Guadeloupe!!!

(OK….so I am finally posting this…as we are leaving Lost Loon in Grenada 😦 tomorrow morning at 0600…but there are more blogs to come …with stops in Martinique, Dominica, Tobago Cays…..and Grenada!   Thanks for being patient!!!)

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The island of 2. This island takes on 2 characters… one of lowlands and one of mountainous volcanoes. We approached the west end of mountainous volcanoes. Our fist stop was in DeShaies (days-hay) to check into customs. However still a French holding it is under different control and immigration laws. We still found the easy computer check-in, but this time at the local t-shirt shop. Since our goal was to make another 10 miles by the end of the day we picked up a couple of croissants, a fresh baguette and were off for Riveria Sens in the southwest.

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Upon return to the vessel, which we had anchored on 35 ft of water, temporarily we found that after our scope had straightened out (that is the full length of chain we put out) we were within INCHES (or centimeters if your French) of the boat behind us. OOPS! As we landed the dinghy I jumped off, started the engine and put her in gear to avoid any potential interference. It was like a ballet. (ha ha) As Mike got aboard with dinghy safely secure, I flew to the bow to begin retrieving the anchor. It came up easily and we were off. In Mike’s words…”no harm, no foul” thank goodness! We were off for the southwest of Guadeloupe, another lesson learned.

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We sailed down the coast within a mile or 2, resting from our night passage, fishing and enjoying the scenery. We passed Pigeon Island, which is a noted Jacques Cousteau preserved marine land, making note to return when we had more time.

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We made arrival at Riveria Sens along the coast for anchoring in the late afternoon. We swam to refresh our energy and made way to shore for a walk. We found this location to be an amazing fitness area.

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It was like being transported into an Olympic Village. (no, I have never been to one, but I imagine fit muscular people who are seriously working on running, swimming, biking, and power walking) These were people of all types and sizes intent on getting exercise. We watched as the swimmers donned mask fins and snorkel to head out for 1-2 mile swim, bikers decked out in the latest Nike, Adidias and other top of the line clothing for their group rides, and then runners in THE best and brightest running shoes available to man (or woman). We exchanged “bonjours” and by the end of our afternoon walk “bonsoirs” to each one. Our walk was finished by sunset in the west looking over the calm waters of the Caribbean.

The next leg of our journey took us the following day to Il des Saintes, or “the Saintes” . This is a collection of small islands to the south of mainland Guadeloupe.

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Considered a vacation spot for mainland Guadeloupians it is truly a gem. The little village has an Caribbean feel with a French accent. The restaurants were excellent. We found we could cover most of the island by foot, careful to plan the time of day as midday it is sweltering! (mistake made day 2 when we made the 1 hr 20 minute hike to LeChameaux (the camel). A mountain on the island that has an old French look out fort. It has an elevation of 309 meters with steep switch backs on a nicely paved road. We met goats foraging for food and even named one “Bob Marley”. WE met folks of all shapes and sizes going up and down this challenging walk. We did this hike 3 times during our stay in these islands. The last venture to this beautiful look out was a challenging hike through the woods on a marked trail. It took us less time, because it was more verticle. The last few steps to the top we were literally balancing on a few outcropped rocks. Yours truly is a bit wary of heights and as I looked at the very teeny sailboats anchored below, my brain told my nerves to begin quivering. A brief moment of “what the heck am I doing here” and we were again looking at an unbelievable 360 view. My brain then questioned…..Do I really want to return the same way? Of course…why would I take the 1 hour and 20 minutes down when we could be at the bottom swimming in 30 minutes.

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Our hikes took us to several beaches on the island, mostly uninhabited during the week. On weekends we were there a few more people showed up, but they generally stayed at the resorts or in the village. It was here we found some terrific fois gras, baguettes and brie cheese. (The reason for the repeated hikes, yoga on the boat and swimming….we had calories to burn!!)

A little about baguettes. These are the traditional recipe from France. They are the long and narrow, crusty breads that come in their fresh paper bags. The people that are French living on these islands insist upon it!. The locals as well as the cruisers come to town early in the morning when the boulangeries open for the freshest of the bunch. Everyone has a baguette, and more than one! Some have several sticking out of the top of backpacks, grocery bags, and bike baskets. If one is lucky and times it right in the afternoon, some of the local grocers get a small supply of fresh baguettes to sell, and upon re-opening in the afternoon between 2 and 3 people are waiting to pick up their afternoon baguette!!

