It’s tricky to find things to go in Guadeloupe. Not because there aren’t many things to do, they are just not advertised, or when they are there’s no way of findings out when and where they might be. The idea of having an up to date website with a usable map on it does not seem to fit in with the island’s laid back lifestyle. My own house is on a street without a name for example, there really is no way to look up on the internet where the house is. On the positive side the bus service is not as bad I had been rumoured. The busses might not have a timetable but they do show up at fairly frequent intervals, they do give you change, they all go to the Gare in the central town of Pointe-a-Pitre where you can change to another one. They also play fun and loud Caribbean music all the time so even if it takes an hour to get anywhere it feels like a bit of a party while they do it. They don’t however run on weekends, or past 6 o’clock on weekdays which makes them pretty useless for most leisure activities.
However I did make it to the Xeme Panamerican Jeux de Surf which is heavily advertised. As usual with Gwada the best description of a location you can get is the name of a beach, but no maps have beach names on them. So I took a bus to the nearest town and wandered around until I found the beach somewhere on the outskirts. The competitors from the 20-odd countries were all waiting on the beach ready for something to happen. After a couple of hours something did with the first competitors being called. The first competition was Body Boarding. Now I’m not convinced that board surfing in general lives up to its sand-and-sex reputation but body boarding seems especially tame even for surfers. The competitors are in heats with 3 or 4 surfers in each and 20 minutes to do the best moves you can. 15 minutes into the first heat I’m getting worried that nothing is happening but then a large wave comes and the surfers manage some 360 rolls and spins. Next up is the real board surfers, they do manage some impressive twists and turns including a very nice mid-air 360 which was disqualified because he didn’t surf away from it. Actually I’m impressed they can stand up at all. Later I play a game of hide-the-illegally-purchased-beer-from-the-gendarmerie. Fun and games.
Naturally I’ve been looking for canoe clubs in Guadeloupe. There’s a handy government website called guadeloupe-sport.com which gives a boilerplate text to describe canoeing obviously taken from the Federation Francais de Canoe-Kayak because it includes discipines that are not possible here such as slalom or river running. It lists many clubs but only sometimes bothers to list anything other than a name. The only club with a website is two years out of date (and looks like it was made in 1995). So I hired a car and drove to St Francois where the local club hold and elite looking Surf Ski race each year. The building at the marina says “Kayak de Mer” on the outside but when I enquire how one gets to Kayak le mer I’m met with uncertain glances and a reply of “je ne sais pas”. It seems they don’t actually do anything with kayaks except hold the elite race.
So instead I make my way to the Sunset Surf Camp which is the only hostel on the island, and a very cool one at that. Unlike any of the other surf schools its website has clear instructions on how to learn some surfing, turn up at 9 o’clock and join in. Guadeloupe has a lot of rock reefs a few dozen meters off-shore which shelter the beaches from the large waves and create excellent surfing conditions while they are at it. So after a brief theory lesson we were swimming out to the reef. Board surfing involves a lot of swimming, which is hard work (the boards are heavy) and gives you a pain in your neck because you are lying down and looking up for waves to avoid. Then you have to swim even harder to have any hope of catching a wave. I catch one and it’s fun, skimming along with water just below my face. The next progression is standing up. I can’t do it. I can get on my knees but beyond that the board insists on tipping over sideways. After two hours I’m still no nearer standing up. A fun sport but alas far too much effort to reward ratio.
Next day I drive to a town called Le Moule where rumour has it there is an elite canoe club. Again with nothing more than a beach name to go on I drive around and find it on the outskirts of town. I enquire within but am told it’s lunch time and I should come back in a couple of hours, closing for lunch is normal in France and they close twice as long in Guadeloupe. During this enforced lunch break I am amazed to see a school of fish jumping out the water half a dozen times in succession. A choir sings songs in Creole to keep me entertained. After lunch I’m told yes there’s a club here, yes they do interesting things, come along first thing in the morning. Truly a tropical paradise.
Manu and Molem-Gliss sea paddlers
Mornings start early in Gwada, 7:30 in this case, I presume because they don’t have any light in the evenings. We load up the trailer with a bunch of sea kayaks and head south where a group of about 20 post-middle aged adults paddle along the coast through beautiful green water. The swell is large and some of the older members of the group end up off course but we steer them back together again. We find a small white sand beach and splash around for a while before heading back to the launch site past a hundred palm trees. Over Caribbean beers I am chin-chined for being the first Ecossais in the club.
Another enforced two hour lunch in which the only shop in town open selling anything edible is the bookmakers. I join a group for an entirely new activity, waveski. Waveskis are surf boards with seats and foot holds that you paddle. After the comfort of the sea kayak I find it wobbly and hard to control. Especially since I have nothing to brace against with my knees, only a seat-belt and foot straps to keep you in place. We paddle out to the surf, a group of about 15 boys, aged 10 to 16, plus Moul, the club’s famous Champion de Waveski FranÃ§ais. After some false starts I catch my first wave, the “boat” is super-responsive with the bow entirely out the water. I slide down the wave, back up again then try to gracefully come off the back of the wave but with no knee grips I fall straight in. Amazingly I manage to eskimo roll it only to fail to understand the momentum and roll straight back in again. On my next wave to do even worse and capsize immediately. After a few more waves I work out the trick, in kayaks you lean forwards to get more stability from your knees, in waveskis it seems you need to lean back to get more stability from your feet. By the end of the session I am catching them without fear of falling in. The surf setup at the Molem-Gliss canoe club in Le Moule is excellent, the reef is only 100 metres from the boathouse, there is a safety zone where you can paddle out to behind the waves and there are two sections with smaller and larger waves to give an option for your comfort. I have discovered an excellent new branch of canoeing.
My camera broke so no photos of me or Gwada waveskiers, but here is a generic photo to keep you entertained.