Caribbean tour - 2002

After Malaysia I decided to continue my search for the perfect beach. I think that most people have dreamed of Caribbean sun and so I started looking for flights to some Caribbean destination. As Air France seemed to have reasonably priced flights to Guadeloupe and there seemed to be good ferry connections to the neighbouring islands I booked the tickets to Pointe-a-Pitre. I spent my two-week winter vacation on three islands: Guadeloupe, St Lucia and Dominica. Every island had its own culture and vibe - I enjoyed my stay on every one of them but St Lucia was probably my favourite. The scenery on the islands was somewhat contradictory - after visiting the most beautiful and empty beaches you can quickly end up in a dirty town packed with the ugliest concrete buildings. But in general if you avoid the bigger towns you sure are going to see some of the most charming scenery in the world. Catching a ferry is also highly recommend to visit the smaller and even more idyllic islands! People are friendly even though on French-speaking islands it is pretty hard to communicate in English.

Check out the photo gallery. (The photos are scanned from paper originals so the quality can be poor)

Guadeloupe

Places visited:

  1. Pointe-a-Pitre
  2. Marie-Galante
  3. Trois-Rivieres
  4. Les Saintes
  5. Basse-Terre

I started my tour from Pointe-a-Pitre in Guadeloupe. I spent most of my time on the smaller islands of Marie-Galante and Les Saintes. After several days of touring I returned to Pointe-a-Pitre and took a catamaran ferry to St Lucia. Before returning back home I spent two additional nights in the Gosier area.

St Lucia

Places visited:

  1. Castries
  2. Soufriere
  3. Gros Islet

In St Lucia I spent most of my time in two locations - the small village of Soufriere (one of my favourite spots of the whole trip) and the Gros Islet area in the northern tip of the Island. After a couple of days I started my journey back to Guadeloupe via Dominica.

 

Dominica

Places visited:

  1. Roseau
  2. Portsmouth

During my brief stay in Dominica my hotel was located in the capital (Roseau) but I did day trips to various destinations like Portsmouth. Unfortunately I did not have the time to visit all of the most famous sights and natural wonders of this beautiful island (boiling lake for example). After Dominica it was the time to return to Guadeloupe...

 

22.3.2002 Helsinki - Pointe-a-Pitre
My trip does not start too well as the plane from Helsinki to Paris is overbooked. Fortunately I manage to get a seat. Another interesting surprise is the hindu meal that the guys from Intia-Keskus (my travel agency) have for some reason ordered to me. The rest of the trip is uneventful and I arrive in Guadeloupe pretty much in time (around 20.30 local time). I head straight to my hotel - the whole city seems to be practically deserted! The only place that is open is the local McDonalds. As LP warned the city is not too attractive - the first impression is the somewhat dirty and ugly concrete buildings. As I'm starting to feel the jet lag I'll go to sleep.

23.3.2002 Pointe-a-Pitre - St Louis
I wake up early and try eat as much as possible from the breakfast buffet. In the morning sun the city looks lot more interesting than the night before - on the other hand it is not much different from modern Mediterranean small towns. I visit the local tourist information office to get some up-to-date information about ferry schedules and bus connections. I decide to move on and book a ticket for the next ferry to island of Marie-Galante. My destination is the small village of St Louis - which proves to be a really laidback place. The "city center" is basically just a couple of blocks that are explored pretty quickly. I walk to the nearest beach a couple of kilometres from my hotel - pretty good but not perfect. There are lots of annoying dogs around. I return to hotel, buy a bottle of white wine (wines are really cheap here) and watch the cloudy sunset at the harbour. Sun sets really early here (around 18.15). And as Pointe-a-Pitre the town is practically deserted after dark. I still have some jet lag so I go to sleep early (around 20.00)

24.3.2002 St Louis
I wake up really early (at 7.00!). After having breakfast I rent a bicycle to explore the beaches further up north. There is a lagoon-like beach that I spotted yesterday that I want to check out. After an hour of cycling I reach my destination which proves to be worth the effort. There is lots of white sand and palm trees and a couple of sailboats anchored a little bit further to the sea. Huge cliffs protect the bay. Not too many people around - mostly locals. I enjoy a couple of hours of sunbathing flavoured with soulful house tunes from my CD player before returning to town.

