Flying 400 miles to find a hotel room in the Caribbean

There was no hotel space for Christmas Eve at the Punta Cana, Dominican Republic hotel where we were staying. Rather than change hotels, we decided to fly to the French island of Guadeloupe instead. Weather was not a factor, the distance was only about 400 nautical miles, and we had fuel for 850 so it just seemed like the thing to do. Our path of flight took us over the southern part of Puerto Rico and a Virgin Island or two. There was plenty of open sea over which to experience instant rough so make sure you have life jackets and a raft (equipment “Golf”).

Sunset over Bonanza wing
Caribbean flying has its rewards.

The plan was not well thought out. We did not think to make hotel reservations or consider that the airport at Pointe-a-Pitre would have reduced staff on Christmas evening (we arrived at 6 pm). Nor did we know that almost no one spoke anything but French. Fortunately someone in the tower called a handler. Since we were directed to the no-man’s-land by the decrepit old terminal, we may have just died there among the ruins except for the handler. He drove us around the new airport on the other side of the runway to get the stamps and the necessary paperwork. Worth mentioning that the old Pointe-a-Pitre terminal area is perfect for end-of-the world movies.

The handler managed to find us a hotel – which, although decrepit, was not quite as decrepit as the old (abandoned) terminal at which we were parked. The hotel had plenty of atmosphere of the old Caribbean and from down-at-the-heel French expats. From our room, we walked through fenced areas with barbed wire to the marina where we found Le Pirate restaurant. Again, no English spoken and the tall waiter with long dreads showed my pretty wife to the ladies room by taking her hand. When she returned to the table, she had a meltdown before dinner thinking we would not survive the night. Her sense of potential danger was correct; there was a feeling of thievery, illegal activities and shady living.

I was not bothered; I considered the pirate and shady feeling to be atmosphere and not fear-provoking at all. After all, that was why we were in the Caribbean and flying to Grenada and Barranquilla, Colombia. In light of our already completed travels, danger seemed irrelevant. We had flown our 68-year old bright red Bonanza from near Seattle, to Tucson then across the United States, through Miami, the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Haiti. In Haiti we stayed in a hotel guarded by men with rifles and were the only white people and English-speaking guests. The Haitian capital still had sections of it that looked like the big earthquake of some years ago. My thought was that a few pirates were just fine.

Point-a-pitre street
A little rough, but it’s fun if approached with a spirit of adventure.

The next day Susane had recovered her sense of adventure. The hotel turned out be OK in spite of being old and decrepit. It sported some nice guests from Paris who were there on the part of the French government to inspect the educational system of the colony. True colonialist they were and educated. They spoke some English which allowed us to get a bit of the colonial viewpoint.

I was liking Guadeloupe – very French old Caribbean, beautiful and worth the visit. The sunset photo was taken by Susane just prior to touch down. It honestly represents the Caribbean beauty of the island.

We rented a car, toured Pointe-a-Pitre (the big city and location of the airport) which was colonial Caribbean derelict in parts and had more real pirate vibes. I thought they were wonderful and if I spoke French maybe I would consider it a retirement option.

The island has two parts. The drive around the shore of the eastern part of Guadeloupe was Caribbean Sea-beautiful with little towns of French Colonial design, nice construction, and a very large cemetery with above ground tombs due I suppose to ground water. Floating cadavers is a bit much even for the Caribbean. The cafes felt of France. The owners prepared good food.

Beach on Guadeloupe
Not a bad place to spend Christmas.

On the western part of Guadeloupe we ended up at an interesting hotel near Pointe-Noire. It was filled with Parisians on holiday and had spectacular ocean views. Notably, the French guests did not acknowledge each other as they walked around – it seemed a bit unfriendly but was more just a part of the culture. The road over the mountains toward Petit-Bourg reminded me much of Hawaii. Tropical wet rain forest, rivers, trees and a wild feeling more intense than that of the English and Spanish islands.

After three nights on the island, we were ready to leave mostly due to the language difficulty, but also we were in a hurry to get to St. Georges, Grenada, which I had visited many years ago. Our departure was not difficult: we got our departure stamps from customs and immigrations, filed our flight plan, and refueled at the flying club. The people we interacted with at those airport places spoke some English. We were extended the services of flight following on our VFR flight in clear skies to Grenada.

