Thursday, October 15, 2009

Surinam & French Guiana

Welcome to the place in South America where everybody speaks Dutch.
The Fatman’s Surinamese associate had come over on the ferry to meet me. My bag was already stowed in his minivan and I was at the end of a long single file being processed into the country. Finally my passport was stamped and I was on the bus. It was 1 pm and I was heading towards Paramaribo (pronounced ParaMARibo).
The road across Guyana had basically been a strip development of cane fields and stilt houses surrounded by forest. Here in Surinam it was pretty much uninhabited bush. As with the Amazon basin next door there was actually absolutely nothing inspiring about this ‘rainforest’. It was just endless, rather spindly and boring trees (and I generally really like trees) growing upon rather poor soil. When you consider it, the Dutch were colonizing here in 1650. If there were any natural resources to exploit, they would have done so. And today the place would be populated and rich.
Around 5:30 we had made it into the country’s only city. It was substantively cleaner and better off than Georgetown, although still simple and poor. Surprisingly there were few blacks, although there was every kind of brown, from Indonesian to Indian to Amerindian, with a fair chunk of Chinese thrown in. When we got to the small, cute, old Dutch colonial center of town, the driver dropped me off at my guesthouse.
But when I got inside, exhausted after over twelve hours of traveling, I found that they had lost my reservation. And were full up. The girl was, however, nice enough to call around and find me another place. And then called a taxi to take me the few blocks so that I didn’t get lost in the darkening city.
I had gained an hour, so it was after eight when I finally had my stuff in the room. And I hadn’t eaten all day. So my guesthouse people told me where I could find a place around a twenty minute walk away. Off I went.
When I got to the area I was shocked to see white people walking around. Guyana’s official population profile has less than 200 native born white people. And I had just been bouncing through the almost trackless jungle. But here I was, exhausted and famished, sitting at a restaurant surrounded by pasty, clueless middle aged people who looked like they had just gotten off the plane from Amsterdam.
They had. It turned out that Surinam had become a semi-trendy eco-destination for Europeans, and this here was what passed for the fancy hotel district. Such as it was. At least the food, when it finally arrived, was pretty good.
Back to the guesthouse. Just checked in was Rick, another 100 country backpacker type whom I had briefly met on the ferry from Guyana. Looked like this was the only place in town not fully booked. By now it was after ten, and I turned in for the evening.
Since the country was totally flat and completely forested outside of town, and therefore nothing else to independently do in Surinam, Thursday had been set aside for touring Paramaribo. There wasn’t all that much to tour, here, either, but Rick came along as we walked around the colonial part with the strange Dutch wooden buildings, passed the few government buildings, and entered the old fort/museum. And to stretch the time out we regaled each other with our travel stories.
By early afternoon I was pretty hungry, and we both were reliving the common travel story of not being able to find anywhere to eat. An Indian guy took us for block after block to find an ‘Indian restaurant’, but when we entered the grungy snack bar they were just closing up. Aggh! I was about to get a severe headache.
What to do? Where to go? Then we turned a corner, and there, very incongruously, was a Burger King. With BK Veggies! Not that I’m very likely to go there when I’m home, but anyone familiar with trying to find edible food in the Third World will understand the paroxysms of joy that I experienced.
Satiated, we wandered back to the guesthouse, still trading travel stories. Not much else to do in Paramaribo.
Friday was the day for my mad dash to French Guiana and back. I had thought that I would have to leave at four in the morning, but Yayo, my guesthouse host, also had a restaurant in St. Laurent, the French side’s border town. And he reassured me that it was only a two and a half hour ride. Nor did I have to worry about catching no stinkin’ ferry.
