by Lindsey Modesitt
We arrived in Deshaises (pronounced Day-Hay) right before sunset after a rollicking ride. After touring around the anchorage we settled on the back side in a secluded little spot. After dropping the anchor, the kids ran up to the front trampoline to play “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” it is a kid show from back home about some kids that live on a boat, and fight bad pirates, usually specifically, Captain Hook. While having our sundowner wine, the kids enjoyed swinging gently from the anchor (as opposed to bucking wildly on the seas).
Guadaloupe is a fascinating country. Steeped in history, it is now a French country (and has been mostly….throughout history) and they do everything French. All the way down to the perfect, I mean PERFECT, du Pain (bread). Brad and I have been reading Caribbean by James Michener and he has a lot to say about this island in the shape of a butterfly. To start, the island really is in the shape of a butterfly, dissected in the middle by a river that is so narrow, according to Michener, you could jump across it (or motor sail your sailboat up according to recent guidebooks). The western wing is called Basse Terre and the eastern is called Grand Terre which is interesting as “Basse Terre” means small island and this part of the island is anything but. With big towering volcanic mountains, this is the bigger of the two sides (and newer volcanically) as opposed to “Grand Terre” meaning big island and it is more of a salt and sand flat, beautiful, but older and therefore more run down by centuries of nearly constant trade winds.
The economy is based entirely upon French society with everything being imported from or exported to, France. The people of France still buy sugar made from sugar cane, at a higher price than other easily made sugars, just to ensure a thriving economy of this and other French islands in the Caribbean. Not to mention the funding that comes from France. It is an interesting thing to witness as almost every single island in the Caribbean has a thriving history of sugar production (thus Rum and molasses production but more importantly RUM!) but these French islands are the only ones to still use the sugar from these islands as their main source of the white powder goodness.
The language is entirely French with very little “bleeding” of other languages. My high-school French got a workout to say the least. After lots of gesturing and apologizing we generally got our point across with one minor mishap with the taxi driver from the Botanical Gardens taking us way out of our way (and his) all because I couldn’t get him to stop the car at our anchorage, instead we travelled to the popular (and packed) beach. After much gesturing and apologizing again (and perhaps a few goats offered to his grandmother while I walk around in France) we turned around and after yelling arretez-vous s’il vous plais!! I think he understood I was not trying to arrest him but wanted him to stop the car. Thankfully he was very easy-going and full of laughter so we said our good-byes.
We saw another kid boat “Twilight Rodeo” that we had met in St. Kitt’s. Their kids are 6 (boy) and 8 (girl). All of the kids got along incredibly well and the parents got some much needed adult time. Then the next day we thought it was time for some beach time with other kids so together with Twilight Rodeo, we went to find a beach. We found one that was empty and spent the afternoon SUPing, eating, drinking and just plain relaxing. The kids loved it and we loved it. It was time for us to continue on down the western coast so we up-anchor (after a SUP/snorkel) early the next morning and caught a breath of wind for a sparkly sail to Pigeon Island and the Cousteau National Marine Park. Before we had left Deshaises Brad had happened by another American cruising couple that were selling their boat, Brad inquired about their scuba equipment, and we found ourselves the proud new owners of some scuba gear complete with BCD’s, tanks, weights, and computers, for a song. Just in time too as we were headed to Cousteaus’s marine park which is said to be one of his favorite places on earth. With Twilight Rodeo behind us, we anchored and set out across the sound for the snorkel area with the kids. It was like jumping into an aquarium. After a little prodding (and a borrowed floaty from Twilight Rodeo) Chase and I set off at a pace a bit slower than Brad and Ella but the two families had a great time and we all crawled back into the dingy. After dropping the kids back at the boat, we had an enlightened moment and thought we would all swap kids and have a “date dive.” So that is exactly what we did. Elizabeth and David watched our kids while we took off with our new scuba gear (although mine was malfunctioning a little so I borrowed Elizabeth’s BCD) and Brad and I headed to depths I haven’t seen since diving in Thailand 9 years ago. It was brilliant. We came up with ear-to-ear grins. Twilight Rodeo had some problems with one scuba tank not filled so we took the kids back to our boat so they could play together in the depths too. They loved it, we loved it, the kids loved it. We set a date to do it again the next day before taking off to the city of Basse Terre (on the southwestern coast of Guadaloupe).
