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Friday, January 20, 2017

More from Guadeloupe, days in Deshaies

A week later.  I have been too busy doing nothing to write before now. We are now ensconced at our second Guadeloupe location, in the town of Deschaies on one of the main Guadeloupe Islands.

The Touloulou, where we’d spent last week, was just about perfect, a tiny cabin, consisting of bedroom, bathroom, porch, with  coffeepot and small fridge, right on the beach. Lounge chairs in the sun in the sand right beyond our porch, and another plus a hammock in the shade of a tree.
Our porch here, in Deschaies, is literally bigger than our whole bungalow was at the Touloulou.  But I am not complaining. Didn’t need any more. We’d rented a car at the ferry dock, and glad we did.  There’s no tac tacs, the communal truck cabs like in Haiti, Jamaica, and other places we’ve been, We probably could have located cabs, if we’d had a phone or known how to. 

This way, we were able to go into Capesterre for groceries, etc and able to explore the island. In the five days we were pretty much able to cover the whole island of Marie Galante, including a bunch of dirt roads. It isn’t very big. 
The beach was beautiful and just a short jaunt past the restaurant that was part of it, and the parking lot. Loring actually swam the whole way, both directions, while I walked and carried the towels, kindles, snorkels, and his glasses. 
I confess that one of the factors in choosing the place was the name.  I found out near the end of our sojourn that Touloulou is actually the name of a particular crab, with red body and black legs.  Much more lyrical than “crab.”

We only ate one breakfast and one dinner at the restaurant there. Partly because we were happy with bread and cheese and simple meals from the Sol Levant in town. Partly because we’d not realized that the restaurant was closed on Sunday, and on Tuesday, and for breakfast only if you told them the day before. We had actually done that, but the message somehow did not get from owner “Zhose” to the woman who seemed to be really in charge. As she told us the next morning, when she was surprised when we showed up for breakfast, don’t tell him, tell me.
We said we’d just go into town, but she insisted on making us breakfast. “You’re not in a hurry, are you?” And of course we weren’t. But we did get a bit fidgety waiting the half hour or so. It was juice, a fresh fruit cup, coffee, regular and chocolate croissants, and fresh bread. Enough, but  for the 12 euros we’d expected a bit more, like eggs.  A hefty price ( a euro and a dollar are pretty much equivalent at the moment) especially when the dinners were only about 17 or 18 euros. They were, by the way, delicious. Loring had a ceviche like meal, forgot what it was called, and I had a fish curry.
We encountered no Americans, and very little English, the five days we were there. Did meet a Norwegian man the first day, and an Italian one the last night. And Zhose spoke a fair amount of English. Mostly it was French vacationers we encountered.

Here in Deschaies we’ve run into many more tourists, still primarily French. But last night, at the restaurant next door to our house here, the folks at the table next to us were speaking very American English. I contemplated asking where they were from, but then hesitated to do the American compadre thing.  Then as they stood up to leave, I decided to ask anyway, just as Loring noticed, and pointed out to me, that one woman was carrying a tote bag from the Brookline Booksmith!  Perhaps  not quite as remarkable a coincidence as it seemed, since they immediately asked if we’d come down on the ridiculously cheap Norwegian Air flight, which just recently commenced service from Boston and a few other cities, Washington, New York, and Baltimore, I believe.  But still, the only Americans we’d encountered in a week and two different islands. 
So here we are in our second location. I think we’ve picked pretty well. Some French visitors who were also staying at the Touloulou told us it was the only place directly on the beach in Marie Galante.
And here, in a much more modern, much more expansive place right on the water, although not on the beach, in Deshaies. Loring has already swum across the small harbor from right outside the door, and I imagine he will do that each of the days we are here.

There is a restaurant on either side of us, and we were a bit worried it might get loud and rowdy at night. Not a problem so far. The outdoor tables at each were reserved last night. But not a big problem as we have the same view from our own porch. It was a bit loud at lunch today, but don’t imagine it’s going to be much of a problem, if any. There are people who keep coming right along side of our porch from the restaurant to get a better view, but it’s just amusing, not really a problem.
We’ve only encountered one snag so far. When we arrived on the ferry back from Marie Galante yesterday, we could not find the car rental place, although there were several others. We asked at one, and he told us they were not located there, but in Deshaies, where we were heading. He pointed  us in the the direction of the bus terminal, a short walk away. One person there told us first that we’d have to take two busses, then said there was an express bus coming in a half hour. While we were waiting, I noticed in the small print on our reservation something about someone meeting us in the ferry terminal  next to the pharmacy. Well, we’d never gone inside the terminal, all the passengers including us exited alongside of the building, and I assume that’s always the route. So maybe the car guy from Deshaies isnlt any more familiar with the ferry than we are. But I guess it’s our fault, not reading the French directions carefully enough. We assume the guy from the agency really had been there, and left. Loring did run over to the ferry terminal once I’d read that, but no one was there, a half hour after the boat came in.

