05/08/2009, Martinique, Island of Frenchies and Love!
Our first stop in Martinique was St. Pierre. An anthropologist's dream to join us along our journey from the first Bahamian Island thru these Windwards. From our first step on the pier at St. Pierre, being hugged by farm vendors in the outdoor market at the end of the dock, to the Frenchie, Valerie, at the Escapades Cyber Cafe who warmed up by the second day of us squatting at her place for wifi. I think it was our feeble attempts at French that won her over. The tiny thrills of exploring the way on shore to find the customs and immigration services in all these teeny island countries has been mandatory yet marvelously exciting. From the usually athletic efforts with ladders and docks of varying degree of repair to struggling with a foreign language to get directions is truly an experience we will treasure always. Laughter always follows the pantomime with a very few words thrown in. The French are a very proud people and they only want to speak French... go figure, crazy Americans we are.
St. Pierre is impressive! This idyllic seaside port town was everything it was written up to be. Not just another quaint French town complete with red roofs, narrow streets, great bread being baked on every corner and did I mention great wine too? In 1902 Mt. Pelee, the volcanic mountain, was active, ripe and it erupted with such great force it destroyed the entire town of St. Pierre along with it's 30,000 residents! When we walked thru this historic town we found it had been rebuilt on top of the residue and rubble left by that tragic event. So many new buildings share at least one wall with the past.
We soaked up the waterfront and St. Pierre had me uncontrollably snapping shots of all the historical sights, the architechture and the melding of the old with the modern. We finally figured out what that special something is when we arrive at these wee island countries. It's the individuality each island makes of it's heritage. They've embraced all the hardships or blessings of their respective cultures and molded their version into the landscape of the island. We are wide eyed with joy. That's what's endearing.
Then....the NIKON died! OHHHHHH NOOOOOO!!!!!! OH YES...SHEISA!!!!
I contacted Nikon and their suggestions were two-fold. One, take batteries out for 24 hours and try again...or two, send it to Nikon for repair! We're in the Caribbean for crying out loud! The shipping, duty and agent's fees would be more than the camera is worth and then we'd have to figure out where to ship it back to us. Another challenge before us. We HAVE to have a camera for a journey of this magnitude. YEIKS!!!!
One last open air market visit, a goodbye to our new French friend Vallerie, and we left St. Pierre and took off for Le Marin to find our dear, long time friends Olga and Don. We are always looking for the best angle to sail, only this is one waypoint where you just drop those big canvas 'propellers' and motor. We did enjoy a relaxing 20 mile sail until we reached Diamond Rock. That's where we made a 90 degree to the east and where the wind on the nose met us. I got my last shot with the Nikonof that huge rock, and it's called HMS Diamond Rock for this amusing reason. During one of the many battles between the French and English, the English climbed this huge boulder and equipped it as they did a war ship with men and cannons for a big boom surprise when the French arrived. Very cool. We had the pleasure of meeting a Brit in Antigua, Jol Byerley, owner of Lord Jim's Locker, well known yacht racer, humorist and author. What a character! Dudley sat with him one morning and Jol told him is own story of Diamond Rock. He was a mountain climber in his younger days and climbed to the top of Diamond Rock where he placed the Union Jack. This 'rock' is in French Territory, Martinique, so needless to say the frenchman got in an uproar when they found out. Jol is rollicking in his success, still telling that story at 80+ years old! Not one frenchman could scale that enormous 'rock' to remove it so they had to send to France for a professional mountain climber to get get that darned British flag off the top of Diamond Rock.