The only regret concerning Guadeloupe is that not speaking French I was unable to understand the stories that surely must be told in the poorer streets and downtown bars filled with people who looked like smugglers. Controlled heavily from France, the island felt slightly of resentment, hidden intrigue and undercover piracy. The upscale resort hotel we stayed at in Punta Cana was very civilized, clean and occupied by the well to do. Very nice, but no adventure there.

About the flying, I like it and just do it. My style and pocketbook runs more to round gauges, a Garmin 500 mounted on the yoke, a bit of RNAV – think DC3 technology except for the GPS. The old Bonanza has 260 horses (upgrade special field STC, old engine bigger cylinders) and cruises at about 160 knots at 12,000 feet burning 12 gph. The plane, the old terminal, our first hotel and the older section of Pointe-a-Pitre mixed very well – it was like we were all on the same movie set.

I have to make a comment: Gordon Baxter’s articles about people who almost died (written in Flying magazine) have most probably kept me alive since in my 45 years of flying I have taken whatever old plane I then could afford and gone anywhere I felt like. Reading other people’s screw-ups kept me focused on doing the best to keep living in spite of my travels and airplanes that often belonged in museums rather than the air. I always appreciated the Flying magazine articles but I can’t help but wonder if Collins or Baxter knew about my flying history, risks, near death experiences, engine failure in a 1947 Stinson and the resulting crash landing in the California desert, if they would not just shake their heads.

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10 Comments

  • As a fellow writer and flyer, I have to say I was disappointed upon reading this that there was no story here, just a travelogue. Also, Mr. Acker, I’m surprised someone with your writing experience has (apparently) never shown a proofreader your work. Overused and repetitive words, an incredibly run-on sentence, not much understanding of comma usage, etc. Sorry to nit-pick, Timothy, but a writer and flyer dislikes sloppiness in either field.

    • Out of curiosity what would you have liked to have seen in the article? Article was meant to be a goofy travel article…but needed a final review. I practice very exact law and writing is the counterpoint. Freedom to break the rules without judicial sanctions. Flying is also goofy. Anyone riding around the sky a 160kts in a 69 year old plane – traveling 5,000 miles just to get there…is a nut. See piratesscoundrelsandsaints.com and life abundant.net for more nutty references.

  • Actually I thought the article went to an editor for review, comment exchange, then article finalization. Now I know it has to be in final form.

  • I am not a writer but I have to admit I’m surprised that this was published. Certainly not the worst thing I have read lately or for that matter today, I just didn’t see much point to the story. Most of thr stories in Air Facts add to my understanding of avaition. Nice story about a vacation. But I didn’t learn anything. Insite about the trip, planing, procedures, how to deal with fuel , weather, customs even the name of the hotel would have helped. This was a A fine story for a Christmas newsletters but not for Air facts.

    • Ray – I think you just missed the writer’s point … he did not need to give his readers a minute by minute recitation of his aircraft management log. Rather, his intent appears to me to illuminate for his readers what private flying can bring to its participants in terms of unstructured adventure and life experience. Flying is not just about the manipulation of flight controls and the administrivia of managing a machine … it is about much more than that.

      You might try reading “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” to get a gander of what I am referring to.

  • I rather enjoyed your tongue-in-cheek article. Not everything has to be a serious diatribe. It’s perfectly OK to veer off of the beaten path now and then too just have a little fun. Those with their panties on too tight need not apply. Thanks for a fun write-up.

  • I enjoyed the read. It was more “here is what this old airplane can do” than “here is how to make this old plane do it.” Answering the question of why we fly instead of how we fly. I also prefer a journal that cuts a broad swords editorial swath. I’ll then pick what to read with my good eye for a patchless reading experience.

    It I want to complank I would make my case step by step and then take the plunge providing a submission of my own as an examplar to teach others how proper writing for the journal should be done before becoming part of the masthead

    I find nothing worth hoisting the Jolly Roger over in this tale of pirates and planes therefore you are spared my further verbiage.

    I was however disappointed a mention was not made of pirate ear piercing. A practice that .I understand is still done for a buccaneer. Especially in Aaaarrrggghhentina where old pirates are oft heard to say “I’m 80!”

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