Guadeloupe is the first island/country we’ve been to in which communication is an issue. French is the spoken language and there are very few people who speak English — unlike St. Martin and St. Barts where French is also the official language but most can speak English well enough. It is also the first island/country in which the U.S. Dollar is not accepted. In most of the British islands we’ve been to the official currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (about 2.7 ECD to 1 USD), but the US dollar is accepted everywhere. In St. Martin and St. Barts, the Euro is the official currency, but again, the US Dollar is widely accepted. Not so in Guadeloupe! This left us scrambling for an ATM to obtain some Euros.
Not one to let monetary or communication deficits stop us, on Tuesday, the 17th, we finally were able to clear into the country (which was once again a painless procedure on a computer). From there, we set out to find a car rental. The place recommended by the customs lady had no cars and said that they were the only ones in town. How disappointing since we were planning on an island tour! We walked over to the tourist information center and they referred us down the street to another car rental agency. They had cars! We were in luck.
Guadeloupe is a very mountainous island, at least Basse-Terre, the west wing of the butterfly, is (Grande-Terre, the other half of the country is covered with low rolling hills). We would not have time to visit Grande-Terre, so we enjoyed what is the roller coaster ride of a drive through the mountains. We drove southward along the rugged west coast before turning to the east on the Route de la Traversée which runs through the national park in the center of Basse-Terre. We took a detour up an infrequently travelled, narrow road to the top of Morne à Louis for a great view overlooking Pigeon Island. Our next scheduled stop was La Cascade aux Ecrevisses (Crayfish Falls) where we paused for a few moments to enjoy the cool, tumbling water. The falls were perhaps a 10-minute hike from the parking area on a nicely-paved path.
From there, we continued across the Route de la Traversée before turning southward along the less rugged east coast of Basse-Terre. The next destination was situated in the rainforest along the lower slopes of an active volcano, La Soufriere. The volcano, which is the highest peak in the Lesser Antilles, rises to 4,813 feet. It last erupted in 1976, doing little damage. Our goal was to visit the famous Carbet Falls, which were noted by Christopher Columbus in his log. There are actually a series of three waterfalls. The second of the three is the easiest to visit, a mere 30 minute walk on a nicely maintained path. The other two are approximate 2-hour hikes each way (The first falls drops 410 feet and the last, 66 feet). The second cascade falls 360 feet. It was awe-inspiring! Outside of Niagara Falls, it has to be the most impressive falls I’ve seen. Niagara overwhelms with its massive size, but the Chutes du Carbet are more beautiful.
Oh, before we found our way to the Carbet waterfalls, we stumbled upon a rum distillery, the Espérance Distillerie in Capesterre-Belle-Eau which makes rhum Longueteau and rhum Karukera. My rum IQ increased a little bit thanks to this serendipitous visit. I was under the mistaken impression that all rum was made from Molasses (which is a byproduct of sugar production from sugar cane). However, some rum, known in the West Indies as rhum agricole is produced from 100% sugar cane juice. We, of course, took the free factory tour, which was unlike anything you’d see in the states. We basically were given free rein to walk through the active distillery on our own in the midst of active rum production. As we walked past the sugar cane fields, we dodged the trucks hauling sugar cane to the distillery. We stood next to machine that crushed the sugar cane extracting the cane juice which would be placed in barrels for fermentation. One of the workers was extremely friendly and answered any questions we had (He could speak good English!). It was all very cool.
Finally, we made the long trip northward up the west coast of Basse-Terre to Deshaies. We did have to make an abrupt U-turn on one occasion as we spotted a McDonalds. We both enjoyed a Big Mac, which tasted fresher and better than the ones in the US. They salt and pepper the Big Mac here! Eventually and exhaustedly, we made our way back to Beatitude for an early morning departure for another anchorage on Guadeloupe.