A story of a peanut-eating toddler and four hospitals on five Caribbean islands. Part 4.

This is part 4 of the Peanut Saga – the final part. This is the story of what happened when our 1.5-year-old toddler inhaled a peanut into her airways in the Caribbean. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here. In this final recap you can read how Lily’s recovery went after the peanut got extracted and what medical costs we incurred from this whole ordeal that spanned over 11 days.

December 15, 2019

After a few days of hospital life in Martinique, Lily was recovering so well that we had been given permission to leave the medical facility for 24 hours. So on Dec. 15 we finally got to see a bit of this French Caribbean island that is known to be the sister island of Guadeloupe (where we normally live and from where I also write a blog). Luckily for me, my Finnish friend Meri is a tour guide in Martinique and runs her own company, Anoli Tours, so Lily and I got to tag along on one of her minivan tours. We mainly toured the southern half of the island together with a young Canadian couple. We visited places like the viewpoint of Le Diamant and its accompanying long beach, and the slavery memorial of Cap 110. We also went to a few beaches where the Canadians hoped to see turtles, but had no luck.

I was relieved to see that Lily did really well all day and was full of energy again. It was hard to believe that this was the same kid who had been so lethargic just 48 hours earlier! She was splashing around in the water so much that the identifying sticker in her hospital anklet even fell off. I took this as a good sign that soon hospital life would be completely behind us!

At night we had to return back to our hospital room, though, since our 24 hours of freedom were over. Aww. But Lily was also excited to meet her little buddy at the hospital again, the boy with the arm cast, and to push her favorite hospital doll in the stroller again.

A fellow Finn and a certified Martinique tour guide Meri of Anoli Tours showed us around her home island of almost 10 years.

December 16, 2019

We received the same measly hospital breakfast of hot chocolate powder and a piece of bread as before. Technically it was all for Lily – I should have organized my own brekky – but luckily she was friendly enough to share.

Randomly for lunch Lily was only offered a clear liquid soup. I asked what was up with that – this little bowl of salty water would certainly not be enough to sustain her for the whole day. The hospital food delivery person said it was because Lily had “just been in an operation” so she wasn’t allowed to eat solids yet. Hmm, what?! I commented that in fact her operation was three days ago and she had been eating tons of solids after that already, including chicken the hospital gave her on the night of the operation. The woman looked confused and said she would double check what was going on. Soon after that she brought over a new tray with some proper foods, including some macaroni and beef in a sauce. That was better.

Sometime during the day Lily was wheeled in for an X-ray again to see check on the recovery of her right lung. All looked great, and also the air bubble on her chest had gone down quite substantially. It was starting to look like we could return back home soon!

I was told to go to the hospital’s social security department to discuss the details of our return back to Guadeloupe. Lily was able to stay with the nurses at the ward while I did that. I was pretty confused throughout the whole French language chat that included some bureaucratic terms. But from what I understood, the hospital would pay for my ticket back to Guadeloupe! Wow, I was not expecting that. I was also told that they would refund me the 128 euros that I had already paid for the inward ticket to Martinique and the 225 euros that J-F had paid for his roundtrip ticket. Okay then! (In the end it took about 10 months to get our flight refunds, but oh well – it was a nice surprise to get the money back in the first place.)

The clerk asked me when I would like to fly back to Gwada, saying that Wednesday, Dec. 18, would be the earliest option but she recommended Dec. 19 (for whatever reason). I told her we preferred Dec. 18 as we were missing home quite a lot already. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay until Dec. 19?”, she asked. Uhm, yeah, pretty sure. It had been a long enough of a stay on the neighboring island! She said okay and that she would call us back when the tickets were issued.

The hospital dinner. The clear liquid on the upper right-hand corner was initially all Lily got. Hmm…

Since I had my Finnish friend living in Martinique, the hospital agreed to discharge us for our final two nights on the island. We could stay with Meri and would just need to come back tomorrow morning to take care of the rest of the hospital paperwork. That sounded good to me! Meri and her daughter came to pick us up and stayed with Lily in the pediatric ward while I went to get our official hospital exit permits. We then said our goodbyes and thankyous to the nurses of Lily’s ward. It was a little sad but we were also happy to be free again. Unfortunately Lily’s little hospital buddy wasn’t around when he left. Hopefully he wasn’t too upset to notice that Lily had been released, and that he recovered fast!

December 17, 2019

After a night spent at Meri’s place, we started the day by driving back to the hospital to pick up the remaining paperwork from the front desk. Mainly it was just Lily’s diagnosis statement and a document that her and I were on “sick leave” for another few days, which wasn’t really necessary since we didn’t have any obligations to be anywhere anyway.

I also thought I would receive some bills to pay but nope. It turned out that all of the costs of Lily’s operation and her stay were covered either by the French social security system that is funded by taxes, or by our mutuelle – our supplementary voluntary private medical insurance. Without this additional insurance, this surely would have been a costly adventure (though nowhere near what it would have cost in the USA of course – I know of a child whose challenging almond removal operation in Maine came to a whopping $25,000! Granted, hers was a complex case that resulted in actual lung surgery, which we were lucky to avoid).

