The brochure says that the trip from Guadeloupe to Les Saintes may enter "choppy" waters.
We took the ferry run by L'Express from Pointe-à-Pitre to Les Saintes. It leaves from the Gare Maritime, Quai Gatine, daily at 8:00 am, and returns from Les Saintes at 4:00 pm. When we took the ride in 1996, the round trip fare was 160 francs per person.
The brochure has a photograph of two attractive women of about 20 years of age standing on the deck with a basket of French bread, pineapples, and assorted pastries, hands on their hips, and smiles on their faces. Clearly, they have not yet left the dock.
We departed Pointe-à-Pitre and motored out between the two wings of Grande Terre and Basse Terre smoothly. But as soon as we left the shelter of the wings, the ship began to ride like a roller coaster. People were whooping with delight at each downward motion and laughing at the passengers standing at the port rails who were drenched with salt spray with every pitch of the boat. The ride is scheduled to last 45 minutes.
(And no, this photo is not out of focus -- It really is that wet!)
Soon, however, the laughter stopped, the smiles of the wet souls at the rails dimmed, and a new look appeared on a few faces. As the pitching continued, a crewmember appeared with a handful of plastic bags which she placed in a container on the forward bulkhead. A line formed.
The container was emptied of its bags. More were brought.
The boat droned on. And on. And on. Forty- five minutes passed. More minutes dragged slowly by. Inch by inch, it seemed, the boat dragged itself across the six miles of ocean separating Les Saintes from Guadeloupe. Six l-o-o-o-o-o-ng miles. Take the plane.
The harbor of Terre- de- Haut is said to rival that of Rio de Janeiro in its beauty. Sad to say, few of the passengers noticed. (Having seen both, your humble reporter must say that Cariocans have nothing about which to concern themselves.) The village is a delight to the eyes and was being used as the background for a music video being shot on the dock. We can only hope that the green faces of many of the disembarking passengers did not detract attention from the star.
The village of Terre- de- Haut has a delightful, tiny park just a few blocks from the dock, and only a few steps from the town pharmacy where many people were lined up for a few sips of water and a comforting pat on the shoulder -- all that can be done for seasickness after the fact. Take the plane.
It was briefly a secret that Les Saintes, particularly Terre- de- Haut, had replaced St. Barth as the preferred get away for the glitterati, but the world has duly taken note of where the hard currency was going, and the island is heavily under construction. A pity. As with St. Barth, there is too little water to support a large population, and over- development spells disaster to the people who live there and make their living from the sea.
Terre-de-Haut is a pleasant desert island where virtually every place is within walking distance from the village of Terre- de- Haut. The island is about three miles long and one wide, and most people rent scooters or mountain bikes to get around. It is easy to walk to your destination on the island (it is hilly in places, but that's good for your legs).
There is a nude beach which can be reached from the village of Terre- de- Haut on a 45 minute walk. Unfortunately, Anse de Crawen has been ravaged by Hurricane Luis and little remains but rocks where sand once lay. A few hardy souls were laying about between the rocks or were out enjoying the gentle swells that were washing up on the shore. In this photo, you can hardly tell the people from the rocks.
NOTE: We have received a message dated 19 Janauary 1997 stating that nude sunbathers on Anse de Crawen are being fined. The message states:
Hi! Here's an update for you: nudity is officially banned on Anse Crawen on Terre-de-Haut, Les Saintes, Guadeloupe, and enforced (albeit erratically) by police imposing fines that arbitrarily range from $20-200. Topless is OK. Apparently, a few years ago the Mayor of Terre-de-Haut unilaterally banned nudity in the interests of the locals' sensitivities, even though few locals use the beach. On our first day on the beach 2 weeks ago, two uniformed policemen showed up and fined a Frenchman the equivalent of $20 for nudity; they simply gave us a warning. The previous week, according to some people we met, the police rounded up an international collection of about ten nude bathers and were preparing to fine each the equivalent of $200, when it started raining and everyone fled. The police seem to have spies: a couple of local young men, fully clothed, who walk the length of the beach and scrutinize everyone. No police showed up for the rest of our visit (perhaps because we went to the Mayor's office to protest the ban and the selective and inconsistent fining; he declined to see us), though the "spies" were in evidence.
