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Martinique

Geologically, compared to Dominica, this island is much older and consequently eroded, being overall flatter and having more shallow bays and harbors along its shores, which helps with having places to anchor. Of course, historically, that fact determined where towns and cities were established—as with any island or seafront worldwide. As with all these islands, rarely is there any harbor accessible for anchoring on the island’s east side due to the constant, strong easterly trade wind, so all major cities and towns are on their western shores.


At the north end of Martinique is the town of St. Pierre, where I first landed.



It has no large bay but has good protection from the trade winds and was easy for the old square-rigged ships to enter and exit. It was originally the capital, but the location had one big problem: the volcanic mountain looming right behind it, named Pelée. With the devastation of the last eruption in 1902, St. Pierre’s viability as a capital was erased.

 

Today, it’s a pleasant little place, definitely French, with traditional two-story buildings, some second-story balconies with wrought-iron railings, and organized streets and general facilities. It’s an easy place to anchor and has a good dinghy dock, at the head of which is the open-air marketplace. Since the volcano is geologically young, this area is higher in elevation with many streams and waterfalls.

 

At the southern end of Martinique is a large bay, Cul-de-Sac Marin, the culmination of a long, eastern indentation in the island shore. It has many small coves protected by many more small islets and reefs.


(I anchored in front of the small, next-to-last dark hill on the right.)

The virtue of this geography is that it has many places to anchor and is protected from sea swells and trade wind-driven waves—to some extent since the easterly wind rushes right over the low hills and straight out the bay into the larger open area and the Caribbean Sea. So, just getting there is a bit of a challenge, but once there, it’s relatively easy to dinghy to the small town of Le Marin and the yachting facilities.

 


And that is what the place runs on—there are hundreds of sailboats anchored or moored in that protective harbor. So, it’s very different from St. Pierre, with its growing tourist business, megabucks worth of boats in Le Marin, and associated marine stores and services. It’s rather mind-boggling, to say the least. I went there to see if they had any marine parts or service I might use—and just out of curiosity. Certainly, curiosity was fulfilled and some boat parts were also purchased. It was a pleasant place to spend 10 days and enjoy what was available.

 

In roughly the middle of Martinique is a huge bay, Fort-de-France Bay, again, having many islets and coves where small towns have sprung up, some very tourist-oriented especially because of the large city of Fort-de-France on the bay’s northern shore. Most of the eastern shore is only inhabited a ways inland because of the very shallow reef and mangrove areas. So, I decided to plant myself, and Mariposa, in the big city.

 

(Fort Saint Louis and beach to the right, waterfront Malecon, then downtown to the left.)

And here I was in another very different environment: anchored right in the middle of the downtown area with city life of all kinds going on. There were occasional cruise ship tourists, but it is the nation’s capital and almost exclusively dedicated to its French citizens, of all shades of skin color. Definitely very French in culture with a little less Caribbean in comparison to the other towns, I guess I could say.


For example, though there was the popular Caribbean rap-type music (which is very repetitive in style, seeming to go on forever—perhaps to allow more time for dancing—and overuse of electronic tricks) there are also a lot of European French songs and styles that I heard. Since I was living in the city right next to the main city park and beach and waterfront walkway, I got lots of music at all hours of the night and day. Now, what the balance is out in the middle and edges of the city I don’t know, but in my limited contact in those areas from my walks and bus rides, I’d still say that the continental French influence is still stronger than elsewhere on the island.

 


Another example is the shops, definitely oriented to the upper and middle classes in the profusion of shops dealing in beauty products, eyeglasses, clothing, professional services, etc. that are typical of large cities.


However, one type of shop that is… well, I’m not sure what it indicates.



These are the shops, right amidst all of the above and not hidden, that have lots of female manikins on the sidewalk fronts and inside which have clothing that is very flamboyant and some would hide almost nothing of the person wearing them. And they’re not designed as lingerie but as something to be worn… I don’t know where—but I suppose I could guess.

 

So, where does this fit into the mix of cultural influence? I doubt it’s traditional... European French? Maybe they are just more upfront about their interests and not bashful about selling and buying items to fulfill those interests as we Americans are (which could be traditional for them in that way). Such a store and display would be shut down as soon as the doors were opened in much of the USA. But then, I haven’t traveled everywhere in our country and may be missing something.

 

A last example would be the city park and beach, a stone’s throw from where I’m anchored. Every morning as it’s just beginning to get light, when I go out on deck to finish my exercises, bodies are moving in the twilight on the beach and in the water, walking back and forth individually or in chatting groups, or swimming off the beach and amongst the anchored boats, red-capped heads bobbing away, all getting their exercise and gossip for the day.


(A water exercise class.)

As daylight dominates, the scene settles into more traditional beach watching, sunbathing, and splash play—with all ages participating in all of it. And nearly all appear to be locals enjoying their city.

 

In the afternoons, Friday through Sunday especially, several areas on the waterfront Malecon and at stages in the park are active with some musical group or individual performing, or a sports competition, such as three-on-three basketball, or a variety of storytelling and acting for children. It’s well-used for sure.



But I’m not sure I greatly appreciate the music that starts at 10:00 pm or later—one night had Epiphany celebration drumming and marching groups until midnight—but I seem to get to sleep anyway, anymore.

 

Of course, like every other self-respecting Caribbean island, it has its own fort ruin, Fort Saint Louis (built in the early1660s attacked and destroyed then rebuilt in 1668 but still somewhat operational as part of the French military). The city never achieved much growth or prominence until St. Pierre was destroyed in 1902 and its nearby swamps drained (yellow fever) in 1918. Then it started to take off and now has a population in the 80,000s. So, it’s a very lively place, and I got to anchor in the middle of it all!

 

My third crew companion, Nikki, from Montana, joined me in Fort-de-France for the month of February. After a couple of days looking around, we motored two hours (no wind) back up north to St. Pierre. We had a notable excursion into the tropical forest, which was almost pure enjoyment, to the waterfalls and pools of Cascade le Soute de Gendarmes. This involved figuring out bus routes to get there, how much walking it took, and hopefully buses back to St. Pierre. Getting there was fine and the tropical forest was amazing. When we got to the first waterfall and pool, it was pretty, etc. but more visitors than we liked.



(Me going vertical.)

So, we climbed higher up a path, very steep with some fixed ropes and lots of tree root handholds, and rappelled down a rope to another set of small waterfalls and pool—with no people, couldn’t even hear anyone because of the stream and falls. It was a delightful little place.

 

After eating our lunch, it was time to venture into the falls and pools.



Of course, the water was quite cold at first,




but it didn’t take long to adjust a bit and savor the change from the warmth of the sun piercing the forest canopy to the tingling refreshment of the moving water.



We just smiled at each other in our fortune to be able to have this little bit of wonderment to share.

 

But, of course, we had to leave it all and find our way back home, which can be summarized by intermittent cell phone access to establish bus arrivals—if there even were to be some—lots of waiting, and finally a cell tower serviceman who, against company policy, gave us a lift back to town and got an unasked-for monetary compensation from us. Then, it was time to move on: back to Fort-de-France for an overnight anchoring to get some groceries and position ourselves for some forecasted good winds the next day. And off we went—St. Lucia next.

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