Surprise Port: Isle de Saints

Posted on 2 May 2017 @ 12:33pm

Surprise Port: Isle de Saints

At 0400 in the morning, Isle de Saints looked like a wild, uninhabited island next to bright Guadeloupe.

To quote Andrew, who was standing next to me at the time, “Guadeloupe looks lit!” The night was dark, the sea was darker, and Isle de Saints was but a handful of dim lights. Our nap from 0600 to 0730 was filled with dreams of hacking our way through a tropical jungle à la Indiana Jones style.

I was dragging my feet at the crew mess bar, sluggishly serving myself breakfast when I caught my first glimpse of Isle de Saints in its full glory: dark green mountain sides speckled with red rooved houses, turquoise water lapping at white sand beaches, and the smell of fresh croissants wafting through the air. Isle de Saints, we had underestimated you. The sight of our Surprise Port woke us all up and brought a foreign, almost forgotten, energy to our morning: conversations in the mess before 0900, straight backs and open eyes at Colours, unprecedented efficiency in Cleaning Stations, and the frenzy of girls scavenging behind our sea chests, frantically searching for swimsuit bottoms that we swore we threw behind there after Barbados. We were all excited for our one day ashore.

Customs took a little longer than we would have hoped, but, to be honest, any wait was longer than we would have hoped. All of us were impatient, looking forward to our first bite into a crisp, gooey, glorious baguette. To fill the time, phones were connected to speakers and a simple stroll down the port side breezeway was like a journey through different music genres, one ending to be replaced by another, or two merging together, no one wanting to forfeit their music space. Marshmallows were tossed and caught, or missed, but in the end, devoured. And then Black Betty would appear around the bow of the ship, and all activity ceased to prepare to load onto the tender and make our way onto Isle de Saints.

The first sight to catch our eyes as we disembarked from Black Betty was an ice cream and crêpe stand. Our dreams coming true, everyone treated themselves to a sweet treat (and the best waffle cone I have ever had the pleasure of feasting on). For us Québécois, it was a first chance to speak French in quite some time, and boy did it feel nice to have long, mildly in depth conversations in a language that reminds us of home, even if most of the merchants on the island spoke English as well.

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Here is one of the many, many groups of Class Afloat students who purchased ice cream at “Glaces Pays” (photo taken by Svea Strassburger).

 Next up was a walk up a winding road to the tippity-top of a mountain where Napoleon’s Fort reigned. Along the way, we got sneak peaks into our day to come, indulging in grand views of the island and its quaint village and majestic beaches. Upon our arrival at the fort, some chose to pay to tour the interior, and others, such as myself, chose to walk around the fort, following its deep trenches. Either way, this historic landmark offered a clear explanation for the island’s use as a French military post during their confrontations with the English over the Antilles: from the ramparts, we had a 360° view of the waters surrounding the Isle de Saints.

No time to waste, we quickly moved towards the beach, seeing as Isle de Saints has been dubbed the island with the most beautiful bays as advertised by their tourism centre. On our way, we were acquainted with the many, many goats and chickens that seem to be the true masters of the island.

The beach was breath-taking with an incredibly well placed small island that served as a breakwater from the expansive ocean. It was a shallow swim from the shore to the island, but the floor of the bay was covered with corals and many sea urchins so it was safer to float over these delights. Exploring the little island was a lot of fun; it reminded me of childhood camping trips in Maine or New Brunswick. One difference though: having to wear shoes all day every day has rendered my feet more sensitive than I would like and they did not appreciate the small, sharp pebbles that covered the island. But it was worth it to peer down the ledge of steep cliffs, wade through isolated pools of water that made me feel like one of the girls in “H2O Just Add Water”, and witness water breaking through holes in the cliff walls like water being shot out of a water gun. I discovered prehistoric looking crustaceans, and delicate seashells of pastel pinks, blues and yellows, as well as sponges that unwelcomingly reminded me of how I cleaned the toilet bowl in the girl’s forward heads a couple hours prior.

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Everyone stopped at the beach that day, even though it was a trek across the island (photo taken by Janna Wester).

Post-swim, Svea discovered iguanas as we purchased a quick bite from the local chip shack that served a mix of cultural foods ranging from Chinese to Haitian finger foods and sandwiches. Later, we stopped off at the grocery store before lunch, and everyone purchased a baguette for less than a Euro. A reminder of home. We unfortunately discovered that restaurant kitchens close at 1430 on the island as we rushed into the last restaurant that would take us in the village. We lucked out though, and were served deliciously grilled fish in passion fruit or island honey sauces with sides of local root vegetable and banana purées.

 After lunch, Antoine and I were dead set on finding a bakery for fresh patisseries. A short stroll down the main road came up fruitful as we discovered a quaint bakery on a side corner where Antoine bought out their “pain au chocolat”, and I purchased and promptly polished off an amandine and a chocolate tart. We also stocked up on some more baguettes, as it had been too long.

In our last hour, we attempted to breeze through the little artisan boutiques that lined the main road. However, we got caught up in the custom handmade jean store, where the artist sold jeans, shorts, skirts, vests, etc. all made from recycled jean fabric and flashy prints. I must confess to trying on almost every single pair of shorts in that store; the merchant was convinced she would find the perfect pair of shorts for me, and she did, with the convincing of my friends and shipmates. Before boarding Black Betty, and leaving Isle de Saints, we had to indulge in one final ice cream - passion fruit sorbet anyone?

Back on board by 1700, the anchor was up and we were sailing away, with the assistance of the motor, before the first hot tray of supper was carried up to the bar. We were continuing our journey to the Dominican Republic. Isle de Saints was the perfect pit-stop that will surely fuel our dreams for the next couple of days.

-  Written by Grade 12 student Leah