Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | April 19, 2012

Tour de Guadeloupe

15° 34.76′   W 61° 27.97′

Portsmouth, Dominica

The islands of Guadeloupe

Our time in Guadeloupe (GWAD LOOP) offered a sample of the diversity found in this relatively large island nation. Guadeloupe, a department of France, includes a butterfly shaped 583 square mile mainland and several adjacent smaller islands to the south and east. The eastern wing of the butterfly is a flatter and geologically older land known as Grand Terre (GRAHN TAIR). The western wing is the mountainous Basse Terre (BAHS TAIR), home to a dormant volcano and rain forest. A navigable waterway (we didn’t) flows between the two halves. Our tour of Guadeloupe included stops at two ports on the mainland, visits to the islands of Îles des Saintes (EEL DES SANT) and Marie Galante.

We checked in at pretty Deshaies (DAY-AY) on the northwest side of the island and spent a few days enjoying the quiet country town and shady riverside walks with the dogs. A small but constant trickle flowed from the mountain-top above, fueled by the rain clouds that hovered over the mountain peaks each day but rarely made their way to the coastline. We were back in France for sure, with plentiful baguettes and much less English spoken on this island than we found on St. Martin.

Village of Deshaies

Next was Îles des Saintes, a group of small islands about 5 miles south of the mainland, where we moored near Bourg des Saintes (BORG DES SANT) off the island of Terre d’en Haut (TAIR DAHN OH). The picturesque island hosts day visitors via ferry, boaters and overnight tourists who take advantage of scenic hillside hikes, beaches and various water sports. There are many small and colorful guest houses and villas, shops and restaurants and no large-scale resorts in this tidy village. As in Deshaies, the church bells toll on the hour and half hour.  The town is quiet with the exception of the buzz of scooters, the primary means of transportation.  At night the locals gather to play Petanque (PEH TANK), otherwise known as Bocce ball at the waterfront park. Music from the church choir provided the background for our evenings at anchor. Such a contrast from the Puerto Rican and BVI anchorages with loud music and partying well into the wee hours of the morning!

Main anchorage at Terre d'en Haut viewed from hilltop

We were spoiled with eight days at Marina Bas du Fort (BAH DEW FOR) in Pointe à Pitre (PWAN TUH PEE TRUH), located on the southern side of Grande Terre where the “butterfly wings” meet. It is a comfortable and inexpensive public facility, large and busy with arrivals and departures each day. We paid 22 euros per day inclusive of power & water, about $29 US. The marina is surrounded by shops, restaurants and condos reminiscent of Marigot, with more boater-oriented services and less costly dining choices. The complex was a little shabby but pleasant. An energetic litter patrol and some fresh paint could turn it into a first class resort. The area did not lack visitors though, and we were told that French-speaking Europeans now fly here for their seaside vacations rather than visiting the coast of Africa because of the safety issues there. Tourism is so strong that to be assured of a car rental we were advised to make arrangements well in advance.

The secure Visitors Dock had a wonderful international flavor and we met boaters from all over the world. We saw vessels hailing from Germany, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Panama, the US, France and the French islands, which all fly the same French flag. With occupants including a mix of yacht owners, guests, delivery crews and charterers, the nationalities of the people aboard didn’t always match the vessels’ flags. Greeting people, unless you waited for them to speak first, posed the dilemma of which language to choose, and among the boaters it wasn’t always safe to assume everyone spoke French. I said “Bonjour” to a boat neighbor who assisted us as we docked and he did likewise. As we struggled to communicate in French about securing the lines, we found that English was our best mutual language, since he was Swedish and spoke English much better than French.

