I am writing this post in the studio apartment we rented in Detroit, looking at the 2300 meter long Ambassador bridge to Canada through the window. Although it is not Detroit’s turn yet in this travel journal, I love Canada and the bridge is so majestic that I will give you a preview:
Now back to Martinique:
After having flown every day for 6 consecutive days - keep in mind we are not airline pilots - staying on the ground for a few days was a welcome change, especially on such a beautiful island. Apart from the fact that it was France, we had also chosen it because the tourist sites promised a pleasant climate, mountains and beaches, i.e. hikes and swims, in one single place. But before we started to discover it, we went to lunch with our new pilot friends Jerome, Joël and Mathis from EasyFly Martinique, in a creole restaurant right next to their aeroclub in the Zone d’aviation Générale. Right away we were in Caribbean mood, with Caribbean food: fish, rice, beans, plantains and hot sauce (not like the pizza we had had the night before in Cayenne…spot the error…).
During lunch, we agreed that we would all go fly round the island together one day so they could show us the highlights and we could show them the Cirrus experience 😊
From a practical point of view, we were in luck because Jerome ran a car rental business, so we left the airport in one of his cars, heading to the hotel he had recommended in La Batelière and with a dinner date on the beach close by for the evening. On top of that, Mathis had just received a cancellation for his parents’ Airbnb house so we already knew we could move to the famous and coveted Trois Îlets town the next day.
La Bateliere upon arrival
and the next morning. The pleasant climate promise was true!
And later the house at Trois Îlets:
Martinique is not a very big island (1128 km2) but it is very mountainous -the tourism sites were right!- so almost all the roads are mountain roads, even along the coast, and it takes quite some time to go from one place to another. They are all beautiful trips though with mountains full of dense green forest on one side and the sea on the other. There are also roads that run through jungle-like vegetation such as the Route de la Trace which we explored. Along it were several recommended hikes so we picked one after having lunch in La Chaudière.
At La Chaudière we had Corossol juice (but it was obviously not canned like that of the ad below)
We had stopped there without knowing that it was well rated and that many tourists, before Covid, had had to book months in advance. In some aspects, traveling during the pandemic presents advantages! But it is also a little strange: most places are empty, which is sad, and many are closed. We had already experienced that during our stay in downtown Washington DC last year [described in this journal on September 19th]. All the bank and government buildings were empty, nobody on the streets, almost a ghost town, while we knew very well that with the IMF, the World bank, the US congress and the White House and all the Smithsonian museums around, this had to be a bustling area in normal times.
When we were about to start the hike around 3 pm, a lady in a house at the bottom of the mountain told us that we were a little late and that we had to be very careful because it would be pitch dark by 6.30 pm. We thought we had plenty of time to reach the mountaintop and turn back while enjoying the beautiful views that the hiking map promised but after about 60 minutes of steep climbs followed by a few flat areas, there was no mountaintop in sight and the path kept going up and down. 30 minutes later there had been no change in decor and still no mountaintop ahead, so we turned around and concluded that the tropical forest probably was hiding the promised views and that the dense, dark green plants and trees around us were the highlight, in addition of course to the work-out which was very welcome after the long hours sitting in the airplane. We were back in front of the lady’s house at 6pm and showed ourselves briefly so she would know that the crazy tourists had come back safely.
The winding roads in Martinique do not go all around the island, so on the way back from the Route de la Trace which goes South to North, we had to choose between going back to Trois Îlets via the Caribbean side on the West, or the Atlantic side on the East. We chose the former because it allowed us to pass though Saint Pierre, the former capital of Martinique which has been destroyed by the eruption of the Montagne Pelée volcano in 1902. All the inhabitants died except a prisoner, Cyparis, who was protected by the thick walls surrounding him, and allegedly also a cobbler. Only a few ruins, such as those of the theater, remind the visitor of the once culturally and economically dynamic city.
Saint Pierre bay
The fish really like it in Saint Pierre [you can check it out on the video] and the fishermen are ready for them!
