Caribbean in the shape of a butterfly with just an ID card – our story from the trip to Guadeloupe

Lots of time has passed since we last posted anything here so we definitely need to catch up !

2016 was a year in which there were a few opportunities for some interesting journeys - among others - Dawid and Jola’s to Hong Kong; however in the middle of the year a decision was made that our whole family was going to visit the Caribbean islands. This time we chose Guadeloupe, which is still relatively little known in Poland; an area in the shape of a butterfly which has become a symbol of this beautiful place. Below you can see Guadeloupe’s location among many of the Caribbean islands.

Let us tell you some more about these islands as we have come back home genuinely charmed by them.

We bought Air France tickets at a discounted price, however flight costs still make up for a considerable part of the journey’s budget, especially for a 2+2 family. Why Guadalupe ? I think there is no clear answer to this question – we wanted our vacation this year to be in a warm, exotic but still calm and safe place. We preferred to avoid large cities so an archipelago like the one in case of Guadeloupe seemed to be a good solution – there are no mass tourism and big hotel chains here. Moreover, despite being in the Caribbean, surprisingly the country is an overseas region of France. On top of that Guadalupe is a diverse area, which offers not only beaches to sunbathe on – there are a lot of possibilities when it comes to travelling and sightseeing.

Below official (French) and unofficial flag of Guadaloupe

In practice, therefore, despite being a remote Caribbean island, the country is a part of the European Union. With that in mind, we as Polish citizens were able to travel there using only our ID cards as a form of identification. Adding to that a familiar currency - EUR, French culture with its wine, and finally for those interested …. the possibility of finding work and settling down - all these facts made us very curious about the place.

First, some basic facts:

  • Guadeloupe is an overseas region of France in the Central America

  • The official, and most commonly used language, is French. It is quite difficult to communicate only in English there. Most natives speak in Creole.

  • Population of more than 400 000

  • The Archipelago consists of 8 islands of volcanic origin; there is an active volcano there by the name of La Soufriere – last minor eruptions occurred in 1976. These made the dwellers of Base-Terre evacuate

  • Currency: EUR. It is quite expensive here, sometimes even more than in France. It is possible, though, to save money by cooking yourself and buying products in the local markets

  • Guadeloupe is surrounded from one side by the Caribbean Sea and from the other (coming from Europe) by Atlantic Ocean

  • Equatorial climate is humid with heavy rains, especially between August and November – the time of hurricanes and tropical storms

  • Curiously, there don’t occur any serious illnesses or dangerous animal species – we won’t be able to see snakes, sharks or other predators. Like in similar places, we have to be careful when it comes to mosquitoes; they don’t spread malaria but it is possible to catch the ZIKA virus – even though it is not as dangerous for the most of us as it may seem

  • Vaccinations are then generally unnecessary

  • Tropical forests take up to 40% of Guadeloupe’s area

  • Earthquakes are present, fortunately though, they are not strong and sometimes even impossible to sense

  • Native inhabitants of the islands are: Mulattos, Blacks, Creoles and of course White people – mostly coming from France. There is a high level of unemployment among the native dwellers. White people commonly have their own companies, generally in the wide area of tourism

  • Tourism is the major part of the country’s economy

  • The name Guadalupe comes from Columbus – he discovered and called it Santa Maria de Guadeloupe de Extremadura during his second voyage in 1493

That’s more than enough of encyclopaedic information, let’s finally get to our report :)

When travelling to Guadeloupe from Europe one mostly flies through Paris. While in the French capital, the need to change from CDG airport to Orly is somewhat problematic. Although flying with Air France there is provided a free bus service between the airports, but you still need to pick up your luggage and unfortunately lose a lot of time. However, there is no other way so we had to deal with it. Generally, the flight to the capital of Guadeloupe – Pointe-a-Pitre takes more than 8 hours. As a side note, similarly to our previous long flights, Laura and Daniel managed the trip very well.

Despite the "snail" pace of baggage reclaim and long queues at the Port Caraibes airport (the name itself stirs the imagination) - we could feel that we were in a completely different world. Temperature, humidity, relaxing feeling in the air. Yes - it's the Caribbean!

