October 2002by Bill Chittick
What better way to begin a trip than going to bed at 1:00 a.m. with a wet load of laundry in the dryer ... with the possible exception of having the taxi honk outside your door at 3:45 a.m. Fortunately, I was able to do both. Then again, I've always been noted for my impeccable timing.
The trip to St Barths itself was quite uneventful, if you're in the habit of getting strip-searched around every bend (memo to self: nix the metal belt buckle). I managed to set off every detector between Providence, JFK and St. Martin, but was able to carry myself with dignity. Welcome to post-9/11!
Upon arrival in St Barths, I was immediately impressed with the size of the refurbished airport terminal (new since my last trip) - other changes I noticed were the plethora of Smart® cars and the relative absence of Mokes, formerly the island's signature "fun" vehicle. Luckily for Jan, my traveling companion, her lime-green Smart car was color-coordinated with her equally smart attire (cotton capris by Versace, halter top by Armani, hair by Giorgio of Newbury Street) - I shudder to think what would've transpired if they were out of this color. My bright red Smart car, by the way, went very well with the spaghetti stains on my shirt.
And so we were off.
Our home-away-from-home was St Barths villa HDJ, which stands for Haie de Jasmin (the Jasmine Hedge), an adorable West-Indies-style cottage with pool, hammocks, and a peaceful overlook encompassing both hill and sea. The two principal bedrooms were decorated in Antilles style, with door curtains wafting in the breezes, colorful original artwork, antique armoires, mahogany floors and bright blue shutters around the windows. Bathrooms were artistically designed with mahogany countertops and hand-painted French tiles. Jan and Mark, our guest from Maryland, had these two Queen rooms, one with four-poster bed; I was in the upstairs twin bedroom above the living room, the overall space was quite pleasing. Parisian loft sort of feel.
Now it's time to let you in on a little travel tip, something I should've remembered from my younger Hansel and Gretel days - ALWAYS take breadcrumbs with you when you're in new, unfamiliar territory (or, failing that, croissant crumbs). Yessir, nothing like blithely taking a dip in your pool at sunset before boppin' on down the steep driveway to the maze of roads beyond, in order to get an island "feel" before it gets too dark - only to awaken to the Grimm realization that you have absolutely no clue which of the 45 unmarked tracks is your driveway. And sunset in the Caribbean lasts a mere 10 minutes before it gets pitch black - that's always good for an additional rush of adrenalin. So there I was, hapless as Magellan or Drake, desperately circumnavigating St Barths in the dark in a futile attempt to find my house. Up one 35-degree incline driveway, down the next jungle path, getting nowhere fast, and realizing that I wasn't even 100% sure what my villa looked like even if I had stumbled upon.
Fortunately, I still had enough wits about me to think to call Jan at HDJ and tell her I'm lost. A perfect plan, actually. And it would have succeeded flawlessly had I the smarts to remember to bring the villa phone number with me. Rule #2 - always have your villa phone number with you. On to Plan B.
Not about to miss my dinner date with Jan and Mark, I remembered Jan saying we were meeting at La Mandala at 8:00 - I figured I could join them there and simply follow them home after dinner. It pays to keep a cool head, after all. So off I went to La Mandala - you know the place, I'm sure - it's the one with the sign out front saying "CLOSED". Go figure. So back I went to the old neighborhood and tried all the other driveways I missed the first time around. And I eventually found it, too - courtesy of Jan's lime-green Smart car that practically glowed in the dark.
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