Because we arrived last night instead of early afternoon as had been planned, we lost a solid ½ day in Martinique. On top of that, we did basically ZERO planning for this leg of the trip. Because of the schedule change the day before, we had cancelled our Airbnb for the night and had to scramble to find another. Found one that had really good reviews in the city of Saint Marie which was the general area we knew we were heading toward. If you stayed 3 nights, you got a welcome dinner cooked by the mom. The reviews were RAVING about the food!! We could only stay 1 night, so I asked the host if we could pay for dinner. Sure! $34. Sold. We now had accommodations and food for tonight!
Had a general idea of the route we wanted to take, but no idea of what we actually wanted to see/do along the way. So we hopped in the car and headed out. First item of business was to find a French adapter so we could charge our stuff. Somewhere along the way I lost mine. #Dominicancurse We went to the place the Airbnb host suggested, but it didn’t look like the kind of place with adapters- it was more of a home depot kind of place. Putting “electronics store” into google maps wasn’t helping either, as it kept taking us to electrical supply stores. After almost an hour of wasted time, I had a bright idea…When in doubt, there’s one place I always know will have them- the airport! And we were close. Friendly English speaking lady at the information booth told us exactly where to go, and just like that, for 11.50euro ($13), we had our adapter and were on the road!
The roads are FABULOUS. Like no potholes. And the drivers are aware of everyone’s personal mortality and conduct themselves accordingly. However, after contorting on the ferry for 2 hours yesterday to make my tailbone less miserable, I now had not only an ouchy tailbone, but a really sore lower back. Miserable was an understatement. There is a wildness to Dominica, even in the towns. There is a developed feel to Martinique, even in the wilderness. It’s gorgeous, but I have to say that Dominica is prettier. We found some little waterfall on Maps.me and hiked to it. It wasn’t really a waterfall- more like a water treatment plant. Disappointing, but it got me off my tailbone for 20 minutes. Next stop was another waterfall. This one had a pool you could swim in, but it was COLD!
Lunch time was approaching. This is France, and France is all about food. Martinique has a TON of restaurants, and they are all open!! And not only do they have restaurants, but grocery stores that are fully stocked! We shall starve no more! And not only do they have grocery stores, but they have Carrefour! A chain I know from France proper! A chain that is known to have Dr. Pepper. Alas, this one did not, but it did have huge areas devoted to the 3 staples of the French diet- fresh bread, wine, and cheese! We got a baguette and some salami to eat along the way. Delicious, and less than $3.50! There was a volcano museum in this town. We pulled in, but it was closed, so we headed down the road again. Our destination was the northernmost area of the island on the other side of Mount Pelee from where we were- Grand Rivere. Even the super rural roads were in perfect condition! The map said there was a viewpoint, so we parked and headed up the hill. A goat guarded the passage, so I had Brian hold him while I quickly scooted by. I don’t like farm animals unless they’re on a plate… We walked up and up. My back was not feeling it and it was HOT. I finally gave up and we turned around. Come to find out- the view point wasn’t ½ a mile up the road like our map said- it was more like 3 miles up! Did get one lovely shot of the beach below, and a lizard I’d never seen.
Research says: Martinque Anole (Anolis roquet summus)
By this time, I was done. I was in so much pain. We got to our Airbnb about 3pm and were greeted by Ester- the host’s mom. Ester is from St. Lucia and speaks English! YAY! We told her we’d like to eat around 5:30-6:30 and she said no problem. The bnb was a studio attached to Ester’s house- we had our own private bedroom, bathroom, and kitchenette. Perfect. I went in, laid down, and died for about an hour and 45 minutes. Literally, I didn’t even move once while I slept. I think I vaguely remember Brian checking me for a pulse at some point…
Woke up feeling a little better, and knowing dinner was coming definitely brightened my mood!! Look, I don’t know the names of everything we ate, but let me tell you this- EVERY BITE WAS PHENOMENALLY DELICIOUS!! We had some kind of little appetizer, then a salad, then rice with chicken and sauce and baked yam and oh my god we ate like KINGS!!
