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Ready Set Sail in the Caribbean Part 5

Pic_3._View_from_Fort_Napoleon~ Visiting saints and a butterfly ~

 

By Laura Bijnsdorp

 

From Dominica, we sailed towards Guadeloupe. But before we would explore the large island in our Caribbean chain, we would make a stop at Îles des Saintes (“Islands of the Saints”) also known as Les Saintes.

 

Les Saintes is a volcanic archipelago fully encircled by shallow reefs, so we had to make sure to navigate properly to reach the main harbour of Terre-de-Haut. Les Saintes is made up of eight little islands, of which only two are inhabited. Our captain Max, who had been here before, said the islands reminded him of St. Barths.

 

Terre-de-Haut – though very small (I was told that the island has only about 2,000 inhabitants) – was a lovely town to walk through. There were a few boutiques, fancy restaurants and to our joy a French supermarket.

 

Let me explain why the Corina IV crew was always excited to see a good supermarket, and especially a French one: When our trip started in June 2013, we soon noticed that many places we went to (most of the Pacific, South East Asia, the Indian Ocean and parts of South America) all lacked one thing – big supermarkets. Certain products were very hard to find, especially cheese and fresh bread. What are two things the French know to do well? Exactly: Cheese and fresh bread! Our favourite? Brie on baguette!

 

So after our short walk, we each went supermarket-crazy and bought an array of ingredients to make epic baguette sandwiches. I had decided mine would be a pesto smoked salmon and brie cheese creation. After our luxurious lunch, Dani and I decided to go and see more of the island and try to get a higher view from one of the mountains.

 

We started following the road from the town and decided to just keep going up. The sun was blazing as it usually is in the Caribbean; but we were determined to see how high we could go to get the perfect view. After about a 30-minute walk, we saw a group of people at what looked like an official lookout point. Walking towards them, we were surprised with a sign pointing to another road up stating: Fort Napoleon.

 

As we got closer to the fort, we were once more surprised by its size. I had expected something a bit smaller like Fort Amsterdam here on St. Maarten. But the fort was quite large. We walked past the large trenches surrounding the fort and over the bridge into the gates. We paid the entrance fee, and were told we could find the museum in the main building before us. I guess besides cheese and bread, the French also know how to properly preserve their history.

 

The museum was impressive, with more than 10 rooms displaying the history, culture and biodiversity of the islands.

 

Due to its location in the heart of the Lesser Antilles, Les Saintes was first frequented by Indian tribes from the Caribbean and Central America. Although uninhabited due to the lack of spring water, the islands were regularly visited by Arawak peoples then Kalinagos living on the neighbouring islands of Guadeloupe and Dominica around the ninth century. They went there to practice hunting and fishing.

 

Officially discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493, Les Saintes was occupied by the French in 1648; but the settlers didn’t rest long as the island had no fresh water sources. Changing hands a few times to the British, Les Saintes returned to French ownership in 1816 and divided into the two councils: Terre de Haut and Terre de Bas – the first dry and arid; the second with a more luxuriant vegetation.

 

The current fort was rebuilt in 1867, and named after Napoleon III, but never saw use in battle, and was instead used as a penitentiary.

 

We heard from a guide that there is a myth that the fort is haunted by the spirit of a young French girl who fell in love with a British officer. Her lover promised to return for her when his duty was up; however, after waiting for several years, the young woman lost hope. Believing the officer had found another, she threw herself off the cliffs of Les Saintes and into the ocean in desperation. The young man did return for his love and after finding out she had ended her life believing he had betrayed her, he too threw himself from the cliffs. I did not feel any spirits that might’ve been present; but I always relish a good dark love story.

 

We pretty much walked around the rest of the island in the time we had left, enjoying the pretty beaches and views, indulging in more French cuisine and taking the dinghy around to take a look at some of the other islands. Though Les Saintes was the perfect place to relax – and I’m sure we could’ve spent a few more days there – we had many more places to explore before returning to St. Maarten and time was running short. So after two nights, we headed to Butterfly Island also known as Guadeloupe.

 

It was a strange sight when we first stepped onto the island of Guadeloupe. We had anchored the Corina IV just outside a marina and quickly dinghy-ed over to the shore, wanting to explore the island.

 

But the marina and the surroundings were a big contrast from the vast nature we had encountered in Dominica and the quant vibe of Les Saintes. Worn out, grey, tall buildings and large fast roads surrounded us and I hoped the rest of Guadeloupe did not look like this.

 

With the knowledge that one of the main towns called Basse Terre was to our left, we started walking the driving lanes, keeping close to the shore. The town did have a bit of charm to it, and I truly did enjoy strolling around and checking out the many “Dollar Stores.”

 

But although I do enjoy shopping, shopping was not the reason we had walked to the town. We were looking to rent a car, to drive around the island and visit a few sights to make the most of our short visit here. We found a car rental after lunchtime and decided to try and make a small circle around the lower part of the island, which would also take us along a lake and waterfall placed on edges of the active volcano on Guadeloupe called La Soufriere. This area is also a protected national park of over 173 square kilometres.

 

We started driving towards our first destination. We passed more developed areas and towns, but as soon as we started driving towards the lower slopes of the volcano, the vegetation was lush and beautiful.

 

After a 20-minute drive through the gorgeous forest, we saw the sign for the lake we were looking: Grand Etang. A sign indicated we could take various hikes around the lake, each varying in time. We chose the shortest way, as it was already late in the afternoon and we still had a waterfall to find!

 

The lake was a very pretty sight. I took a moment to look around, and again I wondered why St. Maarten did not invest more in creating a park area. For the 10 minutes we stood there, multiple families passed us going on different paths, taking different hikes to enjoy the fresh air, lush nature and be active for a day. It would really benefit our island and people.

 

Close by, we also found the entrance to the Carbet Falls (In French Chutes du Carbet). Decked out with trails on maps, bathrooms and information about the area, we found out that there were three waterfalls. We had heard that the second was the easiest and was pretty impressive so we followed the signs that way. After a bit of hiking, we were suddenly stopped by red tape and a sign saying that the access was blocked.

 

It seemed that following an earthquake in 2004, several cubic metres of rock had split from the cliff face behind the second cascade. The safety hazard thus created led park authorities to limit access to the cascade to no closer than a bridge just downstream. We fidgeted not knowing what to do… Now, reader, I ask of you not to turn us over to the French authorities, but our adventurous spirit took over and we climbed over the tape, and down to the river below. Honestly, as many things in life, the risk was worth it. After crossing the river and climbing over large boulders, we saw what was a huge waterfall of 110 metres tall.

 

Sweaty from the climb, we excitedly clambered over the remaining rocky wet path to the large pool and jumped in. The water was freezing, but it did feel good to have the heavy cascade of water falling on our back muscles. Besides that – thanks to a tip from some other insolent young travellers – we found a few hot springs a bit further to the right of the waterfall! It was a perfect ending to our day and stay in Guadeloupe!

On Friday, June 26, we returned from the two-year journey circumnavigating the world! We would like to thank Budget Marine, St. Maarten Yacht Club and Antillean Liquors for their support. Check out www.readysetsailnow.com and facebook.com/readysetsail for stories, pictures and videos of our adventures.