Saturday, January 31, 2009

Travels in Dominica, 2005 - Guadeloupe

Point a Pitre
There is something about waking up stark naked in a strange country, with a small day pack as your only luggage, that lends a certain insecurity to the day. I arrived in Port a Pitre Saturday night after 24 hours of travel encompassing four time zones and four plane changes sans luggage et sans Francais. As we waited for our luggage to appear, we were entertained by a great four piece jazz bad welcoming us to the new air conditioned airport. The music was interrupted several times by a persistent announcements. It took several repeats before I realized that hidden in the incomprehensible (to me) French was my name. A kindly Quebecoise translated, and directed me to the dreaded baggage claim desk where I was told both my bags hadn't made the flight. They would arrive, I was told, maybe by noon on Sunday.

Before leaving, I had searched for a cheap hotel for my overnight stay, but could only come up with one hotel downtown, close to the ferry dock. The taxi took me to the John Perse hotel and it turned out to be rather tacky, and vastly overpriced. There was a balcony and a fan, but far too expensive. Point a Pitre is an overnight stop for many travellers - some travelling on to Domincia, and some boarding a cruise ship, so travellers are a 'captive market'. They did do an excellent French breakfast, with my favorite croissants. I spent a hot and muggy night (naked) and then had to dress the next day in my 'winter clothes' that I had already worn for over 24 hours.

I spent the morning wandering the hot and humid streets. It's a shabby little port town, covered in graffiti, but tucked here and there were a few interesting older buildings trimmed with cut metal gingerbread trim. Returning to the hotel for lunch I chatted with two French doctors who were working at the local hospital. I was so engrossed, I forgot to ask about my luggage, which had arrived. As a result, I missed the two o'clock ferry. So I changed, and continued to investigate the town. There wasn't much to see.

That evening, I heard what sounded like firecrackers outside the hotel. This was accompanied by a loud, pulsing drum beat. Looking over the balcony, I saw a gyrating, wild looking parade of young people wearing bizarre sugar cane leaf capes, and cracking long whips which sounded like firecrackers. Behind them was a troupe of dancers, covered in costumes made fron banana leaves that flapped as they danced with cow horn head dresses on their heads. They were followed by a band. I grabbed my camera and dashed downstairs and joined them dancing to the wild music in the streets. Apparently these parades happen every Sunday before Carnival. In the end, I was glad I missed my boat.

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