Guadeloupe: 24 Hours on the ButterflyShana Jones April 7, 2017
Originally written for Mélange Travel & Lifestyle Magazine. Re-printed with permission.
This is the story of a girl who happened to be in the right place at the right time when a guy from Guadeloupe strolled into her office. They met and had a conversation during which she (not so subtly) mentioned how much she wanted to visit the island for her birthday. One sunny morning less than a month later, she found herself outside the arrivals terminal of the airport in Guadeloupe waiting on her newly-appointed unofficial tour guide.
That girl was me, of course, and my guide proved to be very friendly and eager to show me around his part of the ¨Butterfly¨. Guadeloupe gets its nickname from the shape formed by its two halves, Grande Terre and Basse Terre, which are separated by the Rivière Salée (Salt River). I was to spend my next 24 hours in Pointe-à-Pitre (the island’s largest city) on Grande Terre, the more developed and ¨touristy¨ half of the Butterfly.
Our first stop was for lunch at Le Bord de Mer, a quiet, casual beach bar offering up-front views of shimmering sand against an endless backdrop of glistening blue sea. Waiting on lunch was made easy as my eyes dreamily wandered and soaked in the peaceful surroundings. My sea-gazing was interrupted by the culinary portrait placed on the table before me: bright red and green Creole-style fish was elegantly poised beside soft-white rice and provisions (starches commonly eaten in the Caribbean). After wiping our plates clean, we were off to start sightseeing!
Guadeloupe, I soon discovered, was a charm. We found a great photo opp at the Place de la Victoire, Pointe-à-Pitre’s main town square. This green open space was so named to mark the end of slavery and the important victory of the working-class sans-culottes during the French Revolution. The Place features several historically important monuments and buildings, including a statue of Félix Éboué, the first black man to hold a major political position and who was also appointed Guadeloupe governor in 1936. The statue of General Charles Victor Frébault, appointed governor of Guadeloupe in 1859, is also situated at the Place.
Next on my list of places to see were two museums (what’s a trip without a museum visit?). Musée Schoelcher features a collection of the artwork, personal objects, and souvenirs of Victor Schoelcher, a major abolitionist in Guadeloupe’s history. Opened on Schoelcher’s 83rd birthday, this imposing pinkish limestone edifice houses items such as slavery documents and replicas of ancient Greek and Roman relics. The other museum, Musée St. John Perse, was opened on the centenary of the famous Guadeloupean photographer and Nobel poet laureate, St. John Perse. The entire museum speaks of St. John Perse. His story is told from the ground floor, which is a reconstruction of his contemporary-style Creole home complete with displays of traditional Creole dress, to the second floor, which houses a collection of his artwork and personal effects. This is truly a place of historical significance and well worth the visit.
Just down the street from Musée St. John Perse, I was drawn to a statue with the inscription “Vélo”. This grey likeness of a muscular middle-aged black man forever frozen in his drum-beating pose gave me pause: I closed my eyes and could almost feel the faint pounding of the rhythms from his drums coursing through my body. “Vélo” was the nickname of Marcel Lollia, a musician famous for his rendition of gwo ka or wa aka, a type of traditional folk music which chants the slave story to the beat of seven different drums.
Hot and thirsty after traipsing through Guadeloupe’s rich history, we made our way to Bas du Fort marina for some refreshments. The panorama of boats lined up like soldiers gleaming in the evening sun morphed gently into a multicultural stretch of restaurants which beckoned us to stop and sample. We obliged one and stopped for a drink. The coolness trickling down our throats seemed to be divinely synced with the setting sun slowly dipping below the horizon as it bid us good evening.
The next morning, my ever-present friends Solitude and Tranquility joined me for some quiet time on the beach behind my hotel. We basked in the warm, yellow smile of the sunrise and lay happily contented to be massaged by the breathy sounds of the palms fluttering overhead. After a quick breakfast in the hotel’s colourful eating area, my ¨friends¨ and I packed up and prepared to leave the newest addition to our travelling circle, our beloved Butterfly, Guadeloupe.history, museums, sightseeing