Thursday, December 31, 2015

More Yoga??

Martinique continues to dish up lots of fun with the festive season.  This beautiful island, also known as the Island of Flowers has so many options.

We joined up on Sunday with Barefoot Life, Out of Africa and Moose Tracks, along with Brita as Jason had gone home for the holidays and we headed out of the same hike we did the other day but this time in the reverse direction.  The most notable thing about this hike was that the tide was out so the little bridge and stepping stones we had tenuously crossed previously, felt like a cake-walk.  Brita was even inspired to try one of her yoga moves!

Our hiking crew testing out the bridge.

Check back on the previous post and you'll see that just the tips of these rocks were visible - much easier this time to almost 'fly' over them!
Who knows - maybe a Caribbean beach bar is in our future?

Our favourite - cold Lorraine beer to keep us going on our walk.

It's hard to comprehend the size of this anchorage - it can't all fit on one photo.  Mowzer is the first boat just a little to the left above the tip of the tree.
Yesterday (Wednesday), we shared once again on a rental car with Brita and Jason and this time we decided to check out the Martinique Golf Club.  The club is officially named for the Empress Josephine who was born on her father's plantation not far from where the golf course stands today.  The course is quite spectacular with a couple of holes backing right onto the bay at Trois Ilets.  I definitely think we will have to anchor around here one day so we can walk to the country club from our yacht ;-).

Ready for action.

The views across the inlet to the anchorage and Fort de France in the distance were stunning.

We couldn't resist capturing photos at every opportunity.

Loving the chance to golf here - and the game wasn't too bad either.

Although we have to admit that the bay did swallow a ball or two, especially from the raised tee-box in the background.

Final putts - but then ... on to lunch on the bay.
These were more good days shared with Jason and Brita on Blue Moon - our cruising buddies extraordinaire!!

Along with all this active fun, we also took advantage of the car to get in a little shopping with a visit to the Galleria, largest shopping mall in the Caribbean.  My favourite stop though was to Decathlon - a sporting goods warehouse store.  Time to replace a few sweaty tank tops and worn out shoes.

Now, it's New Year's eve and the plan is to enjoy some French champagne as we watch the fireworks over the beach at the local Club Med.

Happy New Year everyone, and all the best for 2016!!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Joyeux Noel!

One again, totally through planning and design we find ourselves celebrating Christmas on a French island.  Last year Jim joined us on St. Martin, this year we said farewell to family on St. Lucia and headed north to Martinique for the celebrations.  I have to say that after the excitement and hustle & bustle of the wedding, Christmas was feeling a little flat this year, almost like we'd already celebrated with everyone.

Well, never fear, with the charm of Ste. Anne on our doorstep and friends on neighbouring boats, a quiet little bit of Christmas spirit infused itself into our demeanours.  On Wednesday (23rd) Venessa and Gary organized us into a dinner party to try a little Italian restaurant just up the road, called Casanova's.  The little covered patio, barely big enough for our party of eleven, backed by an open kitchen dished up some amazing meals paired with lovely French or Italian wines.  When we sat back to enjoy an aperitif, Marina circulated with our Secret Santa sack distributing little presents to each amid much laughter over the appropriateness, or not, of each gift.  Such a good time to share with Jason & Brita (Blue Moon), Fiona, Mark & Kiran (Avatar) and of course Venessa, Gary, Elliot & Marina (Neptune II).

Elliot & Gary wait with anticipation, and then Henry receives his gift from our very own Santa's Helper.

Christmas Eve had Jason making a quick trip home to surprise his family back in New Jersey, so we joined Brita in the rental car to drive Jason to the airport and then explore the island a little further with the added bonus of some wheels.  We headed east to Le Francois where we stopped for lunch at a bakery and enjoyed our sandwiches on the steps of a church in the middle of town.

Small town, huge town square and magnificent colonial building were in our view for lunch

The church looked like it was fronted by an old facade but with a thoroughly modern structure behind.

