Given our lack of car, on Tuesday we decided to go off to Pointe à Pitre by bus. This used to be a terrifying prospect, but they have been making improvements to the system so it was quite enjoyable.
Buses here (no trains in our country, sniff!) are coaches and often belong to an individual or family. They follow their own rules and timetables, don't run after about 7pm and are quite unique. In true French style, they also have a tendency to strike - often for months on end! Hence the excessive number of cars on the tiny island.
With the old style, you board either the front or back door, then pay the driver on getting off. The new ones who have been officially registered take payment at the front only (90 cents rather than a euro!) They even give a receipt; we mused over whether ticket inspectors haev arrived in Gudeloupe! The old depend on open windows for air com, the new are full of mod cons such as air con and seat belts.
All coaches have one thing in common though - music blaring out loudly! Tough if you don't like it! Previously, they had pull up seats that meant there was no aisle, a nightmare to get out of if you were unfortunate enough to be in the middle of the bus. Happily for us with three kids and buggy in tow, the aisle has now returned! I still don't think I could do the journey alone though. Buggy friendly buses have not reached the island!
Here is a picture I found on the web of one (We were too busy juggling baby, bag, buggy to take one!)
On the way, Bertie told me that the driver was one who, in his prime and when Bertie was at lycée, a good 15 years ago, all the girls fancied and waited just to take his bus! There is a front seat and a soft middle bit you can sit on if you know the driver and fancy a chat, and apparently this was the goal of his female classmates!
Our mission was to get new flip flops for the girls so we went to rue Frébault. I am not exaggerating when I tell you there were 20, possibly more shoe shops in that one street! It is very long and busy, just think a narrower version of Oxford Street. Many shops have MCs who stand at the door with a mike trying to entice you in!
Letting the girls loose in the shoe shop was like all their Christmasses come at once! Shoe after shoe went on their little feet, each showed off to us and duly admired before the next came on. I can see that being a good place to go on a wet day! The ones we bought were very tame compared to the ones tried!!
We tried to sort out a bank account but unfortunately Bertie's French bank - Crédit Lyonnais - is astonishingly the only one who doesn't have a branch or even partner in Guadeloupe! Then we popped to the market and bought a delicious but heavy water melon, before getting the bus back. The bus station is also new and very organised, with a different lane and sign for each destination. Though you do have to wait a while for it to actually leave. We then got dumped unceremoniously in the middle of the road back home. Definite improvements, but getting the bus is still a somewhat hazardous affair!