Guadeloupe
 
  
  "Although the third largest of the 20+ Caribbean islands we will be visiting this trip, it became apparent quite quickly that Guadeloupe was much smaller than we had imagined."   
 

Nov 17

To get to Guadeloupe from Montserrat, we had to first fly back to Antigua and then fly on to Guadeloupe. The pilot from Montserrat to Antigua was a Canadian ‘girl’ ... we guessed her nationality as soon as she climbed into the little 9 passenger plane with her plastic Tim Horton’s travel mug. "Miss my Tim Horton’s coffee," Stacey said, "maybe they will send me some if they see this picture."

We landed in Guadeloupe just as most Guadeloupians were starting another work week. Next door to the airport’s terminal another modern building hosts a row of rental car agencies making it easy to compare one with another. It wasn’t long before we were putting our backpacks into a stylish and compact Nissan Micra and heading out onto Guadeloupe’s highways. They drive on the right in Guadeloupe (which made it like home for us) and our smattering of French made signage reading easier as we headed towards Basse-Terre.

Guadeloupe is shaped like a butterfly in flight. One wing is called Grand-Terre (meaning big land) and the other Basse-Terre (meaning low or flat land). Oddly enough, Grand-Terre is the smaller ‘wing’ and is flatter than the mountainous Basse-Terre ... names are opposite to their terrain. Their names reflect the effects of trade winds ... the winds being stronger over the flat lands of Grand-Terre and slowed by the mountains on the western Basse-Terre ... not that you really needed to know.

Around Guadeloupe’s largest municipality, Pointe-à-Pitre (pop 21,000), there are some freeways; otherwise the highways are two-lane and in excellent condition. The main roads covering Basse-Terre map out like a 'squared 8'. Our accommodations were on the other side of the ‘wing’ so we drove across the middle of the ‘8' on Route de la Traversée stopping twice along the way.

Our first stop was at Cascade aux Ecrevissses ... a wheelchair friendly flagstone path leads to a charming little waterfall and pool before it joins a river. Across the road from the parking lot we saw families enjoying a picnic site with covered tables.
 
Not far down the road, we stopped at Maison de la Forét (House in the Forest) ... there are a number of loop trails of varying distances. We took one of the shorter ones and followed a path, wide at some points, root walking and narrow at others, through the lush green jungle of trees including the above ground wall-style rooted acomat-boucan, palms, ferns, hanging vines, broad leaf bushes and exotic (to us) flowers. Broad leaves dripped from an earlier rainfall and the trail was slick in parts. At one point the trail crossed a picturesque swing bridge over the Bas-David river. It was a wonderful walk.

Although the third largest of the 20+ Caribbean islands we will be visiting this trip, it became apparent quite quickly that Guadeloupe was much smaller than we had imagined.

We reached the west coast quite quickly and turned north a short distance to Kaz la Traversée ... and their eco huts. Irwin greeted us. With his limited English and our even more limited French we managed fine. He pointed to a hanging bunch of bananas, some green, some yellow. "For you" he said.  He showed us the communal kitchen and indicated which shelf in one of the two fridges would be ours. Next to the kitchen the communal bathroom and the two shower rooms ... one used mostly by men ... one used mostly by women ... but he said with raised eyebrows, a slight smile and his head rocking back and forth, "Men, women, no problem;" ... so European.

He led us along raised wooden walkways and narrow stone paths to the individual multi-coloured huts ... each set slightly apart from the others.
Our cottage was lime green, purple-blue and brown. The porch held a table, two chairs, cupboards with dishes and a propane hot plate. Inside the double bed was wrapped in mosquito netting, there were corner shelves and electrical plugs. Simple, charming and fun. We didn’t waste time settling in before returning to Irwin and asking where he would recommend us having dinner. He looked at his watch, it wasn’t quite 18:30. "Early," he said surprised at the idea of eating before sunset ... so European.

"We have not eaten," we tried to justify. 

He mentioned the grocery stores in Pointe Noire, about 3 km north, and a restaurant on a nearby beach ... "but it might not be open at this early hour."