So I was at the Albina (Surinam’s border town) taxi/bus depot area a little before 8, and immediately I was the final passenger in a share taxi. Soon we were jolting crazily along a poorly maintained road on the 120 mile journey. It was a long 120 miles.
Yayo had pointed out that most people in the area didn’t bother with no stinkin’ border formalities, either. But being an old, conservative guy who didn’t want to entertain the possibility of spending days in a Surinamese jail, I had the cab take me the little distance upriver where I could legally exit. Passport stamped, I quickly found a pirogue--a long, canoe-ish outboard motor boat--to take me on the five minute journey across one more wide, brown river. Then I was legally stamped into French Guiana.
The population surrounding me had become overwhelmingly black again. Even though I was once again in an integral part of France, this was about as poor as France could get. Although that was still a bit richer than Surinam and a hell of a lot better off than Guyana.
Still, pretty funky. I walked for about a mile on the main drag parallel the river, the town straggling along with myriads of groceries and other small businesses.
When I got to a small, distinctively worn out and decayed Colonial era wooden church I turned left. And then a few hundred meters along, right before the river, was the prison camp that had been the processing center for the prisoners going to Devil’s Island off shore. I don’t know if they used these very buildings for the Papillon movie, but if they didn’t, then they copied them exactly. As it was, even with cars parked nearby, the grungy beat up buildings evoked the era perfectly. I walked around to my heart’s content, then meandered down to the river and sat and contemplated it all briefly.
So far the climate in the Guianas hadn’t seemed nearly as bad as I had feared. In fact I had been thinking that Steve McQueen was a total wuss. Then the full sun came out for a few minutes. It gets real intense when you’re smack dab on the equator. Now as I was walking back through town there was the first actual burst of rain on my entire trip. Thundering drops on tin roofs. I stood under one of them until the rain stopped as suddenly as it had started. Then I strolled down to the tiny French immigration booth and had myself stamped out. I went over to the river bank. It almost felt like Africa, with pirogue guys yelling good naturedly, ’Hey! Big Man! Over here!’
I got in one pirogue, but it was pretty small and dicey. And I didn’t fancy flailing around in the muddy water. So I got off and chose another, more substantial one. In a few minutes I was legally back in Surinam.
I liked being back in Surinam. The people were all very nice. And honest. After being such an object of commerce in the Caribbean, and then having made it through somewhat dangerous Guyana, it was calm and refreshing to be in a simple, safe haven.
But it was slow in the mid afternoon, and it took about an hour before there was a full taxi load for Paramaribo. On the way back I was reminded of how stupid I am to continue doing this. My driver was careening along doing 80 passing some other guy who wasn’t paying attention to anything. And who swerved towards us and came close enough to collapse my guy’s side view mirror. With me just on the other side. Fortunately, though, once again it was just a close call.
I was back in Paramaribo before 5, and was dropped off at the Burger King. But the line there was about forty minutes long, so I walked back to the guesthouse, found Rick, and went over to the restaurant I had gone to on Wednesday.
Since I had thought that French Guiana would be a lot more grueling than it was, I had slotted Saturday for rest and recovery. Just as well, since I was feeling old and tired and like everything was difficult. Rick and I wandered around a little more, took a taxi to an actual Indian restaurant in somebody’s home, and got ridiculously overfed.
Back to the guesthouse. Pack for tomorrow. Ponder this strange, flat area of the world, this appendage to nowhere. I hadn’t thought of the place as all that humid. But my passport was curled up like a wet, dead leaf. My American dollars were so thin and limp that they could have been turned into spitballs. I re-thought my position.
And concluded that in actuality I was one incredible, tough dude.

