Caribbean Trip - 2003

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Friday, February 28, 2003

I've started my annual Caribbean trip. This year is my most ambitious: 16 nights. The flights were uneventful, though on the last flight I befriend a rasta guy who says he's being picked up by his wife. We arrive at Melville Hall Airport in northeast Dominica a few minutes early. Not having checked any bags I am second through customs. Outside are a dozen or so taxi drivers hustling for riders. They won't leave until they have four passengers. I wait for the rasta guy. I find him. He says his wife is delayed, plus his mother and daughter are coming. So no room. But back in the taxi lot none of the taxis are filling up and leaving. Seems the checked luggage from the JFK to San Juan flight didn't make it onto the plane to Dominica. But American has chartered a plane to bring it over. So almost everybody waits. Then after it arrives people were called back into customs five at a time to claim their bags and be processed. After an hour of hanging around, the fellow whose van has my bags gives me to another driver that wants to leave now. So off we go. Just two passengers: me and a Dominican woman coming home for the first time in seven years. She did not know the driver, but it turned out the driver was best friends with her sister and had been told by her niece that her aunt was coming. So they chatted up a storm.

Along the way I am asking about renting a bicycle. The only known place is Nature Island Dive in Soufriere. The driver places a call to them. They want US$26.75 a day, and that is only for the day. MUST be returned at the end of each day. The driver argues but they wouldn't budge. Then as we enter Roseau he stops at a place and says he can arrange for a bike for US$15 a day. I'm to call the next day.

I get to my room at The Ma Bass Guest House. She does not remember my reservation, but has a room. She gives me one with a private bath for the shared bath she had quoted over the phone.

I change to cooler clothes and head for the Fort Young Hotel. Being Friday evening that is where the Happy Hour and action is. I ate some grilled chicken and drank rum punches. I end up chatting with a woman from Queens who was back for Carnival. Then her friends showed up. One local, and the other two back from the Bronx. And a fellow from Barbados that works in Bermuda.

Saturday, March 1, 2003

The next morning I'm slow to get up. Too many rum punches. And I didn't get much dinner. Nor have I had anything to drink in six months. Breakfast is at the guest house. A variety of fruit and hard boiled eggs. I make it to tourism. They are out of Carnival schedules. I visit the museum and find the market.

I tried calling the taxi driver. A woman answers, but the cell phone connection is too poor to hold a conversation. I head for lunch at Guiyave. The only thing without wheat is the fish broth (and that only as the dumplings aren't added until the end). It was horribly salty. I try the taxi driver again. He's leaving the airport and heading to town. I'm to call him in an hour. I go for a walk in the Botanical Gardens and hike up to the lookout on Morne Bruce. But it was afternoon and the sun reflecting off the Caribbean Sea produced glare and no picture could be taken. It would be much better in a morning.

I walked back to the ferry dock to make my call. I reached him. He was in town dropping off his passengers. He'd swing by Ma Bass. I walked back to the guest house to wait. And wait. He never showed. So I lie down for a nap. There was a knock on the door. It was Ma Bass. She came to invite me to her son's wedding. She had already invited all the other guests. Her car was full, so a fellow and I walked to the public buses to head to the Old Mill Cultural Center. The wedding ceremony had already taken place in a church. I found the Austrian woman I had met earlier and hung out with her. She was in Dominica to do her masters thesis on the history of production and marketing of bananas on the island.

Around 9 PM someone needs something in Ma Bass's shop. So all the guests pile into a bus and head back to the guest house. A rasta guy (that does some odd jobs for Ma Bass) and his white woman head off to the Calypso Competition for the selection of the King. Ma Bass heads back to the wedding. All the guests head to bed.

Sunday, March 2, 2003

I get up earlier on Sunday. I get to breakfast at 7:30. As I hadn't given her a time, it wasn't waiting for me.

After a few minutes others show up. Then Ma Bass shows. We eat breakfast. A group of three divorced retired women from the US are going sea kayaking, though one is allergic to salt water and they are concerned. I phone the taxi driver. I missed him yesterday as he got to Ma Bass while I was still walking back from the ferry. Anyway, he can't get me a bike but will keep trying. The Austrian woman suggests whale watching on Sunday. With the buses not running (though some will be for Carnival festivities) there isn't too much to do.

I get ready and wander around town. Very quiet. I stop at the ferry terminal just as a couple of guys on their bikes are arriving to work. I ask about renting one. One of them offers to rent me his. I just have to be back by six, which is when the last boat he has to tie up comes in. He says I can bike to Soufriere or Layou, but not both in the same day.

I head off to Soufriere. It isn't the greatest bike, but it gets me where I'm going. The road to Soufriere is flat, except for one hill, which I walk up.

In Soufriere I stop at Nature Island Dive asking about a bike map. None. I picked up their rate card. Though it's only 11:20 I'm hungry, so I stop at a place on the hillside. A fellow from So. California is there running the place. We discuss my dietary restrictions and he comes up with a plain plate of dolphin, rice, vegetables and salad. It was 40EC, with wilted lettuce and brown ends on the carrot slices.

A British woman comes in. She's working her way up the islands by boat. She started in Grenada and is headed to Antigua. We discuss world affairs and London's congestion pricing.

I head to Scotts Head. I walk up to the top. Then down. I bike around and find the Soufriere church. A couple of local women are sitting in the water. Is that the sulphur spring that is supposed to be in front of the church? I bike to Sulphur Springs. I climb all the way up. A humid and exhausting walk up. I saw the fumaroles, but while they stank none were steaming.

On my way out I stop for water. I chat with the fellow about renting bikes. I showed him the Nature Island Dive rate card. It showed US$32 a day for a bike (which is also what is in Lonely Planet). He says you can almost rent a car for that. He'd like to complain. People are supposed to be encouraging tourism, not stun the tourists with high prices!

I bike back to Roseau. I get to the ferry dock at 5:00. He's not there. There's another boat coming in and he'll be back at 6:00 they say. So I bike around Roseau and head to the guest house. Ma Bass tells me some of the women were robbed in the Botanical Gardens. I write my journal and head back to the ferry to be there at 6:00. He's there, but he has to first tie up the boat, and then untie it. So I wait a little while.

I head back to the guest house. Two of the American women are heading to dinner. We chat. Then I ask if I can join them. We first look into World of Food, but it was much too loud. So we ate Chinese (overpriced). They tell me the whole story of the robbery. The two of them were together and fought off their robber, who was only armed with a rock. The third woman was not with them at the time. She was simultaneously robbed by a fellow with a machete, except she was robbed, while the others it was only attempted. We chatted for a long time.

We went back to the guest house. I showered and took a walk around town. The Austrian woman is headed out with some local rasta fellow she has befriended. I head to bed relatively early. Carnival starts at 4 AM. Then goes to 7 AM, then a break until 10:30, when it starts again. Maybe I can get part of the first round?

Monday, March 3, 2003

During the night periodically there is noise. At 4:30 I awoke (was I ever really asleep?) I go out to see what's going on. I find a couple groups slowly marching, beating drums, and blowing horns. One stationary sound truck with people dancing out front. What I would call a jump up, but is correctly called a juvelle. Some costumes, but the fancy ones will come later. An hour is enough to see everything twice.

I go back to my room and rest for an hour. Then a 7 AM breakfast.

Ma Bass recommended Trafalger Falls early in the morning. I head to the bus. More bands and sound trucks than earlier. I go to wait for a bus. I don't have to wait long. He drops me off in the village. I walk in to the rest area and pay. I head to the Falls. I clamber around the rocks, but don't see any obvious way to get to the pools at the bases (there are two waterfalls). I return to the rest area. The woman selling tickets says that the big rocks were from a landslide and one has to go around them to the right. So I head back down. Just as I'm trying to figure out a way, the rain forest lives up to its name. With the rocks now wet no way am I going to clamber over them. I wait a little while in the lookout shelter. The rain continues. I go back to the rest area to write my notes. As I finish the sun is coming out. But will the rocks dry off?

I did head down for the third time. I did get a little further. A woman jumped into a pool. She made it to the other side and got further than I did.

I then headed to Wotten Waven Sulphur Springs. It was down an unmarked road, but the bus driver tipped me off, and the woman at the falls confirmed it. It was a long walk on a gravel road. Finally I get to a fellow selling packs of sulphur claiming to cure all sorts of skin ailments. He tells me where the sulphur springs were. Also said to get back to Roseau I should walk to Wotten Waven and get a bus, as it was much closer.

I visit the sulphur springs. Kind of cute. I then find the cave fumarole. A short walk gets me to the Village of Wotten Waven, and as I walk towards town a bus passes and picks me up.

Back in town Carnival is going full blast. I wander around taking pictures. I missed the queens (the only ones in wire frame costumes), but see plenty of other people. I buy a piece of chicken for lunch, but somehow it was contaminated with gluten. Or else somehow the fresh squeezed and strained orange juice was contaminated.