Just as we were getting into the car, Irwin approached with two coconuts. The green outer husk had been cut down, the bottom made level so it would sit flat and the top taken off in such a way there was a small hole into the centre through which he had inserted a straw. We thanked him and sipped. The ‘milk’ inside was clear, cool, refreshing and eased our hunger pangs.

Pointe Noire was busy with students leaving school in their uniforms of jeans and white short-sleeved shirts. We picked up a few items from a grocery store plus a baguette and croissants from a boulangerie (bakery).

 

At the beach, Irwin told us about, we found Restaurant le Reflet.
Plastic tables and chairs filled the small patio while the wooden ones inside were set with plaid table cloths and linen napkins tucked into wineglasses. A television was on at the back, just past the small bar, and the lady watching showed her surprise at our arrival. She showed us the menu, we selected salads and a table outside. She came out and set the plastic table with a plaid tablecloth and wine glasses. The salad was different then we had expected ... no lettuce ... but piles of different vegetables around a mound of rice ... really very good.

Nov 18

We groomed in the company of a tree frog and watched hummingbirds drink from the delicate flowers of ‘pink powderpuff’ shrubs while we sat on our porch enjoying a breakfast of French pastries, baguette and fresh picked bananas. The bananas were oh so flavourful and sweet ... Ted shared some with satin-black birds.

 

We drove south down the coast past Pigeon Island to Anse la Barque with it’s lighthouse. A lighthouse station has marked this point since 1886.

Pigeon Island, Guadeloupe  
A mere 6 km south of the lighthouse we arrived in Basse-Terre (yes, same name as the island’s butterfly wing).  
 

It is not Guadeloupe’s largest city, that distinction goes to Pointe-à -Pitre but it quietly serves as it’s capital and administrative centre. A wide modern road marks the busy seaport, while inland only a block the roads are narrow ... made narrower by the bumper to bumper parking on either side of the one-way streets. We found a spot and tucked our little car in amongst the rest and began an urban stroll. The old town square is anchored by the colonial style yellow Town Hall. Stores played Christmas music and windows displayed cotton-batten snow-scenes and plastic Santas clad in fur-lined red plastic suits among silk spring flowers and fans to cool one from the heat. We giggled and sighed with relief upon entering air-conditioned shops.

 
We circled around the south end of Guadeloupe’s left butterfly wing.
Once dependent on sugarcane as it’s main export crop, Guadeloupe’s economy is now based on a wider range of agricultural products with bananas providing 50% of export earnings. Blue bags hung from banana trees. The blue bags protect bananas against wind and certain types of insects. The bags can be washed and reused up to three times before they are sold to a recycling plant.
When we got up to where the wings join, we made a left and once more drove the Route de la Traversée back to the west coast and north to Pointe Noire to pick up some items for dinner.

The sun was setting, a man was fishing with only a spool of line and the palm trees were silhouetted against the golden glowing sky.

The air still held its warmth and we ‘dined’ (minus the beverage which had been pilfered from our meagre fridge supplies) in the glow of the porch light.

A little tree frog, not any bigger than 2.5 cm in length was a smart little chap. He knew that where there was a night light, there would be bugs. He climbed up the wall (tree frogs have disc at the ends of their long fingers and toes) to near the light and we watched in fascination as he dined on unsuspecting insects. He needed a name and we chose Fredrique Da Frog ... Fred D. to his friends.

 
 

Nov 19

Irwin kindly cracked open the coconuts he gave us on our first day so that we might eat the coconut meat inside. Saying goodbye to the little gecko who always stood guard atop the garbage can lid, we packed up the car and headed north along the coastline stopping in the village of Deshaies.

In and along the water's edge, fishermen were wading ashore from their anchored motorboats, lugging in their morning catch; a man worked on a outboard motor; children played in the surf and a woman braided her granddaughter's hair.

