Stormy Weather

I have a terrible reputation for bad travel weather.  I’ve had so many weather-related trip insurance claims that I’m amazed I can still get coverage.  Hurricanes, blizzards — even volcanic eruptions — have cancelled, delayed or extended my trips.  People jokingly ask whether I’m traveling in places that hurricanes are about to strike, or ask me not to travel to the same places they are headed.

So when Hurricane Gonzalo passed close to Nevis, and then struck St. Martin, on its way to Bermuda a few weeks ago, I was hardly surprised.  St. Martin and Nevis were, after all, my destinations for the first week of November.  I’m used to making alternate plans on the fly. In fact, our first trip to Nevis was planned on a day’s notice when a planned trip to Long Island in the Bahamas was cancelled due to an arriving hurricane.  (See that report here: http://islandtime.homestead.com/Nevis2008.html)

We want to be sensitive to whatever difficulties those directly affected by the storm are facing, but at the same time appreciate that they want visitors to come as soon as possible, since tourism is their principal source of income.  By the time we flew to St. Martin for the first part of our trip, they were mostly ready and open for business after the storm.

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The view of Baie Grand Case from our hotel.

We were staying in Grand Case, on the French side of the island, which was hardest hit.  We made a circumnavigation of the island, and from what we say, most of the damage was cleaned up.  But there was still evidence of work to be done.  In both Simpson Bay and Marigot harbor, there were many severely damaged boats; they had borne the brunt of the storm’s fury.  Then there were these two beauties on Grand Case’s beach:

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Most people seemed pretty nonchalant about the boats, walking past them with only mild curiosity.  But if you’re a boat person like me, it pains you to see them.

We stayed at Le Petit Hotel, a tiny property at the southwest end of the beach.  Whatever damage they may have suffered was largely gone.  Mostly, there remained some sand-blasted exterior paint which you might notice if you were looking for it.

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You have to be looking for evidence of damage to Le Petit Hotel; no doubt, they will clean it up in short order.

One of my favorite spots on Grand Case beach is Calmos Café.  When you are on the French side of St. Martin, you are technically in France — the same way you are in the United States when visiting Hawaii.  The currency is the Euro, the French tricolor flies, and the language is French.  But it is French with a Caribbean accent.  And Calmos Café is perfect example of that blend.  Most patrons speak French, the servers are French, and the menu is French-inflected.

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The French flag over Ft. Louis in Marigot.

But the water that laps up is that of the Caribbean sea.   The sun sets over a lush volcanic headland.  My favorite cocktail there is ti punch, a blend of rhum agricole (a particular type of rum distilled in the French Caribbean), simple syrup and lime.  And what could be more Caribbean than being struck by an October hurricane?  Calmos was hit hard, and opened mere days before our arrival.   Though about half of the beach’s depth had eroded, the show went on.

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Rick, at Calmos Café.

Nevis, compared to St. Martin, merely had some rain and wind, with no major impacts from Hurricane Gonzalo.  So when we flew there for the second part of trip, we thought we’d be safe.  And in large part, we were, as sunny breezy day followed sunny breezy day.

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On a normal day, Mt. Nevis is shrouded in clouds, but the sky is blue.

Until Friday night, that is.  Then it started to rain.  Rain-forest-style downpours.  Accompanied by lightning and thunder the likes of which the residents said they’d never experienced before (and which jolted me from my sleep with a yelp).  Six or seven inches of rain in all.  And heavy winds.  The nature of the volcanic soil on the island is such that it drains quickly rather than being absorbed, so it flowed downhill.  And collected at the edge of the sea.

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Above left, the Nisbet Plantation beach front before the rains.  And then after the downpours.

The Nisbet Plantation staff took it in apparent stride, moving breakfast from the beachfront to the Great House.  The guests felt like we were all in it together, donning rain gear, waterproof shoes, and trash bags, and sporting the umbrellas so kindly supplied in our rooms.  By the next morning, some of the water had drained, so at least we had a path to the beach that didn’t involve wading.

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On Sunday morning, we could walk to the beach front, but the staff had to dig some trenches to help with drainage.

But the ghut running alongside the property, which had been nearly dry before, was still flowing in a rushing torrent.

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Deep water rushing through the ghut.

And the stream, which previously hadn’t cut through to the sea, now had done so, and had created a new sandbar.

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The stream, before it broke through to the sea (left), and after.

But when we left on Sunday, the sun had returned, reminding us of why we keep coming back.

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