Monday, December 19, 2011

Martinique - French Island in the Windwards

Sunday, December 11, 2011
After an uneventful 3 hour cruise Friday afternoon from St. Lucia to Martinique, seeing nothing of interest, we dropped the hook in Cul-de-Sac Marin, a huge basin loaded with sailboat masts amazing sight! 
Sooo many boats at anchor!

Huge yachts, privately owned here

Unusual boats - 'pirate ship'  
 It is a little tricky to get in here as there are some very shallow areas mixed in and about the deep water, but we had no problems.

We spent Saturday clearing Customs & Immigration and wandering about both in the dingy and on foot for miles, checking out all the activity and shops along the huge waterfront.

OMG, Yes, someone is living aboard this pigsty!

Look at the size of this one.  That is about a 45-50' boat coming alongside the big one for your perspective!
Ah ha!  I know I’m on a French island now.  It was point and point again with our fingers trying to order lunch at a little restaurant overlooking the water.  I asked for soda water (water with gas) which was understood.  Then I asked for lime to go with it.  The glass put in front of me was about 1/4 full with a liquid that I figured was the lime juice.  A small plate of 4 lime slices was also placed in front of me.  Our salads were about what we thought they would be and very good with lightly fried brie placed atop of small pieces of toast, loaded with butter and garlic.  So much for low calorie salads!
The French are fastitidous - "Don't Pee on the Floor" was everywhere & no toilet seats - No fights over lowering it!

Checking the bill, and after much hand gesturing and some assistance from a Frenchman seated nearby who spoke a little English, we learned that that juice or whatever it was in my glass was $5 US -- No, didn’t taste like liquor.  We still don’t understand what I got or ordered!  Phew, the taxes on the water we drank, one beer and the food (all different rates from 2% to 7%) added an additional 20% to our bill!  The gratuity is extra.  Look out America if we go the way of the VAT!
Ummm, even I can figure this out.  French will eat ANYTHING!

Stopping in a local grocery store, some confusion reigned again.  I figured out the plain yogurt; bought plain water instead of the soda water I wanted; got some help to figure out the different kinds of butter - with or without salt AND the lady helping me said “And that is FAKE butter - not good.”  She was referring to margarine.  Ah, the French.  We will waddle out of here in a week.

Very European, however, in that there are no bags in which to place your groceries at check out.  Very green and a custom I wish the US would totally adopt.  Backpack full, small items tucked in our pockets and one plastic bag we were able to purchase held our groceries and back into the dingy we went.  I have now already loaded our empty backpack with two more cloth bags for future purchases along the way. 

Looks like a cactus tree
Old old Church in Marin

Love how they bury their dead behind the Church- always overlooking the Sea

Old Old Old Building

Inside of that building - complete with stones made from ballast of previous ships a couple hundred years ago
As in all the islands, the stores and many restaurants close at noon on Saturday, not reopening until Monday, so here we are, poking about and in search of wifi.

Note to boaters:  The free wifi mentioned in the guidebooks at Mango Bay Restaurant is terrible.  Several days of attempting to connect & then finally getting connected only to be dropped is frustrating.  Once connected, it’s slow and nearly impossible to click onto a link.  One told us that it is because the French and the EU don’t allow much in the way of power by law.....That, plus any cloud or weather kills the connection.  We ate more BAD food there, trying for hours to connect.  Be forewarned.

Renting a car for two days, we were eager to enjoy this French experience and drive much of the 680 square mile island of 400,000 people.  The island is dominated by the 4,582’ volcano, Mt. Pelee, at the northern end, has a rain forest much like those in Central America (wet, wet) and tapers down into smaller mountains - actually more like rolling hills (called mornes) that are no taller than 1,600’.

Mt. Pelee when we tried to drive up & hike to it

The clouds rolled in thick and wet and we gave up any attempt to drive further up to the top and hike to the volcano.

Mt. Pelee without the clouds!

No matter, we oooed and ahhhhed up & down a zillion hairpin turns along the Route de la Trace (Trail Route).  This road had been cut through by the Jesuit priests back in the 1700s so they could bypass the twin Pitons de Caret just south of Mt. Pelee.  Wow, I can’t imagine that undertaking, but we are most appreciative.
Lush rainforest

Fields that reminded me of Europe

The Atlantic off in the distance

Thick, lush, green, and overgrown with ferns that have individual leaves bigger than I am tall!  I realized how much I’ve missed the smell of damp earth and the cool mountain air.
Old Sugar Plantation now a Pottery Village

Old Sugar Plantation

 Driving through Trois Ilets, known for its stunning beaches, the church where Josephine and her mother had been baptized in 1763 and for a pottery village & sugarcane museum, Maison de la Canne, we took a look.