From the airport we were picked up by a previously ordered driver who took us to a rented apartment in the tourist village of Saint Francois - less than 40 km away. As it turned out, he was a Frenchman who decided to leave his old life behind and start "from scratch" living and working in Guadeloupe. There are many just like him there; when asked if he was considering going back, he smiled and added that he has no intention of moving out from that paradise.

We arrived tired but the place turned out to be amazing - just a few steps away from the beach. Despite the fact that our apartment wasn’t as close to the sea as in the promotional photo of “Crystal Beach Apartments” below, we still were delighted with its location in the resort.

Just a few minutes after 4 a.m. we had our first wake-up, which was probably the result of a time change. All of us in unison uttered "let’s go to the beach" - notwithstanding the fact that all the local dwellers were fast asleep and that it was nearly completely dark. When we got there we realized that the beach was completely “ours” to have – partly due to the early time but also because of the fact that in Guadeloupe beaches generally are not crowded and in some places even completely deserted.

Adding more to the topic of Guadeloupian wake-ups – every morning starts here with loud cricket cicadas and birds singing.

During the first 2-3 days there we were just getting familiar with our surroundings, especially the town that we were living in - Saint Francois. We really liked it there. Above all, the town offered Caribbean colouring and the mix between European (French in origin) culture and exotic element.

One of the most frequently visited places was the Marina, where it was possible to see beautiful yachts. It was there, in its local restaurants, where we could have crawfish, drink some rum (Guadeloupe’s famous !) or try some heavenly fruit. For people interested in that sort of entertainment a golf course is also available nearby.

Near the Marina it is possible to get a taste of water sports or simply relax on one of the many surrounding beaches. All sorts of windsurfing or kitesurfing training schools can be found in almost every corner there.

The fact that Guadeloupe is a real paradise for people loving sports of this kind can easily be observed when watching the video below - posted by one of the schools that attracts the attention of people who are seeking some crazy time on the waves.

We have to admit that we are very jealous of all the folks who only come here to go wild on the waves. Maybe someday :)

We weren’t able to try any water sports but a scent of exotic element could be sensed at a local market, a feature of nearly every bigger town in Guada (a common abbreviation for Guadeloupe). Here you can buy some of the really tasty Creole dishes, try Caribbean spices or get "punch" - a 30% alcohol based on rum with the addition of tropical fruit seeds. It is available in various flavours and colours.

When being in Saint Francois it is a must to visit the fish market and observe the everyday duties of fishermen who sail on these rich and exotic (especially to us) waters; the colouring and shapes of fish, enormous crawfish - these evoked both feeling of delight but also that of wonder. It was also interesting to see the skill with which the fishermen prepared their goods and to witness the inner workings of the local trade. Daniel at the sight of a really large crawfish stated that it is "a one big disgusting worm" :)

During the first week we visited many interesting places; one of them is Pointe des Chateaux. When doing our research on Guadeloupe’s tourist attractions this sight always came up - some guidebooks claim it to be "in the top 3" or even a "must see" of all the notable points of interest in the country. Yearly visited by about 500,000 people the place seems to be ordinary, yet when being there one can get really fascinated with it.

Coming back we visited some more interesting places among which was a quite unordinary gallery with local souvenirs, however the prices of those were exorbitant. There even were some unique items at a cost of a few thousand euros, so we decided to pass on them…. Despite that, the place itself was very exciting and had a great atmosphere.

It is worth adding that Guadeloupe is a recommended place if you want to travel by car. The road infrastructure here allows to drive with ease. Roads are mostly populated with French cars, however a little surprising may be the high amount of Dacia autos. After all its a Renault brand, so it should be obvious, yet when thinking about Caribbean it doesn’t come to mind immediately. People who decide to come to Guadeloupe without a car are in minority.

