Ça plane pour moi!

These past few days have been unbelievable. Last Thursday, I treated myself to two nights in La Caravelle, a Club Med resort, as there was no more room on that Thursday night at the Canella Residence. I was warmly greeted with a cocktail and a refreshing towel, and escorted to my spacey room which gave on to the beautiful views of the club’s beach. As soon as I arrived I whisked out my bikini from my luggage and stepped outside to explore all the club’s treats.

During my very short stay at the club, I did some yoga, stretching classes, pool and ocean aqua gym, archery, danced, participated in games, I even won a medal which I picked up on stage. The club was surprisingly full of people, mostly families, making the most of the sun and warmth of the Caribbean. There was all sorts going on at the club, including the usual games and competitions, and themed nights with lots of alcohol a-go-go (especially rum, of course), and dancing until 1 in the morning.

Arnaud came to pick me up on the Saturday afternoon at the club, and was amazed at the pretty surroundings. We whisked off to the private side of Pointe-à-Pitre’s airport, and met up with a colleague of Arnaud’s who is a pilot. We walked over to a little airplane which we were going to get into and circle around the neighboring islands of Guadeloupe called Les Saintes. The pilot did all the necessary checks around the plane, noting and jotting down all the information into the black booklet. He asked us to check if the front and back lights came on, and other things like wing movements. After about 30 to 40 mins of checks, I hopped into the back of the 4 person plane, fastened my seatbelt and began gazing at all the different switches, buttons and monitors on the deck. After Arnaud got in, the pilot switched on the corresponding radio, and began interacting with the command tower. It was so exciting hearing and being part of the communications, let alone being in this authentic little plane in the Caribbean, about to jet off to circle around little islands.

The take-off was excellent – the pilot revved up the noisy engine, speeded down the runway, and all of a sudden the plane felt like a feather and was floating above the ground getting higher and higher. We left the island of Guadeloupe and approached Les Saintes, which are a combination of little islands with magnificent bays and lagoon waters. After circling them once the pilot turned over to the co-pilot and myself and said ”Shall we go around again?” with a grin, and we nodded with much enthusiasm. We thus went around them once again, this time a bit lower to better observe the lands. After that we cruised around the coast of Guadeloupe, on the Caribbean ocean side, which was a little more turbulent, but much fun. You could see the volcano craters so well, which is what inspired me to go and take a closer look at Guadeloupe’s main volcano ‘La Soufrière’.

I filmed the landing, which was a bit unnerving, especially as it was the first time I was able to see the runway approaching and getting bigger and closer by the second. In the end the landing was smooth, and we parked the plane back to its original space. What an experience!

That very night, we went to a small Saturday carnival hosted in Sainte Rose, where a few groups marched up and down the streets, dancing and sounding drums along their way. They were essentially warming up for Sunday’s big main event. We ate delicious Bokits, Guadeloupian hot sandwiches, and watched until the festivities ended.

The following day we had planned on going to Marie Galante, another neighbor island. But having arrived at the busy port, we were informed that the return boat ride was much later than we had anticipated, and would mean us missing the main carnival. We therefore decided to visit the Soufrière volcano, and being rather unprepared for the idea, I hiked up part of it in flip flops! It was a very steep, difficult and long hike up, but was worth it when arriving at the Savane des Mulets, a part of flat ground which gave on to superb views of Guadeloupe’s Caribbean coast.

The day continued with visits and coastal cruises around Basse Terre’s upper part. We stopped at the Réserve Cousteau, an ideal spot of diving fanatics. A grey sand beach welcomed us, as well as lots of little boutiques, shops and many diving schools offering guided dips and lessons. Apparently this area is where you can see the best sea life, which convinced me to take a look myself. I got on to a small boat of fanatic divers, and I was the only person on board getting ready to snorkel! When I jumped into the waters, I was astonished by the diversity of color and amount of fish I saw.

