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Thursday, January 18, 2018

last days in paradise!

uary 16 or is it 17th?

We are nearing the end of our Guadeloupian sojourn. We are in our third and last location of the trip, in Trois Rivieres. All of our locations have been wonderful. We did a lot of research, but it’s always somewhat of a crap shoot. The photos and descriptions are sometimes misleading, they may show water views but not indicate that they aren’t from the house, etc. And here, becausse the descriptions are in French, it’s of course an additional challenge.

We stayed first at place called Be on the Beach, funny name, especially since virtually no one staying there is a primary English speaker. I guess it has the same kind of cache as some French phrases do to us Americans, like chez whatever, or Maison de …..

As I said in a previous post, it was right on a small beach that we had pretty much entirely to ourselves,  and walkable to the slightly honky tonk but charming town.

Next stop, Deshaies, where we stayed last year, in another apartment right on the water, just a block down, and at the other end of town, from where we stayed before. Like many places here, it is pretty much open air, open living room, kitchen, etc.  We didn’t tour around as much as last year, because we had checked out so many areas and beaches then. I was content staying long hours on the porch, just perusing the sailboats in the harbor, the horizon, and yacht people coming back and forth in their dinghies to get baguettes or come in for dinner in town.

Our little beach there was just a few doors down and past one of the cafes. Water warm and calm.  Loring captioned a photo of me “exercising”  after asking me what I call what I do when in the water.  I was really just floating around listening to Elvis and Shakira and Springsteen etc thru my waterproof MP3 player, one of the bests gifts I ever got.

Because of the supersnowstorm up north, we’d had to delay our trip three days, and so also extended four days on this end. Norwegian only flies here twice a week. Hence we had to find a third location, and did that from here.  That was almost a disaster.  Our credit card company apparently cancelled our credit cards, probably because we hadn’t notified them that we were going away. This isn’t the first time that’s happened, but usually they put it on hold and check to make sure that the card hasn’t been stolen. Not this time.  So we spent hours trying to find the right place followed by hours trying to reach the credit card company after we submitted the reservation several times and had it rejected.

It all worked out in the end, as things seem to do.  The place here is as wonderful as the first two, though quite different, and a nice counterbalance to the others. We chose the town of Trois Rivieres because it was on a part of the island we hadn’t seen before.  It is perched on a hill above the town,  with wonderful views of the sea and also the “Saintes,” small islands that are part of Guadeloupe along with Marie Galante, another island that we spent time on last year. On a very clear day you can also see Dominica, an English speaking island (country?)  a bit further off. Dominica was hit pretty hard by hurricane Maria, but Guadeloupe missed the brunt of it.

The place we are at now is called Ilots des Fleurs, and is indeed covered with all kinds of flowers. It consists of 4 cabins, or gites, plus the larger villa that the managers live in. They are Canadian, and friends of the owners, who are also Canadian. They are a delightful couple, and work hard maintaining the gardens and lawn. The cabins are, like the other places w’'ve stayed, largely open. This one has no ac, but it isn’t a problem.  It is entirely “off the grid.”  There is gas for the stove,  hot water and electricity are solar.  The couple have been running the place for a few months, and will be here another month or two, then back home and will be replaced by another Canadian couple.  I guess the owners spend some time here too.)

Al and  Rachel are welcoming and invited us for a drink which turned into cheese, crackers, watermelon from the garden, and an invitation to dinner, which we declined. But we spent an hour or more chatting with them and their guests, her brother and her best friend from childhood.
There’s no beach here, one has to drive about 20 minutes to the nearest one. If this was my only stay here, I’d definitely choose beach.  But it’s nice to have different experiences.  The beach here, Grande Anse,  has black sand, also a nice contrast to our other beach experiences. In addition to being black, it is very smooth and fine, a nice feel.

