Barbados

Well now we know where all the tourists are, they are in Barbados in abundance. This island is busy with hotels and apartment blocks squeezed into nearly every bit of the coastline along the south and west. However less than a mile inland from all the endless concrete are gentle hills, narrow country roads and mile upon mile of sugar cane fields and a rugged undeveloped east coast.

 

Two buses bought us from the airport to our tiny apartment in a residential street just outside Speightstown on the West Coast.

 

The buses are easy in Barbados, there is a choice of 3 different types, the big blue government buses which never seem to run to any schedule and are few and far between and the smaller privately owned yellow buses that are always rammed full of humans and driven as if they are F1 cars.

 

Finally there are the ‘dollar buses’ which are white mini vans seemingly running mainly in the north and east of the island. Helpfully all journeys on any type of bus cost BB$2 regardless of where or how far you are going and the bus stops tell you if you are heading into or out of the city!

 

We spent most of our 5 days here hopping on and off the buses and exploring the west coast and venturing across the island almost to the east coast.

We had a 15 minute stroll into Speightstown which was once known as Little Bristol as it was the port from which ships laden with sugar cane and other commodities left for Bristol in England. It’s a charming small town with a local feel and much less upscale than the rest of the West Coast with lovely old wooden buildings and quirky seafront cafes and bars.

 

On the Saturday of our stay we took a bus to Holetown which is where the first English settlers landed in 1627 and claimed the island for the British. After a quick look at the upmarket tourist orientated shops and classy hotels we found a beach bar and restaurant where Richard settled in for the two big rugby matches whilst Annie walked along the coast under overcast skies and chatted with the locals working on the beach.

 

Sadly the rugby results weren’t what we had hoped for however our visit was made more interesting as Esther (Richard’s niece) and her husband Toby are shortly visiting on their belated honeymoon.

 

Our wider exploration of the island was hampered a little bit by 2½ of our 4 full days being surprisingly overcast with frequent rain showers added to which the bus service was more unreliable on Sundays. In retrospect we probably should have hired a car for a day or two to maximise our short time on the island.

Sunday morning came and Annie decided to give a local Church another go. As it turned out she went to a small chapel that was almost full and it was wonderful to find a lively service with joyful singing. There were tambourines in the pews for the worship time and lots of halleluiahs and amens together with an hour long rousing sermon.

 

One of our more memorable outings was catching a dollar bus to St Nicholas Abbey, a definite misnomer as there was no abbey in sight. We knew before we left that it was a quite small Jacobean mansion that is one of the oldest plantation houses in the Caribbean and a fully functioning traditional rum distillery all set in a lush valley full of trees and rainforest type plants. It was such a contrast to the surrounding fields of crops and sugar cane.

 

 

From here we walked up Cherry Tree Hill (yes no cherry trees either) a mahogany tree lined road leading to a viewpoint of the rugged and windswept east coast. A new steam railway has recently been built to take tourists from St Nicholas Abbey to the view point and back for the princely sum of BB$60 per person (about £23) that for us was a 10 minute walk.

 

Our advice is for people to save their money as at the viewpoint is a great place to watch the train arrive, see the steam engine revolve on a turntable and all the passengers get off to admire the very hazy and misty view.

 

Many of the beaches up the west coast seem to be linked and at low tide accessible along a narrow coast path, some are very busy with beach chairs, beach bars and every kind of water sport and others empty and more natural.

 

We quickly realised that to eat out in the family run restaurants used by local people was cheaper than buying food in the supermarket and self-catering so we made the most of it! The beer and home cooked food was really reasonable and very tasty, we especially loved the Macaroni Pie!

P1090984 (2)Every island we have visited on this trip has had its own distinct character and Barbados was no exception. It is the perfect island for the first time Caribbean visitor as everything is made easy for tourists with plenty of bars and restaurants where everyone speaks English and even drive on the same side of the road as we do! Our trip home involved a long wait as we had to leave the apartment at 1pm and our flight wasn’t until 10.30pm. We took a bus to Oistins on the south coast and enjoyed a local meal along with a few beers before moving on to the airport bar for a couple of glasses of chilled wine and several conversations with other travellers.

