I took five years of French in school. Lord help me if I need to find a bathroom because I can’t remember much beyond fromage. That’s cheese for all you non-Francophones. It has come as a pleasant surprise, then, to find that my two favorite islands so far are both French. St. Bart’s is where I spent my birthday and the ritzy island earned its keep in my heart by providing the backdrop for the best birthday I’ve ever had. At least one post will come out of our week in St. Bart’s, but, for now, our adventures in Guadeloupe are begging to be told more immediately.
Our passage to Guadeloupe was supposed to have been in front of some incoming wind and swell. Unfortunately, the swell window closed on us, so to speak, and we faced messy eight foot waves from Montserrat to Guadeloupe. (We did, however, spot a small pod of juvenile sperm whales and, shortly afterward, a huge family of leaping dolphins around our boat on the way—-so cool!)
Needless to say, we were a bit beat up when we arrived. And hungry. Per our routine, we took a breath, cleaned things up on the boat, basically just got our world organized again, then we went ashore to check in.
We had pulled into the northwest corner of Guadeloupe to a small fishing town called Deshaies (“Day-hey”). My family still smiles but I fear only to fend off the crazy when I snap and say in a sing-songy queen voice “Daaay-Heeey!” each time I refer to the town. Yep, it’s been that kind of place for us. This town, it seems, is afflicted with a disease my brother has told me is called the Welsh Post Office Syndrome (WPOS). Now that we’ve travelled around the northern part of Guadeloupe a few times and interacted with many natives outside of Deshaies, I see that indeed the epidemic is isolated but intense. It seems that no one, and I stress not a single soul, in Deshaies speaks a lick of English. Ironically, this syndrome only kicks in when an American who speaks little French is attempting to give them business or, even better, to humbly ask for help. Let me explain—our first night here, after checking into the country by computer in a tacky gift shop called Le Pelican, we went in search of food for our passage-starved bodies.
After seating ourselves and finding our own menus, a waiter with the Deshaies version of WPOS approached and quickly showed that his case was severe. Before ordering (a feat only accomplished later by charades and a with a lot of cheek-puffing by the waiter) we pulled out our Visa and showed him our questioning expressions. We had been too tired to find a way to get Euros yet. His repetitive “Oui! Oui! Oui!” and the accompanying smile and bobblehead nods assured us that they took such payment. Once we had consumed an inordinate amount of food and drink we confidently gave him our Visa (well, we walked it up to him, bags in hand, exhausted, sated, ready to leave for our boat and the sleep it promised). He ran the card. It was denied. A quick, panicked call to Visa confirmed the card was never truly run. We tried again with the WPOS-afflicted gentleman. Nothing doing. Reluctantly, I gave him our debit card and punch in my code. He told me it, too, had been declined. When we asked if someone there spoke English he grudgingly pulled a cook from the line out to explain that he also had WPOS. His disease state, however, allowed him enough to explain where there was an ATM and that we could go retrieve Euros from there to pay. By this time, all people involved were a bit raw. When we tried to leave to walk to the ATM the cook had pointed out they made it clear we should leave something behind to ensure they would not be stuck with our bill. Clint explained that we would not be leaving cards or passports and, jokingly, suggested perhaps they wanted to keep a kid. The cook quickly understood the joke, but the surly waiter thought it seemed a good plan. So he tried to keep Evyn. As we walked off toward the ATM he held Evyn back. She looked at me with panic in her beautiful green eyes and my momma hackles flew up. Needless to say, WPOS-boy did not lay another hand on my child. Instead, the manager was summoned by her staff and approached us by car while we diligently pulled Euros from the steel teller. Wouldn’t you know it? She speaks fluent English!!! Don’t waste your breath asking why she wasn’t called, as the manager AND as someone who speaks English, when the conflict was heating up. WPOS. Not my favorite.
So you may be asking yourself why I would relate such a tale after having explained that Guadeloupe is one of my favorite islands. Let me tell you about the three days since then. Hold on. Now it gets fun!