There is a pool here, which was a surprise to us, since it wasn’t in the description. I have always wanted to sit it a pool overlooking the ocean. But the water is colder than the ocean, or at least I haven’t warmed up enough in the sun here to be tempted. Tomorrow is our last day here. I guess I’m going to have  to go in at least briefly, if just for the experience and the photo!
There are all kinds of little museums around the island, The Musee de Cacao, Musee du CafĂ©, etc, And a number of distilleries. There’s a Musee des Bananes just up the road, and we tried to visit this morning. But a sign said it was only open this afternoon, so we’ll try again tomorrow.

Sometimes these little museums are just tourist traps, a way to sell products. But the Musee de Cacao, near Deshaies, which we visited last year, was quite interesting. And we were told by our hosts here that other guests visited the Banana Museum and found it interesting.

Soufrieres, the volcano that provides the black sands, is a major tourist destination. It’s a  one and a half hour hike, which I hadn’t planned to do, but thought Loring would. We drove up the winding mountain dirt road. Wonder if we were even going the right way. Then, suddenly, came upon dozens, maybe more than a hundred, cars parked along the side of the road. The parking lot at the top was entirely full. But as I suspected, before long people left and we were able to find a spot. Many were hiking up to the volcano, but others were sitting in the warm springs at the head of the trail, which was really where I wanted to go. Loring decided not to hike up, and we just floated in the spring pool for a while. As everywhere here, the visitors are almost entirely French, but we did run into a couple of women from New York in the springs.

And now, last day, the 18th

Spent a couple of hours on the porch this am, reading our books, emails, and the Boston Globe. First stop, the Banana Museum. It was open this morning. We waited a while, saw and heard no one, figured out how to start the tv, and watched 4 short videos about bananas. While we were watching, a woman came in, who I recognized from the first video, giving a tour of the banana harvesting operation.  She led us upstairs to a series of rooms with exhibits about the banana industry. All mildly interesting, worth a visit, but certainly not worth the 8 euros per person. But she was so friendly, gave us each a banana to try. When I asked if she’d been the person who made the dresses and hats out of banana leaves in one part of the exhibit, she said yes, and led us into the gift shop, which was nearly as large as the exhibit. I was surprised at the quality, most if not all made locally, and tried a number of very fashionable couture banana leaf hats. I loved them all, but have no room on my walls to hang more hats, and also doubted very much that I could get them past customs.  So I settled for a small banana leaf hairclip which I certainly will wear, and hopefully will not get noticed by customs.

We were disappointed in the museum, and especially that we didn’t get to see any of the actual banana fields, much less any of the harvesting process. She did s
how us a little of the clothing and hat design process, because I’d asked. And showed us the parts of a costume she was making for some kind of presentation, consisting of a banana leaf bustier and part of a skirt. Quite classy! 

We headed back to our beloved black sand beach, called Grande Anse. Anse means cove, and there are Grand and Petit anses all over the islands here.
This is the one with the volcanic black sand that we’ve spent several hours at each of the last few days. Unfortunately, the weather was gray and we were clearly in for some rain, more than the brief showers that have cropped up pretty much every day. We spent a brief few minutes on the beach, then went across the street for a lunch of accras (fish fritters,) chicken, and various veggies we weren’t familiar with.  Loring went for a swim, but it was clear more rain was coming. So we abandoned our plan of beach time and headed back to town. The town here is in several valleys separated by rivers (Trois Rivieres)and you need to drive up and down numerous hills on winding roads to get anywhere.  We made a stop for our last baguette and pastry at one of the bakeries, drove up and down the same road at least three times trying to find some slave related site we’d seen signs for, and finally did located it, a ruin of a small stone cell where slaves had been been imprisoned on what had once been a sugar plantation.  The sign said there were other ruins of the plantation in the area, but on privately owned land.