Apparently just the one-hour helicopter ride that Lily took from Gwada to Martinique normally costs around 10 000 euros ($12,000), of which around 70 percent is covered by the French social security system. The remaining three grand is on the patient’s own dime, unless they have a mutuelle like we did. Phew.

One night in a French hospital can cost anywhere from 1,300 to 3,000 euros – of which, again, some 70 percent would be reimbursed later on by the secu. So with an extended stay like ours in the pediatric ward, that all would add up. We were very happy to have our supplementary insurance, which costs around 120 euros per month for our family of three.

(For low income families, there are apparently special government programs that can help you pay these types of big medical costs. And some French residents just choose not to pay the medical bills they receive – if they manage to ignore and avoid the bill collectors for four years, the bills are considered expired.)

After this brief hospital detour we spent the rest of the day visiting the center of Fort-de-France and the beaches of Trois Ilet with Meri’s daughter (as Meri herself had another tour to guide). It was nice to finally see the famous capital of Martinique: FDF (population 82,500) is said to have a much more urban and French feel than Guadeloupe’s best known city, the run-down town of Pointe-a-Pitre.

Parts of Fort-de-France made me feel like I was in a much bigger city.

I do have to agree with this – FDF is a nice city for sure. The waterfront playground for kids was also a sweet touch: while it was basic, at least it had swings! (A fun fact: swings are practically impossible to find in Guadeloupe. This is a big source of disappointment for Lily.)

Taking the boat across to Trois Ilet was a fun activity, too. The marina we arrived to reminded me a lot of the Marina Bas-du-Fort in Guadeloupe, and the little beaches of Trois Ilet brought to mind the hotel beaches of Guadeloupe’s Pointe de la Verdure in Le Gosier. The two kids and I thoroughly enjoyed the day. It was such a nice way to end our impromptu medical trip to Martinique.

December 18, 2019

The 11-day peanut saga was officially ending – we were flying back to home to Guadeloupe at last. Meri dropped us off at the airport sometime after 10 a.m. so that we would be there well in time to catch our flight around 12.45 p.m.

There were beautiful Christmas decorations at the airport. I was excited to finally start focusing on the upcoming holidays instead of dealing with all this peanut drama!

I was also extremely thankful to be doing this trip back with a healthy toddler by my side. At this point you never would have guessed all the horrors that Lily had gone through recently. Her chest bubble had totally disappeared, too. She ran around the duty free shop in her usual wild way and popped an M&M flashlight on the counter when I was paying for some snacks. The clerk rang it up before I had a chance to say anything. Oh well, she certainly deserved a little gift for having been so brave!

The Air Antilles Express flight back went fine and Lily slept through the whole 45 minutes. Back in Guadeloupe she was super happy to be reunited with her dad. And vice versa!

We still had a few days left of the antibiotics after this but aside from that there wasn’t much reminding us of the misadventures of the past few weeks. All had ended better than we ever could have hoped for.

And now, more than a year later, we are still keeping Lily far away from any peanuts!

With the Peanut Saga behind her, she was ready for Christmas.

A story of a peanut-eating toddler and four hospitals on five Caribbean islands. Part 1.

This is part 1 of the Peanut Saga – one of the worst things that ever happened to me. It’s taken me a while to feel strong enough to write all this down. Yet I wanted to do it, even if only to remember the details myself and to not take a single day with my child for granted. Maybe you can also learn from this and keep this from happening to other young kids, or know what to do if it does happen. I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone. It was very nerve-wracking.

So now it’s been just over a year since our toddler inhaled a peanut into her airways in the Caribbean and at last I feel like I can write about this experience without getting too emotional. Up until now I have felt nauseous just thinking about it or looking at the photos from those crazy days on my phone (yes, this peanut saga went on for several days! But luckily it has a happy ending).

So I hope you “enjoy” this wild tale that involves a toddler, a peanut, an emergency helicopter ride and four hospitals on five Caribbean islands.

As this is a long story, it will be split into several posts.

So here is how it all went down:

December 7, 2019

While we normally live in Guadeloupe (and thus I also run a blog called Guadeloupe Guide), at this point we were on the beautiful Caribbean island of Anguilla with my little family of three: me, my French spouse J-F and our then 1.5-year-old toddler girl Lily. I was there reviewing local luxury hotels for an American website (I know, it’s a hard life but someone has to live it! Or had to… this was obviously pre-Covid days).

Dec. 7 was the last one of our three nights in Anguilla, and we were living it up at the 5-star Manoah Boutique Hotel on the northern end of the island. We had just come back to our spacious room for a bath after doing a night swim at the Olympic-size lit-up pool of the hotel.

Night time swim, anyone?

Around 9 p.m. J-F prepared a typical (albeit a very late) French apero for us on the low-lying mirror table, consisting of beer, nachos and crushed peanuts. Our dinner was to be a store-bought baby meal for Lily and some Ramen noodles for us (fancy, eh!), as those are easy to prepare even in a hotel room without kitchen access. (And we weren’t about to pay those 5-star dinner prices at the hotel’s restaurant – that could easily wipe out my earnings from the whole hotel reviewing gig, hah.)

After seeing the food set up, Lily rushed over to the table and quickly stuffed her mouth with the peanuts and the nachos. I wasn’t too worried about it as she had been successfully eating crushed peanuts since turning one. (At this point I wasn’t aware that whole and crushed peanuts aren’t actually recommended until age 5! It’s better to serve young kids a thin layer of peanut butter on a cracker instead. This reduces their risk of developing a peanut allergy but helps avoid the choking risk.)

