Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Off the Beaten Track - Marie-Galant

On the north-south track that we cruised last season we passaged from the north end of Guadeloupe to The Saintes and then on to Dominica.  The weather and prevailing wind made it all but impossible to explore the little island of Marie-Galante to the south of Guadeloupe.

With our north-bound direction and better weather we decided to get off the standard track and make a side-trip to the French outpost, which has turned out to be quite delightful and laid-back.

As we left Dominica we were treated to a spectacle of not one, but two sailing cruise ships - with all their sails up.  A truly rare but delightful sight.

The island of Marie-Galant is almost perfectly round, about 15 km (8 miles) in diameter and at most 200 m (650') in height.  Yes - after Dominica this is a relatively flat island!

Not a hill to be climbed in sight!
We made our way to Grand Bourg on the south west 'corner' of the island where we checked in - the only time we've had to fill in a paper form on a French island, all the others having computer kiosks.  The anchorage is a choice between the swell-rocked exposed shoreline outside or the cramped quarters inside the break wall.  We chose inside for a calm but mosquito-ridden sleep on the first night.

One place where the French habit of a short anchor scope had to be applied.

Fishermen ply their trade and the frigate birds try to get a free offering.
Grand Bourg is a sleepy little fishing town with a large ferry dock catering to the weekend- and day-trippers making the dash from Guadeloupe.  Once the last ferry departs, the place is dead so after making our explorations in about a half-hour, we decided to rent a car for our next day and get a better view of the whole island.

We headed out of town the next morning in an anti-clockwise direction which landed us first on the arid, windy southerly shores.  Unlike her volcano-created neighbours, Marie-Galante is a large slap of limestone risen from the sea with some surrounding reefs.  There is a 'U'-shaped ridge that rises up to just over 600' in the south-east making for some interesting elevation changes but for the most part the land has been cultivated with sugar cane and at one time sported over 100 working windmills.

Rugged limestone outcroppings for "Les Galeries".

These formations looked like a  series of inviting bathtubs, but the rugged limestone was anything but hospitable.  This was a relatively calm day but one can only imagine huge waves crashing over this shoreline.

Like a spontaneous museum, these relics of a not-so-long-ago past were parked by the road.
We kept our eye out for windmills, all of which have lost their working mechanisms and sails.  Most are now overgrown with vegetation but proudly stand sentinel to the past and current industriousness of Marie-Galante's farming population.  We managed to count only 12 in our ramblings but I'm sure with time and patience, and following the markings on our tourist map there were many more to be discovered.

The first of about a dozen windmills we saw on our outing.
Marie-Galante offers up three constants:  sugar cane, windmills, and tethered cattle with big horns.

Such a pretty lady but those horns look like they could do some serious damage.
The main roads were in excellent condition but many of the side-roads were potholed from farm machinery.  This was a pretty typical sight of our drive - sugar-cane waving in the breeze, the height of the crop giving a rough idea of it's maturity.
 Continuing in our anti-clockwise fashion we reached the north-east portion of the island where we followed the map to a location called "Gueule Grand Gouffre".  With absolutely no idea of what we might see, we parked the car and followed a short little path to the top of a cliff.  We peered out over the ocean and then over the ledge of the cliff to see this spectacular sight below.

I would think the view from the ocean side is amazing but it was pretty impressive from up here.

This part of the island's coastline is pretty rugged and inhospitable, but guards against the rough seas of the Atlantic.
By now it was lunchtime and we were curious about the little town of St. Louis on the west coast as this would be our next stop as an anchorage with Mowzer.  We stopped at a little boulangerie for a sandwich and it was here that I learned the difference between "saussice" and "saussison".  While I was hoping for a salami panini (saussison) what I got was chopped up hot-dogs (saussice).  Well... at least the bread was fresh and the beer was cold.

