Gwada! Gwada! Read all about it!

Guadaloupe… Honestly, I had no idea what to expect. This French DOM (overseas department) was a real surprise for me. It’s a popular destination for French and foreign holiday makers: resorts, zouk music, p’tit punch, beaches. What I didn’t realize is that it’s also a densely populated island, with a busy urban center in Pointe à Pitre, traffic jams, and all the French commerces and conveniences, from banks to supermarkets, bakeries to cafes. It’s like Little France, with an Island theme. Everyone speaks French, in addition to Creole, and there’s a great mix of locals and Europeans. The prices are equivalent to those in France.

We arrived in the Bas du Fort marina at about 3am, after what seemed like an endless night approach. After more than 2 weeks at sea, the smell of land was delightful from miles off: Leather, tobacco, manure and soil. My olfactory senses were getting their fill. Thanks to the Navionics vectoral chart app on his smartphone, Peter guided us into the marina, and we tied up at the fuel platform. He cut the motor, and everything stopped. The stillness, the silence, was incredible. An end to the relentless movement of the past 16 days. The achievement of the crossing that ends with an actual destination. No more sound of the wind in the sails. No more pulling, rocking and tugging. The water was completely still. I made the bed, crawled in, and fell sound asleep. Peter must have slept a couple of hours, but was up long before me, expecting to be tossed off the fuel station and preparing for the next step. Skippering Opsimath is a huge weight on his shoulders. I think he’d been running on adrenaline and will-power since he left Madeira mid-October. As I write this, 9 days after our arrival in Guadaloupe, I think he is only now beginning to relax and get back to some sort of normal state (and putting some much-needed weight back on).

The Bas du Fort marina is huge, well-equipped, and hot as blazes. It’s surrounded by a bevy of bars and restaurants, and has everything a boater could need in terms of equipment and services. But it’s a marina. Crowded, not a breath of air and certainly no place to recuperate from a transatlantic sail.

In need of a real break, we rented a car and got an Airbnb. We found a place in Grande terre, and hired a car at the marina for just 25/day. On the way, we stopped by the mega Carrefour Millenis hypermarket to start re-provisioning a little. It had everything we can get back in France, with local products to boot. A mind-bender after the slim pickings in Cap Vert and 15 days at sea! The traffic in Pointe à Pitre hit us like a ton of bricks: there are so many cars in this heavily urbanized city and its suburbs, that the jams are unavoidable. The fact that the traffic lights seem to be permanently out of order certainly doesn’t help!

Peter had lost a lot of weight, some of my photos from this period scared me a little! He’s regained a little since, has a healthy appetite and loves my cooking

Our little airbnb was a rustic log “cabin” near a little village called Vieux Bourg. Cute, but limited in comfort, we stayed a couple of nights. We visited the plage des Lamantins, which is “the only forested beach in the world” (must verify this tale, photo above). But we’d only just began to recover, so we looked for another Airbnb in Basse Terre.

On the way to Basse Terre, which is the mountainous part of the island, we stopped at a beautiful beachfront restaurant called La Terrasse at Bois de plage Jolan run by Stéphane and Edwige. Great food (but sort of fusion food, more international/healthy fare). The beach was stunning, with a lagoon protected by a coral reef.

Our next Airbnb at Vieux-Habitants was simply amazing. Up on top of a steep hill, the house overlooks a stunning valley, home to the old Griveliere Coffee Plantation, (where the Maison du Cafe still produces Cafe du Cholet, and runs a museum and chocolate shop). To the right of this valley is the island’s highest peak, the Souffriere volcano, always covered by clouds, and to the left miles and miles of beaches, all connected by winding seafront roads. From our private balcony, we could feast our eyes on it all!

The small Airbnb was simple, but well-appointed. The view, the cool mountain breezes, the comfortable chaises longues and the outdoor table were the real luxuries! Finally, some real R&R!

We went to the local Christmas festivities, and also ate the island’s most expensive lobster lunch ever at a very shabby chic restaurant. The owner was clearly happy to see us walk in and happier still when we paid the bill. The Antilles is famous for its sugar cane and it’s rum. Rum is served with just about everything. It is very plentiful and inexpensive. When you order a ‘ti punch, the patron brings the bottle so you’re on auto-regulation and you can guess what that means !

Still looking a little worse for wear, the captain has a hearty appetite!

In between all of this, we were back and forth to the boat taking care of technical issues, and provisioning for the weeks to come.

We spent our last, hot night in the marina, and then we were off to our next stop: Les Iles Saintes. I’ll undoubtedly update this, but wanted to get it off to our legions of fans who are, I know, clambering for updates!

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