A rhum tour of Guadeloupe

The island of Guadalupe is famous for producing rhum agricole – which is rhum (with an h) produced from the juice of sugar cane, as opposed to rum (without an h) made from molasses. It’s famous around the world, and extremely popular in its parent country of France. So when Capt Mike and I rented a car from the marina in Point-a-Pitre, the first stops on our island tour were at distilleries. Literally our first stops! All the rhum distilleries are only open until lunch time, so you have to be willing to stiffen your spine and go rhum tasting in the morning.

First stop was the boutique family-owned distillery Montebello. Unfortunately, there were no tours being offered the day we visited, because all of the machines were up and running, making rhum, and it wasn’t considered safe for visitors inside the factory. Drat! But we were encouraged to pour our own samples of several young (white) rhums and vieux (aged) rhums, as well as fun fruit flavored rhum punches. We got chatting with the young man working the shop and learned he’s a member of the only punk rock band in Guadeloupe, The Bolokos. They filmed a video in the distillery and released a special commorative rhum bottle with cute little cartoon punk rockers on the lable 🤪 He called up the video on the shop’s computer and let us watch their signature anthem “We drink white rhum”. Super fun – and if we’d still been in the area on Friday night, we’d definitely have attended their gig in the next town over. But as it was, we just bought a bottle of 4-year aged rhum and continued on our tour.

The Bolokos video – We Drink White Rhum

Next stop: the larger and more commercial Distillery Longeuteau. The man in the shop said he speaks a little English, but the tour would only be in French. When I said that  I didn’t think I wanted to pay 8€ for the tour in French, he put a finger to his lips to show it was our little secret, and handed me two tour entry tickets for free. I’m so glad we did it! Here, the machinery was also running, but apparently Longeuteau doesn’t consider it dangerous to give tours – at least not if they’d lose 8€ per person, lol. Mike kept saying, “they’d never let us get this close in the US!” A very nice gentleman from Toulouse France offered to help translate for us, and really made the whole tour more enjoyable.

Step 1: Juicing the sugar cane – A big front end bucket loader scoops up a massive amount of red sugar cane chunks and dumps it into a hopper that starts a series of conveyor belts, crushers, and presses. The end result is a gush of cloudy yellowish liquid. This part really didn’t seem Heath and Safety endorsed. In fact, a French couple finished taking their photos and stepped side just before – plop – a small avalanche of spent sugar cane fiber landed right where they’d been standing 😁

Step 2 – Fermentation – The cane juice spends several days in big open fermentation tanks building a thick froth of bubbles. It doesn’t even need to be stirred; the fermentation is so active, that the cane juice bubbles and mixes and churns automatically.

Step 3 – Distillation – Fermented cane juice is pumped to the still where the vapor from the distillation process is now high in alcohol content. The distilled alcohol exits the still at about 80% alcohol – which is not as delightful as it sounds. Our guide poured a generous dose of pure cane distillate into our cupped palms and urged us to breathe the fumes in though our noses and to sort of huff the fumes by breathing into our mouths. I definitely felt it in the back of my throat! Then he gave us a smaller pour to taste. Nothing even slightly resembling the sweet delicious aged rhum it could eventually turn into! He urged us to rub our palms back and forth to dry our hands until hardly a trace of smell or stickiness remained. If I run out of hand sanitizer, a bottle of pure sugar cane alcohol would certainly do in a pinch!

Step 4 – Aging – The pure distillate is diluted to about XXX proof and then aged briefly in steel tanks for white rhum, or at least 4 years in oak barrels for vieux (aged) golden brown rhum. Punch is also very popular. You can buy a bottle of fruit flavors, spices, and rhum that’s ready to pour over ice and enjoy. My favorite punches are coconut or passion fruit. (I’m kookoo for coco punch 🤣)

Speaking of punch, I wanted to thank the French gentleman for translating for us and making our tour so much more enjoyable. So I practiced in my head how to tell him (in French) that I wanted to give him a thank you gift and to ask which kind of punch he preferred. He really seemed to appreciate the gesture – and the bottle of Planteur Punch. I thought I’d end this post by leaving you with the recipe for a ti punch. You’re welcome!