Friday, October 09, 2009


Into the Heart of Darkness.
Actually, that was the Congo. But the Guianas aren’t too far behind in the imagination. Hot, swampy, and flat. Only a few scattered deranged inhabitants. No roads connecting them to the rest of the world.
Actually, Brazil is in the middle of constructing one. But if there are still any ends of the earth, these geographical entities would fit the bill. And after all these years contemplating the possibility, here I finally was flying into one of them.
Island hopping was pretty much over. When we stopped to transfer planes in Barbados, that had been the 17th one I had been on since the trip began. Now we were approaching a continent. A long unbroken and flat line of green vegetation approached on the horizon. Soon below me were wide brown rivers and endless bush. And then we were on the ground. In a few minutes I was through Immigration and delighted to see that my bag had made it, too. Yay! All those Liat flights and not a single screw up! (Although Winair had been two for two.)
Minibus 42 was circling around, and soon I was squashed in it along with about 10 others and we were bouncing our way the 20 miles or so into Georgetown. All along the road were small wooden slat houses on stilts, some of them poor but honest, others looking like rundown 1945 beach houses that had been left to rot for another twenty years. Tiny little businesses and hole in the wall Chinese restaurants. On the other side of them the wide brown Demarara River. Traffic and more standing water.
At some point everything got slightly more urban, and then we were at a junction of several large, almost immense, certainly distinctive, rundown baroque slatted wooden buildings that was basically the center of Guyana’s capital city. The driver didn’t want to go any further due to ‘traffic’. On the other hand, it had only been $3 for me and my baggage. So I started walking in the direction of my reserved guesthouse. After a few directional errors in the hot, humid sun, and a little more than a half an hour later, I had found it.
The Rima Guesthouse advertised itself as ‘The Cleanest Guesthouse In Georgetown’. Well, it wasn’t a total dump. And from what I had seen so far on my6 walk through town, they may well have been correct. Anyway, for $28 I got a bed and a fan. And a common room with lacy doilies on the 1920s furniture.
I walked around a bit to reconnoiteur. Found something to eat. Then the sun was down and I retreated to the guesthouse.
Guyana has a reputation as one of the most dangerous countries in the world. And although such reputations are often overblown, and although everybody and everything was peaceable enough in the sunlight, I definitely didn’t want to test it after dark. Instead I lay on my bed and let the strong breeze--a pleasant surprise in these parts--come through the open window and waft over me.
Next morning I was at a little place having some awful Guyanese pastries, and then on my quest to find a camera store. Amazingly enough I found one that repaired Canons. I showed the guy my problem and he told me to come back in a couple of hours.
Okay, what to do in downtown Georgetown, a place where no building was more than two stories high, no business sold anything but the most tawdry of junk, and the whole infrastructure looked like it was being held together by dirt and dampness? I looked on my handy map and saw that at the end of Regent St. was the zoo. I started off in that direction.
It was well over a mile in the hot sun before I got there. Again, it didn’t feel dangerous in the sunlight, but I wouldn’t want to be strolling around with a big wad of bills at night. At least the walk was flat. Nobody was selling tickets to the zoo so I just strolled in.
A few cages of parrots, macaws, toucans, and a really large and exhausted looking harpy eagle. Then some tapirs and the first truly unhappy otter I had ever seen. I mean, I have been to some bad zoos in my life, but…
Ah, up ahead were the monkeys. That would cheer me up. But when I got there only one cage held any, and holding on to the bars were three insane spider monkeys.
What do I mean by that? Well, spider monkeys are pretty strange looking to begin with. They are over five feet tall standing up. They have long black hair. And tiny little naked faces with beady little eyes. And these guys’ eyes were both vacant and intense, staring both at me and past me. Totally silent, they had been trapped in steel and concrete and stripped of all meaningful society. And besides jerky random gestures the two males at least were constantly vibrating. After a while I realized that what they were doing was frantically masturbating.
Wow, what a great metaphor for post modern life! Here in a place that was post Apocalyptic before Apocalyptic was post!
Suitably disturbed, I retraced my steps back to Georgetown’s main drag and back to the camera store. The guy told me that the display screen was busted. If I had had a 560 he could have replaced it, but as it was with a 540 I was out of luck. On the other hand, theoretically if I used the little old visual finder it would still take pictures. Just no visual token of what I had taken and no reassuring click to let me know that anything had actually happened.
Well, at least I probably still had all the shots from the first three weeks.
Anyway, my useful labors in Georgetown finished, I slowly made it back to the guesthouse. Went across the street for vegetable burger and fries and wifi. Then back for an early beddy bye at 8.
Up at 4. At 5:15 the Fatman came by and honked his horn. Then he took me and his other pre-booked passengers back to the minibus staging area and tried to pick up some more. At 6:15 we were on the road.
Pretty much more of the same scene as from the ride from the airport. Although now we were heading east towards Surinam. A few areas of sugar cane cultivation, more of a constant stream of small stilt houses, some okay, some terrible. That’s pretty much of what Guyana is.
We made it to the ferry crossing just before 10. I bought my ticket, checked myself out of the country. Waited with about fifteen vehicles and fifty other passengers until 11 or so, when the ferry boarded. The river was just as brown as the rest of all the water had been, but a lot wider than it had appeared. Total endless flatness everywhere. What with going upstream a little it took over a half an hour to reach the other side.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


