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”).
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.
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.
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.