Sunday, May 29, 2016

How to Spend a Week in Les Saintes

Laid low by a nasty cold that would just not release it's grip on George and myself, our two boats have been lying low in Les Saintes.  What better place is there to be when you just don't feel up to much, certainly don't want to sail any distances, but still have one healthy person per boat who wants to avoid as much contact as possible with their sailing partner to try to avoid cold bug contamination?

The archipelago of Les Iles des Saintes consists of five little islands two of which are inhabited, just a scant eight miles south of the main island of Guadeloupe.  These islands were originally settled by Bretony fishermen and have never had slaves, so the history revolves around fishing, possibly some smuggling and a defensive position for the French against the English back in the old days of naval warfare and the battle for trade supremacy in the sugar & spice islands.

Today, Les Saintes is a holiday weekend destination for Guadeloupians (?) and there are more tourist ferries regularly pulling up to the dock offload passengers than we have seen anywhere else.  The waters between the little islands is deep so big dependable mooring balls have been installed and for 10 Euros a night (7th night is free) you can tie up and save worry about dragging your anchor in the swirly winds that drift between the little hills and into the anchorage.
One of them most distinctive anchorage features - Bourg des Saintes has "The Doctor's House" that is built as the prow of a ship into the cliffside.

The main street at the north end skirts the beach, full of fishing and service boats.  Liming under the tree at the picnic table is enticing.

Saturday morning market time - this Saintois gentleman passed me in his bare feet heading up the concrete hill.

Ashore, the charming little village of Bourg des Saintes is chock-full of little restaurants, bars and boutiques - all incredibly charming and oh so French.

Nowhere else in the Caribbean do you find this European feature and a way of holding crumbling architecture together.

To get from the hardware store to the superette you can walk around the long way or you can take this little narrow shortcut, if your bags will fit through the gap at the bottom.

As in all the French villages, the RC church sits in a prominent spot at the centre of town.  Every morning at 6:30 the bells start ringing and on Sunday morning you can hear the faithful singing from the anchorage.

Almost daily, we visit the local market to pick up some fresh produce.

We came here a year ago and little has changed.  The islands ooze French quaintness, filled with tourists on scooters, and goats.  This time, in the company of Jan & George (Wildcat) who have been here many times, we have sampled and enjoyed most of the best of the French restaurants, visited and become friendly with the local market proprietress, and generally practiced our French on many an unsuspecting vendor.  Typically, the response comes back in English so our practice is not getting us anywhere fast.

The bright colours and pretty gingerbread trim of the houses line the street / pedestrian walkway.

The first of many delicious meals shared in the company of George & Jan.

Now that our colds have pretty much released their grip, we have started getting out once again for daily walks with George and in two mornings we have pretty much exhausted the main island of Terre-en-Haut.  We have picked up and dropped more moorings than we can count between the various anchorages, all dependent on the direction of wind and swell and have even completed a few little boat jobs to keep us going.  

Repairing the clew of our genoa sail, still totally in love with my Sailrite machine!
Pan de Sucre anchorage is tucked behind a little mini-piton with basalt towers.

Named for it's shape - Pain de Sucre (sugar-loaf).
Wildcat arrives in the anchorage all set to pick up a French mooring ball.
Reminiscent of a sunset on St. Lucia when a cruise ship sailed right in front of the sun and obliterated the green flash - not sure we can blame the island but the effect was the same.

On Ilet a Cabrit we hiked up to the fortifications for a sunset view, and just a teensy little green flash (too small to get on camera.)

Our backyard view - more goats!

The dock is just a little rough shape - we chose to beach the dinghy instead.

Late afternoon view from Ilet a Cabrit, looking back on Bourg des Saintes on Terre-en-Haut.

We weren't the only ones enjoying the sunset.  This little goat was taking it all in too.  To be honest the place is overrun with goats, over grazed, and everywhere you walk the air is ripe with goat droppings.

Golden hour light shining down on the little village below.

