Goodbye Guadeloupe it’s Martinique on Monday!

Pointe des Châteaux

I can safely say that I now know the island of Guadeloupe pretty well. I’ve been to Basse Terre, Grande Terre, through the middle, flown over Les Saintes, been up part of the Soufrière volcano, snorkeled around the Réserve Cousteau, hung out of the beaches of Sainte Anne, Bananier, Bouillante, seen the carnivals in Sainte Rose, Pointe à Pitre and Gosier, visited a coffee museum, tasted many rums, eaten various fishes, bokits and coconut sorbets, swam the Atlantic and Caribbean oceans that hug the island’s coasts, been to the Marinas in Pointe à Pitre and Saint François, been to Pointe des Châteaux, the island’s narrowest tip and spoken with locals of all ages.

In terms of musical endeavors, I have seen several spontaneous jam sessions full of percussion and singing, have watched a floury of musical groups parade by during the carnival festivities, have been to a few créole concerts and discussed the topic of Guadeloupian music with residents as well as tourists. Gwo ka, zouk and dancehall are the dominant and popular genres of music here, and they represent Caribbean island culture so well.

It is fascinating how one can become so adapted and used to a place after a few weeks of exploration and discovery. I know my way around the island, I feel somewhat adapted to its culture, I have been to most of the hot spots and also frequented areas hidden from tourists. I feel not like I have visited Guadeloupe but that I have lived here.

The best part of traveling for a month in each island has been the learning. Once I feel like I’ve settled down, I leave and explore a new environment. Many may not see the appeal in this but I love the thrill, the fast pace, and learning how to adapt quickly and open-mindedly to everything which is exposed to me in each and every discovery. I enjoy the fact that I have just started to settle down in Guadeloupe and that I am leaving on Monday to Martinique. Four weeks will be my time limit to consume as much of this last island as I possibly can, before writing my final Tropicalove articles…

Leaving to another island..

Rum, Bananas and the Carnival

One week has flown by since I arrived on Caribbean territory, and what an adventure it has already been! I must admit that the contrast between Pacific and Caribbean lifestyle and culture has come almost as a shock, but I have really been enjoying noticing all the differences that will often manifest themselves spontaneously and unexpectedly.

I am staying in what is called a hotel residence in Gosier, a touristy and populated area. I have a small studio with a little kitchenette, which from all places is outside on my little balcony. If I tilt my head a little to the right when leaning over the terrace, I see the beach and sea, and hear the waves from my bed at night. Like in a hotel, a maid comes in every day, and gives me new towels, and cleans everything from floors to dishes, which is definitely an added bonus. I found this place online as it offered very interesting discounts for people wishing to stay for long periods. I am very happy to have chosen this particular place, as it also comes with a pool, a private beach, a jacuzzi, a bar, a restaurant, and breakfast included! What more could I ask for in terms of accommodation?

However, one must note and understand that Guadeloupe isn’t the safest place for a young solo girl to freely hang out in, especially at night. I had read and was expecting the island to be a bit dangerous before arriving, so I have my wits about me on a daily basis. Before landing late at night in Pointe-à-Pitre, I phoned the residence up to make sure they would organize a pick up for me at the airport. Admittedly the pick up driver was a bit scary, and was giving me instructions to meet him the following day to cruise around the coast. I believe his intentions were good, but his manner was forceful, and when dropping me off at the hotel, he even urged the receptionist to get him a room – the receptionist shoed him out of the hotel. Twice, because he insistently came back.

The island of Guadeloupe has been hit by a few crisis, and it is visible especially in the Gosier area. The first crisis happened a few years ago when a Guadeloupian strike resulted in a lot of expat European French people having to be shipped back to France. A tourist crisis has also seriously hit the island, as a lot of people nowadays do not have the financial means to get transatlantic flights and exotic hotels. All this is very visible and palpable when walking the streets of Gosier – many hotels stand abandoned, dilapidated, broke, empty, many shops and boutiques are closed, or only open a few days a week at 4PM. There is a sense that Gosier is bitterly nostalgic of a time when things were more lively, colorful, productive.

There is a hotel not far from my residence which is visibly dead, but what is shockingly striking is the fact that there is a lonely cow just outside grazing the hotel’s front lawn – a cheap way of keeping the grass from growing too much whilst the dusty hotel reminisces on better times.

But it is not all doom and gloom, and thankfully so – the island is full fruit fields and plantations, beaches, bountiful sea life, delicious treats, and what I consider as most important, rich musical talent. Traditional Guadeloupian music is called ‘Gros Ka’, which consists of strong drum percussion and vocals. People, men mostly, will hang out and jam together spontaneously on sea sides and in villages. One often sees groups of 15 to 20 men drumming, singing and dancing together, oozing with energy.

Just when I thought I was in need of some sort of a body guard to be able to fully explore and make the most of my discoveries around the island, I met Arnaud, a hench tall French chap who is also temporarily staying in the Canella Residence as part of his job. He is also a keen traveller, and we have been exploring as many local environments together as possible. We have been to restaurants, bars, beaches in Sainte-Anne, Baie Mahault, Le Moule, and yesterday we circled Basse-Terre, which is the lower part of the island of Guadeloupe. I got to see waterfalls, tropical jungles, black sand beaches, enormous banana plantations, many many sugar cane fields and their neighboring rum distilleries, and I even visited a coffee museum.

