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.

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Peaceful Purifying Punaluu

coffee place in Kaimuki

Yesterday morning I headed North to Punaluu. I got up early, had coffee and an espresso-muffin in Kaimuki where I waited for my first bus. Kaimuki is actually currently closer to me than Waikiki, and is a small town with not much character but an interesting selection of little shops such as burrito joints, chicha-smoking places, Japanese toy stores, coffee and tea places and thrift stores. I hadn’t properly explored this area, as I have only been heading toward Waikiki on my travels, which goes through Kapahulu, a very dead and dingy suburban town with a KFC, a Taco Bell and a Jack in the Box.

My bus transfer wasn’t as smooth as I had anticipated (again), the bus driver was vague about directions, one confused lady gave me wrong directions, thankfully a young Hawaiian dude ran after me and walked me to the correct stop, which I was very grateful for. Once I boarded the second bus, I relaxed a bit, as the views became more and more rural. Within 45 mins, the bus was lounging the coast, and the scenery reminded me a lot of Maui.

condo in Punaluu

I arrived in Punaluu in due time, and entered the condo I am currently staying in. The tranquility and calm is certainly a breath of fresh air from wild Waikiki, and being right on the beachfront is the cherry on the cake. I ventured into the little town of Punaluu and  discovered various little stores and shrimp/taco vans. It is a peaceful place, and the waves are calm. I saw a seal resting on the beach, and swam with the fishes for a little while before sun down.

I will leave Punaluu some time tomorrow, and will move into a more central area of Waikiki on Saturday, which will introduce me to lots of new venues, places, shops to discover and explore. But before all that, I will enjoy some quiet last few moments in peaceful and purifying Punaluu.

back yard of the condo

Bahama Mama

Yesterday morning I awoke to a symphony of men and women all chanting ‘OMMMMM’ in harmony and in several sequences during a yoga/meditation class next door. It wasn’t a bad way to wake up!

Moose's

The previous night I had gone out to Lahaina, about an hour drive from here, with a francophone group of buddies to a bar called Moose’s. The attraction were the 1$ drinks served from 10PM onwards. I have never been one to want to drink excessively, but I made the most of the deal in my own way by ordering some elaborate cocktails, namely some ‘Bahama Mamas’, which were 3$ instead of 8$. The bar  was situated on the second floor of the building, so our table gave on to a balcony view of Front Street, Lahaina’s main road – an entertaining people watching spot.

It was quite an international setting – I was sitting with three French boys, a German guy, a Spanish girl and a Canadian dude. The bar, which I would best describe as a USA sporty type of a place, had its charms but was a bit tacky. Lots of TV screens, framed photos of people drinking beer, road signs, burgers and nachos… It eventually turned into a night club, and out of nowhere it seemed, a lot of very under dressed women, loud men and wet sticky floors seemed to take over the night’s festivities! The music was your average club music – 50 cent, Katy Perry, House of Pain, etc.. I watched the dance floor for a while, thinking I may bust my moves for a bit, but the whole floor was jammed full of not-so-sober bumpers and grinders!

Maoli

Friday night’s festivities were a bit more up my street (and literally too!) – a reggae dub group called Maoli played live at Charley’s. They were amazing, and I’m glad I took some film of them. They had a fresh young style and made the atmosphere in Charley’s the best I’ve seen it since I’ve been here. I very happily danced to them!

Today I went to the kitesurfing spot of Kahului, and watched the impressive amounts of surfers out there. It is pretty cool to watch as you can see all the different kites and their colors dancing in the sky just above the waters. Closer kitesurfers are entertaining to watch because they will occasionally do a trick or two, leaping into the air, twist and turn into all sorts of shapes and land back down onto the water, only to be whisked away again by the kite into another direction. I went up and down the beach, which had lovely sand. Today was super sunny, and I may even have got a bit of a sun burnt nose.

Yesterday I had gone to Paia Bay Café to wait for the bus, I tried their chocolate chip banana bread which was yummy. I had it in mind to go to Kihei, one of the funnest spots I have come across. Whilst I sat there waiting for the bus, another regular of the café, a man in his 50s perhaps, introduced himself to me. A theater teacher, who also practices spiritual healing, and said that he could align my Chakras if I so wished some time. I have no idea what it means, but it was certainly very nice of him to offer! He said that next time he sees me at the caf, we should have tea and discuss this particular topic – so it looks like I’m in for an interesting discussion next time I go for coffee in town.

Wailea

I hopped on to the bus, and having arrived at Kihei, I decided I would stick it out a bit more on the bus and wait until I got to Wailea. Wailea is, I have come to learn, the richest most chic area of Maui – the grass every where is very well trimmed, it has a Beverly Hills air to it, sports cars can be spotted a lot, and everything looks perfect. When I finally got off the bus, I mooched around a bit, and came across an outdoor shopping center. Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Guess, art galleries, real estate agents, a very expensive steak restaurant, and some very pricey coffee/ice cream joints. I walked around the high-end shops and boutiques, and found the place really charming – it had impressive water pieces, palm trees and fancy escalators too. I caved in and bought myself a scoop of ice cream at one of these little cafés – coconut, caramel and macadamia nut, and ate it in the sun by a water fountain.

I lent a hand to Ryan this morning by helping him move a big mattress out of his old house up in Haiku. The drive up is nice, and seeing as it was such a sunny day, the views were amazing from up there. Only a week left though until I leave to another island – and I am feeling like I need to make the most of Maui before I leave by really soaking up all the views, the atmosphere, the good feeling as much as possible!

