Sunday, January 31, 2016

Car Rental Time on Guadeloupe - Includes La Soufriere

We arrived in Deshaies along with 35 knot winds, so after a day or two on the boat we were ready for some exploring with Brita & Jason.  Warning, with two full days, this is a bit of a long post.  I've included lots of pictures, but if you're scrolling down fast, don't miss the video from La Soufriere if nothing else.

  • Here's my learnings from one of the hikes we did:  the main island of Guadeloupe is made up of two islands of completely different nature and age.  Grande-Terre to the east is low and flat, sedimentary limestone the same as Marie Galante, while Basse-Terre to the west is volcanic with a ridge of mountains running north-south down the centre of the island.  The two islands are separated by a narrow salt-water 'river' and spanned by three bridges.  The geology of the eastern Caribbean comprises two arcs of islands.  The outer that begins in the south with Marie-Galante and includes Grande-Terre, Antigua & Barbuda, Anguilla and Anegada are all about 400 million years old and are all part of the same limestone plate.  The inner arc starts all the way south in Grenada running up through all the islands we have just visited but splits at Guadeloupe to include Basse-Terre and then Montserrat, Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Eustacia and Saba.  I assume that St. Martin/Sint Martin and St. Barts are also included in this arc since they too are volcanic in nature.  These islands were all formed much more recently (in geological terms) about 150 million years ago.  Interesting huh?  Well maybe not riveting, but it explains the difference we have noted in the islands and I think it's pretty cool that Guadeloupe is made up of two islands from these distinct formations.

Ok - back to our excursion.  Apparently it is difficult to get a rental car on Guadeloupe at the moment due to pending Carnival celebrations, so I guess we were pretty lucky to pick up a two-day rental right in Deshaies.

For our first day we headed up to the north of Basse-Terre, over the top to Sainte-Rose and down to the outskirts of Pointe-A-Pitre where we fed our new compulsion to visit Decathlon.  Once we escaped with our wallets only a little bit thinner, we then continued east to Grande-Terre with a stop in Petit-Canal and right up to the northern point where we caught a spectacular sunset complete with a really good green flash (unfortunately not on camera.)

The anchorage at Deshaies (taken from the Botanical Gardens the day before).  The anchorage goes much deeper inland and this shows about half the boats in the bay.

Our lunch stop at Sainte-Rose included a visit to the exercise park.  The French islands have these in many villages and we see lots of people out riding bikes, running and swimming - a very healthy outlook for the local population, but just fun and shenanigans for Brita & Jason!

The coast at Sainte-Rose is much like the south shore of Puerto Rico, with outlying reefs and mangrove islands.

We're back in the land of pelicans.

At Petit-Canal we found a monument to the abolition of slavery, built rather fittingly right next to an old slave market.  One can grimly imagine the ships arriving and unloading their human cargo ready for market.

The steps rise up four flights where there is a bell at the top.

Nearby were the remains of an old building that had been overgrown by a massive tree with a most impressive root system.

The buttress roots flowed over everything in their path, like oily water.

Through the bars of this old window...

Almost like a creature from the black lagoon ... reaching, reaching...

And finally escaping the walled confines.  The back root comes right through the base of the concrete while the forward root/limb went right over the top.

We reached "Pointe de la Grand Vigie" as the sun started to set - the cliffs below to the east just picking up points of remaining light.

Looking north it was too hazy to see Antigua, but this is the northern-most point of Guadeloupe.

And looking west over Pointe Petite Tortue.
For our second (and fullest day) we set off early so we could hike La Soufriere volcano in the morning and perhaps see Carbet Falls in the afternoon. 

La Souffliere was fascinating and would now rank on our top-ten list of hikes (hmmmm - should we put together a list?)  You can drive up until just 1.5 - 2 hours of hiking remains to reach the summit at 4813'.  As you rise above the tree line, cloud usually envelops you and sometimes the visibility was just down to a few metres in each direction.  Once at the top, active vents puffing sulphur and chlorine gases into the atmosphere sting the eyes and provide the stench of rotten eggs.  It is not the view that one hikes for, it is the experience of standing on the rim, and in small craters, of a volcano that last erupted in 1977 and will most likely erupt again.

The first part of the hike up from the parking lot, is well formed but slippery with cobblestones.  We were already up high enough to be feeling the cold, damp air of the mountain.

As we climbed higher, dense clouds descended on us but we could still pick out good views occasionally through the breaks.

Onward and upward, with well-protected switchbacks to prevent landslide.

We crossed deep ravines that not only provide run-off for the huge quantities of rain that falls, but also act as side-vents to the volcano.

We reached the summit, and oh boy, was it windy.  We hung onto the sign and each other not to get blown over.

Jason gave body/wind (?) surfing a try.


We then found "La porte de l'enfer" (the gates of hell), spewing out sulphur and chlorine gases.

To really get a feel for the atmosphere up here, have a look at this video from this portion of the hike.

As we descended the mountain I took time to admire the variety of alpine growth surrounding us.

The little spines on this plant had captured a glistening coat of dew. 

Tiny flowers like dainty little earrings.

And just as suddenly we were crossing a more desolate area with warnings to be wary of landslide.