Suddenly things took a dark turn. Before Lily had managed to swallow the peanut pieces and the nachos, she also grabbed some noodles. She quickly shoved those into her mouth, too, on top of all the other stuff. And it turned out they were spicy noodles! So she freaked out. Acting in a panic, she took a deep breath and thus inhaled much of the food that was in her mouth. She then started coughing and was clearly struggling to breath. I panicked but instinctively grabbed her onto my lap and slapped her back a few times while she was lying down on my knees, facing the floor. This helped most of the food to come out but clearly not all of it.

The scene of the unlucky peanut incident.

The child’s breathing then became scratchy and wheezy – we could hear there was something stuck in her airways, probably a piece of a peanut or a nacho. She coughed a few more times but nothing more would come out. She calmed down. She remained unusually chill for about 10 minutes but then seemed all energetic and fine again, despite her breathing being labored. Soon she was roaming around the hotel room and playing with the room’s mirrors and the safety deposit box, as usual. We the parents, on the other hand, started frantically Googling what to do if a toddler inhales a peanut. While there were some tricks to try at home, like giving the child a bubbly soft drink in case the food was in fact just stuck in the food pipe, most of the advice seemed to point at going to the hospital. So that’s where we headed too.

Anguilla’s small Princess Alexandra Hospital is located in the center of the island, so it was about a 10-minute drive along the small dark roads for us. When we arrived there after 10 p.m., only one corner of the single-story building was lit up. This is where we found the Accident and Emergency department. We explained the situation, filled out some papers and sat down to wait. There were only a few other people in the small waiting room but it still took about 20-30 minutes for us to be seen. We were then called into the doctor’s room. The man listened to Lily’s breathing with a stethoscope and said he could clearly hear the scratchy sound. He thus ordered a chest X-ray. Before getting it done, we had to pay for the hospital visit at the cashier’s desk. I remember the bill being around 60 euros.

After about a half an hour of waiting in the hallway, we got called into the X-ray room. The room had seen better days – it had paint peeling off the pink walls and the machine itself seemed scruffy and old. We had to hold Lily down on the bed while the machine took a picture of her chest from about a meter above her. Of course at this point Lily started panicking and crying and coughing frantically, so much so that it was hard to get the picture taken. Finally we succeeded though. And magically after she got up from the bed, her breathing seemed normal again. No more heaviness or scratchiness. Whoa! I wasn’t sure if I should be happy or worried about this – after all, we had not seen anything come out of her mouth. Could the peanut have gone further down the trachea (wind pipe) or even into her lungs? Or could it have come up and she had simply swallowed it?

When the doctor told us the results of the chest X-ray a while later, he seemed convinced all was fine. The chest X-ray had showed that Lily’s lungs were clear. “And her breathing is okay now”, he said victoriously. The doc said that ideally he would have also taken a picture of Lily’s trachea, too, but the person in charge of running that particular machinery was off the island at that moment. So if we really wanted to get further consultations, he said we could go to the island of St. Martin the next day and visit the hospital there. But that would be up to us and just an extra precaution – overall it seemed that all was great now. Lily was breathing just fine and the X-ray was clear. (Plus I only learned later on that peanuts don’t often show up at regular X-rays since they are organic material…)

I asked the doctor if it was possible that the peanut could have gone deeper into her lungs during her coughing fit. “No, we would hear it. Her breathing would sound scratchy if there was anything more in her airways,” the doctor reassured me. Plus, again, the X-ray had looked good, he said. So we ended up driving back to our hotel around 11 p.m. and let out a sigh of relief that all seemed to be well again.

Lily enjoyed a good night’s rest after a rough night.

Little did we know at this point that this was just the beginning of the long-winded peanut saga.

December 8, 2019

After a short but fairly well-rested night, we woke up around 6 a.m. to drive to the Anguilla port to catch the day’s first boat to the neighboring island of St. Martin. Lily seemed to be back to her usual energetic self in the car and in the waiting room of the port too. She slept for most of the 20-minute boat ride to the bay of Marigot in St. Martin.

For a while we pondered if we should in fact visit the hospital in St. Martin just in case, but in the end we decided not to. Our kiddo appeared totally okay and normal and was breathing well too. She coughed a few times during the morning in a dry way but it didn’t sound alarming – I figured her throat was just irritated from the previous night’s overload. So once we got to St. Martin, we hopped directly onto the ferry going to the island of St. Barthelemy. I was slated to visit some more luxury hotels there during the next three days.

We spent the day in St. Barth’s catching up with my Swedish friend Veronica who lived there, and visiting a few of the first hotels. We settled into our cute luxury boutique hotel, Les Ondines sur la Plage, where we would stay for three nights. Lily was excited about the hotel’s pool and its nice waterfall.

We were the only guests at the hotel so the pool was all ours.

We also passed by a beach near Gustavia and did a small hike to a beautiful viewpoint. It was incredibly hot and sunny that day and unfortunately we forgot to put a hat on Lily. None of us probably drank enough water either.

