The Dutch, Spanish, British, and French still maintain a presence here in the Caribbean. The flavor and feel of each island changes depending on which European country staked its claim; leaving behind their language, architecture, food and driving habits. In the case of St. Martin, St. Barths and Martinique, however, independence never took place. These islands are still firmly French, so French in fact that stepping foot on any of them is to be considered entering France itself.
Arriving on Martinique is a surreal experience for me, are we still in the Caribbean? It doesn't feel like it, feels more like St. Tropez than the islands. If you're one of those vacationers who's more comfortable traveling to a place that's very familiar, that really isn't that different from the place you left, then take note my EU friends: Martinique is for you.
The spirit and charm of the Caribbean is hard to find here, you have to look for it. This island of over 400,000 people is one of the largest in the southern island chain; beautiful, green, mountainous. Seeing the coastline for the first time jolts me into believing we're somehow back in the Mediterranean. Major infrastructure is everywhere, busy modern highways buzz with rush hour traffic, the industrial center is large scale and high powered, it's everything the real Caribbean isn't...at least not yet.
After a pleasant and authentically French dinner at a brasserie in Pointe du Bou, Maya and I set off to locate a beach bar she'd spotted earlier that day. Wandering past the cheesy tourist shops, rows of box like apartment blocks, and low rent hotels, the streetlights eventually dwindled to nothing. We kept walking, entering a neighborhood of tiny wood cottages, and kept on until the pavement ran out. Where the road ended the real Caribbean, or at least a small piece of it began. Here we found a rocky path along the shore lined with coco palms, a few stray cats, and folks just out for a stroll. Beach bar found, we sit down to order drinks and take in the scene: a little music, a light breeze, a starry night sky, and the Caribbean Sea gently washing up at our feet. Like I said, you gotta look for it.
The next day found us in Fort de France, the main city here. Our original plan was to grab a taxi from Ponte du Bou up to the north end of the island and take in the St James rum distillery followed by a visit to the banana museum...yes, they have a banana museum here. Just the idea of getting snookered at the local rum distillery and then winding up in a banana museum was hard to resist. Sadly, it was not to be...this is France after all, and being so very French, the island is experiencing a strike- a road strike protesting high fuel prices. We were told under no certain terms would a taxi be available, that all the major roads were blocked and the only transport that was running was the ferry. Finding fuel anywhere on Martinique is so far, just not happening. We’ve had to ration our tender travel…no eggs on Grenada, tomatoes that cost more than lobster in the Tobago Cays, yes, each island is its own tiny world.
So here we are in Fort de France; a big, bloated, marginally charming city. We wander the crowded streets, stop for lunch, take in the local Musée Archéologie Préhistorire. A huge fort looms over the skyline, topped with a giant French flag, as if still fully prepared for that next British sneak attack. We ignore the fort, instead we find a shady bench next to a public bocci ball court, ok, "court" is a bit generous, it’s a sand patch. Some local old timers are playing a fast game as they rattle away at each other in the local dialect. With an audience, the game gets a bit more lively, as if we afforded these gentlemen the opportunity to show off some of their finer moves. Once again, the spirit of the islands is here, but you have to look for it.
The opportunity to spend weeks or months on a boat with someone really tells you a lot about the person. You're living in close proximity, sharing meals, daily chores, and if you find you enjoy someone’s company in a closed environment at sea, then you’ve found a connection with real substance behind it. When the time comes for you to part, its tough, and there’s no getting past it easily. Today we bid farewell to our special guest Maya, as well as our crew member Dan- both heading off to other things, we will miss them both. When you find people you enjoy being with, savor those moments you're together, you don't know how long it's gonna last...cheers.
If you enjoyed this article please feel free to share it!