Cheeseburger in Paradise – Our St Barthélemy Vacation, Part 1

Our island getaway

                       Our island getaway

We have an upcoming wedding anniversary, our 38th!  Wow, add to that the years we dated before marriage and that makes more than 41 years together.  Why is she not tired of me yet?  You readers who have checked in with me before know that I’m a big fan of finding coincidences in life – they make life more interesting.  For this anniversary we are going to take a weekend trip with another couple who celebrate their wedding only 5 days away from ours.  Having close wedding dates is not the only coincidence though.

The most coincidental aspects of our relationship with this couple happens to be our birth dates; we each have easy to remember numbers.  One of us is 7/11, (just like the quickie marts).  Another is 2/2, that’s easy, huh.  And then the other two share the same birthday and that day is 2 over 2 times the 2/2 birthday, (4/4).  Those alone would be coincidental all by themselves and if I were to look hard enough, I might even find something unique about our anniversary dates, but here’s where it gets really strange.  The two of us born on 4/4 were both born on a Good Friday religious holiday…..13 years apart.  Strange, huh.  I just love stuff like that!  This trip should be loads of fun.  We’re renting a house together up at Lake Tahoe.  We’ll get in some golf, some food and drink and a lot of great discussion and laughter.  I’m certain that all that is wrong with our country will be solved during this trip.  Oh, and it helps that we’re all swingers….(just kidding – wanted to see if you were awake).
In this story, (link), I wrote about a teacher named Eric Carmen and how one day he delivered an introspective lecture which ended up making a life altering impact on me.  Just a year or two earlier, my parents had gone through a bankruptcy and, being the oldest kid, I got to see a great deal about how the bankruptcy affected my parents and my family.  That experience combined with others and then this special lecture forever changed how I planned and executed my life experiences.  I swore that I would not be like my dad.  I swore that I would not manage finances like my parents.  I swore that my kids would have all the opportunities in life, opportunities that I wanted for myself as a kid, but didn’t have.  What can I say; I was driven and these things I just wrote meant everything to me; they became my life’s compass.  Oh, and true confessions time – I admit it, I used to be a cheapskate. 
There was this one time when I did break the mold though – our 25th wedding anniversary……let me tell you about it.
In 2002 I began thinking about our upcoming anniversary the following year.  We had a couple of rocky years in our marriage earlier but now were on a solid track and I was doing very well at work, thinking we were finally getting close to being able to see the end of the rainbow we had been chasing all these years.  I was giving thought to doing something spectacular next year for our anniversary.  I wanted it to be a symbol of a new beginning and a celebration of having made it this far together.  I also wanted to do something extravagant, something totally out of the cheapskate character.  That’s right, it was time to break the mold.
It was late one night.  My wife was upstairs asleep and I was downstairs watching tv.  This meant only one of two things – either it was a weekend night and she had to work an early shift the next day in the hospital ER or something more ‘fun’.  (The fun is X-Rated, not suitable for a PG-13 blog.  All I can tell you is that she rather enjoys being awakened late at night…use your imaginations).
Brook Burke - Wild On

     Brook Burke – Wild On

Anyway, are your minds out of the gutter?  Good, let’s proceed.  So there used to be a tv show called Wild On, hosted by Brook Burke.  With each new episode, they’d travel somewhere exotic or unique and do a feature on it.  On this night, they were doing something like Wild On Beaches or Islands, something to that effect.  In this episode, Brook was doing a piece on the ten best beaches in the world.  I seem to recall beach #3 as St. Bart’s.
She described St. Barthélemy, (St Bart’s), as a romantic paradise for the rich and famous.  No place for the kids, it’s an island for romance, sunshine and leisure; 8 square miles of beauty and privacy.  It sounded perfect, but what did it cost?  Now, that question was a lot tougher to explore than it is today.  2002 was a year for AOL Internet (yuk).
I had to find private internet time.  No, not for porn, but to figure out if St Bart’s was a place we could afford.  How much was hotel, how much for travel and, did we need a rental car and what was the eating expenses there?  Today a person could answer all of that inside of ten minutes of surfing the web.  Back then?  It would take maybe a couple of hours and lots of calming drugs.  So when I got some private time, I investigated.
The first thing I had to investigate was airfare.  Kim and I have always traveled on planes separately.  Call it a psycho risk aversion thing on my part.  You long time readers know that I’m a long term planner and making certain that our kids always had at least one of us parents alive was always part of our air travel.  (Oh, and I know what you’re thinking – what do you do when driving?  Easy, I pull an Aunt Edna and strap Kim to the luggage rack).  As it turned out, there was indeed two airlines that could get us there around the same time.  Airfare – check.  Next, hotel.
There were two or three hotels on the island, but only one of them had a five star rating at the time – Le Guanahani.  It was, (and is), a fabulous looking place.  Beautiful suites, beautiful infinity pool and a beautiful private beach.  It looked absolutely perfect.  It should be for about 400 euros per day, (2002 dollars).
Go look at the site – cheapest room today looks to be about 700 per day.
The room I was looking at was a beautiful suite.  Next up, food.  There was no way to know exactly how much food was going to be.  I couldn’t really find anything precise on the web from restaurants and everything was French so I at least knew it wasn’t going to be cheap.  It was though, the place where Jimmy Buffet wrote about having a cheeseburger in paradise.  How much could a French cheeseburger cost?
Lastly, island transportation; yes, they had rental cars.  All told, it looked like this romantic anniversary would cost us over $10,000; not a lot of money for the rich and famous who lived there, but a heck of a lot for us.  This was special though so next I began to do a little more studying.
Yacht-lined Gustavia port

