When the trip was planned, I had no idea that the Saints would even make the playoffs, much less host a home game. But airfares were paid and reservations were made so the trip, in January 2007, went on.
My strategy was that once we arrived at the Guanahani Resort on the French Caribbean Island of St. Barth, I would make a dash to the bar where there would certainly be a widescreen TV showing the game. Now I don’t usually approve of televisions in bars, especially at resorts. Unfortunately, the Guanahani bar would’ve met my approval on every night – except this one. Not only was there no TV but no inkling that the French-speaking bartender and patrons were even aware of the game. The truth hurt: There were people on this continent who didn’t know that the Saints were playing the Eagles in a playoff game.
That realization was a disappointment but by that time I was just grateful to be on land. Only an hour earlier I had experienced what remains my all-time worst travel experience.
It all began when the American Airlines jet descended on the neighboring island of St. Martin, the home of the international airport. There were storm clouds all around the plane as it glided toward land. Once in the airport we learned that the shuttle flight to St. Barth on an island-hopping plane service called Caribe Air had been cancelled. Ours was to be the last flight of the day – our trip was beginning by being stranded on the wrong island without reservations.
Someone mentioned that there would be a night ferry leaving to St. Barth from the town of Marigot. We hurried and took an expensive, half-hour taxi ride to the Marigot port. The ferry tickets weren’t cheap either, about $80 a piece, and I had already taken a loss from the Caribe Air fare that I wasn’t sure if I would ever get back.
There was nothing fancy about the ferry; it looked like a workboat with a passenger area. The seating was on large plastic cubes. A bar was the only amenity. It was depicted in a brochure showing happy passengers sipping rum drinks while a native bartender smiled broadly. I promised myself to be like those passengers once the crossing started.
I was seated facing the stern in such a way that I could see the island of St. Martin fade away as the ship moved toward the sea. Once the ship passed the breakwater, however, a strange thing happened to the St. Martin coastline; it started moving up and down. The foul weather that had caused the Caribe Air flight to be cancelled was now angering the Caribbean. For more than an hour during this night, made even darker by a canopy of black clouds, the ferry would buck, shake, pitch, jump, dive, guffaw (not really), wobble and weave.
There was no assuring voice form the pilothouse telling us that we were experiencing a few minutes of turbulence and that things would be better soon, nor were there life jackets in view. The bartender did manage to stagger across the deck making deliveries to the passengers. It wasn’t drinks he was giving out but barf bags. For the rest of the trip my fellow cruisers would be leaning over coughing into the bags while the boat bounced over the waves. This, I thought while listening to the wretched symphony of those around me, is the worst travel experience of my life.
Once we neared the St. Barth town of Gustav, its harbor calmed the sea and our agony lessened. We were a shaken bunch. A van ride down a bumpy road to the Guanahani was smooth by comparison – but now there was the Saints issue to contend with.
With the bar having failed us we went back to our cottage where there was a fancy satellite TV that I couldn’t work. A French speaking staff member came, pushed a few buttons and couldn’t understand our excitement when the first station to appear was one from Philadelphia about to the show the Saints game.
We opened the cottage porch doors to discover the now clear Caribbean sky with more stars than I had ever seen. From room service came cheeseburgers and beers. The night that had begun so terribly ended so happily – the Saints won. If they could beat the Chicago Bears the next week they would go to the Super Bowl.
Outside, a rushing patch of clouds was starting to darken the sky again. Weather changes quickly in the Caribbean – and so too do experiences.