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Exploring Guadeloupe - Coffee and History in the Caribbean

Nick Ward

Ty Dewi
Young Sun 43 Pilothouse
November 14th, 2015

Having made it through the narrow and shallow gap that divides Guadeloupe, the crew of Ty Dewi continue their family travels, renting a car and exploring inland for a day.

We started nice and early, having a quick pain au chocolat as we sorted out the paperwork for the car, then headed into the interior towards a well publicized waterfall in the middle of the national park rain forest. This was a nice walk through the forest to a small cascade falling into a very pretty pool in the river, where Issie went for a bathe and we all munched on a bit more breakfast.We headed on across the Island, back to the west coast, driving past Pigeon Island where we’d anchored before Christmas, and on down the coast, scoping out the bays for our northward journey in April and finding a seaside picnic area for our lunch.

Swimming at the waterfalls in Guadeloupe

Swimming at the waterfalls in Guadeloupe

After lunch we headed inland to the Maison de Café, an old coffee plantation turned museum. I was a little skeptical, jesting that this is about the furthest that Gesa has dragged me for a cup of coffee. And as we drove our little hire car around perilous hairpin bends, with hundred meter drops on one side, even Gesa was wondering what she’d led us into. The valley was steep and dramatic, reminiscent of photos we’ve seen of Peru, although I guess it’s even more dramatic there.

At the end of the road was the famed museum. We paid a remarkably cheap entry fee and walked up a beautiful stone path, past dilapidated old mill buildings, to find a lovingly restored plantation mansion and a fantastic arrangement of buildings making up the museum. A women came out to say hello and told us that a tour would start soon, she would do it in French but translate some if we needed. We milled around for a while, looking at the displays about coffee manufacture and the decline of plantation growing in the Island, when suddenly there was a coming together of about twenty visitors and the tour started. We were walked through the coffee process, the plantation gardens, cocoa trees, because they grew that here too, and vanilla to flavour the chocolate. It was fascinating, and even held the kids’ interest as they attached themselves to the guide and were allowed to do cool things, like mash up the green coffee beans and later the cocoa beans too. The tour lasted almost two hours, and ended with a cup of the plantation coffee, very nice. It was hard to tear ourselves away from the magical mountain landscape, but time was getting on and the light was starting to fade.

Exploring the coffee plantation on Guadeloupe

Exploring the coffee plantation on Guadeloupe

We made our way round the bottom of the Island, hunting out some takeaway food, but it seems that 6pm is too early for this place, nothing is cooking till later, so we ended up back at the marina, getting a couple of pizzas and back on the boat a very tired group, but having had a really interesting day. Tomorrow, we head south some more.

Off the southern coast of Guadeloupe is a little set of islands known as Les Saintes. After a somewhat rocky three hour trip, we dropped anchor in the bay at Bourg Les Saintes, hoping for a change from the disappointing town of Point a Pitre. We were very pleasantly surprised. The main island, Terre en Haut, is about half a mile wide and two long. It appears to depend on regular ferries from the Guadeloupe ‘mainland’ bringing in day tripping tourists at 9am and taking them away again at 5pm. Which means that the little town is heaving in the daytime, and you jostle for a lunch table, but at other times it is a beautiful quiet place, disturbed only by the occasional car, scooter, goat or chicken.

On our first day there, the kids and I woke up early, so we left Gesa to sleep and went in to get the bread, enjoying a gentle explore of the town and a secret pain au chocolat in the park. Later, we all walked all the way across the island to a beautiful bay on the eastern side. It was actually less than a mile, but included a lot of up and down, as this place is far from flat. We swam in the bay before strolling back for tea on board.

The kids enjoy a pain au chocolat in Les Saintes

The kids enjoy an early morning pain au chocolat in Les Saintes

The next day, we all got up early and were ashore by 7:30, buying bread and pastries and readying ourselves for a big hike up to the old Napoleonic fort. We almost literally dragged the kids up the steep hill and were there at 8:45 to find that it didn’t open till nine, so we had the rest of our breakfast before going inside. This turned out to be another little French West Indies wonder, for a few Euros the Fort is now a beautiful museum and botanical garden, with amazing views of the surrounding islands and ocean. The gardens are full of palms, cacti and aloe vera plants, and in the trees lurk large iguanas.

An iguana in the trees at Fort Napoleon in Les Saintes

An iguana in the trees at Fort Napoleon in Les Saintes

The British and French navies once fought a huge battle just off this coast, and the progress of the fight is laid out in a series of models inside the Fort. It seems like the British sort of won, but in the way of such things, the wind and weather conspired to disperse the fleets before anything decisive had occurred, but I reckon it’s England 3- France 1, which would do in any World Cup qualifier! We had brought pens and paper with us, so used the trip as the day’s art lesson, with the kids doing some great drawings of the Fort, trees and cannons. Issie impressed me with the speed with which she drew a really good and detailed picture of the Fort, but then depressed us all with the way she lost focus a few minutes later and wouldn’t colour it in or add any more detail. Bit like her Dad really, a completer/finisher she is not.

We had some fabulous ice cream when we got back down to the waterfront, and later had a good but rather pricey meal out, but it’s nice to eat in a restaurant where the view is of your own boat/house.

Fort Napoleon in Les Saintes

Fort Napoleon in Les Saintes

Later we moved a half mile to a different bay behind Pain de Sucre, a small ‘piton’ of volcanic basalt columns that shelters a nice anchorage. The snorkeling was fabulous here, crystal clear water ten meters deep, with lots of coral and all sorts of fish. Issie has gone from never wanting to use her snorkel to full mask/snorkel/flippers and then she saw a women diving deep then clearing the snorkel when she surfaced, and Issie decided to copy. So I taught her how to clear the snorkel and we have a little mermaid, kicking her way down a few meters to see the fish and drifting back to the surface. I didn’t do that till I was almost thirty! Some kids don’t know how lucky they are. Even Max has tried mask and snorkel in the shallow water and it won’t be long before he’s doing it too. He loves to swim with his lifejacket and goggles on, so he can float and look underwater between breaths.

In this bay we met a lovely Dutch family, taking a year out to sail on a beautiful boat they built themselves. With kids almost the same ages, everyone got on really well and we enjoyed a nice Bar-B-Que together. Sadly they are going north whilst we are going south, but it’s good for all of us to spend time with people other than the four crew of Ty Dewi.

Onwards soon to Dominica, a thoroughly different experience and quite another story.

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Caribbean

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