 

An 8 hour Virgin Atlantic flight to Gatwick and two National Express buses that for once fell perfectly for us and we were soon home to what we hope is the start of an English spring.

Bequia, The Grenadines

A visit to Bequia (pronounced Beck-way) has long been on our bucket list as we last visited the island in 1989 exactly 30 years ago with old friends Simon & Bettina and had a truly memorable holiday. So how was it?

Well, beside the aforementioned (last blog entry) Cruise Ships depositing their passengers into the harbour and swamping the small town and local beaches, the island retains its charm and warmth of welcome from virtually all the islanders we encountered. It has a beauty all of its own and is an incredibly comfortable place to visit and explore with numerous bars and restaurants that will happily take your money in any form! Supermarkets are reasonably well stocked, there’s a fresh fruit market, laundry, bank and numerous stalls selling the usual tourist ‘tat’. 12 Bequia (111)Scattered around the island are a variety of narrow sand beaches, they were all within walking distance of our apartment albeit up and down steep hills. However the reward for all that effort is the long stretches of sand and beautiful clear blue warm waters although one downside is that the sand is ‘light’ meaning that in the ever present cooling breeze you can get plastered in the stuff when heavy gusts pass by! Not that we expect any sympathy.

Our apartment was wonderfully positioned overlooking the harbour town of Port Elizabeth, a bit of a mecca for the sailing community with numerous yachts and catamarans moored in the busy bay even though the famous Easter Regatta is still a month or so away.

The inevitable consequence of the view is the staggeringly steep hills we needed to climb each time we returned, even worse when carrying beer, water and groceries and each trip cost Richard a shirt given the amount of perspiration it entails. Despite this of course Annie continues her daily runs and Richard’s only boast is that he’s faster than her walking uphill!

One of the thills for us was to meet Noel the taxi driver who was our constant companion for our two week stay all those years ago – and he’s still working.

We walked to the site of the hotel we stayed in some 2½km away in Friendship Bay to find workmen busy demolishing it in readiness for some kind of redevelopment. However, whilst there we spent a couple of hours on the beach swimming in the warm clear sea before grabbing a beer at a classy new hotel nearby. The main change we are seeing is the huge increase in both hotels and housing all over the island although surprisingly a large proportion of these seem to be up for sale.

Once again we attended Sunday morning church in search of the lively charismatic Caribbean experience and were even more disappointed this time at a very ‘dry’ Anglican service with lots of reading and reciting prayers and psalms out of a service book where we were constantly scrabbling around trying to find the right page as we couldn’t understand the page numbers being announced. Because it was Lent we were informed by the lady priest that no one was allowed to say Hallelujah or move around during the peace! The congregation were then told how much they had to give every day during lent …$EC 1.25 and that this should continue until August when they would give the church $EC 195 each!

Following the service we found a local bar overlooking the bay and watched the Ireland v France rugby in the 6 nations with a few beers for a bit of light relief.

As with virtually every Caribbean island we have visited, the sandy beaches of Bequia are on the leeward side of the island as the windward side is windswept with big waves and often rocky coastlines suitable only for the bravest of surfers. There are few roads and many of the houses, particularly those close to the coast are attractive plantation style homes some of which are painted in wonderful bright colours.

Once again the benefit of chatting with the locals saved us from a travel disaster. The night before our departure for Barbados we were told that the following day was National Heroes Day and therefore a public holiday. This meant that there was only one ferry running to St Vincent (where the airport is located) at 07.00. We had been debating between the 09.30 and the 13.00 departure as our flight wasn’t until 16.40 and if we hadn’t heard of the revised ferry times could have been stranded on the island and missed our connections.