And when a bus pulled up that said Deschaies, I asked about the express, and the driver told me that there was no express, that hers was the only one going there. And a very slow local it was. A cab did come up to us while we were waiting for the bus, and said she’d ask how much it would be to Deshaies. After 10 or 15 minutes waiting on the phone, she came back over to say it would be 70 euros.  I thought that was too much, although not unreasonable, just too much for us to spend, especially since by then the express bus would be along shortly. (not.)  She was very nice and friendly about  it.
And then the bus ride itself was fine, though slow. We went down the back streets of every village, which gave us a glimpse of the place we might not have had otherwise. It’s only a 40 k drive, probably an hour directly, probably an hour and a half or more on our bus.

Deshaies isn’t very big, and the bus dropped us off just a couple of blocks from our house.  The owner was there waiting for us, even though we were at least an hour later than we’d said we’d be. He had a plate full of fish fritters to welcome us, along with a pineapple and a large bunch of bananas, some rum, some fruit juice, a few other things. This place is really well equipped and modern. There’s two bedrooms and two bathrooms, a shower so fancy, with multiple showerheads, that it startled Loring and he prefers the less fancy one. There’s a large living room and a dining room. The kitchen has more appliances than I’ve ever seen in a kitchen – coffepot, hot water heater, keurig, toaster, blender, microwave, electric juicer. 

The living and dining rooms are almost superfluous. The only time and reason to use them, in our opinion, is when it’s too hot and sunny on the porch.

Our bedroom is air-conditioned, but it’s programmed to only work from 8pm to 6am. Which is no problem.
Right now, we don’t have a car, but are fine without it for a few days. It was even hard to find the car rental place here in Deshaies. It was closed by the time we arrived, and closed today, Sunday. We are just hoping there will be a car for us tomorrow.

If you are reading this, we have room for a couple of you, even three or four (there’s a futon in the living room) , to come join us. This is a serious proposal! The fares were ridiculously cheap when we booked ours, $89 one way and $149 the other, I think. It might have been even a little less on the return.  One hitch – they only fly twice a week from Boston, Thursdays and Sundays. We return next Sunday, the 22nd.  So if you are up for a long Caribbean weekend, let us know!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Guadeloupe - A sojourn away from US politics, and even from English speaking people

Another day in paradise.  Or, ho hum, another day in paradise, as my friend once used to say when she lived and worked as an attorney in American Samoa, years ago. We adopted the phrase and use it still, whenever we are in a tropical place. I wonder if she still uses it too.
We are in Guadeloupe, a group of islands in the Caribbean that are a part of France. Loring and I have said, for many years, that our ideal life would be half our time in the Caribbean, and half in Paris.  That was when I was newly back from Paris, when we first met, and he had spent a good deal of time on a tiny island in the Bahamas working as the island’s caretaker, for the wealthy owner who lived in New York and only infrequently visited his island.
More than forty years later, I still think that could be an ideal life.  So here in Guadaloupe, a combination of France and the Caribbean, seems a worthy substitute.

A number of years ago, we spent a couple of weeks on Martinique, also a department of France, with the kids and my mother. I loved it, with its beautiful views, ruins of a city destroyed by a volcano, kind of a mini Pompeii, and the food and culture. 
We have only been here a couple of days. Wonderful so far, and I hope and expect we will like it as much as Martinique.

We’ve chosen two places to stay, for about a week each. We are now at the Touloulou, directly on the beach on the island of Marie Galante. We arrived at the airport in Pointe a Pitre early Sunday evening, on a direct 4 ½ flight from Boston, on, of all things, Norwegian Airlines. It is a fairly new, low cost airline that has expanded to the Caribbean partly because its flights in Northern Europe are in less demand in the winter. They only fly twice weekly from Boston, on Sundays and Thursdays.
We’d hoped to catch a ferry to Marie Galante Island about an hour and a half after our flight landed. But that, of course, did not happen.  We’d kind of expected it not to work, so were not too disappointed that it didn’t’ We stayed the first night in Pointe a Pitre, not far from the ferry dock, and took the first ferry the next morning.
In the taxi from the airport, the driver indicated the slow traffic and said “Carnival.” My immediate assumption was that he was referring to a cruise ship from the Carnival line. But he was actually indicating that a Carnival parade was happening that very night. Once we arrived at our hotel, we could hear drumming from our balcony, and decided to go check things out. 

Amazingly, as we walked toward where we’d heard the drumming, we heard loud sounds that sounded to me like firecrackers. Loring, though, thought it was the loud sound of people slamming dominoes on the tables in the park. Neither of us was right. Crowds lined the streets, so we knew more was coming. In a matter of minutes, a procession of men, with painted faces, strode down the middle of the street, chanting something we couldn’t understand, and cracking bull whips with almost every step. That was the loud sound.  Other groups followed, some women, some men, some mixed, all chanting, all with painted faces and bodies. I felt like I’d walked into the middle of a movie set.
It was all fairly low key, though, compared to other Carnival events I’ve seen on tv.  Nothing like the elaborate costumes and floats from other parades. And all around were teens hanging out, families pushing baby carriages, a few but not many tourists.
I’d read that Carnival lasts from January into March in Guadeloupe, culminating in Mardi Gras in early March. I’d tried online to see where events would be happening in the vicinity of where we were staying during our time here, but hadn’t found much. And then, what luck to stumble into the middle of it upon our arrival.  I don’t know if we will come across more in the next two weeks, or if the Mardi Gras part is much more intense, as I imagine.  But I’m not really sorry that we missed that ferry.