Back at the guest house we discuss going to Emerald Pool by bus. So off I head. I learn that best to take a bus to Canefield and get one from there to Castle Bruce. But the bus driver to Canefield questions my getting a bus back, and suggest doing Portsmouth today instead, and Emerald Pool in the morning.

So I end up in Portsmouth. Problem is there really isn't enough time to do all before it gets too late to get a bus back. So I walk fast to Fort Shirley. A quick look around. The museum is closed, but then no one was there to collect admission. No time to walk up to the top of Cabrits Hill. No time for a boat ride up Indian River.

I get back to Portsmouth. No buses waiting to leave. So I go across the street. A car with a white couple passes. I stick out my thumb. They stop. They're from Manchester England. They are also island hopping. We chat and I give them some tips on St. Lucia. They are not following Carnival, so I take their e-mail address so I can give them the URL to mine when I get them up.

Back in Roseau I shower and head to the water to watch the sunset. Not very good. I buy some jerk pork at a stand near the guest house. I eat it at the guest house and learn that some of the other guests are hiking to Boiling Lake in the morning. It is a long and difficult hike and hiking boots are required. Traveling light they aren't something I have. I'll stick to Emerald Pool.

It's now 9:25 PM. A sound truck is right outside the guest house. It is loud. Did I write that it was LOUD? Now they say it is supposed to end at 11 PM. We'll see. No one here will be able to sleep until then.

Surprise! Just as I get into bed, exactly at 10 PM, the loud music stops. Things in the room stop rattling. After 15 minutes of some quieter music, announcements, and other noise, all is quiet.

Tuesday, March 4, 2003

I'm over at breakfast by 7. (My room is in a building behind the main house.) There are four young French women there. Some confusion over what they want for breakfast. They aren't very friendly. It was suggested that I go to Emerald Pool first, then to the Carib Territory.

I head off to the bus stop. The four French women wander past. I take a bus to Canefield, and from there I will hitch or find another bus. A Chinese fellow in a pickup truck passes and stops. He also puts a local fellow in the back. The we pass the four French women. Somehow they got past me. They are going to the Carib Territory. He puts them in the back too.

We chat. He has retired here after also working in Canada. He has 11 acres near Emerald Pool that he'd like to develop into a hotel like Pappilotte. But he's waiting for the next government.

At Emerald Pool he tells the French women that if they want to see the pool he can come back in an hour and get them. They pass and want to continue on to Castle Bruce.

I wander down to the pool. I am the only tourist there. The pool is absolutely lovely. I did not swim. Just as I get to the road to hitch onwards (or take a bus) it starts to rain. I had not brought my small umbrella. I run back to the shelters where women are selling souvenirs. Just then an empty bus passes overhead. Oh well. After a few minutes the rain stops. I go back up to the road. Then a fellow joins me. He got a ride there from someone going only to Emerald Pool. In a short while we get a ride to Castle Bruce. I get off at the south end and take a walk on the beach. I then walk through Castle Bruce to the north end. I keep on walking. No cars pass at all. Finally a full one passes and stops. For a fee they will be my tour guide of the territory. I pass. The next car stops and picks me up. It is a rasta guy with his English woman. They live on Antigua. He lived there and they met when she went on holiday there. They are on a multi-island holiday. They are heading to Portsmouth.

They drive me through the Carib Territory. There is no center to it. Just some traditional buildings alongside the road and places selling their baskets. We pass a few small groups celebrating Carnival. We make no stops (except the first group begging got all the Rasta's coin). One of the disadvantages of hitchhiking. There are many pretty places where I'd have stopped for pictures or a walk on the beach.

At Portsmouth I don't see any place I wanted to eat. So I get a bus to Roseau. We pass a couple small Carnival celebrations. In Roseau the jump up is going full blast. I take some pictures. Then some pork chops again. Back in Ma Bass's I eat them. Then more wandering around town and more pictures. Then some chicken from the streets for dinner. Having Carnival in progress did lower my food costs. Carnival was now in the jump up phase and I'd had enough. Early to bed.

Wednesday, March 5, 2003

I'm up early. I figure out what I can do to fill the short time before the ferry. I can walk up to Morne Bruce again and get a picture!

I get to breakfast around 7. Between waiting for the breakfast and chatting, then to brush my teeth, I don't get off to buy my ferry ticket until 8:30. Then 15 minutes to buy the ticket. The woman says I should be at the dock at 9:15. One hour before scheduled departure time! It's now 8:45. I race up to Morne Bruce. I'm panting and sweating. I get to the dock at 9:30 or so. I wait a little while. A boat comes in. Wrong ferry. I chat with the fellow that rented me the bike. He says this ferry (Caribbean Ferries), leaving at 10 (and did leave at 10) is a nicer ferry. My ferry arrives late. It leaves 35 minutes late.

While waiting for the ferry I befriend a London fellow (Eric) that had a Jamaican father and English mother. We sat together on the ferry. He's been on Dominica for two weeks visiting a friend's family. He decided to make a side trip to Martinique. No plans. I loan him my guidebook pages to get a little overview. The ride is rough. The Express des Iles is a smaller ferry than the Caribbean Ferries' boat. I'll take the bigger one to Guadeloupe.


We get to Fort-de-France. First stop is to the tourist office. The ferry disembarkation point is not on the Lonely Planet map, so I'm disoriented. Eric knows a little French. He gets directions. We climb over a chain. We see that everything is closed. We find the tourist office. Closed. Ash Wednesday is still a holiday in the French islands. I go to wait for the ferry to Anse Mitan. Eric decides to stay in Fort de France and takes off. After a while Eric shows up at the dock. He can't exchange his US$ or £ for Euros. Then he decides to come out to Anse Mitan with me. He did not get good vibes from Fort de France.

The ferry arrives in Anse Mitan. We find the hotel. The owner is not there, but an Italian woman (who spends three months there every year) calls the owner and gives me a room that hadn't been made up yet. The maid is on holiday and the owner will clean when he gets in. We also line up a room for Eric.

We take off looking for lunch. We find a snack place on the beach. I give the woman the French writeup on being gluten-free that I found on the web. She comes up with the salad plate and French Fries being okay.

We wander around Pointe-du-Bout. We try to go out to the left fork. The guard sends us off in the wrong direction. We wander to the beach on the Caribbean side of the left fork. We find the beaches open. The beaches are artificial. Made with jetties and sand. We follow the beach and reach the fort at the end. It used to be a club. Then back along the beach to Point-du-Bout. We stop for a drink. Eric likes to drink. A beer at lunch. A beer now. I have a cidre.

We find Avis and Budget open. All other car rental places, and there are a lot, are closed. Budget is 58€ (all included except gas). They open at 7 AM. We decide we'll share a car. Back to the room to shower.

We meet the owner. The Italian woman says he never got my confirmation, so the room wasn't ready. He also has a room ready for Eric.

After showering we head for dinner. Being a trained French chef Eric knows ingredients and has a feel for restaurants. We pick Poisson d'Or. Very nice. We head to Point-du-Bout to walk around. The hotels there have breakfast buffets. We ask the starting times. Lonely Planet just says 6:30-7 in general. We find one that says 6:30. We head back to the room for the night. Eric doesn't want a big breakfast. So I'll go for breakfast, get the car, and then pick him up. I set the alarm for 5:30. The bed has plastic over the mattress. It doesn't breath. Not very comfortable.

Tuesday, March 6, 2003

The alarm does not go off. At 5:45 I check the time and find this out. I get ready and head to Novotel Carayou for their breakfast buffet. It's a little past 6:30, but clearly the breakfast has been open for a while. I track down someone telling her I'm here for breakfast. She says just help myself and take a seat. People are just coming and going. After I finish I have to wait around until I can find her again. She initially didn't understand that I wanted to pay. (I later learn that breakfast is included in the room price and I could have simply eaten and left.) But she writes up a check and since I don't have exact change walks me to the reception desk (in another building). It's now 7:05. They rent cars at the hotel, but the woman won't be there until 7:30. On the way back to my guest house I pass Jumbo Cars. Cars are only 42€, but not until 8:00. I pass Budget and go for Eric. He's still asleep. By the time he gets ready and we get our stuff it will be 8:00 and I'll rent the cheaper for two days. I have four days in Martinique, and it isn't bicycle friendly where I'm staying. So I'll need a car for more of the time.

We go for Jumbo Car. Fortunately the car isn't jumbo sized, but is a Renault Clio with a 1.2 litre engine. We sign up for two days. We decide to drive the island counter clockwise. So we first stop in l'Anse à l'Ane for a look at the beach. Then to Grande Anse, to Les Ases-D'Arlets, to Petite Anse, to Le Diamant, to Saint-Luce. We stopped at the slave memorial, at the location where a ship of illegal slaves floundered with most slaves, which were chained together, were lost. Then to Le Marin. From here we did not go south, but headed to the Atlantic coast. At Le Vanclin we stopped for lunch. My chicken plat du jour was goat, and the grungy place charged more than I paid for dinner the night before. Plus it took an hour and 45 minutes from when we first arrived. I did see a couple on rented bikes, but unlikely they were leaving the large valley we were in. Known for its beach where you can walk a half mile out.