Therefore when Lily suddenly developed a fever that night and I woke up to her puking onto the bed and on me at 2 a.m., my first thought was that she was suffering from heat exhaustion. The symptoms all seemed to match what I read online about the impacts of excessive sun exposure.

We gave the poor little thing some of the children’s Doliprane (paracetamol) that we had brought with us. That quickly brought down the fever and she was able to fall asleep again. I soon went to sleep too, of course feeling like a terrible parent for not keeping her out of the sun.

December 9, 2019

Lily woke up seeming completely fine, with no sign of fever or nausea or anything being wrong. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast on our ground-level balcony, just in front of the beautiful bay of Grand cul de Sac. Lily also took a morning bath in our jacuzzi tub that lit up with various disco lights. She was loving it.

Around 10 a.m. Veronica took us on a scenic hike along the coast nearby. The plan was to head down to a swimming hole of sorts, but finally the cliffside path looked too steep to descend down with a toddler. So we just admired the views for a bit and then turned back. During the hike Lily was in a baby carrier and wearing her sun hat tightly on her head, and we regularly offered her water to avoid any risk of heat exhaustion.

The rest of the day we kept the little one out of the sun as much as possible, too. During the hot midday hours her dad stayed with her at our hotel while Veronica and I toured some of the luxury properties on the island.

In the afternoon we visited a local playground, where Lily played as happily as ever. In the evening we had drinks by the waterfront in Gustavia and then a nice Thai dinner at the trendy Black Ginger.

Throughout all of this Lily seemed to be totally healthy. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary within her behavior.

One of the hotels we visited this day was the luxury property of Eden Rock St. Barths.

But alarmingly enough, later that night Lily developed a fever again. We didn’t have a thermometer with us, but her skin certainly felt very hot. That got me worried, as this time it clearly could not have been heat exhaustion. We gave her some Doliprane again and a few hours later she fell asleep. Wisened up from last night, I covered the bed with towels just in case. And sure enough, at 2 a.m., Lily woke up to puke on the bed for the second night in a row. At this point I really started to worry and searched for hospital info for St. Barth’s. But as she only puked once and then settled back into sleep, we decided to wait until the morning to see how she would be doing.

December 10, 2019

For the first time since this all started, Lily did not wake up looking healthy or energetic at all. In fact, she looked very tired. She had developed a proper phlegmy cough instead of the occasional dry one she had exhibited here and there over the past few days, and she still seemed feverish. It was definitely time to take her into the local hospital.

I still had a few more hotels to visit before completing my work assignment, so Veronica and I dropped off J-F and Lily at the island’s modern-looking Centre Hospitalier de Bruyn and headed off to my meetings. Needless to say, I was quite absent-minded during the morning and anxiously awaited for some news about my little daughter.

She and her dad got out of the hospital a bit before noon and all we met up at the Hotel Villa Marie Saint-Barth, where we had been invited for lunch. Oh man, it broke my heart to see my baby sleeping on her dad’s arms, totally limp. She just seemed completely exhausted.

Despite our worries, we tried to be cheerful for the lovely lunch at the Hotel Villa Marie Saint-Barth.

J-F told me the doctor’s verdict: Lily had a lung infection in her right lung, i.e. pneumonia! Oh my goodness. 😦 My heart sank upon hearing that. Apparently the doctor had no idea what was causing the infection though, as no foreign object had showed up on the X-ray that morning. (Again, food particles don’t always show up on X-rays….and neither does plastic, FYI.) So the doc had just prescribed steroids plus a week of antibiotics (Amoxicillin) for her and told us to go see a doctor back in Guadeloupe in about a week, to make sure the pneumonia had subsided.

I was pretty upset about the antibiotics – I had hoped that Lily could avoid taking them at least until she was a little older to protect her gut bacteria. But of course at this point we didn’t have a choice. Pneumonia is a very serious condition and you definitely don’t want to leave it untreated.

While we ate our multi-course lunch, the little one got her first dose of the meds (which she hated taking from the get-go). Throughout the day she started perking up and regained some energy. In the evening Veronica and I even had dinner at the famous Le Ti St. Barth, the only cabaret restaurant on the island, and Lily ran around the property and admired all the outfits in the performers’ backstage closet.

Things were looking better but I was still kind of worried – what could have caused the sudden lung infection? I had lingering fears that there was still a peanut hiding in there somewhere…

Le Ti St. Barth serves impressive drinks and has the island’s only cabaret show.

December 11, 2019

We were slated to fly back to Guadeloupe in the evening from St. Martin, so around 10 a.m. we caught the one-hour ferry to Marigot, St. Martin. The boat trip went well again, with Lily sleeping most of the way. After our arrival, our Bolivian friend Edgar who lives in St. Martin came to meet us at the port and drove us around the island for the day. We had a nice Mexican lunch near the famous Maho Beach, known for the dramatic airline landings. We spotted a few planes landing and then drove to the French side. While there, we visited the impressively long beach of Grande Case before our friend dropped us off at the Grande Case airport.

The 45-minute flight onboard the French carrier Air Caraibes went by fast. Lily seemed fine, she fell asleep as she usually does on flights. Once we got back to Guadeloupe, we breathed a sigh of relief: it was great to be home as now Lily could really start recovering. We gave her the antibiotics and she went to sleep early.

A family pic at the famous Maho Beach of St. Martin.