5:30 wake up. 6:30 ferry. 7:30 taxi to the airport. In Grenada by 10.
It was kind of hard to decide whether or not to rent a car, since it was $45 a day for the cheapest available. But then I found out that it was a $20 cab ride each way into town. And that everything was shut down tomorrow on Sunday. So a few minutes later I was driving along in a slightly larger Suzuki jeepster than the one I had in Dominica.
Ah, Grenada (pronounced Grenayda). The island so nice they named it Spice. Last year in the Middle East Oman had been my Goldilocks country: Not too poor and not too rich. Here Grenada seemed to fit the bill of not too underdeveloped and not too overdeveloped. Still genuinely Caribbean in feel and texture, but with slightly wider and better roads, larger and better stocked markets, actual goods and services (although still relatively simple) available. Even the inevitable medical college had a pretty snazzy campus.
My research had said that the Lazy Lagoon was where to go. Enrique, a Cuban here on a work visa (didn’t they have Grenadans who could do this?) showed me a room. It was pretty basic backpacker for $40, but what the hey. He told me to come back in an hour when he had one cleaned up.
By 1:30 I had eaten, come back, rested, etc., and was ready to tour the island. I went the mile or so into St. George’s, the inevitably tiny capital, turned around, and drove the three miles or so to the south of the island. Then a meandering 15 miles up the east coast to a woebegone town of Grenville, and back across the mountainous spine, reaching an elevation of 1908 feet. Once again, the thrill of the scenic rainforest was dampened by the constant twisting and turning and dodging of all the other traffic twisting and turning.
But by 5 I was back at the Lazy Lagoon. A well stocked market was next door, so I got some groceries for tonight and tomorrow. Then I went back over to my room.
Enrique was in the process of roasting a giant pig on a spit for the full moon party tonight. I was expecting to be kept up to all hours with the ensuing noise. But there wasn’t any.
Sunday morning I sat around on my little porch for a bit, and then hit the nearly deserted road. Back up into St. George’s, only this time I kept going north. Today I was going to circumnavigate the island clockwise. Around and about, up and down hills, squeezing by the oncoming vehicles. Just like I had been doing day after day on all the other islands. I realized that it was too bad that Grenada got me last, since it really seemed like a pretty place with nice people. But, unsurprisingly, I was getting pretty burned out on Caribbean adventures.
I did find a beach on the northeastern tip that was pretty amazing, what with blue skies and pleasant hills and little islets offshore. I sat there for a while, decided that this would be the best place I’d seen to build my fantasy vacation home, and then noticed that the land was for sale. I jotted down the number.
Then squiggling on down the east coast until I got to Grenville again. And continuing on the coastal road I had taken yesterday. I made it to Grenada’s ‘best’ beach, Grand Anse, and was going to take a swim, but once I was there it wasn’t all that grand. I then decided to end my island journeys with one last visit to a waterfall back up in the hills, but, fittingly, in best Caribbean tradition, the signposts petered out long before I reached it.
And I had to give up and turn around in futility.