Then through Le Francois, Le Robert, La Trinité, Sainte-Marie, Marigot, Le Lorrain, then across Le Morne Rouge to St. Pierre.

At St. Pierre we first went into the wrong museum. This not being the one recommended in Lonely Planet. No other people were there. I found the ruins of the theatre, then into the better museum. We then headed down the Caribbean coast to the airport, so Eric could exchange pounds into Euros. Then back to the rooms.

We had now seen everything we wanted to see, but I had rented the car for two days! We stopped at the car rental place. Something about he just told someone he had no more cars for tomorrow. Maybe I can get a refund if we came again in the morning. I have 2 1/2 more days in Martininque and no viable bicycling. A half day in Fort-de-France and then what else to do?

We went back to the same place for dinner. The boiled fish in coconut also had yoghurt in it. So I ordered grilled fish. I expected a fillet. I get a whole fish. (The first of many on this trip.) The same singing beggar was making her rounds. From table to table, then on to the next restaurant. She really couldn't sing or play the guitar well.

After dinner we found a pay phone and I found that I could get my room a day early in Point-à-Pietre. We wandered around and then I needed to rush back to my room. The meal was somehow quite gluten contaminated. Maybe the fish was dusted with flour? I think future vacations will have to stick to English speaking countries.

Friday, March 7, 2003

I get up at 6, get ready, and head to breakfast. I drive the car and park it outside the rental office. After breakfast I find that Eric has walked over to find me. He goes for a Continental breakfast and I go talk to the woman at the car rental. Since I paid with a credit card she says I can bring it back early. Good. I transact and go find Eric. I want to chat with a travel agent, but they aren't open yet. Just then the laundromat opens. Early! So I pick up my clothes and we walk back to the room. Eric is going to head to the beach for a while. I will go see the travel agent and then go get him.

I walk along the beach to Point-du-Bout. I was getting tired of walking between the towns along the road. I don't see Eric. At 9:40 the travel agency is still closed. It was supposed to be open at 9:00. I wander around the marina complex and at 9:55 they are open. They know nothing of the ferries to Guadeloupe and say I have to take a ferry to Fort-de-France to find out and buy there. I walk back along the beach again looking for Eric. He's not there. I knock on his door. Since it was overcast he got in the water for 10 minutes and then left. We were ready to head to Fort-de-France.

While waiting for the ferry I phoned and added a night to my place in Point-à-Pietre. After arriving in Fort-de-France Eric went off to buy some wine for his hosts in Dominica (it's really expensive there) and I head to the travel agent. I see a schedule outside that has the better ferry at 8:30 AM and the Express des îles at 9:00. I go in. I ask the rep the times. He types and types at his computer. He says the Caribbean Ferry is 1:30, and the Express des ìles is at 9:00. I ask if he is sure. He says yes. I take the 9:00. Back outside I look at the posted schedule. 1:30 is the time it leaves Guadeloupe! (It turns out the rep was right.) Over at tourism she also has no schedule for the Caribbean Ferry. I ask if she would call the rooming place in Saint François to see if I had a room. She leaves a message on their answering machine.

I meet up with Eric and we go to a place he's chosen for lunch. He doesn't want me to give them my comprehensive writeup on avoiding gluten. He says order what I want and he'll explain the restrictions. I end up ordering the plat du jour, as the full meal du jour has a cucumber salad that I was given the impression was all cucumbers. We order mine without the leek sauce. Eric orders the full meal du jour. His salad comes. It is a regular salad with lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. It would have been fine for me. The main dishes comes. Mine has the leek sauce it wasn't supposed to have. She says it is only leeks. I trust her and go ahead and eat it. Barely do I get out of the restaurant and I have to rush back with a bad case of diarrhea. Either the sauce had wheat or dairy in it, or the fish was dusted with flour before cooking, or the grill was contaminated. Two grill fishes in a row and both were a problem.

Eric has some Euros left so he buys another bottle of wine. We stop to see the beheaded statue of Josephine and then he's off to the ferry to go back to Dominica.

I check out the outside and inside of the Bibliothèque Schoelcher. I stop by the Palais de Justice. I visit the Cathèdrale Saint-Louis, but despite the guide book and a sign saying one can go inside I find no way in. Maybe because of the construction I see going on the outside?

I visit the Musée Départemental d'Archéologie. Then head to Fort Saint-Louis for the 3:00 tour. Since it is still an active fort it can only be toured with a guide. I see no people waiting and no sign. I ask the guard. The tours ended after Sept. 11th. I stop by the tourism office again. She got a call back and I do have a reservation in Saint François. She says they e-mailed me a confirmation. Either my spam filters got it or it was sent after I left. I ask about renting a bike. She says you can only buy them on the island. I head for my ferry back to Anse Mitan.

The ferry makes a triangular route. It goes between Fort-de-France, Anse Mitan, and Anse A L'Ane. We cross the bay, and approaching the dock the fellow shouts out En Salute, or something like that. Many get off, and so do I. As I am walking down the dock I realize that it isn't Anse Mitan. The ferry going over had made the route FdF, Anse A L'Ane, Anse Mitan. This one went the other way. I ran down the dock yelling wait for me and I jump back on as it is pulling out.

I have time to make it to the Musée de la Pagerie (which is on Josephine Bonaparte). It is open until 5:30 and it's now a little after four. It is only a couple miles from where I am staying (or less). I get to the intersection where one would hitchhike just as a local woman is pulling over to pick up another local woman (which she knew). I ran up and ask for a ride to the musée. She says okay.

She doesn't really know where it is. Josephine isn't particularly liked by the descendants of slaves. At the next intersection, a T, she says it is to the right and she is going left. I hop out and start reading the signs. So does she. She sees it is to the left. She says get back in. I am aware that the musée is 1 km from the main road. She realizes this, maybe her friend told her, so she drives me all the way to it.

I check out the place. I walk halfway back to the main road, so I can look into the Parc des Floralies, now closed. Then I try to hitch. Some cars speed up when they see me. None stop. Back to the main road I walk to the (now dead) T to hitch. After a short while a car picks me up.

I get back to my room to settle down. I pull out my Lonely Planet to see what it says about local restaurants. Being a chef Eric did not use guide books, but had picked Poisson d'Or based on menu reading and their look. I see that LP liked Poisson d'Or. Another they liked was La Langouste, on the waterfront.

When sunset approaches I go out for a walk along the shore, in the opposite direction from Pointe-du-Bout. I hadn't really been that way before. There is a peninsula in the way of the sun. I go back to the room, shower and get ready for dinner.

Down at La Langouste I'm the first one there. The French eat late. I get a waterfront table. The waves are breaking on the shore below me.

The waitress knows no English. I understand no French. No Eric around to translate. I give her the comprehensive writeup on avoiding gluten. She reads it. I order the meal of the day. After a lot of discussion, with neither understanding the other, I end up with crudité, boiled fish, and pineapple. Dessert is always a choice of ice cream or pineapple. Boiled as she has no aluminum foil to put on the grill. This is all explained in the comprehensive writeup.

I work on my trip notes. The food comes. It is a whole fish and is very small. I'd rather not have to deal with the bones. And the quantity of food is much less than I usually eat. No doubt I will lose weight on this trip.

I get the check. Instead of the 12€ meal of the day she charges me for the three pieces separately (I gather as the fish was boiled instead of grilled), bringing the total to 22.10E! A complete rip off, especially as the size of the fish was so small! I'm glad I decided to leave the island a day early. And this is the first island that I can say I will never return to, along with a vow to not visit mainland France.

Saturday, March 8, 2003

I get up on time, though the alarm again did not go off. It was not a good sleep. The air conditioner is too large, leaving the room cold and clammy. I can't open the window, as it is a sliding door to the back yard. When open anyone could just walk into my room. And with no fan I would have no mosquito control. My best sleep was cooling down the room and then shutting it off and sleeping nude on top of the sheets.

The tiny bar of soap I was given for three days has run out. It couldn't have been bigger than 1/3-1/2 ounce. And the owner is never around, except once to get our money. So no way to get more. Fortunately I bring along my own soap.

I get down to the ferry dock with time to spare. I get to Fort-de-France with time to spare. First possible breakfast spot is yesterday's lunch spot. Except there is no fruit. And despite being a buffet I would be limited to three hard boiled eggs. Three eggs plus orange juice for 6€ is too much. I walk around the square checking out the other open restaurants. Being Saturday not all are open. I find one with hard boiled eggs already cut up. She says they come with salad. She then takes a piece of bread, cuts it open, and starts spooning the eggs into it, rubbing the spoon on the bread. When I say no bread she spoons the now contaminated eggs back in with the rest. When I show horror at how everything has been contaminated they laugh and laugh. Despite the people in the places I'm staying being mostly white (you only see blacks in some low end jobs) no one has ever seen someone avoiding gluten before.