Le Marin's big open bay welcomed us and so did Richard Cory. We had such a good time with our Miami friends at last. Olga and Don were our very own quintessential tour guides. Olga was the loving translator being fluent in French, they both love good food and they loved sharing their knowledge of these islands with us! Olga is a gourmet chef and they are always on the lookout for that culinary star whereever they go. When they were not with us for the car rental part of the island tour with Lynn and Lew, they even provided us with lists of their favorite gastronomic hot spots or their favorite rum distillery and cannot forget the p'ce de resistance of architecture... the copy of the Sacracour! This cathedral was spectacular and we can't wait to see the original in Paris. We will forever remember their favorite patisseries and boulangeries and I have the pottbelly to prove it. Thanks to you both, "we love Richard Cory"! Thanks for donating your spare camera to the documentary cause. We are forever grateful.
Good friends for life are worth living for! What would our lives be without each and every one of you!
Everybody left us! The rain only stopped for a couple of days, long enough for everybody who was invested in the St. Lucia Jazz Festival to take advantage of this weather window! We were only going to the last day of the festival on May 10th so we decided to take our chances and stick around Martinique, TO COLLECT MORE WATER! This really was the most rain we had seen and for such a long stretch of time at that. We managed to keep our water tanks full and we WILL be replacing the pot and pan water catchment system with RC's water catching system very soon on Altair. We had this kind of rain last May 1st after we crossed the Mona Passage and arrived in Puerto Rico. The custom's guy said "if it rains the first of May you will have a year of good luck" and indeed we have.
Dudley and I rented another car to get the Nikon fixed or find a new camera. We thought we'd get some big provisioning done with a car also. It turned out that our biggest delight that day was not exploring Martinique's historical districts, which we did too, but the Galleria Mall...you heard it! A shopping Mall was celebrating their 25th anniversary. They had ballroom dancers that were obviously professionals. The entertainers wore sexy costumes reminding us of the "Dancing with the Stars" program and the familiarity and the verve they've clearly practiced all their lives was enjoyed too. This was no hokey performance. The live music to complement them was as entertaining as the dance performers themselves. At the end of day when we came back to this mall to shop, there was a full blown production of the musical and theatrical history of Martinique. The performers were excellent, the music electric and we had all we could do to squeeze thru the crowds to find a good vantage point. Wish I had brought the camera that Don and Olga donated to Altair, but I came to buy a new camera...not be entertained, SURPRISE. The costumes were fantastic. How they could dance with such fervor and choreographic perfection in those elaborate get-ups was pure talent! The hour we stood mezmerized they must've had 6 or more acts all with full costume changes. Who knew mallratting could be so fun?
Just before we left Martinique for St. Lucia, we got a going away present. A neurotic french new boat owner, Paul, kept trying to describe his concern that we were anchored too close to his week-old brand new sloop when we first arrived in Le Marin. We happily invited him onboard Altair to settle this over a cup of tea and he proceeded to sketch out a new anchor plan for us with his 'drawings' (no English) to convince us to move further away from his new boat. In the name of peace we moved! Not to happily for sure (remember we still don't have a working windlass).
Our going away present was the largest papaya we've ever seen and it was from his yard. He was very happy with himself, but it was the size of a large watermelon! He informed us it would take a couple of weeks for this to ripen, but where will we put that enormous bequest on our little sloop Altair?
Goodbye Martinique... the journey continues!
Love Dudley and Bec,
04/11/2009, Town of Portsmouth, Dominica
Just before our departure from this gorgeous verdant shangrila, we needed to get water. The options were one, take Altair to the cruise ship dock and get beat up with the surge pounding us up against a gargantuan super structure and pay for water, NOT... or (2) take the dingy to shore and carry the jerry cans up the beach to the road where we could get all the fresh mountain stream water we wanted for free.