Another beautiful sunset in paradise.
After time at the Ilet a Cabrits anchorage we headed back over to the "main" island to visit a few more French restaurants.  Apparently Friday was Emancipation Day holiday and Sunday was French Mother's Day, so this was a final blow-out weekend for the tourist trade.  We navigated through the crowds thronging the narrow laneways and still managed to find quiet places off the beaten track.  Of course, as it typical we only had to wander 500 yards off the main street and there was not a tourist in sight!

Enjoying the view from Fort Caroline at the north eastern corner of Terre-en-Haut.

Sitting on top of this hill, Caitlin sent a text asking if we around for a Saturday morning chat.  Coverage was spotty and my photo wouldn't go through.  Caitlin - this one's for you!

Who knew there were French Rasta's?

George and his new friend - it was love at first stance :-)
Our time on Les Saintes is winding down and I'm not sure our waistlines can take much more of the fine French dining on this island.  We're now just waiting for the weather to clear so we can passage once again south to Dominica for a quick revisit.

Hey, it's Les Saintes and I said there were goats everywhere!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Blasting Down to Dominica

Just to get this off my phlegmy chest - anyone who comes to the Caribbean with a cold and intends to visit our boat needs to go into immediate quarantine.  I'm flying the yellow flag over them until they test completely harmless!  For the second time this winter we (well only me this time) have been laid low by a virus which we now have ZERO immunity to and therefore have spent the last week alternately sweating in the 30C+ heat and wanting to cuddle up with a blanket and nurse my sorrows back to health.

Enough whining - I know there's no sympathy out there.  So what have we been up to since we left Nevis on May 11th?  Well, four days of travel landed us in Dominica on Saturday just in time for the Jazz & Creole Fest on May 15th.  We could have done the distance easily in one big jump but it was more fun to hop through the various islands and once we got to Deshaies on the north end of Guadeloupe we joined back up with Jan and George on Wildcat, who became our travelling companions once again.

Four nicely spaced hops adding up to 135 nautical miles.  The longest was Day 2  at 42 miles and the hardest was Day 4 when we had tons of wind and high seas.

With George & Jan - rum punch in hand, all ready for the music to get going.

The most exciting part of the evening was when George was interviewed by local Dominican TV - the tall white guy really stood out at this event.
The music festival was pretty good, although the fashion parade was probably more interesting than the music in fact.

The real treat happened the next day when we gathered with Wildcat, the crew of Ursa Major (Dan & Denise), and the crew of Sea Quester (Mike & Jenny) with their visitors from back home - I won't hold it against them that one was responsible for our later cold infestations.  Martin (Providence) is one of the PAYS members in Dominica - this group of "boat boys" has banded together to create and secure and amazingly fun atmosphere in the northern anchorage at Portsmouth and have changed the experience completely for cruisers who visit Dominica.  If only St. Lucia and St. Vincent in particular could pull themselves together in a similar fashion.  Martin picked us up early in his boat and we then loaded into his taxi van to begin an incredible land tour of the island and a couple of its spectacular waterfalls.

I think I was giving clearance for takeoff while Martin checked everyone was aboard.

Our first stop was overlooking the pretty little fishing town of St. Joseph's and its long sweep of beach.

Martin produced a large back of mangos which he proceeded to encourage everyone to eat without getting "too messy".  Have you ever tried to eat a mango without getting juice everywhere?!!
The first waterfall highlight of the day was Spanny's Falls.  This is actually a series of two waterfalls and after paying Mr. Spanny 10EC for entry we set off down the track to the falls.  We were high up in the dense rainforest, so of course it was raining on and off.

Spanky's Shop also supplied us with sustaining cold beer.

Henry & George didn't want to get their hair wet!

George helpfully pointed out the first waterfall to us.

Time for a swim - of course this mountain-fed water is clean, clear and COLD.
Now time to hike up over the hill to the second waterfall.

Now down the hill - everyone carefully held onto the ropes to negotiate the slippery, moss and fern covered rocks.