There were coral reefs of all shapes, sizes and colors, and enormous tropical fish in groups or solo picking at bits of coral, or just aimlessly swimming around. I spent 1h gazing at all the sea life, discovering another fascinating part of this planet which I often tend to forget exists in such vast amounts. I saw gold scale fish with red tales, giant turquoise fat fish, trumpet fish, blue, yellow, and black tangs, and maybe another 20 or 30 types with no exaggeration. I also saw one of my favorites – a really long (about the size of my arm) box fish airing around, which I followed for quite some time. However, I got a little unsettled when I suddenly spotted about 10 meters away from me, a giant Barracuda, longer than myself, starring at me. It frightened me and so I stayed very still. It eventually swam away, and I was later told that a lot of solitary male Barracudas have a tendency of hanging out in these shallow waters, and can be quite startling…

The day ended with a visit of a pink sand beach, and a lovely gaze out towards the sunset near Sainte Rose. We directly went to the carnival, which had started at 2PM, and watched the more animated and louder groups parade by. This was a more ‘serious’ carnival, as apparently there were judges who would note all the passing groups. There was more of an observant atmosphere in Sainte Rose’s crowds than a participant atmosphere which was very present in last week’s Pointe-à-Pitre festivities. But this was definitely a larger carnival which had demanded much more organization and practice.

I am now back at Canella Residence, and have been moved to a master room with a very large bed. I have another 2 sunny weeks left here in Guadeloupe…

Boat trips and big hotels

another sunset view from Waikiki beach

A few weeks have gone by now since my arrival on Oahu, and I’m getting used to things here in the city of Waikiki. Although the contrast between the laid back atmosphere on the beach and the non stop liveliness of the city’s streets can be difficult to adapt to. One minute you could be sipping a tropical ice tea, facing the calm waves of the ocean rocking back and forth on the beach, listening to hula, the next you could be in a large crowd of people impatiently waiting to cross the street to desperately get into Macy’s or Starbucks.

I’ve been cruising around the shoreline and around Diamond Head mountain in a boat this past week. Once on Thursday at 3Pm, where the boat sailed around at quite high speed and played some reggae music on board – it was a great way to unwind, and the glass of champagne certainly helped. The next trip I took was on Sunday evening, at 5PM, a ”sunset booze cruise” – same boat, same route, but slower and all-inclusive drinks. This was also good fun, and seeing the sun set, the skies turn to orange, pink, purple, and then watching Waikiki’s city lights brighten as the day turned to night was delightful.

the Sheraton's infinity pool

I have been doing a lot of walking around the city, discovering the right, left and center of it. I go and visit the farmer’s markets on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays (it changes location each day), and have become friendly with one of the market stands which now gives me free gifts such as coconut mochi bread or oatmeal cookies. I ate my very first malasada last Thursday: a Hawaiian treat consisting of two small yet thick doughnut-like buns with creamy custard in the middle – not the healthiest of snacks, but certainly worth a taste.

I’ve met some very interesting people on my little walks and explorations here and there – a very talented barman at Jimmy Buffet’s, who can do all sorts of swinging and juggling tricks with bottles, and makes some mean cocktails too. I also got talking to the captains of both boat trips, who recommend I come on their trips in the mornings to snorkel with the sea turtles.

From time to time, I will hang out in the big hotels: The Sheraton, The Royal Hawaiian, The Hilton Hawaiian Village, etc.. sit on a sun bed, drink a little something, have a dip. No one notices that I’m out of place – it must be because I’m here quietly and discreetly by myself and obviously don’t look too inconspicuous. I also recently came across a Sheraton towel card in my wallet which I picked up at the airport when I transited through Honolulu in October on my way to Maui – I will try and see if I can use it, if so, I will be able to have a dip in the infamous Sheraton infinity pool, which looks rather chic.

Kimo, the bartender from Jimmy Buffet's

The music scene is certainly overwhelming – there is so much to listen to, it is difficult to choose. There is generally a good selection of Hawaiian, jazz and rock music every night in a lot of different bars and venues. It depends on what you’re up for – a laid back background sound to go with a classy cocktail, an energetic dance in a club, a more traditional island setting, etc. But nothing caters for anything else, I was told to experience the up and coming creative musicians who ”aren’t allowed to play in Waikiki” (i.e. not tourist-y enough) play in downtown, also known as Chinatown. However, I have also been advised not to venture in this part of town alone, so I’m a bit apprehensive about checking it all out. Plus, there is so much to hear here in Waikiki, I am afraid I may musically OD if I hit downtown (if there is such a thing).