         Yacht-lined Gustavia port

St Barthélemy is a small island, one of the islands in the French West Indies, only 8 square miles in size.  Its capital is a beautiful yacht-filled, small port town named Gustavia.  Bart’s is known for its beautiful white sand beaches, expensive designer shops and wonderful French cuisine.  It looked absolutely perfect.
I decided that for this trip I would be best served by working with a travel agency.  I found one who was very helpful.  Best of all, it was close to my work.  I explained my situation and preferences.  The lady there was helpful and laid out a plan that would get us both there within an hour of each other, a rental car waiting for us at the airport and a beautiful special ocean suite.  The plan would work.  I plotted not to tell Kim – I wanted this to be a big surprise.
Oh, and one more thing – the native language is French.
French?  I don’t speak French.  I speak English pretty ok, most of the time.  I can also get by in Spanish if it’s spoken slowly enough and with simple sentences (especially if there’s a reference to a horse’s head – link).  I had nine months though, maybe I could learn a little bit.  I checked my local library and did not like the set of French learning tapes they had there so next I checked with the P&G library.  They sent me a decent set so I made a copy for myself.
My Ford was, (and is – I still have this one), a 2001 and luckily has a cassette tape deck in it, (no 8-track though).  My plan was to listen to those tapes in my car every private chance I could get; in the drives back and forth from work and any other opportunity I could find.  And so I did…..
I found French to be a little difficult but I also found quite a lot of words that were similar to Spanish words.  I guess that made sense given they were neighbors.
Quick side note – Portugal is the other neighbor to Spain.  About two months after I began working at the P&G plant in Sacramento, I was sitting in my office when I began to hear someone in the office across from mine speaking some sort of beautiful language.  I could understand words here and there; they were Spanish words.  The accent though was definitely French.  What the heck?  I went across the hall and there I saw my coworker, Jean.  I asked her, “was that you I heard speaking?”  She said, “yes, my parents are Portuguese, I’m fluent”.  I had no idea, but what a gorgeous language.
A few months into my automobile French lessons, my wife stumbled onto a cassette in my car.  I always left in the tape I was listening to but normally turned on the radio before turning off my car.  I was ready though in case I was ever asked why I was studying French.
My wife came in one day – “why are you learning French, we’re not going to France.”
Me – “oh, I don’t know.  I like languages and know a little Spanish.  France is similar so I thought I’d like to learn a little.”
She easily swallowed that.  I’m always in a learning mode, always learning something so that was a very easy lie to swallow.  (In fact, I try to turn on my “Tell Me More, Spanish” program each day, at least for a few minutes).
Well the months ticked by.  As we got closer to the departure date, I decided I at least should tell her that I had planned a surprise trip, just in case she were to do the same thing.  A couple of months ahead of the big day, I sprung this information on her.  Naturally she pumped me for more and more, but I did not relinquish the secret.  A month out she asked, “can’t you at least tell me if the place is warm or cold?  I need to know what clothes to bring.  Should I bring a bathing suit?”  My response was rather generic – “I think that would be a good idea, be prepared for anything.  But yes, it will be warm; I’ll at least tell you that.”
Even the landing is an adventure

        Even the landing is an adventure

I researched and printed off lots of information for her to read during her flights.  I also had flyers of the island and hotel, from the travel agency as well as lots of pictures I had downloaded, (painstakingly – remember, these were the days of AOL), from the internet for her.  We had Kim coming in with Delta via St Thomas and I was coming in from Puerto Rico about an hour earlier than Kim.  The island is small, the airport tiny.  Only small planes can land there.  They come in over a small mountain and if they miss the tiny runway, they have to lift back up to avoid taking a big bath.
Three days before the departure date, I got to thinking that I should tell Kim the details, just in case something didn’t go as planned.  So two days before the big date, in the evening, I sprang everything on Kim.  Too late to change things now.  On the big day, we headed down to the Cincinnati airport, (which really isn’t in Cincinnati – heck, it’s not even in Ohio).  We left at approximately the same time on our different airlines.  My flight went without a hitch.  I landed in San Juan, Puerto Rico and then boarded a puddle jumper to the tiny island.  (Puddle Jumper is technical jargon for small airplane).  To my recollection, I arrived around 2:30 Bart’s time and I think Kim was to arrive around 4:00.
Four o’clock arrived, but no Kim yet.  When 4:30 rolled around I got to worrying.  What the heck happened?  And worse, everyone here is speaking French (where’s that wall….oh, wait, I’m the alien).  Ok, let me think – how to ask if there’s another flight?
Please check in next week to find out if Kim made it to Bart’s or if it ended up being a solo vacation.

2 comments on “Cheeseburger in Paradise – Our St Barthélemy Vacation, Part 1

  1. […] my wife and another couple.  We were all celebrating our wedding anniversaries, (as mentioned in this story).  The weather was very cooperative and we all had a great […]

  2. […] grammar – thank you Mr Cayhill).  It began with our wonderful trip to St. Bart’s (link) for our 25th wedding anniversary; the trip meant to break my cheapskate reputation.  We were […]

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