But it didn’t take long for me to notice something was weird about her breathing: it sounded scratchy and raspy again! I wondered if it was just the sound of the phlegm in her throat but somehow I wasn’t convinced. In an eerie way, the sound was familiar – it reminded me of how she had sounded on Saturday night in Anguilla, right after she had inhaled the peanuts and nachos. Oh gosh.

I got concerned and stayed awake a long time listening to the toddler’s raspy breathing. I even recorded a video of the sound, which I sent to my step sister in Finland. She played it to one of the pediatricians at the hospital where she worked, explaining about Lily’s pneumonia diagnosis too. The recommendation I got from there was to go see a doctor again: if in fact there is a foreign object in the trachea, it apparently most often causes aspiration pneumonia in the right lung. That is exactly where Lily had the infection. And, my sister told me, food particles do not usually show up in X-rays. That was exactly what I had been worried about…

The story continues here with Part 2.

Here it is: A direct link to buy The Quick Gwada Guide!

Bonjour everyone!

A lot of people have been emailing me about a direct link for buying my Guadeloupe guidebook. Well, now there’s finally one! So instead of handing all the e-book sales manually and sending the e-book via email, I’ve now outsourced the process to a site called Payhip. Yay!

So if you are interested in buying the world’s only up-to-date English language guidebook for Guadeloupe, click here:



Like before, you can still pay by Paypal, but you can download the 67-page PDF right after the payment instead of needing to wait for me to email it to you. That’s progress!

Here are some sample pages. As you can see, the e-book has quite a lot of photos to break up the long text blocks. It is not a heavy read despite being almost too long to be called The Quick Gwada Guide anymore… maybe a name change is in order soon. 🙂 It’s also easy to navigate between the sections with the help of the Table of Contents, which tells you the page you need to go to in order to find what you are looking for.


The version that you will get via this new link is actually the 3rd edition of The Quick Gwada Guide. The e-book was updated recently (February 2017) – this version is slightly longer than the earlier one, as it has some expanded sections. This means that the “per page cost” has gone down to 22 cents. I can assure you that this guidebook is worth its $15 cost as you will be saving lots of time and money in Guadeloupe with it.


While I have already included some reviews in my earlier blog posts, here are some more recent comments people have emailed me:

“We just got back from our holiday to Guadeloupe. We had the best time, Guadeloupe is really beautiful, and there are so many wonderful things to do. Of course, we travelled with your e-book. We had it printed so we could take it with us everywhere. I think we did most of your top 30+ list of things to do. Can’t tell which we liked best. Again, we were very happy with your guidebook, so thank you very much.”

“Thank you, Mirva. I have downloaded the Gwada guide. Just gave it a quick look and it is fabulous! It will make our trip next month much more enjoyable.”  

“Good morning – Thanks again for your very detailed advice and for your ebook. We are already planning a return visit.”

“I briefly looked at your guide…just what the Dr. ordered!”

“Thanks to your book we are going to try for some day trips to the various places on the other side of the island. I remember something about sea turtles in Malendure. I want to go to one of the small ilets, that sounds really fun. And the waterfall, and the hot spring, and the volcano. 🙂 Thanks for everything. Your work on the book really made my life easier. I’m very appreciative.” 


Photo by the awesome Mariana Keller.

I even have a Finnish-language comment to include:

“Hei Mirva, ja suuret kiitokset mahtavasta tietopaketista Gwadasta! Tuo e-kirja avasi saaret aivan uudella tavalla! Poikakaverini pelko siitä, että siellä saattaa aika käydä pitkäksi,haihtui saman tien. :)”

(Translation: Hi Mirva, and many thanks for the awesome information package about Gwada! This e-book opened my eyes in a brand-new way. My boyfriend immediately got rid of his fear that we might get bored there. :)”

See you in Gwada!

PS. Let me know if you have any problems with the new link. If you’d like to buy the e-book the old-fashioned way (via a direct Paypal/Venmo/Chase Quick Pay/bank transfer payment), you can email me at gwadaguide @ gmail.com.


Flight 2: San Juan, Puerto Rico to New York

This post is part of the Ultimate Flight Marathon multi-part series, where I review the flights I take during 3.5 weeks of intense traveling.

Airline: American Airlines

Date: May 7, 2016

Type of plane: Boeing 737-823

Duration of the flight: 4 hours

Delays: None

General info: As everyone knows, American Airlines is one of the three major legacy carriers of the United States. From my experience, many of their planes tend to be on the older side so things like personal screens are a luxury you shouldn’t expect to get. This flight landed at New York’s JFK. Being a thrifty traveler, I usually get to the city by taking the B15 bus to New Lots Avenue and by hopping on the 3 train from there. This way the airport trip costs just $2.75! The savings from the AirTrain might be just $5 at a time, but given how many times I do this airport trip every year, it all adds up. Also, taking the bus directly to the 3 train often ends up being the fastest option for me anyway.