Kahului, Lahaina and more

It has barely been a week since I got here, and I already feel very much at home. I guess it’s easy to get used to this paradise.

One little downside is the fact that everything is so expensive! I’m in the process of trying to figure out all the tricks to not spending too much and still staying alive (!) and making the most of the time I will spend here! It’s so tempting though to go out for frozen yoghurt, to get a Maui shirt or ukulele, to buy a smoothie… Food shopping is expensive, but next time I go, I will go to a big discount super market thing and see how well I can do in there!

So it was on Wednesday that I went out on my first adventure into a big town (Kahului) and went to a shopping mall to get a phone. I got off at Queen Ka’ahumanu Center, one of the main bus transfer stops, and went around the mall looking for the best phone deal. The mall was just like the ones you find all over the states, except it was open air and had palm trees in it. It had all the stores I love to go when I go to California: Hot Topic, Pac Sun, Jamba Juice (yay, I got there at Happy Hour and got a smoothie for 2$!), Journey’s, etc… Yay!

Queen Ka'ahumanu Mall

The best deal I found was in Radio Shack – there was a super friendly giant guy there who recommended I buy a phone for 12$ and get a contract with unlimited texts and 300 mins of calls for 25$. Perrrrfect! So I now have a Hawaiian number, if anyone feels like calling me! : +1 808 419 1503.

I have been working on getting some 2012 festival contacts together for Ras, and have drafted a template email to send out to them. I will show him all this when I meet up with him later, and hopefully get some pointers on how I should proceed. He has suggested I come to a ukulele festival this Sunday with him and some others, at the Maui Arts and Culture Center. Should be excellent! I have been looking at prices for ukuleles, so I may cave in at some point and get one! They sound and look great, and are practical in terms of size too.

I sort of ‘purposely’ got lost yesterday by getting on a bus which seemed like it had a good route. I got off at Ma’alaea harbor, and walked around there for a while. There were shops, a lot of boats and the offices of the Pacific Whale Foundation. I then got on another bus which took an hour to get to Lahaina, a beautiful town, and rode across the west coast of Maui. It was excellent. I felt like I was on a tour bus, but in fact was just on a local 2$ bus to the next town. I saw some amazing views.

Lahaina view

When I got to Lahaina, I literally was gob smacked. My heart was racing (no joke), I had the impression I had yet again landed in another bit of paradise! The views were astonishing, and the little town was full of colors and happy people. I bought 5 postcards there, and wrote them out this morning. It was a really lovely discovery, and was happy to jump back onto the same bus an hour later to see the coastline views once again – I made sure to sit on the right side of the bus this time to get the best views! I took a couple of videos.

Last night Ina took me out again to sing with his Polynesian buddies. We were sitting in an outdoor spot, which was just as comfy as the last place. It was next door to that giant chill room. Again, people came in and out to join us and have a drink of Kavah. We played some music, and I also managed to get a bit of film of them playing some traditional songs together. They told me I was welcome anytime to their home, and that it was a pleasure to hear and play with a different type of musician. They said I had a ‘cool spirit’ and that they were so happy to meet me. The feeling is entirely reciprocal.

This morning I got up and walked down to Paia and had coffee this time in Café Mambo, which is another great place to have breakfast. I wrote my postcards there and had two cups. I then went to a little henna boutique and met Addie, who does really beautiful henna tatoos. I’m thinking of getting a traditional looking one all the way up my fingers and forearm, which she said would look great – I looked through all her work, and it looked amazing. We got talking and after having told her I was from France she told me to go next door and meet Nathalie, a french lady, who has a boutique called ‘Oh La La!’

So I happily went over, and as soon as I arrived there she was joking around in French with another friendly looking chap. This guy was called Peter, and he was from Switzerland! We were speaking in french and really bonded. They suggested I come to their francophone bashes (every 4th Friday of the month), and mingle with the french speaking community of Paia. Yes, please! Nathalie said that I could come to her boutique whenever, and that she will introduce me to Magda, her good friend from Tahiti.

Voilà, so on my way back to the house today I went to sit on the beach for a bit and took a few more snaps of this incredible place. It bought tears to my eyes as I sat in front of the ocean (I know I am so soppy!!) and realized that what I have been dreaming for for so many years is happening right now.

This is truly amazing and I am so thankful!!

Pasadena, Los Angeles

on my walk down to Lake avenue

My first stop is Pasadena, in Los Angeles.

I am staying at my father’s house, which I come to on average about once a year.

It’s a very easy going area, where everything seems to be possible. You walk into a supermarket and everything you could possibly dream of is in there. It is a colorful place, with lots of palm trees and large sidewalks. The streets are in grid formation, which makes driving places easy-peasy.

The choice of food here is amazing, Mexican, Asian, burgers, tropical, Mediterranean, fresh, fast-food, slow-food, sea food, Indian, whatever.. It’s here. And tasty.

The people are friendly and always ask me how I am feeling. Wherever I go.

I am here for a week. I have been finalizing my flight bookings for the next 3 months, looking at prices for a larger suitcase, looking at some hard guitar cases because the one I am traveling with is on it’s last legs, and ordering salted caramel mocha frappuccinos at Starbucks.

I bought a pair of shoes yesterday that had Jessica written on the inside of them, and a number 23 written in handwriting on the back of them. Big deal for me as the number 23 follows me absolutely everywhere. I took this as a sign, tried them on, they fit like a glove, so I bought them with no hesitation.

It has been warm and sunny. However this morning, I hear rain falling from my room. It will do the gardens some good.

I am going to grab a warm cup of coffee now and wake up LA style, by taking it easy.