The island, like most of them in the Caribbean, changed ownership from the early Caribs (those cannibalistic Indians who came from the Rio Orinoco region of Venezuela), the Arawak Indians to the French, who first arrived in 1635.

The French built Fort Royal, now known as Fort-de-France shortly thereafter; introduced sugar cane to the island and authorized the use of African slaves.  With cheap labor and sugar in demand in Europe, the island began to prosper.

Old sugarcane museum in Trois Ilets

What I found most facinating in the museum (I was not allowed to take photographs) was the Code Noir, or Black Code.

This list of rules, published and placed all over the island, dictated proper behavior between slaves and whites on the island.  The rules included the fact that if a white slave owner mistreated his slave, the slave could complain and action would be taken.....wonder how that really worked in reality? 
Train at the old sugar plantation
The British, recognizing the value of Martinique & its new found wealth, attacked Fort Royal in 1762, declaring the island British.  Back and forth it went until 1802 when Napoleon Bonaparte took control of Martinique via the Treaty of Amiens.  His wife, Josephine, was born on the island.  The history during this period is facinating and bears checking out further for anyone interested.

In a nutshell, at age 16 Josephine entered into an arranged marriage, had two children (who went on to become Viceroy of Italy & Queen of Holland); got caught up in the French Revolution, jailed and released while her husband was guillotined.  Shortly thereafter, she met and wed Napoleon, who became Emperor by placing a crown on his own head.  Five years later (1809) Napoleon had their marriage annulled because Josephine had not borne an heir for him.  Seems she was six years older than he, lied about her age (you go Cougar!) and was over 40 at the time.

About that time, the Brits conquered the island yet again and threw out the French.  Some horse trading took effect in 1814 that gave, via a treaty, Martinique back to the French, along with the island of Guadeoupe.  The Brits took St. Lucia and Tobago in exchange.   

Murals in St. Pierre depicting slavery
As I’ve mentioned before in the Blog, slavery was abolished first by the Brits in 1834, but the French did not abolish it for another 14 years.

Those 14 years were filled with riots, unrest and many many deaths as the slaves rebelled during those years.

Still seeking a labor force, Martinique, again like many of the other island, imported 25,000 indentured servants from India.  Ah, the things I never learned in History throughout all those years!

Telling the story of slavery here in this island

Powerful images of slavery on the street in St. Pierre
One highlight on our drive around the little peninsula from Les Trois-Ilets to Trois Rivieres was passing the HMS Diamond Rock along this southern coast.   This huge rock, fortified with 100 British sailors and numerous cannons, was actually registered as a British warship.
HMS Diamond Rock viewed from shore @ Pt du Diamant
Can you imagine 107 sailors LIVING on this rock?!!
The British sailors were able to keep a blockage going for 18 months during the Napoleonic wars in 1804.  Finally, the French, in 1805, frustrated by the blockade of their island, floated over to it a number of barrels of rum.  Those British sailors, most likely bored to death, and like any good sailor, promptly drank all the rum.  The French then attacked the drunken sailors on the rock and took it back.  Those surviving and very much hung over, escaped to Barbados and were court-martialed for deserting their ‘ship’.                                                                          

To this day, when a British ship passed the rock, the crew stands at attention & salutes as they cruise past!  Strange, funny and true, so sayth the guide books.   Again, if my teachers has thrown in these trivia facts during my history classes, I’d have paid much more attention!

Coming around Pointe du Diamant, overlooking HMS Diamond Rock, we were startled to see some statutes like reminded me of Easter Island.  Slamming on brakes, Andy whipped our little rental car into what turned out to be a memorial to slaves that had gone down on a ship in 1830, right below where we were standing.    This Memorial l'Anse Cafford is dedicated in memory of those that were lost.  Click on the signs and enlarge to read the entire story.
An enlargement of the English version is below

The English is enlarged below

The statues overlook where the ship went down 

This area is filled with reefs and where the ship went down
The statutes looking out over the sea where they died

In the late afternoon, out of the higher mountains, we zoomed along the eastern Atlantic coastline of Martinique driving in and between numerous banana plantations and beach towns.
Sign talks about Martinique & the Banana Plantations (click on photo to enlarge)

The blue bag protects the bananas from bats!!!
Black sand beaches

A quick stop at the Distillerie St. James, founded in 1765 near Mt. Pelee (and moved to St. Marie, on the Atlantic coastline after the 1902 eruption) was informative & much more modern and cleaner than what we witnessed in Grenada.  We sampled a few, including liquors with flavors of Guave, Basil and Ginger.  Not too bad...

