With no back up birthday plans, a novice
traveler sets off to explore “Gwada”

Promising myself a 30th birthday celebration to remember, visiting the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe ft the call. Having agreed to visit a close friend more than seven years ago, this trip served a dual purpose: staying true to my word and escaping the unforgiving New York winter weather. A round trip, nonstop Norwegian Air flight departing from JFK sold for $350. That’s a steal of a deal considering prices regularly settled around double or triple the rate. As the trip drew near, I grew in excitement. Researching travel notices kept me grounded and added an air of caution to my preparations.

Birds playingAccording to the World Health Organization, the Zika virus infection was recorded in Guadeloupe in January 2016. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention outlined that subtropical climates, like that of Guadeloupe, are ideal for mosquitos infected with Zika to spread to humans. No medicine or vaccine exists for Zika; aside from wearing bug spray as perfume for the week— c’est la vie. As a novice international traveler, coming to the airport three hours in advance was something new.

From my experiences flying domestically, arriving that early seemed optional. Having thoroughly packed, planned and researched this trip, the severity of my oversight was shocking. I missed my flight to Guadeloupe! Purchasing another ticket or cancelling the entire trip were the only options. However, no contingency birthday plan in New York could contend with the high expectation of exploring the French West Indies. Finding a new flight was expensive, but necessary. Southeast of Puerto Rico, between the Caribbean Sea and the tropical Atlantic Ocean, rests the picturesque islands of Guadeloupe. Before Christopher Columbus discovered Guadeloupe in 1493, the Carib indigenous people of the Lesser Antilles inhabited the land and named the island Karukéra, which means “the island with beautiful water.” However, the Spanish were unsuccessful in colonizing the island, losing the battle to the warlike Carib Indians. The French were able to defeat the Caribs and were the frst to colonize
the island.

Man Diving in the waterAn overseas region of France since 1635, this Caribbean best kept secret has preserved its authentic way of life and respect for the sun-kissed people, land and sea. Although a cultural mix of the African and French islanders, a majority of Guadeloupians speak French, the country’s offcial language. Creole patios is also widely spoken, which is a mixture of French, English, Spanish, Carib, Portuguese, and African dialects. The butterfly-shaped islands of Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre are the main territories of the stunning French archipelago of
Guadeloupe. The two islands are separated by the Salée River and a bridge connects the islands to one another.

With more hotels than any other island in the archipelago, Grande-Terre is the ideal tourist backdrop. A beach-lover’s paradise, miles of sandy white beaches, great restaurants and
nightclubs align the exotic east coast. Vacationing during the high season, but avoiding the mainstream delights was my intention. Having hired a native islander as my guide and translator, I experienced Guadeloupe from a local’s perspective and it was a real treat. Basse-Terre is the capital city of Guadeloupe and the bigger of the two main islands. An adventure seekers paradise, La Grande Soufrière is one of the youngest and most active volcanoes in
the Caribbean. Nearly a mile high, lush tropical rainforest vegetation surrounds the volcano with hiking trails ranging in distance and diffculty. Advancing closer towards the craters, temperatures considerably drop, visibility decreases and the sharp scent of sulfur encases your nasal passages. Getting lost in the tranquil beauty of the waterfalls, soaking away my worries in the natural hot springs of Basse-Terre, which is supplied with hot water from La Grande Soufrière volcano, was a euphoric experience I won’t soon forget.

Boats in SeaThe steep and narrow roads along the tops of towering sea cliffs made driving a challenging and uncomfortable task. Resting my faith in the skill level of my friend, I refused to sit in the driver’s seat, even with the rental car under my name. The roundabouts, tight bends and poor lighting after sunset along Basse-Terre’s mountain roads felt too dangerous for a non-driving New Yorker to handle. All roads led to amazing cuisine, especially at Deshaies La Plage de Cluny. Off the beaten path, this quaint and clothing optional beach is targeted towards adults seeking tranquility and no tan lines. Local vendors offered tasteful surroundings and strong Ti Punch, a rum-based mixed drink popular throughout the island. French dishes with a Caribbean twist— the richly flavored fresh seafood echoed why Guadeloupe is world renowned for its extraordinary cuisine. An unforgettable experience worth repeating, Guadeloupe offers an escape from the fastpaced life and easily coaxes visitors to relax, release and repeat. A welcomed disconnect and necessary indulgence.

On the hunt for passport stamps, increasing international travel is a goal with noexpiration date. A New York implant, Alicia Mitchell is a digital project manager, softball manager, and lover of life and new experiences.

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