An iridescent black frigate bird flew overhead looking for the opportunity to snatch up a meal beside the ruins of a luxury cruiser slammed into a beachside home thanks to the might of hurricane Omar. These amazing birds, having wing spans reaching 2.3 metres, can stay aloft for more than a week. They don’t swim; they don’t walk; can’t take off from a flat surface; they only land to roost or breed on cliffs or in trees.

Shops lined the slim main road of Deshaies. A man cut slabs from a kingfish on the tailgate of his pickup truck while his son sat on the cooler and a grocer from the fruit and vegetable stand across the street scrutinized his work.
We rounded the northern tip of Basse-Terre and turned south through dense rainforests, sugarcane fields and Ste-Rose to Domaine de Severin rum distillery.

Domaine de Severin is a creole property where generations have lived and carried on the tradition of rum making.

We purchased an English tour map from French-only speaking clerks and followed the yellow painted footsteps around the property starting with the drive-on weigh scales.

The sugarcane was weighed before preceding into the mill. The old balance scales have been replaced with new technology.

The water wheel is the last one working on the island.

The sugarcane, still hand cut and fed into the chopper is crushed and the juice, called ‘vesou’ is filtered and poured into fermentation tanks where it stays for 48 hours until it becomes wine called ‘la grappe’. In the distillation column, the wine is poured in at the top of the tower where it meets the steam from the generator. The rising steam removes the alcohol from the wine, it then passes through refrigerated coils of pipe, condenses and becomes rum. This rum is mixed with pure water and most of it sold.

Some of the rum will be put into oak barrels to age. These barrels are placed in a cool cave for four years and slowly the tannin from the oak barrel blends with the rum producing a richer flavour and deep colour.

The yellow footprints led us through tropical gardens, passed the modern portion of the distillery, to a colonial house built in the 1940s by Henri Marolle for his family of eight children. Today the home is a holiday rental property with two apartments and 3 rooms [www.habitation-severin.com / tel 0590 235 066].
 
  Little cabins on rock feet are indicative of the ones which once housed workers. Today one displays some of the utensils which may have been available to them. Some luxury items (ie: typewriter and sewing machine) seem more in keeping with an employer’s mansion than a worker's cabin. One of the walls is papered with a tapestry of newspaper and magazine clippings.  

We hopped onto the freeway and joined the bottle-necked traffic making it’s way across the ‘butterfly’s belly’ from Basse-Terre to Grande-Terre.

Once north of the airport, the traffic thinned out again. The roads continued to be in excellent black-topped condition even after we left the main highway and headed north through Petit Canal.      
 This quiet village was once called ‘Manchineel’ ... the same as the poisonous tree with the green and black ‘apples’. Only its former windmills and bits of sugar-train rails give clues to its history as an important sugar centre up until the end of the 19th century. The water’s edge along the canal is dense with mangrove trees.
  
 
   

When we reached Pointe de la Grande Vigie, the northernmost point of Guadeloupe, a sign said in large lettering "Death Risk" in English ... the rest was in French. Woe to those who don’t speak the language of the island.

We continued out as far as the trail took us, an easy walk for those who can manage stepping up and over rocks.

 
 
 

The scenery was impressive from the top of limestone cliffs which rise to 84 metres above sea level and the scalloped edged coastline beckoned us on over the dry vegetation plateau and from another viewpoint, we looked down upon Porte d’ Enfer (Gate of Hell).

 
Despite it’s name, Porte d’ Enfer has a lovely shallow bay. Legend tells of a beautiful and very vain woman named Madame Coco who made a pact with the devil. The devil was to give her a number of beautiful toilets ... she would be the envy of many. The devil kept his end of the bargain but apparently Madame Coco did not. She was daintily wading in the waters of this bay holding a fashionable parasol to shade her lovely face when a rogue wave crashed into the bay and swept her out to sea ... parasol and all ... never to be seen again.
 Swimming in the bay is safe and we saw many taking refreshing dips, some snorkelling and one man up to his chest in water tossing out a fishing net. There were some swimmers with float-boards out closer to the mouth of the bay; such ventures are not advised since only a low crop of limestone protects the bay from the pounding surf and strong currents of the open Atlantic ... as Madame Coco could attest (the bay around the corner is named in her honour).  
   
