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.

Ia Orana Tahiti!

I left Hawaii a week ago in a limousine to the airport, and flew once again through a rainbow on my way to Tahiti. I had such a great time both in Maui and Oahu, and I will remember those islands fondly, but time for a new country and culture…

Tahiti is similar to Hawaii in its Polynesian culture and atmosphere, except less American and more French, …which makes sense! But that feeling is very present, much more than I had expected. Tahiti is a French territory so all road signs are like the ones back home, and the supermarkets, food brands, car makes are those which I am familiar with. I have enjoyed going to Carrefour and being able to buy things I like to get back at home like goat’s cheese, millefeuille desserts and foie-gras. Of course, one has to be careful selecting wines, as there are good bottles to choose from, but it is best to avoid the older ones as they have probably been sitting in the wrong temperatures for way too long…

The Tahitian language seems to be much more alive and spoken than Hawaiian language in Hawaii. Tahitian is translated from French almost everywhere, and I do hear from time to time some people speaking it. It is very similar to Hawaiian as it I suppose it shares the same Polynesian roots: ia orana = hello, nana = goodbye, manuia = cheers, maruru = thank you, … And my personal favorite: nene = transvestite (!) Yes, much to my surprise, this seems to be a popular phenomenon here in Tahiti – many men chose to dress as women on a daily basis and a lot of them work as hotel maids, cashiers, waitresses. It is very surprising, and adds a little quirkiness to the island!

The most exciting thing for me though has been reuniting with my boyfriend Alex who is working at the Maeva Sofitel Beach Resort here in Faa’a. He works as the assistant to the hotel’s director of finances and administration. We have celebrated Christmas and New Year’s together and have done a bit of traveling together during Alex’s time off. On boxing day we took a catamaran to Tetiaora, also known as the ‘Island of Birds’, which was a stunning private island, a 3h30 boat ride away from Papeete, Tahiti’s capital. The boat ride was very choppy, and unfortunately a lot of people were sick on board. And I must admit that usually I am not sea sick but this long catamaran ride was tough. When we arrived on the island, we walked around it and its beautiful lagoons, saw some extremely rare birds of all shapes and sizes, snorkeled around the shallow waters and swam with some of the most colorful fish I have ever seen. We ate a traditional Tahitian lunch on board, and head back to Papeete in the afternoon.

Our second trip, my favorite of all, was on the 30th December, when we took a ferry to the island of Moorea. Alex had booked us in the Sofitel on that island, and because of his affiliation with Maeva Beach Resort, he got us a wonderful room for a discounted price. The resort in Moorea is picture perfect: a long stretch of real beach, pilotiers, infinity pool, beautiful cocktails, stunning rooms, really comfy beds, tranquility, Tahitian shows at night, a great bar on the beach – it was an ideal honey moon type place. Alex treated me to an 1h massage at the spa as part of a Christmas present, which was excellent. I was blown away by the quality of our room which was honestly one of the best hotel rooms I have ever seen.

The following day we walked around Moorea for an hour or so, saw a lot of crabs, market stands, fruit trees and more stunning beaches, before taking the ferry back to Papeete. Moorea is even more tranquil and laid back than Tahiti, which is sort of difficult to explain as Tahiti is very relaxing as it is..!

I have already witnessed a few traditional musical treats since my arrival – we went to see a Marquisian show at the Intercontinental hotel (our neighbors) which was full of energy, percussion and lively female and male dancers. We also got to see a lot of Tahitian tamouré dancing at the Moorea resort at the restaurant at dinner time. There are some Tahitian dances which are very similar in style to hula, but with more energetic moves, kind of like their alphabet which unlike Hawaiian contains the letter ‘r’ which gives it more oomph. The costumes the dancers wear are also generally a bit more fierce looking – more natural colors like green and brown, more traditional accessories like bamboo, wooden bracelets, more tribal make-up. The women also shake their backsides much more than hula dancers, and with much more rhythm and energy.

