After a week in Sainte Anne it was time for us to start moving north and for Mai Tai time to return to St. Lucia. It was a bitter sweet parting, we loved hanging with these two! We had lots of laughs, fun and many, many sundowners! They even took us sailing on Mai Tai so we could see what it was like to sail a catamaran - really great people!
Alas it was time to depart, Marie was flying home to Australia in less than a week for a much anticipated visit home with family and friends. Gary was busy with work that he needed to get done before he returned to England for the summer and needed good wifi. We just needed to start making tracks north! Barry's sister, Sherri, is joining us in May in the BVIs and there is so much to see in between!
Next stop, Fort de France, the capital of Martinique.
Gary and Margi from s/v Inspiration were there and we were looking forward to catching up with them. We have not seen them since leaving Grenada and were happy to be spending a week with them before we moved on to Dominica.
What a contrast Fort de France is from Sainte Anne. This is a proper city - it has freeways. Freeways make this SoCal girl very happy. I think we need another road trip! With Gary and Margi we rented another car, this time for two days. It didn't take us too long to figure out the theme for this road trip - there are eleven rum distilleries on the island and they all have free tours and tastings. It turns out that Martinique has held the title of the rum capitol of the world since the 18th century. This is my idea of a road trip - let's get moving!
This would be a good point to talk about how wonderful the roads are in Martinique and how courteous the drivers are. I think Barry thought he had died and gone to heaven, he really misses driving a car. July 2012 was the last time that Barry had driven a car on the right (correct, US) side of the car on the right (correct, US) side of the road - that makes a huge difference in your enjoyment factor when driving! The roads in Martinique are well maintain and wide enough for two cars (the freeways even have multiple lanes). Totally shocking, pretty much all of the places we have been you just have to close your eyes and pray because the roads, if you can call them that, are poorly maintained and narrow to the point of being heart stopping if a car is approaching from the opposite direction. Our kids are worried that we will die at sea, I'm here to tell you we will die in the local bus on some road on a Caribbean island! Barry doesn't think we will die though, just be horribly maimed because they don't drive fast enough to kill us!
OK let's face it, no matter how good the roads are, drinking your way around an island is not a good idea. Hmmm, how to break it up - ding, ding museums! Martinique also has a lot of museums. The only tough thing about the museums (for most of them) were that all of the displays were in French - none of us speak French, bummer. It was a little bit of a bonus for me, I'm dyslexic and read really, really slow so mostly I just look at the pictures and displays which means I move through a museum a lot faster than most - now everyone was in the same boat and no one was waiting for anyone else.
We visited the Niesson Rhum Agricole Distillery, one of the few remaining family owned distilleries left in the Caribbean. It is also the smallest distillery on Martinique.
We visited Depaz Estate. The Depaz Rhum Distillery that has sat for four centuries, at the foot of Mount Pelee, on the edge of the Bay of Saint-Pierre. In 1903 a devastating volcanic blast from Mount Pelee killed nearly everyone in the town of St. Pierre and leveled every structure including the estate. In 1917, Victor Depaz returned to Martinique to rebuild the chateau, distillery and planted Blue Cane, which is known as the best, most flavorful variety of sugarcane.
We visited St. Pierre. Saint-Pierre was founded in 1635 by Pierre Belain d'Esnambuc, a French trader and adventurer, as the first permanent French colony on the island of Martinique.
St. Pierre is probably best known for it's devastating disasters. The first of not was the Great Hurricane of 1780 which produced a storm-surge of 25 feet that inundated the city, destroying all of the houses and killed approximately 9,000 people.
The town was destroyed again on May 8, 1902, when the volcano Mount Pelée erupted, killing the entire population of the town as well as people from neighboring villages who had taken refuge in the supposedly safe city, all toll over 30,000 people died that day.
The ruins of the St. Pierre Opera House
We visited the Mount Pele Volcano. This stratovolcano is famous for its eruption in 1902 and the destruction that resulted, dubbed the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century. Legend has it that the town's doom was forecast by loud groaning noises from within the volcano, but the mayor of the town had it blocked off to prevent people from leaving during an election. This story appears to have originated with one of the island's newspapers, published by a political opponent of the governor, and has no basis in fact. Actually, there was considerable eruptive activity in the two weeks prior to the fatal blast, but since the phenomenon of the pyroclastic flow was not yet understood, the danger was perceived to be from lava flows, which, it was believed, would be stopped by two valleys between the volcano and the city.