Second NOTE: We have an update from our visit in April 2000, when we found naked people on that beach. See our update.
Crawen is about a 5- minute walk from Hotel Bois Joli, so we dropped by for lunch. The snack bar is next to the pool and overlooks the beach, so we had a drink and enjoyed the view of Ilet à Cabrit and cloud- ridden Basse Terre in the background. Lunch was upstairs where we watched a couple with two children enjoy building sand castles. While the father packed up the belongings and cared for a sleeping infant, the mother washed the hands of their 4 or 5 year old son in the surf (several times since he returned to the castle every time), finally carrying him barefoot into the waves, washing off the sand from his hands and feet, and carrying him back to the beach towel where she dried him off and put on his shoes and socks. He then got his hands sandy on the castle one last time, so he went to wash off his hands. A wave came in knee high, filling his shoes with water. This had clearly never happened to him before, and he enjoyed squishing water out of his shoes as he walked back to the towel. The lunch we had was okay, but not as memorable as the boy and his sand. Our lunch was a nice omelette fines herbes for 32 francs and a tuna steak for 90 francs; a quarter liter of white wine was 10.50 F.
The beach at Hotel Bois Joli was also taken apart by Luis, appearing to be half its former width, but still useable. (In talking with others who had been on Terre- de- Haut for some length of time, we learned that all the beaches on the island had taken a pounding.) Hotel Bois Joli has both hotel rooms and bungalows available. Reservations are recommended in season. Telephone 99.50.38; FAX 99.55.05. (Country code 590.) They have a van that will pick you up at the dock or the airport. (Take the plane.)
With its hilly terrain, the island has many great views. It is covered with charming houses and goats, and picture opportunities abound. There really are houses on the beach with fishermen tending their nets nearby. You'll see the guys we call the "Drunk Dropouts Who Don't Seem to Acutally Do Anything" who can survive only on small tropical islands or in certain governmental agencies. Women bake "Torment d'Amore" (wonderful small tarts with coconut, pineapple, and other fillings) and sell them (4 for 10 francs) from baskets at the marina. It's hard to feel like a tourist here because there really isn't a tourist "industry."
We spent a pleasant day wandering around the little isle. There is a large crucifix on a hill near the approach to the airport (take the plane) which gives a wonderful view of Le Bourg and the harbor. A little farther on up the hill is the island cemetary, just across the street from the airport.
The pharmacy was busy again in the early afternoon selling seasick pills to those who had neglected them on the way over (and the pharmacist offered another bit of advice: "Take the plane"). After a pleasant wait on the raodside overlooking the harbor, with a soft drink and "Torment d'Amore," we boarded the ferry for the return to Pointe-à-Pitre. This time, the passengers lining the starboard rail were in for the drenching, and nobody laughed or screamed at the beginning of the pitching ride. But the number of ill passengers was markedly less, so take the dramamine if you don't take the plane. (At the end of the trip, another ferry boat caught up with ours, and the two captains waved at each other, held up their hands indicating numbers, and laughed. We're sure that they were not bragging about the number of passengers rendered ill.)
After disembarking, we walked around the quay to La Canne à Sucre and had a drink. La Canne à Sucre is on the dock immediately adjacent to where cruise ships berth, and one was departing as we enjoyed sitting in chairs that did not try to throw us out of them. The ship was huge and towered over the buildings. It pulled slowly and quietly away, and sailed off, literally into the sunset, with people waving from the upper decks.
We took a cab to and from the marina where the ferries dock. Parking at Pointe-à-Pitre is difficult to find around the port. Our cab fare was posted in the hotel at 45 F. Taking a taxi back was easy; there is a taxi stand at Place de l'Victoire, just across the street from the dockside market. The fare was metered for the ride back and came in at just under 45 F.
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