Saturday, December 20, 2008

Deshaies River Scramble

Scenes from Deshaies

[Kyle]Our first order of business was to clear customs; all sources of information alerted us to the fact that customs in Deshaies was very unreliable, and we were not expecting to find anyone in the customs office. We crossed our fingers, collected up our paperwork and headed up an unbelievably steep hill towards the customs office. To our great relief (and surprise) Monday was the one day of the week they were open all day (all other weekdays they were only open for 1 hour, and the hour varied each day). In spite of our horrible French, the Port captain and his assistant were all smiles, friendly and helpful. We even got pre-cleared out of the country so we would not have to return to customs when we headed back for Antigua – a nice bonus.

We rowed back to the boat to secure our paperwork and hoist the French flag (indicating we had been cleared in). We returned back to the charming village of Deshaies where we planned a walk along the Deshaies river which our guidebook described as a shady scramble.

Unlike Antigua, which is covered mostly with low scrub, Guadeloupe is very thickly covered with big tropical plants and has much more the feel of a tropical jungle so we were looking forward to diving into that headfirst.

We followed a concrete road along the river side, then a forest trail, until that detoured away from the river. From here, scratching our heads, we double checked our guidebook and discovered we should be IN the river, not on the path alongside the river. The guide specifically said hopping from rock to rock up the river. SO… we scrambled back down the hill, and proceeded to leap from rock to rock up the river. The river, while not large, was fairly steep, had some fast running areas, this was not an easy stepping stone activity, but rather a leap from one slippery rock to another, and in some cases a bit closer to rock climbing. There were many places where a missed step would have meant a broken ankle/leg and no easy access to rescue – we were being very careful – the further we went the more we felt we should keep going to the end (where the route back was a safe and gentle stroll on a paved road).

In spite of the shade, it was very hot and we were tired and sore from the hard effort of working our way up the river. After 3 hours (guidebook indicated 2), we reached the place where the river intersected a road (we could easily have missed it). Our guidebook spurred us on, only another 15 minutes up the river we were promised a waterfall from a cave into a pool where we could swim and cool down – so on we went – through mud, under tree trunks and over boulders the size of cars. The river was becoming increasingly difficult to navigate, and we were also getting tired, after half an hour of this and several episodes of “let me just go ahead and see if it is around the next corner” as Maryanne lagged behind, I came around a final corner and saw another half mile of boulders edged on each side by steep, impassable cliffs – that was IT, we were DONE with this walk! Maryanne did not put up a fight.

We turned back and made our way back to where the road came close the river. By then I had become so tired from the days scrambling that I was becoming unsteady and had several scary falls into the river; I was glad to get to a nice flat paved road. Finally joining the road, we started our walk back into the town. Two things were immediately evident about the roads.
  • Unlike Antigua and Barbuda, the roads (and all the other infrastructure) here are in very good shape - European standards!
  • Apparently because it does not snow, the roads simply go straight up or down whatever hill (or mountain) they need to traverse. I have never seen hills so steep anywhere - San Francisco has nothing on these hills. They were so steep it would have been impossible to ride a bicycle up, and suicidal to ride one down. I was amazed that the small French cars could handle the grade.
Anyway, we finally made it back into the village of Deshaies. Since it was my birthday, we had originally intended to get some food at one of the many restaurants overlooking the bay, but we were tired, sweaty and in my case wet - so we returned to the boat (intending to change). Once we got back to the boat, we collapsed, gravity took over and we did not leave again that day. We decided that my birthday observed would be the next day instead!

[Maryanne]Deshaies is a tiny fishing village, but it is also one of the few customs offices in Guadeloupe (the only one on the NW coast) - a point of entrance and exit for passing pleasure boats. It is really a 2 street town, with the river (more like a stream) and a harbour full of local, colorful, fishing boats, with a few dive boats for the occassional tourists. It has a laid back atmosphere, everyone passing you says "bonjour". The beach is a very thin line of large cobbles (very few patches of sand). There has recently been some severe storm damage to many of the buildings that sit alongside the bay. The town dock was gone, a powerboat was in up in the patio/veranda of one home, and a few buildings had whole walls missing. One church, one butchers, one pharmacy (no razors!), however, there were many more restaurants than I would have expected, and a couple of tourist shops, a very small town. It was quick and easy to get to know your way around. We liked it.

1 comment:

Mommy Dearest said...

Well, hello and welcome back. I've missed hearing from and about you and wondered where you had disappeared to. Now I see. It seems Deshaies offers the friendly welcome you did NOT find in Antigua and a bit higher standards for things (missing side of the building aside). From the photos you posted, it looks more like Paradise Lost than Antigua and I hope you have a wonderful time sampling the local restaurants, at least. That trek IN the river is almost funny--it reminds me of The Office episode where they drive the car into a river because the GPS tells them to go straight ahead. No doubt the spectacular falls and cooling pool were just around some corner or other, but whew. At any rate, it's good to see your new posts and to know you're alright--I was beginning go to into Mommy Worry. Have fun!