Dudley and I began the chore of gathering water, carrying our empty, full of air, jugs to the spigot on the street! I was ahead of my honey when I was approached by a very determined guy wanting to sell me a carved coconut! Well, the face on the shrivelled up coconut reminded me of the face 'Wilson', Tom Hank's 'buddy', the soccer ball, in the film Castaway. This 'sculpture' was very juvenile and very SILLY looking and the guy was pretty scary too! He was in my personal 3' comfort zone, grunting, cryptic and a tad too pushy with this coconut in my face. Dudley showed up about this time and I pleaded for his rescue and proceeded to leave him where the 'sales' pitch had commenced! I'm filling the jugs, soaking up the culture all around me, looking at the sights Here the two of them come, Mr. Coconut Man is carrying our jerry jugs and my honey is carrying the "artwork". They both appeared to be pretty satisfied, and I assumed Dudley bought the coconut and got the guy's help with the water gathering also. He handed me the coconut and I thought he said..."We need to get rid of this", both of us agreeing that neither of us want it on the boat and don't have room for it either. They took off down the street to the beach and I run into a cruising couple who I implore to embrace this 'gift'! After realizing I wasn't as crazy as Mr. Coconut Man, they finally agree to take this off my hands once and for all and I now feel I have done a good dead! The artist made some money, fellow cruisers now have a memento and we got more help with water carrying thru the sand.
On my way back to the dock Dudley and Mr. Coconut Man sees that I don't have the masterpiece in my possession and Mr. Artiste starts to panick! He's really grunting now, eyes are bugged out, running around in circles holding his head in dispair and 'whining' so to speak. Dudley cries out, "where's the coconut?"...I told him, "I did as you suggested, and gave it away". He said "Nooooooooooooo, I didn't say that... you have to go get it!" and I exclaim..."What?"!!!! Now I start after the couple to retrieve this piece of art which will confirm their suspicions that I'm crazy too. Mr. Coconut Man, unbeknownst to me is running after me flailing his arms and is still bugeyed and grunting! I looked north, looked south, asked some locals lounging in the shade, now I'm a teeny bit frantic, "did they see some elder white folks with hats, carrying some masterpiece?" After much too much time passed trying to understand their 'patois' dialect, I learned that the couple ducked between some buildings toward the beach. I'm now jogging after them, calling outloud for the attention, with Mr. Coconut Man chasing after me! When I reached the end of the foundation of some buildings along the beach, I was stuck and I had no where to go except back track for a way to the beach. MCM is now face to face with me and I still don't have his coconut. He is clearly upset now as this, his current means of income, has disappeared before his eyes! Some other young local guys piped up to inform me that MCM is not harmful, but just a harmless, local deaf mute! Now that explains a lot. I hate when I assume the worst.
We, MCM and I, managed to catch up with the cruising couple, now joyfully splashing their way up the beach toward their dingy when I pleaded my case and humbly requested they give MCM back that coconut! They eagerly gave the masterpiece back to MCM and all ended well.
As I made my way back past the lounging guys who helped in this caper, I beamed and thanked them perfusely for their help! The guy that was most horizontal in this little group siesta, perked up, took his nipples in his hands and made a twisting motion and said "Missy, I love your teeny ta tas". I almost exploded with laughter but I meakly said "thanks" and me and my ta tas returned to Dudley and water gathering, with a happy ending to "MCM".
Dudley and Bec, S/V Altair
04/01/2009, Les Saints to Dominica, West Indies
Wow, we left Les Saintes early this perfect morning with the wind and the seas out of the east. The seas were very mild and finally clocked around from the relentless north swells we had last week on anchor in Terre d'en Haut. We were really glad to be done with those because they wear you out just trying to stand, let alone catching everything that isn't stowed as if for a crossing. It's a short leg to "Dominica" with only 18nm to go... then WHAM! A squall hit us broadside when we were idylically moving along at 5.5 knots and not paying attention. We thought the rig camedown with that thunderous crack and bomb like sound from the port beam reach to a jibe! Scared the crap outta of us! It took us a while to see if we were still in one piece....
APRIL FOOLS... SYKE! It was a memorable sail and then we arrive here... in Shangrila!
