Monday, January 4, 2016

Beauregard Canal or Canal des Esclaves

We had a little excitement on our sail north to St. Pierre when we lost our genoa halyard, so we motored the last half of the 30 mile trip and dropped anchor in front of Blue Moon in the anchorage just after lunchtime. Sitting under the looming presence of Mt. Pelee, a dormant volcano that dominates the landscape at this end of the island, we made plans for a few of the hikes we'd like to tackle. We also need to figure out how to rethread the halyard through our mast since the break occurred right up at the top and the remaining line fell down the mast, but we'll leave that for tomorrow.

Up bright and early on Sunday morning, we headed south from St. Pierre and up into the hills above Le Carbet. Although the canal is just over 4km to hike, the walk to get there is another 4km up into the hills, but as we went along we were treated to beautiful views of the plantations below us. We also made sure that we stopped at the boulangerie and stocked up on pastries and a fresh baguette to keep us going through the morning.

Brita, Jason and I all ready to rumble.

Like a carrot before a donkey, the promise of a fresh baked baguette worked wonders for our motivation.  Can you see it in Henry's backpack - very French-style!

Beautiful plantations and gardens laid out below us on the hillsides.

We picked up the canal at the lower end and proceeded to follow it "up stream". When I had read about a canal up in the hills above the plantations I wasn't sure what to expect, thinking of the canals of Europe and even the Rideau Canal at home. It turns out that this canal was built by slaves in 1760 to provide water to the plantations and rum distilleries in the area. The sign at the entrance warned away people who suffer from vertigo or unruly children, and as we stepped onto the 18" wide wall of the canal we began to understand why.

As with all the other hiking trails on Martinique, they are well sign posted.

Stepping onto the ledge:  yes, that's the trail and it's just 18" wide!

Lush vegetation and some steep farmland was laid out like a little diorama below us.
It didn't take long for us to stand in awe of the countryside and the construction that had us perched up in the air on a sheer hillside, dropping to the river far, far below. Occasionally there was a wider spot, useful for passing other hikers or to plant your feet for a photo, but often I found myself thinking if I lost my balance I would happily throw myself into the canal.

Cool, amazingly clear water flowed quite quickly along the canal.  The engineering was a marvel on the precipitous mountainside.

Looking straight down to the river below - not for the vertigo-challenged.

With a little leeway to the edge we stopped to admire the mountainous interior of the island.

Striking trees along the way and in the canopy around us.

Given the drop below the wall it was quite scary to sit down ... and then get back up!

This little family greeted us at one corner on the trail, but given the greenery around them they were uninterested in what Jason had to offer.

At places where there was runoff from the hill above, the canal was covered to prevent it being filled in with debris.
All too quickly we found ourselves at the source of the canal where water was diverted from the river; we took the opportunity to tuck into our baguette and other snacks before deciding how we were to get back to the boats.

A dam had been built on the river with an inflow at the top as the source of the canal.

A perfect place to stop and enjoy a little early lunch.
Checking on the map, we had the choice of returning the way we had come, via the canal, or exploring further along the secondary roads through Fonds St. Denis. We opted for new territory but didn't realize just how much climbing this would involve. By the time we actually arrived in the town of Fond St. Denis, we were ready for a cold drink and a chance to catch our breath.

Look carefully in the traffic mirror - not for oncoming cars, but our intrepid group of hikers.

The little town of Fonds St. Denis nestled in the lush hills at the top of the valley.

The little cafe of KayTiJo offered up refreshing cold drinks where we relaxed and watched the Sunday morning traffic.
Even high up in the hills of Martinique, this little town boasted extensive manicured gardens surrounding a cenotaph, Parisian-style lamp posts and an astounding Banyan tree on the outskirts of town.

The cenotaph, with homage to the island troops and extensive manicured gardens.

Could this lamp post once have graced the banks of the Seine?

The Banyan tree sits high atop the little hill, but it's roots span all the way down to the road, and probably below that as well.
We finally crested the ridge above St. Pierre and began our downward descent, arriving in time for a late lunch in town. Best of all was that the restaurant offered menus in French and English so we were able to learn new terms and really understand what we were ordering, although we still had difficulty understanding some of the food we had ordered. Guess we need to work on our French gastronomy!

Mt. Pelee - still in the clouds!

The descent begins - all the way to St. Pierre on the coast.

We walked through banana plantations where the fruit is bagged on the tree.

This little guy and his mom were tethered at the roadside where there was plenty to eat.

A magnificent baobab tree stands above a pretty little restaurant overlooking the cliffs of St. Pierre.

Mowzer and Blue Moon are about half-way between the dock and the left side of the picture - just where we left them of course.
I have to say that the Beauregard Canal goes down as one of best Caribbean hikes we have done, although I think next time we'll return the way we came rather than crossing the ridge to Rivière du Jardin des Plantes which based on the map topped out at somewhere around 600 meters above sea level.  Still a great day's accomplishment and a great way to see the countryside.