Guadeloupe/Iles des Saintes: May 13-20, 2007

Click on the above thumbnail for a map during this time period


Our stay in Guadeloupe was brief.  We departed Little Bay in Montserrat early on the morning of 5/12, arriving at Deshaies (pronounced Day-ay), Guadeloupe by early that Saturday afternoon.  The customs office was not open, so we simply left our yellow "quarantine" flag flying and, trusting our guide books which assured us that the French islands are relaxed about such things, went ashore as often as we pleased.  We never really felt comfortable there, however, with neither the folks ashore nor the rolly anchorage, and so left early the next day for a quiet bay just a little further south:  Anse a la Barque.   Along the way we stopped at about 9:30 AM at Pigeon Island, the site of the Jacque Cousteau Underwater Park.  As we circled Pigeon Island, surveying the dive mooring buoys and attempting to decide where to dive, we were dismayed to discover a local fishing boat pulling in a large fishing net.  Poachers!   In clear daylight, within easy sight of the small village and many dive shops across the bay to the west.  No sooner had they pulled in their net than the parade of dive boats began, taking hoards of folks over to dive the famous park.  We decided the buoys whose colors designated "for use by yachts" were a bit too close to the rocky shore of Pigeon Island for comfort, and so we anchored near the settlement and took the dinghy over to dive the sites.  Barb had her waterproof fish book along, and had a great time identifying the many types we encountered.  Between dives we had a nice lunch at one of the restaurants along the shore.   The waitress didn't speak English and we couldn't decipher the menu, but by that time Barb had already befriended an English-speaking dive shop operator who had offered his help, so Barb went running off with the menu and soon reappeared with enough knowledge that we could make our orders and not be too surprised by what we got.  On our second dive, we chanced upon a larger-than-life bust of Jacque himself, giving his famous "ok" sign with his right hand, down in a sand flat at a depth of about 35 feet.  Cruisers who dive:  don't miss this Park!  

We spent a not-too-rolly night at Anse a la Barque, a tight little anchorage where we were soon entertained by a sailboat that just couldn't get settled into a spot.  Drop the anchor.  Too close to shore.  Pull it up, circle around and drop a few yards over.  Not happy with that either.   Try behind that big trawler (us!).   Nope, too close to the little fishing boats.   Try over there.   Nope, too close to that big vacant mooring buoy.   Down.  Up.   Out with the anchor line.   Up with the anchor line.   Finally, they stopped attempting to herd in close to us and went to the other side of the narrow bay.   After only two or three attempts there they finally settled in.   Later, just as it was getting quite dark, another sailboat arrived.  Too dark for them to really see what they were doing, but it certainly made them more decisive.   Dropped anchor behind us on our port side, settled in right on top of the large and vacant buoy, and presumably had a pleasant evening.  When we left early the next morning, both boats were still emitting loud "ZZZZ" noises.

A little over an hour later we stopped at Marina Riviere Sens, just south of Basse Terre, where our guide books indicated there would be a customs office, and our calendar indicated (Monday!) that they should be open.  There is also a customs office in Basse Terre itself, but they reportedly do not like dealing with pleasure craft and refer them to the Riviere Sens branch.  Since the guide books were written, the marina that hosted the customs office has been hit by a hurricane.   Docks are still in bad shape, and there are sunken sailboats at some of the slips.  Offices along the dock have been closed.   Slips that are in sufficiently good repair are tightly packed with vessels.   We tied our dinghy to a decrepit dock that had vessels tied to it, but that looked like it was falling in.  At the end of the dock we discovered a barrier that was intended to keep folks off the dock.  Just as we arrived there, a man -- was he going to scold us and chase us away? -- arrived at the barrier.   He gracefully pulled himself around the barrier and went nonchalantly down the dock.  Grateful for the lesson on how to navigate the barrier, we proceeded ashore and began our search for customs.   First we tried the location listed in our guide.   We were redirected toward another spot by a man who had little English.   We later got an update from another man with a little English, after "speaking" with several that had none.  (They were not very helpful, but they were friendly and apologetic.)  When at last we found the office, we were able to check in and check out (with a speculative date as to our departure from Iles des Saintes) on the same form.  We like the French attitude toward all of this nonsense.   The cost:  nothing.   No charge for customs clearance in Guadeloupe.   So why did we bother at all?   Because the next island down the chain is NOT French, and they will want to see a copy of our clearance out from Guadeloupe.

