Martinique: What else?

Diamond Rock

I’m not sure what to say about Martinique. Of course, it’s a beautiful, tropical paradise. Yet somehow, the place has moved me less than Guadaloupe, Dominica and Les Saintes. Mostly, Martinique has been special because of the people we met here. It also marked a learning curve in our freshwater-collecting strategy.

If you had this in your back yard and it starting acting up, you’d think about getting out of Dodge, right?

We started our stay in the small fishing village of St Pierre, at the foot of the Mount Pelee volcano which erupted in 1902, decimating the entire town of 30,000. Apparently, the locals were not alarmed by the spewing smoke and numerous earthquakes in previous weeks, and did not leave. On that ill-fated day in May 1902 when it all hit the fan, I’m sure that “I told you so” were the last words of many a townswoman. Sadly, the same kind of eruption is currently happening in the Philippines, though hopefully, the evacuation rate will be far higher.

The bay of St Pierre is lovely and has calm, crystal-blue waters with a sandy, grassy seabed that’s great for anchoring. The town has a single lane, one-way main street that runs along the port. Lined with cafes, bars, trinket shops and an old covered market, the street is very noisy as it seems to be the only point of passage for large diesel trucks, often two or three in a row. Makes it hard to enjoy the street side cafes.

At the market, we bought fruit and veggies from a local, then saw a sign for a restaurant above the market. We checked it out and found local food at reasonable prices and a smiling cook. Perfect for lunch. As fate would have it, lovely Iza and Sandra walked in and sat at the table beside us.

Fabulous Iza and Sandra!

A Franco-Canadian couple, they were here on vacation from Quebec. We started chatting over lunch, and before long, Peter invited them on board for one of my legendary G&T sundowners. To our delight, they showed up, and we had a marvelous evening. We spent the rest of the week chatting back and forth on WhatsApp, trying to plan our next meeting. Sandra was under the weather, and we were on the move, so it wasn’t easy. Finally, we managed to meet up for dinner in Marin marina. We wanted to see them again before leaving, but it was complicated with the winds and weather. Something tells me we’ll keep in touch!

Meanwhile, one of our ongoing preoccupations was getting fresh water on board (for washing, not for drinking). We’d had no access to water lines since the marina in Pointe à Pitre, and we’d been nursing a out half a tank along since Les Saintes, constantly hauling jerricans around, back and forth in the dinghy, begging for water in shops and restaurants. In Saint Pierre, none of the shops would let us fill our cans!

Luckily, we’d rented a car and during one of our mountain drives, Peter spotted a waterfall where people were bathing in (what looked like) pure mountain water. So we drove up there to fill our two pitiful little jugs. Lots of locals were there enjoying the cool mountain H2O, and Peter stepped in to fill up our jerricans. As you can see, he got a little wet in the process!

We’d been thinking about putting a rainwater collection system in place, and this water bind meant we got to it in earnest. With copious tropical showers here, a truly efficient system could provide all the water we need, giving us real autonomy. We’re not there yet, but through trial and error, we rigged up simple systems to catch water in buckets, but also to divert the water flowing freely on deck directly into our tank by creating a dam. System still in progress, but it made a big difference.

After St Pierre, we moved south to Anse d’Arlet, a small, well-protected bay. Now, don’t tell my mom, but we didn’t listen to the official weather bulletin before leaving, and we ignored the advice of our friend Juan who said to stay put. We decided to brave the pretty strong winds and leave anyway, as we were a little tired of St Pierre It was a wild but exhilarating ride, with intermittent rain and winds from 25 to 30 knots and gusts up to 35 (Beaufort scale 6-7). We heard the Special Weather Bulletin with its “near gale force warning” when we were already well underway! I thoroughly enjoyed it anyway, and we had a good, if exhausting, sail. We’ve become a much more experienced sailing team over the past year, Peter and I! Below a bit of footage from that sail!