Every island in the Caribbean has it’s own rum distillery and the larger ones have many.  After all, rum originated here in the West Indies, distilled from sugar cane, the plentiful crop.  Some rums can only be purchased on the island on which they are made and most all, at least on the larger islands such as here, Guadeloupe & Barbados are made from the pure sugarcane.  Contrast that to the rums of Puerto Rico and the smaller islands that are made from molasses or sugar by-products.  Rum here on Martinique has attained the rare status of AOC, Appelation d’Origine Controlee, which means that the production is very strictly controlled - just like France does for their wines.  
Posters inside the museum

Andy picking up his favorite after the tasting
Look at the size of these wheels on display!

Loaded down with rums for gifts someday 
Taking advantage of the rental car, the great road system (Thanks French!) and the fact that we can drive on the correct side of the road, we also drove to Ste. Anne near where we are anchored in Marin, rather than move the boat to go see it.   It’s lovely, does look a bit French and has lots of little shops as this is a tourist area.  Nearby is Salines, a beautiful curving gay beach and Club Med on past that.
View from St. Anne's - Note HMS Diamond Rock in the background
Colorful market in St. Anne's

The cloth, Madras, is huge here on this island

Crab at the fish market

The church on the town square at St. Anne's

The cemetery's always have the BEST view

Saline's Beach & Club Med area as seen from St. Anne's

I never tire of the architecture

Mt. Pelee as viewed from the deck of Finally Fun
Pulling anchor in Marin, we cruised a few hours northward, dropping the anchor  at St. Pierre, at the foot of Mt. Pelee.  

Charming, quaint and French with Caribbean color, this town, known as the “Paris of the Caribbean” prior to the eruption of Mt. Pelee, was a popular tourist destination and very upscale for its time.

It was totally destroyed in an instant, along with all the 30,000 citizens in 1902 when Mt. Pelee erupted.  It’s said that the eruption was 10 times greater than the atomic bomb that landed in Hiromashma during WWII.  People were vaporized and the town buried.  
St. Pierre with Mt. Pelee thru the mist
The story goes that when the last Carib Indians were killed a couple of hundred years prior, they put a curse on the island, willing the volcano to erupt and extract revenge later. It took a while, but in 1902, Mt. Pelee started spewing and making noises.  In crass commercialism, the shop keepers and town didn’t want to lose money if people left, so they hired a couple of doctors and a ‘scientist’ to examine the volcano and got the Governor to come here, telling everyone it was safe.

The volcano blew.  The team of ‘experts’, including the Governor were killed along with the rest of the townspeople and visitors.... except for two individuals.  One, a shopkeeper, was in his basement at that moment and the other, a prisoner, was in his tiny cell.
One sees old buildings with new built partially attached

The buildings overlook the water & were warehouses for the goods off loaded

More of the warehouse area
New with the old

Three cruise ships were in the harbor at the time of the eruption and were also destroyed with no survivors.  The town was rebuilt about 25 years later, but today, only about 5,000 live here vs the 30,000 in St. Pierre’s heyday.  Wandering about, we can see new built right into the old -- one old brick wall juxtapositioned between the new.  

There is now an observatory, with 20 computerized monitoring stations all around the area, tracking every hiccup this still active volcano makes.  Locals say legend has it that Mt. Pelee goes off every 400 we are safe here at anchor for another 250+ years.

Climbing the steps to the remains of the Theatre that held 800 people & which rivaled theaters all over Europe
Click to enlarge & read the Prisoner's story of survival

The prisoner's cell as viewed from the Theatre above

Barely room for me in here & I am short!

The fact that it was low to the ground, had little ventilation & was made of rock, saved him
We rode a little train around the small town, seeing the sights.  We knew in advance there was no English spoken, but went anyway.  To our amazement, suddenly an English speaking guide appeared while we were wandering about the Theatre.  He said, "Today is my day off.  Excuse my bathing suit, I was on the beach.   I am here to help you enjoy your experience."  WOW.  That is service!  He was most helpful & we were most appreciative.  He also gave me a piece of tile that had survived it all.
This bridge in town was one of the few things that survived

Note the colorful madras clothing the locals wear

Selling madras cloth in St. Pierre

In the dingy, headed back to our boat.  We saw this Pirate ship in Marin at anchor with us.

St. Pierre - The first floor of this Catholic Church survived & the rest rebuilt - but not to the grandeur of before

In the French islands, seek every opportunity to eat smoked chicken - "Boucanor' from road side stands.  So tasty

I never tired of watching the clouds move in/out over Mt. Pelee

1 comment:

  1. Wow so good and nice Island . lot of very nice place and rich history. hope i move over on that Island. or in tourist spots in the Philippines |
    top tourist destination in the Philippines