I check out all the places facing the Savanne. None have anything I can eat. So I settle for what remains of my pemmican and an orange soda from a machine.

I'm at the ferry more than an hour before. He starts giving out boarding passes early. Then we have to stand in the line for immigration. A few sit on their luggage. After an hour standing, at 9:00, the time the boat is supposed to leave, the door opens and we can get on. At 9:20 it leaves.

The film on the ferry is again excessively violent. Like the one of the way down it is an American one dubbed in French. The violence never stops. Maybe another Sylvester Stallone? (The one on the way down was his Cliff Hanger.)

At Roseau there are lots of people waiting. The boat fills up. A Dominican woman sits next to me and says many come from Guadeloupe to the Dominican Carnival and are now headed back. She has worked on Guadeloupe for 25 years. Back then they solicited workers from Dominica. Many are still there. I show her all the pictures I have taken so far.

Grande Terre, Guadeloupe

We arrive in Point-à-Pietre an hour late. I'm somewhat near the beginning of the crowd to get off. But I bump my head as I get off the boat. Blood starts dripping down my head. I grab a napkin from my back pocket to hold over it. The captain invites me up to the bridge to clean me up. As he puts a bandage on he says the cut is small. I get off the boat again. Last. Now I have 300 people in front of me at customs.

I get through a little before three. I head out on foot. I have to walk in the wrong direction for a quarter mile before I can begin to walk towards town. Apparently the ferry terminal has been moved and is now off the map. I walk along the water's edge until I find a street on the map. I find the Indian restaurant, but it is 3:10 and they are now closed. They will reopen for dinner at 7:30.

I continue walking until I reach Place de la Victoire. The streets are filthy. The gutters are filled with garbage. This in contrast to Roseau, where the morning after Carnival the streets were spotless before 8. [I later learn there is a strike and I saw sympathizers literally pour more garbage into the gutters.]

I know Bella Vita is someplace off the Place. Some taxi drivers see me carrying my bags and hustle for a ride. I ask the directions to Restaurant Bella Vita. He says they are closed. I say I don't care. He sends me down a street in the wrong direction. I ask someone else and am sent back to the square. At the far end of the square I see it. It is open and serving food. As I walk up the woman knows who I am. She takes me up to my room. It is large, has a/c, TV (only in French), and a private bath.

From leaving Anse Mitan to arriving at Bella Vita was almost nine hours. (Including a later taxi to the airport to rent a car, it was over nine.) In hindsight I should have flown between the islands and paid for a day and a half of car rental.

I go downstairs and she has hard boiled egg salad that I can eat. That plus celery juice makes my lunch. But the celery juice is rather repulsive. I get up to pay. The room is 60€, only a little less than the hotel listed in the guide book.

I go for a walk. I start down at the cruise ship dock. I have a map with a walking tour I follow, looking at the things highlighted. A fellow on a bicycle passes by. I comment on it. Turns out he's Dominican and speaks English. He wants to befriend me. His name is Thomas. He wants to be my guide tomorrow. I ask about buses to the airport. He says he'll show me where they are. We're crossing in a zebra striped crosswalk. He ahead of me. Just as he's in the middle a parked car pulls out and hits him, knocking him over. The driver gets out with a bottle of beer in his hand. His wife and small kids stay in the car, though one starts crying. Fortunately Thomas isn't hurt and it seems his bicycle is okay. He gets the driver's name and license number. We continue on. He tells me this is the ghetto where the bus stop is. We get there as a bus is seen in the distance. Some fellows at a stand tell me to hide my camera. A lot of discussion of when the last bus is, and how long the walk into the airport is. [It isn't that long a walk.] I get on the bus. We go a block and I get off with a woman, a Dominican that has been there for 30 years. She escorts me away from the area. I have shaken Thomas. She tells me to stay away from there. She then sends me down Blvd Légitimus to get back to where I want, and should be. Then a fellow holding a bunch of pamphlets wants to talk to me. I say no and keep on walking. He follows. I yell back at him and at one point run a little to increase the distance. Others start yelling at him to leave me alone. Eventually he turns off.

I follow the rest of the walking tour. I take a shower and spend 15€ to take a cab the five miles to the airport. Since Jumbo Cars was nice about my returning a car early I go for their desk. He says normally when someone returns a car early they give out credit for a future days rental. Had they done that it would have been fine.

The cars are at the old terminal, which is on the other side of the runway. A bunch of us wait for a shuttle bus to take us around. I then notice that he has me down for a Category B, and not A as asked. I liked the petite Clio I had in Martinique. The fellow tries giving me a four door car. I keep saying smaller. Finally he gives me a Renault Twingo. It is not as small as the Clio, and is lacking in amenities.

I follow the signs back to town. I see the way it comes in, so maybe I can get back there without first going to the new terminal and driving around the runway. Maybe I could even hitch back this road, but it does not look like a hitchhiking friendly place. Too many cars and people. I park around the square and head to the Indian place for dinner.

I order a meat and vegetable dish, not ordering the rice. Neither are all that large, but the two together are satiating. I pay the bill and head out, and back to my room.

Sunday, March 9, 2003

My alarm goes off at 6:00. I really wanted breakfast at 6:30, but told the woman 7:00. The restaurant is closed on Sunday, but as breakfast is included she says she'll get up and prepare it for me. I'm of course ready before 7:00. I go down and find the door to the outside well barricaded from the inside. So she's back in one of the rear apartments. So I wait, and wait, and finally at 7:25 the metal gate leading to the restaurant space opens. I get breakfast. It really isn't anywhere near the amount of food I would start my day with. (And I am hungry before 10:30.)

Basse Terre, Guadeloupe

I head to Basse Terre island. I'm going to follow the Lonely Planet route. First is the Route de la Traversée, which goes across the center of the island, and over the mountains. First listed stop is the Cascade aux Ecrivissess. A very lovely waterfall. At Maison de la Foret I do the 20 minute loop trail in 15 minutes. I stopped for the view from the rear of Gîte de Mamelles. I looked in at the Parc des Mamelles, but 11€ scared me, and others, away. Then I drove up to Morne à Louis for the view. That's it for the traverse road.

The first town in a clockwise circle is Pointe-Noire. I see the Musée de Cacoa, but I couldn't see spending 5€ to see a museum about a food I don't eat. The town is known for its furniture and cabinet making industries. This is something that I'm interested in. But I didn't want to spend 7€ to see the museum, as all commentary is in French.

I then drive until Desharies. Though not in Lonely Planet [I later learn it is only one year old, and the guide book is older than that] I see the Jardin Botanique de Desharies. The parking lot is filled with cars. I go in. A most stunning garden with birds, pools, ponds, waterfalls, and streams. The path is a long route that winds its way through the garden. It lightly rained, but while most waited it out and stood under trees I just walked on. Only problem was a drop of water got on my lens, and I didn't realize it right away. So the picture of the flamingos was lost.

I then drove into town. Lonely Planet recommended Le Madras as a moderately priced Creole restaurant. The woman spoke no English. I showed her the short avoiding gluten writeup. She read it and said I would have to eat elsewhere. I then went to Le Mouillage. I started with the short writeup. It didn't seem to help. So I switched to the longer one. No one speaks much English. They ask me to wait. Then a man shows up. (It's just 12 and lunch is just starting.) He speaks fluent English. We decide on crudité, fish in red sauce, with rice and red beans. I get two whole fish (he called them Vivaneau), twice as much as the last night on Martinique, for less money. Very tasty and filling.

I stop at Grande Anse and take a picture. It is as the guide book says. I then get a picture of it from above. I look for the Plage de Tillet, don't find it, but instead find a lookout named Tillet. I take a picture of the beach below. (What does tillet mean?) Then I stop for a picture of Plage de Clugny.

I drive down the east side of Basse Terre. I skip things, as either they are closed on Sunday, or I don't have the time. I look quickly at the mentioned bust of Columbus and two large anchors. I drive in for a picture of Plage de Roseau. On the south side of Capesterre-Belle-Eau I see the rows of century-old royal palms, but some have died and they are intermixed with new ones.

I drive up to Chutes du Carbet. Just as I get there it starts raining. So I talk out my umbrella and walk up. I see the Deaxieme Chute. The paths to the Premieré and Troisieme are closed due to falling rocks, but too long to take anyway. Both can be reached more closely by other drives up the mountainsides.

I get back on the loop road and drive to Trois-Riviéres. I look across to Les Saintes. The recommended Parc Archéologique des Roches Gravées is closed. It is now 5:30. I drive along the coastal route towards Vieux-Fort. This was once the main road. I stop for a picture of La Grande Anse. Seems they like to give two beaches on the same island similar names. The one in the north didn't have the indefinite article La in front.

