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Guadeloupe: 3

Since Desiree would be returning the first part of April before we had to move the boat back to Antigua for haul-out, I decided I should look around a bit to check out some spots we hadn’t been to but had thought looked interesting.

One of these places was on the other side of the island in an area that is a sea national park. There is a channel between the two main parts of the island (right where the body of the butterfly layout of the island joins the two “wings”) named Rivière Salée. There is a tidal flow through it, so it is like a river flowing from the north side to the south side of the islands. It is densely covered with mangrove trees/bushes along its winding shores until the open sea is reached at the north end.

Then it was miles of just water, sometimes only a few feet deep but elsewhere 20 feet on average. From my perspective in the dinghy, it all looked the same—every which way I looked. But I knew it wasn’t since I had previously spent some time looking over a nautical chart for that area and checked out Google Maps for a photo view. So, I knew where to go. It had taken 25 minutes up the channel and now I knew it would be about the same to the small islands in the far distance that I wanted to check out. I just had to judge the depths and existence of shallow reefs as I planed along at 12 mph—eyeballing it at speed.

The largest of the two islands is Fajou, just where the deep sea meets this flat area of the National Park and breaks upon what is described as a coral reef—which was what had looked interesting to us. So, I tied up the dinghy to one of the mooring buoys scattered through the shallows just behind the reef. It’s a popular day trip outing location from the city, along with the smaller sandy island a short distance away (there already were seven boats when I was there, on a Wednesday morning). I donned my snorkeling gear and took a look around.

It was easy to access and swim around, but contrary to the write-ups and national park status, there wasn’t much there to see. There was lots of broken coral from hurricanes and dying off from bleaching, but the only living coral was large patches of brown finger coral—pretty monotonous. After searching for 30-45 minutes to see if there was something I missed, I gave up.

There might have been something worth seeing on the deep side of the reef scuba diving, but I doubt it. We sort of found similar situations as we came down the west side of Guadeloupe and tried out some spots that were recommended, and Desiree had noticed this trend of degradation over the last decade of her diving experiences elsewhere. Anyway, it certainly wasn’t worth bringing Mariposa around there to anchor and spend any time. I motored the dinghy over to a sandy beach on Fajou Island, found a shady spot ashore for lunch, and then set off for the return trip home. Well, now I knew—and it made for an interesting little adventure to see something different.

* * * * *

Another little trip for the same purpose of checking things out was different too: on a bus. Now, aside from a few rides on the Whidbey Island public buses at home—which are free—I hadn’t ridden a public bus since … oh, New York City … 37+ years ago? So, the trip up the southeast coast of Guadeloupe to the small city of St. Francis took a little figuring out. Jumping in a dinghy and freely heading whichever way you wanted was old hat. But buses have to stay on roads, have schedules, and must be paid for—and it’s all in French. Just a challenge to figure out, one step at a time like everything in life. Nothing new there, just the specifics.

OK, who goes there? Well, the main bus line has a fairly detailed online site with lots of info. I was able to get enough of the French to figure out their timetable and fee structure: a bus every 25 minutes and four euros for the trip fee. Analyzing a Google Map, I figured out that I could catch a bus near either entrance to the University of the Antilles where I do a lot of my exercise walks. The bus had a terminus station in St. Francis on the map, not too far from the marina and anchoring area I wanted to see. So far, so good. Now, just do it.

Since the timing seemed to be right for the next bus, I went to the main university stop and waited for the S1 bus. When it appeared, I stepped out from the waiting area to meet it—but it whizzed on by. There didn’t seem to be anyone else at the stop who wanted that bus, so I guess I just needed to wave at it or something (later on the bus, I noticed that no one waved, they stood at their stop or stepped out—so, ?) I just have to be more forceful, I decided. But that wasn’t necessary: the next bus in 10 minutes (?) had students who wanted aboard. So, I stepped on after they were aboard, offered my four euros … and the driver wouldn’t take them! Now what? I couldn’t translate what he was saying and he was clearly ready to get going. So, I got off.

As I waited for the next bus, I tried to figure out what was going on. Now, most store transactions here, and in the rest of France, are done by card. In fact, some places won’t handle cash and you had to give it to a machine to do the job. Hmmm, OK, maybe they only take cards: credit, debit, or a bus pass card. Makes sense. When the next bus arrived—going someplace else—there were lots of students getting on, and I stood up close to watch what they did. They all laid a card on a small screen and that was it.