I have found an equivalent to Mana Foods, a natural health food store in Maui, called ‘Down to Earth’, which is very pleasant and makes excellent food you can eat out on a terrace. This place is in Kailua, which is the nearest smaller town to me. It is student friendly town: cheaper prices, health food stores, internet cafés, small convenience stores, massage therapist places that are considerably less expensive than in the center of Waikiki.

And that is one down factor, Waikiki is extremely expensive. If only money grew on palm trees!

Shopping, sunsets and snoozes

It is all go in Waikiki. There are all sorts going on every day, every night, not to mention the hoards of street performers: magicians, mimers, steel drummers, henna tattooists, ukulele players, percussionists, basket ball tricks, guitarists, bracelet makers, lei weavers, the works. Every 10 or 15 steps you take down Waikiki’s main street, you are bound to find at least 2 or 3 performances which stop you on your way.

Waikiki is very much catered for tourism – all the high end boutiques are here, Chanel, Gucci, Armani, Prada, Guess, you name it, it’s here. There are all the hipper shops too, which are giant, UGG, Crocs, Billabong, Quicksilver, Dakine, etc. And of course, there is the infamous International Market Place, heaving with gifts and souvenirs of all shapes and sizes.

The beach front is stunning. I mean, really stunning. The sand is welcoming, the waves are tranquil, the water is shallow so you can dip in there all you want without being swept away by the current. Granted, it is always busy, but if you are a keen people-watcher, this is really a great spot to sit back and watch all the characters.

I have been mulling around lately, trying to find my bearings – after my nightmare bus trip (cf. last post), I have been avoiding the bus, and thus walking around. A lot. My calve muscles have certainly strengthened as I am currently living up a very large slanted hill top. It is sometimes even too far away from some parts of main Waikiki to consider walking back, and so I take a taxi from time to time, which has been burning holes in my pockets like there is no tomorrow.

I am therefore probably going to move somewhere more central soon, to make sure I can easily get to concerts and events without worrying about needing an expensive taxi or a complicated bus trip back to my bed. But before any of that happens, tomorrow I will be off to Punaluu, where my father has recently bought a little place on the beach. I am helping out with some of the administrative process of buying a place which consists in doing a walk-through. I will make sure everything looks in order, and then stay a couple of nights, enjoy the seafront and the tranquility of the North Shore area.

On Sunday, I spent a lot of time mooching back and forth in central Waikiki, sitting on the beach, then exploring a little more of the streets and venues. As I was walking, one youngish guy sitting in, what is called a ‘Mini-Coop’, stopped me and asked whether I would like to go for a little ride for free as he was on his lunch break. Great, I thought, and hopped in. This little green three wheeled vehicle was noisy, but lots of fun, and we zoomed around various Waikiki streets.

I heard there was going to be some live music happening in Duke’s bar at 4PM(a beautiful sea front bar), so around 3PM I treated myself to a sun bed in front of the bar (8$ an hour, I got one for 8$ for two hours as a special) and thought I would snooze until I heard the music. It was a lovely way to relax, and I got talking to two Australian chaps in their early thirties who are here on a short holiday. Once the music began to play, it transpired it was a talented band playing all sorts of interesting covers with a funky rock style. Percussions, excellent guitar riffing, good vocals, it appeared this band knew what it was doing. It transpired this was Henry Kapono’s band, which plays at Duke’s bar every Sunday.

We decided to enter the bar and have a few drinks, and once we actually approached the stage and place, there was a large crowd of dancers and boogying peoples! What a great atmosphere, barefooted people coming from the beach after having spent a long day lazing around suddenly livening up and dancing until sun set. And that’s precisely what happened – the sun set literally behind the band, in front of the crowd and drinkers, the scenery was really magical and very much vibrant with positive energies. Most people actually cheered and clapped after the sun went down, which I thought was excellent.

So, tomorrow, en route for an exploration into a slightly calmer part of Oahu…