Local bus transportation is reliable but one must keep in mind the fact that there are no bus stop timetables. For the local people it is not a problem but for impatient Europeans or Americans this may be an inconvenience. This, unfortunately, shows the difference between cultures - here in Caribbean everything happens slowly, lazily - there is time for everything. You don’t see people rushing, hurrying somewhere or being annoyed. Observing this can make one wonder if the stress and especially the pace at which we live now is something we should adhere to (greetings to all like us - in Jola’s words-corporated people ?.) In all seriousness now, here you can really see people enjoying their life - this joy is visible among both native dwellers and individuals who deliberately changed their lifestyle. Visiting a place like that surely makes you reflect on many issues.

For now let us return to the touristic aspect of the report. Definitely worth visiting are the towns of Sainte Anne and Le Gosier. In both we can find typical tourist attractions, stunning beaches and many unusual places.

In the first one the reign takes a popular but also wonderful beach of La Caravelle. We went there very often due to its amazing Caribbean atmosphere. Interestingly, in its vicinity there is one of the few typical hotels - Club Med; be aware, however, of the fact that in Guadeloupe all beaches are public. As a result, there are no places in which a hotel has its own private beach.

This, in many places, is the colour of the water - the shade that mixes blue and turquoise makes it so appealing that you can admire it for hours. Together with Jola we concluded that we had never seen such colour before anywhere in the world - neither in Asia nor in Australia.

Our first week in Guadeloupe came at the time of Christmas. For the first time we spent this holiday in the tropics. It is true that the Polish atmosphere of the period is unique but Christmas on the beach can also be an amazing experience.

Also interesting, though somewhat different, was the trip to Guadeloupe’s capital named Pointe-a-Pitre - a city with a population of 28,000 located on the Caribbean Sea.

Despite not being a large place it was clear that the city is different from those previously mentioned. It was possible to experience an alternative character of Guadeloupe - buildings that are far past their glory and many murals referring to the black origins of this place.

For sure, one of the most frequently visited places is the St. Peter and Pavel cathedral built in the 1807. A flower market is located in its close vicinity.

Pointe-a-Pitre is not just a place where planes coming to Guadeloupe land. About 10 minutes’ walk from the cathedral lies a port where powerful, so-called "Cruiser" ships arrive - they bring in thousands of tourists. Although this way of travelling is not strange to us, we have to say that a visit to Guadeloupe, and especially to its capital, just for a few hours is a complete misunderstanding. Too much is lost when not being able to see all the sights in the heart of the archipelago.

Coming back we visited the main La Place de la Victoire (Victory Square), whose history dates back to 1764, and the street market where we bought some (mentioned earlier) punch which we later brought with us to Poland.

On the way to Saint François we were aware that the first week of our trip is nearing an end – we managed to drive round a considerable part of the island. Now we wanted to focus on Basse-Terre, a completely different part of the main Guadeloupe island.

After leaving our apartment we set off towards the northern part of Basse-Terre while not having a booked accommodation. Based on our previous experience here we were confident that we would be able to find something. This time we were wrong - as they say a man learns from his mistakes. Our visit took place during Christmas period and we found out that everything, and we checked many alternatives, was fully booked. But first things first.

Arriving at Basse-Terre - the city with the same name as a part of the island, we passed and visited several tourist attractions (not to mention stunning views): Botanical Garden in Deshaies and "La Maison du Cacao" - the home of cocoa, where you could see cocoa beans, learn a bit about the process and really understand where chocolate comes from.

Well, as a person working in the chocolate industry, I can only say that it was interesting to see growing cocoa beans, although the place was far different from the typical plantations of West Africa (mainly Ivory Coast, Ghana) where Europe takes their supplies from.

When we arrived in the town of Basse-Terre it was already almost dark and we still didn’t have any accommodation. Thoughts of sleeping in our Clio started coming to mind, although it was clear that, particularly for 4 people, it is not a good solution. Driving through the centre we saw a McDonald's restaurant (there also are a few here) - we decided to go in hoping internet access would be available. Unfortunately it turned out that there was no network there and we still didn’t have any solution to the accommodation problem. Getting desperate, as the children were growing more and more tired, we decided to ask a black couple sitting next to us for help. As it turned out, they were very willing to help us. First they did some research and then drove with us for a few kilometres to arrange a place at a hotel. It was very nice of them as they had no obligation to do it.