I reach the town of Basse-Terre just before sunset. I watch the sun slip below the horizon. I wait a while to see if any color. Nope.

Grande Terre, Guadeloupe

I head for the airport. I go to the main terminal. I try to follow the inside road to get to the car return at the old terminal. I make a wrong turn. I ask a guard for directions to the old terminal. He does not give me the inside route, but how to take the highways. A long ways. I follow them get lost, end up back in Point-à-Pietre, then follow signs back to the new terminal. I park the car and talk to the woman. She will have the shuttle bus lead me. It does. The shuttle bus then brings me back to the main terminal to close out the paperwork.

I ask the drivers the taxi fares. They want 25€ to drive the few miles into town. For that price I can walk! I put all but 25€ into my shoes. I head out trying to hitch. Of course this is futile. After a little ways I think that maybe the old terminal is closer and I should take the shuttle back over. But I have already walked some. I walk fast. After an hour or so I pass the old terminal! Taking the shuttle bus would have saved me an hour, or about four miles. From the old terminal it is only a mile into town.

I stop by the Indian restaurant. It is closed on Sunday. I go to my room. Coudine has gone to bed, so her husband lets me in. He gives me a banana and three hard boiled eggs for dinner. Off to bed.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Breakfast is at 7:00. The 8:00 ferry is at the other end of the Place de la Victoire. I stroll to the dock and wait behind a group of three at the ticket booth. They are having a long discussion. Then they get in a car and take off. My turn. She does speak English. She says the other ferry company is out of business (which explains why their shutters are still down). She says there is no early ferry back to Point-à-Pietre, but only to Basse-Terre. And ferries to Marie Galante are only from Point-à-Pietre. I'll have to take a bus between then towns. Then she realizes I plan to go today at 8, which is only five minutes away. The ferries are no longer there, but over at the new ferry dock where I came in from Martinique. She says I'll have to take a taxi. There is another couple there also wanting the 8:00 ferry. All three of us head for a cab and a rush for the docks. We do make the ferry.

Terre de Haut, Guadeloupe

I arrive on Terre de Haut. Another boat is also arriving. Hundreds of day trippers file down the pier. I head for my room at Chez Cassin Victor. They round up their daughter that knows some English. They know nothing about a reservation. They don't take credit cards and don't know why the number was taken. But they will have a room for me. I leave my bags and the daughter takes me to Tropico Vélo, the bicycle rental place. Quiet. All the action on the island is renting scooters.

I bike around and head for the airport. No one there except a woman cleaning. On my way back to town I stop at the tourism office. They say flights must be booked on the mainland. My only choice is the 9:30 ferry to Basse-Terre, bus to Pointe-à-Pietre, then ferry to Marie Galante.

I bike, and walk, up to Fort Napoleon. Its highlights are the tame iguanas and the views. Hopefully the pictures of Bourge des Saintes will stitch together into a lovely panorama.

I bike down to the Baie de Marigot. I find something called Centre UCPA that has lots of bikes out front. Apparently it is some sort of resort for the young (like a Club Med). Facing the bay is La Paillotte. It isn't crowded. In town there are dozens of restaurants, no doubt filled with the day trippers. Someone there speaks some English. Between my restaurant cards and a conversation we figure out what I can eat. The curried chicken isn't exciting, but it does the job.

I then bike over to Plage de Pompierre. Behind the beach are lots of palm trees. The sand underneath is hard and I am able to bike to both ends. This is the famous beach in Les Saintes. There are a couple islands in front, making for a completely protected bay.

I end up visiting the beaches in a clockwise direction. On the way to the next I visit the cemetery. Conch shells are the big decoration here. They line the walk, and along with wooden markers are sometimes the only grave markers.

Next is Plage de Grande-Anse. The waves are rough here and swimming is prohibited. There are no people here. I get my picture and head back towards town. Next is a little beach named Plage de L'Anse A Gilot, with a dive shop. Then I bike out to the Plage du Figuier.

Along the way I stopped at the tourism office a couple more times. I learned how the bus will work tomorrow morning. I learned I will be able to go directly from Marie Galante to Saint François.

I get a schedule of the ferries to nearby Terre de Bas. I had already missed most of them, leaving only a 3:00 one over and a 4:10 back. That would give me one hour there. Time to head to the ferry. I'll still have two hours of daylight after I get back to Terre de Haut.

Terre de Bas, Guadeloupe

As we arrive a woman learns I plan to bike the island. No way, she says. I can only visit one beach. The roads are hilly, especially the road on the backside. So I will do what I can. I head for Grand Anse. Then I head out the south road. It goes up and up. As long as I don't go down the other side I will be okay. I do go down a little, but only enough to see the houses of Petite s-Anses, and not to the beaches themselves. Then a quick ride back to the ferry dock. I have enough time for a juice and a chat with a fellow.

Terre de Haut, Guadeloupe

Back on Terre de Haut I head for Plage de Vrawen. I climb up the rocks at one end to get my picture. Then a stop at the beach that is part of Hotel Bois Joli. That's all for the day. I head back to town. It is always too hot to really be biking in the Caribbean. I've sweated out more than a liter of water. I think I'm the only one that rented a bike.

The shower makes things so much better. I chat with the daughter for a while, then head to town to check out all the still open restaurants. The action is catering to the day trippers. I walk up and down the streets. I read all the menus. The temperature is pleasant, and the crowds are gone. The one I like, L'Anse Moulliage, also has an English translation. I go in. The woman speaks perfect English. The lambi (conch) is in a Fraiccasé sauce that has a little flour. The curried lambi uses a powder from a woman on the mainland that doesn't list ingredients. So we decide on the grilled tuna. I start with the crudité, getting only my favorite vegetables. The portions were generous. She says she has no dessert I can eat. I mention the banana they gave me for lunch. She comes out with two small bananas. A gift from the chef. She calls them figue pomme. They have a very thin peel. Probably this was the way they all were before they bred them to have thick skins to withstand transport. For price, quality, and quantity my best meal so far.

I go for another walk around town. It's a little after 9:00. Almost everything is now closed. Whatever place that LP says gets hopping later must not be on a Monday night. On my way to my room I pass L'Anse Moulliage and it is also closing. I head to bed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

The roosters do start sometime after two. I guess they only need a few hours sleep. I awake at 6:15. I go for a walk at 7:00. It is cool and quiet. I find some men getting fish out of a net. I head for the Plage d'Anse Mire. This is a working beach filled with fishing boats. I walk along the water's edge to Pointe Coquelet. Then back through town looking for breakfast. This place is so day tripper oriented what few breakfast options there are don't open until the boats arrive. There are no hard boiled eggs, or any cooked eggs, anywhere. I buy a can of juice at a grocery store and three small bananas from a woman in a small market. I find the fish market. A man is cutting up what I think is tuna with people clustering about to wait their turn. I find the bike shop open. I pay him and go get the bike and return it. Then to get my things and head to the dock.

The boat arrives late. Then it has to go to the freight dock to unload some things. Finally at 10:02 we're off. It is going to be difficult to catch the 12:15 ferry. Flying really would have been the way to go, and may still be the way I get there.

Basse Terre, Guadeloupe

The ferry arrives in Basse-Terre at 10:42. I run out to the street as a bus arrives. He's not going to Pointe-à-Pietre, but can take me to the bus terminal. I get there in two minutes. I get in the next bus to PàP. After a few minutes he drives to another place where he waits until after 11 to start the run.

The bus takes the secondary roads and stops in all the towns and along the way. Clearly I'm not going to make the 12:15 ferry. On the bright side I am getting a slow scenic tour of Basse Terre. I'm thinking about what to do. I've lost the schedule of the boat out of Saint François, plus I haven't found ferry schedules to be reliable. So I decided to simply head for Saint François a day early and hope for a room. If that ferry is running I can do a day trip to Marie Galante. Of all the islands I'm visiting on this trip it is the most bicycle friendly and it would be a shame to miss. Especially as I do not expect to be visiting the French Caribbean again.

Caribbean islands do not have all their buses end in the same place. So my next objective will be to get between bus terminals.

Grande Terre, Guadeloupe

The bus takes exactly two hours. I'm actually closer to the town center, as the bus terminal is at the end of the long driveway (1/4 mile?) into the ferry docks. A walk between the bus terminals takes me near the Indian restaurant, so I ate there for lunch.

The luncheon special included something he said was like a crepé. I don't know what it was but I passed. It wasn't that much food, but only 10E.

I hoofed it over to the other bus terminal and boarded a bus. I observed where in Gosier I would get off on my way back. The trip took 1 1/4 hours.