No kidding, we've been on a green tour like no other. We haven't stopped since we arrived here in Dominica. It's everything and more than we've ever heard or read about this verdant wonderland. As soon as we arrived we were scooped up by a super "boat boy". He's 42 years old and looks like a boy too. We were warned that 'boatboys' were overwhelming, obnoxiously persistent and desperate for busness. We were told to ask for Martin, but we decided to go with Alexis, the first to approach us, and he's been a perfect guide. The people love their country, are extremely healthy and it oozes out of their pores with love. We have been on a nature-go-round for 10 days and will have to be torn form here for sure.
We also rented a car with Laura and Gary on S/VLucille. We had a blast covering every green inch of this island we could possibly squeeze into two days!S/V Lucille took off south on a time schedule and, darn it, more new friends to catch up with later. Since we've been here in Dominica (pronounced domineeeka), we've made it to the magnificent farmer's market which is held every Saturday; we were guided up the Indian River by Alexis and Kevin, then we entered the Syndicate Nature trail and we couldn't believe the size and scale of the vegetation here. We got a steam, sauna and facial as added perks. We also visited the Kalinago Barana Aute, (Carib Cultural Village by the Sea) where an indian guide shared how things were done long ago and are still being done today!
As if that were not enough, we drove through the Carib Indian Territory, where we met lots of proud artisans eager to sell their wares. We watched in awe as they still make canoes by hand, the jewelry made with all varieties of nature and the locals are able to create a wide array of island fare from crops galore!
For a country that is poverty striken, we were blessed to be surrounded by industrious people everywhere! It's hard to imagine that anyone could starve here! Simply AMAZING!!!!
Both the windward and leeward coasts are drop dead gorgeous! The drama is the height of the incredibly lush cliffs that drop off into these amazing shores! The islanders here are incredibly beautiful and generous as well. We've met so many wonderful Dominicans that just dropped what they were doing to help us. A 75 year old man (who looked 50) helped us carry our jerry cans full of water thru the sand to our dock, wanting nothing in return. They don't think twice about walking you to the bakery or the market because you asked for directions. Irma told me she was forty four and didn't look a day over 23. When I asked where she was going all dressed up, she said "every Saturday the young people do things for the elderly to show respect and thanks. It's a shame if they see an elder mistreated or neglected". Every 50-60 year old looks to be 35. It's a fountain of youth here! The oldest woman died at 128 years old recently and three or four people have beamed relaying the health statistics here in Shangrila. We will hold these gentle people in a special place in our hearts and do hope to return here some day!
We are heading to Martinique next! It looks like we could spend a whole lot of time there, but the Jazz Festival in St. Lucia starts early May. We want to get a good spot before all the boats arrive from all over the Caribbean for this ever growing musical event! We'll keep ya posted for sure.
More soon, Dudley and Bec
03/27/2009, Iles Saintes, Guadeloupe Archipelago
We've been here a week and the wind has been pretty strong out of the NE with a relentless north swell! We had to get off the boat! We've seen a lot of Bourg des Saintes by foot but when we get back on board, it's a roller coaster ride. We took a ferry to Terre d'en Bas for the day and it was an idyllic, Gallic, charmingly irresistible treat. It's love at first sight.
It's small, dry (hence all the flowering plants in abundance for our personal pleasure), steep with red and brown cliffs up to l000' with perfect white beaches everywhere. These two islands are really fairytale adorable, sparkling clean and can we say 'picturesque'?
The Saintes have been French ever since they were colonized and it's long supported a small community which used to rely almost entirely on fishing. I think it's baking now...ok tourism for sure. There were fishing villages everywhere like eye candy and even now you're convinced of a big fishing community by the activity on the waterfront.
It's really, REALLY FRENCH! We're laughing a lot, but we're managing quite well actually.
We walked the entire southcoast, with a detour at the immaculately preserved pottery factory, with a number of stops after climbing the mountain for a couple of hours! We wanted to find a restaurant we were told about and it sounded close to the ferry station. After we were just about to the western edge of the island we hitched a ride and got in the back of his open jeep with a couple of kids. He was conveniently able to deliver us to Chez Eugenette's, after dropping everyone else off, lucky us. We went WAY outta of our way, but we would never have seen the sights we saw today nor found Chez Eugenettes for lunch without that teacher on "siesta" nice enough to stop and scoop us up.