Visitors Dock (Quai 6) at Marina Bas du Fort

The marina had a Mediterranean mooring arrangement that is often used in different parts of the world. This was new to us, and involved attaching the bow to a mooring ball and the stern to a fixed dock. Or vice versa, if one had a way to disembark from the bow. Boats were lined up with fenders touching fenders, similar to the double mooring system we used in Marigot, except closer together and with a dock on one end. The capitaine de port (dockmaster) assisted arriving boats from a dinghy, attaching lines to the mooring, which was tricky to steer the big boat around. Fellow boaters were recruited to serve as dock hands. The system worked pretty well and was efficient in packing in the maximum number of vessels, but most folks back home would hate the arrangement since our boats are set up for side boarding and finger piers add a little more space between vessels. I was glad I had constructed a lifeline-type system from textilline to snap onto the rails which kept the dogs from hopping onto the boats next door. 

Mar Azul a la Med Moor

Boaters tended to group together for evening social time based on language preferences. People sometimes sought out those fluent in different languages, like the French Canadian gentleman who asked for help deciphering a fast-paced English recorded message stating how many minutes remained on his satellite phone plan. We could empathize, having spent hours trying to understand the words in the Channel 16 recorded announcements that are regularly broadcast throughout the French islands.

An evening with fellow trawler boaters Debi, Bill & boat dog Cody aboard Renegade

We arrived at the marina the Thursday before Easter, a holiday thoroughly celebrated from Friday through Monday. Most businesses were closed, even the car rental outlets. We took advantage of the time and supply of free water to do a thorough exterior boat cleaning. I was thrilled to find the Cool Racoon Laverie, a reasonable “laver/secher/plier” (wash/dry/fold) service to get us caught up on the large pile of laundry that had accumulated. Much easier than shipboard washing and drying.

We rented a car so we could see more of the mainland and make a provisioning trip to the Gèant Casino market, a Walmart-like store with “Casino” being the featured house brand. We traveled mostly in Basse Terre, the mountainous side of the island, through scenic farm lands including banana and sugar plantations. Roads were nicely maintained and we zipped along at the posted speed of 100 km/hr. That is really only 62 mph, but in kilometers it honestly felt so much faster. Highways sometimes ended abruptly in roundabouts without a lot of warning. This was the Captain’s first driving experience since October and he hoped his abilities had not slipped. A traffic gridlock on the steep slope of the volcano requiring backing up with a stick shift? No problem! Driving must be one of those complex skills that remains imprinted in the brain for a very long time.

Basse Terre Rainforest

The Soufrière (SUE FRAIR) Volcano was cloaked in clouds and rain and we skipped the long and steep climb to the summit where we wouldn’t have been able to see much anyway. The Captain breathed a sigh of relief, as he has a preference for flatter hikes. The capital city, also named Basse Terre, was a pretty hillside city with huge outdoor markets attesting to the fertile lands. Fishermen sold their catch along the waterfront – no shortage of seafood here. On to the rainforest where, no surprise, it was raining. The canopy was so dense that we could hike on the well maintained trails without getting soaked. Lush greenery was everywhere, sprinkled with “chutes” and “cascades”, waterfalls of all sizes. It was truly gorgeous land and all very wet.

Cascade aux Ecrevisses

Lunch was a stop at the beach off the Jacques Cousteau waterfront park, bustling with local children and tourists bound for snorkeling excursions at Pigeon Island. It was Bob’s turn to be the picky diner on this day. Having trouble understanding the French menus, he was wishing that he had located one of the island’s tourist-friendly McDonald’s so he could order a familiar hamburger. He found a delicious substitute with a prepared-to-order Sandwiche Americain Steak Frite at a beach-side eatery, a skinny burger on a baguette with the fries loaded right into the sandwich. So French and very fresh.

Basse Terre and La Soufriere Volcano on one of the clearer days

We were surprised to see graffiti throughout Point à Pitre and much of Basse Terre, even away from the large towns. It was prolific and disappointing, detracting from the otherwise magnificent scenery. Even the park building on the trail high on the Soufrière Volcano was massively defaced. Our well-traveled friends tell us that graffiti is quite the issue in some parts of Europe too.

Without a Dutch side of the island like in St. Martin, there was no retreating to a haven for American-oriented goods and services. The French way reigns in Guadeloupe. The marina had just a few outlets equipped for American yellow plug shore power needs so that we could take advantage of the unmetered electricity. We had trouble hooking up, and Bob had to tinker with the electrical cord and panel. Ultimately we had to move to a different slip to get everything working.