Ti Punch

  • 2 oz of white rhum agricole
  • 1/2 tsp of turbinado sugar
  • 1 lime wedge

Use a small spoon to muddle the lime into the sugar in the bottom of a short glass. Add the rhum, stir, and serve. I prefer mine with a couple of ice cubes. For variations, use a stick of sugar cane or cane syrup instead of sugar. That’s all there is to it!

More Camino Surprises – Where wine flows like water

Ok, so this one wasn’t a real surprise. The Irache wine fountain is famous on the Camino. The plaque on the wall next to the fountain reads, “Pilgrim, if you wish to arrive at Santiago full of strength and vitality, have a drink of this great wine and make a toast to happiness.” So we did! Even at 9:00 in the morning. We arrived at the same time as for women from England and Australia so we all toasted and mugged for the cameras and got a little bit giddy together.

Mike started up the trail, and I was still busy adjusting my pack when Antone, an older gentleman dressed all in black, walked up and asked me why I was walking the Camino. He said he was walking to help people and to provide healing. So he pulled out a crystal and let it swing above his palm. He told me that my soul is very advanced, that I am in my last life before reaching enlightenment, and that I am close to working through all the karma from my past lives. So I’ve got that going for me!

The next village of Villamayor de Monjardin is one of those stone cities high of a hill that you can see for miles as you walk toward it. We found a shady oasis just below the church tower for a picnic of chorizo, hummus, pate and olives, before heading to our final stop of the day in Los Arcos.

The wave of brutally hot weather was well underway by now, and when we arrive in a town at mid-afternoon during siesta, it feels like arriving in a ghost town. Los Arcos was no different, but we found a bunk at Casa de la Abuela (Grandma’s house), cleaned up, and moved as little as possible until it was time for the communal dinner of lentils and sausage and salad. This was one of many nights on the Camino when Mike and I were the only English speaking pilgrims at the table and the conversation just sweapt around us. The church at Los Arcos is surprisingly beautiful, with much of the stone walls and arches still painted in brilliant colors, rather than faded to one of the many colors of J Crew chinos (stone…ivory…khaki…vanilla…eggshell…)

A Pinxtos Tour of San Sebastian

San Sebastian is known as a foodie city. It possesses 18 Michelin stars. Eight percent of it’s population belong to gastronomic societies. And eating is entertainment! But you don’t have to be on a Michelin star budget to enjoy great food – you just have to indulge in some pinxtos.

Look at all that deliciousness!

Pinxtos are the Basque version of the Spanish tapas. It’s a snack, usually eaten standing up at the bar or outside the restaurant with a glass of wine, to tide you over between the end of the work day and the late Spanish dinner. But here in San Sebastian they’ve elevated pintxos to a culinary art and it’s easy to make a meal of these tasty morsels. After four days of pinxtos tasting, here’s what I’ve learned….

Where to go?

When restaurants brag about being on the “100 best pinxtos bars” list you know there’s no shortage of hot spots. My method is to follow the crowds – if it’s busy, there’s probably a good reason. And you don’t have to stick to Old Town’s “Pinxto-landia” theme park vibe and tourist crowds. The trendy Gros neighborhood is also amazing.

Constitution Plaza at Sunset

Because you only order one or two small plates at each establishment, the crowds ebb and flow quickly – just loiter outside and people watch for a few minutes until there’s room at the bar. And if they ask you to pay each time you order something, it’s a tourist trap! Traditional places will let you order a round, maybe two, and when you’re ready to leave they’ll have magically remembered what you ordered and present a perfect tally.

I’m told this was always Anthony Bourdain’s first stop when ever he returned to San Sebastian

How to Order?

