Guadeloupe part II: Basse Terre
The remainder of the vacation was spent on the other island—Basse Terre. This island is covered with rainforest and contains an active volcano. In fact, the beaches on Basse Terre tend to have volcanic black sand.
Our first day on Basse Terre was spent snorkeling. We rented a kayak on Malendure beach and paddled out to the Pigeon islands—tiny islands about 1km off the coast. We left the kayak on shore, put on our snorkeling gear, and began our underwater exploration. Although Jack kept insisting that snorkeling in Hawaii is far more exciting, I really enjoyed myself. We even walked across the little island to snorkel on the other side. The waves were bigger there, and Jack got tossed into some sharp rocks when we were leaving the water. I got a couple cuts too, but his wounds were a pretty impressive red color, and his ankle was dripping blood. I guess he wasn’t too concerned about being shark-bait, because he went back in the water after we returned to the calmer side of the island. (The sharks didn’t take the hint though, so I didn’t get to see any really big fish.)
Drifting around the coral, it was like being in an aquarium. Schools of blue tang swam below us, a sea snake coiled itself under a rock, and kaleidoscopic parrotfish flashed their rainbow colors as they ate algae off the rocks. Jack even spotted a well-camouflaged flounder, while I was fooled by the eye-like spots some fish sported on their tails; we both made fun of the pyramid-shaped trunkfish. A trumpetfish with a comically long nose came close to the surface and I followed it; when my face was mere inches from its tail, it darted away. We also saw the black durgon, with its fluorescent yellow stripes, which was Jack’s favorite fish; I most liked the pale blue glow of angelfish, shimmering like opal. Satisfied, we kayaked back to the beach, shared some ice cream while watching the sunset, and finished the day with a very good dinner at La Touna.
The next day was reserved for hiking up the volcano, La Soufrière. The climb was long and steep and muddy; much of it entailed scrambling over slippery rocks. The summit of the volcano was entirely engulfed in clouds and wind and sulfurous fumes: gusts of wind threatened to blow us off the mountain, and we could only see a few feet in front of us as we walked the circumference of the smoking crater. Finally, soaking wet and covered in mud, we began to climb back down.
Later that afternoon, we stopped by a beach in Trois-Rivières. Here, the magnitude of the waves and the strength of the current indicated that there was no protecting reef. Struggling against the tide, we splashed in the waves. Several times, I found myself being pushed underwater, thrown into the sand by the waves. I’m not sure how many liters of seawater I swallowed or inhaled, but it was well worth it. By the time we arrived at our final Airbnb—a wooden box in the rainforest—we were exhausted. Despite the deafening sounds of the rainforest, we slept soundly under our mosquito net.
For our last two days, we wanted to explore the rainforest some more, and our Airbnb host offered some suggestions for hot springs and waterfalls with swimming basins.
The biggest adventure was the first rainforest hike. After we took a morning dip in the river, our host gave us directions, which we vaguely remembered as we set off to find the waterfall. We had a few false starts, but quickly found the path. Unfortunately, soon after we followed it into the forest, we found our way blocked by fallen trees. Turning to the side, we again came across a path, and assumed that this was the right one, since it was unobstructed. It took us down to a river, which seemed promising, but when we crossed the river, we realized that the path ended there. So we sat on a rock facing a patch of giant bamboo and ate some cheese we brought with us, along with pastries and part of a baguette.
Then we returned across the river and retraced our steps. This time, we fought through the plants and the vines until we made our way around the fallen trees and found the first path again. Shortly after, we ran into a group of swimsuit-clad people walking the other way, and congratulated ourselves on finally going in the right direction. We stuck to this path—up and down and up and down, through mud and over tree roots until we reached the river once more: this must be the right crossing, we thought, and forded the river, as we were instructed.
Now, we remembered, our host had told us, “after you cross the river, turn right. Not left. Go right. Remember, right, not left. Left no good. Go right.” Indeed we saw the fork in the path and turned right. In a minute though, the path seemed to briefly vanish, and when it reappeared, it took us in a loop right back to the fork. We looked around, and decided to try again. And again, we followed the path and found ourselves back at the fork. Looking down the left path, Jack said, “maybe we should go that way after all?” I refused: “No! He said go right. Let’s try one more time.” This time, we saw that where the path became less clear, there was an opening to go down to the river. We climbed down and walked upstream for a minute until the stone bank ended and the shore became a cliff. While I waited, cradling my expensive camera, Jack stumbled back across the river and turned around the bend. He returned in a minute, saying he didn’t see anything ahead. No waterfall, no trail. We were stumped. Maybe we do go left after all? Seems to be the only way.
