posts: 84

    Re: St Barth over Thanksgiving 2017

    Thank you Kevin for your insightful reporting. I can almost imagine myself there. And that’s where I would have been if it weren’t for that wicked Irma!
    I’ll be visiting in May, and I look forward to seeing the continued progress with my own eyes. Fingers crossed, next Thanksgiving we’ll be there too!

  13. #13
    cassidain is offline
    SBH Member Joined: Jul 2007 Ailleurs Posts: 7,486

    Re: St Barth over Thanksgiving 2017

    well organized, well written, quite thorough, most appreciated. merci, mon ami !

  14. #14
    stbartshopper is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Dec 2013 Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.A. Posts: 10,918

    Re: St Barth over Thanksgiving 2017

    From reading there has been a lot of hard work with a 'can do' attitude. Things will only improve! Foilage will return; buildings will be repaired; the beachfront hotels will be nicer than before' restaurants will continue to reopen and the beaches, weather, sunsets and sunrises, clouds, breezes, views, and friendly smiles will be there as always. Ouanalao!

  15. #15
    Jim A is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Jan 2017 NY Posts: 785

    Re: St Barth over Thanksgiving 2017

    Wow. That is an amazing, detailed, thorough review of the Island. I know things are changing by the day still, but you really painted a great picture of the island at that particular time. Also, gave me some thoughts on what I now know to ask everyone here before my next trip. I think we bought most everything at Marche' U. I didn't realize how much better some of the other options were as far as selection and pricing (in particular wine and champagne) until I looked up some of what you mentioned. Probably just as well since we were on the go so much that there was little time to enjoy relaxing at the villa with a drink by the pool. Glad you enjoyed your trip and it sure looks like you made the right decision to go.

  16. #16
    Karen is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Mar 2007 Chester, VA Posts: 1,116

    Re: St Barth over Thanksgiving 2017

    As always, I appreciate Kevin's thoughtful reports!

  17. #17
    Chipper is offline
    SBH Member Joined: Dec 2013 Nashville, TN Posts: 331

    Re: St Barth over Thanksgiving 2017

    That was informative and well appreciated Kevin. Looking forward to being back on island with family in 2 1/2 mos.
    Hotty Toddy!

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