Back on mainland, Guadeloupe, with our friends Ric and Mimi from the states, we rented a car and took a tour of some of the island. Our first day too us to some rainforest waterfalls. Driving up the canyons the greenery became thicker and thicker. The tall bamboo towered into the forest canopy and the vines hung from everything as the road winded up into the mountainous region. We had our choice of walks and chose an easy hike to a beautiful clear running stream with small waterfall drops along its way. We passed a group heading down that took us to a warm volcanic pool where we took a brief rest.

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Once dressed and refreshed we decided to tackle the Premier falls. The signs said “difficile, 1 h 20 min” It was nearly noon and we felt we had plenty of time to get up and back before nightfall. We retraced our steps back to the main trail and headed vertical. We started over some crude wooden steps, then mostly rock and thick gnarly roots. As we continued it became increasingly wet, to the point that we were stepping over small little puddles and large mud slicks. There was a long stretch of relatively horizontal travel on a very nice boardwalk, however covered in chicken wire to prevent slippage. As the first hour continued we began to need hand holds on trees and roots to make a step. The air was thankfully cool, as we were getting a great workout. Walking along the trail we would get a glimpse of the mountain and seaside several miles away, and the contrast of the deep green against the turquoise blue was spectacular. We could hear the soft creaking of the little tree frogs and birds we could hear but not see. The last 15 minutes of the trail was challenging. We would take a 3 foot step up , then down 2-3 paces, then up again. By this time our feet were quite covered in mud and any clear pool of water we would try to rinse off. We were met by only 2 other parties who told us in French “C’est magnificent” and give us a thumbs-up! We got closer and could hear the rush of water. As the trail narrowed a bit it then led to a clearing alongside the mountain, and we were greeted by a nearly 1500 ft waterfall, that cascaded off the rock face off the volcanic mountain. We did not get close enough for a feel of the water, that was another 30 minute hike, but enjoyed the view from far atop a lot of the mountain canopy. What an amazing place. How incredible we thought to be able to go from our usual sea level viewpoint to above the clouds. We rested and took our obligatory “selfies” and realized we couldn’t tarry long as it was already 3:15 pm and we needed to get out of this forest by dark. We followed the same challenging path down, but this time really feeling it more in the legs as we made the vertical trek downward.

 

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Needless to say, the following day we decided to stay at sea level and investigate some of the south coast beaches. We stopped at a roadside market and had a bite to eat. When I mean roadside, I mean 5 ft from the road where cars, buses and trucks passed on their daily routes. The rotisserie chicken was delicious and the cold beers just perfect after an afternoon on the water.

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We sailed along the west coast of Guadeloupe to an anchorage near the dedicated Cousteau Underwater Park near Pigeon Island for snorkeling, beach-going and some more terrific French cuisine. The preserved park , however a bit stirred up was a beautiful snorkel. We found huge corals and fans, skates, grouper, lobster hiding in the crevices and schools of angelfish. Here we were treated to a most wonderful dinner at La Touna, a small French restaurant along the waterfront. What is most interesting was that there were top-rated restaurants at each anchorage. We were not disappointed by any meal we had in these French islands. Mike and I would return one last time to Il des Saintes for a few days before our brief trip back to the US.

We eventually left the boat in a marina near Basse-Terre on the west coast for a week to attend the wedding (described in the previous blog). Upon our return we leave Guadeloupe for Martinique!

C’est St. Barthelemy!

After a wonderful night in Governors Harbor on the south side of St Barthelemy, the following morning we woke to a crystal sunrise and the now common sound of distant roosters making themselves known to the world… it was just as gorgeous. With calm clear waters we both took time to have coffee and took turns on the paddleboard, exploring the shoreline. The wave crashed gently on the beautiful white sand beach, and we could hear the bray of goats on the mountainside. We spent a couple of early morning hours here before heading out to the city and port of Gustavia to check into Customs and Immigration.

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St Barths has been fought over by the British, French and Spanish through the years. It was even held by the Swedes in exchange for port rights in the 1800’s. They sold the land back to the French in 1878 , and it has remained in their hold since.

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The entrance showed us the headlands of the bay which were dotted with multitudes of red roofed homes and buildings. ( we joked the entire time here about whether this was code or if it was just the trend) . The bougainvillea was draped from every overhang in a multitude of hues…..reds, violets and whites. The Yacht mooring and anchorage was full of sailboats and mega-yachts from all over the world, lined up along the docks in Med-mooring fashion. (this is different to the traditional bow-in mooring, the sterns are moored to the dock and there is usually an anchor or mooring ball from the bow forward ). We made our way to check in with customs and immigration and found that the French have THE best system for this. (however they dont use a QWERTY keyboard and the M and A are severly displaced for us used to an English keyboard, this makes for a few typos in the process) It is a sort of do-it –yourself check –in. With our cruising papers, boat documentation and passport numbers we enter all our information then print it out for the immigration staff to review. Viola! We’re in!