13 Bequia to Barbados via St Vincent (1)

National Heroes Day is clearly a special day in St Vincent and the Grenadines as when we arrived in Kingstown at 0800 it felt like a ghost town with the normally bustling and busy streets being virtually empty. We have discovered that it is the day the country honours their national hero, Carib Chief Joseph Chatoyer. He led the nation in preventing the Europeans from colonizing the islands but on March 14, 1795 Chatoyer was killed by British troops.

As a result of St Vincent effectively being closed we had to sit at the airport for 8 hours reading books and people watching until our 45 minute flight departed despite a host of other Barbados bound flights leaving in the meantime.

Bequia was our favourite island so far on this trip, despite the many changes since we last visited, it still managed to work its magic and charm us in so many ways.

Mayreau, The Grenadines

Our last night in Union Island before leaving for a 2 night stay on Mayreau, was different in that for several hours the whole island had a power cut. For us it meant that we suddenly had silence instead of the constant hum of the power station below us and we were entertained with watching the few engineers try repeatedly to get the generator restarted. It also meant supper being cooked (on gas) with our head torches on! Needless to say an early night ensued and was followed by a 5.15am alarm call for us to catch the 6.30am School Boat to Mayreau arriving just before 7am.

On waking we found a rat or mouse had eaten through the top band / thong of Annie’s brand new flip flops (which incidentally she really loved), this was not only annoying but puzzling as it hadn’t attacked the bag of mainly food rubbish we had by the door ready to take to the dustbin on our walk down to the jetty. However it did explain the mystery that when Richard had killed several cockroaches a few nights before as to why their carcasses weren’t there in the morning.

Mayreau is tiny and supposedly the smallest inhabited island with a population of around 300 people and one tarmac road running its full length of about 1.5 kms from the ferry jetty and beach up a very steep hill to the top where the islands original church is situated and then down an equally steep but even longer hill the other side to a lovely beach and yacht anchorage.

This road had a number of spurs off it which were mainly rough tracks for walking or just about accessible in a 4×4. No surprise that Annie explored most of them either running or walking!

10 Mayreau (18)Arriving at our guesthouse around 7.15am (we hadn’t been able to find any Airbnb apartments online) we found it all locked up and no one around. As it was so early we went across the road to a restaurant that was open and had a coffee whilst we waited until the cleaner arrived and she showed us to our room. When chatting with the restaurant owner he mentioned that his other business next door was all self-contained apartments! Somewhat galling to say the least as here they are also suffering a lack of tourists so had plenty of availability. We were quick to suggest he improves his marketing!

We were the only guests staying at Dennis’ Hideaway, a very basic guesthouse but more than adequate for our two night stay in Mayreau. P1090548Everyone was very friendly on the island and as most of the visitors arrive and leave by sailing boat there were only a handful of us staying on land. There is little to do in Mayreau except walk and admire the stunning views, visit the beaches to swim in the crystal clear sea and chat to the locals who all seem to take life at a leisurely pace. We enjoyed spending time on the busy but beautifully calm Salt Whistle Bay and took shelter from the sun in a local bar right on the water.

The bay is a haven for the sailing community and on the other, very windy side of the tiny peninsular is a popular kite surfing spot.10 Mayreau (37)Another day we were the only people on a long narrow beach on the windward side of the island where a new family run restaurant is situated. We had met one of the owners whilst buying some beers from his wholesale liquor store and by the time we left we had met at least 5 members of his family.

On our walks to the beach we couldn’t fail to notice a large area of ground with a meeting hall and other fairly new buildings beyond a sign at the entrance for YWAM (Youth with a Mission) www.ywamsvg.org. 10 Mayreau (123)So we called in and met Jess one of the volunteers and she told us all about the work of this Christian Missions Organisation. The only reason the headquarters for St Vincent and the Grenadines are on this tiny island is that they were gifted a 45 acre piece of land here in 2008 and since then they have built a huge sports / meeting hall and accommodation for the volunteers. Their work involves multi-island youth camps, sports camps and a children’s ministry and partnership with the schools in the islands. The reason this struck a chord with us was that Annie remembered her family had connections with YWAM from when she was a child.

