Our fourth and final Caribbean island was Guadeloupe, which like Martinique is part of France. So we were back to talking French, spending euros, and driving on the right. It seems odd that these things alternate between four islands, not very far apart.
Due to an unexplained timetable change, the ferry from Dominica did not leave until 10.15 pm. This gave us time for a restorative drink and dinner after our drive around the island, but meant that we landed in Guadeloupe very late. We decided therefore to spend the night in a hotel near the ferry. Next morning we explored Pointe-á-Pître, which is the biggest town on Guadeloupe although not the capital. After the last three islands, this was something of a culture shock. There were streets of modern shops, including some French chain stores, and pavement cafés: we definitely got the feeling of being in France, albeit with a Caribbean flavour!
As the guidebooks say, Guadeloupe is really two islands, linked by a drawbridge. In shape, it resembles a butterfly, and the two ‘wings’ are quite different. We collected a hire car from the airport and set off to explore first the eastern wing, known as Grande-Terre. There are many beautiful beaches along the southern coast, which is therefore popular with tourists. We experienced culture shock again when we encountered traffic jams and parking problems, for the first time in our Caribbean journey.
Our base on Grande-Terre was near the town of St François. On our way there we stopped to visit the remains of Fort Fleur d’Epée, scene of battles between the English and French in 1794. It is on a hill and gives great views of the offshore islands. Trying to find our accommodation was a real challenge – we asked several people who had no idea, but finally a kind man got in his car and showed us the way. Our bungalow was on a new complex, all very smart, but really in the middle of nowhere, and up a very bumpy dirt track. Going out in the evening was impossible: negotiating the access road was bad enough in daylight.
There is a narrow finger of land which juts out from the south-east corner of Grande-Terre. The day after our arrival we parked our car part way down, and walked the remaining six miles or so along a footpath. Most of the time we were walking through trees just inland, but with occasional detours to get a view of the coast. At one point we passed between the sea and a small lake, where foam was constantly blown by the wind, making it look as if the lake had been filled with detergent. And when we reached the Pointe at the end of our walk, the views were truly spectacular.
While at St François we visited some other small towns, and spent time on a number of beaches. The most attractive was Plage de la Caravelle, near Sainte-Anne. The sand is fine and golden; there are lots of palm trees giving shade as well as adding to the scenic beauty. Unfortunately the beach has been more or less taken over by Club Med, which has a huge complex there. Though they cannot stop the public visiting, they do their best to exclude them from all the amenities. We decided to ignore the warning signs, and made use of a couple of spare loungers. We were amused when an aqua aerobics session started, but after a while the entertainment palled and we decided it was time to move on.
On Thursday 29th we drove up to the northern tip of Grande-Terre. This was less spectacular than the point we’d visited earlier, but there were wonderful views at the nearby Porte d’Enfer. Heading south again we stopped briefly to visit the amazing cemetery at Morne-à-l’Eau. It has hundreds of large impressive tombs – most but not all in black and white checkerboard design – packed tightly on a hillside which forms a natural amphitheatre. An amazing sight to conclude our tour of Grande-Terre.
Our accommodation on Basse-Terre was easier to find than the previous place, and the road to it was paved. However, it was equally ‘out in the wilds’, some miles from the nearest shops – and as for restaurants?! One thing we noticed was that the evenings were cooler: Basse-Terre is mountainous, and we were quite high up.
The main roads round Basse-Terre form a figure 8. The day after our arrival we drove the lower (and larger) part of the 8, with various stops en route. In the attractive but extremely busy town of Basse-Terre (capital of Guadeloupe) we visited Fort Delgrès, and admired the impressive monument to this leader of the resistance which opposed Napoleon and the reintroduction of slavery.
After driving north up the coast we turned east on the road that bisects Basse-Terre. It passes close to two hills known as the Mamelles (because that’s what they look like!). We climbed to the summit of both (each one took most of an hour each way). The paths were not too steep, but they were very slippery and there were stretches of deep mud. We returned to the car in a pretty disgusting state. We made another brief stop to do the short walk to Crayfish Falls, but that was rather an anti-climax.
Another day we stayed closer to our accommodation. In the morning we walked up to the so-called ‘troisième chute’ of Carbet. The walk was about an hour each way, and most of the time it was an easy path. But at the end it was necessary to descend steeply; there were steps, and a ladder, but inbetween there was a very difficult patch with only a rope for help. We had to follow the Schagen method of descending on our bottoms, and while taking pictures of the waterfall were wondering how we would ever get out again. Fortunately, we made it – just.
After calling at our gîte for some reviving coffee, we drove up to La Soufrière, the volcanic mountain. We did not attempt to reach the summit, but stuck to paths graded easy. These took us around the mountain to La Citerne, an old volcanic crater now filled with water. There were good views along the way, although the mountain was often obscured by cloud.
On our last day, the weather was grey, with quite a lot of rain. We visited the second Carbet waterfall which involved a longer drive but a shorter walk. The waterfall is higher and more impressive than the third, although the top tended to vanish into the mist. On the way back we stopped briefly to visit the ‘Grand Etang’ (Big Pond), and then headed for the airport!
Les Saintes (Caribbean island hopping 4a)
How many Caribbean islands did we visit in total? You could say that it was five, because we did a day trip to Les Saintes, a group of small islands which are part of Guadeloupe. The short ferry crossing takes you to Terre de Haut, the largest of Les Saintes and the only one with significant habitation. We walked up to Fort Napoléon (a stiff climb) and had to pay for entry, unlike the other forts we’ve visited on this trip. But it was well worth it, because the views from the battlements were stunning. Every few yards, we had to stop and take another photo!
After leaving the fort, we spent time on two beaches, at opposite ends of the island. Terre de Haut is quite small, so the distance between them was only 2-3 miles. But it is also very hilly, so the walk was quite tiring.