January in Guadeloupe is one of the best times to visit this lush garden of tropical sun, azure sea, and verdant mountains. The weather is spectacular, not too hot, yet in the 80’s during the day & extremely balmy & mild at night. On this visit, in the countryside it was downright chilly! It’s also carnival time and there’s an abundance of music and street parades in every neighborhood and community.
Most people I meet, when they hear Guadeloupe, think I’m talking about that island in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Ensenada, in Mexico. In fact, our Guadeloupe is the butterfly-shaped pearl in the Caribbean Sea. Among its many distinctions is that it’s one of the few remaining colonized countries in the North American hemisphere, having been designated a department of France since 1947. However, its oft-times contentious relationship with France dates back to the 16th century.
But Quincy and I’ve been coming to Guadeloupe since 1985, seduced as we were by its hot and spicy Afro-French creoleness, adding that extra layer of privacy afforded by being in a place where one can barely speak the language. Guadeloupe, or Gwada as the locals call it, has the best of both African and French cultures with a heavy dose of intriguing native Indian and East Indian flavorings.
The cuisine here, influenced by Arawak, Caraïbe, African, Indian, and French culinary traditions, is typical Caribbean food: fish, rice and peas, goat & vegetable stews sizzling with Scotch Bonnet pepper, lime, curry, thickened with okra (gumbo) and bright orange pumpkins. Banana, mango, and papaya trees laden with succulent fruit produce the sweetest breakfasts you can imagine. Even the honey here, of which I’ve become a major fan, is something special!
What makes traveling so enjoyable for me is meeting the local people who tend to be the “creative” types: artists, writers, musicians, chefs, designers, architects, of which Gwada has a plethora! Guadeloupeans are a handsome people. I remember being struck by the regal bearing of the men and women the first time I came here; how softly they spoke, how polite they seemed, how utterly generous and welcoming.
There are many fine restaurants, great beaches, shopping, dramatic nature trails, sailing, you name it, you can find it here. But unlike a lot of Caribbean island, Gwada maintains a certain appealing rawness. It has not been over-built with touristy hotels. It’s still possible to find quaint towns and villages, to shop in sleek malls or in street markets, roadside stands and the like.
On this last trip, I fell in love with the work of Michel Rovélas, one of Guadeloupe’s most accomplished visual artists. Not until I visited his studio on this last visit did I realize just how fine a craftsman he is. I expect to bring him and a show of his work to New York later this year or in 2011, so you can see what I’m talking about.