The sunset is cloudy once again. I have dinner at a place called Chez Henri which proves to be an excellent choice. The place itself is very impressive with its terrace by the sea. They play zouk and reggae rhythms in the background (and later even some balearic chill-out tunes as well!). Waiting for the food takes a long time but it is worth the wait (and the hefty price) - one of the most memorable fish dishes ever! I'll continue the evening by listening to music on the balcony of my hotel room until midnight...

25.3.2002 St Louis - Grande Bourg
I take a minibus to the "capital" of the island - Grande Bourg. A pleasant one-hour trip with zouk music. Grande Bourg is not a particularly impressive place - seems that all the bigger towns here are somewhat dull and dirty. I've burned my skin so today there won't be any beach life. Instead I walk to the nearby old sugarcane plantation - an interesting piece of history that gives a good understanding of the life on the islands a hundred years ago...

I spent the rest of the day by hanging around in the downtown area and trying to once again catch the perfect sunset. Again I'm disappointed as it is getting cloudy. I buy grilled chicken from a street vendor and taste some local rum before going to sleep. 

26.3.2002 Grande Bourg - Trois Rivieres
The day with lots of "technical problems". I leave Marie Galante on the first ferry to catch another ferry to Martinique. It appears that all the ferries for the couple of coming days are sold out already. So I have to change my itinerary and as plan B I try to rent a car. It shouldn't be a problem but at the rental agency I realize that I have left my driving licence home. Then I have to resort for plan C which means taking a bus to the village of Trois Rivieres. Fortunately it appears to be an idyllic place at the bottom of a mountain. After locating a hotel I try to find a nearby beach. After a couple of kilometres there's still no sign of beaches so I decide to turn back. On my way back I come accross some sort of local botanical gardens (combined with an exhibition of prehistoric artifacts). Quite impressive place indeed.

I return to hotel to enjoy the magnificent sea views. Apart from the views the place is nothing special - air conditioning is not working and there are insects and small lizards in the room. In the evening I enjoy an excellent menu in the hotel's stylish restaurant.

27.3.2002 Trois Rivieres / Les Saintes
I did not sleep too well as the numerous mosquitos kept me awake for a long time. My plan today is to visit the island of Les Saintes. As soon as the ferry reaches the harbour I realize the beauty of the place - it is really an unbelievable place with no single ugly building. The architecture has strong French influence and the nature reminds me of the rocky Balearic islands. There are lots of tourists in the downtown area though. I climb up to Fort Napoleon to enjoy the splendid view of the bay area. It also good fun to watch the life of iguanas that live in the fortress. After the descent I head straight to the beach - which is equally beautiful coveted location with deep blue waters. Probably even a better beach than the one at Marie Galante.

Before catching the ferry back I spend some time in the downtown area. I think I'll return here before leaving the Caribbean. The rest of the day I spend by chilling out at the hotel terrace - watching the stars and enjoying fresh fruit and bread bought from a nearby store...

28.3.2002 Trois Rivieres - Basse-Terre - Pointe-a-Pitre
Technical problems, part 2. I leave early in the morning to visit the other main city of the island (Basse-Terre). The intention is to stay overnight there before returning to Pointe-a-Pitre. I'm not too surprised to realize that the city is quite a dull place - apart from the stylish beach boulevard there is not much to see. I walk to the local marina, watch boats and do some swimming on a small black sand beach.

It seems that you can see a perfect sunset from the beach boulevard - at least there is something to see! Around 5 o'clock I realize that the next day is Easter Friday - which in practice means that it is public holiday and probably nothing is happening. Also it probably means that buses are not in operation - and I was supposed to catch the first morning bus to Pointe-a-Pitre! So I run to my hotel, check out and run to catch the last bus to P-a-P. I'm in the nick of time and get to to P-a-P as it is already dark. In P-a-P the only hotel that is open is some overpriced place where shower and airconditioning are not quite working. And electricity goes off every now and then... The city is more or less closed already so the only alternative for dinner is a local pizzeria...

29.3.2002 Pointe-a-Pitre - Castries
It is Easter Friday and not surprisingly it is really silent in the morning... The marketplace is open though and I buy some breakfast from there. I've booked a ticket to the St Lucia ferry that is leaving Guadeloupe at 12.00. For some unknown reason it is 1,5 hours late though... I meet an American guy called Dave as I'm waiting for the ferry. He tells interesting stories of sailing to the Caribbean with a boat he has built himself. Dave is now on his way to meet his family. We continue our discussions until we reach St Lucia. From the ferry you cannot but admire the mountainous scenery of the islands along the route (Martinique, Dominica).

