Sunday, May 24, 2015

Rental Car Guadeloupe - Day Three Parc National De La Guadeloupe

Rental car day three breakfast - beef and smoked chicken

Sunday May 17th 2015
We once again headed for Basse-Terre to do some more hiking.  However, one of the main roads was blocked by police.  There seemed to be some sort of even going on.  We saw tons and tons of bicyclists so we guessed maybe time trials for an upcoming race.  Cycling is big on Guadeloupe and Martinique, with their own island races - Tour de Guadeloupe, Tour de Martinique and such.  Everyday we see many serious riders training.  Impressive given the fact that Basse-Terre is so mountainous and that the roads are narrow, often with no shoulder.  *The next day we learned it was auto racing - like drag racing for souped up street cars.    
Trail down to waterfall


The money shot
Anyway, we followed the "deviation"  aka detour signs but more importantly the rest of the cars "deviating" and found our way along towards Chutes du Carbet - 3 waterfalls, specifically "Trois Chaute" (number 3).  Once again, the road in was crazy narrow and winding.  The trails themselves in the Parc De La National Guadeloupe are magnificent.  Built solid and well maintained.  Really quite impressive.  It was a good hike with some up and down until we neared the end.  At this point we had to traverse down a steep hill side.  The footholds where well established on the rocks and in the tree roots.  There was a rope off to the starboard side to assist with the assent but I found the tree roots more assuring.  The reward was a fabulous waterfall 22 meters (66ft) high and crystal clear pool just right for a refreshing swim.  I was startled when I accidental swallowed a bit of water - Ohhhh fresh water!  I am so used to accidental gulps of salt water as I swim.  The hike out was just as lovely under the shady rainforest canopy of huge mahogany trees, giant palms and philodendrons, ferns, vines and such to the songs of various birds.
Kewl'd off Wildcats

Nearly back to the car

Then we drove around to another spot to hike to "Chaute de Cabet - Deux" (number 2).  Again, crazy narrow road in and spectacular trail.  This one really got our hearts pumping as we descended down into the valley via hundreds of steps built into the walls of the valley.  We were not able to get all the way to number two but to a viewing platform close enough for pics.  This waterfall is 110 (330 ft) meters high.  Wow!  The hike back out had us feeling all our leg muscles.  

Trail head to Deux Chaute
Start of trail - nice


The climb out - hundreds of steps

We decided a late lunch and a soak in one of the hot springs would be good.  However, we forgot that most businesses are close up on Sunday afternoon so it was tough to find anything that was open.  Finally in the actual town of Basse-Terre, near Marina de Rivière Sens, we found a guy by the side of the road selling smoked chicken parts.  I say parts because we couldn't quite figure out what part - they seemed like a chicken legs but way too big.... hum?  Then we went in search of the thermal springs at Matouba.  We searched and searched but we never could find it.  The French seem to hide their thermal springs well.  So instead we drove the coastal roads around the south end of Basse-Terre back around towards Pointe a Pitre, taking it all in as we went.  We hit the tailend of a traffic jam caused by the earlier car racing but it wasn't too bad.  Thank goodness Tom was driving our manual shift rental car in the stop and go....on a hill traffic.
Volcano Soufriere with it's own clouds

Leaving Saint Sauveur
Note - In most American towns and cities, you will find a "Welcome" sign as you enter and a "Thank you for coming"  or "Now leaving Anytown USA" sign.  Not here.  You see the town/village name when you enter and then the same sign when you leave but it's crossed through with a red slash.  This struck us as funny but I guess it saves $$.

Note - During our time in Guadeloupe, we saw many people with tatooes of the actual island of Guadeloupe - the shape of island like you would see on a map or chart.  Many times it said "Gwada", a local nickname, of Guadeloupe.  We also saw people wearing necklaces and chains (the men) with island shape.  There seems to be great pride among the people of Guadeloupe and they show it.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Rental Car Guadeloupe - Day Two Exploring Basse-Terre

View from Les Mamelle toward Pointe a Pitre
Saturday May 16th 2015
Today we explored the western side of Guadeloupe or the western butterfly wing.  This side has mountains running all through the middle - north to south.  The north mountains are part of the Foret Departmentalo-Domainiale.  The southern mountains make up Parc National De La Guadeloupe.  
Smoked chicken patie
First we had a breakfast snack (meaning in addition to breakfast) in the form of flaky, crossiant dough, meat filled pastries/pastie/patties.  A booth outside the grocery store was selling these fresh made yummies along with various fancy sausages.  Tom had beef.  I had lambi (conch) and we split the smoked chicken.  YUM-O.
Bamboo lined narrow road that narrows more ahead (see sign) and sugar cane truck
We went searching for a thermal spring first.  It turns out the one we were looking for was no longer open.  We found this out from a nice gas station attendant who actually pumped our gas - they do that here.  Our next stop was a hike up Les Mamelles - a climb of 713 meters.  Whew!
YES - We hiked up to the top