Basse Terre is also the name of the capitol of Guadaloupe as well (not just that side of the archipelago). We anchored there (after SEVERAL annoying attemps at anchoring) and got ready to check out of the country and say goodbye to Twilight Rodeo as they were picking up some family and exploring the island for a couple more weeks. Before checking out, we had heard that there were some spectacular waterfalls that “you must not miss” called Chutes de Carbet. Always ones to see and do anything that has to do with rivers, we happily set off on this adventure. We wanted to get a little more of the culture and people of the island so instead of renting a car, we chose to jump on the local bus (and with lots of gesturing and apologizing) we found the one that was definitely going there so we hopped on and high-fived at what great travelers we were. The bus dumped us on at the junction of two roads and the bus driver pointed to the sign that said “Chutes De Carbet” that way……We started up the road and after about 20 meters there was a little tiny side-of-the-road eatery. Brad suggested we eat there and I protested as it was only 10:15, the waterfall is right there (we were told it was a 20 minute walk to them) and we will be back in time after working up an appetite. After realizing that our snack situation was a little dismal, we decided we could eat before and after. We sat down for the most amazing chicken sandwich I’ve had since we’ve been travelling. It was incredible. We gobbled it up, asked the Madam about how far to the waterfall and if there were taxis going often just in case we got tired of the walk. We were assured there were definitely taxis. Just stand there and one will be by. After standing for about 20 minutes in the stifling sun (no wind since we are inland), I walked back down to the restaurant as it was in the middle of a banana plantation, and inquired about buying a stalk of bananas. She laughed and told me I could have as many as I wanted. I pointed to Chase and said he eats a lot! She shrugged and pulled about 30 from behind the counter….free. I said great, we will be back to get them after our walk. She smiled and said no problem (I think as this whole thing was in French). I went back to my spot and waited for some taxis. Another sweltering 20 minutes and a man came by in a beat-up Toyota-type truck (French version whatever that is) and we climbed in back (including the kids!! Sorry mom;) and rode for what felt like forever. We got to a little village where the man kept apologizing and saying he was going a different way from the waterfall at that point and couldn’t take us any farther. We thanked him for his generosity and thought that they MUST be just around the corner. Brad and I have always found, throughout all of our travels, that people exaggerate and most places that “there is no way you can walk there” is right around the corner and we barely, if at all, break a sweat getting to whatever place it is. That includes being with the kids. We set off up the road. After 30 seconds of walking a women came to a screeching halt in front of us and implored us to stop and turn around. “It is very far, no way can you make it, with kids too!! No Way Turn around GO BACK!!” We smiled graciously, and knowingly, and continued on our path. What insued was the biggest slog fest, parents-apologizing-and-promising-kids-whatever-they-want painful, cry-provoking (of both kids and adults). Several cars went flying past us (no taxis mind you) most were full of people and therefore could not take a pooped family of four. We kept going, and going and going. It was brutal (and straight up). Chase and Ella were near mutiny and if we weren’t being their mules, they probably would have caught whatever car was going the other way but since they were riding on our shoulders, they couldn’t flag anyone down. 5.5 km later we got to the top of a hill and a couple with an old landcruiser came up over the top and saw Chase laying across the road in determined protest. They stopped and said our car is a mess in the back, no room. We said we didn’t care and climbed in. They asked where we had come from and we told them where we had left the bus. With looks flying between the two of them, they got really quiet. After another half of a mile, they turned around a round-a-bout and said there you go.. WHA????? Here is the entrance to the START of the walk to the waterfall…..I looked at Brad with a “let’s catch the first car leaving NOW!!) and he said we made it this far…we are seeing the waterfall. Chase and Ella seemed doomed to their fate and with nary a complaint, they followed us down the trail to the falls. It was very Rocky Mountain National Park-esque with lots of signs and perfectly built stairs until we arrived at the falls. They were beautiful. We took one more look and headed back down.
As we left the ranger station (the round-about where the other car let us go) we walked about .5 km and found a little vendor. We asked about taxis back down and as her laughter bellowed down the lonely pavement behind us, we begin our 6 km walk (at approaching dusk) back down the mountain. With kids on our shoulders we flung our thumbs in the air. The first car couldn’t get by us fast enough, we had seen them walking to the falls (the ranger walk to the falls) and they weren’t very happy with us then so we were pretty sure they weren’t stopping. The next car slowed down as they passed us and looked at both kids on the shoulders, mom and dad shot, I didn’t even turn around to check if they would stop. They passed me and around the corner was Brad with an almost asleep Chase on his shoulders and they slowed to a stop on this 40 degree road. They got out of the car and offered a ride, we poured ourselves into the car and Chase fell asleep on my lap before Giselle closed the door. We met Cristor and Giselle (I think that was their names, I apologize if I remember wrong but I wanted to crawl into the back and fall asleep too). They asked where we were going and I said the bus stop at the end. Through Cristors amazing English and my tentative grasp on French we had a brilliant conversation with them. The kids were snoring as were told them our tale and again, looks were exchanged in the front seat. As we neared the main road (where the bus stop was, although we came out at a different spot so I couldn’t get my loot of bananas) I started, tiredly, to get up and wake up a drooling Chase. Cristor looked at us and said you must put on your seatbelt for this part….WHA??? He explained that they were staying in Basse Terre (the last day of vacation before heading back to France) so they could take us all the way to the boat. Brilliant, I wanted to cry, but I held it together and the fantastic conversation continued until we crawled out (poured ourselves out really) right in front of our dinghy and with several “Merci, Beaucoup” (thank you very much!!) and a Bonne Journe (good journey)…we said goodbye and they will forever remain in our hearts as the angels that rescued us from certain death. If you two are reading this…Thank you again. We arrived just before five on Rivers2Seas and toasted to good people, you don’t even know, that change your life. The next morning, we pulled anchor and headed toward Les Isles Des Saintes (All Saintes Island).