Gwada is the pet French Creole name for Guadeloupe. It is also a brand of a local beer I have happily sampled since arriving. Thumbs up! Guadeloupe is also known as the butterfly island because of its shape. One wing of Gwada is pretty flat and the other is mountainous. The area in-between the wings or the isthmus is where the main city is located, Pointe-a-Pitre. Cindy joked when looking at the electronic chart-plotter upon our arrival how it looks like we are sailing up the butterflies butt.
Arrival here was one of the few times we have had a schedule to be at a certain place on a certain date. Our dear friends, Cindy and Doreen from Atlanta came to visit so we reserved a marina for a few days, okay a month. We hate having a schedule. Our travel is so weather dependent we often have no idea where we might be a month from now. But obviously, if friends are coming to visit we need to be able to meet them somewhere. This can be a challenge. It is not like our friends can show up at the Atlanta airport and ask for a cheap ticket to wherever we might happen to be and then jump on a plane that day. They had to book their flights well in advance for cheaper fares and take vacation time off as well. We were still in Grenada when they talked about coming to visit. We had just arrived in Martinique when they booked their tickets with a three month lead time. It is a pretty funny conversation when friends say they would like to come and see us and ask where we think we might be in three months.
We left Martinique thinking we had plenty of time to get to Guadeloupe. And, then the weather held us in Dominica. We hoped to arrive in Guadeloupe well before our marina reservation date and thought we would anchor at a nearby beach for a few days. As it turned out, the day the weather cleared up enough for us to sail the final leg of our trip was the first day of our marina reservation. Sometimes things just work out.
Our first task upon arrival (after clearing in with customs and immigration) was to clean our boat. Cream Puff hasn’t had a good bath since leaving Grenada in November. I spent three days washing and waxing the outside. Cindy cleaned and polished the inside. We made full use of the fact the water and electricity is included in our marina rate. Our washer/almost-dryer ran for three days straight as Cindy caught up on laundry. At the end of the three days we were exhausted. We mustered together enough energy to pick up our rental car and do some grocery shopping. The next day Cindy and Doreen arrived and we started to explore the island together. Yes, you read that right, we had two Cindys on the boat.
We splurged for a 4 door mid-size car. I rented from a local agency because it was about ½ the cost of any of the known brands. Their office is in the marina compound and as luck would have it, the guy working there spoke English (Guadeloupe is a French island). The car was not brand spanking new. It had a lot of dings. He noted on the paperwork all the dings. It would have been much faster to note the panels without a ding or dent. But the car ran fine and the price was right. Unlike the known branded agencies, this office didn’t have a fuel pump or wash. So, there was a steep penalty added to the fee for returning the car empty of fuel or dirty. This turned out to be a non-issue since we found a fuel station and car wash about a ¼ of a mile away. I was simply told to bring it back full of gas and not dirtier than I took it.
Our next few days were spent hanging out with friends. I have said this before and will say it again at some point. The hardest part of this lifestyle is missing people we care for. This is perhaps the hardest part for most cruisers. Yes, we do meet people as we travel. But we ususally have to face the reality we might part ways knowing we may never see them again, ever. It is always a wonderful surprise when we drop a hook in a bay and then see people there we know. We always get our hopes up a little bit as we look for a place to anchor. We scan the boats and look for friends. More often than not, we will make new friends in each port if we don’t find old friends there. My point is, to hang out with old friends for a week on Cream Puff is a real treat for us. And, we hope for them too.
We began to explore Gwada together. Since none of us had been here before the pressure was mounting on the Activities Director, Cindy. Cindy always does a great job of scoping out the hidden treasures of the places we visit. On our first day we scouted an area know for great diving and snorkeling. The weather wasn’t ideal so we thought we would just go for a look and put a plan together to swim in this area. On the west side of Guadeloupe is a marine park called the Cousteau Reserve.
There are quite a few options to tour the park and Pigeon Island in the heart of the sea reserve. There are glass-bottom boats, Kayaks rentals, dive boats and snorkel boats. We were pleased to see designated snorkel boats. Often times, dive boats take snorkelers but they stop in deep water and snorkelers have a hard time seeing things. Also, we have found some snorkel tours pack a hundred people onto the boat. When all these people jump into the water the fish scatter like roaches when the light comes on. Cindy found us a tour boat taking small groups of tourists out to a series of snorkel spots, for a small fee. Perfect!
Our guide for the trip was Captain Cyril. He spoke some English and prior to each site instructed us where to go and where not to go. Captain Cyril was a happy guy. This is a man who seems to be happy to be alive and it showed. His attitude was infectious.