It can be kind of intimidating, especially if there’s a crowd and if the bartender’s speaking Basque! But stay cool. Just kind of wander through and check out the crowd, the platters of deliciousness displayed on the bar, and the chalkboard of “plates of the minute” hot pinxtos specials. Unless you see something amazing and creative, stay resolute and don’t be tempted by the cold pinxtos that have sat out all day. And DEFINITELY don’t ask for a dinner plate. A local told me “it breaks his heart” every time he sees a tourist with a huge plate of stale, bad pinxtos. Instead, order a “txach” of Basque cider, poured from a great height. Or a “gintonic” served in an oversized wine glass with bruised citrus rind, a few juniper berries, and lots of ice. Or keep it simple and go with a vino blanco – the house white is probably perfectly adequate and will only set you back about 1.20€ Now that you’re fortified with a cold beverage, order a hot pinxto from the chalk board. You might have even had a chance to check out what everyone else is eating to discover the specialty of the house. Don’t worry if you can’t translate exactly. It will probably be delicious, and if it’s not quite your thing, well there’s always the next bar down the street! Don’t forget to say thanks a lot, or “Eskerrik Asko” if you remember “Scary Costco” you’ll be close enough.

Grilled fois gras with apples cooked in cider

When I copied the description of the “rice of the day” at Atari into Google Translate I got back “Sailor rice with seaweed ali-oli and salicornia”. While that doesn’t sound very appetizing, it was actually the most delicious clam risotto served with two tiny clams on top and some sort of frothy green emulsion, topped with a few strands of a crisp, salty sea vegetable – easily one of the best things I’ve eaten in years.

“Sailor rice” and “Huevo cooked at low temps” at Atari

While you’re waiting for the kitchen to prepare your hot pinxto, ok – go ahead and help yourself to a cold one from the bar. You’re only human after all!

Some of the best pinxtos from our tour

Other highlights from our pinxtos exploring?

We stumbled upon the wonderful La Cuchara de San Telmo because a) it was crowded and b) several men wearing shirts from the local rowing club were drinking beer outside the entrance, and when we peered inside and hesitated one said “very delicious” in a strong Basque accent.

We treated ourselves to seafood pinxtos from the special 20th anniversary menu and they were some of the best of our trip. Grilled octopus with homemade tzaki and chimichuri sauces, and sea scallops wrapped in Serrano ham and served with a fresh corn emulsion and crunchy granules of toasted corn. OMG!

The name of the bar is fun too. Back when San Sebastian was being built, the church of San Telmo was considered the “poor people’s church.” In fact, they ran out of money and never completed the wall which still shows the rough unfinished sea rock known as cucha today. The rich merchants started using the name “cucharas” as an insult for the working class folks who couldn’t even afford to finish their church. Today, many San Sebastian natives have taken back the name, and embraced it with pride as their own nickname.

We really enjoyed the grilled pequillo peppers at Bar Tamboril because, except for olives, they were the only green vegetable we’d eaten since we arrived.

done we’ve done some long hikes but over a long long ago we did the Appalachian Trail 20 years ago the east coast of the United States and some it’s 2000 miles up the east coast of the United States but that was 20 years ago relationtrip

Wherever you go, and whatever you order, don’t forget to introduce yourself to the person next to you, relax and enjoy the setting sun reflecting off the stone walls, and to laugh and tell stories! You can’t go wrong!

A hike to the castle (aka, All roads lead to Jesus)

From any spot along the coast of San Sebastian you can see the huge white statue of Jesus gracing the peak of Mount Urgull. He stands at the top of an ancient castle that protected the Old City of San Sebastian from French armies. So we motivated to get our butts off the beach and onto the trail to climb the mountain and see what we could see. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to find the path, so I did a lot of research and read several blog posts and squinted at city maps. Little did I know that there are dozens of entrances to the network of paths that climb the mountain. As long as you walk uphill, you can’t help but end up at the castle!