Poachers at Jacque Cousteau Underwater Park

Quarry near Basse Terre, Guadeloupe

Iles des Saintes -- Terre de Haut

Five miles south of Guadeloupe lie Iles des Saintes.  This is a charming group of islands, small, very dry, steep, and very very French.   Since the island Terre de Haute was never agricultural, no slaves were ever imported, and so most of the inhabitants are white.  If St. Martin or St. Bart can be compared to Paris or St. Tropez, perhaps the Saintes can be compared to Brittany.   The only small town is Bourg des Saintes, on the island Terre de Haut. The town is clean and picturesque, with red roofs and balconies and gingerbread trim.  Flowers everywhere, and quiet little parks with lots of benches for unhurried sitting.  Locals on quiet walks in the early evening.  Small fishing boats line the shore.  But if you expect me to say that the island is "undiscovered", you would be wrong.   Every day there is a massive influx of tourists arriving by ferry boat.   Not a ferry boat, but many many ferry boats.  Some big, some small. What do they do when they get here?   We are not sure.   We walked up to Ft. Napoleon one day, and there were scads of elderly tourists there.  We cannot speak enough French to be certain, but we had the distinct impression that many (most?) of them were retired folks from France.  And then there are the beaches, all within walking or scooter distance.  At least one of us is happy to report that the apparel at the beaches is also delightfully French.  There are also a number of interesting shops in the Bourg, as well as a number of good restaurants.   Somehow, the zillions of ferry passengers get dispersed, so that, with the exception of the fort, the density is never too large.  The fort is an interesting place.  In addition to the diverse displays in the many rooms of the large central building (but alas, many are only in French), the grounds host an "exotic garden".

We have stayed longer than we anticipated -- the seas are rough and the wind has been blowing harder than we like.  But we haven't felt restless -- the island is too charming.   We have taken a number of walks on the rugged-but-well-marked trails that zigzag up to the tops of the hills -- frequently the sites of old fortresses.   The views down to the beaches have been breathtaking.  Our ability to look out to the other Leeward islands has been greatly hindered, however, by the return of the haze that comes to us courtesy of the Sahara.   The desert sands get swept up by the winds and carried all the way across the ocean -- not something we learned as school children in the Dakotas.

The island has few cars.  There are a number of vans, but they all are used to transport the many tourists to the hotels or up the mountain to Ft. Napoleon.  In the morning the vans are all parked in a certain spot in the village, right at the end of the pedestrian-only street that flows past the ferry docks.  At night, the vans disappear and are replaced by scooters -- presumably owned by locals that are visiting the shopping district in the heart of the village at the docks.  Yes, scooters.   The island is full of scooters.  Everyone uses scooters.  The locals use scooters, and there are many shops that rent scooters.

Oh -- an update on Leeward Islanders' apparel.  Earlier, we said that locals never wear shorts.  Oops.  Here on Terre de Haut, many, maybe most, of the men wear shorts.  Many men and women also go barefoot.   A surprising number of men also wear dreadlocks, even though they have the features and the dark olive skin of folks from the Mediterranean.  We have so much to learn about the Caribbean -- we may never get back to the USA!

Bourg bay -- TT II is the only trawler!

Ferry arriving with tourists -- note TT II in the right background

Bay at Bourg as seen from Fort Napoleon

Plaque concerning the exotic garden at the fort

Thorny bush on top of the wall

Parched plants along the top of wall

View out from the top of the wall at the fort -- note the exotic plants

Barb near inner entrance

Chuck on an overlook

French tourists just past the ticket booth

Note how dry the grass is

The dry moat at Fort Napoleon

Plant with an interesting runner

Close-up of the runner

South wall of the fort -- note plants on top

Iguana in the exotic garden

Another iguana

Poison tree on the way up to the fort

Sign on the poisonwood tree

Cactus flower in the village

Another cactus flower in the village

Close-up of flowers in the village

Dive boat loading w/ divers -- not interesting building to the right

Another view of the building -- top floor is a doctor's office

Mannequin at a shop near the ferry dock

Statue in the village park dedicated to mariners

Plaque at the statue

Gingerbread trim on a village house

Downtown is a mix of dwellings and businesses -- all close to the road

A view of the bay from the south

The goats are seldom tethered!

Happy family on the trail

Cliff near Plage de Crawen -- note windmills on Terre de Bas

Plage de Pompierre

Plage de Pompierre

Barb lunch -- before

Barb lunch -- after

Chuck and Yves Cohen, owner of the elegant shop Maogany

Custom-painted shirt by Yves Cohen


Scooters, scooters, scooters, everywhere!

Trailer used with a scooter

Another hike -- another set of photos

Plage de Pompierre

Sign along the trail up toward Ft. Caroline

Ft. Caroline -- small potatoes compared to Ft. Napoleon, but the view was great

Looking down on Plage de Pompierre

At another fortification of Ft. Caroline

Steeper than it looks in the photo

Looking down a straight cliff to Baie de Marigot

Cactus and flower-bearing tree on the edge of the cliff

Baie de Marigot -- looking toward Le Bourg

Roofers near Bourg -- note the hat on the man kneeling! (The same style is on a statue in town.)

Flag courtesy of ITA's Flags of All Countries used with permission.