Monday, October 05, 2009

St Vincent and a Grenadine

A brief stop in St. Lucia (which, along with Antigua, Barbados, and Trinidad, I had ‘done’ in ‘82), and then on to St. Vincent, one of the least visited of the Caribbean Isles.
It looked nice enough as we were coming in. More green, jungled, jumbled hillsides dotted with multitudes of varying qualities of housing units. A tiny Immigrations, and then a $10 taxi ride the one and a half miles into the capital, Kingstown.
The driver did know where to take me though, Leslie’s Guest House, at $24 a night. The next cheapest I had been able to find had been $95. For the lower price I got a typical old school Caribbean guest house room: Decent, simple bed, a fan that worked, a bathroom down the short hall, and that was it. Leslie did, however, have an outasight balcony view over downtown Kingstown and its harbor, what with the flowers and the water and the hills and the tropics and all that.
From above Kingstown looked like a bustling metropolis compared with Dominica’s capital Roseau. Still in all, it looked like even a tubercular wolf could blow the thing down. Anyhow, once I had rested a bit I decided to head on down the steep hill to it.
Not much happening once I made it. Hot and humid. (At least Leslie had a nice breeze going.) I made my way to the informal minibus terminal and found one headed for Rassa at the end of the line. Being the first on board I got shotgun, and then waited the few minutes until they had crammed many, many more in back.
It was about forty minutes up the west coast, the driving as maniacal as I had read it would be. When it ended I was the last one off, and was only a couple hundred yards from the entrance to Wallabou Bay, the famed ‘set’ of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’.
When I got to the waterfront and the fake buildings and cannons I realized that it, like Johnny Depp himself, was a lot smaller in person. Still, it deserved a few pictures. I got out my trusty camera and… What The …!!! The camera was broken. Kaput. Frozen. No matter how I jabbed every conceivable button, all that was there was some weird Kirelian photo of a leaf.
Not only couldn’t I take any more pictures on the trip, I had also probably lost all the ones I had already taken. This was a severe existential crisis. After all, how did my life have meaning if I didn’t have hundreds of photographs documenting it? I was numb. You would think that if you gave Canon a few hundred dollars they wouldn’t sell you a complete piece of garbage. That’s what Americans were supposed to do!
But I had to carry on. Back up the steep hill. Catch a minibus as it started back to Kingstown. Get dropped off on the north side to visit the famous botanical gardens which were actually really boring. Walk into town, then up the hill to Leslie’s. Lie in bed as the little floor fan goes whirr, whirr, whirr.
Well, that was about all there was to do on St. Vincent. So the next morning I took my baggage down the hill and walked to the ferry terminal, where I boarded the 10:30 for Bequia (pronounced Beckway). The largest of the Grenadines. Which are a string of islets stretching between St Vincent and Grenada. This was the first boat I’d been on that actually carried vehicles, about 20 or 30 if there had been any business.
But this was the slowest of the slow season here, too. And when we docked less than an hour later, I was one of the few passengers getting off.
For some reason I had thought that Caribbean islands, especially the small ones, would be sandy and flat, with a few palm trees scattered about. But in my ignorance I had been thinking of Pacific atolls. Almost all Caribbean islands are insanely hilly and jungle covered; the smaller ones, catching fewer clouds and less rain, are still verdant but rather less intensely a-jungled.
The Grenadines are a particular favorite with the yachting crowd. And Bequia is regarded as an ‘undiscovered’ version of the slightly larger and much, much more developed St. Barts. For me this meant a small, funky infrastructure coupled with yacht club prices.
At least I didn’t have far to go in the tiny non-town of Port Elizabeth. Julie’s Guesthouse was basically across the street from the ferry. For $38 I could have had a Leslie kind of room. For $49 I could get a/c, a fridge, hot water, and cable tv. A few minutes later I was luxuriating in coolness and watching MSNBC.
It’s kind of obvious, but age really does slow you down. In every infuriating way possible. So in my planning I had wisely slotted in a few extra days so I could rest up, and now my incredibly creaking joints and tired muscles were thanking me for it. And except for a small wander around the small town, and a couple of trips downstairs to the store next door, that’s pretty much all I did for the rest of the day.
And most of the next. Oh, around noon I started out on an expedition towards the other end of the island. But after walking up another giant hill in the middle of the stinking heat I said ‘screw it’, stopped the next passing minibus, and rode it on out the two miles further. Then I walked around a bit, admiring the picturesque houses, the calm blue seas, and various other Grenadines marching around offshore. And took another minibus back to Port Elizabeth.
It was Friday, and Friday night is when everyone in the Caribbean is/goes lime-in’. Someone had set up a pulsing PA system on the other side of the ferry landing, and pretty soon it was pumping. Around eight I ventured out from my room, but I couldn’t make it closer than a hundred yards or so from the center of the action. Why is it that ‘party’, ie having a good time, has come to mean subjecting yourself to extremely unpleasant music at such an unpleasantly loud volume that even if in some sense it did originally have some meaning then it absolutely didn’t have any now? The islanders seemed to at least intuitively catch my drift, since they were all wandering around kind of silently and numbly.
I went back to my room, caught a movie on Starz, and turned in early so as to be able to wake up even earlier still.