Deshaies is home to an incredible botanical garden. It’s a mile out of town, straight uphill. It’s sticky-hot here so, luckily, we hitched a ride with a kind woman who spoke enough English to explain that she was not from Guadeloupe and could not answer any of our questions.
Once inside the gates, we didn’t need the English, though. This place is amazing. It’s beautiful, extensive but perfect in scope. It entertained my entire family and kept us all ooh-ing and aah-ing for hours. I’ll let the images tell the rest of the story.
On our second day we rented a car from a delightful woman who was patient with my attempts at French and came back at me with her own sweet Franglais. We did just fine!
That little Kia quickly took us to Pointe-a-Pitre where we parallel parked it in about eight feet of space in front of the Memorial ACTe. This honored museum is about slavery, particularly slavery in the West Indies and the US. It is moving. It is gut-wrenching. It is humbling. It is enlightening. It is un-missable. My family is forever imprinted by its message.
Today. I’ll be brief on words, long on photos. If you happen to hear the Barnum & Bailey theme song as you’re flipping through, please know you’re in good company!
We intended to drive to a short walk through the rain forest, have some lunch, find a waterfall hike nearby, then come home.
Instead we ended up at La Maison du Cacao where we spent nearly two hours learning about chocolate from the roots up. We sucked the mucilage from the seeds of a freshly-opened pod. We tasted the bitterness of the raw cacao seed. We husked our own roasted cacao seeds and then munched on the freshest cacao nibs around. We tasted freshly ground cacao paste and then sipped the original Spanish recipe for hot chocolate. We sampled raw chocolate with local spices and purchased a few bars for the road. Finally, Clint and I were knocked over by a sample of a local lady’s mix of cacao with local 50% white rum. I wasn’t sure I should be driving after just two sips!
Next we drove up and over the pass into the heartland of the upper part of Guadeloupe. (Sunset images from the prior night are included because, well, just look at them!)
We took a chance on a random trail off the side of the road only to be rewarded with the biggest air plants we had seen to that point.
Finally, we made it to what was supposed to have been our first stop. By now, the baguette and cheese we had purchased in the morning for our lunch hike were quite warm. We hiked, but never found the right lunch spot. But just look at these photos!
From there, we went on a search for the trailhead to a falls we were directed to by a comment on my fb page. Yeah, so, Robin, thank you so much. Once we found it (more charades and some attempts at English and French that were quite amusing), I thought maybe I should curse my friend Robin, but after arriving at the falls, I thought maybe I should kiss her. Saut de la Lezarde is a hike like nothing Clint nor I had ever done before.
Evyn spent the whole time gleefully singing “squish, squash, squish, squash” as the mud from the trail sluiced between her toes, up her legs, and found its way into her hair. I’m not sure when I last saw her smile so much for so long!
The falls plus lunch. Well, again, just look at these photos. What a way to clean the mud off!
On the drive home, we were pulled over by the Guadeloupan police. Apparently I turned when I should have gone around the round-about. They just puffed out their cheeks, told me what I had done wrong, and walked off. I apologized, then smiled and called “Merci” to their retreating backs.
Further down the road we found this gem. She makes clothing from the local madras. There are several different patterns that apparently date far back in the Creole lines here. Evyn and Marley each got a dress.
I got a bandana. (Wrong word, but did I mention I don’t speak French?) This lady was so kind and nearly fell out when Marley tried out some French on her. So sweet!
Our Kia delivered us back to Deshaies (Daay-Heey!) just after sunset. We lugged our tired bodies and multiple bags back to MarVyn where I set out preparing a large salad for dinner. In making the dressing, Evyn begged for a taste and, as she licked her lips, told me that it revved her engine. I misunderstood and asked if she really had just told me that it rubbed her enchilada. Immediately a new family saying was minted. And Guadeloupe has become indelibly marked in our hearts and our memories as one of the most incredible places we’ve ever been.