We had a fabulous lunch after which we needed to walk! We didn't think it could get any better than the south coast but we're here to share our photo bounty! When we couldn't possibly believe it could get any better, we had a most extravagant sunset to end our perfect day of being a tourist. Thanks Universe.
Dudley and Bec
03/24/2009, Terre de Haut, Les Saintes
We finally left Antigua! We had a spectacular sail to the southern tip of Guadaloupe on Friday, then another short sail to Les Saints! We saw a phenominal green flash when we pulled into Guadeloupe! My first one! For Real! And we SAILED!!! YIPPEEE!!!
This place is so sweet, incredibly quaint and very FRENCH! The "French for Cruisers" we got in St. Martin is now permanently attached at the hip. The church bells chime on the half and on the hour, the people are wonderful and ohhhhhhhh, the bread! If we stay here very much longer I'm going to be as big as a house! Can't walk down the street without smelling a croissant or a bagette baking! Help!!!!!!!
This place is full of artisans! I'm in heaven! Color everywhere!
I couldn't ask for a better place to spend my birthday! Dudley spoils me so much anyway, it's going to be hard to beat. This place is the best present I could ever hope for.
We are expecting a front from the north with big seas and swells! Hopefully that huge country above us, Guadeloupe, and Ilet a Cabrit, part of this archipelago, will keep the swells away! We are not complaining though because this a place we are delighted to spend a few days! It's remeniscent of days long gone, evident by the narrow streets, the fishing boats peppered throughout the anchorage and the little old ladies in full sunday regalia!
We love this little gem and can't wait to explore! Let's hope it doesn't take us another year to get to Grenada, hehe.
02/28/2009, Boggy Peak/Now Obama Mountain, Antigua!
I'm so syked!!!
I heard mid-week that there was to be another walk with the Environmental Awareness Group today! I WANTED TO GO BADLY, LOTSLY. It was to be a hike up to the top of Boggy Peak, now called "Mount Obama"! (More on that in the "Island History" category!) Getting to the Agricultural Station in Christian Valley by 7am was going to be the challenge. I called for help from Judy of English Harbor Radio. If after announcing the event, would she add: "Altair wants to share a taxi, early Saturday am, call on Ch. 68 after the net". Judy was kind enough to do this for me for two days, but I didn't get one call. I finally reached Cap Green, who's the one organizing this hike on this end of the island. It turns out, he's a very 'green' guy (pun is appropriate) because he's an EAG board member (making his name even more punny, ugh). He not only picked me up and took me to the site but I had the good fortune to be in the company of Chris Platt, dedicated to the cause botanist, Nigel Whittington, Island Academy, EAG Activist and Professional mountain climber, and three super guides who were all equipped with bird, flora, fauna and Antigua knowledge to share.
The turnout was delightful! There was a huge group that was representing the EAG, either board, active or soon to be members. Then the rest of us, mere eco-novi (pl?), who were willing to learn and contribute $ to help the work continue. These walks transpire monthly around the island and I was thrilled to participate at this one! The group gathered at the Agricultural Mango Research Station in Christian Valley. This place is distinctive in that it is doing research on the most prestigious collection of mangos species in the world. They're renown for their work with guava and citrus too, with groves in abundance for as long as the eye can see. The AMRS is located at the base of the highest point on the island at 1319' which has been known as Boggy Peak until this year's election of the US President when they renamed it Obama Mountain.
For all those of you who know me, know I didn't waste a moment meeting the locals, cruisers and guides. Some were local lovers of nature who enjoyed sharing their generous acts of green help, a few cruiser's like us who agree to help protect and respect the islands we visit, and the guides who were extremely proud of their work to help protect the island from varments like goats, developers and non-indigenous plants.
