The first thing we do in Iles des Saintes is get used to the French ways of doing things. The shops open at 8 or 9, whether it’s groceries, clothes, trinkets or government. They close their shutters at noon sharp, as the restaurants set tables on sidewalks, and frame entrances with chalkboards touting plat de jour. Arrive after 2 for lunch and you’re ignored. Finie, finished, we are closed. The tables move back inside, the shutters close and out comes the clothes and trinkets to the sidewalks again. At 6:30 the same thing happens. Clothes go in, shutters close and at 7 you find restaurants slowly open but better for 7:30 or 8.
The small group of islands known as Iles des Saintes is south of the main island of Guadeloupe. Originally a French fishing village with families coming from Normandy. The land was too rocky and dry for plantation agriculture, so it has no slavery in its past. The hills are steep and red and the village of Bourg des Saintes is the only town in the group. The narrow main street has been blocked off for pedestrians only, so you walk from shop to shop with no worries of tourist on scooters.
In the morning, children steer bikes with one hand while carrying baguettes home for breakfast with the other. Freshly made ice cream is a favorite treat of children and old alike, who sit on benches watching the day pass, selling freshly made fruit tartes from lined baskets and gossiping amongst themselves.
The main library is a beautiful ancient stone building with shutters, on a road just outside of town. We pass it as the hill rises for our walk to the north beach. It was probably built in the 1600’s as opposed to the new stadium and new police station we found on the other side of the hill.
The yacht club is just what one images an old bohemian club would be like. The friendly barefooted owner, lounges in a room behind a bar, watching TV and alights when service is requested. The tables and chairs are toes in the sand with hammocks and sofas to lallygag in. Palm trees block the afternoon sun leaving it the coolest most relaxed place on the island. Best of all, we can sit drinking cold local beer while enjoying the view of CORCOVADO waiting for us in the harbor.