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Beef Island (BVI) - Guadeloupe 22 - 25 April

The landing, immigration, and parking fees at Beef Island airport were dirt cheap compared with Cuba, amounting to about US$ 22. Having saved 2 nights by not visiting Turks and Caicos, we decided to go to Guadeloupe instead.  We were ready for some French Creole culture.

After a 1 hour 37 minute flight, we landed in sunshine at Pointe à Pitre airport.   We had thought of flying on to Terre du Haut - one of Les Saintes islands to the south of Basse Terre (the western wing of the butterfly-shaped country), since we knew there was an airstrip there.  But we had a chat with a local airline pilot who told us the runway was very short with a downhill slope into the prevailing trade wind.  What's more, it was  located between hills which could make for a tricky, turbulent approach. (Mooneys don't land very well downhill - they just keep flying.)  In fact, it is so tricky that pilots have to go through an instructor check-out before they are allowed to land there.  With such a short downhill runway, it was anyway out of the question for a Mooney to land there. It's only a 20-minute ferry ride to the island from Trois Rivières at the south of Basse Terre, so we decided on taking the ferry on the last day of our 4-night stay in Guadeloupe.

After completing customs and immigration formalities, we needed to get back out of the terminal to the plane in order to move it over to the Aéroclub on the other side of the runway.  (We would have had to pay a hefty parking fee on the airport terminal side).  This was one of those frustrating occasions when no one seemed to know where to send us to let us out of the terminal.  We kept getting confronted with locked doors until, by luck, I discovered an escape route.

Fortunately, the car rental companies were just across the road from the Aéroclub, but it still took us about an hour and a half to get out of the airport. We rented a Renault Clio and headed for Basse Terre.  We had no intention of staying on the resort strip to the south-east of Pointe-à-Pitre. They have the best beaches there, but Basse Terre with its mountains and rain forest was more appealing to us. Also, there is good diving at the Cousteau reserve near Pigeon Island to the west of Basse Terre.

We booked into the only 3-star hotel on Basse Terre, called the Domaine de  Malendure.  At about US$ 100 a night, it was more than we usually like to pay, but the duplex rooms were attractively designed to look like wooden south-sea island houses and  the view from our balcony was superb.  While Flemming struggled to get connected to the Internet from the phone line in our room, I caught the last rays of sunshine by the pool.

Although we had got up early in Virgin Gorda and the flight to Guadeloupe was relatively short, it was 5 p.m. by the time we found our hotel.  We decided that four nights was the minimum we should spend in each Caribbean country so we would have to skip either St Lucia or Grenada in order to arrive in Tobago on 4 May.

Next morning, Flemming booked a dive trip to Pigeon Island and I went along and snorkelled. The snorkelling wasn't brilliant but Flemming said the diving was almost as good as in Cozumel (Mexico) and very reasonably priced. In addition, Flemming had done his very first SCUBA dive there 24 years ago, so he was keen to see it again. Needless to say, there were a 100 times more divers, but the protection measures have been effective and the underwater life was almost as good as a quarter of a century ago. In the afternoon, we went for a walk in the lush rain forest in the centre of the island to the Cascade des Ecrevisses.

Flemming went on another dive the next morning before we checked out of the hotel and drove to Trois Rivières. We wanted to stay near the ferry to Terre du Haut (Les Saintes) which left early the next morning.  We booked into a small hotel and drove to the mountains for a walk to the Chutes du Carbet.  The highest   fall that we saw was an impressive 110 metres.  We had planned on a short walk around a lake too, but it started bucketing down and we had to make a run for the car.

We took the 8 o'clock ferry to Terre du Haut where we stayed at l'Auberge Les Petits Saints aux Anacardiers just above the cute little town of Bourg des Saintes, which looks a bit like a village in Normandy. The Auberge is a  'Hotel de Charme' full of paintings, objets d'art, etc.  It made us feel very much at home as we like to stay in hotels with lots of character when we spend long weekends in France.   What's more, the hotel must  have the best setting, food, wine and music in Bourg des Saintes.

We rented a scooter and zipped around the island, stopping off at different beaches.  There was some excellent snorkelling off the beach at Pain de Sucre.  We swam through a huge shoal of small silvery-blue fish which went on for about 50 metres.  Neither of us had ever seen such a concentration of fish before.   I also spotted a sea snake and what looked like a marine centipede.  Flemming saw a big shoal of very large barracuda about 15 metres down.

Pity we had to leave early the next morning to catch the 6.45 am ferry back to Trois Rivières.  I wouldn't have minded a few lazy days there.

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Banana flower near the Cascades des Ecrevisses (Basse Terre, Guadeloupe)

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The Bas David stream near Cascades des Ecrevisses
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Flemming trying to put roots down in the forest
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On the way to Deshaies on the west coast of Basse Terre, we saw this colourful sunset
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The 110 meter tall Chute du Carbet
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The 'traces des crêtes' walk from Baie de Pont Pierre (Terre du Haut)
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Bourg des Saintes seen from Fort Napoleon
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