10 Mayreau (146)Leaving Mayreau on Friday 8th March at 4.30 pm via the school boat once again (£4 each for the crossing) we had a one night stay back in our apartment on Union Island before catching our 08.45am flight to St Vincent. The flight was full this time, we guess that may be due to the ferry we intended to take being in dock. Looking down from the plane we never tire of the awesome beauty of the sea and landscape below us when flying over the islands of the Grenadines.

St Vincent’s buses (read minivan) haven’t changed over the years and an already full bus stopped to pick us up by the airport road and the conductor managed to fit us and our bags in by getting everyone to squash up even more. P1090562 (2)At every stop as others got on and off Richard, who was sitting by the door and clutching one of our big rucksacks on his lap, had to clamber in and out himself for the entire 50 minute journey. As he got hotter and sweatier this became harder and seemed to both entertain and amuse the other passenger including Annie. The bus drivers are crazy, driving at break-neck speeds and we concluded that as long as you are in a sitting position – never mind if you have a seat or not then the bus will go. We arrived at the ferry terminal with 10 minutes to spare before catching The Bequia Express Ferry across the water arriving at Port Elizabeth just before 1pm.

As we arrived into the bay in Bequia we saw a large TUI Cruise Ship at anchor and our hearts dropped. This has been a bit of a sadness for us on this trip. Almost every island we have visited seems to have a regular invasion of cruise ship passengers, even small islands like Mayreau and whilst this may be good for some local businesses the ship passengers do tend to swamp what are small island communities.

From our point of view this does little to attract the sort of tourists the islands so desperately need e.g. those who stay for a period of time and truly benefit the local economy. The ships that moored off Mayreau actually bought to shore their own food, water and sports equipment so the island didn’t benefit at all.

Union Island, The Grenadines

Map 9Arriving back in St Lucia on the ferry from Martinique we had an overnight stay in Castries, the capital city before flying out on 28th February to Union Island in The Grenadines. We’d booked into the only budget accommodation we could find in Castries, a guesthouse up a very steep hill above the harbour with great views of the city.

After the big sprawling and very developed cities of Guadeloupe and Martinique, Castries really felt more like a large town and is very authentically Caribbean. That same evening we were so happy to be back sitting in a bar with local people listening to the reggae and calypso music blaring out so that all the bars in the street (there were a lot) could benefit. The downside is that there wasn’t anywhere serving food after dark, our only option was a Domino Pizza which filled a gap but was somewhat disgusting!

The following morning before our one hour journey south on the bus to the Airport (10 EC$ each = £2.75) our objective was to find Richard a new watch battery and after asking the locals we were directed to a store that did just about everything. The watch counter had a chap who was doing while you wait repairs so once we got to the front of the queue the battery was inserted, the back waterproof sealed and we were on our way within 5 minutes at a cost of only £4!

With such an efficient and quick result this gave us time for a quick explore of the city and we especially loved the interior decoration of the Cathedral.

8 St Lucia overnight (15)There were only six of us on our flight to Union Island and as we were all there our 20 seater plane took off 45 minutes early! One couple were especially excited as they were on their honeymoon and were going to stay at the wonderful all-inclusive Palm Island Resort, an island close to Union Island that we have stayed at twice in the past during our ‘earning’ days. After a spectacular flight over St Vincent and the Grenadine Islands we landed on the tiny airstrip in Union Island and bade farewell to our fellow passengers who were collected from the airport in a golf buggy to be taken for their speedboat transfer to Palm Island Resort.

Meanwhile backpacks front and back we climbed a path up through the goat fields and puffed and panted up an even steeper road arriving in a very sweaty state at our Airbnb apartment and home for the next 6 nights.

Our hosts Alwyn and Clothilde weren’t at home but had left the apartment underneath their stunning home open with the keys in the door together with the Wi-Fi code.