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Gustavia

We made our way through this very chic town with its Cartier, Dior, Ralph Lauren, etc high-end retailers to a few smaller shops and grocery. It was here we found fresh, hot and crunchy French baguettes, delicious croissants, cheap French wines of excellent quality, pate, and the best Brie cheese! (it became our staple for the weeks we were in these French islands)

Back on Scooters!

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On the road again..

We had not ventured out on the many rental offerings for scooters at several islands since the crazy ride in Luperon, but St Barthelemy looked like the perfect location. We had made plans with our sailing friends on Desderata to tour the island the day before. With numerous beaches, few trucks and cars, and excellent highway system we decided to make a day of it.

We left Gustavia on a 125 cc scooter after the early morning rain showers had moved off to the west. It was now sunny and hot. We had plans to see each of the beautiful beaches of the island. Our first stop would be the lovely Baie de St Jean (not “saint jeen” but “sah jah”)and the little town of l’Orient (loree-ahn)  with its quaint shops in severe contrast to those in Gustavia. This was on the north part of the island and from a perch we could walk to about 100 ft overlooking the beach we could see the light blue waters and coral structure below. It was 10 AM and the beach goers were on the move. There is a very expensive resort here, where we watched assistants preparing beach beds (seriously a full size mattress with an adjustable back!) for their patrons, serving champagne and water in ice buckets! We moved on further heading south with beautiful seaside stops along the way. We made our lunch stop at a small beach place where the burgers were great and the “mahi” tartare awesome. Accompanied by a great glass of white wine and a cool walk in the sand and we were in heaven.

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beachwalk to lunch

 

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perfect lunch spot

We still had a few miles to put on before sunset and were off for the South side of the island. Here we got to see Governors Harbor from a different perspective…it was just as amazing. More from the perspective of sailing down the winding road to the beach with spectacular overlooks to the waters below. We did swim to cool off and enjoy a walk on the soft sand beach.

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St Barth’s beach in L’Orient

We had a few more beaches to “run “ by and continued back to Gustavia and then to the north to Colombier, a small secluded inlet on the North side. We watched some experienced pilots make a landing at one of the shortest runways in mountainous areas we had seen. It was a great day of seeing some spectacular landscape.

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We returned the scooters and made a hike to one of the overlooks in Gustavia that was once an ancient military instillation. We watched the sunset from here, above the city and imagined many hundreds of years ago, the government (French, British….whoever was in charge at the time) taking watch for pirates or other invaders, ready to fire the cannons at will.

We had to continue making headway sailing south, as we had friends arriving in Guadeloupe within the next week. Our plans were to head off past St Kitts and Nevis to Guadeloupe the next day. We woke to clear skies and a light breeze that promised to fill in by later in the day. Our next leg would now be over 50 miles which would require another overnight passage. Since we were quite used to this by now, we actually looked forward to open ocean sailing. It is generally easier than sailing between islands amongst the fishing pots, fishermen, and charter yachts.

We said our “goodbyes” for the last time to friends on Desderata (who were headed north back to the Virgins to meet with family) realizing that we had spent the most part of the last 2 months with them “on the go”. We would hope to see them back in the states when they returned in the summer at some point. With our exit papers in hand, most of the water tanks filled, and plenty of brie, sausassion, and baguette, Lost Loon headed out by mid afternoon for Guadeloupe.

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The evening was gorgeous as we watched the island of St Barthelemy fade into the sunset and the shadow of St Kitts and Nevis take form in the foreground. We took our typical 3-4 hours passage shifts and watched the ships passing in the night (literally). To keep awake this night I was able to listen to local Monserrat radio where they were having the Lesser Antilles high school debate finals. They debated the importance of continued tourism and international commerce (as we sail right by), as well as the importance of maintaining literacy amongst the population. The night passed quickly as we did make a few sail plan changes due to weather along the islands. By morning light, as usual, we were comforted to see the distant shores of Guadeloupe. A contrast from the arid island of St Barts and the flatlands of St Maarten , this was green, lush and mountainous.

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Next up we are a month in Guadeloupe and loving this French island and all that it has to offer!

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