Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Few Last Snippets from Martinique

On our sail up to St. Pierre from Ste. Anne we lost our genoa halyard when it parted ways at the top of the mast.  Of course there are no chandleries in St. Pierre so we had a choice of sailing back to Fort de France, or better yet on a rainy day - renting a car for the 25km drive.  Of course, we could have taken a bus but then we wouldn't have had a fun day exploring the north end of the island.

Tuesday dawned wet a soggy and so we set off through the rain in a little diesel, enjoying driving on the right side of the road for a change after all the English islands where they drive on the left.  First stop was the chandlery in Fort de France where we decided that if we were replacing one line at the top of the mast, we may as well replace all, so we picked up new line for the topping lift, spinnaker halyard and genoa halyard, so go along with the main halyard that we had in stock.

That task finished in record time, we headed off for a day of fun.

Next stop was a return to Decathlon - our new favourite shop.  This place is like an oversized Mountain Equipment Co-op or Sail and the selection and prices on athletic clothing and gear are fantastic.

At home in the cold north a 'plug-in' space in a parking lot is for the block heater - here there are loads of electric cars and recharge stations.
 We then continued over to the east side of the island and made our way to the St. James rum distillery where we had lunch, but then continued on to the Banana Museum.  We figured we know quite a bit about rum but not so much about bananas.  The museum included a display about the banana growing industry both globally and on Martinique/Guadeloup, and then a huge garden with hundreds of different species.  We learned much about how bananas are grown and marketed, along with enjoying the gardens - who knew such a pedestrian plant could be so interesting, or pretty.

27 million bananas a week!!!

Such a small world - connected to Leuven where Jim is currently studying in Belgium.

There were hundreds of different species, each with their own plaque explaining origin and use.  This is a wild, black-seeded banana from Asia.

A little ornamental banana that stays bright pink.

Bananas are the largest herbaceous plant and are related to Bird of Paradise, Heliconia and Ginger flower.
As the rain continued we were in no rush to get back to St. Pierre so we drove as far as we could up Mt. Pelee, the massive volcano at the north end of Martinique and responsible for the destruction of St. Pierre in 1902 with 30,000 deaths.  It was eerie up in the clouds at the top of the mountain and we couldn't drive as far as the crater so with only minutes until sunset we headed back down, leaving the crater as a hike for another day.

Before leaving Martinique, we also spent a little time the next day wandering around the town that has been rebuilt on the remains of the original "Paris of the Caribbean".  All the other towns we have been in on Martinique are clean, bright and even the oldest of buildings usually sports a fresh coat of paint.  We are going on the assumption that there is an edict on paint or repair of any of the original ruins of the old town, since St. Pierre has a much more run-down feel to it than the rest of the island.  Mt. Pelee looms over the town as a constant reminder of that fateful day when all but one or two of the town's inhabitants were killed.  It is hard to imagine, looking at the darkened ruins what a glamorous place this once was.

The front of the theatre that once rose three storeys above this level.

Henry & Jason trying to figure out the layout of the old theatre.  The stage would have been mounted above the square area and the audience viewed from seats that rose above the wall with the four arches.  Quite grand!

What remains standing is well maintained for us to wander through.

One survivor, Cyparis, was jailed deep in a stone cell that saved his life.  Jailed for murder, he became a famous member of Barnum & Bailey's Circus as the sole survivor, although there may have been a few others.

Below the town battlements, numerous warehouses and shops had been built to support the massive trade that passed through this town.  It all came to a screeching halt with the eruption in 1902.

Today, there are attempts to pretty up the waterfront streets but it appears to be a slow process.  We will have to check back in on subsequent visits to see how they are getting along.

Many of the buildings are quite elegant and sport local history, but it all feels a bit depressing with the lack of paint.  A reminder I suppose that life here may not be permanent.
Finally, a visit to the market in the new pavilion.  Here you can buy any local produce currently in season, including sugar cane, ground provisions, christophene, bananas, plantain, mangos, melons, tomatoes, lettuce, and much more, but not passion fruit which is really what I came for.
With that, we are moving on to Dominica.  The forecast is for the wind to completely die this weekend and then next week a massive north swell will roll in, so St. Pierre will not be a good anchorage to stay in.  Martinique has been one of our top favourite islands to visit but at times it feels as though we have stepped out of the Caribbean with it's first world European influence.  My French has improved ten-fold and we get along okay, although it is still abysmal to French ears I am certain and the local accent and creole patois is well beyond me.