They've done this before and know how to coordinate this many people. They counted us and insisted we stay with a buddy to prevent getting separated from the group and lost in the rain forest. Can't even imagine wandering around aimlessly after dark, in the forest....LOST AND ALONE!. Yeiks! We were advised to visit the 'facilities' because it was going to be hours before we got back. I quickly jumped at the opportunity, being a big water drinker, but I missed being counted, I thought. When I returned I asked to get a number because my buddy was #34. They HAD already assigned me either #1 or #2, How funny.
Kim was our group's EAG guide and she's a native. She believes we should all do our part yet she has a personal stake in the island...to save her and all fellow islander's homeland. I liked her alot, too. She was extemely knowledgeable and effervescent in addition to being loud enough so all of us behind her could hear what she was describing along the way. Her sense of humor was infectious. When you're climbing, more than 'walking or hiking' very much UP a mountain, you're breathing heavily and laughing, at yourself, alot. Just as we were entering the dense, really high forest before us, she described a voracious fig tree which will overtake and completely consume a host tree and stated they were'rootless', arrrrrrrrrr! I noticed the air starting to thin out, the higher we puffed. Laughing is normally effortless, but today it was 'breathless', HAH! Sorry.
It really was invigorating exercise and we cleaned up too. Cap and others bring bags for these hikes for rubbish removal along the trial! You would not believe the garbage! This IS A PROTECTED SITE FOR GOD'S SAKE! Car batteries, boat ladders, shoes, lots of them...bottles and plastic jugs, trash everywhere. Articles are being published in the local papers since the renaming of Boggy Peak, reflecting a concern that this nature trail, being the special place it is, will be compromised. They will have to work even harder to insure it's protection now! I emphatically agree with them. We just have to help in whatever way we know how to preserve our world for our kids and their kids. Extremely worthy, doncha think?
Mrs. Lisa Nicholson and her daughter were there. We asked her daughter who came up in her truck to take all that garbage down the mountain for us and she didn't hesitate even a blink to help either. That was gosh darn convenient for the hikers leaving our hands free for 'hugging' the trail on the way down. It was whispered Mrs. Nicholson was related to Vernon. That would be Commander Vernon Nicholson, who sailed into English Harbor back in l947. She was a spry old gal having not one bit of problem getting up or down that hill, ummmm, mountain. She was trying to tell a fellow 'old' geezer that they were septuagenarians, and proud of being able to keep up with the youngsters. Now think about it. If she is 70 to 80 years old, you do the math. I think she could've been the Commander's wife. Ok, I did the math and she'd have to be a 13 year old bride if she's 75. So maybe she's a descendant. A daughter. Would his wife have been on the boat with him? hmmm.. I'm going to have to find her and ask. She was very interesting.
By the time we got to the bottom of that mountain, I found out that she had gone to Harvard and majored in Fine Arts! We had been talking about art for the last hour while tripping, slipping and gripping trees and giggling all through our visit. All day long we had been climbing under and over roots. We tried bracing and grabbing at trees and brush to keep from catapulting down a ravine. All of us successfully traversed a river bed that meandered back and forth across our trail up and down the mountain with big, medium and slimy moss covered boulders and rocks. She was amazing! Just like my incredibly vigorous love, Dudley.
When we reached the end of the trail we followed the fruit groves, where we were enticed by the guides to check out the guava trees. They were demonstrating the act of devouring the delectible bounty and we had no trouble joining in on the...beautiful, colorful, tart quava! There were ripe ones everywhere that had fallen and I shared a few fresh, never been processed guava with Lisa. It was awesome and we ate the skin, they knew it to be very tender and pleasingly edible too. I've only had it sweetened to fill a pastry and it was much better this way... yummmmmy.
Exileratingly adventurous to say the least. The trail was magnificent, we got a great work out and we can say we climbed Obama Mountain. Thank you EAG! Thank you Cap, Chris, Nigel, and Kim, et.al.