Under the Volcano
15 June 2016
We bid adieu to Dominica and pointed the boat south to Martinique. Once again the weather forecast was understated, but we only had about 30 nautical miles to go, with about 25 of that open water, so it could have been worse.
Our friends were already in St Pierre, but we decided to anchor at a little beach we know immediately south of the town that is much easier anchoring, and far less stressful for our already rattled bodies. Bob had promised us a baguette when we arrived in St Pierre, and darned if he didn’t dinghy out to us to deliver it! Talk about a very considerate thing to do! We had a quiet night on the hook off by ourselves, then hauled anchor the next morning to find a spot closer to town.
There is, theoretically, a no anchor zone just off the main dock at St. Pierre. This happens to be some of the prime anchoring space, too. However, lately it doesn’t look like they have been enforcing this, as a number of boats, including us, were firmly planted in the area. Ostensibly, this is to protect wrecks, but they are sunk in about 100 feet of water, a depth we are highly unlikely to anchor in. Out of all the places putting in mooring balls, St. Pierre is a prime candidate. Even without the no anchoring area, it is still a little interesting to drop the hook and make her stick. However, we anchored and were fine. We were also close enough to forego the use of the outboard to get ashore.
On my morning run, I realised just how close the Earth Sciences Discovery Center was (okay, the name is in French, but that is a fair approximation). It was an easy walk from the dock, and it was definitely something Ken and I wanted to see. We had been there previously by car with Alex and David of ‘Banyan’, but had decided that spending a couple of hours indoors when we were renting a car didn’t seem like a great idea. Well, that wasn’t a concern this time!
The Discovery Center is mostly dedicated to Mount Pele. Pele is the volcano that looms over the north part of Martinique, and destroyed St. Pierre in 1902, along with about 3,000 people. Sadly, they had no idea of how to read the warning signs, and figured they were safe as any flow would follow the river valleys down the side of the mountain. They didn’t plan on hot gasses blowing out the side of the dome and essentially cooking all but two survivors. The studies after the eruption provided a great deal of information for the volcano experts after that. All of this is well documented at the Center, with numerous pictures of the destruction of the area. Seeing the town burned to the ground with a few ruins still standing, and the absolute wasteland of the surrounding area, was very sobering. And this volcano is not considered dormant at this time. It is part of a line of volcanos, almost equidistance apart, that follow the fault line between the Caribbean Plate and the North Atlantic Plate. From Kick `Em Jenny, the submarine volcano just north of Grenada, to Soufriere in St. Vincent, to St. Lucia’s Soufriere, Pele, Dominica and Montserrat, there is a line of volcanos that bear watching. Montserrat is still quite active, but it seems to be settling down a bit, and Kick `Em Jenny was making noises just last year. She’s expected to do something dramatic within a decade. The Center has an excellent video with English subtitles, while the displays are in French. Our French was good enough to get the important stuff.
After the Discovery Center, we walked up to the Depaz Rhummerie. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open on a Sunday, which we eventually figured out was Mother’s Day, but we could sit down for a second, refill our water, and enjoy the view. The poor Security guy wasn’t sure what to do with us, but he was busy enough dealing with the cars of the patrons for the restaurant there that was open. We snapped some pictures of the scenic grounds and wandered off again.
We enjoyed St. Pierre for a longer period of time than we ever have before. We had been there for about 2 or 3 days before, and our last couple of times through was just an overnighter at the beach before continuing on. However, we had an appointment to get our diesel looked at for its 2 year checkup, and it was time to move on.
Soufriere Spa Day
15 June 2016
After lots of running and hiking, and going here and there, it was time for a day off, and maybe something a little therapeutic. Ken and I had initially considered a trip to Wotten Waven to meet up with our friend Venetta and to soak in one of the sulfur spring spa experiences there, but decided on a different venue, Soufriere.