When we arrived in Anse d’Arlet, we anchored right above the feeding grounds of a local sea turtle family! Over the next few days, we were able to dive down and watch them do their turtle things, eating grass, then gracefully coming up to the surface for air. They are beautiful beasts! There were also several large starfish, which I’d never seen before. We don’t have any underwater photos, but an underwater Go Pro is on our shopping list for next cruising season.

Anse d’Arlet is cute, cheerful and calm, a perfect horseshoe shaped bay with lots of protection from wind and swell. There’s not much going on in this sleepy town, just one beach front street with bars, restaurants and a dive club or two.

However, a hand written sign caught my eye:

On the other side of the gate, a young woman was tending the garden. I asked her if we could order some boudin noir for the next day (Sunday! What luck!). She ducked inside, then came back out to say yes and ask if we’d like a dozen accras, too.

Cece, the chef, daughter Betty, the planter’s rum maker, and their lovely home.

The next day we came back and she invited us into her home. Her mother, Cece, was there, wrapping up our accras and the boudin, which she pulled from a steaming pot. Their house was cool and tropical, large and airy, simply furnished, with a huge wooden dining table and a small bar area where homemade “Planters punch” rums were on display, made by Betty.

These two make Peter look like André the Giant!

The accras were the best we’d ever had, and the boudin, handmade with care (you can see the hand-tied casings in the photo below), were out of this world. I’ve never been willing to eat boudin noir, but this I ate. Spicy and rich, these boudin were heavenly. For 20€, we had the sausage, the Accras, and a bottle of “Schrubb” (rum with orange peel, tastes a bit medicinal!) a real bargain in these parts, where food prices rival those in Paris.

Cece’s homemade boudin – if you go to Anse d’Arlet, you need these! See photo above for her number!

One of the best things we visited while we had the rental car was the Habitation Clement, an old plantation house surrounded by sugar cane fields. The old Clement family home has hosted celebrities and politicians alike, including George W Bush and François Mitterand, who met there in 1991 for Middle East talks.

The house is simple in lines and in furnishings: dark woods, white walls, intricate mosaic tiles, photos and botanical prints, arranged around a central room with high ceilings and entirely louvered windows – no glass panes anywhere. Beautiful style and architecture.

We didn’t visit the distillery, but we walked around the grounds and poked our heads into some of the rum cellars. The smell was intoxicating! In the picture below on the left, Peter looks very unhappy. I think he was worrying about the brand-new rental car that we’d left in the parking lot!

There’s also modern art museum on the grounds,

and an outdoor sculpture garden.

Jusqu’à l’ombre by Christian Lapie

We were surprised to see the very distinct work of Christian Lapie in the sculpture garden. It’s a near replica of the Shoah memorial statues he did for the Parc de Sceaux, near our home, where we often go walking. The big difference is that these were made from tree trunks, whereas the ones in the Parc de Sceaux are likely made of bronze.

Diamond Rock!

Once we’d had our fill of Anse d’Arlet, we made a move down to the only marina in Martinique at Marin. Again, the weather was not ideal, with strong winds and a lot of sea and swell. We had a very hard time advancing down the coast, and decided to tack out and around the impressive Diamond Rock. What a terrific view we got when we came around to see it from the south! It was almost worth the battle of getting to Marin marina that evening. We got to the enormous marina just in time to see what happens when your engine craps out and you need a tow in strong winds and currents. But for the grace of god!!!! I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes!

And finally, to end on a more… pathetic note, we lost yet another lure (one I made myself 😦 ) coming into Anse d’Arlet, and decided to splash out on a couple new ones at the fishing shop near Marin Marina. We are now taking bets on whether either of these lures will ever get a bite before they are torn from our line and end on the bottom of the sea.

I’ll end here about Martinique. Tomorrow we leave for St Lucia. Hoping to get Peter signed up for a good dive or two and to visit some of the beautiful bays there.