Sunday 2 February 2020

Les Saintes

We sail through the pass between Grand Ilet and Le Cloche and lower the mainsail in the still water between the islands where two superyachts are anchored. All around are green hills dotted with red rooftops and at the top of the bay is the adorable town of Bourg des Saintes.  As we motor up towards the village a small motor launch approaches us and the driver, smartly dressed in white, helps us to tie up to one of the mooring buoys.  He explains in French where the customs office is, where we should pay our mooring fees and wishes us Bonne Journee. We are in Les Iles des Saintes, a group of eight small islands off the south coast of Guadeloupe and it is one of our favourite destinations in the Caribbean.

We dinghy across the short expanse of water to the village and tie up at the wooden dock.   The main street is a narrow alley, lined with colourful restaurants and small stylish boutiques that spill out onto the pavement, brightly coloured garments waving in the gentle breeze. Couples of all ages, still wet from the beach, wander through the lanes, eating ice creams while they wait for a ferry to take them back to Guadeloupe.  The sign to the customs office directs us up a flight of wooden steps to a bar above an ice cream parlour. We fill out our passport details on a computer, collect the form from a printer, pay our three euros and we are officially cleared into this French outpost.   We book a table in one of the restaurants on the edge of the water and return to Hera for a swim before supper.

Everything is easy here and the comparison to our previous anchorage on the island of Dominica is stark.  In the French islands there isn’t the poverty that is so visible elsewhere in the Caribbean. Locals seem to work side by side with immigrants from mainland France and it appears to create a more integrated community.  It is clean and efficient while maintaining the slightly shabby look of the Caribbean; small white washed houses with brightly coloured painted balconies and flowers growing in abundance.

We spend the next few days exploring the islands and enjoying the delicious food.  ‘Accras de Morue”, or fish fritters, have become our benchmark for assessing the quality of a restaurant and we begin every meal with a shared plate of these crispy mouthfuls. Fish of the day is usually Dorado or Marlin, which has a meaty texture like a swordfish.  Supper is interrupted by the sound of drumming and we hurry outside to see a procession dancing behind a van with speakers tied to the bumpers that thump out a repetitive, staccato beat. A child of eighteen months, held in his fathers arms, holds out his hands and bounces in perfect time to the music, eyes bright with excitement and a wide smile showing two snowy white teeth.  As we amble back to the dock we come across a three-piece jazz band playing on the waterfront outside a restaurant. We sit on the dock under the stars cross-legged listening to a bluesy rendition of  ‘Georgia on my mind”.  

The following day we take the dinghy around the point to a remote beach on the Southern side of the island. We pull the dinghy up onto the soft sand and swim parallel to the beach for our daily exercise and then undo our good work by sharing a bottle of cold Prosecco and peanuts from the cool box. It’s a lovely way to spend a few days with Rosie and Saz, and we spend a lot of time admiring these perfect little islands, eating, swimming and laughing. 

The weather is very settled and unusually for the Eastern Caribbean at this time of year there is no wind so we motor the forty miles north to Antigua where Saz and Rosie will fly home. As we enter English Harbour we hear a familiar voice from the water shouting “Frewie!”;  it is Simon and Sara Howes, great friends from the Isle of Wight who are on holiday here.  It is a marvellous coincidence that our paths should cross and we meet for lunch at their hotel on the beach, with Hera anchored in the bay. It’s the perfect send off for Saz and Rosie who leave us today to fly back to the UK. 

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