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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

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