The path is mostly paved and not very difficult, which is a good thing because I saw many high heeled sandals on the way. Lovely and shady, even in the heat of the day, the walk itself is a pleasant change from the crowds in Old Town and on La Concha beach. As you climb, you pass a series of milliary batteries and lookout points – the higher you climb, the better the views!

Finally at the top, you’re rewarded with the castle itself and a small museum dedicated to the military history of the city.

None of the museum exhibits are in English, so it didn’t take us long to have our fill and join the queue for the main attraction – the chance to climb out on a small viewing platform right at the base of the Jesus statue. Here, the views of the city are first rate and I was thrilled that we’d made the effort!

Stunning San Sebastian

After a full day in Biarritz, these global nomads had to move on! We took a bus about an hour and a half down the coast to San Sebastian, Spain for 13€ per person. Which was kind of sad, ’cause I was enjoying speaking French and now we’re back to Spanish. Or worse yet – Basque! The Basque language is not a romance language so nothing on the signs or menus looks the slightest bit familiar to me. And almost every word has an ‘X’ in it. This would be a great language for Scrabble!

Just in case I’ve given you the impression that traveling full time is easy, let me tell you a story … I booked every night of our first week in Europe at least twice 😥 At first I was thrown off by the red-eye flight and booked an Airbnb in Biarritz on the night we were actually flying to France. (for the record, Capt. Mike reviewed my reservation before I hit the “Book” button and said it looked good) So I went back to the drawing board. Then I learned that in a crazy coincidence, some of our dearest friends from Virginia planned to be in Spain on a family vacation at the EXACT SAME TIME we would be there! So I changed the reservation again to match their tour itinerary. Just before the trip I got a text “so did we send you our updated itinerary?” Oops. They wouldn’t make it to Biarritz after all. So I shortened our stay in Biarritz and added a day at a different hostel in Spain. I’m not complaining, mind you, but it sure keeps me on my toes!

And then there’s the new city blues of getting off a bus in a strange underground bus station and trying to find your way to your temporary home for the night. If you’re still a teeny bit jetlagged the sights and sounds can be overwhelming, and it’s all I can do not to walk straight into traffic! Google maps is a godsend, but not perfect. Eventually we found our hostel in the Gros district which was everything I expected a hostel to be – slightly dirty, slightly stinky, with one bathroom for the entire floor, but in a great location! We were right above a popular pinxtos bar and restaurant which set us up for a wonderful breakfast the next morning!

In the interest of research, we checked out the beach so we could compare the Spanish coast to the French coast, and then met our friends at a cider bar for dinner. As someone who needs to be gluten free for health reasons, a cidery is heaven. Especially when I find natural, cask-conditioned, unfiltered, dry cider! The best cider I’ve had since living in England! And the best part… The bartender pours it from a great height – part aeration, and part theater. Yep, that’s his “I’m sexy and I know it” look, lol.

Did I mention the crazy coincidence that allowed us to meet up with Marybeth and Trent and their kids in Spain? What a cool experience for middle schoolers to travel to another country, play soccer with kids from around the world, and experience new cultures and new foods. (the 10-year-old boys were particularly impressed with topless sunbathers.) It was amazing to have the opportunity to spend time with them 💕

I was thrilled about the cider, but Capt. Mike’s heaven was finding an artisan ice cream shop that really does gluten free right. For 3.50€, you get 2 scoops of deliciousness in a gluten free cone. AND, when you say “soy celiac” they wash their hands, grab a clean ice cream scoop, lift up the top container of ice cream and dig into the new one underneath so there’s no cross-contamination. If that’s not enough, Capt. Mike confirms it’s the best chocolate ice cream he’s had since he visited Greece ten years ago. Heck, I don’t even like ice cream very much, and I ate some. Something tells me we’ll be visiting at least once a day while we’re in San Sebastian!