The wifi is great here, so I got some work done. Was talking to my son and his girlfriend (who teach in my school) and they said they wanted to facetime with me the next day. I told them I had no idea what my wifi situation would be (and they’ve never asked to do that before anyway). I was nervous. I told them to just tell me and they sent me a picture of an engagement ring! After 9 years, my son finally popped the question! I was ecstatic beyond words for them!!! Until I was informed that no parents are invited to the wedding, but we can all convene in Texas (they live in Colorado) a month after for a party. My heart broke so hard that I think I heard it crack. I won’t go into all the details, but I voiced my dismay at the situation, was reprimanded, and spent the entire night- ALL OF IT- crying. I can’t even remember another time in my life when I spent an entire night crying. To not get to see my oldest son say his vows to the woman I have loved as my own daughter for so many years…it’s painful beyond words. I have loved, accepted, encouraged and supported them in so many things and it really just feels like a slap in the face.
With a puffy face, hurting jaw and teeth from crying all night and the resulting sinus pressure, and a broken heart, we left the airbnb in the morning. I really didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to go anywhere, see anything, nothing. Poor Brian, he was trying to be so encouraging. Two items on the agenda for sure- the banana museum and the rum museum. But they didn’t open until 9 and it was 7. So Brian in a desperate attempt to get me out of the bnb and out into the world to get my mind off things we decided to drive out to the Caravelle Peninsula that was really close. Good news, my back no longer hurt, just my tailbone. Probably because the pain in my heart was taking my mind off of it…
The peninsula was gorgeous! Little fishing villages dotted the coastline. We drove all the way to the end and decided to get out and hike around. There was an attraction here called Chateau Dubuc. We had no idea what it was (that’s where not researching a trip ahead of time gets ya!), so decided to hike over and check it out. Of course, it was closed until 9, and it was only 8:30. So instead, we decided to hike through the mangroves. Beautiful mudflats and mangrove forests!
Yellow billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus)
Got back around, and Chateau Dubuc was open. The man at the desk didn’t speak a lot of English, but was very friendly and explained enough so we understood that if we took this map and audio/pointer thingy, that when we touched it to the map it would tell us what we were seeing. Clever!! This was a sugar cane plantation built in the 1720s. And that’s about where the history of this place ends. The audio guide did a great (maybe too detailed) job of describing what each of the building ruins had been used for, but I couldn’t get a connection to the place because there was no story. Just “here is a building, and here is literally every single minute detail about how that building worked”. And it is EXPANSIVE- as in 20+ stops, each with several minutes of details. Still, it was cool to wander around the place. Today it’s in the middle of no where and you have to hike to it. I can’t even imagine 300 years ago…
It was well past museum opening times now, so we headed back toward Sainte Marie to go to the Rum Museum. First stop was the grocery store to grab a little breakfast. Holy. Shit. Every register, like 8 of them, had lines 10+ people deep!! Was a hurricane coming and people were stocking up? Was the grocery store only open one day a week? What the hell???? I stood there with my baguette, salami, and a couple other snacks for the road for what seemed like forever, while Brian went to the nearby gas station to get cold drinks. As I got closer, people with lots more groceries than me waved me in front of them in line. We didn’t speak the same language, but kindness is universal. This is France, and there is just a certain je ne sais quoi here.
Rum museum was right around the corner, and was FREE if you didn’t want to ride the train! There were two buildings- the main building with an upstairs video (not in English) and a museum behind that that WAS in English!! St. James Rum is still being produced today, and I have to say that the museum was very nice and well done. I didn’t learn a lot (my head was NOT in the game today), but Brian ooohed and ahhed over a bunch of machinery, so there was that!
This sign was just so disturbing to me. Ugh.
These are the oldest known bottles of St. James Rum. They were in Amsterdam and were shipped back to Martinique after Mt. Pelee destroyed everything in 1902.
Really just gorgeous inside, with a history of the different distillation techniques with actual machines.
