Cartagena – St. Barths – Miami : The Last Leg
The last Margarita in Colombia resplendent with black, spicy salt-laced rim, decorative daisy and whole, dried chilli for the best ever. What a drink!
The way to St. Barths from Cartagena is an adventure in itself. One in which you pray that any of the dominoes will not fall; for if they do, you are up the proverbial creek with no paddle and knocking vainly on the doors of the travel insurance companies.
So, this is how it worked, and because there are no services of any kind to either the Dutch or the French Antilles, these were our dominoes. From Cartagena we flew to Miami; there we put up at an hotel for one night, more-or-less at the end of the runway. The following morning American Airlines flew us to the island of Sint Maarten where we spent another night in the Holland House Beach Hotel a hundred yards from the little ferry terminal for St. Barths whence we wheeled our katunda next day for the 45 minute transfer to Gustavia.
Our friend Laura has the most beautiful home on top of the hill above Colombier, at the north-west corner of the island, with a 360° view. It is a paradise. For a whole, glorious week she introduced us to her special places, the beaches, the restaurants and bars, the shops, markets and even the little Anglican Church where on Tuesday evenings in candlelit quiet (busy nightlife outside notwithstanding), Taizé music takes place; and Friends Penny and Nick H. were there to share. They flew from Guadeloupe into the terrifying little airport at Gustavia – which confirmed us in our ferry decision as it is the ninth most dangerous and difficult airport on the planet!
St Barths, a glance at google will tell you, is what they call a “high end” holiday destination. Absolutely everything on the island has to be shipped in – everything. There is no water here, only run-off, which is carefully collected, and a massive desalination plant, a by-product of the small power station; this makes being here an expensive option and the myriad yachts both of the sailing and motor variety confirm this. Just above the beach at Colombier is the haunted residence of one or other Rockefeller, reputedly deserted now and housing upmarket squatters. The Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich, had his yacht, Eclipse (is it called? He has three of them so I’m not sure which) parked here until recently when he hurriedly moved it as threats of impounding resonated.
The island is immaculate. Beautifully kept. Groomed with beautiful, clean beaches, white sand reflecting through clear, turquoise water.
Our only sadness was the amount of traffic in such a small place but given that it is difficult to get about without transport, we couldn’t see how else to handle the issue. Hopefully there will be some sort of moratorium on the numbers of visitors and residents allowed there.
We felt extremely pampered and spoiled. What a privilege to share even for a moment such a place.
The little ferry, Big B appeared on the dot to whisk us back to Sint Maarten for another night at the Holland House Beach Hotel before flying back to Miami. The cluster of palms on the top left were our last view of Plumbago from the ferry as we bustled past the gigantic, dreaded cruiser, Riviera on our way back to Sint Maarten.
And here one of the dominoes has fallen. Thankfully at the end not the beginning of the line else the knock-on could have been disastrous. Our plane developed some mysterious, mechanical problem and after long delays American Airlines issued us with hotel and food vouchers, unloaded the luggage and taxied us to the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort at the end of the runway for the night. The offending plane was a Boeing 737 Max 8 seen here at the Princess Juliana International Airport.
We know it well! The airport I mean. It is a half completed, extremely noisy echo chamber reverberating with incomprehensible announcements by officials with no microphone technique whatsoever. It was a nightmare.
In all my years of travel this has never happened to me. I once spent an uncomfortable and cold night in a snowed in Geneva airport; there have been flights that were cancelled and we were immediately found alternatives – but not this. Of course you read about these sort of things and I often wonder what they would do if there were no empty hotel rooms to accommodate such a large group of people on the spur of the moment.
30 hours late we finally took off into the night, a day wasted, champing at the bit in Immigration, luggage astray but not lost and the most terrifying experience yet, the Yellow Cab ride to Miami Beach conducted by an affable driver from Mumbai. The ancient Ford Crown Victoria (1992, V8, 4.1 litres) on soft, squeaky springs and shot shocks, vroomed us in bursts well over the speed limit, our driver hunched over the wheel frantically steering and peering past other speedsters while we clung for dear life to our broken straps in breathless expectation of imminent death. I was reminded of Bob Newhart’s Bus Driver Training skit:
“That’s it…….accelerator, brake………accelerator, brake……..you got it…!”
But we did finally get to our hotel, the Albion on the corner of James and Lincoln so the last domino did not fall though the gap narrowed and the stay shortened.
We have never been to Miami before; only passed through it several times on our way to other places; to the home of that mouse, with the grandchildren; to Key West; cruises leave from here of course; and along the panhandle through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana to New Orleans – but never Miami proper.
We thought it was fabulous. We stayed in Miami Beach which has the largest collection of Art-Deco buildings on earth, beautifully restored and saved from the wreckers who nearly swept the whole thing away for a Riviera of high rise hotels and apartment blocks. Much is pedestrianised and all of it pristine. There was a Miami Beach Walking Tour which Tony enjoyed. There are 109 listed Deco buildings in Miami Beach alone; many more than the impressive collections in Tel Aviv, Prague or Napier New Zealand. Interesting that originally they were put up in that style because it was cheap; many were only three storeys high, needing no elevators, obviating extra expense.
