Having spent four months in an alpine valley, a week in the good old UK and 24 hours in sub-zero New York City, I stepped off a plane into this paradisiacal land of sunshine, palm trees, reggae music and endless rum cocktails. It would be a gross understatement to say my body was somewhat confused by this extreme change in climate, but I’m delighted that summer has started in February for me this year!
After two weeks in this very foreign land, I am now drinking the tap water here and leaving the house without my insect repellent… if that doesn’t say ‘settled-in’, I don’t know what does. But in any case, life here is pretty wonderful and I almost feel guilty that this is supposedly an educational experience, when I’m effectively on holiday in a tropical paradise. I could probably fill a (smallish) book with first time experiences and wonderfully bizarre things I’ve seen and done already, hence my attempts to list a few of them below…
Cockroaches and cool wildlife
I don’t want to deter anyone by starting off talking about insects, but given it was one of my first experiences of the island I thought it rather fitting. The story is nothing more than the fact that the first thing I saw upon entering the small bathroom in the house was a pretty massive cockroach crawling up the wall of the shower. I like to think it was just welcoming me into the house, because thankfully I haven’t seen it since. Anyway, Guadeloupe is a whirring hub of nature and wildlife, and every day I stumble across new things I’ve never seen before. My walk to work often consists of a crab (or hermit crab) crossing the path in front of me, the birds here are exquisite, and there are tiny frogs that make funny noises in the night.
Lesson number one for living in Guadeloupe: there are buses but there are no timetables. You could be waiting at a bus stop for anywhere between five and forty-five minutes. Add to that the fact they only seem to work in the mornings. Hence, the most common way to get around here is by hitch-hiking. Yes, I was a good girl for my first few days here and vowed never to risk my life by getting into a stranger’s car. However, I was waiting at a bus stop one day and ended up getting picked up along with two others by a very friendly Rasta-looking man, and after that it became apparent that everyone on this island is unbelievably friendly and helpful. It also became apparent that my being a ‘young white girl’ significantly helps me out here. After my first autostop experience, and having pondered for a while who on earth I was and what I was becoming, I found myself walking along a road cautiously sticking a thumb out. This place CHANGES you…
Another thing I’d never seen before which totally blew my mind. There are carnivals here almost every weekend between January and March, and they are quite something else. A mass of colour, creativity and music which you simply can’t miss, especially if they parade right past your house, in our case! I was amazed by the thriving talent of these Creole people, and by the positive energy which surrounded the whole spectacle.
Thanks to the geothermal activity in Guadeloupe, and its apparently active volcano La Soufrière, it is not uncommon to stumble across hot springs or bains chauds as they are usually referred to. There is one just down the road from us which I have visited twice now, both at night time. It is the most bizarre thing swimming into the sea and finding the water at a luxurious 33 degrees Celsius, but equally amazing. Unfortunately, it does smell pretty strongly of rotten eggs due to the sulphur, but somehow that adds to the novelty of the whole experience…
Working at a diving club, I suppose it was about time I did my first scuba dive. The Cousteau Reserve is at the heart of the Guadeloupe national park and widely renowned amongst the diving community, so definitely a good place to be ‘baptised’ as the French like to say. It’s fair to say I panicked at the prospect of being able to breathe underwater, but once I got over that and started looking around, the things I saw were incredible. It’s a literal aquarium down there, with all kinds of fish, coral, and turtles too. For someone who was once (and maybe still is a little) scared of the sea, this was a pretty hefty milestone. It’s amazing to be able to try new things like this however, and I’ve rather taken to snorkelling in my own time as well.
I feel I have yet to discover a lot of what this island has to offer in terms of gastronomy. I have now been to three different restaurants, all at which I ended up with very a similar dish. This consisted of a considerable amount of smoked barbecue chicken, chips or gratin (mashed potato) and salad. The food itself was delicious albeit lacking in a bit of variety. I have also discovered accras which I think is the closest thing I’m going to get to a falafel out here. All in all, I have eaten well, and I am sure there will be more foodie updates to come.
It’s hard to believe I’ve been on the island for two weeks now, but it’s safe to say I’m loving it. Furthermore, being the youngest by nearly 10 years and the only English person for miles, it’s been an interesting settling in period and lots of fun for my French speaking skills!