Island of Beautiful Waters

Guadeloupe

River in Guadeloupe

River in Guadeloupe

Guadeloupe, one of the biggest and most populated islands of the Lesser Antilles island chain, is an overseas region and an integral department of France. French language only is spoken here, and the euro is its currency. Like pretty much every other Caribbean island, the main industry is tourism, but agriculture is also well developed, with vast banana plantations on fertile volcanic soil.

Guadeloupe consists of two islands in the shape of, most people say a butterfly, but to me they look more like human lungs. Basse-Terre to the west and Grange-Terre to the east are joined, almost like Siamese twins, separated by a narrow strait crossed by bridges. There are two smaller islands also part of Guadeloupe: Marie-Galante and Iles des Saintes.

Evo with dorado

Evo with dorado

Guadeloupe is our next stop after visiting the sovereign state of Antigua and Barbuda. Sailing there on a beam reach in moderate tradewinds from English Harbour is a sheer pleasure, and we even catch a small dorado. Evo has been hoping to catch a dorado for months now and it’s funny that his first one is so tiny and doesn’t fight at all. Small, but fish, one of the tastiest out there, and it feeds us all that evening.

Deshaies

We arrive in Deshaies, a main port of entry to Guadeloupe on the northwest side of Basse-Terre and a charming little fishermen village, and are happy to find s/v Passages already moored in the bay there (mooring balls in the bay are available free of charge, for now).

Desaies

Desaies

We met Caryn and Mel briefly when we were checking out from Nevis, and then again in Montserrat. With them and with the crews of two other boats in the Deshaies anchorage: Bev aboard s/v Aseka and Mark and Tina aboard s/v Rainbow, we organize our first waterfall expedition.

Deshaies Waterfall

Guadeloupe was once named Kerukera, The Island of Beautiful Waters, by its first known inhabitants, the Arawak Indians, for its abundance of rivers, lakes, and waterfalls.

River near Deshaies, Guadeloupe

River near Deshaies, Guadeloupe

Not far from the Deshaies anchorage there is a small river flowing through the forest, and a waterfall. But to reach the waterfall, which has no name (or maybe it does but we don’t know it) we have to walk beside and inside the river, over boulders and fallen trees for what seems an eternity.

Cruisers on a waterfall expedition

Cruisers on a waterfall expedition

Maya

Maya

Evo

Evo

We stop for a short refreshing splash-around in a small pond up river. Everyone is happy to chill before heading up and up again until we reach the place.

Maya and Evo in the river pool

Maya and Evo in the river pool

Cruisiers in the pond

Cruisers in a pond

It’s a beautiful miniature canyon with dark mossy walls dripping with water, a green pool and a small waterfall hidden in the dark behind a huge rock.

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We are really glad we have finally reached it, it was not an easy walk-in-the-park kind of hike. On the way back we pick up a few coconuts and lots of mangoes from the forest.

Mira

Mira

Ecrevisses Waterfall

A few days later we hire a car with our new best friends Caryn and Mel s/v Passages, very sweet people form Australia, and visit another waterfall, this one really popular and very close to the road, Ecrevisse Waterfall. You can park your car on the side of the road, get your towel, enter the forest, and walk 2 minutes to the place.

Ecrevisse Fall

Ecrevisse Fall

It’s full of people even at 6 in the evening, and everyone is cooling down in the pool under the cascade and in the small ponds formed here and there in the shallow wide river.

Maya having fun at the river, Ecrevisse Fall

Maya having fun at the river, Ecrevisse Fall

Most visitors are locals enjoying the refreshing waters in the afternoon, and we join them for a dip.

 

Cabret Falls

Days later we share a rental car again with Caryn and Mel and drive to the Cabret Falls for another expedition. The Cabret Falls are a series of waterfalls in a national park and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Guadeloupe. There is an entrance fee to the park of about 3 euros per person which is well worth the excellent trails with wooden paths and steps in some parts of the path.

Maya

Maya

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Maya on the trail

Maya on the trail

The first cascade is about two hours of uphill walking from the visitor’s center and descends from the Soufriere Volcano’s slopes dropping 125 meters (410 ft) in a deep pool of green waters surrounded by yellow and red rocks.

Cabret First Cascade

Cabret First Cascade

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Mira

Mira

Mel and Caryn

Mel and Caryn

It is not an easy hike to the first cascade and not too many visitors go there. Most people are content with the 15-minute walk from the visitor’s center on a paved wheelchair-accessible path to the second cascade which has a 110 meters (360 ft) drop.

Cabret Second Cascade

Cabret Second Cascade

Evo and Maya

Evo and Maya

The access to the third cascade, the one with most water volume, is currently restricted after an earthquake in 2004 and heavy rains caused landslides and cut off the trail.

Maya

Maya

We spend the day walking up and down the slopes of Soufriere volcano amidst the intense green vegetation of the tropical rainforest, going from one waterfall to another, eating sandwiches, singing and dancing among giant trees, enjoying Guadeloupe’s beautiful nature.