A few kilometers South of St Pierre, in Le Carbet, we stopped at Wahoo cafe on the beach
We saw the old capital again from the sky when we circled the island in our LV-GQF with Jerome and Mathis. Alex invited Jerome to fly the plane and while getting used to it, he guided us all around Martinique for about 1 hour and lowered the wings at each appropriate moment so we could take the best pictures. Speaking of pictures, every time you see our call sign LV GQF on a wing, it means it was taken from the right side of the airplane, i.e. from the co-pilot seat, i.e almost always by me😊 A wing without the call sign is the left one and pictures from below are from the GoPro.
And on this last picture, under the wing, is «Josephine’s bathtub», as in Empress Josephine, Napoleon’s wife. Indeed, Josephine was born in Martinique and her birth house, La Pagerie, is a popular museum. Thanks to Mathis, we got to meet his sister who is a historian specialized in the history of Martinique. Over lunch in a beach restaurant, she took us through the highlights of the island’s past and also explained her doctoral work about the cultural life of slaves in Martinique in the 18th century. Her aim is to show that slaves, while not free, did have opportunities to have some leisure time and participate in the cultural life of the places they lived in, as opposed to the degrading image of the slave who is only bent over working in the fields without any kind of identity, dignity or expression.
Manon had highly recommended La Pagerie because, apart from the fact that it was Josephine’s birthplace and featured her childhood bed, it had a new and very accurate museography showing how the slaves were listed as part of the house inventory. It illustrates how they were classified by gender, age, profession, race mix, how they were evaluated – the old or sick slaves had only a pour mémoire value, the most expensive were those with professional skills and the cheapest were the youngest children.
Josephine was the daughter of a sugar cane plantation owner and had already left Martinique when she met Napoleon. She was a widow when she married him: her husband had been guillotined. Later on, Napoleon divorced her because she allegedly was not able to give him an heir. She is not very well liked in Martinique because she would have been against abolition and consequently several busts representing her have been decapitated during riots over the past years. According to Manon however, there is no evidence of that. Only the kitchen building and the the foundations of her birth house are left today because of a hurricane.
We also wanted to visit the new capital, Fort de France, and luckily we did not have to drive along the winding roads again but could take the Vedette tropicale speedboat right below our house. This boat goes directly from Trois Îlets to Fort de France several times a day in less than 30 minutes. When we reached out to an Ipsos colleague of ours from Martinique to get a few tips, she told us that she used to take that boat from L’Anse à l’Âne (exactly where we were staying) to the city every morning to go to high school.
Waiting for the Vedette
According to the time table, it should be here soon!
Our colleague Gaelle also recommended the Schoelcher Library which was indeed worth the visit.
This library was built in Paris and displayed at the 1889 World Exposition. It was then dismantled, shipped in pieces to Fort-de-France and reassembled. Its architect also designed Fort-de-France's cathedral as well as the covered market where we bought some tropical fruit and had another creole lunch with acras de morue and lamb colombo.
And of course, as any French capital of a Département, it has an Hotel de Ville and a Préfecture.
And the fort of Fort de France is prominently in sight:
On the boat trip back, we got a great view of all the anses (little bays) of the Trois Îlets: Anse à l’Âne, Anse Mitan, Grande Anse.
There is also an Anse noire that stands out next to the other beaches because of its black, volcanic, sand.
We were told that in many of the bays, we could see turtles if we went early in the morning, but I missed those. Alex did see them because he did not want to leave the island without a diving experience. He also was able to see hundreds of large fish moving around in schools that appeared to be huge sea monsters and bright purple coral. I passed on the diving because the stress of updating my skills after more than 12 years above water was not compensated by the reward of one hour below. I’ll try again if we stop for a longer diving trip (Mexico maybe ??).
Grande Anse (the day before the diving)
We left Martinique on March 14th after a pre-birthday dinner for me with our new friends and a last goodbye to Jerome at his workplace and to Mathis and Joel at the airport.
They had recommended the next destination on our way to the USA: Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic was one of the only islands that was open to tourism despite Covid, and Puerto Plata was a smallish airport where landing, parking and departing would be easy. The flight would be over water again but this time with lots of islands to look at and land on if needed.