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!

Lebawit Lily Girma

Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning travel journalist, photographer, and guidebook author specializing in the Caribbean region. Her work has been published in major travel publications, including CNN, AFAR, Delta Sky, Lonely Planet, Shermans Travel, and BBC, among others. A self-professed "culture-holic," Lily left her native Ethiopia at age one, fast developing a passion for the expat Caribbean life. In 2008, she ditched her US corporate law career for the road and created Sunshine and Stilettos—a travel photography blog showcasing authentic ways to experience the Caribbean, through culture and nature. Lily has since partnered with Caribbean tourism boards and travel brands on major content projects. She also authors print guidebooks on three destinations, including Belize, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. Read more on her site, LebawitGirma.com

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