Each island in the Caribbean is unique in it’s own way. The USVIs have conveniences of the States, Puerto Rico (which also has conveniences of home) has the friendliest people and best food, meanwhile the Grenadines and BVIs are island hopping paradise.
The lovely island of Martinique falls into it’s own category: the European tropics.
The first time we landed in Martinique (back in June) I didn’t realize just how special it was. After seeing the rest of the Caribbean since, it has become obvious that Martinique is awesome. The island is of course, French. That being said, there is a strong European influence that can be seen in the architecture, the food, the people and their language. Even the island’s appearance from the distance is distinctive.
Rolling, green hills dotted with white sheep and lovely, red roofed villages hugging the coast line are the first clue. People walking down the street snacking on croissant and carrying loaves of fresh baguette is the next. There are no boat boys in sight. Scooters and tiny cars fill the streets. It’s an extremely welcome change of scenery.
Pass the Cheese, Please
After being in places where the main option for cheese is yellow and white blocks of processed cheddar, Martinique was a breath of fresh, culinary air. All the yummy French food you can think of is in abundance and it’s CHEAP. Silky wine, bubbly champagne, creamy cheese, dried meats, rich pâtés, flakey pastries and crusty breads of all shapes and sizes. The list goes on and on. Are you hungry yet? There are boulangeries (bakeries) pattisseries (delis of sorts)and markets, nearly everywhere. There is no such thing as a convenience store like 711 in sight. People eat real food here.
Grocery shopping is probably my favorite activity when we arrive on a new island. It’s a way for me to get a feel for a place. Whatever is cheap and plentiful is usually what the locals are eating.
In Grenada, it was breadfruit, mangos and saltfish. In Martinique it’s all of those delicious things I previously listed above. The thought of stocking up on five different kinds of blue cheese and a variety of pâtés had me giddy. The first few days we were on the island we did nothing but gorge on cheese, baguettes and pâtés. Usually by dinner time we were still stuffed from all of the rich food we had eaten all day so we only had a little bit of baguette and cheese to snack on. Poor us.
I need bubbles
To my delight, we ended up staying almost two weeks in Martinique. We stayed in Le Marin, a bustling little marine town filled with chandleries in order to do some boat work. We purchased a new auto tiller pilot and had our water pump rebuilt.
From there, we had an essential task to fulfill – refill my Soda Stream Co2 tank. A Soda Stream is a kitchen appliance that makes fizzy water and soda. I drink lots of bubbly water, especially under way because it helps me feel better if I’m sea sick. Lots of burping keeps the puking at bay. It’s gross, I know, but that is my life. On the up side, Dave thinks the belching is super sexy.
Anyway, Fort de France was the only place in Martinique where we could accomplish this, so we sailed about 16 miles north and anchored across the bay from the busy city in Trois Ilet (the home of Napoleon’s wife, Empress Josephine). We grabbed a Ferry and spent the afternoon wandering around the city. It was a fantastic place – clean, vibrant and full of culture. It felt like we were spending a summer day in Europe.
From there, we continued north to the village of St. Pierre. This historic little town, once known as the “Paris of the Caribbean”, is infamous for a deadly volcanic eruption in the early 1900s which killed nearly all of it’s inhabitants. We explored it’s cobblestone streets by foot and stumbled upon ruins of an old, stone prison, which is said to have saved the life of a prisoner during the catastrophe. Looking beyond the old walls, we had sweeping views of the town, which lay at the foot of the giant, green mountain of St. Pierre, now a dormant volcano.
Another reason I love Martinique is that I can bust out my minimal French skills. After five years of studying the language in my younger years, I’m happy to say that I can recall quite a bit – the important stuff at least. Most people only speak French (surprise!) so it is extremely helpful to at least know the bare essentials to communicate.
When my memory fails, I default to “Parlez-vous anglais?” or “Do you speak English?” If they don’t, a helpful offline translating app on my cell helps. If I don’t have my phone, we resort to hand gestures and facial expressions. It’s great fun.
During our first stop in Martinique I needed to find motion sickness medicine. The clerk at the register didn’t speak English and I didn’t have a translating app on my phone at the time. What followed was a comical rendition of charades.
I pretended like I was driving a car, my hands on an imaginary steering wheel. Next, I held my stomach and made some puking noises. The cashier immediately said, “Ah!” and laughed. She turned around and handed me what I needed. We both giggled at the awkwardness of it all, but were pleased we could each help each other.
Martinique really is magnificent. From it’s friendly people to the amazing food, the island has so much to offer. My only regret is that we couldn’t stay longer. There is so much of the island that we didn’t see. Perhaps we can vacation here on land the next time we visit. 🙂