Now we are back at our gite, the beautiful little cabin with a porch facing the ocean and the Saintes, smaller islands about ½ hour away from the main island here. And it’s a wonderful place to be. I’m not even sorry that we had to curtail our beach time today. I just hope I get warmed up enough to venture into the pool here, the last thing I feel that I need to do before heading home.  The sun’s come out again, and if I bask in it for a while, I just may be able to do it. Even a brief dip will suffice.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Return to paradise - Guadeloupe 2018

Deshaies jan 12 2018

A year after our first trip here, and a year, perhaps to the day, of the inaguration. We are in the same town, and just a few doors down, from our previous dwelling. Last year I watched the inauguration, in depression and fear, from our porch here. Loring preferred to go kayaking and ignore the real world. It is certainlly easier to do to that here. 

We have on and off internet here, probably not a bad thing.  We did get the “shithole” comment this morning, though.  I love the way the press explained and justified their use of the exact term. Ie, if the president uses it, it is important to quote verbatim.  I fully agree.

After a false start from Providence, due to a serious snowstorm about a week ago, we left the US three days later than planned, and extended our visit here by four, because Norwegian only flies twice a week.We did lose three days of our first booking, and will need to find a third place to stay, the second not a big deal, the first could well cost us hundreds of dollars as it wasn’t refundable. We are hoping the airiline will reimburse us, but are not at all confident that they will.

Well, we are here, and so I will try to not focus on or worry about that.
Our first stay, where were only able to stay three days of our week planned, was right on the beach in the town of Ste. Anne, on Grande Terre. We’d stayed on Basse Terre, here in Deshaies, last year. Our bungalow in Ste Anne was right on the beach, on the edge of town.  Ste Anne is bustling, a busy public beach, lots of shops and restaurnats and lots of traffic. It was fun to spend a day in, eating crepes on a beachfront restaurant, food truck actually, with a canopy and tables and chairs.  There was a market that was primarily spices, with some other foods and also  crafts.

Although we saw other cars and, a few times, people, in some of the bungalows, we rarely saw anyone there in four days, and only once had company on the beach. Just my kind of place, where you can walk out to the beach without shoes. The water was shallow and warm, the depth or lack thereof a little hard for Loring, heaven for me.

Our stove didn’t work. The first night we arrived at midnight, so didn’t even know. We thought it was some trick that couldn’t figure out. It turns out it was just plain broken. So Fritz, the owner, sent us out to dinner at a wonderful gourmet Caribbean/French place called Kote something, at the other end of town near the Club Med.  He had to talk them into fitting us in, they were all booked up. By the time we got back to our place, there was a new stove all installed!  Amazing service, especially in such a laid back environment.

Our booking was actually for  15 minutes before the restaurant opened, so that’s how they fit us in.  It was well worth not having a stove for a day.  Fritz did the right thing by treating us to dinner, but he certainlyl needn’t have sent us to what might have been the choicest location in town!  Several times, folks came in and were told the place was all booked up for the evening. One couple was American, the only native English speaking folks we’d yet come across.

  A couple of days later, I heard Americans in the market, a young couple deciding which beach to visit that day. That is the extent of the English I’ve heard spoken in the five days we’ve been here, aside from what’s been spoken to us. I havent’t heard any other languages at all beside French, it seems that, thus far, all the visitors have been French. And the locals are French, as well, since Guadeloupe is part of France.

We spent parts of our days driving around the nearby towns, scoping out other possibililties to stay.  Found a play on and went to check it out, having made a no deposit reservation. Only to find out that the listing was a mistake, the man had forgotten to remove the listing, he already had a booking.  Good thing we’d gone to check it out, or we would have driven back across the island for the last few days of our stay, to fnd out it wasn’t available.

So now we’re back in Deshaies “dayhay” the first time, I believe, that we’ve ever come back to the same place, or even the same country, two years in a row.

 Actually, having written that, I realize there’s an exception, Hummingbird Cay in the Bahamas, where we returned a number of years when we were in our 20s. But that was a special place and a special arrangement. Loring worked for the owner of the private island, doing maintenance, and he let us stay there a number of times after that. That was an experience we’d never be able to match, and for a time we were too spoiled by having been there to consider another beach trip where we didn’t have a whole island to ourselves!!

So, seeing that this is the only other time we’ve returned to a tropical island, or another other location, repeatedly, you can imagine how much we like it here!