Jan & George approved - first waterfalls of the day were a success!
The one tricky bit we hadn't thought out was that the day we took the tour was WhitMonday Holiday in Dominica.  I think Martin was a little worried he wouldn't find a lunch meal for us but once we assured him we were happy with roti or BBQ from a roadside stand, there was lots of choice available.  Sustained, we headed up to the next stop at the Titou Gorge.

Quick stop for a photo op - Martin and the ladies.
This man was having fun!

But then boys will be boys - the men had to have more fun too.
We made our way up the valley to the same place that we had started our hike to the Valley of Desolation and Boiling Lake with SeaCat back in January.  We had even dipped in the pool at the bottom of the gorge to cool down after that marathon, but we didn't have the energy to do the swim at that time.

This time we dropped into the (COLD) pool and peered warily through the crack in the rocks that Martin assured us was the gorge.  The water was surprisingly calm and we all set off wondering what would open before us.

Ready to swim - this looks pretty sedate.

Swimming up against the current - still all together in the confined dark spaces.

Looking back at a last glint of sunlight as the towering rocks closed in all around us.
Its really hard to capture the place on camera but George did an excellent job don't you think?  The gap in the rocks, which started out pretty narrow to begin with, gets tighter and tighter until at the end it suddenly opens up and there is a huge waterfall jetting its way into the stream.  It is only at this point that the water is rushing against you at the surface and swimming becomes a real workout.  Henry and I didn't go across but George and Dan were able to get across the base of the waterfall to look back at us clinging to the rocks just downstream.

This is the rush of water from the waterfall heading through that little triangle of an opening in the rocks.  Look carefully and you can spot some of us hanging onto the sheer sides of the gorge.

Wow - two amazing natural sights in one day and a lot of driving to get to them, but made even better with Martin's interpretation and stories of life on the island.

Over the next couple of days we continued to enjoy the natural beauty that is Dominica and had a great time introducing some new friends to other hikes at the north end of the island. We managed to get in a nice morning hike to Cold Souffriere with Dan & Denise and Philippa and Ian (Zooropa) - fellow Canadians who are also heading south on their beautiful new Antares.

To be honest, we did the Cold Souffriere the smart way this time - we took a $4EC ($2CAD) bus to the top of the mountain and then walked down.  Hard on the knees but a lot easier on the ticker and the legs!

George, Henry, Dan, Denise, Philippa, Ian - stepping out of the clouds that wafted over Morne Diable.

One last treat before we left, we joined Wildcat and SeaQuester to share a rare evening of camaraderie and music with Martin and I feel honoured that he joined us on Wildcat - we have made a lasting friendship on Dominica with this charming and caring man.

Everyone joined in on choruses where we knew the words.
What really gave me goosebumps though was when Martin sang some traditional Creole songs and finally the Dominica National anthem.

A weather window was opening up for us to make a reversal of direction and head back to the The Saintes for a few days so we wrapped up this visit to Dominica, knowing that we'll be back very soon.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Nevis Nice at The Source

Carib Beer has a slogan for each island where it sells its wares down here, each one enticing you to enjoy a cold bottle of yellowy goodness in each individual surrounding.  In Grenada last August the slogan was "Get Wired - For Carnival" and it certainly exuded the kind of energy we found around the place.

In Nevis, as you disembark at the town dock, the local bar is resplendently billboarded with the trademark Carib yellow proclaiming "Nevis Nice".  I'm not sure which came first - an island saying or a marketing slogan, but Nevis Nice pretty much sums up what we have found here, including the overall welcoming feeling we have as we wander the streets and tuck into the little shops.

So that is perhaps the source of Nevis Nice, but we had another source to discover today.  This one high up on the side of Nevis Peak and it is in fact the original source of water for the islanders dating back to the 1600s when locals installed an iron pipe to bring down lovely clean, cold water from the heights above.  Over the years repairs have been made to the pipe and in places it has been replaced but water is still provided to cisterns lower down the slopes from The Source.

Because there is a maintenance trail along side the pipe, it has now become a well-travelled and popular trail to hike on the island - although on the day we did it we seemed to be the only ones up there.

