Getting to St. Barths: Fear, pretzels, laughter and worth every minute and then some

posted on: Saturday, 10 May 2014

I remember years ago someone saying that the healthiest way to progress as a human being was to do one thing everyday of your life that scared you or challenged you. It was the only way to really take life by the reigns and live it to its full capacity. In years' past I’ve attempted to adhere to this idea by doing crazy things such as trying a new ice cream flavor, changing my morning coffee ritual or by wearing a colour I would otherwise hate. In truth, I am a wuss of epic proportions. My daily fight is with the world changing around me. It’s a tough thing to stomach when what you fear most is change itself.

But today I threw a curve ball at life and fear. I looked fear in the eyes and then danced all over it’s grave. Today, I made the trip to St. Barths, formally known as Saint-Barthelemy. I boarded a British Airways flight to Antigua at 10:45 this morning and said goodbye to my trusty Kensington flat to explore worlds unknown to me. Ok, ok, I’m sure at this point you’re saying – “this crazy b*tch thinks it’s scary to go to St. Barths. What does she think she’s going to be stared down by a visiting Victoria’s Secret model?”

The British Airways flight wasn’t the scary part, even though I do have a lingering tingling fear of flying that has been with me for well over a decade. No, the scary part didn’t begin until it was time for our second flight. At 5pm, we boarded an eight seater plane to St. Barths. Imagine a mini Cooper sitting next to a two ton truck and you have an idea of how the British Airways flight compared to this little puddle hopper.

We were taken by mini-van to the plane. For a moment I felt as if I was Cindy Crawford being driven to her private jet. We arrived on the tarmac, the stairs came down and a handsome man volunteered his hand to help me onto the first step. All I needed was a big hat, massive black sunglasses and a maxi dress and I’d have fit right into a scene out of a Robin Leach Rich & Famous segment.  In truth, that was anything but the case. I was shaking like a leaf but doing my best to look professional and composed. I have a hard enough time with jets that carry hundreds of people, how am I supposed to make it through on an eight-seater for 45 minutes?

I sat with the girls on the flight and the pilot swung the stairs up into the plane and locked the door into position. “Should we need to evacuate, just pull this lever and push out to release the stairs,” he said before jumping into the pilot’s seat. Ummm, excuse me Sir, but surely we don’t evacuate ourselves from the plane? Where is the stewardess? Where is the lavatory?

At this point I’m cracking jokes, making light of the situation and asking everyone around me about their experiences on such a plane. Seems only one of us has had such an experience and she loved every minute of it. The rest of us are looking down the barrel of a loaded gun. Then of course there’s the comment: “ I can’t wait to really FEEL turbulence.” Have you ever heard anyone say those words before? I take my hat off to the bravest girl I’ve yet to meet who shared such a fearless combination of words.

The eight-seater puttered down the runway and eased into the air like a perfectly crafted paper airplane.  We were warned that we would have about 15 minutes of turbulence mid-flight but the rest would be smooth sailing. So I sat back and relaxed as a magnificent view of Antigua unfolded below me. THIS was what people meant by being rewarded for being brave. There was such a peace found in looking at the marvels of mother nature. This was at 3,000 feet.

We cruised to a level 12,000 feet over the next 5-7 minutes. I was feeling quite smug having made it this far without as much as a stomach flip at being in such a tiny plane so high in the air. The team at the back then discovered a wicker basket full of everything from protein bars to pretzels and a cooler full of beer and sodas. We passed the treats around and filled our tummies with on-board luxuries. Then the rain came pouring down like bullets from the sky and the plane made its first dip.

This will be the dip that forever changes my flying experience. For just over 100 seconds, the plane swung, dropped and shook. In the beginning we laughed, then there was dead silence and a clutching of seats in front of us. I’m woman enough to admit I nearly lost control of bodily functions. This is not what you want to happen when you’re on a plane with four very glamorous individuals and two handsome pilots. Thank heavens, I held myself together and made it without any embarrassing situations playing through.

As the plane shifted and swerved, I put everything into check. The pilots were totally at ease throughout, joking with each other and occasionally looking back to see the crazy women laughing and sharing honey mustard covered pretzels. They didn’t even flinch when the plane started to dance. In fact, one may say they enjoyed this mid-air tango. And seeing such calm made me realise just how ridiculous I was being. I looked up and said to myself, “this is living life. This is the feeling of being alive. This is doing something that scares you every day.”

And just like that we were down to 1,000 feet and making our descent into St. Barths. Before looking out the window, I wondered what could be worth a journey that reminded me of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. After looking out the window, I told myself I would go through hell and back again to find myself in exactly the position I was sitting at that moment. Paradise unfolded below me in the form of a turquoise sea, easter egg coloured houses and lush terrain. This was my first view of a place I had always heard was paradise. The rumours are true!

The plane landed gently, the pilots thanked us for flying, and just like that we were lead to the arrivals hall. I say “hall” and what I really mean is the one man sitting at a desk waiting for the dozen or so people that will arrive in that hour.

Perhaps the most entertaining moment of the day, besides watching your life flash before your eyes, was the baggage carousel. Five woman, five suitcases and one baggage carousel. The picture says it all.

As we wove our way through the hills of St. Barths, I could feel London slowly melting off my body.  Our handsome French driver cornered the streets like a Formula 1 driver and had us at our destination, Hotel Guanahani & Spa, in no time at all. If first impressions are anything to go by, I’d say you just lost this fashion goose, London.