Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Iles Des Saintes, delightful French Islands off Guadeloupe

Cruising into Bourg des Saintes
December 28, 2011

Ah, Iles Des Saintes, a small group of islands that are part of the French island of Guadeloupe, has become my favorite place thus far! There are 8 tiny islands, but only one, Terre d’em Haut, has a small town, Bourg des Saintes, where we’ve settled in.  

The Saintes, with Terre d'em Haut in the foreground
Ferry boats in/out all day long until late in the evening giving us a bit of a roll

Ships of all kinds are here

Learning, Falling & More Learning just outside the Harbor

Impressive sailboat behind us!
Colorful, busy little harbor
Pelicans are smaller in these islands than in the South USA

The colorful buildings are so charming
Arriving on Monday after a short 3 hour cruise from Dominica, we grabbed a mooring ball (anchoring no longer allowed -- too many boats dragged + mooring balls are a good source of revenue), dropped the dingy and off we went.   

This is someone's home
Shop selling acrylic totally see thru kayaks
Walking through this thoroughly French town, I was enthralled with the picturesque red roofs and gingerbread trim all over the brightly colored homes and shops    

This is the ultimate in sophistication as compared to any other we’ve been on, including the larger French islands!  The goods in the shops are much more ‘upscale’ than what we’ve experienced before.

Kids playing on their front porch.

A girl stopped to ask me, as I took this photo, if this was pretty.  She thought it strange that I took a photo!

Watching the world from her window.  Love the gingerbread trims.

Church bells ring often all day
Just off the town square

On the Atlantic Ocean side

Small, dry, steep red and brown cliffs abound, making agriculture never an option here. 

Amazing, as only a short distance away is the most lush productive agricultural island of all, Dominica.  Nature is obviously fickle! Perhaps it is explained by the fact that this island's mountains are not nearly as tall as others, so the clouds pass over, never dropping their rain.  This is also one of the few or only island that did not have slaves - there was no need with no fields and plantations to work.                        
Fisherman area, on the Caribbean Sea side
Fishing supports the small community and now tourism adds $$ to the pots.  

We promptly purchased a   signed & numbered painting reminiscent of the colorful Caribbean directly from the artist, who also has a shop in France and lives 6 months in each place.  We called it our belated Christmas gift to each other.  Sounds tacky, but I bought a small turtle lamp made out of a coconut - that is really pretty cool.....A few t-shirts so far for grandkids and I’ve not yet finished!  This is the first time I've seen anything I'd spend $$ on - except to replace worn out t-shirts!

Charming courtyard restaurant where we ate lunch
Restaurants abound, but rarely with an English menu,  and not many French speak English here. We fall back on our skill set of guessing  what we are reading, pointing to words we don’t understand and then trying to determine what we’re eating.  No matter, it is all good.  

Views from restaurants are always 

At La Saladerie, overlooking the water with a local artist's work all around us

Huge green iguana over our heads during a lunch
However, we still can’t seem to get our act together to get with the program here...the French shut down shops, stores and everything else from about 12-2 or 12-3, except for restaurants serving 3+ course meals for lunch.  Two hour lunches are a bit much for me and I found myself squirming in my seat, past ready to move on yesterday....  

With this normal daily routine, late in the day, tired of walking and thirsty, we could not find a bar/grill/restaurant that would open until 7:00 PM.  We so wanted to find a place to sit, rest and look at the water, sipping a coke or a beer at the end of our day.  No such luck.  By 7:00 PM,  it is dark; dingy rides can be scary and wet and we are ready to be back aboard.  That boater’s midnight still strikes, often at 9:00 PM for Andy and a bit later for me.  Amazing how much fresh air wears one out!   The only down side to this island is that it is French.  The Euro reigns and that is costing us extra $$.  Phew.

 I'm smiling now, because we have stopped. 
My sphincter muscles got quite a workout today up and down the hills

Renting a little motorcycle, we zipped up and down the entire island in about six hours, lunch included.   Huh, scary day for me.  There is little traffic, but what there is we must share what seems like a six inch wide roadway.  That, plus up/down and around somewhat twisting roads kept me dry mouthed all day.  Andy did great keeping us both upright and in one piece, in spite of me constantly pulling on his shirt, saying, SLOW DOWN  SLOW DOWN.

Fencing is often fish netting!

Sharing the beach with goats.  Don't leave your lunch unattended!

No one we knew, but pretty good!

Entrance into the harbor of Les Saintes

Look carefully - you'll see Finally Fun just off the tip of the right little twig sticking up

Ferry departing at sunset off our aft deck

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas in Dominica - Portsmouth, Prince Rupert Bay

December 24, 2011  Christmas in Dominica
This is the reason Dominica is called the Rainbow Island - I saw doubles a LOT

The boat boys came over yesterday afternoon, inviting us to a BBQ on the beach being held that evening.  The proceeds go toward their PAL organization, helping fund the security, the mooring ball maintenance etc.

