Cindy and I both agree Îles des Saintes is our favorite place we have visited so far in the Caribbean Islands. It seems a little odd for me to say this since it really lacks the social environments we enjoy at other anchorages. Most of the boats here fly a French flag and there are few American, Canadian or British flagged boats we can bother (English speaking people). In addition, most boats stay for only a couple of days before moving either north or south along the Caribbean chain. This keeps the socialization activity pretty thin. The amenities are somewhat scarce. There are a couple of small grocery stores and a great bakery. The basics are all here but not much more. If a yachtie needs a boat part, this is not the place to get it. What the islands do have is an overabundance of charm. This is quite simply one of the most beautiful spots in all of the Caribbean.
We used the Îles des Saintes as a stopover when moving south from the USVI on our way to Grenada last year and stayed about a week while looking for good weather to continue. During our last stay here, I got sick for a few days. It was nothing serious, just a mild bug. Once better, a weather window opened and we made haste to Grenada knowing full well Cindy would probably also get sick in a few days with the same thing. I am a sharing person. She did, right after we arrived in Grenada. We both agreed we needed to come back and explore these islands again.
The first thing we noticed is the trees are mostly gone. This is a result of the pounding this island took from Hurricane Maria. The structures on the island are mostly strong reinforced concrete. Many homes sport new red tin roofs. It is obvious there was extensive damage here but the cleanup efforts tout remarkable results. The trees are thin and the island now has a more arid look to it. It will take about 50 years for the trees to recover and once again recolor the brown hills with green lush vegetation. The main town of Terre Haute looks just the same. There are a couple of new restaurants. Our favorite places survived unscathed, the bakery and the ice-cream shop. The ice-cream is gelato and is made on-site. It is the best ice-cream I have ever had! The local bakery has the best baguettes in the Caribbean islands. It is easy to dinghy into shore from the mooring in the mornings to get fresh warm bread and croissants. Right behind the bakery is a playground and public dinghy dock. Funny tidbit: Americans call baguettes French bread, the French call sliced bread loaves American bread.
The tourists are back. The island’s entire economy is based on tourism. Since, the hurricane it was imperative to clean up the debris and once again welcome the tourists. Every morning at about 9am the ferries arrive packed with sightseers from the main island of Guadeloupe. They rent scooters and golf carts and zoom all over the islands as if they have to see all it in 3 hours, or less. This is entirely possible since it takes about 45 minutes to drive (slowly) in a golf cart from one end of the island to the other. The tourists don’t adjust to the island pace. Restaurants are packed at lunch time and the town’s gift shops are busy until the last ferry departs at 5pm. Then, the town resumes its sleepy slow tempo with only the overnight guests, sailors like us and locals. Things become more snail-like. It also becomes incredibly quite.
Cindy and I stopped in the ice-cream shop at about 4:45pm. It was packed! We should have waited for a little while. Ten minutes later, we were the only people there. Even the street outside was void of people. Everyone had made their way to the ferry dock to catch the last boat back to the mainland. The sudden contrast of having lots of people about to none at all is a little eerie.
There are very few cars and only a couple of trucks. It is possible to hear the church bell strike over the entire island (on a calm day). As I write this, we are tied to a mooring buoy with the hatches open. We have a light cool breeze blowing through the boat. The last ferry has gone and the church bell just chimed six. In the mornings as I drink my tea and do the daily Times Crossword downloaded on sporadically available internet hot spot. I am overcome by the quietness and peacefulness of this place. It has become one of my favorite places.
We decided to play tourist one day and rented a golf cart. We thought it would be a good idea to get started before the ferries started to arrive. I’m glad we did. Remember the car we rented in Guadeloupe for 20€ per day? Well, no such deal here. We shopped about and managed to get a golf cart for 50€. The going rate is 75€ per day, about US$95. Ouch! The lady at the rental store spoke English and because we were there early she took time to explain the best places to see and how to get there. Her guidance was invaluable and helped make a perfect day.
First on our list of stops was Fort Napoleon. It is way up atop the hill. Last year we couldn’t see the fort because of the thick trees. This year is easy to spot. There is an entry fee to the fort of 5€ each. The views from around the fort make every penny of this fee worthwhile. The signage promoting the fort on the outside was multilingual. Once inside it is all French. And unfortunately, all of the exhibits and tours were also only in French. This makes it difficult to understand some of the contents and displays. We would have enjoyed it much more if we could have read about some of the history. This was disappointing but not unexpected.
We spent the rest of our day with the electric mini-car taking in some of the incredible beauty this island offers. There are hidden coves and beaches. Every hill offers a panoramic view. The roads are narrow but paved and in good condition. One of the best things about driving the cart is the open air. We could smell the flowers as we passed gardens. We could hear the ocean as we approached the beach. And, unfortunately we could also smell the stench of seaweed rotting on the beach. Tis the season for seaweed.
Wild goats and chickens roam the island. Now that the trees are thin, we can spot the goats perched on the steep cliffs. Sometimes the goats are a little naughty and hold up traffic. Most are skittish and run off, unless you have food. When we stopped for lunch, we ate a picnic while sitting on a piece of driftwood overlooking the beach. It didn’t take long for the chickens to take notice. Apparently, chickens are not as skittish as goats. Some are pretty darn bold. One sat on the log next to me about a foot away. I never knew chickens could do the sad puppy eye thing for food.
One of the mooring fields off the main island of Terre-de-Haut is located near some of the best snorkeling we have encountered in the eastern Caribbean. It is possible to moor the boat, jump off the back and be in the midst of live coral, tons of fish and massive starfish. We anchored in the main bay and took our dinghy over to this snorkel spot. We swam the half-moon shaped bay from point to point over a couple of days. It was fantastic. At one point we entered what I can only describe as a giant starfish neighborhood. We found hundreds of giant starfish in about a one acre area. Guests staying at the Hôtel Bois Joli need only to wade into the water to be in the heart of the underwater sea-park. If Îles des Saintes just got added to your bucket list, here are the coordinates for the snorkel site: N15°51’43.9” – W61°36’01.9”
After a couple of weeks at a stop we both usually get antsy to move on. This is not the case here. Neither one of us really wants to leave this place. We wish we could stay longer. But alas, we have to go. Our next destination is about a 5 day sail and we are looking at picture perfect weather this week to get there. The weather is our commander. It’s time to go sailing.