Our next sail took us across the channel between the United Kingdom and France, but we didn’t need to go to Europe. We were crossing from Montserrat to Guadeloupe, which, along with Martinique (coming in a later blog post), are fully incorporated parts of France, with all the same rights and status as the mainland, similar to how Hawaii is for the US despite being far away.
We arrived in the village of Deshaies in the northwest of Guadeloupe, and it was soon clear that it was very different from most of the islands we had been to recently: there were large fast roadways full of cars, lots of boutique shops and restaurants and just development in general. There were numerous French bakery and pastry shops (we ate many baguettes and croissants), a large modern library, and even recycling, which sadly, most islands lack. Unlike the other islands we’d visited that are administered by a distant nation but still had a Caribbean character, Guadeloupe really did feel more European.
Also, everyone spoke French. It turned out they usually knew English as well though weren’t always willing to admit it. In the French islands, they have farmed out customs check-in for boats to private businesses, which basically just provide a computer terminal for you to fill out electronically. In Deshais, this was in a tourist knick-knack shop. Ted asked the shopkeeper if she spoke English to help clarify some things on the form. Shopkeep: “oh, no no no no no” while waving hands. Minutes later, while hovering over, she interjects in English, “you filled this part out all wrong.”
We didn’t stay long before moving down to Basse-Terre, the capitol of Guadeloupe. Here we met a family with a set of entertaining 13-year-old twins engaged in trying to catch a cat wandering around the dock to become a pet for their boat. The method was a felt mouse tied to fishing line, or in this case, “catting” line. This worked pretty well at luring the cat over to attack the mouse, but I think he eventually clawed it off of the line and ran off. The cat was actually a pet from another boat, so we figured they were just playing around.
Our next destination was a clump of small islands known as The Saintes just south of the Guadeloupe “mainland” (the Saintes are administered as part of Guadeloupe). Quaint red-roofed houses dot the green hills. The main part of town borders one continuous beach. Many sidewalk cafes offered delicious yet inexpensive baguette sandwiches and free wifi. And just a short walk out of town the scenery became positively rural. These tiny islands have a balance of civilization and nature that is quite rare in the Caribbean.
Danica and I had an enjoyable time wandering around the various attractions around Terre de Haut, the island we were anchored at. For one, there is a house shaped like a ship bursting out of the cliffside, built by the island’s single resident doctor many decades ago. Why? Who knows, but it looks cool. It is a doctor’s clinic to this day. Next, a short walk took us over to the large beach on the east side of the island. Exposed to the open ocean, massive rollers crashed violently against the rocks and sand, so it wasn’t really a swimming beach. However, we essentially had the dramatic expanse of rugged shoreline all to ourselves, and it was great just to walk around it. The pounding waves throw many things up on shore, which makes for great beachcombing with many seafans and shells, but unfortunately also including a lot of plastic trash that washes in from the ocean.
As our last thing, we made a long uphill trek up to Fort Napoleon, which sets itself apart from the other Caribbean forts by also being a botanical garden. The garden, it turns out, is basically just built right on top of the roof and walls of the fort, and it is quite a unique experience to walk around the parapets among cacti and iguanas.