The eruption left only two survivors in the direct path of the flows Louis-Auguste Cyparis survived because he was in a poorly ventilated, dungeon-like jail cell and Léon Compère-Léandre who lived on the edge of the city and escaped with severe burns.
As you can see, we really didn't get to see Mt. Pele at all!
We visited the La Favorite Rum Distillery. La Favorite Distillery, is another of the hand-full of family owned distilleries. The distillery was founded in 1842 and later, in 1905, was purchased by Henri Dormoy. The most significant thing about La Favorite is that it is the last distillery in Martinique still operating with only steam. The distillery's steam engine was built in 1906, in Saint Quentin, France by Henri Marriol. The steam engine powers the crusher for the sugarcane and runs the column stills. The steam technology used produces a closed-circuit supply, making the distillery completely self-sufficient and reducing their environmental impact at the same time.
Who knew crabs liked rum, we saw this little guy shopping in show/tasting room.
We visited the village of Robert again. Le Robert is a the third largest town in Martinique. It is located in the northeastern (Atlantic) side of the island. The Sainte Rose-de-Lima church is a prominent landmark in Robert.
We visited the St. James Distillery Musee du Rhum - rum museum. It is funny the things you take away from visits like this. Obviously we really enjoy rum and it has been interesting visiting all of the distilleries, but this one stuck out for one specific fact. The history of the distillery goes back to 1765 and Reverend Edmond Lefebure, the Father Superior of the Monastery of the Brothers of Charity. Apparently Reverend Lefebure was a skilled alchemist and is attributed with developing a superior rum for the distillery. However, the thing that stuck with me was the square bottle (still used today) and the purpose behind it. The famous square bottle was the first of its kind in the world. It was designed specifically for convenient storage in ships' holds. The square shape was used to reduce the risk of breakage during storms at sea.
We visited the Banana Museum. What do you say about a banana museum? I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I found the museum and associated gardens very interesting. The museum was loosely based on the history of the banana as a food source and where the different species originated from. The gardens featured over 900 varieties of bananas, big ones, little ones, fat ones, skinny ones, curly ones and purple one - what more can I say!?!
We visited the botanical gardens, Jardin de Balata. The Garden was begun in 1982 by horticulturist Jean-Philippe Thoze and opened to the public in 1986. It is set on former farmland with picturesque views of the Pitons du Carbet. Today the garden contains about 3,000 varieties of tropical plants from around the world, including 300 types of palm trees. But by far the coolest part of the Gardens was the skywalk, a series of suspension bridges connecting some really big (massive really) trees - it was a little like being on Tom Sawyer's Island at Disneyland!
Doesn't Barry look like he is having fun -- he hates heights and suspension bridges in particular!
We visited the Schoelcher Library. With its colorful cupola and facade, the Schoelcher Library is definitely one of the most beautiful monuments in Martinique. It was originally built in the fields of the architect Henri Picq and was initially presented at the World Fair of 1889 in Paris, before being disassembled and being transported by boat to Fort-de-France. The Library's new mission was to house the collection of books offered by the abolitionist Victor Schoelcher.
Then we went shopping again!
All in all, we really liked Martinique and look forward to spending more time here. Our disappointment in the variety of restaurants was countered by our delight in the grocery stores and the variety within. Every bay had a first rate dinghy dock, a real luxury. The trade off was the lack of wifi available in the bays. While we don't always have wifi, we have been a bit spoiled when we do because we can get it at the boat because of our amplified antenna. McDonalds was the place to go in Fort de Frace for wifi and going ashore for wifi was a new experience for us. However, I really did enjoy the cheese burger and french fries, even if it did cost just over $10 US for the Quarter Pounder with Cheese meal deal. Everything was more expensive in Martinique, it is a more prosperous island and that is reflected in the cost of living and the price of goods.
We did have one bad experience (a first for us). The car we rented in Fort de France. When we returned it they tried to claim we were responsible for the damages on the car that they had failed to note on the pre-inspection when we pointed it out. Thank goodness Gary had taken pictures of the car! Barry and I were completely too trusting and will never rent another car without a minute inspection, complete with pictures!
Sadly it was time for us to start heading north again and s/v Inspiration needed to get to St. Lucia to pick up some important mail. We will miss them a lot but look forward to seeing them next summer in Grenada.