I now resolved to use my card too, on the next bus—which came 50 minutes later, instead of what the schedule said. But this time, the bus number was S01. Close. I remembered seeing that number on the bus company’s website but could never find out if S1 and S01 were the same or what. Well, I quickly hopped aboard, and to my surprise, everyone was paying in cash! That’s the way the driver’s area was set up to take payment. I paid my coins, went to the elevated back section where I could get a better view of the countryside, and sat down. I guess the zero means that the bus takes cash. At least I was aboard!

So, for 70 minutes I got to see how the people along the way lived and some of the towns along the way, including how the tourist hotels and enclaves were situated. In many respects, it wasn’t too much different from Antigua, mostly more lush vegetation and better roads, and a little more upscale in housing and other buildings. Everybody was still just trying to live as best they could with what they had.

I saw what I needed to see in St. Francis in case we came up that direction on our way to Antigua and boarded another off-the-schedule bus back to Point-à-Pietre. Actually, the only bad thing about the trip was the bus seat. Although it was a modern bus, the seats had absolutely no padding: just fabric over molded plastic. My skinny butt didn’t take too well to that arrangement, and it felt sooo good to get off and walk again back to the dinghy! But, it was a good little trip, and I was glad I went.

* * * * *

For some time earlier in March, I had been thinking about moving the boat to another mooring about a half mile or so from where I currently was. As it was getting more into the high season of winter sailing, more boats were showing up looking for a mooring buoy to latch onto so they didn’t have to anchor. The advantage of mooring buoys is that they are spaced out so the boats can swing freely with the wind and current and not come close to banging into each other; it also meant that you avoided having marine growth accumulate on your anchor chain which would have to be cleaned off at some time.

Of course, there are always boats that try to crowd in and anchor amidst those moored. For the life of me, I can’t figure that out. There’s plenty of room available outside the mooring buoyed area for anchoring. I guess some people feel the need for togetherness of some sort, or think it’s a safer place to be. Also, since this is a province of France, most of the boats are French, and a lot of them are used to sailing in the Mediterranean, where anchorages are more limited and boats crowd in with each other to get a spot for the day or night—so they are used to throwing down the hook wherever they can and don’t mind the closeness.

Well, I do. So, after some deliberation of exactly where to go, I headed up north a bit further along the little protective island and took a mooring that was sort of at the end of them all and had a few abandoned boats that weren’t particularly pretty and I figured would be off-putting to most people. And there weren’t any regular boats close at all. Perfect.

I slept well that night and had my privacy. A good start for my birthday the next day. In the morning, a few small fishing boats went by and up a small channel, and I came to realize that was the way to bypass a shallow reef and get to the other side of a commercial area. OK, I could put up with that easily.

That is, until later in the day when the jetski boats started zooming by at 40 mph about 50-100 feet away. Some are rentals where a rental staff member leads a group of 3-5 jetskis around the area, but others are individuals out for a thrill with their buddies, tearing along tossing up big wakes that rock me and any other boats in the vicinity.

OK, my mistake: they use that little channel too, plus go right over the shallow reef to the other side of the little island—a thoroughfare, it seems. Well, the rentals have to leave by late afternoon after all, right? Yeah, but …

Then around four o’clock, I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of bigger, 20-25 ft runabout-types with 2-3 big 100 hp+ outboards hung off the stern, started showing up. They used that little channel to go to the other side of the reef, where there was a long sandy strip in the water, and tied up to each other in a long line until there were at least 30 of them (I counted). And as they started rafting up, the French Caribbean rap “music” started, loudly, as if next door to me, and a DJ ran the whole show for the crowds on the boats, 4-8+ people on each one. Groups of people were standing around in the water, eating and drinking, milling around, kids splashing and playing… And the non-rental jetskis kept tearing around it all.

(Photo from today, forming for an Easter raft-up)

OK… now, how could I have guessed about this one? Hmmm, I liked the spot since it was sort of isolated… and that’s probably why all these other people were there too, zooming around and partying. Duhhh.

Well, one good thing about nightfall is that eventually, you have to go home if you don’t live there. I now did, and they didn’t. So peace finally reigned again. And I don’t think all that happened to celebrate my birthday that Thursday.

Just another day of my life aboard.

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