Casa Casuarina once the home of Gianni Versace, a Mediterranean Revival building unlike any other on Ocean Drive where Deco dominates.
Built in 1930 by Ronin Wolf for the gay Standard Oil bachelor and heir, Alden Freeman, it is now known simply as Gianni’s and is an extremely expensive restaurant and luxury boutique hotel.
Strict dress code and entrance by appointment. Platinum credit cards only!
We were struck too, by Miami City, also immaculate.
The 30 hour delay on Sint Maarten meant we were left with only two full days and a morning to “do” Miami. Far too short of course; also there were no concerts, ballets or operas on anywhere – wrong time of year, so we shall have to go back one day and investigate properly.
Because of time constraints we thought the good old Hop-on-Hop-off bus would serve us well which it proved to do, on its two hour circuit, giving us an excellent overview and orientation in a sometimes confusing city: starting from Bayside Market Place, running south-north up Miami Beach, turning west across Biscayne Bay to the Design District and Wynwood Walls, then south and east to Little Havana.
The weather was perfect; a cooling breeze to offset the sunshine.
The Pèrez Art Museum was an excellent recommendation from Friend Helen B. who knows and loves the city, the building an artwork on its own, featuring two special exhibitions alongside the permanent collection of modern art, we found fascinating: Leandro Erlich’s Liminal and Yayoi Kusama’s Love is Calling.
“Liminal has been conceived as a sequence of spaces that one might encounter in the course of an ordinary day: elevator, subway, classroom, hair salon, sidewalk, swimming pool, laundry room – even a window through which the neighbour’s windows can be seen. Each space is fabricated to serve as a precise simulation of the place it references so that the encounter with Erlich’s illusion tends to occur as a surprise on the viewer’s part that such an ordinary spot should conceal such extraordinary qualities.”
“Love is Calling is the largest and most immersive and kaleidoscopic of the artist’s Infinity Mirror Rooms. Representing the culmination of her artistic achievements, it exemplifies the breadth of her visual vocabulary – from the signature polka dots and soft sculptures to brilliant colours, the spoken word, and, most importantly, endless reflections and the illusion of space. The darkened, mirrored room is illuminated by inflatable, tentacle-like forms – covered in the artist’s characteristic polka dots- that extend from the floor to the ceiling, gradually changing colours. As visitors walk through the installation, a sound recording of Kusama reciting a love poem in Japanese plays continuously. Written by the artist, the poem’s title translates to Residing in the Castle of Shed Tears. Exploring enduring themes including life and death, the poem poignantly expresses Kusama’s hope to spread a universal message of love through her art.
The Hop-on-Hop-off Bus on The Red Loop.
Along the MacArthur Causeway looking towards the Cruise Terminal. It was from here that I left with my late brother David on our last trip together in 2019.
It is the largest cruise terminal in the world.
There are lots of places to eat. We tried a few including near South Pointe Park Pier, on 1st Street, Joe’s Crab Shack, famous since 1920 when Hungarian-born Joseph and Jennie Weiss opened their first fish restaurant on the front porch of their home there. They’d moved from New York in 1913, cooked and waited tables at Smith’s Bathing Casino across the road from their home – still in the same location to this day though no longer in the Weiss family.
The list of the good, the bad and the ugly that dined there is endless and we were shown the table frequented by Al Capone who also had a home on one of Biscayne Bay’s millionaire islands, which we’d seen earlier from a boat trip we’d enjoyed as part of the Hop-on-Hop-off experience.
Great atmosphere and excellent eating. Crab claws are the signature dish. Nobody knew they were edible until Joe Weiss discovered them in 1913.
Interestingly (and shockingly too) the Weiss family were the first Jews to live in Miami. No Jews were allowed in Florida until 1797. They had a torrid time of it. By 1915 there were only 55 Jews there. They were prohibited to live north of 5th Street in Miami beach, nor could anyone of colour, Hispanic or otherwise. Only in 1949 were these restrictive barriers removed though in reality many of the Art Deco buildings were designed, built and operated by Jews and it was a Jew who launched the campaign that established, restored and preserved the Art Deco District.
They just couldn’t live there.
Tony went on his walking tour on our last morning while I packed up, had a last swim in the hotel pool, a last bask in the warmth before returning to the hypothermic depths of Essex!
But I just have to have one little rant before I let you go to your homework: British Airways flew us home in one of their Airbus 380s taking slightly longer than usual because a rocket was being launched at NASA Cape Kennedy; a comfortable flight, a full complement of 469 crew & passengers (or customers as we are now called). We landed at Heathrow at 6.45am; we whizzed off our double decker giant and zoomed through UK Border Control, the auto-
-mated ePassport Gates working perfectly for once. We both said we thought this incredible efficiency couldn’t last – after all, we were back home in strike-torn, post-Covid, stagflated, understaffed, underpaid Britain!
And so it proved. In baggage reclaim, at carousel number 5 in Terminal 5 we waited for TWO HOURS for our bags to arrive. Not just us! All 469 of us including a few of the flight staff who’s baggage was in the hold.
I kid you not, dear Friends.
BEST WISHES AS ALWAYS, DEAR FRIENDS – PEDRO