 
    

Shadows were lengthening as we made our way down to Ste Francois to our accommodations at the Golf Marine Hotel ... a simple hotel situated between a golf course and marina. We just wanted a comfortable place to sleep and it provided that.

 

   

   

Nov 20

After a rather forgettable continental breakfast, we drove west along the coast towards Pointe-à -Pitre. The closer we got to Guadeloupe’s main point of entry ... the more office-white tourists we saw searching for just the right gewgaw at souvenir stands.

We returned the rental car to the airport and took a taxi into the centre of town near the Marche de la Darse (an outdoor market), Place de la Victorie (a large tree lined square), the quay and our accommodations at Hotel Saint John Perse.

Very little English is spoken at Hotel St John Perse and reservations had been difficult to secure. The room was small but functional with a common balcony overlooking the water. There are better valued accommodations further to the south-east in Gosier. This choice of hotel was made strictly for its location within easy walking distance of the ferry terminal for tomorrow’s early morning departure ... that’s what we thought.

We wanted to purchase our ferry tickets ahead of departure and walking to the terminal would also give us a better idea of what time we should leave the hotel in the morning. It was only 3, maybe 4 blocks away.

We went to where we thought we were meant to go. Workmen were taking a break from painting big squares on a wide pedestrian crosswalk which would, when finished be a red and white checkerboard. We dodged the wet paint to get to the gates, which were locked, and peered through the white bars wondering how to get from where we were to what looked like a ferry terminal building. Confused we backtracked and went through a small open gate. Wrong. So we again came by the checkerboard crosswalk and continued on in through another gate. There was a big, virtually empty, parking lot and a locked building. Was this a practical joke? A game of ‘Hide the Terminal’? Even a store window manikin appeared to be laughing at us.

We held up our hands and stopped the only moving vehicle.
 

We listened carefully as the lady driver gave directions, in a combination of English and French, to the ‘new’ ferry terminal some distance away and when she realized we were on foot, she said, "I will drive you there." She drove further down the road and then into another wide expanse of parking lot to yet another terminal. We thanked her for her friendly hospitality.

Terry purchased our passage at the ticket booth and the woman warned us to be in line at least one hour before sailing. "You line up with your luggage at the farthest point down there," she pointed to her right, "and then line up in the next line to get on board." We were sure we would understand better tomorrow morning. "Remember," she stressed, "be here, at least, one hour ahead of time."

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around central Pointe-à-Pitre; strolling through a market set up in a parking lot where one could buy pots and pans from the back of a van or vegetables and fruit from a stand; and the Marche de la Darse, another market under cover on the edge of the bay with a fish market at dockside where once Guadeloupe’s first petrol pump was installed.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Crowds once gathered in the centre square, Place de la Victorie, to watch a guillotine at work. It adopted its current name (Place of Victory) in 1794 to celebrate the revolution and the end of slavery. Today the square, cooled by shade trees and palms, holds a children’s play centre, a bandstand built in the 1930, park benches and picnic spots. It is framed by buildings both old and new; the Tourist Information office, shops and fast food restaurants including McDonald’s.

   

For dinner we selected Bella’s at the top of the square ... it was one of the few restaurants open and the only one serving Creole food. The wait staff helped us select local dishes.

 

Nov 21

As directed we were at the ferry terminal early and joined the growing crowd lining up with luggage. In hindsight, we could have taken our two small backpacks as carry-on, but our line-up-wait was filled with fascinating people watching.

   

It was difficult to determine who were the passengers and who was only there to put their names to packages and then leave. There were mounds of taped boxes and burlap bags bulging with round fruit and, just as fast as packages and bags were checked in as luggage, more kept coming out of vans and piled beside people standing in front of us. Each tried to stretch the system and rules of eligibility ... the check-in clerk seemed to take all protests in stride. The line moved at a snails pace and as the crowd built up behind us we were grateful for yesterday’s ticket agent’s warning.

Eventually we boarded the ‘Silver Express’ catamaran and were on our way to Dominica.

 

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