I arrive at Le Kali, my lodgings, at 3:15. Being a restaurant it is closed. A fellow working on his shop next door says they won't be back until 7 PM. (No wonder I could never reach them on the phone.) I can't see hanging around with my luggage for four hours. The fellow suggests I check out the Hotel Résidence Pradel. He writes it down and points out the way.

With a little help I find it. The price is 54€ plus tax. Includes kitchen, a/c, TV, private bath, and all is new. I think Le Kali was to be 40E. I start by reserving one night. I drop off my laundry and head for the marina. I pass the bike rental place (Dom Location), but it isn't open yet. I check out my day trip options. I see that the boat from La Desiradé returns earlier in the afternoon. The Marie Galante boat is full for tomorrow. It all falls into place. Of my three days here I will (1) bike the area, (2) day trip to Marie Galante, and (3) day trip to La Desiradé. I buy my tickets. Only one problem. I will have to check out of my room before my La Desiradé trip and the hotel won't be open. The boat is coming in now. I call up to the captain on the bridge. I ask if I can bring and leave my luggage on the boat. No problem, as long as it isn't a lot.

I wander around to the Match Supermarket. I stock up with three days of breakfast ingredients. I then stop by the bike rental again. After a wait I get a bike for 14E. Not a bad rate, though higher than the 9€ I paid in Bourge des Saintes for a perfectly tuned bike. The first bike here that I rode off on had a warped chain wheel. I went back and got another. Started fine, but when shifting the chain would fall off the freewheel or the chainwheel. A rather crappy bike.

Along the way I learned where the Indian restaurant is. It is 2-3 kilometers past my hotel. I bike to check them out. This will be the only night I can get there easily, and it may be the only opportunity to use the bike lights that I have been lugging from island to island. I return to my room to wash up.

I get ready to head out. I decide to travel light (no waist pack) and not carry any more money than I need. I go out and lock the door, then go back in to get some paper towels in case the bike chain jumps off. As I pull the door shut I reach into my pant pocket to feel the keys. I pull the door shut. Wrong key. Those are only the bike keys. The room keys are now locked inside! The hotel office is closed. I memorize the phone number on front and bike to the Indian restaurant. I ask to make a call. I start the call and the woman in the restaurant (fluent in English and French) completes it. I'm to go back to the hotel now and get the keys and then return to the restaurant.

I get back to the hotel. The woman appears after a couple minutes with my keys. She says they live there (somewhere). I return to the restaurant and have a nice meal. I do notice that I am the ONLY table without wine.

When I get back to the hotel I notice alongside the gate a bell/intercom labeled sonnerie. I guess I could have pushed it. I head up to bed.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

I get up at 6:00. With the air conditioning there were no mosquitoes, but it was clammy. The problem is the room had lots of unairtight jalousie windows, and a too large an a/c for the space being cooled.

I start to make breakfast. I read the ingredients of the refrigerated fruit juices I bought. They have milk in them! I've never heard of putting milk in fruit juice. I did taste one and it was dreadfully sweet. I have yet to see on this trip unsweetened orange juice. Maybe I can give away the juices to the young woman at the front desk?

While I got up early, I ended up drafting a long letter and not getting off until 8:30. At least I had a satiating breakfast and there would not be a rush to lunch.

I headed out past the Marina towards Pointe des Châteaux. I came to a dead end sign, but the map made it look like it connected. I continued and sure enough there was a path that connected.

I stopped along the way at many small beaches and cliffs. I biked over to the Atlantic to Anse à la Gourde. I was thirsty and I had yet to pass a place selling beverages. So I skipped Anse Tarare and continued on. Finally a small general store.

I made it out to the pointe. Many vendors selling tourist things, many tourists milling about, and a snack bar with water only in 1.5 liter bottles. A bit much. I headed back first biking down to Grande Saline (salt pond). I was able to get a 1/2 liter bottle at the place I stopped on my way out. This time I biked out to Anse Tarare. It is a naturist beach. I took my picture from above and a distance. Then I walked out to the view point on Pointe Tarare. That was it for the point, so I headed back to St. François to pick up my laundry.

My afternoon trip was planned to head to Le Moule. This would pass the Indian restaurant. But alas they were closed. Not a big problem, as with the big breakfast I could even skip lunch if I had to.

I came to a sign to Anse à l'Eau, plus a sign to a restaurant. The restaurant was closed for lunch, and it wasn't clear which way to Anse à l'Eau. I decided best to bike the highway to Le Moule, then along the beach, ending at Anse à l'Eau.

I found the Maison Coloniale shown on the map. I could see the old sugar mill behind. A lovely house, but hard to get a picture with the banana hedge around.

I made it to Le Moule, still within the lunch period. I first checked out the little bay as I was coming into town.

In the town center there were many inexpensive places to eat. I stopped at one. I showed her the long gluten-free writeup. It may have confused her. It was prohibiting all oils other than olive. I got out my pen and crossed it out. A fellow that knew a little English read it and had a discussion with her. Seems all sauces had flour, and the grill was contaminated. Nothing for me. Then I found the Jazz Cafe. A little more upscale. She knew no English. I showed her the writeup. She suggested crudité and egg. She did not understand my request for rice. So I pointed to the mound on a fellow's plate. The crudité was large, but only a single sliced up hard boiled egg. It was fine and only 6E.

I found the view point with the wind generator. I found the popular surfing beach. Then I found the completely protected Baie du Nord-Ouest. I continued on until I found the Edgar Clerc Archeological Museum. A rather slick museum that for some reason was now free.

I couldn't read the commentary, but could figure out a little on how the AmeriIndians collected their food. The woman there knew a little English. She asked me what I thought of Bush. I pointed my thumb down. Then I pointed out the door to my bicycle. I told her I didn't have a car. I said gas in America was too cheap, so everybody drove big cars. I said gas should be expensive, and then they would buy small ones. I said all my friends ride bikes. (Well many do!)

I was now headed back. After Le Moule I was to head to the beach and follow it as closely as possible to Anse à l'Eau. I biked up the hill to the roundabout east of town and then back down to Plage de l'Autre Bord. I need not have. I could have hugged the water from town and reached it. A limestone road leads onwards, but was chained off. I went around it and continued on. An opening in the fence allowed pedestrians and bikes through.

I was now on a protected bay, probably man made, where it was roped off in rectangles and swimming lessons were being given. Probably the Plage des Alizés. I continued along the beach. Sometimes limestone roads, sometimes sand, sometimes dirt in fields just in from the beach, and at one point a small bit of pavement. Finally I was forced up to the main road. I think it was at Anse Salabouelle. I followed the paved road until Porte d'Enfer. I biked out. First I walked down to the small bay on the left. Then down the steps to the right. That gave me a picture of Le Souffleur. Then onwards. A quick picture stop for Anse Petite Savane. There I noticed I'd lost my wide angle lens cap. It had been loose and I was afraid of losing it. I had left my waist pack a little open at the last map check. The sun was getting low and no time to go backwards looking for it. And I would need a new one anyway. Now to get to Anse à l'Eau. To get there one has to come quite a ways inland. It was getting late. I needed to get back before dark. I decided to go for it and pressed on. I got to where I could get a picture of it, but passed on the side road I later see is labeled La Cuve. I bicycled back as quickly as I could to the rental shop. I get there at 6:20. The sun had just set and I only had 10 minutes of light left. I walked back to my room, buying some real juices along the way. I did notice when passing Le Kali that the gate had been left open. Probably waiting for my arrival. I had my exercise for the day.

Without the bike I couldn't get to the Indian restaurant. Lonely Planet mostly listed low end places or Italian. The only two of interest were Le Kali, the place I booked my room at, and Jerco Chez Nise, off a back street. LP said it was a local favorite, but no locals at all when I arrived. (Later a group did come in.) The place is run by a couple. They knew a few words in English. They read the writeup and understand it. I see lambi au jus on the menu. I have been trying to get conch on this trip. So far every place either didn't have it that night, or the sauce had flour in it. That, plus the ubiquitous crudité., and the banana for dessert. I head back, set up for breakfast, and head for bed.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

I get up with plenty of time to get over to the marina for the boat to Marie Galante. I pass Le Kali at 7:15. Closed. Had I stayed there the included breakfast would not have been useful, if I could have even eaten what they serve.

I'm early for the boat. It slowly fills up. I watch some fishermen weigh and sell off their catch. At 7:45 we take off. It's a nice boat, but a little smaller than the other ferries. It bounces a lot. The crew member is kept busy passing out plastic bags. Paper towels were also pressed into use. After a parent near me didn't position the bag properly in front of his kid, and mom also got a soaking, I moved up to the bow.

I had forgotten to look at the flyer to see when the boat would return. A couple long announcements were made, but of course I didn't understand. I asked the crew member if he spoke English. No, he replied. I asked "Quelle heure la bateau depart de Marie Galante?" He clearly stated 6 o'clock in English.

