Saturday, March 31, 2012

Marie Galante

The nation of Guadeloupe consists of two large islands, and several smaller ones.  All are considered a Department of France.

One of the smaller islands is Marie Galante.  This is a quite unusual island for the Caribbean.  From the sea, it looks flat as a pancake.  Quite a contrast from the typical steep slopes and mountainous terrain we usually see.

Because it is so flat, Marie Galante has historically been an agricultural center.  There is still a lot of sugar cane grown there.

We like the island because it is a great place to go hiking.  The government has established several trails across the island.  We have learned the hard way that the maintenance of the trail markings has been small to none, but the island is small and it is hard to get too far off the track.

As we were hiking this visit, we noticed that there seemed to be an unusually large number of cattle, and especially bulls.  This seemed odd, because how many bulls does such a small island really need?  Then it struck us:  these weren't bulls after all -- they were oxen.  The residents still use oxen to haul sugar cane from the fields to the mill.

Some sailors think that Marie Galante isn't a good place to visit, because the anchorage is quite wide open.  Our experience has been that the anchorage is quite pleasant.  There is protection from big seas from the main part of Guadeloupe.  It would probably be quite rolly after a prolonged period of strong winds from the northeast, but that is quite unlikely this late in the year.

We had one unexpected adventure on Marie Galante.  We had decided to visit the village of Capesterre on the windward side of the island.  It has a reputation for having a great beach, protected by nearby reefs.  We had planned to take a taxi, but none were to be found when we arrived on the island.  The tourist office suggested a local bus.  That sounded like fun, and a way to save money, too.  It took two buses:  one to the town of Grand Bourg, and then a second to Capesterre.  The beach was wonderful, and we had an excellent lunch in Le Galette, a restaurant right on the beach.  After lunch a bit more time in the water, and then time to go home.  We walked back to the village, only to discover that the buses stop running at 1:00 pm on Wednesdays (guess what day of the week it was).  What to do?  More than 20km back to the boat, no taxis, and no bus.  Well, we walked back to Le Galette and begged for help.  They tried calling a taxi for us, but no answer.  Finally, one of the people there volunteered that her friend needed to head in that direction, and she called him and asked him to give us a lift.

Herve runs the Sa Ka Plonje dive center on Marie Galante.  We were extremely grateful that he was willing to help us out. He has excellent English, and was just generally a nice person.  During the trip to Saint Louis, we talked about dive schools.  We learned a lot about the advantages of smaller operations.  We will certainly think hard about arranging a course when we visit Marie Galante next year.

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