P1090291This is the view we are waking up to each morning. Not too bad! In the picture is the soon to be opened new solar power station (funded by Abu Dhabi) that will replace the existing one which provides our apartment with a constant background turbine noise.P1090284Union Island is known principally for its sailing and safe anchorage and more recently as a centre for Kite Surfing attracting surfers from all over the globe. We enjoyed being part of the small community for a few days, chatting to the locals, shopping in the quite strange small “supermarkets” with no fresh produce at all, walking up and down the many hills and visiting local beaches.

Annie is craving a salad but even the tiny fresh produce shacks only have limited stock as it all has to be imported and not a lettuce leaf in sight and the only other downside is that beer is £2 per ‘3 gulps’ or 250ml bottle.

In fact the island is suffering from serious drought at present. The water stocks are so low the price for water has risen resulting in guesthouses closing and Airbnb hosts rejecting bookings for the time being as the cost of the water guests use is higher than any profit they can make and restaurants similarly are saying they can’t make a profit after paying their water bills.

The travellers curse struck us once more to upset the best laid plans.  We discovered quite by chance that the ferry we needed to catch, around which we had based our different island apartment bookings, is being taken out of service for repairs! Don’t they know this is the middle of the high season for tourists?

Talking to the locals we have found we can still make our planned trip to Mayreau by taking the 06.00 ‘school boat’ that ferries the kids to school but it does mean we have to leave a day earlier than planned and return to Union Island to now take a plane to St Vincent and then a different ferry to get to Bequia on the 9th March.

On Sunday we had the fun of going to the local gospel church where we were warmly welcomed although sadly there seemed to be only 7 other worshipers plus two ministers and a churchwarden. P1090286For 40 minutes we sang hymns with no music backing and no smiling, none of which we knew and the next hymn was announced randomly by anyone who was present. The same was true with the prayers with everyone seeming to join in. A family of 6 with a small baby then arrived and we all sat through a 45 minute reasonably lively sermon and then the family’s baby was dedicated and we all left. Rather bizarrely the whole service was broadcast via a speaker set up on the steps outside for whoever was passing to experience. The worship and service felt very sincere but wasn’t quite the happy clappy gospel celebration we had hoped for.

Grenadines Map_LI

 

Annie continues with daily runs and long walks despite the heat and is often rewarded with some amazing views. It is fun being immersed in a small community and we move next to Mayreau, an even smaller island close to the Tobago Cays famous as a filming location for the Pirates of the Caribbean.

Martinique

Bearing in mind we are trying to live the backpacker travel lifestyle it was a difficult pill to swallow when we realised to that to properly experience Martinique we needed to hire a car. 7 Martinique (39)Martinique is probably one of the most developed islands in the Caribbean but surprisingly has a public transport system that isn’t especially good or reliable. So after passing through immigration in Fort De France at 10.30 pm we were kindly met by the hire car company and taken to their offices nearby to sign all the papers for our tiny little Fiat 500, the cheapest car they had.  Other than being bright red, having 4 wheels and similar internal space it was the complete opposite of a Ferrari. Add to this the fact that it was seriously underpowered and going up some quite steep hills we even struggled in first gear to make it to the top. Sadly there was no way we could pick up any of the several hitchhikers we saw as with any more weight we genuinely couldn’t have managed some of the more challenging roads!

Setting off in the dark in our sparkling bright red motor we then had a 1½ hour journey north heading higher and higher into the mountains on a winding narrow road eventually arriving around 12.30 am at our Airbnb accommodation in Morne Rouge. Our lovely host, Monsieur Alain, an elderly gentleman, had very kindly stayed up to greet us and showed us to our room where we gratefully fell into bed and went to sleep listening to the howling wind whistling around the building, we certainly knew we were in the mountains. We have since found out that Morne Rouge at 450m above sea level is the highest town in Martinique and at least 8° cooler than at the coast.