Next up, banana museum just down the road. This one I had been excited about, because I had learned SO MUCH at the rice museum in Malaysia that I was hoping this would be like that. Well, kindaish. Again, my head just wasn’t really into anything. It was like $16 for us both to get in, and it was basically a lot of signs (in English!) discussing the history of the banana. I kind of felt I could have read the banana wikipedia page and got the same information, but I’m a bitch today so I hate everything! 😕 I didn’t even take a picture of a single informational sign, at either museum, which is definitely not me. After the museum was a beautiful garden of all kinds of bananas- there are like 1000 species and 300 are edible (see, I learned SOMETHING in the museum!!). Not sure how many species were out here, but it was fun to walk through and see the different types. At the end, there was a restaurant. We shared a banana split. I told Brian they should have “banana flights”- like beer flights. Bring out a bunch (no pun intended!) of different types of bananas and let you taste them. That would have been really fun! Oh- other thing I learned- they originated in Africa and were brought to the Western Hemisphere by Europeans. There are so damned many bananas in this part of the world, I thought they came from here.
Brian knew I was bummed yesterday when the volcano museum we were going to was closed. He found another one and attempted to get me excited about going to it. Seriously, I felt sorry for the guy. Between Dominica being our worst travel experience together ever, my aching tailbone, the news about my son’s wedding….I was in a serious funk and definitely not fun to be around. Nothing was funny. Nothing was interesting. Sigh. I agreed for us to drive to the other side of the island to go check it out, because, well, volcano. So off we headed to Sainte Pierre! I had heard of Mt. Pelee, and knew it was some big old nasty volcanic disaster- but I couldn’t have found it on a map to save my life. Who knew it was in Martinique?! Well, the town of Sainte Pierre sure the hell did in 1902. Mt. Pelee is actually the deadliest volcanic eruption of the 20th century! How deadly? 30,000 people- the entire city of Sainte Pierre- DEAD deadly. Well, except for 2 people. I’ll get to one of those in a moment. That must have been one helluva lava flow, right? Wrong. Zippo lava. None. This was a special type of pyroclastic flow- a superheated combination of ash and gas. How superheated? Oh, about 1800F. That’ll bake your cookies! It was so hot, that it ignited ships that were anchored offshore!
The ladies at the museum were so friendly (do you notice a theme here? EVERYONE is friendly!!) and spoke great English. They gave us headsets that would automatically start playing as you went around to different exhibits. I am very much a multitasking type learner- I like information from a lot of different sources all at once. (That’s exactly how I research for lesson plans.) This was cool because I could read the information on the exhibits and the headsets had totally different information- they were more like stories that supported what you were seeing. The museum was very modern and very well done. I was slightly happyish for the first time that day!
Very nice museum!
Get a load of this!! On the left, that’s BREAD! Right? That’s CHEESE!! #howveryfrench
Check out these objects that were literally melted together by superheated gas!
Just part of one wall that listed all 30,000 victims names
Mt. Pelee, towering above the little town of Sainte Pierre
When I was boo-hooing last night, Brian started researching Atlas Obscura. He knows I love any kind of crazy weird sightseeing kind of thing. He told me about the only entry for Martinique– A man named Sylbaris had been tossed into solitary confinement for fighting. The cell was made of very thick cement walls, a solid door, and just a slit facing the ocean (opposite side from where Pelee was) for ventilation. Well, this proved to be his saving grace. He was burned by the air, but not killed. In fact, he went on to join Ringling Bros and Barnum Bailey Circus, where he would tell his story and show his scars. France pardoned him for his crimes. SUPER INTERESTING! And the best part, his cell still stands amidst the ruins of Sainte Pierre! You can even go inside of it! We walked up and visited it, and I was so enthralled by this history that I even made a few educational videos!
That was basically the end of our sightseeing for the day, and we headed south to Anse Noire, where I had booked us a splurge accommodation! For 2 nights, we would be staying in a treehouse on the beach! It was part of several bungalows run by a super nice man named Claude of Domaine de Robinson. We parked our car at the top of the hill, and went down WAY too many stairs to get to the beach and the treehouse! Down with bags is one thing…I was dreading up (for Brian, because I knew I wouldn’t be carrying shit!).
Path at the top of the stairs
View of the beach from the stairs. WOWZA!
Our treehouse <3
We walked through the gate that said “Private Property” and found Claude. He took us to the treehouse and loaded our luggage into a makeshift elevator. It was not for people. Something called a “monkey bridge” was for people. I don’t drink, but I am seriously concerned for the lack of discernment I apparently was exhibiting at the time of booking the zipline o’ death bnb in Dominica and the monkey bridge o’ death here in Martinique. I swear to god, neither of these things looked so high and sketch when I saw the pictures online! So I swiped right. Things online though sometimes look much better than they do in person, because I was having a serious case of wanting to swipe left after one look at that bridge….