The internet is very slow here so it has been difficult for me to upload photos, check emails, keep in touch and write as much as I was in Hawaii where its USA internet connection is speedy and easy to access. I am going to have to get used to this slower and less modern lifestyle in the French islands which I am finding fascinating and enjoyable…

What is really interesting is this sensation that I have returned home because of the French cultural aspects that are so present, yet I am further away from home than I have ever been in my life… Nana!

Fairy tale

Yesterday I woke up later than usual, around 11 AM. I made myself coffee and sat myself in the kitchen where I did a little bit of emailing and radio contact work. I phoned up a few online radios, organized some CD shipments, researched into more online radio reggae stations in Hawaii.

Around 1PM, I went downstairs to Rose’s place, my downstairs neighbour. Trish was there, my yoga instructing housemate and Chelsea a friend of theirs. We sat down around a coffee table and spoke about of all sorts, and had a homemade banana berries and bran smoothie. Chelsea suggested we go to a secret waterfall spot she knows of, and so we all got our stuff together and headed down there in Trish’s down-top silver Jeep.

We walked bare foot through muddy paths, on top of flat rocks, climbed down into this jungle like setting, where we set off to find this secret waterfall. The amount of different trees, plants, flowers and fruits was stunning. After about a 20 mins walk, we arrived and I was blown away by the view that was in front of me: a giant waterfall of pure water pouring into a beautiful still private pool. Intertwined roots of trees circled the pool – Trish rightly pointed out that it seemed we had entered a fairy tale!

waterfall wonderland

So we undressed into our bikinis and swan into the cool water, and gazed out to the waterfall. There were also a few spots which the sun was shining on that we could sit in when the water got too frisky. We stayed there and chit chatted for a while, and then ventured back, after having taken quite a few photos.

On our way back, Rose suggested she’d invite us to some Mediterranean food at Café des Amis, a place in Paia. So when we got there, we ordered two platters, extra sides of pitta bread, and some drinks. I got my first Mai Tai cocktail – which I loved. We had arrived between happy hours so drinks were half price – score! When the platters arrived they looked delicious, and actually reminded me a lot of home: hummus, pitted black olives, tzatziki, marinated aubergines in oil, pesto covered tomatoes, tasty mushrooms. Followed by a nutella and strawberry crêpe topped with whipped cream, which we shared with four forks. YUM.

my very first Mai Tai

I was then asked if I wanted to go to a free meditation class with Chelsea and Rose at 6PM. Sure, why not. It was my first proper meditation experience, I have done a little on my own before. We had chanting sessions, and one 15 mins meditation followed by an 8 mins meditation. (That adds up to exactly 23 mins of meditation, by the way… coincidence?)

That had relaxed my mind quite a bit (so did the Mai Tai!), and we went back to Chelsea’s for vanilla tea and chocolate macadamia nut ice cream. I met Chelsea’s two Spanish housemates, who were very friendly – one from Barcelona, the other from Madrid, who told me I could come up to theirs any time. On our way back from Chelsea’s, Rose came up and we watched Trish play around with her new sowing machine in the sitting room. We drank red wine and ate cold chocolate.

Branden joined us later as she came back from her waitressing job. We all chit chatted in the living room until the late hours of the evening. I really feel at home with these girls, I have met some really good people here. They speak of ‘energies’ in people, are into yoga, meditation, healthy organic foods, and have a lot of respect for one and other. They are genuine and honest, and are very comfortable to be around.

It is a shame that it is Branden’s last night in the Yoga Shala tonight – she has found a job with a marine biologist that requires her to move to Kihei, about a 30 mins drive from here. I will miss her being around and next door to me. She has so many good tips and tricks on how to stay healthy, and has taught me how to indo-board (an indoor surf board!) She will be replaced by a French dude called Olivier, who is a kite surfing friend of Liam’s (Trish’s boyfriend who owns our place). I met him briefly the other day and he seems very friendly, and I’m happy I will have someone to speak French with on a daily basis!

Today I played a few more songs in Hookipa, and got offered a coconut, cut up so that I could drink from it, and 13$ again. (Funny I made the same exact amount than last time!) I ventured down to Mana Foods this afternoon to get some fresh veggies and fruit, and a box of assorted chai teas.