Waking the next morning was both a treat and a surprise, our home at Villa Pelée named after the nearby Volcano is a strange mixture of beauty combined with elements of a hostel. Most of the rooms were on the first floor and very basic but did have their own private bathroom (albeit across the corridor for some). Downstairs was a huge terrace, infinity swimming pool and impressive views of the mountains and coastline, there was also a shared outdoor kitchen area which due to the poor levels of cleanliness gave Annie some problems. Having said that, and once Annie had surface cleaned the kitchen, we had a very happy 3 nights despite the evenings being especially cool with high winds and some rain.

The reason tourists come to Morne Rouge is because it is the jumping off point for the 4 hour round trip trek up Mount Pelée, a semi active volcano which last erupted in 1902 causing the complete destruction of the capital St-Pierre.

7 Martinique (16)

We set off on our first afternoon for the steep walk up the sides of the volcano and due to the low cloud and lack of visibility aren’t actually sure if we made it to the end of the trail.

It was a somewhat disappointing experience as after only an hour of climbing we were enveloped in cloud and so the next hour was a wet climb with no views to enjoy. Having said that we are pleased we did it and every day we were in Morne Rouge the volcano was mostly covered in low cloud.

Making the most of our ‘wheels’ we intend to explore as much of Martinique as we could. Whilst in the north we visited St-Pierre which until it’s destruction from the volcano was the capital city, it is now a very charming fishing village/town. Monsieur Alain had also recommended we visit a place called ‘Habitation Céron’ a former water mill and sugar refinery dating back to 1658 and situated in the heart of the rainforest.

The buildings are supposedly under renovation although there was very little sign of work in progress. However the visit was really all about the flora and fauna and especially a vast Zamana tree with a span of almost 70 metres (impossible to photograph in its entirety) and the cacao plantation from which they make their own chocolate.

Leaving the stormy windy north we headed south via a scenic road through the centre of the island, stopping for a quick look at a scaled down replica of the Sacré-Coeur. We weren’t brave enough, even on a Sunday, to go into the huge sprawling capital Fort De France and certainly driving around the outskirts it gave the impression of a very gritty city.

We then drove around the southwestern peninsular stopping to explore some of the small towns and bays arriving at Ste-Anne, our next destination a bit early for ‘check-in’ so found a launderette and did a big load of washing.

It was somewhat of a shock to eventually discover that we weren’t even expected at our Airbnb apartment as our host who doesn’t live locally hadn’t informed his mother (who lets people in and out) that we were coming. We had several awkward conversations with her in “Franglais” and she finally turned up with sheets and cleaning gear and wouldn’t let us in until she was satisfied it was habitable! Our home for the next three nights was a tiny but very adequate little studio apartment in a complex with a lovely balcony overlooking the pool.

Ste-Anne is almost as far south as you can go in Martinique and despite being a popular destination for tourists didn’t feel too crowded until you ventured to any of the nearby beaches, it must have been holiday time for the French as there were so many families on the beaches and the schools too seemed to be closed.

7 Martinique (225)We enjoyed being in the sunshine again after the wild weather of the north and spent our two days here exploring the nearby town of Marin and borrowing some WiFi to do the Blog, wandering into Ste-Anne, visiting local beaches and swimming in the clear calm sea, reading our books and walking on a marked coastal route that went approx 15 kms around the southernmost tip of Martinique.

On leaving the island we had a 2 hour ferry journey back to St Lucia for one night before our internal flight to Union Island on 28th February at the very south of the Grenadines. We have enjoyed being in the French Caribbean but found we have had to use our very basic French far more here that on our many visits to France itself where strangely enough English is more widely used and understood. In both Guadeloupe and more so in Martinique we feel that France and French culture seems to have drowned out or taken dominance over Caribbean culture and influences.

At times we have commented that we could easily be in Mediterranean Europe so are looking forward to getting back to ‘real’ Caribbean island life but of course will miss the baguettes and pastries!

Guadeloupe – Basse-Terre

From our lovely marina-side studio flat in Saint François we travelled via two buses interspersed with a now familiar walk across the city of Pointe-a-Pitre (from bus station to bus station) to Petit Bourg on the east coast of Guadeloupe’s second island, Basse-Terre in the west.

