My Post-Irma Trip to St. Martin: Part 8 – Pinel Island Coming Back to Life, Karibuni Rebuilds (Video/Pics)

This post is the eighth in a series of posts I am writing about my first post-Irma trip to Saint Martin. Here is a link to the first (Anticipation)second (Arrival)third (Orient Beach)fourth (Volunteering)fifth (Grand Case including Calmos)sixth (Grand Case including Lolos), and seventh (Grand Case including Piazza & Rainbow) posts in the series. All of them include video I filmed of the island. 

January 3, 2018 – Of all the places I toured and filmed during my seven-day stay on Saint Martin this winter, the one place I was probably the most interested to see was Pinel Island. That’s due mainly to the fact that it’s the one place where I haven’t seen much footage from.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect to see any buildings left standing on Pinel (although something did survive, surprisingly). But, even though I’d seen little footage, I had seen on Facebook that Pinel was open. So I had to investigate. Come to find out, they did open for just a couple days, but are now closed to focus on rebuilding.

I was pretty busy every day I was in Saint Martin. My first chance to go by Pinel was on New Years Day. When I pulled up to the small parking lot in Cul De Sac, there were no cars. A bad sign that the ferry wasn’t running. A girl standing on the dock told me that only employees were on the island, all working to rebuild. I sighed, hopped in my car, and drove away.

On Tuesday, January 2, 2018, I tried my luck again. Once again, an empty parking lot, but this time no one was around for me to ask questions. Dang it!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018, was my last day on the island. I knew if I was going to see Pinel that it had to be today. I immediately sent a note to my lifeline, SXM Angie. She suggested that I contact Karibuni Lodge. Brilliant! I called and, sure enough, Manon Clement answered the phone. Manon is the daughter of the owners of Karibuni, Erick and Marion, and she immediately put me in touch with Erick.

Erick Clement, Owner, Karibuni Restaurant & Lodge

Erick and I made plans to meet at the dock in the parking lot at the end of Cul De Sac. As I pulled up, his wife, Marion, was unloading lunch for the team from Karibuni that was working on the island today. I gave her a hand and we loaded everything onto the small boat that Erick pulled up in.

After Erick and I said ‘hello’, we went on our way. If you’ve ever been to Pinel then you know what a joy it is to be sitting on a boat as you motor your way towards the small little island. There’s something that’s so special about a day spent on Pinel. It’s truly a little piece of paradise just meters off the coast of Saint Martin. An isolated oasis with glorious views of the sea, Orient Bay, and the French side of the island.

As we pulled up, Erick pointed to a small barge that was anchored and being used as a dock. He told me that they must have brought over 100 loads of debris off Pinel Island as they prepared to start to rebuild. The entire structure of Karibuni was completely destroyed. Everything except that little green toilet that sits on the hill just above the restaurant. For some strange reason, toilets fared quite well in the face of Irma. If you haven’t seen yet, you should check out the picture of the toilet that stands behind Pedro’s on Orient Beach.

If you’ve never had the pleasure to meet Erick, he is a very dear, kind man. He was so nice to pick me up and give me a tour of Karibuni. It can be a strange feeling, asking people you’ve never met to tell you about their lives and share their personal experiences and despair with you as you stumble around taking pictures and video of all their hard work. Both Erick and his family, wife Marion and daughter Manon, made me feel right at home. They are genuinely caring people.

As we walked around Karibuni restaurant, you could clearly see all the work that had thus far been completed. They rebuilt everything from the ground up. Well, except for that toilet, of course. They estimate that they’ll open again, on a daily basis, near the end of January 2018 (Editor’s note: They ended up opening again at the end of March).

After shooting some video and taking a few pictures, we sat down for lunch together and an ice cold beer. The crew was happy to take a break. Marion was kind enough to get a sandwich for me too, which was greatly appreciated. As we sat there, chatting and joking around — some of it in French which I admittedly didn’t understand — it was clear that what makes Pinel so special was still very much alive and well. It’s a feeling of calm and relaxation, something that has to be experienced to really understand.

After lunch and some espresso, it was time to head back to Saint Martin. Erick escorted me up to Karibuni Lodge to introduce me to his daughter, Manon, who gave me a quick tour. At the lodge, they are waiting on insurance adjusters before they can rebuild. The only question is whether they will rebuild the entire lodge or repair it. For now, they wait, eager to start working on things. They estimate that the lodge won’t be reopened until the end of 2018, best case, and possibly not until 2019. When they do reopen, I can’t wait to spend some time there!

Here’s the video I shot of Pinel and Karibuni Restaurant. I’m excited to see the finished product, so maybe I’ll have to go back in February. Perhaps we should meet there?

Please help rebuild SXM and consider giving today. Click here to visit the SXM Strong donate page.

Here’s a link to the Karibuni Facebook page and the Karibuni website. Please be sure to visit the Karibuni restaurant on Pinel Island when you visit Saint Martin!!

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Jon Ferlise

I fell in love with the island of Saint Martin the first time I visited to celebrate my 40th birthday in May of 2009. Since then, I've spent most birthdays there, and have visited countless other times getting to know this wonderful place and the friendly locals that make it so special. I adore the culture, the people, the community, and the beauty of this stunning island. SXM Strong is a website that I started to support humanitarian relief efforts following Hurricane Irma. There was no plan, it just evolved as I witnessed the devastation that Irma caused the island and the huge need to communicate and disseminate information about what had happened and how people could help support this island and its people.

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