And then once again we were back among trees and huge ferns.
Back below the clouds with a view of Gourbeyre to the south.
We made a stop for a very enjoyable lunch at the marina in the town of Basse-Terre (capital of Guadeloupe).  Once recovered from the morning, we figured we just had time to get in one more significant feature with a visit to Carbet Falls, the highest waterfalls in the Caribbean.  The falls are actually a series of three waterfalls and we took a quick visit to see the top two.  The easy-access park trail leads to a viewing platform near the base of the middle fall, but we knew we'd run out of daylight so we couldn't attempt the longer hike to the higher falls.  Always something to do on a return trip!

The top cascade at 3000' falls 410', the second falls 360'.  We couldn't see the third below us but it falls another 66'.  Quite impressive!

Due to a recent earthquake, the rock wall of the second falls is unstable and the national park has limited access to a viewing platform that is still pretty close considering the size of this rock face.

Guadeloupe is a spectacular nature island of great diversity and we feel that we have still only scratched the surface.  Lots of hiking, rainforest, more waterfalls and mountains, loads of beautiful beaches - there's something here for everyone and all served up with delicious French food, wine and beer.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Driving Around Guadeloupe

You may have thought I meant we rented a car and drove around the island, but the reality is that in the last couple of days we have sailed and motored Mowzer around quite a bit of the island.  Just to give an orientation - here's a view of our travels:

From Marie-Galante we headed to Gosier and Pointe-A-Pitre and then around Basse-Terre to Deshaies.
 Before leaving the charming little island of Marie-Galante, we took a morning hike from St. Louis up to Vieux Fort through the forest, mangroves and by various farm tracks and when we arrived back in St. Louis we were ready for a bit of lunch.  On a whim we picked La Baleine Rouge and oh boy was it a good choice.  Best lunch we've had in a long time!

We will definitely return here for another great French meal.

Henry picked the Burger de la Mer and I had the Brochette de Boeuf.

The view was pretty nice too!
Leaving Marie-Galante behind us we had a wonderful sail up to Gosier.  With the wind just behind the beam we were making half wind-speed most of the way - meaning that with the wind blowing at 12 knots we were travelling at 6 knots which is pretty sweet!  Imagine if we'd actually put in some effort and shaken the reef out of the main which stays in pretty much most of the time for the conditions down here.

We arrived at Gosier to find quite a few boats in the blustery anchorage.  With the winds howling through and the waves rolling in over the low reef it was an uncomfortable anchorage.  I'm sure if the wind and waves move a bit to the north it is delightful and we'll try it again another time, but on this occasion one night was enough for us.

Gosier is a suburb of Pointe-A-Pitre but also doubles a a beachside resort town.  There's a little island that with a lighthouse that provides a little protection to the anchorage.
We left Mowzer rocking and rolling in the anchorage, knowing that with the constant conditions and dropping wind that our mighty Rocna would hold her secure.  We easily caught a bus into Pointe-A-Pitre (PaP) where we explored the capital city of Guadeloupe.

The Saturday morning market was in full swing in the main square.

The main shopping street was jammed with local traffic and very much reminded me of Yonge St. in Toronto.

The Cathedral stood off to the side, almost out of the way which is unusual on the French Islands.

Carnival is coming up in a another few weeks so all the shops are decked out in local regalia.

Along the waterfront is a huge new museum/cultural centre that reminded me of the velodrome from the Beijing Olympics.
Lots of open space but even with a cruise ship in town this place was pretty deserted.  Not the heart-beat of the city for sure.
We took a look at the anchorage in the main commercial port and made the decision that we would be much more comfortable there than Gosier, so we hopped back on the bus and moved the boat just three miles down the coast to comfort.

Along with being tucked into a little cove in the main commercial port on the island, we were entertained to a constant parade of small and large traffic that went on well into the night.  Far from disturbing, we quite enjoyed watching all nature of everyday life in a busy port.

Sitting in the anchorage at PaP with a  view of downtown and the cruise ship dock.

Night fell and the same view became quite magical.

The full moon rose above the boats in the anchorage.

The lights on the museum flickered like firelight with the cathedral tower lit up in the background.

It's hard to see but look carefully and you'll see a three-masted sailing ship - this boat was towed into the port by a coast guard vessel about 10 pm.

At about 10:30pm the banana boat was all loaded up and headed out from the port.

And finally at about 11pm the cruise ship set out on her way.

Glad we weren't any farther back in the anchorage!

We got up the next morning with a plan to head out early but being a little slow we didn't get off quite at the crack of dawn.  It was probably a good thing since we would have been sharing the narrow entrance channel with more behemoths.

Another Costa cruiseship arrived at 6:30am.  They're actually doing a 180 right behind us to reverse up to the dock.

Right behind the first came the second down the channel.  See what I mean about being at the back of the anchorage - pretty close quarters.

And just as we thought it couldn't get more crowded, one of the fast island ferries passed the second cruise ship.
We only spent the one day in PaP and this part of the island but we decided to head around to the west side of Basse-Terre and catch up with Brita and Jason and hopefully get in a hike up to the volcano together.  The weather has been squally and rainy but may clear a little later in the week.  In the meantime, we'll sit in Deshaies and see what fun we can get up to.