We rode the bus up to Golden Rock Estate (red line) and then hiked up the side of the peak to The Source.

A little note on our bus ride to and from the trail head at the Golden Rock Estate - and you really can't make this up.  This is what riding an island bus is all about.  We jumped on the little mini-van bus in Charlestown and confirmed it was going to our destination.  As we pulled away from the town square, a lady in the seat in front of us handed some money to the young man who collects the bus money and asked him to get her some bread.  So, the bus pulled up to the bakery and the young man hopped out and joined the line at the bakery.  This was going to take a while.  The street was now blocked by the bus and a line of cars started to form, patiently waiting.  I guess someone in the back didn't get the memo and let out a polite little honk, so the bus circled around the block and came back to park in front of the bakery once again.  We waited a few more minutes when the young man emerged with the bread and the lady's change.  On ... On... (as we say down here).  We carried on at breakneck speed up the road until we reached Church Ground where we turned off the road onto a two-track and proceeded up the slope of the mountain (a two-track is two tracks of concrete with grass growing in-between.)  Up, up we went and it did cross my mind that had this been a year ago we might have been worried for our safety, but today we knew that this was just a diversion to drop off or pick up a passenger.  Sure enough, the very professionally dressed young woman in the front seat hopped out at the top of the road and had just saved herself a mile walk up the mountain in her high heels.  It was now just us and a couple of guys having a very animated conversation with the driver and we headed back up the main road, once again at break-neck speed.  In no time we reached Golden Rock where we hopped out, paid our 3.50EC each (about $1.25CAD) whereupon the bus turned around and screeched back down the road to Charlestown - we were a custom drop too I guess.  On the return journey we picked up a couple of little pre-schoolers from their school.  The fare collector diligently helped them into the bus, did up one of their shoelaces and we then drove to their individual houses to drop them off.  These island bus drivers sure do earn their hard-won fares!

But now, back to our hike ...

The first half of the hike is deceptively easy with broad grassy tracks and a very gentle slope.

Don't forget to turn left at the donkey.

The latter half of the track becomes a little more narrow, a little more steep and a little more slippery.  Notice the pipe on the right that we're following?

Like blossoms everywhere, these beautiful toadstools perched on the side of a downed rotten log.

We're now getting into the rain forest on the slopes of Nevis Peak.  A short portion of the pipe here has been replaced with plastic.

Giant tree ferns clinging to the steep slopes.

Near the end of the hike there are a series of mossy, slippery concrete steps to climb.  43 steps ... they were pretty dicey but don't show up looking too bad on the camera.

Until you look back up.  Then you realize just how high they were.

This cane toad was about 6" long and very determined that he was going to jump down the hill.

We were getting close as we spied some small waterfalls along the way.

In one section there was no pipe, just an acqua-duct rather like the Beauregard Canal on Martinique.

We walked right under and through this magnificent thicket of Heliconia flowers.

The undergrowth was just exuding moisture at this point.

We arrived!!  The water pipe continues up to the top of the waterfall, accessible only by a dodgy looking ladder.  We declined the temptation to climb higher and instead relaxed in this idyllic spot.

This ladder was not for me!
The hike took us two hours from Golden Rock up to the top with the hardest part on the last third - scrambling over slippery, moss-covered rocks and very grateful for the odd rope in the really steeps spots.  The water at the top was ice-cold and refreshing both for a shower and to fill water bottles.  The humidity is pretty intense even though you are under cover and away from the sun.

We turned ourselves back down the mountain and with the afternoon downhill trek we seemed to be joining the return of most of the barnyard animals on the trail as well.  At one point a troupe of monkeys let out loud warning calls of our presence but the most threatening encounter we had was the donkey who wanted us to take him home.

A flock of sheep, led by a goat and carefully guarded by a ram preceded us down the trail.

We then came across a herd(?) of pigs grunting away in the undergrowth.

Remember our sign-post donkey?  He was tired after his long day and definitely wanted to head back home with us.
All in all a great hike to The Source on Nevis and now the site of my new favourite photo of Henry and I.