 The other thing I learned in St. Louis, where the public toilets are wonderfully efficient, automatically cleaned little kiosks, not unlike using a toilet on an airplane only with a little bit more room, is that there is a time-limit for use.  I noticed this little sign about a foot off the floor as I was going about my business.  One has to question why they put the sign so low down to the floor (although I guess the answer is pretty obvious) and I was very curious about what would happen when time was up.  It cost 30 centimes to open the automatic door and upon exit the whole floor of the unit, including the toilet are tipped up into a cleaning and sanitization unit.  If you overstayed your welcome, would you be unceremoniously dumped out onto the street, or would you be washed, sanitized, fluffed and folded?  Curious minds want to know...

The little sign was only about 3" wide and a foot off the floor.
Lunch completed it was time to hunt down a rum distillery for some sampling.  Given all the sugar-cane produced on the island there is rich history of rum making, with three distilleries remaining today.

Thought I'd sneak in one more picture of a dilapidated windmill, since they kept sneaking up on us.

We thought we'd been oh so wise to get our active sight-seeing done in the morning so we could relax the afternoon away sampling various proofs and colours of rum.  We even planned our car rental not to fall on a Wednesday because on the French islands many establishments are closed mid-week (two day's work in a row is plenty you know!)  Well, it turns out that two of the three distilleries closes at 1pm, not to open again until the following morning.  Of course we drove to these two first before arriving at Pere-Labat where they were thankfully open until 3pm - we made it!

The tour around the facility was completely self-guided.  No workers were in sight since it was their lunch-time and there were absolutely no barriers or signs indicating where we could or could not go.  We wandered up and down rickety steps, peered into vats and read the little brochure we had been provided.

Pere-Labat produces 400,000 litres of rum a year!

These fermenting vats smelled pretty good.

I'm assuming this is a high-tech stirring implement propped up by one of the vats.

Still can't believe they produce 400,000 litres a year with what looks to be a pretty small set of equipment.
At the end of the tour we enjoyed a few samples of the various rums they produce, especially the well-aged 128 euro bottle.  We however, walked away with an 18 euro bottle of amber rum that will not grow up to any great level of maturity.

At this point we had driven all the main roads, and most of the side roads around, up and down, criss-crossing the island - and it was only 3 pm.  Our final little foray was down the road from St. Louis to Grand Bourg where we came across the ruins of an old plantation and rum distillery at Habitation Roussel-Trianon.  Built in the early 1700s it was an extensive site that is now part of the UNESCO slavery memories trail across the islands of Guadeloupe, The Saintes and Marie-Galante.  There was only a single plaque at the entrance to the free sight but we were free to roam about and through the various remains (and yes, we read all the signs that said the local municipality absolved themselves of all responsibility for injury).  We chuckled at all the barricades that were placed with a convenient opening right beside them - a sort of "don't enter, but be our guest" approach.

This was the most complete building on the sight - a warehouse I believe.

Of course there was a windmill - this one was beautifully crafted even with some ornamentation.  This doorway has a star carved into the stone above it, on others there were hearts.

The windmill was also quite huge.  Henry surveyed the overall sight from up there.

A curious moon perhaps?  No, looking up through the opening of the topless windmill.

Clean and well manicured, surrounded by lovely pastoral views.

Inside the old rum distillery building were the dilapidated remains of bits of machinery dating back through the 1800s.

More views of the distillery building.

A final view of the old windmill.  Not sure why there were a few canon around, all of which were buried with one end in the ground.
With our return to Grand Bourg where we dropped off the rental car, we completed our tour of this charming little island.  There are a number of hiking trails that we could have tackled but after our tracks on Dominica, I think we were both feeling like a day off from using our feet too much - it's fun being a car-tourist for a change.

The only down-turn to the day came when we returned to our dinghy and found that someone had tried to cut our lock away and in the process they had wrecked our lock so that our key wouldn't open it.  The two guys at the fuel dock and another boat owner came to lend a hand, and jumped right into the task with exuberance - we had to hold them back a bit or we might have ended up with a deflated dinghy.  We successfully managed to get ourselves unlocked from the dock (we won't tell how though since that might be giving away our security secrets) but a new cable and lock are now on our shopping list.  Given we've been cruising now for a year and a half this is our first incident of this type.  We were also pretty happy to see that although there was a big hole drilled into the side of our lock it had not given way - thanks Toledo Locks!