Wed 27 Jan 2016 12:48

Guadeloupe by car


Deshaie is a pretty seaside town on the NW of the island where I had the only evidence of Death in Paradise we could find in the form of six well fried fish skewered together on a pyre of salad leaves. It seems this town is used as a base by the production team and actors of the famous light hearted crime series (Death in Paradise) now in its umpteenth round and showing on British TV, but not on I-Player abroad. Much of the filming is done on a little island we can see called Kahouane and in various locations around and about.


We stirred the koi carp into a feeding frenzy at the Botanic Gardens and walked amongst some giant parrots staring at us with beady eyes from their high perches. There were plenty of luxuriant flowers, hibiscus, orchids etc and lofty old trees, big enough to be enfolded by their flying buttress roots and the waterfalls and rushing streams were refreshing to the ear but by far the best part of the day was spent getting very muddy on a forest walk.


Parked beside the scenic route that traverses Basse Terre, the western island, in sandals and flip flops, we followed a little long tailed mid brown creature,  a little like a mongoose, onto the trail and in fading light set off. Little invisible frogs croaked and distant birds created our musical accompaniment and the natural knotting of roots made up our path and provided soggy but secure footfalls in between them for the ups and downs. Everything dripped giant refreshing drops of cool water and we marvelled at the enormity of leaf growth in these hot and wet conditions. I picked up a giant leaf and Rob said, “We could use that as an umbrella!”


We cleaned our shoes in the rushing river before crossing over it on the wooden suspension bridge and back on the well manicured and deep ditched forest road we headed for home.


The next morning did not start well. We were due to be donning bouyancy aids ready for our kayaking trip at 9.00am so we left the marina an hour earlier for what appeared on the map to be a straight-forward drive, past the airport to Vieux Bourg. But hey there’s a new roundabout here so we turned too early, and where are the road markings that would have stopped us continuing straight on where the main road veered left. We doubled back at least twice and by 8.38 were convinced we wouldn’t make it in time for paddle off. I held Rob’s dead mobile phone in my hand, when we needed it most it had discharged all its life like a pathetic bird. “Just keep the sun behind us babe,” I said as a last resort, when our drive disgorged us suddenly into the very shore-side car park we needed with an array of small motor boats tied to two dilapidated pontoons and a big sailing catamaran at the end. Quite how we made it to our desired location and parked up at precisely 9.01am we will never know.


The ethos at Ti Evasion Kayaks is to make their trips affordable for families and 35 Euros each for 4 hours of salty fascination is a very good start. David was our guide, he is working here after a spell as a kayak and walking instructor in the Pyrenees and will eventually move on to Greenland he says.


He led 14 of us in 10 kayaks into the red mangroves beneath circling Magnificent Frigate birds and an Osprey and every now and then would gather us together in a floating raft to tell us what he knew. Did you know that like us mangroves have dessalators. They need to drink fresh water so tiny white dots on their aerial roots sift out the salt. And like us sometimes their system does not work too well so they have an override system whereby excess salt is passed into their dying leaves and shed when the yellow leaves fall into the water. Isn’t nature brilliant.


The plentiful medusas, or jellyfish that live around here are harmless and live upside-down. This is so that the nearby seaweed can send food directly to them so they can stay around and don’t have to spend their lives floating through the sea.


In 1989 hurricane Hugo destroyed all but one of the mangrove trees and we beached just below that ‘one’ which is now surrounded by new growth. Mangroves re-produce with long pen like bay plants that fall and plant themselves with their knib-like tips, straight into the thick, methane oozing, oxygenless mud. But we planted ours into the sand amidst a little forest of baby mangrove shoots. Like ducklings behind their mother on their first trip out, we paddled keenly in single file behind David back to the centre where he rounded our perfect morning off with a beaker of fruit punch.


During our earlier perambulations Rob had seen a sign to a little beach called Playa Babin so we found it for lunch. And what a find. It looked our over ‘our’ mangrove lagoon and the single tall mangrove tree. Protected by a reef the water was warm and shallow and waveless. So after our meagre lunch we swam next to a father who was plastering his giggling son with mud. There was a nice tree shaded area with picnic tables and few people there; it reminded me of a beach on the shore of the Solent near Lepe where I used to take Emily and friends for isolated peaceful picnics during her growing years. We had to pay £19 for an annual permit and would be looked at disapprovingly by snooty cottage dwellers as we drove past their homes. When there was enough wind we would fly a kite from a stone for the duration of our stay. We called it ‘The Secret Beach’.


The World of Canne, a sugar plantation, we followed our own route with our speaking pods to our ears. The audio commentary was good as were the ideas behind setting up this historical reminder of the harsh lives of the slaves but like the old plantation it was all falling into neglect and numerous buildings were closed including the restaurant. The cute little train no longer took visitors along the 50km network of railway that once made the canne extraction more efficient than using beasts and carts. I hoped it would keep going just for school groups if no-one else.


In November 1493 Christopher Columbus landed on Basse Terre, near a little place called ‘Saint Marie’, perhaps that’s what he said when he stepped ashore in search of drinkable water. Friendly locals directed him to some nearby falls, Les Chutes de Carbet and we visited them too. Along a well paved path this time, amidst frequent rain showers we walked the 30 minutes to the second of three falls, shedding the mass of tourists by doing so and had to talk with raised voices above the watery din. ‘Our falls’ were even bigger, fuller, than the picture on the brochure, this being the end of the rainy season. I know that a forest has to be rained on every day of the year to be termed a rainforest so this is a rainyforest in my mind.


Continuing briefly along the ‘La Route de l’Eslave’ the route of slaves, established in memory of the slaves of Guadeloupe, we drove a seat clenching drive up the Grand Riviere valley to the Griveliere Coffee Plantation which through its 250 year history has also grown cocoa, bananas and vanilla. The tour guide spoke only French so we took ourselves off and Rob found coffee beans on a plant and then cocoa pods. I spotted the ruins of the old slave huts near the reconstructed versions and we enjoyed a delicious drink of Arabica coffee produced on the plantation. Todays black workforce are paid and appear to enjoy their work but their ancestors had a totally different life. Back on Zoonie we watched ‘12 Years a Slave’. Not that we are likely to forget.


Finally, the Playa de Malendure opposite Islets Goyaves and de Pigeon on the sheltered west coast is a perfect location for anchoring, snorkelling and diving and just swimming and lazing about on grey volcanic sand. So we sipped a small beer for an hour and soaked it all in if only visually, thinking we would come back for a day maybe with snorkels etc.