But the real cherry on the cake was attending last night’s carnival in Pointe-à-Pitre. It was absolutely amazing, full of rhythm, life, color, children, adults, costumes, instruments, and was very much a local situation as Arnaud and I were part of the rare white people airing around the city. From 7PM to 10Pm the streets were full to the brim and different groups stampeded around, appearing from different lanes and roads. Percussion, percussion, percussion – this was the main theme, and thus lots of dancing. It was literally difficult to stand still, you had to move and nod your head to the incessant vibrant rhythm of the night. What an evening! We followed the remaining group at the closure of the festivities, shuffling our feet, banging our heads, clapping and laughing as everyone around us did the same, just focusing on one thing: following the music. 

And that is exactly what I have come here for, and what has motivated me to travel from the outset.

Tahiti, Miami, Puerto Rico and Guadeloupe

cocktails at the Sofitel bar!

Despite having prolonged my stay in Tahiti from 10 to 14 days, time flew by and I tearfully left Papeete airport Sunday evening. It is so easy to get used to the Pacific laid-back lifestyle and beautiful surroundings, but even more so when you share it all with someone you love.

I had an unforgettable time in Tahiti, and what I discovered, saw and learnt during my short stay was fantastic. Granted, it was strange not being with family on Christmas day, and weird not being near home for New Year’s… No snow, no fondue, no fireplace, no snowboarding – but instead sunshine, Mahi Mahi, Tahitian sashimi, Marquisian dance shows and snorkeling. We did however get a bottle of Moet Chandon and some foie-gras, for these delicious traditions are difficult to avoid…

We spent quite a lot of time alongside Marie and Flo, who are friends and fellow students at Geneva’s hotel school which Alex goes to – they are also working in Tahitian hotels as part of their internships. On Christmas day we went out in kayaks and snorkeled in the turquoise waters nearest to Alex’s hotel. We had a Christmas dinner together a few days later, as Flo’s parents had sent him some top notch foie-gras and champagne from home, which we shared with a nice home-made meal. Last Saturday we rented a car and circled the island of Tahiti together, discovering all the coast’s treats – great surfing spots, the tallest largest waterfalls I have ever seen, black sand beaches, breathtaking coastal views, and we ate in a very tasty French restaurant.

giant waterfall on Tahiti's east coast

The last days I spent there were surprisingly wet and rainy – it showered from Friday through to Sunday non stop, flooding the streets and cooling the temperatures. However, it added a wintery touch to our Christmas together, and Alex and I especially appreciated it on the Friday evening when it commenced as we were shelter under an enormous parasol facing a lit up pool – the pouring rain was almost torrential, and we were snug under our shelter for two watching it get more and more intense.

I even got to play a concert with a band one night, as one of Alex’s colleagues kindly offered I’d play with the band on that particular evening. A lot of Alex’s fellow interns showed up, with some of their friends, and we had a big table in front of the stage. I was nervous at first about playing with a band, because I am used to playing solo, but the bassist, guitarist and percussionist followed my every move and I didn’t have to worry about anything. It was great fun, and I played two sets, and in total, about 15 songs. It actually went so well that all the drinks ordered on our table were given for free, as the director of the bar was happy with the performance. And I overheard the director of the hotel had come especially to watch, and personally told Alex the following day at work that he had enjoyed the performance. Thumbs up all round!

concert with Acoustic Party band

You can understand why it was so difficult and sad for me to leave Tahiti, but I did and eventually got to Miami where I spent one night in a snazzy/hip/modern hotel slap back in the middle of Miami Beach, called ‘the New Hotel’. It was very comfy, and had a strange yet cool vibe to it – I arrived in the night, and there was lounge-y music playing quite loudly out on a lit up pool, couches, candles, an open cocktail bar, red lights, blue lights, a projector screen just above the pool replaying that night’s American football game. The concierge brought my heavy bags up to my room, and told me I could order a cocktail on the house in order to relax. I had a strawberry mint Mojito which was delicious to say the least. The hotel room was very nice, the bed especially soft and snug – perfect for resting after two long flights: Tahiti-LA, LA-Miami.

strawberry mint Mojito @ The New Hotel, Miami Beach

And yesterday I flew to Puerto Rico, waited there for 3h, and eventually got on to a plane to Guadeloupe. The wait in Puerto Rico was a bit frustrating as I have never visited this country, and being stuck inside the airport with the gift shops selling shirts and souvenirs I felt was a bit of shame. What was amusing was the plane ride to Guadeloupe – one of the oldest, smallest planes took us there. I could see the giant propellers from my tiny window seat revving up, and making an incredible noise. But the cherry on the cake was the fact that all of the chaps at the front of the plane had to relocate to various parts of back and middle of the plane, for balancing reasons! I was the only remaining person at the front, exempt from moving as I was the only lady at the front from the outset. The plane made an absolute racket the whole way from Puerto Rico to Guadeloupe, and thankfully I still had a pair of ear plugs in my bag from my Air Tahiti Nui flight.

I have now arrived safely in Guadeloupe. I haven’t had much time to explore yet, as I have just come back from breakfast, which I ate on the beach front. There are interesting Caribbean treats such as coconut jam, banana jam, fresh guava juice… And I’m sure so many more exciting Guadeloupian discoveries are on the horizon for the coming next weeks!