Maya

Maya

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Maya

Maya

Mel and Caryn

Mel and Caryn

Maya

Maya

Maya-elephant

Maya-elephant

Evo

Evo

Mira

Mira

Maya sleeping on a rock

Maya sleeping on a rock

Evo's blond-forest hairstyle

Evo’s blond-forest hairstyle

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Maya dancing and singing: I Will Survive!

Maya dancing and singing: I Will Survive!

The Life Nomadik family in Guadeloupe

The Life Nomadik family in Guadeloupe

 

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El Boqueron Canyon

A Photo Journal

After the River-Cave Expedition we sail west to El Estor, the biggest town on the shores of Lago Izabal located at the foot of Sierra de Santo Cruz on the far north-west corner of the lake.

Less than ten kilometers east from the town flows Rio Boqueron cutting a deep 250-meter-high limestone canyon through the mountains.

 

Anchorage and dock in front of El Estor

Anchorage and dock in front of El Estor

The three boats drop anchor in front of the main docks of El Estor and we all except Josef head to El Boqueron Canyon. Josef has already visited the canyon and prefers to stay and keep an eye on the boats. El Estor is not the safest place to leave three yachts unattended.

We are twelve people: Daeli, Joni, Elan, Noial, and Lovam (s/v Friendship); Jana, Kachka and Anichka (s/v Blizzard); and Ivo, Mira, Viktor and Maya (s/v Fata Morgana).

 

Fata Morgana, Blizzard, and Friendship crews

Fata Morgana, Blizzard, and Friendship crews

 

Our journey starts with an epic thirty-minute ride from El Estor to the canyon in an old packed to the rim minibus. Way too many people are already piled inside before our group of twelve board the vehicle. The mothers are holding bunches of sweaty kids in their laps (us included), the men are sticking on the outside of the minibus (our men included), holding on for deer life while the driver goes with a hundred km/hr, accelerating on the curves, stopping abruptly a few times to pick up some more passengers!

 

El Boqueron Canyon

 

Finally we arrive at the canyon’s entrance, safe and sound. There are no other visitors but our group. A few young local guys are sitting around all day waiting for tourists, charging 5 quetzals (less than a dollar) entrance fee and another 10 quetzals for a lancha (a boat) ride up the canyon.

 

Our lancha ride upriver

Our lancha ride upriver

 

Joni, Jana, me, and the kids take the lancha while Ivo and Daeli decide to swim upriver, for free.

 

 

Ivo and Daeli getting ready to swim upriver.

Ivo and Daeli getting ready to swim upriver.

 

Our lancha meets Ivo and Daeli.

Our lancha meets Ivo and Daeli.

 

We enter the canyon.

 

The entrance to the canyon.

The entrance to the canyon.

 

It is a different world: a world of giants. We are like a small family of ants in our little boat drifting in the yellow river, huge rocks towering above us.

 

Rio Boqueron

Rio Boqueron

 

A huge spider on the rocks.

A huge spider on the rocks.

 

We reach a boulder in the middle of the stream and the lancha stops. Our lanchero explains that this is our destination, the boat cannot pass, and so he leaves us stranded on that boulder and heads back. He will return to pick us up in a few hours.

 

The last stop of the lancha.

The last stop of the lancha.

 

Ivo helping the lancha pass across some rocks.

Ivo helping the lancha pass across some rocks.

 

 

We are left alone on a huge rock in the middle of the river. The rock is fun: we sit on it, we have a picnic there, but soon we get pretty bored and decide to explore further, on our own.

 

The boulder.

The boulder.

 

And this is where the adventure begins.

 

The adventure begins.

The adventure begins.

 

The twelve of us, men, women, and children, with Elan, who is disabled, born with cerebral paralysis, and the two little girls Kachka 4 and Anichka 2, start heading upriver walking or swimming against the current.

 

Journey upriver in El Boqueron Canyon

Journey upriver in El Boqueron Canyon

 

The water is cold and the day is rainy and cool.

When the current is too strong, the men swim ahead and pull the rest of us one by one or all together with a rope we brought, women holding children, children clutching the rope, struggling to stay afloat.

 

The rope was a good idea.

The rope was a good idea.

 

We reach a point where the river curves slightly and we have to cross to the other side. The water is deep and fast.

Ivo manages to swim across holding one end of the rope, Daely is holding the other end and the rest of us are in the middle.

In order for Ivo to pull us to the other side we have to grab the rope and hold on to it, and then Daeli has to let go.

But we have to do it all together and quickly, we have only one chance.

The weight on the rope is too much, it drags us down, and we all struggle to stay afloat. But we succeed.

 

Daeli holding one end of the rope.

Daeli holding one end of the rope.

 

After probably about 30-40 minutes of this ordeal we reach a small beach where we can finally step ashore and rest on the rocks.

 

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The kids are tired and frozen, their lips blue, but no one complains. We love the adventure. The place is so beautiful.

 

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Ivo and Mira

Ivo and Mira

 

 

Ivo and Daeli want to explore even further. There is always further. The human curiosity is infinite. Who knows what will they discover upriver.