When I finally arrive in Castries I'm greeted by some bureaucratic officials who want to check all the bags from everybody. The city looks somewhat grim in the dark. Quite contrary to Guadeloupe it is by no means deserted - actually there are quite a few people around but many of them look like somewhat suspicious or even aggressive. Lots of rastafarians around. The only restaurant that is open is the local fast food chain so I enjoy some chicken nuggets for supper.

30.3.2002 Castries - Soufriere 
After a quick sightseeing tour in Castries I decide to move on to the south to visit the village of Soufriere. As I enter the packed minibus the feelings start to get better and better. The front seat is packed with rastas wearing funny-looking hats and volume of the reggae tunes keeps increasing as the driver accelerates the old van. The roads are quite dangerous with lots of hairpin curves - regardless of that the speed remains constantly high...

Soufriere appears to be a really genuine peace of East Caribbean culture. One of the first things I notice is the sound of bass drum that comes from a sound system at the central square of the village. I book a room from a local guesthouse high above the main village. The views are just awesome. There is a splendid beach that actually belongs to some 5-star hotel but seems to be open for the general public as well. It is also a perfect location for sunsetting. I enjoy an excellent fish meal at a local restaurant. I think about chilling out at the balcony but it seems that the sound of partying from the village makes listening to my CD player somewhat difficult. But that's not a problem as the sound of reggae beats suits the atmosphere a lot better. I keep wondering about these cultural differences between the French and English speaking islands...

31.3.2002 Soufriere
Time to do some sightseeing again... I first check out a nearby waterfall that is a half-hour walk outside the village. The special thing with this waterfall is that the water is lukewarm (because of the volcanic heat) and that there is an artificially built pool under it where you can swim. That is actually a very pleasant experience to stand in the "shower". I hire a local guide, a rasta that seems to be constantly smoking joint and tells interesting stories of nature. The guy persuades me to do some hiking with him and to visit the volcanic lakes. We spend about 1,5 hours in the jungle, taste some wild fruit and me some locals living in huts in the middle of jungle. Finally we reach the volcanic lakes (that are actually a crater of a collapsed volcano).

I thank my guide for an impressive tour and continue to the beach do some swimming and watch the sun come down. On my way back I meet a Canadian guy called Winston - a retired man that has bought himself a villa from Soufriere. He says that I can borrow his snorkeling gear tomorrow. As I have never snorkeled before he promises to give me a crash course on the subject as well. An offer not to be refused!

1.4.2002 Soufriere
My first ever day snorkeling (and definitely not the last)! With Winston's instructions I quickly learned all the basics - as soon as you master the breathing technique observing the underwater world is fairly easy. Anse Chastagnet was quite unique spot as it was easily accessible from the beach. No need for long boat rides - just swim some 50 metres to reach the marine reserve area. The sights were gorgeous - lots of colourful corals, occasional barracudas, some pike-looking fish and dozens of others species I cannot name... Swimming in the middle of hundreds of small fish is an unforgettable experience.

After a couple of hours I'm starting to feel exhausted and I have obviously burned my back - therefore it is time to return to the village and thank Winston for borrowing the equipment. Not much activities for the evening - I quickly visit the village to have dinner (this local rotis pie with creole chicken). Tasty but expensive. Anyway a perfect day.

2.4.2002 Soufriere - Gros Islet
Time to change location once again... This time I head to the northern part of the island for the village of Gros Islet. The bus ride is as scenic as expected - this time the soundtrack is for some reason country music! Another interesting observation is a Finlandia Vodka advertisement painted on a wall in the middle of nowhere! Gros Islet is a weird place - a poor-looking village next to luxury hotels and a fancy marina packed with big sailboats.

I spend the afternoon at Pigeon Island, a rocky island with the remains of an old fortress. The ruins are not particularly interesting but the scenery from the top of the hills is awesome. On my way back I end up on terribly dirty stretch of beach - the locals are throwing everything on the beach / to the sea and some rasta gangsters are breaking beer bottles. Scary stuff - Gros Islet definitely is not most idyllic place of Eastern Caribbean.

In the evening I meet two "sail bums" Maurizio & Stewart in a local restaurant. These guys work as crew members in sailboats and have toured the Caribbean for a while. Really good guys with lots of funny stories to share. The owner of the nearby hotel joins our party and tells interesting stories about his career as singer and his plans for opening a new club...

