Wednesday, May 22, 2013

La Belle Guadeloupe

Monday, May 6 - Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ahhh, Guadeloupe...what a lovely jewel of an island. Okay, so Guadeloupe is actually two distinct islands, shaped like the wings of a butterfly and separated by a narrow river between them. The western island, Basse Terre, is filled with spectacular rain forests, waterfalls, a gas-spewing volcano, and plenty of hiking opportunities. Grande Terre, the smaller of the two, is better known for its white sand beaches, rolling hills, and sugar cane fields. And the fact that the mountainous island is called "low land" and the flat one is called "large land"? Well, we'll just assume that had something to do with the French wine and local "rhum". :-)

As luck would have it, we arrived in Deshaies, Basse Terre's northernmost port of entry, in the middle of a downpour. (Why is it that whenever it rains, it happens when Rene is either dropping or raising the anchor? Poor guy!) We'd left Montserrat at 6:30am for the 38-mile passage to Guadeloupe. Winds were below 5 knots, and the sea was a giant oil slick. We had clear blue skies, other than the cluster of clouds that always seem to hover over the mountain peaks in this part of the world. Montserrat was no exception; we couldn't distinguish the rumored gas plumes from everyday clouds around Soufriere's peak as we passed along its eastern shore.
Regardless, there was no mistaking the volcano's active past; we could easily trace the ash flows along the hillside, along with the remnants of homes and businesses that had been destroyed by eruptions in 1995 and 2008. Even now, there remains a 2-mile maritime exclusion zone around the southern half of the island, and the only safe anchorage is at the north-western corner of the island. Still, we've been told that Montserrat's northern half is well worth a tour.

But back to Guadeloupe... One reason we were in such a hurry to get here was that we had a number of buddy boats we were anxious to see. We anchored next to Barbara and Gary on Pa'la O'la, who we hadn't seen since early in our stay in St.Martin. Two hours later, Anne Bonny did a fly-by as they arrived in the anchorage. We hadn't expected to see Chris, Denise, and Christian for a few days, and were thrilled about the early reunion.
We spent the next morning checking in (all online - got to love French customs & immigration) before wandering through town. Deshaies' claim to fame are its botanical gardens, which are said to be some of the most beautiful in the Caribbean. It was on our list of to-do's, but first we had one more "road trip" to make: John & Jolanda on JoHo were on the north side of Guadeloupe and would be leaving in a few days. We wanted to get up there to see them before we had to say goodbye again.

We, along with Anne Bonny, left Deshaies Wednesday morning for the 20-mile trip to Baie Mahault. The first half of the trip took us along Guadeloupe's lush coastline, while the second half led us into a protected bay surrounded by mangroves. We could see green pastureland above the shores of Grande Terre, giving us a glimpse of Guadeloupe's split personality. We were soon anchored next to JoHo; other than a couple of permanently-moored local boats, we had the bay to ourselves. Heaven! The first order of business? A celebratory beer on Anne Bonny. The second? Rental cars!
We'd expected to spend a couple of quiet days in the bay exploring the town and its river, but JoHo thought a tour of the island might be in order. What a perfect idea! Since Thursday was a holiday on the island, we focused our attention on the always-open national park.
We drove along Basse Terre's east coast and into the island's interior, where we hiked up to the second falls of the 350-foot Carbet Waterfalls.
Being in the heart of the island's rain forest, we enjoyed massive ferns, elephant ears, birds of paradise, and a thousand other tropical plants and flowers. After the hike to the falls, we followed a separate trail to the "cistern", which we thought would be one of the swimming ponds we'd read about. The 45-minute "medium" trail started out well, but a possible wrong turn (which is still up for debate!) soon had us grasping for tree roots and branches as we made our way up a 60-degree incline.
45 minutes later and still no sign of a cistern (but plenty of harsher terraine), John and Rene finally made the call to turn back. We were disappointed not to be lounging in a pool cooled by a falling waterfall just like in the travel brochures, but we had more exploring to do.
Back in the cars, we rounded the south coast going through Trois-Riviers ("three rivers") and Vieux-Fort (literally "old fort"), stopping long enough to guessed it...the old fort. From there, it was lunch at a roadside family spot followed by more twisting roads up to Bains Jaunes ("yellow pools"?). On the plus side, this gave us our much-needed chance to cool off in a natural pool. The drawback? A sign warning of the possible presence of fatal ear- and nose-entering parasites if we put our heads under water. Oh, well...with only 100 cases per year worldwide, we took our chances and stayed in the pool...neck-deep!

The next day, we unanimously voted to have a lazy beach day. (Having been to Guadeloupe before, John and Jolanda knew how tired we'd be from the hikes and planned accordingly.) We crossed the river into Grande Terre and made our way through the capital city of Pointe-a-Pitre to Le Gosier on the south coast. We enjoyed gorgeous views to the water below, but even the stairs to the observation decks had our thighs and calves throbbing after the previous day's hike. (Note to self: you've got some work to do before you try those hashes in Grenada!)
Next up was a short drive to Sainte-Anne, a touristy spot filled with spice markets, souvenir stalls, and a beautiful white sand beach. The crystal blue water called our names, and we stayed so long that we ran out of time to go around the rest of the island. We finally packed up our gear in order to look for another beach and lunch further east, but eventually came right back to our new favorite spot at Sainte-Anne. By then, most of the lunch places were either closed or out of food, but we managed to find a boulangerie that still had fresh baguettes and a shop that sold rotisserie chicken. Our impromptu picnic was a hit as we sat on our beach towels, toes in the sand.

Saturday was a day of temporary goodbyes as Anne Bonny headed to Dominica and JoHo went back to work. Sunday we made the return trip down to Deshaies for another reunion: Island Dream finally arrived from Antigua! Pat and Darnell had had a fabulous time enjoying the parties, races, and camaraderie at the Antigua Classics Regatta while we dealt with our outboard issues (jealous? me?? ha!), so we were anxious to catch up with them again after nearly a month apart.
We hosted Mexican potluck night on Pipe with Island Dream and Pa'la O'la, and Pat and Darnell joined us the next morning as we left for Pigeon Island. After a couple of days snorkeling the Jacques Cousteau National Marine Park, it was finally time to leave mainland Guadeloupe for the Saintes. We plan to spend a few days there before moving on to Dominica. Dominica is supposed to be THE most beautiful island in all the Caribbean, with a hiking trail for every day of the year. Between that and the 4-5 buddy boats we're hoping to see again, it should be quite an adventure. Til next time...

Guadeloupe is such a beautiful island that we have more pictures than we could possibly fit in a blog. If you'd like to see more, please click here

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