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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Point a Pitre - the good stuff

So, since our somewhat ignomous entry to the Riviere Salee and the mangrove swamps, we've spent five days in Point a Pitre, the biggest town on the island and nearer to a city than a town. It has had it's high points, but some lows too.

High points have been:

The passage through the Riviere Salee. Surprisingly, getting up at 4:30am to follow a shallow, twisting swamp creek beneath two lifting road bridges and past the city rubbish dump was actually a really fun morning. Issie slept, of course, but Max was up as soon as the engine went on and joined us on deck in the darkness, enjoying the fact that the road lifted up to let us past, and we went past the airport and other bright lights. We anchored in the dawn light in a very calm pool upriver of the city and caught a couple more hours of sleep.

The city markets and play areas. Not only is it a real city, but a french one too, supported by lots of municipal money from the homeland and EU. The markets are wonderful, very good fruit, veg and flowers, as well as seafood and spices if you want them. The public spaces are very well done, with nice playgrounds and fountains. The kids spent ages running through a fountain that is a series of jets inlaid in the pavement. We started out trying to keep them dry but eventually, two dripping wet children just had to run around some more in the sun to dry off. The main square, Place Victoire, has been very nicely laid out and makes a very pleasant focus to the town. However, in a corner nearby, hidden away, I found a mural and plaque remembering something not mentioned in any guidebook I've seen. My French isn't good enough, but it looks as if, for three days in 1967, there was a small uprising which resulted in the local troop of french soldiers opening fire on demonstrators in the Place Victoire, killing and injuring an unknown number. Reprisals and round-ups followed, and it seems that the island would generally rather forget the whole thing. I think it was the same time that students in Paris were tearing up cobbled streets to throw them at the riot police. I would google for more but internet is difficult... see later.

The aquarium. Tuesday's science lesson was a trip to the aquarium, which was great. Lots of local coral and fish, turtles, sharks and more. Beautifully done and full of interest. Even though it was a small aquarium by most standards, I'm trying to teach the kids to stop and look deeper at things, so the times we did let us see much more in the tanks than the labels would suggest. Relating it to the snorkeling we've done is great too.

Ile Gozier. A fabulous little island three miles to the east of here, which we went to for a picnic lunch on Saturday, along with most of the floating machinery in Point a Pitre, it seems. Close on fifty yachts were anchored off the island whilst closer to the beach, in fact as close as they could get regardless of swimmers, were a mass of small motor boats and jetskis. The island has a little lighthouse which you can walk right up to, with great views of the atlantic. It also has excellent picnic tables, each with a little shelter and spread throughout the woodland that borders the beach. Bear in mind that this island is less than 500 metres across, so walking from one side to the other isn't strenuous, but it's perfect for the kids. The anchorage, however, was terribly bouncy due to both the waves making their way over the normally protective reefs, and the constant passage of motor boats. This is a recurrent theme... see later.

But Point a Pitre has been very disappointing too. The pilot guide suggests that it is a vibrant yachting centre where you can get great service and anything done. Well, maybe but only if you have a big budget these days, it seems. Since I've already waffled on too long about the good points, the low points will have to be the subject of the next posting.

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