Our first snorkel stop went off without any issues. It was a nice area with lots of small fish and giant undersea boulders. Captain Cyril went through his spiel and then encouraged people to jump in and explore. There was a little girl who was snorkeling for the first time and her parents were trying to coax her into the water. She listened to them with a sort of nervous apprehension. She had the “I think mom and dad are trying to kill me” look on her face. In stepped Captain Cyril. In no time at all, he had the young girl laughing as he held her by the lift-jacket and dunked her in and out of the water. He let her go and she paddled off with her parents to explore her very first view of life in the sea.
When we were all back on the boat, Captain Cyril made his head count, fired up the engine and pointed us toward Pigeon Island. The wind had now become a bit of an issue and white caps formed. Spray came over the bow of the boat soaking all of us. Ha, you say. We are swimming and I am talking about getting wet on a boat ride. Well, the spray is saltwater, and it stings. It really stings when it gets you in the eyes. And it’s cold. Not hypothermia cold but still darn right chilly. When we reached the next spot, Cindy and I were one of the first off so we could warm up in the water. Wind and wet makes people feel colder. There are two ways to warm up when diving or swimming. First, bask in the sunshine (my preferred method) or second, get back in the water (assuming it is warm water). Now that I think about it, there is a third way – get dressed in warm clothes.
At our second location the waves were a little choppy. Captain Cyril tossed a life ring off the back of the boat on a long rope for people to hang onto. Cindy and I spent our time there since most of the stuff to see was directly under the boat. Some folks decided enough was enough and opted to stay on the boat. I can’t say I blame them, the wind had steadily increased and swimming had become hard work.
One of the options of getting out to Pigeon Island in the heart of the Cousteau Reserve is to rent a kayak and paddle over. It is about ¾ of a mile (1.3 km) from the mainland to the island. This would normally be a pretty easy paddle for anyone with a little experience. But on this day, the weather turned to crap. We boarded our tour boat and all was fine. But over the next couple of hours the winds really pick up and the water was choppy. The wind here always blows from the east (trade winds). This means the folks kayaking out to the island have the wind against them trying to get back.
We knew we were in trouble when Captain Cyril put on his foul-weather jacket for the next leg of our trip. He hid behind his Plexiglas window at the rear helm station as all of us got a real soaking. He laughed the entire time. Occasionally, he would stick his head from behind the glass to talk in French to another tourist. He’d catch a face full of water and this made him laugh even harder. I put on my snorkel mask. It must have looked odd because others laughed at me, but it worked. I could look about without being stung by the spray. Note to self: when in bad weather on Cream Puff, keep a snorkel mask handy.
Captain Cyril suggested we skip the last spot since it was now very rough. Not a single person expressed an iota of an audible disappointed groan. I have to admit, I too was a little relieved to know we were heading back to the safety and calmness of land. Along our way back, we picked up struggling kayakers. The wind was now so strong, it was no longer possible for the kayakers to paddle and make any kind of headway into the wind. One young lady broke down and cried once she was safely aboard. I think she had her life flash before her eyes as she battled the strong winds and chop. She was consoled by our group as she spoke English. Cindy told her she now has a funny story to tell her friends over a drink, “The day I rented a Kayak in Gwada”.
Captain Cyril got the Kayakers into calm safe waters and told them they had to paddle the rest of the way, which was not far. He needed to dock the boat and he couldn’t do so with the string of kayaks tied to it. The young lady who cried looked horrified about having to return to the Kayak. With some encouragement from her friend, she managed to overcome her fear. Captain Cyril said he’d keep an eye on her to make sure she made it back to the shore. I noticed rescue boat returning with a string of Kayaks trailing. I wondered if they managed to find everyone.
On the return drive back to the marina, we stopped at Cascade aux Ecrevisses. This is a park in the mountain range with a beautiful waterfall. It was a short hike on a paved trail to the falls. Since I was still in bathing attire, I thought it would be cool to jump in the pool there. How often do you get a chance in life to swim in a waterfall in the heart of a rainforest? I checked my pockets. I learned to do this ever since the cell-phone incident in Key West. I took the plunge. It was freezing!!!!! I couldn’t coax anyone else in our group to jump in. I think they saw the look on my face and decided they wanted to stay dry and warm.
We returned to the rental car. Our guests were probably thinking they were happy to be alive. They had survived the snorkel adventure and avoided hypothermia in a rainforest waterfall. No doubt, after the day’s activities we all were looking forward to an adult beverage back aboard Cream Puff. It was a full day packed with fun – and near death experiences. I looked about and asked who had the car key. I received blank stares. Then Cindy said, “you had it last. You locked the car”..….Uh oh!
Now we are locked out of our rental car, in the middle of nowhere, on an island were we don’t speak the language. It’s getting dark and everything we brought with us is locked inside the car.
To be continued…