Martinique

 

Martinique is the largest of the Windward Islands.  They are French speaking and drive on our side of the road.  Since we had bypassed Guadeloupe, this was going to be our first visit to a French island.  I was carrying my French-English dictionary and had hopes of at least being able to find the bathroom - "Ou est la toilette pour dames?".  As we planned our voyage we soon realized our first stop would be St. Pierre.  St. Pierre lies at the foot of the Mt. Pelee volcano.  For many years St. Pierre was the cultural and social center of Martinique.  It is said that when the volcano started to rumble the governor prevented the people from fleeing because there was an upcoming election and he wanted the voters in town.  The volcano erupted and wiped out the entire town.  The sole survivor was the inmate of the local prison who escaped with bad burns.

The ruins have been left intact and new buildings were added onto the old structures so that almost every new building shares a wall with the past.  We went to the local museum and got to see the devastation the volcano caused.  Looking at this picture of the current day volcano, you would never believe the mass destruction caused to land and sea.

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On arriving in St. Pierre it really looked like a sleepy fishing village.   We anchored off the local beach, trying to stay clear of the fishing boats.   We have realized in our travels how important fishing is to the locals and we try not to interfere with their means of earning a living.  Sometime after anchoring and settling in for an afternoon drink, I finally understood the true meaning of bareboating.   As we sat in the cockpit of Tranquillity, Rick noticed and watched as a local fisherman left his home on the beach and started out to his boat.  We have learned that most fisherman anchor their boats out to avoid the waves and swim to them.  This gentleman took off his shorts (or swimsuit) and hung it on a pole at the water's edge.   He then swam to his boat, climbed in and proceeded to work, started  his motor and motored around the harbor as he baled water from the floorboards.  Truly BARE-BOATING.  Well it is a French island after all.

In the morning we went into shore in search of the Customs Office.  We were sailing with Tammy and David from Magdalena and David and I had our dictionaries in hand to assist with translation.  We also had our guide book showing us the location of Customs.  Needless to say we did not find customs based on the guide book.  We then attempted to converse with a local Frenchman.  We tried desperately to get him to understand our French, Ou est douanes, s'il vous plait (where is customs, please).  We were so sure they would be able to understand.  It didn't work.  We tried everything.  Finally I showed him the word in the dictionary and he understood what we wanted.  Unfortunately he could not tell us were to go in English and our French was not good enough to understand.  He was kind enough to take one of us, David went, in his car to see if Customs was open and then returned.   Unfortunately Customs was not open and we would have to move on down the island to Fort de France to go through Customs.

We continued walking back through the city and, of course, had to have a croissant before heading back to the boat.  It was a small village, but after seeing the museum and some of the local buildings you could still visualize what the city once was before nature reclaimed the land.

We then left St. Pierre and headed for Fort de France.  We have been greeted entering and leaving harbors lately by large schools of dolphins.  Rick believes it is because of the vibration of our engine.  They swim up beside the boat and then start to play with the dolphin striker we have on the bow of the boat.  This is a stainless rod that goes from the bowsprit down and the dolphins swim up and touch it.   It must make a noise they enjoy.  We have not been able to capture them on film.  I try and hold up the camera as they swim up so we can get a picture when they jump, but have not been able to time it right.

We were hoping for a nice sail, however, the wind picked up and it was a little rougher than we would have liked.   We even slowed to reef the main to make it more comfortable, for me, not Rick.   We arrived in Fort de France close to 4:30 p.m.  We quickly anchored and Rick went in to get through Customs before it closed.  It did not work unfortunately.   The Customs Office chose to close early and we had to wait until the next morning to clear in.  As we sat there that night, however, we could see in town the Golden Arches.  Rick and I went to sleep that night while visions of mcmuffins and sausage biscuits danced in our heads.

Upon arrival at the MacDonald's the next morning, with our mouths watering, we walked through the door only to find no breakfast.  In fact, they were serving hamburgers and fried chicken at 9:00 am.  The disappointment was noticeable.  We then went on a search for breakfast.  Up until that time we had been eating all breakfasts on the boat as we had not found anyplace that served an American type breakfast.    We left Martinique still not having found anyplace serving an American breakfast.  The following is Rick's version of our breakfast that morning.