Even more, as it turned out to get the keys ... to the 4 persons apartment it was necessary to go to the owner, who lives on the other end of the Basse-Terre. And they went with us again. Damn cool and it shows how local people can help in such situations. Not having anything to give in return, besides many Merci and conversations in broken French (with English out of the picture) we handed them "Poland" key chains which we had bought just before departure. After a short conversation and some laughter we finally said goodbye. We don’t have their names or contact details but ... they really helped us so much then, and for this we are very grateful. That night we stayed in a hotel where natives usually board - though the price was not so low (dozens of EUR). The standard was quite peculiar but what really mattered was that we had a place to sleep. Even a big cockroach in the kitchen didn’t discourage us. On the other hand, we still had a view of the sea, so there wasn’t much to complain about.

In this part of the island we were able to find accommodation for a few nights without booking.com. We chose the so-called. Gites which is a kind of a bungalow, usually with an interesting view of the sea.

But we will remember this place from a completely different reason. One of the owners there is a Creole, who is passionate about his garden. We were quite surprised when he almost forcefully snatched us to show his plants. At the beginning we thought it to be just an ordinary garden but as he began to talk (even if in French) about all the flowers and fruits - we have to say that we got very interested. It is a real passion. For example, he showed us a plant that when touched immediately closes its small leaves. Others in turn, like this one below, are later used as a dye in the kitchen.

Other plants, fruits and flowers really looked phenomenal in this tropical paradise. Jola and Daniel had a full day to observe them in detail while I with Laura decided to reach the top of volcano - but more on that in a moment.

Below you can see bananas - often grown in Guadalupe. Note that their clusters are protected by placing them in bags.

At the same time, together with Laura, we set off to reach the top of a nearby volcano – La Soufriere, an active one nonetheless. It is a sight that needs to be visited when being in this part of Base-Terre. It is possible to go there by car but finding a free parking space is just shy of a miracle. The best time to go there is in the morning or between noon and 1.p.m. when morning groups descend. The hike itself together with descend takes about 3,5 hours of a brisk walk. It’s worth mentioning that the ascend is also suitable for children, though only for more independent ones. For younger kids, even 5-year olds like Daniel, the hike would be too tough. The climb itself can be described as moderately difficult for people who have limited contact with this kind of activities. Laura started the hike so strong that after an hour I had already had enough; not to mention the permeating shortness of breath during continuous climbing. Then things got even better as the temperature significantly decreased and it started to be downright chilly. Slippery stones and mild showers certainly did not help at all either.

Taking a rain jacket and shoes with hard, rough sole is a must for such a climb. However, shortly after arriving there we were terrified to find out that my jacket had been left in the bungalow. Consequently, during climbing I had a chance to get really cold while being in the Caribbean. The harsh conditions at the top made it so that Laura wanted to go down as soon as possible. Not only that - the intense smell of sulphur, bitter cold and strong wind made it difficult for us to even hold a Polish flag - which we unrolled to sign our climbing victory.

Guadeloupe volcano peak from Dawid Dwernicki on Vimeo.

Although visibility was considerably limited by clouds and fog, at the top we felt very glad; when we came back we boasted a little to the other part of our family. That day Laura and me fell asleep really early? Two days later we set off on a day trip to Le Saintes, an archipelago which is located south of, then visited, Basse-Terre. These islands are famous for their enchanting beauty and wonderful views. You can sail there from the city of Trois Riviere and after several minutes it is possible to reach the harbour. We really liked the place - it is very atmospheric and you can sense the typically Caribbean laid-back ambiance. There are lots of little alleys, colourful cottages and souvenir shops there. An interesting fact about the place is that the indigenous inhabitants of these islands are also people with fair skin and blue eyes. They are the descendants of Englishmen who came there at one time in history. So great was our surprise when on one of the hills we were surrounded by ... goats. It was all that was need to make us thrilled - as Laura ,okay we are all, is really passionate about all animals. We spent a lot of time there and the kids had really great fun.