What was special about this plane: Nothing really. It’s the basic Boeing that is used on tons of American Airlines flights around the United States. However, what was special before this flight was that I was all alone while clearing US immigration in Puerto Rico as I was the first to exit my plane from Guadeloupe and I guess no other planes had landed the same time. It was amazing not to have to stand in line for an hour, as is usual when entering the US via bigger airports (here’s looking at you, Miami!). However, I did encounter a slight delay after the customs guy asked me if I had any checked bags. When I answered no, he said I had been selected for a “random inspection” and had to step aside for a thorough bag check-up and questioning. How random can it be when I was the only person around? Haha. But somehow it seems unfair that I constantly get singled out because of traveling with only hand luggage. 😦 So this inspection took another 5-10 minutes, but overall it was a very smooth airport transfer, and flight as well.


It was such a pretty day to be flying over the Caribbean.

Highlight: It was a really beautiful day and the clouds were floating super high in the sky. This meant that we flew below them instead of above, and I had an unobstructed view of the flat-looking blue sea under us. It looked really pretty. It also made me feel a little weak in the knees to see how incredibly high we were. This is a sensation that I don’t get a lot, as I’m usually not afraid of heights.

What I would do differently next time: I would have earplugs handy. The TV screens in the middle of the plane started blasting at full volume at one point, and I was worried we would be subjected to this noise for the duration of the trip. Luckily the TV went back to silent after the annoying ads ended.


There’s the communal TV, blasting as loud as ever during commercials.

Food served: We got a bag of the savory snack mix and a choice of a non-alcoholic beverage. Luckily I wasn’t hungry at all, as I had just visited the Global Lounge at the San Juan airport. I’m happy to report that Global Lounge’s food offerings have improved since my last visit in November! Instead of just cereal and crackers, this time they had actual ham and cheese sandwiches, veggies and dip, and even a yummy-looking fruit salad. Sadly looks can be deceiving: the fruits tasted old already, so I decided it was best not to finish the bowl I took.

Fruit salad.JPG

It looked good… but didn’t taste so fresh at all.


The Global Lounge is one of my favorite lounges due to its simple but trendy decor.

Turbulence: At first the flight was super smooth, but then there was intense turbulence for 10 minutes. It made me think twice about undertaking this Ultimate Flight Project. :/ No matter how much I fly, I have yet to feel comfortable during turbulence.

Price: As I explained during my first flight review, this was the second flight of the two that made up my one-way ticket from Guadeloupe to NYC. The total price of this ticket was $220, which I covered by using Thank You points from Citibank.

Miles earned: 1,597 miles, deposited into the American Airlines AAdvantage program. These are the final days for me to utilize the American Airlines program though: I’m switching my miles-accruing over to the Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan soon. This is because in mid-June AA is changing their award program to be revenue-based (following in the footsteps of Delta and United). That doesn’t work well for people like myself who tend to fly long distances for fairly cheap fares. Under the new system I would only get 1,100 AA points for this trip that currently gives me 1,900 miles. On longer trips this difference in earned miles is even more striking. Boohoo!

Overall experience: It was OK.

Flight 1: Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe, to San Juan, Puerto Rico

As I promised, here starts my review series of the flights that make up the Ultimate Flight Marathon (i.e. my personal Amazing Race).

Airline: Seaborne Airlines

Date: May 7, 2016

Type of plane: Saab 340 TurboProp

Duration of the flight: 1.5 hours

Delays: We did leave about 10 minutes behind schedule, but it didn’t impact our arrival time. However, it was a bit nerve-wracking that boarding only started after we were supposed to have taken off already (as I knew I had a tight connection in San Juan).



General info: Seaborne is a tiny Caribbean airline that partners with American Airlines and Jet Blue. Therefore your e-ticket may say American Airlines (as mine did) but rest assured – your aircraft will be much more exotic than “plane” ol’ American (pun intended). On the route from Guadeloupe to Puerto Rico, Seaborne operates a tiny 30-seater twin-engine propeller plane, Saab 340 TurboProp. It’s definitely not the most modern aircraft out there – Wikipedia tells me that the production of this plane type ended in 1998.

What was special about this plane: The overhead bins are so small that a regular carry-on suitcase won’t fit up there. Therefore the staff collected bigger carry-ons from people as they were stepping up to the aircraft, and stashed them in the plane’s luggage compartment. Folks got them back as soon as we landed in San Juan. Luckily my backpack was small enough to fit in the tiny space we were allotted. (Yay for packing light!)

Highlight: It was entertaining to watch the lone flight attendant, Julio, trying to play several roles simultaneously and to try not to hit his head onto the low roof.


What I would do differently next time: The whole left side of the plane is made up of single seats, so everyone got a window seat – except for me! I managed to be assigned the only window seat onboard that didn’t have a window. Lame. So next time I’ll ask for a seat that is not 2A. I had to gawk over at my neighIMG_7446.jpgbor’s window to steal at least a small glimpse of the pretty islands of the Caribbean we flew over.

Food served: We got two bags of pretzels and a choice of mango/guava juice and water. Not shabby for such a short hop across the pond!


Turbulence: In smaller planes you tend to feel every twist and turn. From that perspective the ride was exceptionally smooth. There was practically no shaking at all – just a tad at the landing time.

Price: This was the first flight of the two flights that made up my one-way ticket from Guadeloupe to NYC. The total price of this ticket would have been $220, but I paid it with the awesome Thank You points from Citibank. As long as you have the Citi Prestige credit card, these points offer great value if you are booking an American Airlines flight or a codeshare (which is what this one was). Yet another reason to love that card (getting access to airport lounges is another!). Of course I would have much rather taken one of the cheap and direct Norwegian Air flights from Gwada to NYC, but unfortunately those flights aren’t running again until November.

