Thus began our reckoning. Guadeloupe is considered an overseas region of France and therefore is literally France, much like Hawaii is a U.S. state despite being half a world away. We knew that French was the official language of Guadeloupe so we downloaded a popular language learning app a day or two before we left Antigua and in no time I could say “c’est un chat,” “c’est un cheval,” and “c’est un chien” like it was nobody’s business. Unfortunately identifying a cat, horse, or dog does very little in the way of preparing you to navigate a foreign country. Sadly, our lack of language allowed two common stereotypes to rear their heads – the pig headed American who expects the world to speak English and the resentful French who won’t be bothered to help you in your lack of understanding. In this limbo every small interaction became a mountain to stumble up, hurling hand gestures along the way and slipping in to Spanish while my brain tried every trick in the bag, desperate to communicate. The irony is that this was the culture shock I’d been craving, I finally felt like I was traveling. I was in an exotic, jungle-covered, volcanic island and couldn’t understand a damn word anyone was saying, unless they were talking about their cat! That rush was both exhausting and exhilarating, each morning I’d wake up on the boat and slowly build the fortitude to get out there and subject myself to another day misunderstanding and poor communication. It gave me so much appreciation for language and what it can communicate and it formed instant bonds with those that were able or willing to help bridge the language gap – like the young couple from Marseilles who we ended up having dinner with, dancing with, and spending the whole night with. The challenge transformed the spaces where language isn’t necessary into beautiful sanctuaries of silence. Places like the Jacques Costeau Underwater Reserve, the healthiest reefs I’ve ever seen and the perfect antidote to the barren reefs of Antigua. Or Le Soufriere outside of Basse Terre, the highest peak in the Lesser Antilles, complete with dense jungles, and active volcano vents — an otherworldly fog-covered dreamscape. These places speak the same language we all speak, the one that our biochemistry and the earth’s geology speak – the only French necessary being the occasional bonjour or salut to fellow hikers. Guadeloupe felt like the start to our world exploration in earnest, our comfort zones were demolished, our wonder provoked, our boundaries expanded. Then we stepped toward the beautiful, complicated, and mystical Dominica.


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