I work for a diving club on the less populated, west side of Guadeloupe. It quietly boasts verdant forests and volcanic beaches, while the east side is ridden with hotel resorts, late-night karaoke and hot, sticky beach chairs.
Anyway, part of my job is to sit in the information kiosk and chat to passers-by about the various activities we offer.
The hut is conveniently located next to the bus stop, where large tour guide companies often deposit their day-trippers from the other side of the island. Meanwhile, I sit and wait eagerly for someone who is interested in more than the whereabouts of the nearest toilet, or the crowd-packed glass-bottomed boat.
Every day I watch tourists with a little pang of sadness. It saddens me that they think after boat ride, a snack on the beach, and a few snaps on the digital camera, they’re good to go.
I rather enjoy trying to guess the nationality of each batch of holidaymakers who come sauntering from the bus stop. They’re all a little dazed from their journey across the island on the twisty forest road. Lost, they gaze around like students on the first day of high school.
Every day I watch these people with a little pang of sadness. It saddens me that they think they can see all there is to see of this place in one short day. A boat ride, a snack on the beach, a few snaps on the digital camera and they’re good to go. It’s all they need, they’ve ticked the box, they’ve bought the t-shirt as well.
The thing that amazes me most about travelling is just how quickly you can build a life for yourself in one place, if you stay for a while.
Of course, one week is going to feel like a holiday, maybe after two weeks you know where the best shops, cafes and beach spots are. But after three weeks, you start to learn people’s names, and they know yours. You make friends with people you walked past on your first day, and their friends become your friends. You have a network of people; a family.
And it is in this way that you come to know a place. You share experiences with the people around you who have lived there a little longer, who seem a little older and wiser because of that. They have interesting stories and endless things to teach you.
One of my favourite things that happens in Guadeloupe is Gwoka. This is traditional Caribbean live music, which takes place twice a week on our beach. Every Thursday and Sunday, the restaurant stays open late and the place comes alive for a few hours. Drummers, singers and dancers fill the place with a certain energy that only comes from deep cultural pride and appreciation. And funnily enough, there is rarely a tourist in sight. This may be partly because the tour guides have already bused them back, or because they simply don’t know that it exists.
Either way, it’s something you only experience if you fully immerse yourself in the culture. So much can happen if you only put down your camera for a minute and start talking to the locals instead.
It’s great to be a tourist; I don’t want to discourage that. Visit places, take photos, eat food, buy souvenirs. However, there’s a certain untouchable beauty that comes with staying that little bit longer.
I won’t stay in Guadeloupe forever, but I’ve learned how to make it my home for the time that I’m here, and it’s nothing short of wonderful.
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