Miles earned: Not a whole lot – I earned just 331 miles, which I deposited into the American Airlines AAdvantage program.

Overall experience: Just OK.

The crazy, wacky Ultimate Flight Marathon

Happy May everyone!

As I write this, I’m about to embark on an epic journey – a dream trip to New Caledonia. Where exactly is that, you may wonder… Well, it’s a French island, or actually an archipelago, located in the Pacific Ocean. Geographically, it’s about as far from France as possible. It’s also pretty darn far from our departure point of Guadeloupe and the Caribbean in general. But it’s only a couple of hours from Sydney, Australia, by plane.

The idea for this trip came from my French boyfriend. He visited New Caledonia 15 years ago and considers it the most beautiful place he has ever seen. We’ve wanted to take a trip there for a while already, and now it’s finally happening!

This is where the Ultimate Flight Marathon comes into the picture: to get from the Caribbean to New Caledonia’s capital of Noumea and back, we will be taking a total of 15 flights over the next 3.5 weeks. Yikes. This includes flights with 11 different airlines. The shortest flight is just 1.5 hours, and the longest one over 13 hours.


This photo is from the beach of La Datcha in Guadeloupe – I’m having a hard time believing that New Caledonia can beat this view! But let’s see.

To make this gargantuan air journey a bit more exciting, I decided to review some of the flight segments and airlines on this blog as we move along. I will be commenting on things like on-time departure and arrival times, food served onboard, possible turbulence and other trouble, as well as my own state of mind after all that flying. This should help you decide if this type of an Ultimate Flight Marathon might also be your cup of tea. (Or it might encourage you to pay whatever is needed to get a direct flight to your destination instead!)

I’ll also make a note of the cost of each flight and tell you the airline miles earned and the airline programs I used. I may also talk about things we did during layovers, as well as the airport lounges on various airports (as I’m a happy owner of the Priority Pass lounge membership program due to my awesome Citi Prestige credit card).


This is the Global Lounge in the airport of San Juan, Puerto Rico. It’s one of my favorite lounges as it’s so swanky and stylish! However, the food options are very basic, as is customary for American lounges.

In a way this project will be similar to Quality Hunters 2, a Finnair project I took part in back in 2011. During that project I had 13 flights over seven weeks – and I thought that was a lot! But now I’m setting off to break my own record with these 15 flights. Taking the duration of the trip into consideration, on average we will be taking one flight every two days between early May and June 2.

With so many different airlines being a part of my Ultimate Flight Marathon, the chances are high that you will find your favorite airline mentioned among those (or alternatively you may learn more about an obscure airline you didn’t even know existed). The blog entries for this Ultimate Flight Marathon can thus serve as a helpful reference point to anyone contemplating flying some of the same segments or airlines in the future.

Here’s the route on the outward trip:

Guadeloupe – Puerto Rico – New York- Tokyo – Bangkok – Singapore – Perth – Sydney – New Caledonia


And here’s how we’ll be coming back:

New Caledonia – Auckland – Sydney – Bangkok – Tokyo – Chicago – Montreal – Guadeloupe

Now, I know what you must be thinking: There is no way this is the most direct way from the Caribbean to the Pacific! And you are right – it’s most certainly not. The most direct way would have been Guadeloupe – San Juan/Miami- Los Angeles – Sydney – New Caledonia. But that’s also a really expensive way – about $2,500-$4,000 roundtrip.

By transiting through Asia and Australia and by making use of some great flight deals and utilizing a bit of frequent flier miles, we were able to get the total cost of this dream trip down to less than $1,000 per person. This way we will also be able to visit some old favorite cities of mine in Asia and Australia during our respective one-day layovers. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing how my Aussie home of Perth has changed since I lived there back in 2006! It will also be great to catch up with friends in various friends along the way.

(Note: You can even get to New Caledonia for a couple of hundred dollars, if you happen to have access to a stash of Air France miles. It costs just 60,000 miles and around $300 in taxes to fly to a roundtrip to Noumea from Los Angeles, and you’ll get to pass by Sydney too. However, award availability was scarce for our wanted dates, so we skipped this opportunity.)

Without further ado – welcome onboard the Ultimate Flight Marathon! Hope you stay tuned for updates on how the trip is progressing, and feel free to send any tips my way with regards to New Caledonia or any of the cities we’ll be visiting on the way!


Map of Guadeloupe

Are you wondering where each island is located in Guadeloupe?

Here’s a handy map of the “continent” of Gwada and all the outer islands that we drew for my e-book. As you see, Grande Terre and Basse Term form the wings of “the Butterfly Island.”

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If you are looking for a detailed offline map to download on your phone or tablet before your trip, check out the free maps at http://maps.me.


Guadeloupe’s jewel is disappearing

One of my favorite places in Guadeloupe is Ilet Caret. It’s a tiny sand bank in the middle of the Caribbean Sea that has really clear water and a couple of palm trees. Paradise on earth! It’s also a popular place for locals to park their private boats and have an island party. If you go there on a weekend, you may see upwards of 30 boats parked on all sides of the island and you’ll hear a cacophony of music all around you. So if that’s not your scene, you should go during the week when it’s more quiet.

