Guest Author - Lea Ann Fessenden-Joseph
I finally made it to St Barth’s last week. I have wanted to explore this island for many many years. Having spent so much time in neighboring St Martin, you would think it would have been an easy ferry ride or fly, but for one reason or another I just simply couldn’t leave St Martin long enough to go to this blissful, and exclusively French island. But I was onboard the MS Westerdam for the Dave Koz Jazz Cruise and we made a day stop in St Barth’s. I was really excited to see what the buzz was all about.
I took an early tender over to the port in Gustavia harbor and it was so early, few shops were open and most St Bart’s were still stretching like cats and drinking their morning latte with a warm croissant. There were clouds signaling a potential rain shower but I was not going to let any of that slow me down. I’m pretty used to the occasional “shower blessing” in the Caribbean. I roamed the streets and shot some photos until doors of stately stores and unique boutiques began opening and traffic started to pick up a little. I really had only five items on my “to do” list: 1. find some nice diving fins for my husband, 2. have a cheeseburger at La Select and 3. buy some nice wine 4. shoot some nice photos of the island and 5. try to interview a few locals.
Well 3 ˝ out of 5 isn’t bad I guess. I went into a Real Estate office to see if I could get an idea of the prices of local land, how building is progressing on the island and receive some general information about local real estate for another magazine. The owner came out and informed me in a very snippy French accent that he simply didn’t have time for me today. I smiled and told him it was no problem if he wasn’t interested in any free publicity and left. I can understand that as I did not have a pre-arranged appointment his calendar was already booked, but he could have perhaps offered an alternative such as a website to go to or an assistant to speak with. Oh well, I moved on.
I wandered in and out of a number of gorgeous boutiques offering top French fashions, French perfumes, lingerie, jewelry and several dive shops. In one trendy fashion store I met an adorable Swedish girl who had just arrived in St Barth’s to work for the upcoming six month holiday. (St Barth’s was owned by Sweden for awhile in the late 1700’s) She was delightful and she steered me to the Ship Chandler on the main road facing the port where I found an extremely helpful lady who assisted me in purchasing a very nice pair of diving fins for my husband who free dives. (Meaning, he does not use a tank and uses a spear gun to hunt fish, octopus, etc.) It was important for him to have very sturdy fins that can take the daily abuse he seems to exert. After studying the prices in other stores, I was concerned they would be uber-expensive, but to my surprise, they were a bargain at about $40.00 US. I think I probably found the only shopping bargain on the island.
St Barth’s is very exclusive and very expensive. If you love and can afford the ultimate in luxury, yachts and celebrity lifestyle – this is the island for you. And the French always take loving care of their environment. Buildings were well painted, flowers in abundance, good parking and signage and that little brushstroke of French elegance that is somehow palatable.
I spent a great deal of time in the local grocery store admiring products. I love the French toiletries, pastries, cheeses, wines and breads. For me it was a delight just to shop and see what they had. I’ve always been drawn to the supermarkets of other countries. They say a lot about the people and culture. I left empty-handed though as I couldn’t make a decision. So many French wines it boggled my mind, how typically Libra of me.
Then I inquired about how to reach La Select. La Select is a tiny little hole in the wall bar that became famous when Jimmy Buffet wrote “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” which appeared on his 1978 album, “Son of a Son of a Sailor. I asked the waitress what the deal was, and she told me Jimmy Buffet was a friend of the owner and wrote the song about eating at La Select. Other online pop culture sites say it was about a burger on Tortola, but I have never heard that until recently. La Select and Jimmy Buffet always were synonymous in my books. Anyway, I took a picture of my $15 lunch of a cheeseburger, fries and a coke. Same thing you could have gotten at Burger King for $5.95 but I guess the history and ambiance cost an extra $10.00. C’est la vie!
So I think it would be fair to say that if you are on a budget, I would steer clear of St Barth’s. If money is not an issue – have a ball on a pretty little unspoiled paradise with all the luxuries of home and probably better restaurants. And if you are just day tripping from a cruise, by all means go ashore and discover this little star of the Caribbean. I know I saw Candy Dulfer, the seductive saxophonist, carrying multiple shopping bags back on to the ship after her spree in St Barth's.