Living in Les Saintes - April 27th, 2002
I know it's been too long since my last log entry, But it's not for a lack of interesting events on which to write. Instead Miranda and I, over the past two months, have been sucked into land living once again. Yes, we've been living on a tiny island in the Caribbean, but even here it doesn't take long before you are into a routine and the days begin to fly by, one after another.
The island we've been living on is called Terre de Haut, and it is one of two inhabited islands that make up the archipelago of Les Saintes situated 5 miles or so south of Guadeloupe. Above you can see the town where we lived, Le Bourg, and get an idea of the islands size. Walking to the other side took all of 10 minutes! Baggywrinkle was anchored just off the fishing boat lined beach in front of the town and a row in the dinghy got us ashore. In fact Miranda and I got very good at rolling up our pants, jumping out of the dinghy just as it hit the beach, then lifting and carrying the dinghy up the beach to the palm tree under which we had our reserved parking space.
The island is French and still has strong ties to the Normandy. Many of the locals who runs shops are originally from France and the majority of tourists are French. Today the island is geared more towards tourism, but only recently has hospitality overtaken fishing as the primary occupation on the island. A small tourism office has sprung up since I was here five years ago, but it is limited in what it offers, and the assistants behind the desk spoke only French. Each morning a ferry arrives from Guadeloupe and brings a boatload of fresh tourists, who scour the island, rent scooters, buy clothes, eat ice cream, fill the beaches, and look for a place where they can withdraw more money (there is none, as the local bank closed its island branch and the ATM has stopped working).
But, before the ferry arrives in the morning and after it departs in the afternoon the island reverts to a sleepy town ruled by the fishermen. At 5am each morning the boats go out, small boats (6 meters long) that hold two or three men and have one or two medium outboard engines on them. Around noon they return to their moorings along the beachfront and begin emptying the bilges of Dorado. Mahi Mahi, Dolphin Fish, or Dorado is a staple of the diet here, and like most things, the French know how to cook it beautifully. Miranda and I were never found complaining about the food here. In fact we found an ice cream shop that served what I consider the best ice cream I've ever had. Certainly, the ambiance added to the pleasant experience, but the proprietor of this new shop had been to Italy no fewer than 6 times to study the ways of making Italian ice cream from a master. Our daily dose of chocolate, or mango, or creme caramel ice cream is one of the things we will miss most about this island!
I spent two months living and working in Les Saintes 5 years ago, and that was one of the main reasons for our lengthy stay here this time. Five years ago I flew down, knowing very little about the island, to help a man named Yves Cohen set up a website for his clothing shop. Yves and I met through my parents who at the time had been cruising in the area. They walked into his elegant shop here in Les Saintes and began talking to him, and when he mentioned he was interested in having a website they suggested he get in touch with me. At the time I was living in LA, but a few phone calls later I had agreed to fly to Guadeloupe with a computer and build the first website on the island. Yves designs and manufactures a beautiful line of tropical clothing which he hand batiks on one of the deserted islands just off Terre de Haut. Take a look at his clothing (and my website) at www.maogany.com.
This time I would be working on the website again for after five years it was time for a redesign. It was good timing for us because after carnival in Trinidad (and a new Steel Pan) we had nearly emptied the kitty. Yves' house is upstairs from his shop, and he lives there with his Brazilian wife, Deni, their 12 year old daughter and 8 year old son. When we arrived at the beginning of March I began work on the site redesign and Miranda began working in the house helping Deni with cleaning and cooking. Miranda's work was menial, and became very boring very quickly. She was happy to continue with it in order to make some money. But, for lack of work and other reasons Miranda happily stopped working. She spent the last month learning to dive and getting certified, while I continued to work away in front of the computer. My situation was not without difficulty as well, for the old adage that mixing work and pleasure is trouble was proved quite true.
During our first month here my brother Jon came to visit us for a week. It was wonderful for us to have him here, and it was a relaxing break for him from the cold of a Boston winter, and the stress of first year medical school. We had a very relaxing time with him climbing the mountains of the various islands, snorkeling, relaxing on the boat and most importantly learning national anthems. Miranda, who by far had the best voice, learned the Star Spangled Banner quite quickly. Next it was Jon's turn to learn what is for all intents and purposes the Aussie anthem, Waltzing Matilda. But the song that we were all singing together by the end of the week was: "Give me a home among the gum trees...."
Jon joined us for a sail over to Point a Pitre in Guadeloupe, and spent a couple of nice days with us there before he had to fly back home. We stayed on in Guadeloupe for a week after that because it was Passover. Yves had booked a room at a local beach resort hotel for the week. It is where he and his family usually stayed for holidays as it is close to the only synagogue in Guadeloupe. Miranda and I slept on the boat which was anchored a 20 minute walk away, but during the day we took full advantage of the resort, lounged by the pool and the beach, sipped drinks at the beach bar, and played tennis. Of course at night we went to the synagogue where the prayers were in Hebrew and the sermon in French, so it was pretty much all lost on both Miranda and myself. It was interesting to watch, the first time, but got pretty repetitive after that.
A week in Point a Pitre and we were ready to leave the fast paced life of luxury and return to the peaceful quiet of Terre de Haut. I returned to the computer and Miranda began diving regularly. Her instructor was a fabulous teacher about her age and he spoke just enough English to communicate with her. She loved being able to take her time and look at the underwater world she had only explored thus far through snorkeling. She was relaxed and comfortable almost at once, and (although it's a tired pun it is appropriate) she took to it like a fish to water. Today we took our last dive here in Les Saintes, and had a nice time together looking at Moray Eels, Cleaning Shrimp, Lobsters, Green Turtles, Nurse Sharks, beautiful fish and colorful sponges.
Yesterday I finished the website, and it was a big relief to have it done. So, now that I'm officially unemployed again we can start moving. In the next day or two we'll provision the galley, check over the rigging, and clean the barnacles off the bottom. Then we'll hoist the main and see if we remember how to sail!