While walking through downtown Fort de France, it became obvious that the French were not interested in serving breakfast as we know it.  It appears that the custom here is pastries to go and there are pastry shops on almost every corner.  I found a restaurant that said they had a breakfast that I was interested in.  I was sure that I was understood by the waitress as to what I wanted.  This was our first encounter with finding out that "What you order is not necessarily what you get" - more on this later.  I ordered for both Mary and I, eggs, bacon and homefries.  What we got was quite unexpected.  For breakfast we had scrambled eggs with bacon bits and an order of French fries.  A burger from MacDonald's at this point was looking good.

Later that day we decided to stop for lunch.  We chose a small cafe along a side road.   They did not speak English, but everyone in the cafe was more than happy to help us understand our waiter and the chef.  I knew from my trusty book that poisson was fish and poulet was chicken - soooo - Rick ordered chicken and I ordered fish.   I tried to ask about the portion size and was sure he did not quite understand my hand signals as I interpreted him to say the fish portion was very large.   I thought, okay, I can bring back the leftovers to the boat.

We sat there and drank our wine and talked about the island and how different it is for us to try and shop and communicate in an area this is not basically English speaking.  We were getting by, mostly because we met people who were patient and helpful.

Finally our food arrived and as you can see from my look, "What you order is not necessarily what you get",  I did enjoy the food, especially after I placed a napkin over the eyes of the fish.

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Related to food stories, we met Mac and Becky off another Tayana called Owl Hoot.   Becky was kind enough to give me this article she wrote for her friends back home.   Thanks Becky.

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"What you THINK you're ordering isn't always what you get. In St. Kitts, a British island, I ordered "Fish and Chips". I had my mouth set for what I envisioned being served in a day-old London Times newspaper - fried strips of fish and fries with a good vinegar sauce. What I got was fries (okay) and a very dry baked piece of fish. Not so good. They even took the container of tartar sauce off the table about 5 minutes into the meal.

In Guadeloupe, a French island, with the help of my French/English dictionary, we ordered "hamburger and fries". We got fries (okay) and a thin ground beef patty under which was one leaf of lettuce. We had wondered why we got a basket of bread served before the meal! I wonder what they would have done if we ask for mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, onions, pickles, special sauce or sesame seeds?

Pizza is another questionable item to order. Also in Guadeloupe, the pizza crust was paper thin and overcooked until it was almost black. The toppings weren't all that great either. Another surprise here was a serving of bread before the meal along with a bottle of what looked to be oil or butter with herbs. This is like some Italian restaurants serve before or with the salads. What a surprise when it set my mouth on fire. It was yellow hot sauce!! What ever happened to the French cuisine with rich sauces and rare ingredients? Hot peppers aren't French!

Chinese Food on a French island is another no-no. The pictures outside look good, the prices seem to be in line, but they serve much smaller portions. They also had that same damn hot sauce on the table. Isn't the weather hot enough. Do they have to serve super hot food too? Maybe it is meant to be a distraction."

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As you can see we are all learning as we travel through the Caribbean waters.

On our second day in Martinique Rick was sitting up on deck and I was down below.   Suddenly the radio came alive and someone was calling Tranquillity.  It sounded like the cruise ship that had pulled in earlier in the day.  I went up and spoke with Rick and asked if he thought we might have to move because of the cruise ship.   I know he thought I was confused, we were properly anchored and should not have posed any problem to the cruise ship.  He was sure I misunderstood the radio transmission.  As we were talking, the radio again started transmitting "S/V Tranquillity this is the Majesty of the Seas, come back"  Rick looked at me and proceeded to cautiously respond to the hail. 

A person came back to Rick and stated he was the captain of the vessel and their work schedule had changed such that he worked six months and was off six months and was looking at boats to live on while not working.  He wanted to know what our boat was.   Rick proceeded to give him some details about our boat and offered him a trade, "our white boat for his".  We are sure everyone in the harbor was listening to this conversation.  He did not, however, except our trade.  We then invited him over to tour the boat.  He said he would after finalizing some things on his boat.  He said he would arrive in one of their liferafts.