 

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They „discover“ a small cayuco left on the bank of the river and decide to borrow it for a ride downriver.

 

Ivo brings a cayuco for the ride downriver.

Ivo brings a cayuco for the ride downriver.

 

A cayuco is a small traditional wooden canoe carved from a single tree trunk which the mayans use as transportation and to fish. Usually, it takes one or two people. We are twelve.

 

Loading up the cayuco with women and children.

Loading up the cayuco with women and children.

 

And I am sure that this is the one and only time in the long history of this particular cayuco when it took ten women and children, safely, back to the end of the canyon, Ivo and Daeli swimming beside it guiding it down the stream.

 

The epic ride downriver in a cayuco.

The epic ride downriver in a cayuco.

 

It is a fun ride. When the lancha guys see us arriving triumphantly all piled up in the little cayuco, happy and wet, they can’t believe it. They have never met a crazier bunch of gringoes before, that’s for sure.

 

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Then Ivo and Daeli have to swim back upriver dragging the cayuco, which almost broke and almost sunk twice, to the place where they found it. We wait for them probably for over two hours.

 

Kachca and Lovam

Kachika and Lovam

 

When the guys return we have to figure a way to go back to El Estor and we decide to hitchhike.

Twelve people hitchhiking.

Twelve people hitchhiking.

 

The first car that passes down the road doesn’t stop, but the second does.

 

"Come on , Mira, stop with your pictures and jump in the truck, hurry up!"

„Come on , Mira, stop with your pictures and jump in the truck, hurry up!“

 

A pickup truck pulls over and we all pile up on the back, twelve men, women, and children. No one wants to sit in the front with the driver, riding in the trunk with a good company is a lot more fun.

 

Riding in the back of the pick-up truck.

Riding in the back of the pick-up truck.

 

We are back at the boats in the late afternoon, hungry and tired, but ready for the next adventure.

 

 

 

 

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The River Cave Expedition

 

 

The River Cave Expedition is the first of series of expeditions we went on together with our friends, the Friendship crew and the Czechs, on the north and west shores of Lago Izabal where we sailed together for almost two weeks.

 

Fata Morgana, Blizzard, and Friendship crews

Fata Morgana, Blizzard, and Friendship crews

 

The members of the River Cave Expedition are: Josef and Katchka; Daeli, Noial, and Lovam; and Ivo, Mira, Viktor, and Maya. Total of nine people. Meanwhile, Joni with Elan who was born with cerebral paralysis, and Jana with Anichka, spend the day at the Agua Caliente waterfall. They will join us for the next adventure.

 

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We start at the Agua Caliente waterfall going up river. There is no other path but the riverbed. In the beginning it is wide and shallow surrounded by lush jungle vegetation. But soon it gets narrower and the water becomes deeper and faster, cutting a deep canyon through the mountain’s grey rocks. An awe-inspiring view.

 

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Some places are difficult and dangerous to pass; we help the younger kids climb big boulders and swim across deeper waters. Josef has to carry Katchka most of the time. Lovam accepts help very rarely and only if he truly needs it, trying to keep up with Maya and Noial who are jumping from rock to rock with great ease leading the expedition.

 

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After a while we get to a small pool of green water where the river suddenly stops, turns towards the eastern wall of the canyon and enters a dark cave. We follow. The water inside the cave is still, deep, and freezing cold. This is the place where the river sleeps. We only have two submersible flashlights for nine people, so we keep one in front and one in back of the group. We swim in the dark cold water getting deeper and deeper into the cave until we don’t see light from the entrance any longer. The world becomes black. Colors never existed here; the sun has no memory of this place. We are blind.

It is a completely new and bizarre feeling swimming in a cave, in total darkness. We hear the tiny sounds of bats above our heads. We are trying to hold on to the wet slippery rock-walls covered with guano. Everything is mysterious. Who knows what  thing without eyes is lurking in the waters beneath. Who knows what thing without soul is listening from the cave’s ceiling some 30-40 feet above our heads.

Only if you abandon yourself to the cave and its secrets you will be able to feel and appreciate it. Fear should not enter the river-cave.

Everyone is silent. At places there are big rocks we have to go over one by one helping each other. I am expecting some of the kids to start panicking in the darkness, but it seems they all are truly enjoying the ride, even Katchka, she is so brave! And Viktor tells me later this was his favorite of all expeditions so far.

 

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Then, gradually, the silence gets filled with the muffled sound of water booming in the distance: an underground waterfall. The roar trapped in the cavern gets louder as we go further and soon we cannot hear each other anymore. We now feel the strong current against us. The waterfall is about fifteen feet tall and the only way to continue would be to climb over it. So we turn back. The journey back to the cave exit is a lot faster, going with the current.

Exiting the cave is a happy moment. I think of Plato’s caveman and his amazement at the outside world. The trees, the river, the clouds, the rocks. We look at each other and we lough. Wow, what an experience!

We have reached the end of one more unforgettable journey.

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The Cave’s Exit

 

 

* All photos were taken by Daeli with his GoPro camera

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