I’ve visited it four times now, and can’t wait to go back. Love it!


Sadly, it looks like Ilet Caret has taken a turn for the worse since my last visit about six months ago according to a recent French-language news article. The island is disappearing, and it’s happening even faster than anyone thought!

Take a look at the new aerial photo published in the article. Sad, eh??

So does this mean that Ilet Caret is no longer worth visiting? Of course it doesn’t. Quite the contrary – it means the time to visit is NOW, since we never know how much longer we’ll have this island beauty in our Gwada lives.

And even if nearly all the palm trees have fallen victim to the waves and the rising seas, the island’s white sand and clear turquoise water still remain.


If you are coming to Guadeloupe with the cheap-as-chips Norwegian Air flights, I highly recommend keeping Ilet Caret in mind. Visiting it makes for a really fun day out!

One of the easiest ways to visit the island is to take an organized speedboat day trip from St. Rose, Basse Terre, or to travel there from the Marina Bas-du-Fort onboard the King Papyrus catamaran.

Either way, go before it’s too late! I suspect that sooner or later, Ilet Caret will suffer the same fate as Ilet la Biche (pictured below). From that islet only this wooden shack remains on top of the water. It’s still an interesting place to visit on a kayak or a speedboat, but it’s not quite as picturesque as Caret Island.


If you want more info about Ilet Caret and Ilet la Biche and the ways to visit them, my new e-book The Quick Gwada Guide has the details (along with 60+ pages of information about Guadeloupe).

Caret Jenni

My Guadeloupe e-book is finally DONE!

It’s official! The Quick Gwada Guide e-book is finished! After six weeks of hard full-time work and a bucketload of joy and exhaustion … It’s finally done!! Yayyyyy. 🙂

If you are traveling to Guadeloupe with the new, cheap Norwegian flights from the US (or from elsewhere) and are interested in getting ideas for where to stay in Gwada, finding out the top 30 best things to see and do here, plus want to get answers to common traveler questions (What’s the seaweed situation like? Is it easy to find wifi? What should I bring with me? What if I don’t speak French?), this e-book is for you! It’s the first English-language guidebook about Guadeloupe written since the year 2000, so you literally cannot find more up-to-date information anywhere and in as concise of a format. (The e-book is 63 pages, but it’s easy to scroll to the sections that are most useful to you.)

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Here are some things that buyers have said about this e-book so far:

“I finished your book. It is absolutely excellent. This had to be a LOT of work for you, and I congratulate you on the result!” (Writer’s note: Yes, it was more work than I ever thought!)

“It is really, really good and I think it will be super helpful for first-time visitors! It would be really nice if Norwegian would put your guide in the seatbacks on all flights to Gwada!”

Very helpful book. I will take the time to offer some feedback after returning from Guadeloupe.”

“I just wanted to thank you for all your guidance and friendliness. It contributed to a wonderful maiden journey to Guadeloupe!”

“Mirva, thanks so much for the guide. You are like the Rick Steves of Guadeloupe. If you publish your guide on Amazon or anywhere else, I’d be glad to give you a positive review.

“Thank you so much! We got a lot of use out of your book.”

So yes, sounds like my guidebook has pretty much nailed it! And indeed, Amazon is the step I need to tackle next so that I can reach a bigger audience with this book. Another good contact could be the Guadeloupe tourist board and their new website. So much to do!

In the meantime, if you are interested in the Quick Gwada Guide, feel free to email me at gwadaguide@gmail.com to order a PDF copy. Based on reader reviews, it prints without any issues and can easily be read at least on the Amazon Kindle Fire.

The price of this e-book is $15 (thus a mere 23 cents per page!) and you will definitely save that money several times over if you invest in this guide. After all, I’m a budget traveler myself so I’ve included tons of tips for saving money while in Gwada, as well as a list of the top things to do here, many of them free or low-cost.

Payment is easiest done via Venmo or Paypal, using the email address of gwadaguide@gmail.com, but we can discuss other ways to pay if you aren’t familiar with those. Please leave your email address as a comment when you make the payment, so that I’ll know who to send the e-book to!



Coming soon: My Guadeloupe guidebook!

Last month I woke up to the reality that there are no good and up-to-date English-language guidebooks on Guadeloupe, my home in the Caribbean. Yet there are tons of American tourists coming here currently with the new crazy-cheap flights from the East Coast of the USA. Fares start at $69 one-way! Most of the town a return trip will cost you around $300, but that’s still VERY cheap compared to the pre-Norwegian airline prices. Needless to say, I was super excited when they announced these flights back in the summer time.

And now I’m also extremely excited to announce that soon there will be an awesome new e-book available for people heading to Guadeloupe: The Quick Gwada Guide! Written by yours truly.

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I’m currently in the process of putting in the final finishing touches to the e-book (who knew that picking and choosing photos  and formatting text could be so time-consuming??) and will be selling it through this blog soon enough. The book will answer all the commonly asked questions, and include tons of tips for your stay in “tropical France.” The Quick Gwada Guide will also help you save money with its budget travel tips for this island that is one of the most expensive in the Caribbean.

Please stay tuned and feel free get in touch if you want to be among the first ones to receive an electronic copy!