By mid-January the strong Trade Winds abated and so we sailed south to Guadeloupe. Guadeloupe is the largest island in the east Caribbean (excluding Trinidad) and has the most varied geography. It is actually two islands “joined together at the hip”. One island is high mountains, the other flat as a pancake. They are joined together by a mangrove swamp with the River Salee running between them. All this leads to different anchorages around the island and varied experiences in each.
Two other cruiser boats that we have know for years, Moya Mreeya and Roxy joined us as we form a small flotilla heading south. We anchored in Malendure (Pigeon Island) to snorkel, Base Terre to see the city (a very rolly anchorage), Porte a Pitre for a land tour, and Les Saints to spend time in the small French seaside villages. Oasis caught up with us in Porte a Pitre and Pandora met us here in Terre-de-Haut in Les Saints. Our own little community of cruisers will be together until the winds, schedules and destinations change. So, it is with cruising here. Paths cross, but unlike ships crossing in the night, sometimes we stick together for a while.
Land tours or road trips through the interior of the islands entails renting a car for a day or two. Sometimes buses can be used but cars give us more flexibility to explore and shop at the same time. The Little Red Car Tour was one such trip from Porte a Pitre.
Roman and Olha were our companions in the car we rented for the tour around the island. Bob, Carol, Lynn and Mark (Oasis and Roxy) rented another car and followed along. The caravan of boats turned into a caravan of cars.
The rental car company only had one car for us, a small red one. Really small, really red. I think is was made in Eastern Europe, had four wheels and air conditioning – all that we needed. Roman was the designated driver of this stick shift, very small, very red car. Gasoline is very expensive in France and so it is here also (this being a Department of France). Therefore, the little red car had a little (color unknown) engine. At least we think it was a car engine. It might have been an outboard motor given the performance.
Upon signing the rental agreement, the very pleasant woman co-owner (spoke understandable English as she spent time in Chicago and San Francisco) read all the conditions and restrictions of the contract. What concerned us was that the car had to be returned “clean”. We could pay 50 Euros in advance or 60 when we returned it to pay for the cleaning. We took the chance not to pay anything and to return the car clean.
The first day we drove around Basse Terre, the mountains island. Road D25 took us over the center of the island where we stopped and took a short hike through the rain forest and another short hike to a waterfall. The lush greenery is always impressive in these forests as is the small waterfalls and plunge pools.
The next stop was something we haven’t been to: the Maison du Café. It was located in the mountains outside of Vieux habitants and was billed as a great coffee museum amid the coffee trees. The narrow, steep and twisting road up the mountains proved a real challenge to the Little Red Car. It had a 5 speed transmission but could have used another gear between neutral and first. In any case all was well until it stalled out on a steep hair pin turn. Roman did a good job keeping it on the road and not falling off the mountain as we rolled backway to let another car pass and to get it going again. A short distance later we came to the end of the road and found no Maison du Café. We learned the place was closed, if there was any there, and so turned around and descended back to town.
After we stopped for lunch at shore side restaurant we were off to the Distillerie Bologne . Hours of operation in these French islands are very flexible. It was after 2PM but since they close at 5PM they were closed anyway. It did have a great view of La Solfrier, the still active volcano on the island.
We continued back toward Porte a Pitre and made it back to Baie-Manhault and the big shopping mall there. We bought 2 beach chairs for Kalunamoo at Decathlon sporting goods store. They didn’t close until 8PM.
Day two of the Little Red Car Tour took us to Grande Terre, the flat island. The little Red car had a much better time on these more level roads where we made it out to Pointe des Collibrit. The cemetery at Morne-a-L’eau looks like a village of one room houses; although they were all closed and no one walked the streets. The Little Red Car fit right in.
The Distillerie Damoiseau in Bellevue was open although the big steam engine, as well as the rest of the distillery was quiet. The sampling room was open! The sugar cane to make the Rhum Vieux Agricole had another month or so to grow before they started the harvest. I guess you can say the cane fields were closed.
Swimming at St. Anne’s beautiful beach finished our tour before driving back to Port a Pitre. A stop at the large supermarket was made to stock up the boat before leaving. Finally, we stopped at a gas station to fill up and to vacuum and clean out the Little Red Car. The tourist maps that we protected the floor with were removed and disposed. Back at Porte a Pitre we returned the car where it passed the white glove test, just before they closed for the day.
Guadeloupe is a great island to explore. Our long hiking days may be over, but we still enjoy touring around, eating at the different restaurants, swimming at beautiful beaches and sharing adventures with others. Places that close early, close for lunch or are just plain closed, abound but it just adds to the adventure. This Little Red Car Tour was another that has been added to our list.