Access to said treehouse…
Claude went up first. He said one person on the bridge at a time (don’t have to tell me twice). I didn’t even know this man 2 minutes ago, but for some reason I didn’t want to look like a total wuss in front of him. I didn’t have any time to contemplate the 80 different ways I could die on this thing before started my slow, deliberate steps. It was shaky. It was high. At the end it was steep. Even worse- at the end there was no solid board and you had to step over a damn gap of empty space!! Space that if I lost 50 lbs and my internal skeleton, I could easily slip through and plummet to my death! That one freaked me out for a second, but I pulled myself over it and on to the porch. I told Claude I was scared of heights. He said a couple of times back and forth and I wouldn’t even think about it (spoiler alert: he was wrong, but it did get minimally better).
Claude got us settled in. We had a big room with a large bed and mosquito net, a little kitchen, a shower, sink, and a separate room with a toilet. And wifi!! I said in an earlier blog I go for unique, cheap, and wifi when I’m booking, but will settle for 2 out of 3. For almost $200 a night, easily 4 times what I normally like to spend, you can see what got left out this time. But it was worth it. It was so quiet, so peaceful, so relaxing. Just the sounds of birds and frogs. We ate some food we had picked up at Carrefour on our way in and just sat on the porch, relaxing. Something we hadn’t done since we started this trip several days ago…Something we desperately needed after everything.
We had one visitor that night- a moth as big as my hand! He was amazing! Until I did research on him get an ID (literally about 5 days after seeing him while writing this blog, otherwise I would have been even more freaked the fuck out). Meet Ascalapha odorata, better known as the Black Witch moth. Silence of the Lambs- you know the larvae that the killer was putting into his victim’s mouths? It was of this moth!!!!! And get a load of this….THE FREAKING THING HAS LEGENDS ABOUT IT BEING A HARBINGER OF DEATH AND MISFORTUNE SINCE PRE-COLUMBIAN TIMES!!!!! So yeah, if this damn thing flies into your house, death, misfortune, or a curse will befell you. He’s a little late to our pity party, but you know what they say about island time…. #fml
Black Witch Moth (Ascalapha odorata)- that’s like a 4″ wide board he’s on!
Woke up in our treehouse!!! Slept GREAT! Of course, I took zzquil to insure that….After the week I’ve had, it was necessary. It’s our last full day of vacation. Wanted to head out early for a snorkel. Of course, that meant having to exit the treehouse via the monkey bridge… I walked up to the edge. Two things struck me immediately. One, holy shit the bridge on this side was REALLY steep going down!! Two, that gap between the board and porch had exponentially widened over night, appearing to require a feat a tad less impossible than taking a step across the widest part of the Grand Canyon. How do I get myself into these things??? Brian went across first, and encouraged me from the other side, but I physically could not make my leg take that first step. I’ve been scared on stupid crazy scary bridges before- ones even higher and scarier than this one (side eye at you, Borneo ). But stepping across a gap like this at the top was way out of my mental capabilities. Look, let’s be real, it was about a foot wide. But my leg literally refused to go over it! Brian suggested sitting down and trying it that way. Sitting down- my tailbone’s least favorite thing to do, but I seriously didn’t have a choice. I never did manage to just step across that gap like a normal person…
Claude had told us that if we went to the sea grass bed further out, we might see some turtles! A guest had seen 5 feeding there yesterday morning. We swam out and it was nothing but sand bottom and sea grass. Hardly any fish. I was getting kinda disappointed! This was our “splurge” location chosen for the snorkeling and unique accommodation!! And then…ZAP!! ZAP ZAP ZAP!! We started getting tiny, painful stings on our arms and legs from some unseen creature! Holy shit it hurt! Like jellyfish stings! We decided to turn around, and this time follow the wall of the cove on the way back. There’s the snorkeling we wanted!! So much life! Lots of little fish and corals! It was very nice. Got back to shore and decided to walk down the dock on the other side of the beach. Water looked a lot clearer than where we had been snorkeling earlier, so we took a ladder down and decided to snorkel around the pier back to shore, then go chill out for a bit. As we rounded the end of the pier, something large caught my eye. As it got a little closer, I could see what it was…A GREEN SEA TURTLE!!! OMG!! He had a missing rear flipper, poor thing. Most likely from a boat strike or shark. We followed him for almost 10 minutes (according to gopro video length!). He came up for air a couple of times. He swam so effortlessly. Just a beauty to watch! As he turned to head out of the cove, we decided to come back in.