Friday, October 02, 2009


Guadeloupe had had a vaguely urban area surrounding the airport. Cruising into the small bay that housed Martinique’s capital of Fort de France, though, was somewhat like approaching Marseilles. Well, maybe not that urban, but it was still somewhat shocking to see so much of a city buildup, even including high rise apartments. Not anyone’s idea of a Caribbean vacation.
As I may have already mentioned, Couchsurfing is a new phenomenon whereby people sign up to host and/or be hosted by people all over the world who might have a couch you can stay on for a night or two. I had been curious to try it, though obviously not with some 23 year old. But I had found older ladies on both Guadeloupe and Martinique. We saw how Guadeloupe had worked out.
Annie, however, was waiting for me when I made it off the ferry. She was really pissed that the ferry had been late. As she helped me put my stuff in her white van she somehow was also blaming me for its tardiness.
We drove about fifteen miles to the semi-lowbrow apartment she lived in a semi-lowbrow suburb. By now it was three in the afternoon on a Sunday, so not much to do except squoosh myself into the tiny shower, and then lay down on the unventilated bed in the guestroom.
After a little rest I got up to hang with Annie. Her back was to me as she stared at her computer screen. She would basically not move from there my whole stay. Sitting near her was Albert, a small African man from the Ivory Coast who apparently lived with her. He was friendly, but basically spent every minute staring at his computer. I went out for a short walk to their town, but it was closed up tight for Sunday. When I came back it turned out that they had wifi. So at least I could go into my room and stare at my computer, too
The next morning I was ready to roll. Annie made her living from renting out cars, but since I needed one, the quid pro quo worked out for both of us. Soon I was on the freeway heading back to and through Fort de France so as to get up north. Yes, this was just like France. If you left out the cathedrals, quaint villages, and Monet countryside. Also, the weather was crappy, with low hanging grey clouds. Just like France, too.
I guess that this is as good a time as any to point out that there are 51 Folzes in France. And that until about a year ago one of them, J.M. Folz, born in the same year as I, was CEO of Peugeot-Citroen. Now you would think that when apprised of this situation he would have generously offered me a new car. Or at least invited me over to his villa for a couple of weeks. But No-o-o-o. Not that I was that offended. But, just for the record, the cars he made are total crap. The Citroen in Guadeloupe wouldn’t go into reverse. This Peugeot from Annie kept chugging and choking.
I took the ‘rainforest’ route through the mountains. But in typical French fashion, the road was so narrow and twisting that it was hard to enjoy anything. Maybe it would be better to do it like the Americans. just bulldoze a road through, and then build scenic pullouts. Actually, that probably wouldn’t have helped, either. There wasn’t much there.
But I finally made it to St. Pierre, a town I had been wanting to see ever since I was 10. Because that was when I first read about how, on May 8, 1902, an eruption from nearby Mt. Pelee instantly wiped out all 30,000 citizens of this former capital of Martinique, the Paris of the Caribbean.
Present day St Pierre is just a town of 5,000, and only a few of the stone ruins of the original buildings remain. But that, along with a small museum, is enough to give a sense of the disaster. And it was pretty neat to walk around, look out at the small bay, then back up towards the hills, and imagine.
When done with reliving the past, and also eating a bad pizza, I drove up to the northern end of the road. Hung out a bit. Then came back and went over towards the Atlantic side. What with all the built up areas, I wasn’t enjoying this island all that much. The grey weather didn’t help with that, either. On the other hand, for all the rain that the Caribbean gets, this was only the first day on my trip that wasn’t blue and sunny.
By late afternoon I was out at the end of a small peninsula looking for the ruins of an old chateau. Closed for September. I wended my way back to urban Annie’s, past the corner with all the young toughs hanging out (the first of my trip), and parked the car.
I had noticed that Annie didn’t believe in using the a/c in her car. She also didn’t believe in using it, or fans, in her apartment. So although a breeze came up in the evening, it was still pretty stuffy. And nothing to do except use the wifi. Which would go on and off.
Next morning was back to being blue sky and cheery, and I turned south to get the other half of the island. This was only hilly, not mountainous. Plus it was where there were a few beach resorts. So I wasn’t expecting to be overwhelmed.
The resorts were predictably depressing. Why does anyone think that being crammed into overpriced, fake, hyper-commercial junk districts is fun? And another thing. All the ‘beaches’ in the Caribbean are skinny and tiny and usually have drab, brown sand. I mean, I’m no fan of Floriday, but the worst beach there is ten times better than the best beach I’d seen so far in the Caribbean.
Besides having 30,000 of its citizens asphyxiated and burned within two minutes, Martinique’s other claim to fame is as the birthplace of Napoleon’s Josephine. So I went to the site to see a museum and some of the old buildings. Closed for September. As had happened a couple of other times here on the island, I had less than a fleeting glimpse of a colonial life that must have been fascinating, and then it was back to the golf courses and apartments.
But once I made it to the extreme south of the island, I did find a few genuinely rural areas, and that was calming. I also stopped at Martinique’s ‘best’ beach and hung out in the water for an hour or so. Then a teeny tiny road twisting over some back hills, and a return to Annie’s.
Wednesday morning Annie was in a bad mood. Why hadn’t I parked the car where she had suggested? Because that space was occupied. No, it wasn’t. Well, I did park a few spaces over, next to your white van. How did you know that was my van??? You picked me up at the ferry with it. No, I didn’t. I picked you up in a small car. Oh-kay….
As she drove me to the airport I tried to diplomatically thank her for having hosted me. But you didn’t spend any time with me! You just went out and visited the island! I kept quiet and tried to mentally put a positive spin on my couch surfing experience. At least I had gotten to know another culture: That of the unhappy, neurotic older French woman.

In the end I can’t say whether or not I like Guadeloupe and Martinique. They are not just France in the Caribbean, but workaday France in the Caribbean. The people aren’t terrible. Once you get used to the prices (Try pretending that there are 30 Euros to the dollar. As in, Wow, I just rented a car for $1.05!), the rest of it isn’t that hard to maneuver around. And some of the few natural areas that are left really are beautiful.
I guess it all just seemed a little weird.