Losing our bearings in the dark and not familiar with exactly where the beach hut was - the boat boys saw our light bobbing out in the harbor and shouted until we heard them.  Good thing! 
Beaching the dingy with their help, we met a number of other cruisers from Denmark, Germany, Australia, France, USA, Holland,  Israel & probably a few countries that I missed. 
Chicken & fish on the grill

Andy taking it all in

Note the madra cloth - tradition from Africian roots

A great evening with good food, fun company, interactions with the local boat boys and great music that got most up and dancing, even Andy! 

Saturday, Christmas Eve, dawned with rain off and on - Dominica’s 365 rivers and the rainforest must need the pours for 5 minutes, then stops.  All day long!

Local shoppers flocking into the market, between rain squalls

We stopped at the local market at 7:30 am for fruit and produce before heading to the Indian River tour with Martin, a/k/a Providence.

My God, the place was packed to the rafters with locals and a few boaters shopping.  Before 8:00 am, most of the produce and fruit was GONE  --- empty bins.  I’ve never seen a place cleaned out so quickly - maybe being Christmas has something to do with the multitude of shoppers purchasing food.

Andy, back breaking,  carried my bag laded with grapefruit, passion fruit, oranges, lettuce, bananas, eggplants, squash, limes, avocado, Chinese cabbage, and onions.  Dominica also has the least expensive foods I’ve seen thus far -- OR, the Dominicans are too nice to overcharge the obvious tourist!

It was soo crowded inside, I could hardly make my way through the aisles

Passing the fishermen on the dock preparing to go out

Note the row of fishing hooks and the line
The Indian River cruise with Martin at the helm was wonderful -- a quiet (no motors; only rowing) nearly 3 hours slow pass in and out, under canopy of trees that are like our mangroves and cypress trees, but called bloodroot (I think I got that name right).  
Entering the mouth of the river

Martin rowing against the current

The rain really didn't bother us at all

Thicker, lusher as we rowed deeper up the river

Part of an old railroad built a long time ago to haul mahogany down the mountains
Unlike many of the other islands, here in Dominica, the boat boys are licensed, & must pass numerous tests about the history of their island, about the plants, etc.  We enjoyed this trip and consider it a ‘don’t miss it’ event if one cruises into Portsmouth!  We also noticed that our trip with Martin was longer than some of the other boater’s in the river at the same time.   

Pulling up along side a little rest area, we hiked about, with Martin pointing out the flora and fauna.   

Lizard on a tree

Back on the boat, I cranked up the Christmas music past LOUD and tried not to let a tear or two slide down....never again will I not be home for Christmas.  With 6 kids between us - we are always spread thin during the holidays, but to not get to even one & to my Mom was tougher than I thought it would be.   

Martin cutting flowers he picked for me

Martin carving a bird out of a leaf

Sharon holding the bird Martin wove

A boater came by in his dingy, certainly brightening my mood,  inviting us to an impromptu Christmas Eve cocktail hour on the beach at 5:00, which we readily accepted!  Talking of Christmas customs among the diverse group from all over the world was interesting. 

Our Christmas decorations - the flowers & bird from Martin & our little tree

Ultimately, a bit disappointed, Andy & I decided to not go to Midnight Mass from 10:30 til 12:00 in town and to stay for the island’s Street Party - which welcomes in Christmas Day.  The idea of dinging over to town, walking to the Church seemed a bit much that late and we were alone and preferred that we would be part of a group.  However, it must have been some celebration - the music rocked our boat til 3:30 am and I could still hear some music at 5:15 am!  

On Dominica, Christmas is not celebrated with gift giving and there is no Santa.  It is all about going to Church and the big celebration and then spending time with friends and family.  Other islands, especially the French ones,  do celebrate much like we do.  I suspect the custom here on Dominica has much to do with their early roots - settlers were mainly slaves.  Their traditions and some of their African culture remain.

More rain on Christmas Day -- poured off/on, canceling our plan to hike up the hill to the Fort overlooking the sea.  Between the rain and the strong winds, we ate our Christmas dinner of Cornish Game Hens inside the boat - a rare occasion for us to be inside!   Martin, our boat boy a/k/a Providence, stopped by in the early evening to wish us a Merry Christmas, drank some wine with us. We laughed a lot, sharing stories about boaters we knew in common. 
Skype communications held somewhat, allowing us to chat with the kids and grandkids, but no video would work.  It’s tough to see the little ones who really don’t speak yet shaking their heads Yes or No in response to our questions!!  Made me homesick all over again!
Sunset off Rupert Bay

The dingy is back on top of Finally Fun, lashed down.  We plan to depart for Les Saintes the small French islands off Guadaloupe at the crack of dawn - weather is cooperating.  We are on the move again. 

The music is coming from this area (daytime shot obviously)
Here I sit, at 11:30 PM, trying to post photos to this blog with the slow wifi, listening to the music really begining to rock from the shore near us.  This music, however, is very much more African than what I perceive Caribbean music to be.  The drums are not steel, the beat much more solid and deeper and the words seem to more than that Creole.  It is wonderfull....I think I'll stay up a lot longer just to listen.