 

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About 1:00pm an orange boat approached ours.  Wouldn't everyone love to have a dingy with 180 horsepower.  On board were the Captain and several employees of the cruise line, as you can see from the picture.   They arrived bearing gifts, several bottles of wine.  They came aboard and Rick gave everyone tours and we had cold soft drinks (not wine).  The captain's six months was ending soon and he was leaving for Florida in search of his boat and was quite happy to view the interior of ours and talk with Rick about the engine and other mechanical features.   He said he had been checking harbors each time they came into port in search of the type of vessel he wanted.  I believe we were the first vessel he hailed.

 

They all left as they had the afternoon off and were heading over to a local French beach to swim.  As they headed off we were able to get a picture showing the cruise ship in the background.  They invited us on board for a tour, but time did not permit it.  This particular cruise ship came into port around 9:00 am and left around 6:00 p.m. for their next port of call. 

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That day we moved from Fort de France to another anchorage which was a little less commercial.  Fort de France, in addition to the cruise ship dock also had docks where the ferries all arrived from various points surrounding the area.  This made the anchorage quite rolly.  We headed across the bay to Anse Mitan.  Most of the people we had been cruising with had already moved to this anchorage.  It was the most crowded anchorage we had seen since leaving Bermuda. 

We had gotten some information from another cruiser who had already left Martinique that renting a car and traveling through the rainforest would be an interesting trip.   We met up with Tammy and David and asked if they wanted to share a car.  We then took a day and heading into the mountains.  We chose to head up into the mountains via the coast line so we could see it during the daylight hours.  It was beautiful.  As we got closer to the rainforest, we stopped at a very small, but highly recommended French restaurant.  It was called Restaurant L'Amandier.  The restaurant was open air on two sides, built of round stones and concrete with a thatched roof, overhead fans to move the air and a painted concrete floor.  The kitchen, off to one side, was extremely small in relationship to the magic that was created there.   Rick asked the owner if it was possible to visit the kitchen and he indicated that that was not possible and Rick truly believes he was protecting his secret sauces and recipes.  We got to try all kinds of new dishes as the lunches were fixed price with samples of many local French recipes.  One of the most enjoyable was called a twice baked christophene.  There isn't a very distinctive flavor in christophenes and we have been told they usually mix the pulp from the christophenes with other vegetables for more taste.  This French chef had a way of making the plain taste exotic with a pinch of that and a dab of this and we truly enjoyed the experience.  We traded cards with the owner as I believe he was collecting cards from all the cruisers who stopped by.   We then headed into the rainforest.  Of course we were in search of Rick's next waterfall experience.

As we were riding through the rainforest Rick saw this river.  There were many people in the water and walking in the forest.  We stopped and Rick decided to add this island to his waterfall experience.  That small speck is really Rick in the waterfall.

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As we move on through the rainforest we get closer to the botanical gardens.  We had heard great things about these gardens and decided we would stop if they were still open.  Lucky for us they were and we had a lovely walk through the gardens.  It was very helpful that they supplied us with coded sheets so we could name was we looked at.  Below are a few pictures taken during our walk.  From the colors I am sure you can tell just how incredible they were.

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As you can see the flowers were breathtaking and it was a great ending to the tour of the island of Martinique.

We then headed back to Anse Mitan and experienced getting lost on highways that looked much like Hartford except all road signs were in French. Trying to find where we were on the map was difficult.  We finally pulled to the side of the road and were able to pinpoint our location on the map and headed back toward the anchorage.  Once again we thought we were lost because when we left we remembered the golf course on the right and as we drove down this road the golf course was on the right again.  What are the chances that there were would two golf courses so that when you enter or leave from either direction there is a golf course.  Oh well it was an experience and we did finally get back to the boat.

Join us in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia as we continue our travels through the Windward Islands.  I have added a few pictures to the photo album that did not fit here.   Check them out.

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