Marie Galante

We could see that it rained in Marie Galante, but it was over by the time we arrived in Saint-Louis. I rented a bike. Between the three towns it is relatively flat, and is the best place to bicycle. I started by stopping at the Plage de Saint-Louis. I was able to bike a ways along a sand road before I had to get back to the paved main one. LP says the island is a good place to bike as the roads are good and few cars. I found there to be a fair number of cars, and with the good roads very straight in places, the cars go fast, with some zipping by at 50-60 mph.

A bike ride out to Pointe de Folle Anse was a waste. Industrial and smelly. Then a stop at Plage de Folle Anse. I stopped at the ruins of Roussel-Trianon. I did not bike up to Le Tron à Diable, as I did not know what it was. Then a bike around Grand-Bourg, the largest city. I see on my map, and a map posted at the dock, that there are some circular scenic routes. I start off on one that passes Habitation Murat, a sugar plantation that has been restored. The road is limestone/dirt. Slow going. At Murat I try to determine if all the road is limestone/dirt. The guy does not understand my question, and instead, in French, tells me how to find the route and follow it. But from what I see on the other side of Murat is it is all dirt.

I bike down to the coastal road that will take me to Capesterre. It is slow going. I am biking directly into a stiff breeze. I stop at Pointe Deshaies for a picture. Then a stop at Plage de Petite Anse, then Plage de la Feuillère. Now I'm in Capesterre. It's now lunch time. I stop at a place and show him the gluten-free writeup. He speaks no English. I do not know if he's saying he has nothing for me, or what he's saying. So I leave. The next place I try is Le Reflect de Lîle. The owner speaks a little English. He suggests boiled fish and rice. Throw in the ubiquitous crudité and you have a meal. All is fine, except I waste 15 minutes waiting for the check. Despite everything being cleared and my saying no café or dessert, she ignored my stares. I finally had to get up and request it from the owner. One of my restaurant peeves is how long it can take to get the check after one is finished.

I biked a little past Capesterre and then headed back. I stopped at the Plage de Grand-Bourg, which I missed when fooling around with the Sentier du Murat. Then from Grand-Bourg to Saint-Louis I took the inland road which passed Distillerie Poisson. It was closed. LP had no times listed, but I found on a tourist map that it is only open 7:00 AM to 1:00 PM. I biked around and left.

I got back to Saint-Louis with time to spare. So I decided to bike a ways in the other direction. I passed a sign for the route of Vieux-Fort. It was also on the map. I decided I would try it, but in the other direction. Can't do. No signs to help with forks. I went down a dirt road, then to follow the path there was a path in the woods. From the map it looked like it would meet up with a road again. The path was narrow, but I pushed the bike through. Eventually it went down a cliff to a stream. I had to back track. I got back to the main road some 40 minutes after I left it. I've had it with these special routes. Maybe they are only for hiking?

I biked until I reached Anse de Mays. I walked on the beach and took a picture. I biked a little further until the road started uphill again, then turned around and headed back. Entering Saint-Louis I passed a restaurant. I think it was closed, but I considered an order of rice and red beans. I got into Saint-Louis to see a boat leave the dock, and another filled with people ready to take off. I dropped off the bike and ran out to the pier. It was casting off. It was my boat. It was 4:40. They waited for me to run down the pier and I jumped on (the gangplank already being up). In hindsight I should have realized 6 PM made no sense. We would have been arriving back after dark. Then I realize I still had the bike lock key.

On the ride back I stayed on the bow. Most bouncy up there. I had no idea how the people were faring inside.

Grande Terre, Guadeloupe

The fish I had for lunch was not all that filling. One of my problems on holidays is getting enough food. So I stopped at the Match to buy some nuts. They were expensive. I ate the cashews as I walked to my room. Dreadfully salty. My mouth burned. I guess most people use a lot of salt and in doing so deaden their salt taste buds.

The office at the hotel was closed. I needed a small envelope for the keys. I'll work on this tomorrow.

I wash up and head to Le Kali for dinner. It is run by an East Indian family. The sign does have Indian designs. He knows a little English. His young daughter knew more. I show them the avoiding gluten writeups. I order a chicken curry and crudité. He brings me the crudité and bread. At my lunch place the woman asked if I wanted bread. Another restaurant peeve is how often they bring me bread, or ask if I want some, after spending many minutes going over with me how I am avoiding wheat. It is probably around 50%.

The crudité was the worst yet. Only plain lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. No shredded carrots, no beets, and no corn. And it turned out to cost 5E!! The chicken's curry appeared to simply be a packaged curry, nothing as in a real Indian restaurant. And he really tries to sell me water and not give me a pitcher of tap water. And he's aggressive in trying me to buy more, coffee, and dessert. These being where restaurants make their money, not on the entrees.

I walk around the marina to see what is going on. Clearly this is where the action is. All restaurants are filled with people. In contrast Le Kali only had a couple in addition to me. I head for my room to get ready for tomorrow and to pack.

Friday, March 14, 2003

The woman that sold me the ticket to Deseride (on Colibri II) said to be at the boat by 7:30. I was. Few others were, as we didn't leave until 8:00. Most of the passengers were a group of high school students. As many as fit went on top, and the rest inside with me. (Had I been on top there would have been many photographic opportunities.) Seems many of them hadn't been on a boat before. They were a noisy crowd. There were screams of excitement every time the boat went over a large wave. (In the beginning it was all waves.) The cries of delight included "ye ha." Is this French? Along the way I did see a school of flying fish. Then a single one. They fly quite a distance!

La Desirade

It was quick to get a bike. Only my name was required. My first stop was La Poste. I showed the woman the key and my rental agreement. She understood what I needed to do. Off she went to get a small cardboard envelope, a piece of paper, and some tape to tape the key, tag, and ring down.

I headed for the other end of the island. Stopping, as usual, at every beach and lookout along the way. At the end the road turned to dirt and I biked out to Anse Galets. I then biked back to Baie Mahauet, and then out to the Cotton Mill Ruins and Old Weather Station. I did not find the Leper Colony Ruins. Then according to LP I must have passed them as I remember the cemetery. It was only around 11:00, so I headed back to Grand Anse. With the wind behind me it was a quick ride back. Still too early for lunch. I biked in the other direction a ways, then found a sand road along the beach to return on. It was now past noon.

I had passed Lagranlag earlier and it looked okay. So back to it I went. The woman knew a couple words of English. The first so far on the island, but it barely counts. No wheat in the fraiccasé chicken, so I went for it. But I didn't get the rice. Her understanding of cereal grains included no rice, so she didn't understand why I was asking for it. A mate from another boat pitched in and eventually I got it. I ended with a banana, all for 9.80E. My best bargain lunch so far.

Now to head west. I biked to Les Galets and walked out on a jetty in Anse des Galets. Then a bike ride to Anse d'échelle with a walk to Pointe des Colibris. I had now done everything down low, and I had time left. So starting in Les Galets I headed up a rocky road. I knew I could get down quicker, and on the map there was a road that led right into Grand Anse and my boat. It was a long rocky push of the bike. Eventually I reached to the road back into town and it was paved. I could get down in only three minutes. So I pushed the bike up until I reached a small chapel with a lookout point, complete with a legend of what every land mass was that you could see. Hopefully I will be able to stitch a good panorama out of this.

I headed down. Minutes later I was back, but I still had some time. Before I had passed the airport but had not paid attention. So back I went for a look. Then to return the bike. Still 20 minutes to go, but they were just starting boarding, and the mass of students was arriving. I quickly got on first and headed up to secure a seat on top.

The kids found the audio system, so we had loud music on the way back. I did get a few pictures. There was a couple near me and I was able to strike up a conversation with the man. He had to learn English and Spanish back when he did some work for IBM. They had spent two weeks on Marie Galante. They do not like the Guadeloupe mainland, and especially didn't like Gosier. Says you need a minimum of five days to appreciate Marie Galante. He said they do not see that many Americans in Europe any more. As we reached St. François he said a lot of the hotels were empty as the French were tired of all the strikes in Guadeloupe and how the people there don't want to work.

Grande Terre, Guadeloupe

We docked. A crew member retrieved my bags and I headed for the bus. After a little while I was in Gosier. The town is long and narrow. Non stop traffic going up and down the street. I tried to figure out where to get off. I succeeded. I found my hotel, La Formule Econonique. A very pretty place on the outside. Lots of plants and decorations. But lots of dogs around. Everybody has at least one, with many having two or three.

I dumped my bags and headed out to find a place to rent a bike. I had two names from guidebooks. One place clearly no longer existed. The other, at the end of Gosier, people didn't think existed anymore. Good thing I didn't stay here four days as originally planned.

I need cash. In Terre de Haut the machine would not give me as much as I wanted. I found the ATM in Gosier. Not in service. Looks like I'm going to have to travel to another town (e.g. Bas de Fort) for cash. I did finally see a pretty sunset, but I came in at the end, and there was the town and another island in the way.

