Last week, we visited Guadeloupe, an island in the French Antilles that is also a département of France. We thought we were taking a quick weekend jaunt to a tropical Caribbean tourist destination, when in fact, we’d entered France—tiny French Citröens and Peugeot, pain au chocolat from the local patisserie each morning, and euros! Passion Fruit drinks were a daily treat and reminded us that we were indeed in the tropics. We rented a small car and circumnavigated each of the two islands that make up Guadeloupe—Basse Terre and Grande Terre—stopping along the way to gaze at black, white, brown, and golden sand beaches.

Basse Terre is the lusher, mountainous island and sports a volcano called la Soufrière. Volcanic rock has blackened the beaches on BT. The Route de la Traversée cuts through a national park that encompasses the central mountains. One walk began at the Maison de la Fôret, just off the Traversée, and a sign said it would take three hours to complete the walk. Four hours later, after we’d picked our way sixteen times across a river swollen by heavy rains and dotted with slick rocks, looped around twice when we missed markers, and tramped through mud and slime without potable water, we arrived back at the two-lane Traversée road to find an ambiguous arrow that pointed neither east nor west. We had no idea in which direction we should walk to return to the Maison de la Fôret. National Park faux pas: sending inattentive tourists on an alleged three hour hike that does not end at the starting point. We reasoned that we should walk downhill and walked along the shoulder-less road for another hour before finding our car again.

I wore a skirt for crying out loud!

Grande Terre is drier and flatter. We found my favorite beach on this island—Anse Laborde, just north of Anse Bertrand—where we ate a delicious grilled chicken sandwich on baguette at La Restaurant aux Coins des Bons Amis, a tin-roofed shack at the edge of the sand. High rocky cliffs guarded the northern shore of Grande Terre and sugar cane fields spread out across the island and abandoned cane mills dotted the horizon.

Sipping a passion fruit drink and relaxing aux Coins des Bons Amis

June is the beginning of the rainy season so we saw little sun. Each day began with a heavy rain and then rain fell intermittently throughout the day and lasted short periods of varying length. If we were walking in the woods, we could usually find a giant leaf to stand under or break off and hold over our heads while we continued walking. Sometimes, the rain drops were as big as my fist and no kind of umbrella could have kept us dry. Constant cloud cover moderated the temperature but the humidity rarely dipped below 99%.

Using an elephant plant leaf as an umbrella during a rain shower.

Our favorite restaurant was called Chang, a Vietnamese restaurant on Grande Terre, just off the main road, west of Le Gosier. To enter, you press a button requesting admission and then push open the heavy metal gate when the buzzer sounds. Once inside, a grand welcoming staircase brings you up to a large gazebo decorated with typical tacky Vietnamese art and a swimming pool that can be crossed by walking across a sturdy wooden bridge. The menu was authentic and the food was delicious, if somewhat modified to accommodate the local palette. Our friendly waiter enjoyed explaining the menu to us in detail as if we’d never eaten Viet food before. I kept quiet for fear of disappointing him. The restaurant was so good that we returned the next night for dinner.