05/10/2006, Iles des Saintes, Guadeloupe
Bonjour! If Antigua is the curry of the islands, then Guadeloupe is the creme of the Caribbean. The largest of the Caribbean islands in both area and population, Guadeloupe stands out amongst the others not only because of its size but because it remains part of France. Many of the other islands are former colonies or remain territories of Britain or the Dutch but Guadeloupe is one of 3 islands that still remains French. Many professionals from France retire here and Guadeloupe is one of France’s Caribbean gems.
The picturesque villages have a distinctly European flavour – narrow paved streets lined with small white-washed homes, shops and restaraunts all trimmed with pink, orange, blue or lime green shutters. The front doorways are ornately tiled with potted plants and flowering bushes surrounding the grounds. The town squares and streets are spotless with not a trace of litter anywhere in sight. For us, Guadeloupe is an island we’d heard very little about from other travellers. So, it is an unexpected jewel in the Caribbean crown.
The Euro is the currency and the baguette is the daily staple ($0.90 EU equivalent to $2.00 Cdn). It was early one morning (7:30 am) while sitting outside a patisserie enjoying the local fare, we eaves- dropped on villagers greeting each other (and us) with “Bonjour. Comment ca va?” and a freshly baked baguette tucked under their arm. (It is considered rude NOT to greet one another and ask them how they are). It was a treat to have a glimpse of the morning rituals of a small village where everyone knows each other and makes a point to come out to be seen, while picking up fresh bread. As food stalls with fresh veggies and fruit started to open up, the streets became busy with locals doing their daily shopping before the heat of the day. The custom of afternoon siesta remains entrenched in the daily routines here from 1:00 – 3:30. So everything seems to happen before or after that time. The village then comes back to life with more shopping as people return from work. In the twilight hours, again villagers can be seen strolling, enjoying the company of friends and relatives in the town square or sitting on their front verandas greeting passers by. The village is alive once again for a few more hours.
Absence of Slaves With the wide selection of locally fresh baked goods as well as an abundance of cheeses imported from all over France this is another reason why Guadeloupe is unique. Compared to countries like the Bahamas, which imports all its food, Guadeloupe can largely meet its food needs (with a few treats imported, of course). Although the island was never agricultural there is a wide assortment of fresh fruit and vegetables grown for local markets – papaya, mango, limes, melons, carrots, and sweet potatoes. Interestingly, this is one of the few islands where food was not grown for export markets or the land was not parceled into large agricultural holdings. Therefore slaves were not brought into the country in the 1800 and 1900′s from Africa during the slave trade. Slaves never became a part of this island’s culture.
Our new rituals
For the last few days we’ve been in a small anchorage off the town of Bourg des Saintes in the small islands called Iles des Saintes off the southern end of Guadeloupe. It’s been an opportunity for both of us to catch up on our writing. It’s funny, but it didn’t take us long to adopt some of the delightful local rituals of picking up fresh baguettes and croissant every morning and strolling along the streets in the evening. It’s given us a sense of belonging.