The Island With 8 Names: Adventures in St. BartsBy Eric Green | Jul 27, 2017
Anyone who travels frequently or has travelled before knows that heading to a new country or destination for the first time can be a little bit daunting in a number of ways. Unfamiliar surroundings, new urban layout, new people, places and things! It can be a lot to handle for some people – that’s the main reason why PVR has such an in-depth and dedicated concierge service as well as on-location representatives: to remove as much of this stress as humanely possible for our guests.
I learned the value of this aspect of guest care first hand during my maiden voyage to St. Barts, after a brief but truly alarming time when I believed that I had somehow wound up getting myself to the wrong island completely! It might sound extreme, but believe me, it would not have been the first time I’d managed to find myself in the wrong place.
On this particular trip I opted to take the ferry ride across to St. Barts from St. Martin as opposed to the eight-minute plane ride. Now, I have nothing against flying, it’s just that I have a soft spot for the sea and have always loved travelling across the water by boat. I embarked from St. Martin and thoroughly enjoyed the trip, standing on the rail and catching the spray off the bow, working on my suntan and basking in the happy snatches of conversation from my fellow guests – English, French, Spanish, etc. Many different languages were represented on that ride and I took comfort in their pleasant and carefree nature that seemed to bridge the language barrier. Surely I was en route to somewhere wonderful!
It was only as our destination grew nearer that I picked out a snippet of conversation that planted a small seed of worry in my mind. I couldn’t tell you the context, but I distinctly heard someone say something that sounded like "Sam BarthelAHme…” and point off towards the island that was rapidly engulfing the entirety of my view off the ship.
Now it’s worth mentioning that my Grade 9 French is, at this point in my life, VERY rusty. Canada is home and, though we’re encouraged to learn French in school to adhere to Canada’s bilingualism, it isn’t, strictly, mandatory and I didn’t, strictly, take French class any longer than I absolutely had to. In all of my preparation for this trip I’d been told I was going to St. Barts. I’d packed for St. Barts. I’d planned for St. Barts. I expected St. Barts. Hearing the island referred to by another name – a name I’d never heard before – scared me witless.
Was I in the right spot? Had I hopped on the wrong ferry in my excitement to get to sea? Did they have democracy in ‘Sam BarthelAHme’ or was it an anarchic society of lawless brigands where I’d have to fight for survival until I could get a working connection on my satellite phone?
These questions and more swirled through my head as we docked and began to disembark. From the sound of the name I thought maybe I’d somehow arrived in Southern Europe or perhaps Central America, though how I’d travelled so far in 40 minutes on a ferry was beyond me. Perhaps some kind of ‘Bermuda Triangle’ phenomena was at work here.
"Enjoy Sam BarthelAHme,” the ferry captain implored me as I hopped ashore!
There it was again! Where in the hell WAS I? More importantly, how much was it going to cost to get to St. Barts – where I was actually needed – and MOST importantly, would that come out of my end?
The feelings of dread and confusion mounted as I wove my way through the line towards the customs official. I was vaguely aware that sometimes St. Barts was spelt St. Barths, with an "H,” but at this point I had become so neurotically nerve wracked that I was unable carry that thought to it’s logical conclusion in my mind.
I was only vaguely aware of my surroundings as I thought on what a mess I’d gotten myself into. Perhaps ‘Sam BarthelAHme’ was a person and I could ask him where I was?
I approached the customs official: a tall, muscular and mustachioed young man wielding his stamp like a hammer, eyes, brimming with hostility, narrowed in suspicion at me. He knew. He knew I didn’t belong.
My mouth was sandpaper as I presented him my passport and answered the usual customs pleasantries…
"Here for business.”
"Five night stay.”
"I’m a writer.”
"No, you won’t know any of my work.”
His eyes, narrow already, narrowed further as he worked them through every single pore, line and contour of my face, and he said something that took my breath away.
"Merci, Monsieur Green, enjoy your time in St. Barts!”
I could have kissed him. He smiled and ushered me through the gates. His eyes, I noticed, were simply narrowed against the sun, not at me. To that point, also, his mustache, it occurred to me, was much more authoritative and pleasantly Magnum, P.I. than cold and indifferent Josef Stalin. He was beautiful. He was my new best friend, to put it frankly.
As I strode through the gate onto the harbor walk, sure enough, there was my local contact and the rental car official waiting for me with papers to sign, my car, a handshake and a smile. I was in the right place after all. All was well and, thanks to the concierge representatives, I was settled into my villa and enjoying the sunshine, sand and sights of St. Barts – you know, "working!” – within the hour. As I would learn over the course of the trip, the island itself can be equally mysterious in its' titular labeling, as you can pass a sign with "St. Bartélemy” on it at one end of the street, only to turn at a sign emblazoned with "St. Barthélemy” – including the ‘H’ – at the other end!
SO, in order to make sure that nobody else has to ensure this momentary fear paralysis, let me put this to bed right now: Saint Barthélemy or Saint Barths, Saint Bartélemy or Saint Barts, Sam BarthelAHme: you’ll hear it called a number of different things but that doesn’t matter. It is the same island. There’s only ONE St. Barts, it just happens to have eight names.