As we found in St. Martin, European standards are quite different from those to which we are accustomed. This would not be a good place to purchase an electrical appliance, since those in the shops are not compatible with our power plugs and voltage requirements. The water hose required a small adaptor, dispensed by the marina, so we could connect to the faucet. The paper towels we purchased came in a different size, about 2 inches shorter than customary brands and don’t fit on the vertically oriented towel holder. We found some places where our credit cards could not be used with the European-style scanners that require a data strip on the short end of the card.

The morning baguette run is a common sight in Guadeloupe

Products not to be found on our market excursion included ground turkey and chicken, most American cereals and crackers, American bacon, Bisquick-type baking products, cream style corn and enchilada sauce. According to Google Translate I purchased “clotted cream” and I am hoping that will prove to be either the sour cream or cream cheese that was on the list. The great part of the shopping experience was adding a fresh stash of imported French wines, pates, cheeses, breads, canned goods, meats and some terrific locally produced Guadeloupan pineapple, grapefruit, veggies and sugar.

Bellevue distillery on Marie Galante with one of the many (non-working) windmill remains we saw on the island.

Marie Galante, a 61 square mile island south of the mainland, was surrounded by crystal clear water. We were hesitant to stop here, fearing the round island wouldn’t have great anchorages, but our friends Henri and Hildegarde said it was worth a stop. We found the St. Louis anchorage a pleasant spot in easterly winds and left before a miserable northeast swell moved in. We spent those swelly days anchored in a small cove just outside Grand Bourg, to the south.

At Guele Grand Gouffre, a natural bridge formation on the north side of Marie Galante

The island, which seems flat from a distance, has pretty rolling hills. Sugar cane fields abounded. Cows were a frequent sight along the well maintained roads with an occasional pig and goat. Sugar and rum processing compliment the island’s tourism, which caters to a French-speaking clientele and like Les Saintes, does not include any huge resorts. Speedy catamaran ferries arrived several times a day from the neighboring islands.

  

Raw sugar cane is scooped into the rum processing plant. Amazing how that wood-like product is transformed into delicious rums.

We teamed up with our cruising neighbors Joe and Sharon explore the island via car. Our day ashore was one of the few cloudy, dreary ones we have had during our Caribbean tour. Even on a drizzly day the scenery was stellar with pretty farmlands, beaches, rugged windward shores and old windmill remains dotting the way. We visited the Pere Labat and Bellevue Rhumeries and got a close-up view of how raw sugar cane is processed in the low tech but efficient island way. After the juice is squeezed, the wood-like stalk is ground into scraps to fuel the boiler. The distilleries welcomed visitors to wander around the plant freely and it was up to us to keep out of harm’s way.

Shared a delicious French meal with Sharon & Bill of S/V Caris at the neat courtyard Maria Galanda restaurant

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in this beautiful and diverse country.  There was much more to experience, but it was time to move on.  We arrived in Dominica yesterday, and have re-connected with the internet.

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Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing your adventures in Guadeloupe! Looking forward to seeing pictures from Dominica (Land of waterfalls!) Our good friend Jahbah from Friar Bay was born in Dominica and visits often. He has shared many stories of his homeland, which have made me very interested in visiting someday! ENJOY!!!!!!!!

    • Glen, if you enjoy a land of natural beauty and don’t mind getting wet and muddy at times you will love Dominica. Airline access is somewhat limited, saw no large resorts, but lots to explore. They claim they have some of the best diving, and of course lots of hiking trails. Not as many beaches as some of the other islands. See Trip Advisor reviews – the hikes can be extremely challenging. The locals might even beat the Puerto Ricans for their partying abilities, and Fridays in Portsmouth are known for a big celebration. Bob heard them still going when he got up at sunrise. Our visit will be brief, unfortunately. Dog quarantine issues + good travel weather, so we are moving along to Martinique shortly.


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