Five lessons in Guadeloupe

March 2016

Hi my name is Kate (“hi Kate”) and I am addicted to traveling. I thought I could satisfy my lust to wander by traveling nonstop for 15 months. Then I would be cured. Right? Well if that were true then this blog would end right here. But I relapsed and I booked another flight. This time I dragged along my parents, who weren’t exactly kicking-and-screaming.

It was nearly the end of winter in New England in 2016 and spring still felt too far away. I was browsing flights, as I frequently do, and I came across a great deal to Guadeloupe, a French island in the Caribbean. In the flash of a credit card, I had booked three seats to Guadeloupe.

Why travel with my parents, voluntarily? Wasn’t I the biggest fan of solo travel? Well I was single again and Guadeloupe was not a backpacker-friendly destination. There were few buses around the island(s) and fewer hostels, so traveling solo would be costly and likely isolating. More than that, I enjoy traveling with my parents. We’d been to Italy and Israel while I studied abroad in 2010, and we went to Costa Rica before I left on my year-around-the-world in 2014. It was almost a tradition to go somewhere every few years with my parents at the end of winter. This time, we were going truly tropical.

Unbeknownst to us, we were traveling during Easter. Easter in the United States is celebrated with bunny- and egg-themed decorations, food, and parties. Easter is an excuse to eat chocolate eggs that you’ve stolen from the basket of an unsuspecting youngster. Easter hadn’t meant much to me since the last time I went on an egg hunt in college, but the eggs were filled with jello shots (no youngsters allowed).

We flew into Guadeloupe on a Sunday afternoon and it was quiet as we drove up to our Airbnb. Oh, that was another reason that it was convenient to travel with my parents: they can drive a manual car and outside of the USA, most cars are manual. I learned to drive a stick-shift many years ago but I was not confident or proficient enough to drive one. So my parents took turns driving the tiny rental car while I navigated the winding roads and endless hairpin turns. Luckily the car was small because there were a few close calls when a bus headed towards us on a mountain road, careening around a corner. We slid by unscathed and relieved to be in a small European car.

At dinnertime our first day we headed into the nearest town, Anse-Bertrand, looking for a restaurant for dinner. We saw few other people and no open restaurants or grocery stores. We finally spotted an Italian pizzeria that was open and reluctantly dined on pizza and chilled red wine. Not exactly the finest French fare but it was edible. We hoped that more places would be open Monday, once Easter Sunday was over. What we didn’t realize is that Easter was Sunday and Monday, and went on for most of the week in Guadeloupe. The next night we were out of luck again, so we returned to the same pizzeria. 

Finally on Tuesday we began to see more signs of life in the towns we passed and buses were running again. Though it still seemed like everyone was out on the beach, having picnics and grilling with their friends and family. By then we had grown accustomed to shopping at grocery stores to ensure that we would have enough food for the next day. Hangry travelers are not happy travelers.

Enjoying the local cuisine had turned into a bit of a bust but that was my fault for not having done my homework about the time of year that we were visiting Guadeloupe. We didn’t let that stop us from hiking along the coastline and watching the waves crash against the cliffs below. We strolled along black-sand beaches and Mom attempted to crack open a coconut using only her bare hands and a rock. Similarly unassisted, Dad and I tried to bodysurf and I actually managed to catch a few waves. Well it’s more like the waves caught me, they were so strong that they dragged me to shore and I called it a successful surf.

Midweek, we took a very choppy ferry ride to Îles des Saintes to visit the Napoleonic fort and snorkel with the sea-life. Now normally I have a strong stomach and I’m not prone to seasickness, but after 45-minutes of constantly tossing back and forth, I did not feel well at all. Dad has a stomach like a rock but Mom’s is even more suggestible than mine, so she was suffering too. Mom and I ended up standing outside on the ferry deck and we realized that the fresh air made the experience much more bearable. On the return ferry we all sat outside on top of the ferry, the blasting wind a welcome respite to the rough waves, and our stomachs were much happier.

The adventures continued throughout the island as we hiked up La Soufrière Volcano, the sulfur volcano. When we started up it was raining a little, it is in a rainforest after all, but it stayed light and misty. As we got closer to the top, the wind got stronger and the rain felt colder. Mom claimed that the rain had turned to ice but I’m still not convinced. By the time we summited we were shivering and only stayed at the top long enough for a few blurry photos before we descended. At the bottom of the volcano we swam in the volcanic hot springs, relieved to be warm again. Who knew it could get so cold on a tropical island in the Caribbean?

In the remaining days of our trip we drank ti-punch with our Airbnb hosts (a local specialty made of lime, sugar syrup, and rum), snorkeled with a turtle, and swam with brightly colored fish in aqua waters off the white sand beach. It was a brief respite to the winter that was waiting back home, and we learned five important lessons:

  1. Check the local holidays and how they’re celebrated, 
  2. Put sunscreen on the back of your legs while snorkeling, 
  3. Tropical doesn’t mean it doesn’t get cold,
  4. Stand on the deck over rough waters, and
  5. Don’t take an electric car key swimming or snorkeling (it will die).

Categories: Guadeloupe

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