Soufriere means sulfur in French, and this area lives up to the name for good reason. It is pockmarked with sulfur springs, and is home to the Sulfur Deposits, essentially the active caldera of a volcano. The Kalinagos had a strong respect and appreciation for this area as well. A National Park venue has been set up close to the Sulfur Deposits, with a couple of sulfur baths built to take advantage of the natural resource. It is by no means as elaborate as the offerings in Wotten Waven, but it is also less commercial and less expensive.
Ken and I took the bus south to Soufriere, and started the approximately one mile walk in to the sulfur baths and deposits. The walk is quite pleasant, with many mango trees offering their ripe fruit to us as a snack. The backdrop of verdant hills and the sight of a few smoking fumaroles was a treat for the eyes, while the shady road was amenable to our feet. When we got to the Park sight, the Ranger asked for our passes. I had my weekly pass still from the visit to Trafalgar Falls, but we were one short for Ken. The Ranger accepted our promise that we would buy one at a house on the road (why they don't have them for sale there is beyond me).
We walked up the trail by the river towards where I knew the sulfur deposits were, having "discovered" them on my hike of Segment 2. The sign on the trail also helps. Following your nose does, too. The stench of sulfur is quite pervasive, not overpoweringly so, but a definite backdrop to the walk. When you finally reach the first deposit, you transition from a shady, foliage rich area and walk straight into... hell. The deposit is quite noticeably bereft of vegetation. The sun beats down on you as you traverse the glaringly white and grey rocks, interspersed with the steamy, smoking vents. It is hot, whether from the sun, or possibly the slightly geothermally warmed earth. The only break from the monochromatic colour scheme might be a little yellow sulfur deposit that has bubbled up out of the ground, hitch hiking on some boiled water. This is like a mini version of the Valley of Desolation, but much easier to access.
We got back into the shade, passing cashew trees, complete with ripe yellow cashew fruit. There were also mango trees around as well. We passed up the small cashew fruit, which are quite edible, and found a couple of mangos instead. We then walked back to the sulfur baths.
There are two baths, one slightly warmer than the other, close to the river, with pipes directing the hot sulfuric water into the man made pools. The last time we were there, the pools were empty, as they can turn off the water at a manifold. This time, however, we were treated to a luxurious soak in the hot water. A small rain shower didn't hinder our enjoyment in the least. We were by ourselves, enjoying the therapeutic bath, with the sun shining down on us. Really, all we needed was a cold drink to set it off perfectly. Our tepid water was not quite hitting the spot.
After we had parboiled ourselves enough, we wandered back down to Soufriere (with no sign of Venetta or Amanda). I had heard that on the beach, in front of the church, was the somewhat famous "Bubble Beach". This is a section of the beach that has its own hot springs right into the Caribbean Sea. A young man with a lot of moxie built up the beach and created a rock sea wall to enable better enjoyment of the area. Since it is technically public land, he asks for donations to keep things going, and he has a bar on the beach, too. There was no way we weren't going to give this a try.
How to explain partially floating in the Caribbean Sea, as little bubbles float up from the sand, and hot water caressing you? Then an occasional swell brings in a little cooler water, just when you think that maybe it is getting a tad too warm, and refreshes you at just the right time. And add a very cold beer into that. Plus you get the view of the gorgeous blue of the Caribbean Sea if you feel the need to sit up, and on land there are the colours and sights of a typical Eastern Caribbean town. The music of the sea, and the dogs, chickens and goats, plus the sound of children playing provides the soundtrack. Magical. Just magical. We could have stayed there for hours, but the sun was shining down on us, and we had to get home at some point.
As we made our way back to the center of town to catch a bus, we ran into Amanda (Venetta had other things that came up and couldn't lime with us). Rather than hang out in Soufriere any longer, we invited her back to the boat.
We had a nice evening of a drink or two, a late, quickly thrown together, dinner, and a visit by Desmond, who used to work for Sea Cat until he decided to strike out on his own.
It was a busy ending to a relaxing day.