Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Butterfly Island—Guadeloupe

Approaching Guadeloupe on the heels of tropical storm Gonzalo
They call it the Butterfly Island not because of its population of lapidopterae (although there are some big ones!) but rather because of its odd shape: Guadeloupe, seen from outer space or simply on a map, looks like a giant mariposa, and for the past four days or so I have been spending my time right in the thorax area, near the island's capital of Pointe-a-Pitre.
You don't need much imagination to see the butterfly
No diving this time around
This latest assignment to a UCI race is quite possibly the most exotic one that I have enjoyed this year. Whereas Ecuador and Costa Rica were definitely foreign, Guadeloupe is differently "other." It may be part of France, but its Creole population and its Caribbean climate set it apart in ways I didn't expect, even though Judy and I had been to another French outlier, Martinique, more than a decade ago. This is a place that uses the euro and where cars' license plates are French, but a majority of the people look anything but European. The French they speak is difficult to understand, or worse, and things don't get done the way one would expect. It is hot and sticky, and the climate most definitely influences how people move: slowly, or not at all.
Modern-day travel involves certain risks
I am writing this update on the third competition day of the European Track Championships (Les Championnats d'Europe Elite Sur Piste), which this year are hosted by France. And since the French are French (meaning, they do whatever they like to do because, after all, they are French!) they decided to make everyone fly across the Atlantic and visit this outpost of French civilization. As a matter of fact, those European teams that flew via Paris arrived in one day of travel while, for me, both coming and going involved two days each—and I had to be very selective about my travel days since there's no air service from Miami or San Juan on certain days going to Pointe-a-Pitre. My travel plans were almost derailed by tropical storm Gonzalo, which blew through the area just a day ahead of my flying in. Thankfully, it changed course a bit and left the place unscathed.
The Belgian women's team pursuit team warms up before the race in the infield ...
... while others use the tunnel to sweat it out
The Irish squad starts under the watchful eyes of my old friend Martin Bruin

Even though many of my friends think that all of these trips are vacations, that's really not the case. My days here start around 9:00 a.m. when my colleague Helene and I leave the hotel and drive our little Peugeot to the velodrome. The day comes to an end when we leave the track around 11:00 p.m., or later. Tonight, with the heaviest schedule of the four-day competition, it very well may be after midnight. But that still leaves a little bit of time in the mornings to enjoy the beach and the water at our sea-side hotel, and we managed to run back to the Hotel Le Creole for lunch these past two days, eking out another 45 minutes of R&R. That won't happen today, though, and tomorrow's schedule looks too tight as well. Never mind: Floating for 30 or 45 minutes in the warm, caressing waters that are part Atlantic, part Caribbean is balm for the soul and body, and mind you, I'm being paid to be here!
Lunch-hour bliss
Our hotel is straight ahead—sweet, eh?
The velodrome has an outdoor concrete track, 333.33 meters long. During the day, qualifications and training sessions are being run while the various finals don't start until the late afternoon when things should be cooling down—but they don't. When the sun is out (most of the day), the infield of the 'drome is a broiling cauldron with air temperatures in the mid- to upper-90s. Add the thick, heavy humidity, and you will understand why everybody is soaking wet. But even in the evenings it is virtually impossible to stay dry as the concrete still emanates heat. Riders sit on rollers, warming up and sweating up a storm, and commissaires and other personnel might as well have just emerged from a thunderstorm. Only the locals seem to not mind—maybe because they don't display much movement?
The velodrome at Baie-Mahault, just outside of Pointe-a-Pitre
Once the lights come on (and the giant moths appear) the 'drome changes character
Our office is somewhat air-conditioned, and my constant going in and out has given me a bit of a scratchy throat. I am trying to shoosh it away by enjoying the fresh fruit every morning in the hotel and thinking positive, but we'll see how successful I'll be. To think that a week from today I will be at almost 6,000 feet in North Carolina, most likely freezing my ass off, is mind-boggling.
Outside breakfast at the hotel restaurant ...
... and midnight dinner while doing paperwork in the room
The afternoon sessions are about to begin and my lunch-break is coming to an end. I wish there had been a little extra time to explore more of Guadeloupe, but with the airline schedules and my having to be in NC on Thursday of next week there was just no way to fit in a vacation. Two more days of work, and then two days of travel before I have 36 hours in Lubbock before leaving again. Man, it's crazy!
Click on this panoramic view from the hotel's beach for the full effect
Ms. Crab lives in the rocks ...
... and Mr. Iguana in the nicely groomed hotel grounds
With that said, I'll close things down for now and publish this update. As always, thanks for reading!


Jürgen

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