Fortified and ready for a little leg stretch we headed to a spit of land that juts out into the Atlantic on the east coast just above Le Vauclin.  With the wind and waves pounding the reefs and beaches along the shore, all the little fishing boats were hunkered down and no-one was out on the water.  The Christmas winds have been blowing steadily in the 25-knot range for the past week and at the shore accelerate up over the land before stalling inland. We were buffeted and blown as we walked the coast path all around the peninsula, marvelling at the views and ticking off "most easter point in the Antilles" on our list of accomplishments.

No chance of getting lost along the way with signs of "Vous etes ici" guiding us.

As we have come to expect, the Sargassum weed piles up on the windward coast of the island, making a stinky mess of the beaches.  The brown hue in the water is weed that is yet to come ashore.

Windblown grasses and stunted trees lead inland to beautifully manicured properties on the peninsula.

Along the shore, fishing boats are tucked in safely behind protective reefs.

More sargassum weed coming ashore under this little fishing jetty.

Chickens scratch in the gravel among the locally made fish pots.  Made of sticks and chicken-wire, these pots are launched from the local fishing boats and hauled up a day or two later with their catch.

Like some ghostly water horse come ashore, the remains of this tree were well dug into the seaweed strewn beach.

Brita and I - yoga buddies and intrepid hikers! :-)

We finally arrived at the farthest tip of the peninsula - wind blown and devoid of trees, the pounding surf arrives from the Atlantic.

Only the hardiest of trees and cactus survive of this arid landscape.

We finished up our hike in the little village of Chateau Paille, where white picket gates and bougainvillea prevail.

Ready for Christmas, without a single piece of tinsel or LED light to be seen!
With the sun making it's way to the horizon we made our way back to Ste. Anne where the church bells started ringing, and jazz music enticed from the waterfront bars.  After a hasty dinner aboard we headed back into the village to watch the faithful, and curious, head to church while we enjoyed the sights and sounds in the village square.

Standing room only but open doors meant we could enjoy the hymns from the square.
A second Christmas on the boat, away from family and friends back home, but made special with the people we have met along the way and the little celebrations of the day.  Skyping with Jim in Belgium, Caitlin & Jamie in Innisfill, Peter, Beth and Mom in Ottawa - what an international celebration.

We had a few blustery moments, but having scored a "Roule de Dindeau" at the grocery score, which turned out to be a roll of dark turkey meat, we enjoyed a lovely lunch replete with the precious can of cranberry jelly I had found back in Grenada - no fresh cranberries to be found here for home-made cranberry sauce.  

Wind and rain howled through the anchorage on Christmas morning - they don't call them the Christmas winds for nothing!

Fingers crossed our turkey would cook up in our little oven.

Delicious - turkey, cranberry, roast veggies and gravy, along with my new favourite Provence Rose (maybe not a perfect match but tasty nonetheless).
Merry Christmas to all, and all the best for 2016!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Ste. Anne - On a Different Kind of Caribbean Island

Our arrival in Ste. Anne, Martinique on Friday felt almost like a revisit to Grenada - as we pulled into the anchorage we were greeted by Blue Moon and Neptune II and soon joined them, along with Avatar and others for a sundowner at Dunette, a local bar with its own dinghy dock.

Fiona, Gary, Jason, Henry, Mark, Venessa, Brita (and our server Katie).

The next day we had a plan - we would hike the peninsula south of Ste. Anne.  Its a good one to get our legs back into action, about 23 km but not too steep and this one visits many beaches on the way.

To get you oriented, here's the south-east corner of Martinique.  Follow the yellow line anti-clockwise from Ste.Anne and you have the plan for the day.

We set off from the dinghy dock nice and early knowing that we would be hitting the hot southerly side of the peninsula with the heat of the sun.  The early morning started with some pastoral scenes and then moved on to some obviously popular weekend beaches.

Almost proper fences encasing grazed lands - could this still be the Caribbean?

The beach at Anse Caritan, looking out to the anchorage at Ste. Anne.  Probably about 200 boats out there!