We returned to the fork, and after a moment’s hesitation, turned up the left path. It took us up a steep hill until the slope became almost completely vertical, like a cliff but with mud instead of rock. There was a rope tied to poles going up this hill, which implied that this really was a path for humans. We grasped the rope and pulled ourselves up. At the top, we brushed off the spiders we picked up along the way examined our surroundings. Here was a field of sorts, with waist-high grasses and flowers. Not a waterfall, but certainly pretty. We pushed through this field, angering the spiders as we broke through their webs. Some of the grass was sharp, and there were thorny bushes in our way. Jack, in his jeans, took no notice; I, on the other hand, had gambled and worn rather skimpy shorts, thinking more of the heat than the terrain. Needless to say, by the time we found ourselves face-to-face with a horned cow blocking our way, my legs were more than a little scratched.
Anyway, we looked at the cow. The cow looked at us. This staring contest lasted for a minute, until we were all thoroughly confused. Meanwhile, the little flying insects must have caught the scent of blood on my legs, and began to congregate around me.
The shadows were getting longer and we worried that we would soon have to admit defeat. We turned our back on the cow and pushed back through the grass and the thorns and the flowers, casting aside the webs that the spiders had begun to rebuild. We found our trusty rope, which now helped us slide down the muddy cliff, back to the river. At this point, we’d run out of ideas. Besides giving up, the only other option was to follow the river upstream.
There were obstacles to overcome: deep sections of river, fallen trees, slippery rocks. As we were navigating around some tree roots jutting out into the river, the branch Jack was holding for support snapped, and he sidestepped into the river. Nonetheless, we continued, zig-zagging up the river, searching for clues—is that a wet shoe-print on that rock? Is that just the wind we hear, or could it be the muffled roar of falling water?
We paused; we listened; I craned my neck and squinted through the leaves and vines and branches, until— “is that—? No… wait, yes! I see water. Vertical water!” I was certain: I could see “vertical water”. It was white and it was falling. All my worries about the setting sun, my stinging legs, a painful scratch on my shoulder—they all vanished. We found it.
After finally reaching the waterfall, we paused to finish our baguette, and then shuffled into the cold water. While it wasn’t the perfect swimming hole (it was relatively shallow), the pool at the base of the waterfall was certainly refreshing. This waterfall had two sections, one above the other: the taller top section falls into a small basin, from which the water is carried to the lower segment. We climbed the rocks next to the bottom portion of the waterfall, and slid into the smaller pool at the base of the top waterfall. The current was strong, but the falling water had dug such a deep well that we were able rest our backs against the wall and avoid being carried down the lower portion of the waterfall directly beneath us. We sat like this for a minute, with the current rushing past us; then I reached over and pulled myself closer to the falling water. Jack followed, and we washed our hair in one of the smaller offshoots next to the main column of water. Then we climbed back down.
The hike back was much easier; by the time we emerged from the forest, our boots were filled with water and covered in mud, but it was still light. Here are some other photos we took on the hike:
That night, when we returned to the Airbnb property, we were greeted with music—the monthly jam session organized by our host. We sat down to listen, while our host cooked us dinner: the food was delicious, the music was great, and the rum our host poured us was strong. Exhausted, we left to get ready for bed shortly after midnight; the music played on, but I was too tired for it to keep me awake.
When we awoke, we realized that we had only one day left of our trip. The first stop of the day was one of the Carbet Falls. I had wanted to visit all three waterfalls of the series, but we were running out of time, so we settled on seeing just the middle one. The walk was short but pleasant, and the waterfall was indeed beautiful.
Next, we scrambled down a steep and muddy hill to another waterfall with a swimming hole. I was surprised how popular this spot seemed to be, given the difficulty of the hike. It wasn’t far, but several times I found myself wondering how many people have fallen to their deaths. What if this vine I’m holding breaks or my foot slips off that tree-root?
When we reached the waterfall, I felt that I had stepped into a postcard. The stream we had been walking beside dropped into a deep green pool, sheltered by overhanging rock ledges and rainforest plants.
After swimming in the cold water, we were ready for our final stop: a hot spring. With some difficulty, we found the path and followed it to a small river. I dipped my foot in the water: still cold. In this river, it seemed, cold surface water was commingling with hot groundwater. We found a hot segment of the river and relaxed into the warm water. Savoring the end of the vacation, we lingered in the stream until the sky began to darken.
Finally, our vacation had reached its end. One last night under the mosquito net, then an early morning flight back to New York: real life was about to resume.