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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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…