Our trip to Les Saintes was a spur of the moment thing two weekends back following an invitation from church friends and a great way to spend Bertie's first Saturday without work since September (except Christmas and Easter).
Les Saintes is one of several islands Guadeloupe also has under it, including Marie-Galante, La Desirade and previously St Martin and St Barthelemy. I say island but it is actually made up of two islands, Terre du Haut, where all the tourists visit and where we visited in 2002 and Terre du Bas (which is actually more mountainous) which is unknown to us. We went with some friends from church who are from there and stayed in their family's house. Here are a few thoughts from the visit.
It is a tiny place!!! There are two small towns, Grande Anse and Petite Anse. Of course, Petite Anse is bigger than Grande Anse! We stayed in Grande Anse and all there is are a few shops and a lovely village square, a restaurant and....the FINEST playpark we have seen in a year! I can't begin to describe how beautiful and well equipped it was! And do you know the irony? There are hardly any children on the island, mostly retired people!
We were in walking distance of two beaches, very nice! Our friend grew up in a house right across the road from one of them, what a view!
The island suffered an earthquake in 2006 which devastated it, but has mostly been rebuilt now. There are a few signs left though - there is a beach which is now just a dumping ground for all the bits of brick and iron from collapsed houses, a road along the coast to some pottery ruins just crumbles into rocks, and there are empty plots of land where houses once stood.
Everyone is related on the island! Every person who went past, or car or house we saw, received a nod and a muttered "c'est un cousin"! This worked in our favour going over, when our friends' cousin was taking money, therefore charging us the lower residents' price! Speaking of the boat, well I am not sure that I can, it was awful! The sea to both Marie-Galante and Les Saintes is so rough and bumpy, it felt like being on a rollercoaster at a theme park. I was so pleased not to chuck up, but it was a close thing! Apparently the journey to La Desirade is even worse, which may explain why we have never visited!
We took a tour around the island - with a cousin! - and saw Petite Anse with the Mairie, primary school, college and police station. Lyceens have to go to the mainland (Guadeloupe) where they board for the week. There are some people who commute over each day on the 6am boat - they must have stomachs of steel is all I can say!
There are also beautiful forests and mountains and views to be seen. We stopped off at a Mare (small lake) to look for tortoises or turtles. Very soon, up to 30 pairs of beady eyes could be seen in the water bearing down on us, as they waited for the bread that we would surely have. Very sadly we didn't! If we looked closely in the trees above, we saw iguanas, for which the island is famous. Too close and they would crash noisily down into the undergrowth. Finally we saw some fish called lapiya (?) which are apparently aphrodisiac when consumed!
The island is very, very dry. In fact, all there is is fish! Our friends told us that when they lived there, it was normal to have court bouillon (fish in sauce) for lunch and fried fish for tea and possibly even breakfast! We certainly enjoyed some delicious tuna. Other delicacies are tourment d'amour, a lovely tart with coconut inside, and a kind of fudge made with tamarinds. However, one to be avoided at all costs is the mancilinier tree, including its leaves, its fruits even its sap. It is toxic and not to be ingested, touched or even stood underneath during a shower. There were many around so I wondered how many unsuspecting people miss the signs and actually touch them.
All in all it was a very peaceful and relaxed weekend, far from the noise and bustle (!) of Guadeloupe and much enjoyed by us all. We were particularly thankful to find our cars okay on our return, having heard that 20 cars in the car park at Trois Rivieres had been trashed the night we were away. No such behaviour on Les Saintes, that's for sure!