Friday, April 12, 2013

A Day and a Half in Deshaies, Guadeloupe

Sinbad and crew were making a passage north from Dominica to Antigua for Classics Race Week, and we took the easy way, stopping first in Les Saintes and then in Des Haies, (pronounced “Day-ay”), on the northwest coast of Guadeloupe.  We glided into the bay in the mid-afternoon and dropped anchor fairly close to the steep-to cliffs.  After settling in, we decided to go ashore to scout the town. Our plans came to a screeching halt, however, when we noticed other sailors in the harbor snorkeling with a pod of dolphins.  We looked at each other and scrambled for our snorkel gear.  Diving off the boat, we hurried  to join the fun.

 The dolphins had come into the bay to enjoy the rites of spring, and they twirled and dove gently in tandem, sinuously, joyously. Two large males would occasionally pass close to us swimmers, looking us over to make sure we meant no harm, and many times the dolphins would pass within four or five feet of us.  With their perpetual smiles and their curious glances, we were spellbound and stayed with them until they decided to move on.

After this magical interlude, we continued into town.  The dinghy dock is now repaired, so cruisers no longer need to go up the DesHaies River to tie up, which was an aggravation to the local fishermen.  The village is charming and laid back, with low-rise quaint old buildings hugging the shore.

 It is a place the local French islanders like to visit on the weekends.  I browsed the boutiques and Randy checked out the restaurant menu boards.  We retired early to Sinbad, for dinner and a good night’s rest.  However, the day held one last surprise.  We watched the sun sink below the horizon with a blaze of neon green light…a spectacular Green Flash.

Not our photo!

The morning dawned to scattered showers, but the clouds made it a great day to walk, saving us sunburns and keeping us cool.  We walked south from the dinghy dock, to the north bank of the DesHaies River and turned inland.  We followed a paved road, which quickly became a paved two- track and then a path, winding along the rocky river bank. A little further on is a pool, just a wide and deep spot in the river, where you can pick your way down to for a cool dip.   We went further, hopping from stone to stone across the river and back again, making our way over algae-covered boulders up the river.  The trickle and gurgle of the river’s flow was a continuo for the trills of bird song and the chirping tree frogs. We clambered slowly upstream, the rocks now becoming treacherously slippery from the rain.  At last we came to a second pool, with small cascades coursing between massive boulders on both sides of the river.  We had hoped to continue on, but the slippery footing made it too hazardous.  We peeled out of our clothes and descended into the pool of lovely cool sweet water, washing our cares and muddy smears away.

Refreshed, we returned to the main road and followed it south, up a steep hill for 1.4 km to the Botanical Garden.

 This garden deserves its fine reputation. After entering the park, the garden path leads past serene koi ponds with flowering blue and pink lotus amid their glossy green pads.

 Tall native trees host many varieties of orchid and ferns, and tropical bushes were full of spring blossoms.  Red and yellow Heliconia grew in shady stands, neighbor to giant-leafed monstera vines, scarlet ginger blossoms and indigenous begonias.

 The garden is landscaped to provide an intimate feeling in a compact space, and though there many people in attendance, the curved paths and luxuriant growth make it easy to appreciate the lush stillness and echoing birdsong.

The restaurant is built atop a man-made waterfall, providing the rush and trickle of water, and an aviary with colorful Caribbean lorikeets, giant macaws, and flamingos adds personality.

After enjoying minty mojitos in the cafĂ© overlooking the garden, we walked back down the main road and took a left turn to the Batterie peninsula, hoping for a view of the harbor in the golden afternoon light.  Down, down the hill we went, until we reached “Hemingway’s”, a restaurant facility with fantastic vistas.  The business was closed, but we sat in the shade overlooking the bay and savored glasses of our own Cote du Rhone, which we had backpacked along in hopes of such a rest stop.

Up, up the hill we went, and then back down, down into town.  It was late in the afternoon, and we came upon a booth selling homemade sweet and savory coconut balls and accras de morue, tasty codfish fritters that are particularly good in the French islands.  We bought accras, scooping up some green piquant salsa to go with, and nibbled them in the shade of a building before climbing in the dinghy and heading back to Sinbad.  Both of us were dead tired and a little footsore, but we felt great satisfaction that we had used our lay-day well exploring Des Haies to the fullest.



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