 3.4.2002 Gros Islet - Roseau
Time for island-hopping again. The day started in Gros Islet with a morning swim. I had breakfast and had chat with Maurizio and the hotel owner before taking a minibus to Castries. In Castries I'm greeted by hordes of American tourists coming from a cruise ship. They are herded like cattle to the tour buses for their compulsory shopping / sightseeing tour... I visit the local tax-free store that seems to have sky-high prices and check in to the ferry.

The trip to Dominica is really rough - it is very stormy so that people are throwing up constantly... After a couple of hours the ferry reaches Roseau. I realize that for the first time I'm experiencing really strict immigration procedures as the officers want to check every single item in my backpack - including dirty underwear! Anyway as I finally get the stamp on my passport I go directly to a guesthouse recommended by LP - the hospitality is really unbelievable. I have some fish for dinner, visit a Internet cafe and go to sleep. As usually Roseau transforms to real ghost town after dark so there is really no reason to stay outside the guesthouse.

4.4.2002 Roseau / Portsmouth
Instead of moving to another place to stay overnight I decide to make a day trip to Portsmouth. That was a good decision since Portsmouth is not particularly attractive - a small town with rundown buildings and lots of rusty shipwrecks. I visit Cabrits national park that is a combination of ruins and jungle. The ruins are the most impressive so far but the best experience of the day is Indian River. I take a one-hour guided boat tour along the river that goes through the rain forest. Unfortunately there are some cruise ship tourists around but still the tour is very enjoyable.

I return to Roseau and check out the local shops (not the best place for serious shopping). I'll spend the rest of evening in a cosy restaurant / bar / internet cafe called Cornerhouse. Good atmosphere with lots of travellers - only complaint for the terrible music (some sentimental adult oriented rock) in the background.

5.4.2002 Roseau - Gosier
The ferry back to Guadeloupe will leave Roseau at 17.00 so there is plenty of time to spend in Dominica. My first destination is the waterfalls in Trafalgar. It is an easy way there by bus. After some hiking I reach the lower fall - which is definitely the most impressive one I've seen so far. There are two falls next to each other that can be both reached by following the slippery path. I spend almost one hour there just admiring the power of the nature...

I head back to Roseau and spend the afternoon by having a buffet lunch, send some postcards and do some shopping in the local taxfree (which is quite reasonably priced). The journey back to Pointe-a-Pitre is a pleasant one - it's calm waters today. The ferry is late so it is closer to midnight when I finally arrive in P-a-P. I've booked a hotel from Gosier and as I finally get there the room is already gone. Fortunately there is another one available somehow so I have a place to sleep. This is the best room so far - a considerable upgrade after the various guesthouses!

6.4.2002 Gosier / Les Saintes
As I promised I will return to Les Saintes today. I take the morning bus to P-a-P and catch the first ferry. Even though it was cloudy in Gosier it is clear skies in Les Saintes. I buy some fruits and bread from a local store and head directly to the beach of Saint Pierre. This time I go to the far end of the lagoon to enjoy the sunshine in peace and silence. Time passes quickly even though I've doing practically nothing. I return to harbour and buy a poster from a local artist and a small african-style wooden statue.

As I return to hotel I realize that I have burned my skin really badly. I thought that after almost two weeks of Caribbean sun there is not that much need for sunblock but apparently I was wrong...

7.4.2002 Gosier - Helsinki
It is time to go home today. I still have half of the day to spend on the beach of the Isla Gosier. Interesting place - the small island is densely populated by trees, locals and occasional tourists. Apart from the lighthouse and a small restaurant there are no buildings there. Locals are having their barbeque parties and tourists are lying on the beach. As I have burned my skin I have to stay in the shadows with the shirt on.

In the afternoon it is the unpleasant moment of heading to the airport. On the other hand returning back home is always a pleasure but of course I would rather enjoy the Caribbean sun than return to office... As there have not been any major obstacles on this trip so far my journey back turns out to be problematic. The flight to Paris is delayed so I miss the first flight to Helsinki. Then in Paris the baggage claim takes for some unknown reason at least one hour (the French - once again...) so I also miss the second plane. I get a standby ticket for the last flight. As compensation I get the usual vouchers and spend the rest of the day overeating in the airport restaurants. I finally manage to check in - here I come Helsinki...

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