Moving along to Anse Meaner and Pointe Catherine, some early morning souls take in the beauty of this remote beach.

The morning progressed and Jason & Henry were ready for some hi-jinx.

The surf rolled in past Pointe Pie.  With the Christmas winds upon us, only a few hardy souls were out sailing today.

Grande Anse des Salines is a huge expanse of untended beach.  Sunday morning brought out many families to enjoy the surf rolling in; I'm sure its even more crowded by afternoon but still enjoyable compared to some beaches we've been on.

The "Trace des Caps" trail that we were following, and I'm sure most trails on Martinique, are very well marked with strategically places benches for the weary.  It was starting to get pretty hot as we passed Grande Terre with a view of Ilet Cabrits.

Not sure where he came from but this proper French rooster sure strutted his stuff for us.

We then entered the Foret Littoral where this young banyan tree caught our attention.

Jason tested his climbing abilities - did just fine going up...

Having conquered the beast, getting down might now be a problem!  

Along the way we passed a campground and picnic site - replete with a proper French outhouse.

The landscape evolved yet again to a series of salt-ponds and inlets from the ocean.  Our next challenge was to make it across this bridge.

The stepping stones seemed to be placed for legs just a little longer than ours.

Nothing daunted, Brita practiced her yoga to get across.

They made it!  Just me left to make it across.

Our next landscape:  used to be a petrified forest but all the wood has long been removed.  Now it is a "savanna" - barren wasteland was our translation.

Christmas winds are ripping up the ocean - it was difficult to stand here in the salty mist and buffeting winds.

The trail was easy to follow across the grasslands.

But as we went on there were areas with absolutely no vegetation.

How long since it has rained here?

Finally we exited through this copse of greenery and the world once again changed before us.

Incredibly, a wind surfer and kite boarder were out braving the swells and waves.  Most of the time we could only see the top of the wind surfer sail between the waves.

Along the way we passed a few of these little stations, this one for the Virgin Mary, and an earlier one for St. Pierre (holder of the key and patron saint of fishermen).

As soon as we walked a little way inland above the Baie des Anglais, we encountered commercial farming on a giant scale.

A little herd of sheep carried on down the road ahead of us - all jaunty in their yellow collars.

And fields full of cattle skittishly kept an eye on these strange humans walking by.

The only wildlife we were warned about, we just didn't see!

We didn't count, but I'd guess there were more egrets than cows in this pasture.

Beautiful doe-eyed ladies.

And finally after meandering down country lanes and byways, we were spit out onto a bike path beside what felt like an interstate highway - well only two lanes but dead straight.  Could we make it to the end in the blazing noon heat?

Well, we made it about 3/4 of the way where Henry & Brita found us some nice cold Lorraine beers, and Jason and I found a place in the shade.

We finally completed our loop and made it back to Ste. Anne - although we still had to walk into the town-centre.

Almost there - our boats are somewhere in the anchorage out there.

Time for some sustenance so we pulled up to a table at Rendez-Vous where we wolfed down our lunches.

As the table next to us cleared check out who moved in to clean up the sugar-rimmed glasses!
Our first hike on Martinique completed and tired legs were ready to head home for some R&R.

The French islands definitely offer up a different experience than the others:  obviously much better off with support from the 'mother-land'.  In this area there are no beggars or low-level vendors, where there are vendors they have a pretty laissez-faire attitude and don't push you to buy.  The infrastructure is head-and-shoulders better than anywhere else with good roads and well laid-out hiking paths (almost too good to be true), agriculture is conducted on a huge scale - we didn't see any individually tethered animals, just herds which are unknown the other islands.  Cars are for the most part well repaired, there is little to no litter along the roads and long stretches of uninterrupted green verges - where are the dead appliances, wrecked cars and indescript dumpage we see elsewhere? I have a feeling that in a while we will hanker for the charm and character of the other islands but for the moment it feels rather civilized to hang out here, so we'll continue to do just that for the next few weeks.