Terrific trails

Pretty purple flower of some sort

Interesting foliage in the rainforest
HUGE leaves in the rainforest

The top
Then we drove a short distance to the leeward side and the little coastal village of Malendure where Preserv Cousteau is located just off shore.  Yes, that Cousteau as in Jacques Cousteau of National Geographic fame.  He filmed part of the movie "Silent World" in the waters near here.   Last year we anchored here and snorkeled the area a bit.  A late lunch was canned sardines' crackers, leftover chips and two beers (see the Beyond Burgoo tab for more on sardines).     
Thermal power plant
We then drove north to the Pointe-Noire region.  We stopped at Mason du Cacao to continue our education of all things chocolate and sampled the best Caribbean chocolate we have tasted to date.  Yes, we bought some - brand is actually Mason du Cacao.  
Best chocolate to date
Cacao pods growing

Beans drying -left side new, right side dried

Roasted beans, cracked, nibs - grinder above
Rolled chocolate 
Chocolate rolls like those above are sold in most Caribbean open markets.  It's used to make a warm chocolate drink.  Only water is used because the roll is make from pure, ground chocolate vs powered and thus has the coco fat still in it.  The Mayans drank warm chocolate at 100% strength = bitter.  This brand uses sugar cane that is less refined than regular sugar...aka better for you.  Ya-hu - the lady said so!  The taste was wonderfully rich and smooth.  
Tom tasting the warm chocolate drink

With our brains high on chocolate, we headed up into the hills in search of Le Saut d'Acomat (Acomat Waterfall). We were learning that the roads up to these trail heads are generally very narrow - like less than two lane and often one lane only - for both in and out traffic!  And often through narrow, hilly, residential areas.  For those from Kansas City, think West Plaza with it's narrow streets, lined with parked cars and then add steep hills - that was often our road.  Good thing most cars here are tiny.     
Road in and out

My wingspan is wider than the car
Road narrows - MORE?
We knew we were getting close because the non-existent shoulder was lined with several of these tiny cars parked as best they could and people were returning to their cars in swimsuits with wet hair and towels.  However, we couldn't find the trail head.  (FYI - this are is NOT Parc De La Guadeloupe)  I asked a nice group but they didn't know either.  But they were French and asked someone else.  Oh- that sign in French saying something about danger was actually the start of the trail. Ok.  The path was rocky and then the last bit was very steep with rocks that we had to crawl down on our butts.  Once at the bottom, we were rewarded with a 15 meter high (45 ft) waterfall and pool.  Ahhhh.  We went for a refreshing dip and watched the macho, single guys jump off high boulders.  The married guys in the crowd didn't have anything to prove so none jumped. 
The steep part
Tom on the left

Tom cooling off his head
The sun was starting to set so we climbed back out of the valley in our wet swimsuits and Keens - trying to dry off a bit, returned to our little rental car and headed for home back at anchor in Pointe a Pitre. 

What a fun day.  

Monday, May 18, 2015

Rental Car Guadeloupe - Day One Exploring Grande-Terre

Cliffs of the NE shore and flat, agriculture interior of Grande-Terre

Saturday May 16th, 2015
Or the eastern butterfly wing of Guadeloupe.  We rented a car for 3 days and set off east.  

Tom had a blast driving the five speed.  Zoom, zoom. I navigated.  
Southeastern shore

Grande-Terre is relatively flat.  Beaches line the south side while cliffs edge the northeast and north shore.  The west side of the eastern butterfly wing is of course mangroves that make up 1/2 of Grand Cul-De-Sac Marin 
Eastern tip of Guadeloupe

We drove all the way to the eastern end and then hiked out the cliff edge to the very end. Next stop Africa.  Wow!  
Next stop Africa?

Wind power

Medium size, two blade wind turbines dotted the eastern as well the northeastern shoreline.  Sugar cane fields cover most if the landscape.  We witnessed fields being cut, some freshly planted and many huge bins (carts) filled with sugar cane stalks being delivered by tractor or truck somewhere.  However, we have yet to figure out where.  No doubt some is going to the various rum factories around the island but with so many sugar cane fields, it seems like some might be for molasses or even refined for sugar.  Beef cows are tied up at the edge of nearly every field.  At dust we saw dozens and dozens of people tending to these cows.  This sure saves on fencing and the cows seem happy as they munch along throughout the day with white egrets near by to keep them company.
Tom above the cliffs
James Bond 007 in Little Nellie?
We stopped for lunch in the town of Saint Francois at a little cafe just off the beach and had some of the best French fries we had all season.  *My friend Molly would have loved these!  
Black and white cemetery
Occasionally we missed a turn or took the wrong turn but we usually knew it pretty quickly and got back on track fairly easily.  Of course 99% of everyone we met speaks not only French but English too. The added bonus was that getting a little lost at times allowed us to see things like residential areas with Kewl gates and fences (Tom's fav) or more agriculture like pineapple fields, banana plantations and callaloo patches.