There’s no nice way to say this. It’s a bitch of a journey. I went into training on 1st September, three months to get well enough to survive LHR-CDG-SXM. And still it takes its toll, in so many different ways.
Last time: three hours at LHR T2 with no shopping, no breakfast, no coffee even and Salman Rushdie on our plane, remember? I do. All too painfully. It took me three years to be able to face it again.
On Thursday morning I got up at two a.m., collected my travelling companion at three and arrived at Heathrow at four for our flight to St Martin via Paris with Air France. This time I mastered online check-in and also found a Meet & Greet Parking which opened at 4 a.m. AND booked business class tickets, all of which contributed to our being first to check into the ghost town which was T4, altogether a much nicer experience.
It was all going to plan. We were locked and loaded and ready to go. But then we sat on the tarmac until 50 minutes past scheduled take-off. The businessman next to me lost it. I dont blame him. He was going to Paris for an 8.30 business meeting and he got up early enough to catch the 6.40 flight, as did we. Only it didnt take off until nearly an hour later, by which time he had missed his meeting. He asked for a feedback form and started to attack it with some vigour.
I stressed about making our connection. We were scheduled to arrive in Paris at 9 a.m. local time for our 10.30 flight. We knew we had to change terminals because we did this precise journey three years ago, almost to the day. As we went to land in Paris, there was a light aircraft running out of fuel and so up we went into the sky again at a dramatic angle and then burned another 30 minutes waiting for a slot to land. Tap, tap, tap.
By now we were very late for our connection, the only onward daily flight to St Martin, and I was envisaging being checked into a hotel as guests of Air France for 24 hours. No what I had in mind. Since we were in row C I was first off the plane and the chief flight attendant showed me a printout of all those affected and there were no fewer than 14 of us on our flight going to SXM and many others besides trying to go to India et al.
He told me that ground crew would be waiting to fast-track us across Charles de Gaulle airport. I enjoyed a small flicker of suspicion that all could be OK after all, although keeping the other 13 stress-free about whether or not their luggage would make the connection was a tall order still, despite a sort of Dunkirk-spirit camaraderie and laughter which developed within our posse.
But Air France came up trumps and we began to relax – us, the older couple and the Geordie. All my tapping had come in handy. But its not over yet, as go hurtling round the Charles de Gaulle in a rackety bus collecting stragglers for Terminal C. Terminal, its not a good word to be associated with international jet travel, is it?
Our first plane had been kept waiting for 5 late passengers and we sighed with frustration. Now we had a whole Airbus waiting for the Lost Fourteen but they seemed relatively chilled when we rushed in and took our seats. Our flight had been re-scheduled for 11 a.m. takeoff and I dont remember much of the rest of it.
It passed in a blur of complimentary champagne and white wine, a four course lunch or foie gras, shrimp, cheese and chocolate pud, served on real plates with glasses, cutlery, napkins and tablecloths (!), two films (Up and The Soloist), horizontal sleeps, jokes and jollity and me announcing I was “drunk” after only three small glasses.
Before we knew it, we were commencing our landing at Princess Juliana Airport at St Martin, on the Dutch side. We saw our island from above, I know her shape inside out, and we could even see where we would be staying. You land right on the sand (do Google landing at SXM for a bit of fun, terrifying fun) and voila! Here we are! It so warm, its like outisde has the central heating on.
Bob, the eponymous hero of Bob’s villas, met us and took us to the car hire place and soon I was driving a left-hand drive Tuscon back to my new home for the rest of the month, Anchorage at Pointe Venezia. Bob had to rush off, apparently he is also an entertainer doing Elton John, Willy Nelson etc in local bars on demand, glittery shirts, that sort of thing.
As we unloaded and showered and turned our act around and went out immediately again in the hire car to scavenge for essentials, I realised why people go back to the same place they like over and over again. It isnt something I have done much in my life if at all, but its SO relaxing to know where everything is, know where each road goes to, to be able to drive the island without a map.
Sure, there are still some undiscovered corners. We are, for example, going to need to find out how to actually get onto Simpson Beach, the best and longest and one of the quietest on the island, and ideally how to get onto it at a spot where there are some beach chairs available.
And we havent yet found Ivan of Where’s Ivan, our favourite ice-cream shop, which appears to have changed hands. But we are on it.
We drove straight to Top Carrot, our favourite juice bar, for a Big C (me) and an Awakening (N) and a cappuccino muffin. If was one of those “oh, I don’t want muffin at 4 p.m.” moments, until N let me have a bit of hers and then we had to share it. As you will see, over the coming days, I often don’t know my own mind!
Next to the Pizza Galley for an early supper at 6 p.m. (don’t forget we were, by now, 20 hours into our day) and we knew the menu off by heart – Caesar Salad to start and a thin and crispy home-made pizza to share, a quick stop for some more drinks before I unpacked my entire month’s worth of stuff and worked out how the WiFi worked before knocking off 46 emails from Thursday and passing out.
I was content to be back in my Caribbean home. I was content the WiFi worked easily (last time I had to throw myself on the mercy of some lads down the road who have a computer shop). I was content with our view of Simpson Lagoon. I was content we had made the right choice for December 2009.
But where’s Ivan?
Suntan report Day 1: Non existent.