In many rankings the local bays is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world. We certainly have to agree.

Also in Les Saintes it is possible to see a representative of local fauna, that is iguana, who bask on the sand or climb surrounding trees. At first glance they may be frightening (some of them are quite big), though in reality they are not dangerous at all. It is said however, that sometimes nosy tourist wanting to take an up-close photo may get hit with an iguana’s tail. Iguanas are quite impressive, especially when unsuspectingly looking at a treetop you notice a larger specimen - after a few of those encounters we easily got used to them :)

Returning from Les Saintes to Trois Riviere and later by car we visited a few more interesting places that will for sure remain in our memory. The last place we stayed at was again Grand Terre Saint Francois, where we rented an apartment in a resort near the Anse de Rocher beach. As it turned out, it was pretty close to the area that we previously lodged in this location. A great advantage of this resort is a large swimming pool, which Laura and Daniel visited several times a day.

At the end of our stay we took the opportunity to visit yet another island - Marie Galante. As Guadeloupe is very diverse, this island is also quite different from the others. It is by far the most agricultural and unspoiled. We had already mentioned that in Guadeloupe the time passes slowly, yet there it seems to have practically stopped. What’s interesting, immediately upon arrival (the sail takes an hour from Saint Francois) it is possible to rent a car and get round the island within 2-3 hours - it can be done so fast as its area is only 158 square kilometres.

We were really amazed by the look of the car rental shop - visible on the right above; it opens only a few minutes before a ship arrives or departs.

It’s quite hilarious - after a short while the ship is gone, the door is locked and the owner leaves on his scooter only to come back a few hours later to collect the keys - that’s an easy business :)

...but in reality the only "must have" product here is the local rum reaching close to 60% of alcohol content. It is often claimed that the local rum is one of the best in the world. Until today you can still see it being produced in traditional distilleries.

Marie Galante, as an agricultural island, offers the opportunity to meet many animals, sometimes well-known to us but even in this case Laura was extremely happy; each of those encounters meant a mandatory stop during the trip round the island.

The island itself doesn’t seem to be extremely interesting (though of course everyone is looking for something else), yet one thing completely floored us - the pristine, several kilometres long, empty beaches.

We had already visited a few places in the world, but still the colour of the sea here is almost unbelievable - before we had thought that similar shades are only possible with the help of Photoshop. However no, they are possible in the Caribbean on Marie Galante. No photo can realistically capture it - you need to see it with your own eyes.

After returning from Marie Galante we had only one day left in Guadeloupe - the looming idea of going home started to get into our imagination :)

These last few moments we also spent in an enjoyable manner, as our flight to Paris left at 9p.m.

Among others, we visited Casade aux Ecrevisses - waterfall in the National Park located in Basse-Terre. It featured really …. cold water - despite lots of people wandering there only a few decided to take the plunge :)

...horse-riding school. Here Laura got ecstatic as she has contact with these animals daily. And that scenery...

...however the last few hours before the flight we spent on an, yet another unknown to us, beach in Basse-Terre; a nearly deserted one needs to be added.

All these memories were with us when we landed in Warsaw on 06.01.17, a few days after New Year's Eve at the beach (at least the one at European time because after that our children went to sleep and we…followed them soon). Back in Poland, coming from the 30 degrees Celsius weather, we were greeted by snow and frost with a temperature of - 15 degrees Celsius. The difference was up to 45 degrees Celsius. It was hard to get used to that conditions getting up in the dark to go to work. But that's another story.

It’s time to wrap up our report - thanks to all that endured till the end. As it is the beginning of a new year we wish all good health and may your dreams come true - also those concerning travel plans.

And one more thing. YES, Guadeloupe is a great place for holidays with children - the thing that mattered to us the most.

As usual, Your Crazy Family. Krapkowice 15.01.2017

Ps. See you soon :)

Ps2 Yes, we have to admit that we had some moments of going wild, but that’s off the record

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