The Civilized Explorer

The Civilized Explorer

St. Barth - 2003

We visited St. Barth over New Year's 2003; we arrived on December 27, 2002, in time for the build-up for New Years. We had been alerted that the week would be hectic, and it was by the standards of St. Barth.

The motor yachts in the harbor were incredible, each worth tens of millions of dollars, each with a uniformed crew. Our first week, we stayed in a condo that overlooked the harbor (it was on the hillside below the Carl Gustav Hotel), so we had a bird's eye view of the comings and goings of the yachts. Our condo had a magazine about the harbor, and we learned that each time a yacht weighed anchor, a scuba crew was called out to make sure the other anchors were not fouled by crossing lines. This crew was billed to the departing yacht, whether it was used or not, at a cost of between $100 and $200 dollars each time. We saw yachts at Saline and Gouverneur and even Shell Beach (they could have walked!) during the day and in the harbor at night.

We went to different beaches each day, and there were more people at all of them. We tried to have lunch at Tom Beach one day, but they were fully booked at 10:30 am. The tide was in, and it mean wading across the water to get to the beach restaurant at Eden Rock; lunch was not available at any time other than 12:30, with the insistence that the time was precisely 12:30. We arrived a little early, again wading the water, as the beach that used to be in front of Filao is gone, and had an excellent lunch. After New Year's Tom Beach was available for lunch without a wait and without reservations.

On December 31, we had dinner at Le Sapotilier; our table was at a window on the street, and it was so noisy we asked to be moved. Cars, motor scooters, and motorcycles drove past the window constantly, making conversation difficult. The week after New Year's we ate there again and got the same table; this time traffic was very slight, causing no difficulties at all.

We had reserved a rental car, and it was a good thing. There were no rental cars in the lot after we got there. A man arrived without a rental and was assuring the agent that he was a repeat customer; the man had no car reserved, and the agent had no cars. The week after New Year's, the lot was filled again. When we returned our car on the 12th of January, there was no parking space available for it.

All in all, we would not rate the week between Christmas and New Year's as the best time to visit, but it was not quite so bad as we had expected. Certainly a week or two after New Year's is a better time -- just before the season starts in earnest and most visitors start arriving.

St. Barth continues to evolve. This year, Gustavia had many more businesses offering home furnishings. The former Sibarth offices have been taken over by The Home, a store offering furniture, pillows, fabrics for walls, windows, and floors, and some coordinated clothing. Our fears of T-shirt shops and the general St-Maartenification of the island were groundless. Many businesses have relocated from Gustavia to St. Jean, with Gustavia going even more high-end than we would have imagined. We had lunch near a family that was comparing their day's shopping. One woman said she found a necklace that was exactly what she wanted, and she asked the price. $40,000, she was told; she then said she had to find a way out while saving face.

We write about our visits to restaurants elsewhere, but we found the service at Le Sapotilier to be the best of the ones we visited for dinner, we enjoyed Tom Beach for lunch, and we liked The Hideaway any time for its friendliness, good food, and good price.

Driving on St. Barth during the week of New Year's was rather hectic. Parking in St. Jean along the streets is totally out of control. The stretch of road along the beach is often choked down to one lane, sometimes less. In Gustavia, there are a couple of speed bumps on Quaie de la République where the parking lot at the dock is.

As always, if you have any objections, corrections, suggestions, or questions, drop us a line via Cyber Poste.

The Mraur Cyber Poste stamp is Copyright © 1995 by Jim Felter and is used with his kind permission. For more of his work, please drop by Jas' HomePage.

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