What is so appealing, aside from the beach and the ocean and the weather is the so slow pace of life, at least for those on vacation.  I could easily spend the day on our porch here, with the only activities being reading, writing, getting a baguette from the bakery a few doors down, going in the water which involves a one or two minute walk to the little beach nearby.
There are plenty of activities around, water sports for those   interested, or even just watching the kite-surfers, excursions to various beautiful beaches, ruins, Museums of Rum, Chocolate, Coffee, Bananas, etc. We visited the Chocolate Museum last year, it was actually quite interesting. The others may or not be, and we may or may not find out.  Yesterday, we went to the very impressive looking Museum of Slavery in Pointe A Pitre, the capitol.  It was worth a visit, but not as interesting as I would have hoped. Perhaps part of the problem is making a museum about such a terrible subject. Then again, I’ve visited several Holocaust museums and found them very interesting and powerful.

 There was art incorporated into many parts of the exhibits, and that was the most interesting part.  There were also a number of fascinating sculptures outdoors on the grounds of the museum. They were not mostly related to slavery but seemed to be part of a project with an environmental theme. One was made of thousands of bottlecaps. Others were of plastic cups and tubes. One was a veritable plastic Chihuly garden.  I’ll try to post that one.

But what touches me most on this kind of trip is the slowing down, of all my activity and even thinking. I can do nothing for a long time and not be bored. I remember that feeling well from our times in the Bahamas, several months one trip for me, and others of several weeks. Loring spent a whole year there, coming back briefly to get me.

There is so little and so much to do. Time and experience seems to expand. A day or two ago I was mesmerized by merely some grains of sugar spilling out of a package and into my coffee. The sugar here is different, a light brown, between the colors of our white and brown sugars at home. And large granules,more the size of sea salt than regular table salt. I watched those granules tumble into and then dissolve into my black coffee, admiring their beauty.

So many other things reflect that intense experience in the usually normal, heightened by a different reality and pace of time.

Almost since we arrived here, there have been small birds flitting around our balcony/living room. I of course  encouraged them by putting out a dish of sesame seeds, fallen from our sesame crackers, and then some tiny chunks of melon rind with small amounts of melon still adhered.  I find their flitting around our chairs and heads endearing, Loring not as much.  So he took the seeds off the table and put it on the porch floor. I can live with that! The birds have pretty much settled in now, and perhaps they would have anyway. There are at least three different kinds, but the only ones I can identify are the bananaquits, small with yellow breasts.

On the beach, this morning, were several cats, very reticent, and a little later, some roosters strutting about.  And again, hardly any people. This, though, is a public beach in a town, and there were plenty of people strolling by, some stopping to try to attract the cats.  Also a couple of restaurants with porches right up to the beach, and a number of folks, some with coffee, some with beer, in the late morning.

One of the restaurants is the one featured in Death in Paradise, the British tv series filmed here. We didn’t find out about it until we rented our place here last year, but friends had watched it on pbs. It’s a  wacky murder mystery series with a death in each episode,  kind of a Murder She Wrote Caribbean style. So much fun to see places we recogize, including our house. They don’t film this time of year, but yesterday I saw a flier for a Death in Paradise festival  coming in July, with 48 hours straight of 48 episodes. And also some discussions and who knows what else. I hope the actors   and crew will be here.

I’ll end for now with a description of our current habitation.  It has a beautiful porch, which I saw last year and which partly led to our returning.  There are two ac bedrooms, with views of the ocean from bed.  The porch is the dominant part of the place, it is basically an outdoor living room with sofa, chairs, lounge chairs, table and chairs. The kitchen/bar is also open, a common part of Guadeloupe architecture.  So, as I said, I could easily just wile the day away here.  And aside from an hour’s excursion  downstairs and down a few yards to the beach, that is just what I’ve done thus far today.

My choices right now, either back to my book, a sad but absorbing account about a teenage Syrian refugee, or a nap, or, most likely, one followed by the other.