I washed up and headed out for dinner. I found La Colombe, a small place run by a Haitian woman. She did not speak English. I showed her my writeups. She immediately understood. She took me to the menu board and pointed out what I could have. Plus a crudité. In contrast to the night before, it was larger, more varied, and cheaper. A very nice dinner.

I went out for a stroll. Caribbean evenings are quite pleasant. The only reason for air conditioning is mosquito control. I found a lighted limestone field with groups tossing/rolling steel balls trying to be closest to a marker. I went back to my room. It was an exhausting, but very successful day.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

The dogs weren't too bad. Only an occasional barking match. No rush to get up, and it wasn't until 8 that I left my room. First was to investigate the bicycle. By checking the phone book and asking around I found the only place, which has had three names, is out of business. They mainly were scooter rentals, but apparently scooters are no longer popular in Gosier. I did see locals bicycling around. I investigated car rentals. All had an airport drop off charge of around 15E. I looked around for breakfast. Everything had bread. Eggs and ham did exist, but were only sold inside a sandwich. So I ate my bag of hazelnuts and bought a banana from a woman along the street. I still needed cash. I found the second machine in town. No cash. So here I was with no bicycle and no cash. I decided to get out of town. I'll eat lunch and then get a car, which would give me 24 hours until the flight. I'd check out of my room and head to Basse Terre.

To kill some time I walked around and took the boat over to îlet du Gosier and walked around for a few minutes. For some reason he wasn't collecting money. I watched the swimming lessons and what looked like a sailboat race. I checked out and left my bags with the front desk. My first choice was to eat at the same place as the night before. So I hung out in front until 12:00 to see if it would open. It didn't. So I started in the direction of the car rentals looking for a place to eat. I found another creole restaurant to have Colombo Chicken. It was also wheat-free. I asked for that, crudité, and a pitcher of water. No pitcher of water. I had to buy a bottle. I walked out. Not just on principle, but I probably didn't have enough money.

The next lunch stop (I skipped any without creole dishes) said to come back later. Then I reached the first car rental place. Closed until 4 PM! Every one was closed, with reopening times ranging from 2:30-4:00! Had I realized I could have lined one up before lunch. All I could do was to walk down the street mumbling how much I hated Gosier and France in general. I do not expect to ever visit France again.

I found a small creole restaurant (Le Palmier) with Colombo Chicken. She spoke some English. Of course she would give me a pitcher of water. A very nice lunch for a reasonable price.

It was now 1:30. A lot of time until the rental places would open. Bas de Fort did not look too far away. Maybe I could find a cash machine there, and simply rent a car from there. So off I went. It was further than I thought. I had to walk along the highway. I took the first Fort de Bas exit. I asked if I was going the right way. Yes, straight said the fellow. I walked and walked. I passed car rental places that were closed. I finally reached the boats, but I was on the wrong side of the marina! I had to walk all the way back to the highway and take the next exit (the marina exit).

After another 20 minutes I reached the other side. By this time I was so hating the place, vowing never to visit France again (well maybe St. Barts), and annoyed at my not taking a bus most of the way. (I'd still have to walk in from the highway) that I only got to the edge of the marina. I walked into a Sunsail office and found where I could get a bus back to Gosier. I just missed one. So I waited a little while. In a few minutes I was back in Gosier. I walked towards the rental places. I passed my luncheon place exactly two hours after I had left. The rental places were still closed. Only one a bit further was open. A local company, so it would be a little cheaper. I asked for the price for a Category A with airport dropoff. She said 42E. That is the price without the airport surcharge (usually about 15€, but the base for that company I thought was 39 or 40). I took it. Only problem is the car has no gas. This means I could also return it empty!

I took the car, got my bags, and put in some gas. I estimated what I thought I would need.

In my walks I had found the start of the road up to Fort Fleur d'épée. I had been wanting to get up there. So I made that my first stop. Lovely views from on high. I then drove into the center of Pointe-à-Pietre and found a cash machine. No doubt had I walked into the marina at Bas de Fort I would have found one, but I was so annoyed I just wanted to get out of the area.

Basse Terre, Guadeloupe

In Lonely Planet they mention a place in Faubourg, near Trois-Rivières. That would make a good starting point for my morning sightseeing. I had driven the route already both ways, plus on a bus, so I knew the way. In one section along the highway were fellows holding out something. A few had stick tripods with several of them hanging. I couldn't tell what they where. (Later I learned that they were bunches of crabs that they had caught.)

I reached Le Joyeaux in no time. Yes, they had available rooms. The first gave me a cheaper one, 34€, on the highway side. I decided it was too noisy. So for 6€ extra I upgraded to an ocean view room with balcony. The sun was setting, but I had a few minutes of Les Saintes. With a little effort we got the a/c working and I took a walk around Faubourg. I saw all dozen or so houses. This being Basse Terre island, as opposed to Grande Terre, the vegetation was lush and not dry. More what I like.

I washed up and it was now past 7:30, which is when Le Joyeaux's restaurant opens (at least on Saturday night). It was in back. It was huge. The first room has a large dance floor with some tables in a room to the side. Out back was a large terrace with a roof overhead. Ten tables were scattered about it. Then a lawn around with two gazebos, each with a table and a couple of chairs. They were not setup for dinner. The place could clearly hold a very large party or wedding.

Instead of Colombo Chicken I ordered Colombo Cabri. The waitress did not know the English word, but it was not a bird. The dinner was very nice and very reasonable, but she brought me bread. At lunch the waitress also walked over with bread, but at least there she wasn't the one I had the gluten-free conversation with. The cabri, as I suspected, turns out to be goat. After three chicken meals in a row at least it was a change. Dinner was nice, but not all that filling, and service was slow, despite there only being three other tables and what looked like three in the kitchen. But it only came to 16E.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

It was a good sleep. The room was more like a two level apartment. The air conditioner was not oversized, plus I had full temperature control. I awoke hungry. The result of not eating the bread or appetizer, and not being given any food to replace them.

I asked for breakfast at 7:00. It was ready a few minutes late. Though my paper said four eggs, she only gave me two, plus some fruit. Less than half what I would usually eat.

I decided I would do the Vieux Fort drive again. This time with the sun behind me instead of in my face. It is a lovely drive. And all along the way I passed groups of cyclists on their expensive racing bikes and decked out in cycling garb. Then when I got closer to Basse Terre the number of joggers and walkers increased.

I drove into the center of Basse Terre. I found the Central Square, but not the old town hall. I then drove up to Fort Louis Delgrès. Not even mentioned in Lonely Planet as a place to visit. A sprawled out and very nice fort, complete with the usual views.

I then headed up to Saint-Claude and then on towards La Soufrière. First stop was a most interesting picnic area just before you enter the park. Next stop was at the Maison du Volcan, now closed, but the start of a couple trails. One was listed for 30 minutes. It was now 9:00. I could do it. After a ways I came to a fork. The routes were named, but the times not listed. I thought the one to Des Chutes was the 30 minute one. So I headed right. LP says the trails are well traveled. I think that's a euphemism for muddy.

I walk fast. I should have reached it in less than 30 minutes. After 40 minutes I caught up with a couple. They had a trail guide book and a geological survey map. The trail I was on was an hour and a half (or maybe an hour). I took the wrong fork. I walked back even faster. This was my lunch stop time that was taken up.

I then continued to drive up. At the start of the trail to the top of La Soufrière there was a large parking lot. It was full. The side of the mountain was covered with dots of people making the climb. It was clear looking down, but the top was in the clouds. I then continued on the road to the relay station. At the start of it was a small fumarole along the road. As I drove by a woman reached over and touched it. She recoiled. She had burned herself. I continued on. This drive was eerie. It was all in the clouds.

At the end I turned around and headed down. While only 10:30 I was hungry. I picked up another can of cashews. I continued on until my next stop, which was the Parc Archéologique des Roches Gravées. It features rocks with petroglyphs.

I walked around eating my cashews. My mouth and lips burned from the salt. How can people eat like this? The park was most interesting. Not that many petroglyphs, but a lovely walk among the chaos of volcanic rocks.

Now time to head to the airport. Not really any time for lunch if I wanted to return the car at 1:00. After the last time returning the car I had learned how to do it. But to be sure of my bearings I first drove to the center of Pointè-à-Pietre and then drove out. I reached the return place a few minutes before 1:00. No one around. I changed to long pants and put on fresh socks and shirt. Then a fellow with a van appears. He checks the car over and drives me to the airport.

I check in. As suspected there was absolutely nothing at the airport I could eat.

This time my window side is on the side to see the islands. Plus the plane wasn't full, so I moved up to the first row. More leg room, plus out of the way of the propellers. And, best of all the window wasn't scratched as it was on the way down. So what pictures did I get? Some of Guadeloupe, and a lovely one of Montserrat at the side with the lava flow covering Plymouth.

© 2003 Don Wiss. All rights reserved.