Today felt like a day of quintessential Guadeloupe experiences, from an outsider's point of view, I suppose. We woke up to sound of roosters crowing and cows mooing somewhere down the hill from our place in Saint-Francois. We ate slices of baguette spread with soft cheese with our coffee this morning, and figured out how best to acquaint ourselves with the area. Opting to save the big excursions for another day, we chose, rather, to drive a little ways along the coast, to check out the vistas and visit the beaches. Anything else would be a nice surprise.
We tried to do some groceries, but found that Guadeloupe works on a very loose schedule, meaning that the opening hours of any one place are merely a suggestion. Also, an old-fashioned habit of closing for midday is still observed in most places here, so best to return home for lunch and a siesta between 12:30 and 2:30, as nothing else is open. (Thank you Bojano for teaching us this wonderful habit) We left the groceries for the afternoon, hopped in the car, and headed out.
After a few false starts(driving manual is tricky stuff, and I give Mario all the credit he deserves - I would be crying by now), we headed west to the small town of Vieux-Fort, the southern-most point of Basse-Terre. Here, we stopped to explore the lighthouse and surrounding areas, plus a small picnic site where Mario was able to go crazy and climb down the rocky coastline to the water. I stayed up on the grassy cliff and waited for him to come back up - or scream for help.
We stopped for a while at Grand-Anse, a black sand beach, due to it being created from the volcanic ricks that the island is made of. And it really is black. Our feet looked horribly dirty until we washed them in the waves. The ocean was incredibly rough, too, though it seems to be on this side of the island, so we opted not to swim, happy to just wander along the edge of the surf.
Before returning back to the apartment for lunch(and hopefully groceries), we made a last stop at the Maison de la Banane, and Ecomusee dedicated to the growth and development of the bananas shipped to mainland France. Three-quarters of the exports coming from Guadeloup are bananas, so it really is a big industry here. It wasn't always this way, as Guadeloupe's main crops use to be coffee beans and cacao beans, destined for chocolate-making. In 1928, a massive cyclone hit the island, destroying most of Guadeloupe's crops. In an attempt to rebuild the local economy quickly, French botanists suggested planting bananas, which have a relatively quick growth rate, producing mature bananas after only 9 months, whereas both coffee and cacao require 5 years of growth before producing beans. Now they have many varieties that are grown and exported, and research continues to produce fruit that is more resistant to insects and disease. The guide at the Maison de la Banane, however, is not a fan of the new varieties, finding them more dense and less flavourful. I thought they tasted like the ones we get from Costa Rica, which she also doesn't like. Instead, she shared with us varieties like the pineapple-banana, with a hit of tangy pineapple flavour, the red banana, which is sweet and fruity, and the "fraisinette" banana, as small as your thumb, and packed with flavour. She also seemed really happy to have visitors at all today, given the full box of tasting fruits she had, so we were pleasantly surprised when she handed us a selection to take home!
Back in town, we parked at the apartment and walked through town to do our errands, skipping over the grocery store that was still closed. We had a nice lunch at the only bakery open, enjoying ham and cheese tucked into a warm baguette. Still looking for adventure, Mario suggested we walk down through town to the ocean, where the boats cross to Les Saintes, a small archipelago just offshore, for day excursions. We sat on the wharf and watched the pelicans diving into the water for their lunch. Nearby, an old woman was cranking a wooden barrel full of ice to make sorbet coco, a local specialty, so we bought two cups to cool us down with their refreshing sweetness.
The climb back up into town was tough, and hot, but was nothing compared the hike that awaited on La Soufriere, the volcano that Mario has his eyes on, but that is for another day. Today, we finally got to the grocery store during opening hours, and stocked up for the next few days. We picked up a bottle of rum punch with passion fruit seeds floating in it, so we could enjoy the Guadeloupian version of a 5-a-7, the ti-punch. And upon wandering the streets again this evening, we discovered where all the locals went to pick up their dinner takeout, right in front of city hall, where the smell of grilled meats drew us in from a block away. On our breezy outdoor patio, we dined on tender grilled ribs drowned in "Sauce Chien", a local specialty sauce which goes with EVERYTHING, and a bag full of codfish fritters called accras, pairing the finger-licking good meal with more ti-punch and chunks of apples. We sopped up ever last drop of that sauce with the fritters, too. And for dessert? More bananas!Read more