Guadeloupe


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Published: February 17th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

Our final ferry trip took us north from Dominica to Guadeloupe, another French department. Its two main islands are connected by short causeways over mangrove swamps. We head onto the westerly island of Basse Terre, to the village of Vieux Habitants. Once again we have a self-catering studio, this time with a view over palm trees to the Caribbean sea.

With just 11 days left to eat, drink and be merry before Ash Wednesday, it is carnival time on Guadeloupe. Every night there are carnival parades featuring this year's entries from the local villages' and towns' carnival clubs.

We went to our local carnival parade in Bouillante, where everyone was in party mood, wearing either their best clothes or something weird and wonderful. When the parade started, just two hours late, down the road came the groups of dancers and their music, each wanting to be judged the best on the night.

Most of the clubs' entries had three parts. In the middle was a pick-up containing amplifiers and huge speakers with keyboards on the tailgate. Behind the truck were the band, led by the singers and followed by drums, drums and more drums, the occasional conch shell and one or two trumpets.

Walking in front of the truck were the children – in costume and dancing to the loud beat behind them. They ranged from three to teenagers, from the talented to the challenged, but they were all committed to the dance and to winning.

Following the band were the adult dance troupe. In the same costumes as their children, they have an even wider range of ages and abilities. But, again, they were all committed to the dance and wiggle their hips to the blasted-out beat.

Some clubs had gone for costumes and dances based on traditional dress, others for a more Rio look, sometimes with ape masks! We don't know whether there is a tradition for the ape theme or whether it has just been on TV a lot recently. Men and women in ape masks doing slightly erotic dances is a more than a little weird.

Around our studio we see lots of bird and animal life. We have got used to seeing lizards – one walked into the fridge yesterday – but were a bit more surprised when a 2 foot long iguana turned up in the tree that leans into our balcony. He's still in there, we think. His camouflage is so good we keep losing him amongst the leaves, despite his size.

In the sky, we regularly watch magnificent frigate birds, slender sea birds with a more than three foot wingspan, gliding back and forth, often joined by an osprey, all hunting for fish.

Guadeloupe is another island of long sandy beaches and good walking, both coastal and in the rainforest. There is an active volcano, La Soufriere, which attracts clouds, so we had to pick the right day to attempt our climb. And it is quite a climb to a 1471 metre summit from where there is a view of most of the island. But more impressive are the vents and caldera at the top. Grey smoke clouds stinking of sulphur come out of the ground with a sound one associates with pressure cookers and steam engines. All the vegetation is stunted and stained by the minerals that they absorb from the ground and air. Signs warn to stay on the marked trail to avoid poisonous gases … so we did.

Although active, we cannot find any mention of La Soufriere ever erupting. To the north, we can clearly see the island of Montserrat, which had a similarly active but dormant volcano until 1995 when it erupted and the island had to be evacuated. It has been erupting, periodically, ever since.

Tomorrow we will be up at 4 am to drive cross the island and catch our early morning flight to Antigua, the last island of our trip.


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