Yesterday morning we arrived here at Touloulou. I’d looked at dozens of places, most house rentals and a few low key hotels, when I stumbled upon this place, right on the beach. Partly, it was the name that caught me attention. Then, to add to the lyrical quality, the website is touloulou@wanadoo. I sent a message and got a message a day or two later from Jose.  He’s the owner and chef. His name is actually pronounced with a soft French J rather than the Spanish. 

It’s basically a beach restaurant and bar, with five little cabins. Three are like ours, one room with a bathroom, a small porch overlooking the ocean, a fridge and a coffee machine. Quite enough for us. WE’ve been eating our French bread and cheese, and drinking rum and sodas, and going out for one meal a day. The other two cabins are a bit larger and have a kitchenette and can hold four or six people I think. But they are a lot more money, although a kitchenette would be nice. Our cabin is 80 euros a night, which is just about 80 dollars too.
We have a beach right outside the cabin, with lounge chairs and an incredible view. But the waves are rough and there are rocks between us and the water. To go into the sea, we need to walk past the restaurant and parking lot and down a few hundred yards to the sandy and calmer beach. It’s beautiful, and public, and there have been a number of other people on the beach, but it is still fairly quiet. Most of the beach goers seem to be French, and I am guessing most of them are from mainland France, but am not sure. I haven’t heard anyone speaking in English yet. But a man I was chatting with yesterday, first in French, turns out to be Norwegian, so we soon switched to English. He lives half the year here, the other half in Oslo. 

The water here is fairly calm and shallow, just the way I like it, and I had fun floating around listening to music on my underwater mp3 player, my favorite toy.  I use it at the Y at home, but not sure I’ve ever used  it in open water before.  And this afternoon I briefly put it on my snorkel, which I haven’t used  in years.  I’ve never felt really comfortable breathing through a snorkel, although when I took scuba lessons a number of years ago I was much more comfortable breathing with a tank.  So tomorrow I hope to use my music gear and try to snorkel some more, and maybe venture out further from the shore.
This aftearnoon we had lunch  in town at a place called the Sol Levant, which is a combination restaurant, bakery, grocery store, and hotel. It isn’t much of a town, just a few shops, a few little restaurants and cafes.  We’d ordered food there yesterday, at the advice of our Norwegian friend, who told us you needed to do that. When we arrived, they had our food packed up to go. Turns out most people get take out. There was a small parade of people parking outfront and picking up their takeout food. But they quickly set us up at a table, told us to get our drinks from the grocery store cooler. 

After lunch, we drove further along the coast and through some smaller roads. There’s lots of sugar cane growing, some ruins of stone windmills that were used in the sugar cane production. In one place there was the ruin of an old moulin with trees growing up inside of it, and behind it, a row of modern white windmills. A nice contrast.
Then, back home and back to the beach for some more frolicking in the water. And then, back to the lounge chairs in the sand in front of our cabin.

Wherever we go, I like to search out books to read that relate to where we are. I found a couple of novels that take place here. Loring and I have each read one, and now we have traded. One is by a Guadeloupian woman who also, interestingly, has written a novel about Tibuba, the supposed witch that taught the girls of Salem their witchcraft skills. That wasn’t available on kindle, but we will have to check it out when we get back.  The other is written by a man, Timothy  Williams, who I think is British, but obviously is very familiar with Guadeloupe. 

In addition to the books, while we were looking into Guadeloupe, we read about a British tv crime series that takes place in Deshaies, our second destination next week.  It’s called Death in Paradise, and is kind of a drama/comedy, with a murder each week, sort of reminiscent of Murder She Wrote, which featured Angela Lansbury as a crime solver who figured out a different murder each week in a small fictional town in Maine.
Death in Paradise is also a fictionalized setting called Sainte Marie, but is entirely filmed in Deshaises. So it will be very interesting to see the actual place. The house we are renting there is right on the water, in the town, and we can actually spot in in some of the episodes. And we think the restaurant bar where a lot of the action takes place is the place next door to our house!

But before we get there, much more to experience here.
Well, it’s all of 7;30 now, and I could be ready for bed.  WE are kind of hoping that we understood Jose wrong when he told us they have music at the bar here, starting at 11pm.  He kind of chuckled when he saw our reaction and said, why, is that late for you?  Yesterday, Monday, when we arrived, we found out that the restaurant and bar are closed on Mondays. So we don’t know quite what to expect tonight, but will update later