So those stings…when I got back in I had several large welts, like big mosquito bites on my right forearm, and one whip mark from an actual jellyfish on the back of my upper left arm that extended from my elbow about halfway to my shoulder. Research is pulling up different things for the tiny stings- larval jellyfish (I’m not convinced), hydroids (my top choice), and something called sea lice. Next time I go out, I’m wearing my long sleeve rash guard for sure. We packed up to do a little drive around this part of the island, with 2 scheduled stops: A slave museum and a slave memorial. This area is really pretty- probably one of my favorite parts along with the Caravelle peninsula.
The slave museum is called La Savane des Esclaves. And here’s the best part….everything is in ENGLISH!! We paid $9 each and were given a little numbered map and the lady explained how to work our way through. Everything is outside- it’s kind of a “living museum” I guess you’d say. There are replicas of different huts and some slave artifacts (the restraints and torture devices will give you chills for days). And the information- WOW! It’s SO WELL DONE!! I’m a teacher. I know a well done museum when I see one, and this it is! The man who created it is Gilbert Larose- a descendant of slaves. And the time, effort, and detail he has put into this place points to only one thing…passion. I got to meet him and told him that I travel the world visiting museums, and I’m extremely impressed with this one. I could tell he was pleased! I was entranced for the entire hour plus that we were there. It was powerful and real and tangible. It was so good, that I took pictures of every single sign (and there’s a lot of them!) so I can share this story with my students.
We drove around to the other side of the peninsula to visit the Anse Cafard Slave Memorial. This series of 20 eight foot tall statues are staring out to sea, where in 1830, 15 years after slavery had been outlawed in Martinique, a slave trader tried to sail his ship ashore at night to sneak in his illegal human “cargo”. The ship crashed on the rocks, killing all 40+ slaves who were shackled together in the hull. The statues are in direct alignment with the Gulf of Guinea in Africa, and are arranged in a triangle pattern to represent the triangular slave trade route across the Atlantic.
Just around the corner is beautiful Diamant (Diamond) Rock. Past that, we found a little restaurant and had lunch- fish and fries (about 5 lbs of them!!) and chicken and rice. Mmmmmmmm. Good. Except that chair and my tailbone were not on speaking terms about halfway through the meal…
Came back to the treehouse and decided to take the kayak around the point to the other cove. One cove (ours) is Anse Noire- a black sand beach. Just around the point is Anse Dufour- a white sand beach! It was an easy paddle over. The water in this cove seemed to be much deeper and clearer than in ours! Pulled the kayak up on the beach and snorkeled out. Holy moly!! This side is much better for snorkeling!! Huge reef walls full of different kinds of coral, huge barrel sponges, tons of fish (even trumpetfish), urchins, stars, and more. We had snorkeled all the way back out to the point along the reef face before we realized it and turned around! Water here was 30 feet + in places, and crystal clear. Added bonus: No stingy things. I think they come out mainly in the morning. Double bonus: Sitting on a lifejacket made a perfect seat for my tailbone where the hollow part of the jacket is! I might take this thing with me… By the way, I took these 3 photos with my phone that was enclosed in the clear dry bag Brian got me for Christmas. Pretty pleased with the result!
Anse Noire- Our black sand beach
Anse Dufour- the white sand beach
We paddled back around to our cove, put the kayak away. Came up to our tree house, cleaned off our gear, and chilled out on the patio for an hour or so. Soon it was time for sunset. The cove is positioned perfectly, so we headed down to the dock. Some local kids were jumping off of it into the crystal clear water. The sun was slowly disappearing, just like our vacation together. This has been our most challenging trip together ever (I’m blaming it on the moth), but we made it through. Tomorrow, we’ll be in different countries again- me in Guadeloupe and Brian back in Los Angeles.