The warm faces of Guadeloupe #Frifotos

This week’s FriFotos theme is “Thanks.”

While I could produce an endless photo essay on the blessings that have come my way in 2013, I chose to focus on one of my recent moments of gratitude: the warm welcome I received while visiting Guadeloupe Islands this month.

Long after the stunning scenery, delicious meals and adventure activities, it’s the faces I remember. The stories, the hospitality, the smiles.

If Jamaicans set the bar for friendliness in the English-speaking Caribbean, Guadeloupeans do so for the French side. I was struck by how polite and welcoming the people are on this French yet African-spirited archipelago, even beyond the service in restaurants or the constant “bonjour” I received when passing a stranger, from urban areas to rainforest trails.

It’s one of the main reasons I felt like returning.

Below are just a handful of the wonderful souls who made my trip that much more memorable, from scheduled to serendipitous encounters.

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Have you ever set foot in a market anywhere in the Caribbean where the first thing a vendor did was smile and invite you to “come, take pictures”? And that “you have a nice camera, might as well use it”? Unobtrusive and charming, they were as curious >>about me as I was about them. While exploring solo, I was offered a free banana while we chatted about Guadeloupe. Miss Marie-Jeanne, her smile more vibrant than her colorful clothes, let me examine and smell her spices–I couldn’t resist buying the tea mix–and bid me farewell with a print out of her own recipe for the national dish, Chicken Colombo. I could have spent all day at St. Anne’s seafront market.

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Then there’s Mr. Alex, a hard-working sugar cane farmer who happily shared a slice of agrarian life on Marie-Galante, one of Guadeloupe’s oldest and most rural islands. I’ll never forget the moment he turned around and handed me his whip, prompting me to ride his oxcart and direct two bulls, with five passengers’ lives in my hands. What an experience! I fared quite well, in case you’re wondering (more on that later).

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Gillou Meens’ passion for the seas was contagious. He set foot on Les Saintes, also part of Guadeloupe Islands, and decided he was never heading back to France. I wonder why.

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There aren’t enough words to describe our fantastic driver and guide Rudy--a walking encyclopedia on Guadeloupe’s history and its off the beaten track spots. I knew he was an invaluable resource from day one–call it a guidebook writer’s instinct. Thanks to him, I learned more about Guadeloupe’s culture and everyday life than I would have on my own, in such a short amount of time. No request or question was ever too much. To me, he summed up the essence of the Guadeloupean spirit.

I’ll never stop giving thanks to those who welcome me into their lives and let me explore to my heart’s content, so I can in turn share it with my corner of the world.

Merci, Guadeloupe!

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Lebawit Lily Girma

Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning, Ethiopian-American travel writer, photographer and author of several Caribbean guidebooks for Moon Travel Guides, including Moon Belize, Moon Belize Cayes, and Moon Dominican Republic (October 2016). Her work focuses on Caribbean culture and adventure, and has been published in AFAR, CNN Travel, BBC, Delta Sky, The Guardian, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, and Every Day With Rachael Ray, among many others. Lily is also the 2016 recipient of the Marcia Vickery Wallace Award for Excellence in Travel Journalism for her Caribbean coverage, from the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

Lily calls herself a “culture-holic”–she speaks four languages fluently and has lived in Cote d’Ivoire, England, Jamaica, Belize, the Dominican Republic and traveled to some 30+ countries around the world. Last but not least, she is a former corporate attorney who ditched her Washington DC office for the road in 2009 to pursue her dream of becoming a storyteller.
Lily holds a Bachelor of Arts in French and Spanish (summa cum laude) from the University of Maryland at College Park, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law.

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