Petit Bourg as a town was a little disappointing and such a contrast after the marina and bars we were surrounded by in St François. An exploratory walk around showed us a rather run down town with stone and concrete defences against the high ceaseless waves crashing ashore, very few shops, no bars, a sad looking Marie, a closed Tourist Information Office and a bizarre conch shell fibreglass sculpture in the town square.

However once again our Airbnb booking was a treat, this time one of 3 attractively decorated and spotlessly clean studio apartments underneath Muriele’s home in a residential area outside the town. Muriele, originally from Martinique, is an English teacher in a nearby secondary school and was such a character who literally couldn’t stop talking; only a couple of years younger than us she exuded energy, enthusiasm and a real zest for life.

She was so hospitable and on our first evening insisted on taking us to the out of town Carrefour supermarket as she couldn’t stand the thought of us paying the prices in the local grocery store. We loved her entertaining daily visits to us ‘downstairs’ to say hello and check we were okay, invariably coming with a gift of some local fruit we just had to try, some of them we knew well and others that were new to us or asking for help to cut us some fresh bananas.

P1080934Sadly on our first morning we woke to messages from one of our pre-paid travel money cards advising us of 6 failed purchase transactions that had been blocked by VISA. On checking our account we found that two other online purchases had actually gone through, one for a staggering £811.00 obviously carried out by fraudsters but we have no idea how. We only use the cards when travelling and these transactions were definitely UK based. Even as Richard was speaking to the credit card company on the phone to block the cards they advised him of a third transaction happening at the same time for over £470! All in all close to £1500 has been charged to our card by on-line thieves and there is nothing we can do about it except to put in a fraud claim. We contacted the retailers in question but they told him a) only the person who placed the order can cancel the transaction (what!) and b) deal with it through your credit card company. Our card company will only act once the ‘pending transaction’ (which the retailer could stop if they were minded to) becomes an actual transaction. What a mess!

P1080931One of the reasons we had booked to stay on the island of Basse-Terre was that it has a huge National Park and a volcano with hiking trails. However what we hadn’t realised is that it is nigh on impossible to get to some of the hiking trails by public transport so we had to rethink our time here as we had no plans for hiring a car. Fortunately Annie found a lovely walking/running area just north of the town called Pointe-à-Bacchus which was a mixture of coastline, rain forest and small holding agricultural lands with marked out walking trails. On another day we caught the bus to the city of Basse Terre (yes same name as the Island) and enjoyed both the views on the journey around the coastal road of the island and once we arrived the sights of the city. P1080948It was a shame to find what is reportedly one of the oldest houses in the Caribbean ‘The Clap House’ fully enclosed by scaffolding and hoardings for ‘renovation’ but otherwise we enjoyed our time here. It was so different to the capital city which despite all the massive cruise ships docking still seemed to retain a rather seedy atmosphere.

P1080917As a travelling update it is worth mentioning that self-catering isn’t turning out to be quite as easy as we had hoped despite all the lovely fresh ingredients available, especially on the French Islands. Each home we stay in has different utensils, pots, pans and cooking devices. Nowhere yet has had an oven and some only have a double hot plate and/or a microwave (so microwaving our frozen quiche proved a bit of a disaster but the salad was lovely!). Add to this a lack of basic ingredients being provided that we have needed to buy such as seasonings, coffee and tea, rice, dried pasta, washing powder etc. and our luggage is starting to get weighed down by having to carry these from place to place which we clearly hadn’t thought out when planning this trip and so wasn’t what we originally expected! Despite this we are eating fairly well if having some rather strange and unusual combinations for our supper each evening.

Leaving Guadeloupe on Thursday 21st February, a five hour ferry took us across more very choppy seas to Martinique where we arrived at 10pm feeling somewhat queasy and a little daunted by having to collect a hire car and then cope with a 1 ½ hour journey to our next Airbnb accommodation high up in the hills. More about this next time!

