Day 159, Year 6 Martinique Island Tour
Date: Friday, April 1, 2011
Weather: Rainy Morning Melting into Sunshine
Location: Anse Mitan, Martinique-across the bay from Fort-de-France
Today was really all about being lost and being lost, but still we saw a lot and had a great time. At first we thought being lost was all about an April Fool’s joke, but very quickly it became “not funny.”
It was up early and into Budget Rental to pick up our car. It was a cute little thing but tonight none of three of us know what it was. The good thing was that is was little. When we got to Fort de France this morning and got off the national road, all of a sudden the streets were more narrow than most alleys. I don’t think you could make it through that town in a larger car. I know we couldn’t have. We spent a fair bit of time being a “bit” lost-got off the interstate at the wrong exit, wound our way through downtown, and then finally to the waterfront where we were headed to clear into the country. Well, that turned out to be a two-and-a-half hour frustrating adventure. I don’t think we have ever had such a hard time finding the right place for check-in. People were incredibly helpful, but no one really spoke English and we certainly don’t speak French. After walking here to there, having people walking us to somewhere else and then to somewhere else, and then driving to a slightly different location and searching once again, we finally found a tiny little shed in a working marina complex where there was a young woman tending the gas pumps and the store, who also handed Mark a computer and told him to fill in the form for clearance-on a French keyboard that is slightly different from the keyboard we are used to and with a form that required answering with pull down menus. The first obstacle was trying to enter our citizenship. There was no choice for United States or USA. After much searching, we had to ask for help and found out that for the French we are citizens of Amerique du Nord. By this time Mark was VERY frustrated but he persisted and we finally got our clearance. Then we had to find our way back to downtown to visit the tourist sights. We retraced our steps and ended up headed back out of town. We have no idea how that happened, but we got back on the national road and found our way back to the center of town. The narrow streets, the traffic, and the pedestrians make driving a challenge, so we found a parking garage and ducked in. We then walked to the Cathedrale St. Louis and admired its neo-Byzantine style. We then walked to La Savane, Fort de France’s central park and looked across to Fort St. Louis and then walked to Biliotheque Schoelcher, the Schoelcher Library. This is a most colorful building that was built in Paris for 1889 World Exposition and then dismantled and shipped to Martinique to be reassembled. It is really a beautiful building which was designed by a contemporary of Gustave Eiffel. We walked through the Palais de Justice, had a Panini lunch in a little shop on a square near the parking garage, and then got back to the car and drove north to St. Pierre.
Since we had spent our entire morning getting clearance into the country, we had very little time for our trip north to St. Pierre. We had to skip stops along the coast at the traditional fishing village of Cape-Pilote and we made only a quick stop in Carbet where Columbus briefly came ashore in 1502. We reached St. Pierre and inspected the ruins in that town that was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1902. It was fascinating and we wished that we had been able to spend more time, but it was now early afternoon and time to head south. We drove the Route de la Trace through the rainforest with its tree ferns and draping bamboo, stopped to see Sacre-Coeur de Balata, a smaller replica of the Sacre-Coeur Basilica in Paris. We headed down the mountain from there to Fort de France looking for an area that is touted to have beautiful examples of colonial housing, but after driving down the mountain, back up, and back down again, we never found the area. We then drove back to Anse Mitan, getting lost only one more time, and got back just in time to turn in our rental car. We were actually late and the guy had to reopen the gate to let us in. But we were so happy to be able to return the car so we can leave here early in the morning. Thank you, Budget Rent-a-Car. We then walked to La Marine to get on the internet and then it was back to Windbird for dinner.
Tomorrow morning we leave here as the sun rises headed for Dominica. Another adventure awaits us.