A lot of good-to-remember sayings start with the words “when in doubt.” For me, the most important one I learned at sailing school. “When in doubt, let it out.” It refers to situations when the boat might be overpowered, and/or uncomfortable due to too much heel, and usually comes into play when a strong gust hits the boat. When in doubt, let the mainsheet out. Putting myself in the position of managing the mainsheet makes me feel safe and in control.
At Chateau Calypso, Rick and I have another “when in doubt” maxim. “When in doubt, go to the islands!” It seems that when we want to reward or soothe ourselves, we head south.
What to do when winter has us down? Go to the islands.
What to do to prepare for winter? Go to the islands.
Summer weather got us down? Go to the islands.
Find a quarter under the sofa cushion? Go to the islands.
I exaggerate, but only a bit. Once we found our West Indian groove, we just kept wanting it more and more. We hoard our frequent miles and credit card points, and guard vacation days, to get our fixes.
In this past year of milestones, one that has loomed large was our 25th anniversary (we got married in grade school). There was no doubt that we would probably go to the Caribbean to celebrate it, though we wouldn’t be idiotic enough to go in August, our actual anniversary (we stopped traveling during the peak of hurricane season after riding out Hurricane Georges on Tortola in 1998: (Hurricane Georges). So we marked the actual date of our anniversary with a really nice dinner out, but deferred the real reward until our semi-usual November escape.
Of course, it’s not enough to just decide to go to the islands. We had to decide exactly where we’d go, and what we’d do. Naturally, we thought of our “happy places,” among which two possibilities immediately rose to the top of the heap. Reluctantly, we decided against Fernandez Bay Village on Cat Island in the Bahamas, as we’d spent a week on Cat Island during our Bahamian odyssey (Cat Island 2014) and a week the year before (Cat Island 2013). That left Nisbet Plantation on Nevis the winner.
Nevis is Nice! What’s not to love about this beautiful island populated with kind and gentle people?
But getting to Nevis is no easy thing. The closest connection is via Miami to St. Kitts, and then involves shuttles and water taxis. So we break the trip up, and go to St. Martin for a few days before taking a commuter flight to Nevis. This year, going to St. Martin has special resonance, for that’s where we honeymooned 25 years ago.
In an era before the Internet, we chose St. Maarten/St. Martin (SXM for short) for our honeymoon because no one we knew had ever been there. We assumed, wrongly, that it would be a fairly obscure destination that would satisfy the craving for seclusion that we both shared even then. Boy, were we wrong! Time shares (and time share hawkers), cruise ships, crowded beaches, traffic, American chain restaurants – this, even way back in 1989. Based on word-of-mouth, we ventured to Grand Case in search of a special dinner. We drove in, took a look around – and not liking what we saw – turned right back around. Our nascent island sensibilities took in the ramshackle fishing village and did not find it especially promising; scary even.
So unimpressed were we with SXM that it would be 18 years before we returned, and that only because circumstances chose the destination for us – we’d bid on a sailing charter at a charity auction, and SXM was where we’d be sailing from. We ended up in Grand Case with our friends MT and Julie. (SXM 2007) . But then, we fell in love with Grand Case.
I suppose it shows how far we’ve come in a quarter century of marriage and Caribbean travel, because now virtually the only place we spend time on SXM is Grand Case. While the rest of the island is not to my taste, we’ve carved for ourselves a little happy place in the village:
A charming hotel:
Le Petit Hotel is just our style. And you can’t get much closer to the beach.
A beach less traveled:
Baie Grand Case is not totally secluded, but it’s definitely laid back and low key.
Another beach even less traveled nearby:
Happy Bay is aptly named, at least for us.
Great drinking and dining:
A French breakfast to start the day.
From there, the jump to Nevis is easy. After a low-flying and brief flight, giving us stunning views of the neighboring islands, we arrive “home.”
Flying over St. Barth.
Unlike Grand Case, which to us feels like an oasis quite different from the rest of SXM, the boundaries between Nevis’ plantation inns and the island itself are quite porous, and the vibe is uniformly warm and welcoming. At Nisbet, we are greeted by name, but at the same time, the attention is casual and comfortable, not hovering.
We could have easily spent our entire visit at palmy, beachy Nisbet Plantation.
We arrived at Nisbet early in the morning, but our SXM partners-in-crime, MT and Julie arrived late after a series of delays and complications. Maitre d’ Patterson allowed us to order dinner for them, so they wouldn’t miss out. Although we’d issued a sort of breezy and wide open invitation for any of our friends who were interested to join us to celebrate our 25th, it was fitting that MT and Julie were the ones who came, as we’ve been spending their anniversary with them for all but one of the last half dozen years.
Not that we’d be doing anything especially fancy. Just something special for us. Nisbet is known for its iconic “Avenue of Palms,” the allee of palm trees leading from the Great House to the beach.
So iconic, they even have a cocktail named Avenue of Palms.
And guests can arrange to plant a palm tree of their own, complete with a placard commemorating the event, for a special occasion. That was just the ticket for us.
And so, on a beautiful sunny morning, head groundskeeper Andrew Nisbett (yes, his real name) and general manager Alistair, led us in the planting of our very own palm tree.
There was some heavy labor.
Swinging an axe and planting the palm.
Of course, it was necessary to anoint the spot with Mt. Gay rum.
And we placed our personalized placard.
And we posed for lots of pictures.
Luckily, we did have rum, because has there ever been an event in the islands completely without mishap? Nope. Poor Julie stepped on a fire ant nest, and the results were NOT pretty. Luckily, Rick (Doc Rock) was there with the rum to disinfect Julie’s wounds. [Eventually, we did take Julie to visit an island doctor to treat her bites, which further involved wandering from “pharmacy” to “pharmacy” to get prescriptions filled. It was all part of the island adventure, but serves to explain why – though I so love the islands – I could never retire there!]
Only a little worse for the wear after the doctor visit.
As further salve for Julie’s pains, and a balm for all of the hard work, we had our post-planting reception at Sunshine’s, one of the great beach bars in the Caribbean. In the past, we’d all partaken of Sunshine’s signature cocktail, the Killer Bee, and some of us had to have our boneless semi-corpses poured into our cars to be able to leave the scene of the crime. (Not naming names….) This time, we vowed to have no more than 2 of the potent potables apiece, interspersed with lobster lunches and water, and as a result were able to walk away under our own power.
Both a Ravens flag and a Maryland flag hang at Sunshine’s.
Me and Julie on our first Killer Bees. Rick stuck with Carib beer.
Sunshine’s: we’ll be back!
Now that we are responsible for a new life, we will be compelled to return to Nevis to check on our baby palm tree. We trust that the ladies and gentlemen of Nisbet Plantation will take good care of it – name yet TBD – but there is nothing like our own personal attention.
If you visit before we return, please check on our baby palm.
When in doubt….