Guadeloupe, Saint François – Grand Terre

If anyone tries to tell you the Caribbean Sea is calm, don’t believe them! We endured 8 hours on the ‘fast ferry’ called the Express des Iles from Castries in Saint Lucia to Point-a-Pitre in Guadeloupe that stopped in Martinique and Dominica along the way.

It was a choppy day but somehow we managed the journey with stomachs intact having left at 7.00 after all the formalities of customs and immigration (including the payment of $13 US per person departure tax), arriving at 15.00 in Guadeloupe. The tickets cost €69 each which for this trip is pretty fair, however they charge the same for virtually every journey regardless of duration or destination so this price will feel a bit steep in a couple of weeks’ time when we return to Saint Lucia from Martinique as it’s only a 1½ hour journey.

By the way, massive cruise ships seem abundant in this part of the Caribbean!

It was quite a shock for us when we arrived here as we discovered we were genuinely back in France! We knew Guadeloupe was a French dependency but not that it was an official overseas department of France or that it is an integral part of France. As a constituent territory of the European Union and the Eurozone the euro is its official currency and any European Union citizen is free to settle and work here indefinitely. To make things even more surreal we had a message from Vodafone welcoming us to its Eurozone tariff – great news! The supermarkets too are just as they would be in France with an array of cheeses, beautiful fresh breads and pastries and no fresh milk anywhere!

Guadeloupe is huge, it is actually an archipelago of several islands with two large main islands, Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre joined together by a bridge. Arriving at the ferry terminal we had a 20 minute walk across the capital city of Pointe-à-Pitre to the bus station for our €4 1½ hour bus ride (on a proper bus!) to Saint François on the western edge of Grande-Terre where we were based for the next five days. We really fell on our feet with the tiny apartment we rented via Airbnb. Besides being beautifully decorated and furnished it had an open kitchen diner overlooking a marina full of boats and surrounded by quaint bars and restaurants.

There was even a supermarket and Boulangerie only 3 minutes’ walk away which made our self-catering a delight with loads of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Saint François proved a great place to base ourselves, from here there are ferries to the outlying islands and a good (if rather slow) bus service back to Pointe-à-Pitre where it is possible to catch buses all over the islands. So on one of our days we spent almost 8 hours on 4 buses to travel 80 kms across the two islands to visit Deshaies.

This small fishing village is where the TV programme ‘Death in Paradise’ is filmed and being fans of the programme we just had to go and see a couple of the sights. Sadly there wasn’t much to see here worthy of real note beyond several quite expensive restaurants.

Wherever we are in the world we have invariably found our bus journeys entertaining and this day didn’t disappoint. When we boarded the bus for our return journey it looked as if the driver and his mate had high jacked it as there was no tickets issued and loud music was playing, then halfway through the journey the driver stopped the bus, got off and sat in the bus shelter to eat his chicken and chips lunch and down a alcohol free beer before 15 minutes later resuming driving!

Whilst crossing the city again from one bus station to the other we took the opportunity to visit Memorial ACTe (http://memorial-acte.fr ). This is a museum that has been built on the site of a former sugar factory and is architecturally extremely striking with a silver latticework outer shell to the building overlooking the port area.

The permanent exhibition is a history of Guadeloupe and therefore predominantly about Colonialism, Slavery and The Slave Trade worldwide. It was both fascinating and informative.

On another of our days on Grand-Terre we hired bikes and were able to explore the beautiful coastline of a long flat peninsular at the eastern tip of Guadeloupe.

This popular destination culminated in a cliff topped with a cross in an area called Pointe des Châteaux that gave stunning views back towards Saint François.

5 Guadeloupe Grande Terre (83)

5 Guadeloupe Grande Terre (151)

We also couldn’t resist a visit to Les Saintes, one of the outlying islands, so caught a ferry to the pretty town of Bourg des Saintes spending the day on Terre-de-Haut Island.

Here we walked up to a fort called Fort Napoleon, explored the town which had a very Mediterranean feel and had a swim and picnic lunch on the beach.

Our next three days will be spent on Basse-Terre at a town called Petit Bourg.