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Martinique: The Frenchiest Island in the Caribbean


View World Tour: 2023 on Glichez's travel map.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

This morning we had only a short time left in Dominica before we caught the ferry to our next island, Martinique. We once again ate breakfast on the hotel patio and then I finished packing my bags. I had thoroughly enjoyed our stay at this hotel: the rooms were comfortable, the patio a very pleasant space to hang out, and the staff were incredibly friendly.

At 09:00 we made the short walk back into town to reach the ferry terminal. The walk only took ten minutes or so, but, by the time we arrived, I was a hot and sweaty mess. This was our first of two ferry rides between islands. To my surprise, there were not many regularly scheduled ferries between the other islands on our trip; even the two we were taking only ran twice per week.

The process of getting checked-in and through security was a bit of a chaotic mess. Once we received our boarding cards, we had to pay an exit tax of $30 before proceeding to the security screening. This was in a small room with several people giving directions about our bags all at once, and then they took our larger bags to store in the hold area.

The ferry was due to leave at 11:00, but we waited in the tiny, cramped and stuffy waiting room until 12:30 before the boat finally arrived! The ferry company has quite poor reviews and delays are apparently typical. Waiting the extra 90 minutes just made the day slightly miserable. Thankfully, the boarding process was quick and efficient (at least something about this ferry was!) and we grabbed some seats on the interior lower deck.

The ferry ride lasted around two hours and was mostly smooth sailing. The boat was packed with people and the cabin quickly became hot and stuffy (and stinky!). I dozed off during the voyage, but I did manage to admire the views of the islands as we sailed. There were several backpacker trash sitting at the front of the cabin, propping their bare-feet up on the walls or lying down in the aisle to sleep.

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I was very excited to visit the island of Martinique, even though it is part of France and doesn't count as a new country. I had first heard about the island while watching my favorite TV show, Dark Shadows (from the 1960s – I watched reruns on the SciFi Channel as a kid). Josette, the love of main character Barnabas Collins, was from Martinique, as was her maid, the witch, Angelique. As I kid, I thought it was so exotic that the characters were from a Caribbean island, and added to the mystique of the show. When I began planning this trip, I knew that I had to visit Martinique because of Dark Shadows.

The arrival process in Martinique was quick, which was made easier since we were among the first group off of the boat and into the passport control line. We made the short 15-minute walk from the ferry terminal over to our hotel for the night, which was located across the main park in town. We were staying in Fort de France, the capital of the island, and we quickly noticed a marked difference between Martinique and the other islands: this one was clearly more wealthy, had better infrastructure, and was quite prosperous. I was curious to know how much of this was due to the island's resources and citizens, and how much was due to the fact that the island remained a part of France.

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The new hotel was delightful! Once again we each had our own room that was quite modern, with great air-con, large bathrooms with the best showers of the trip, and the location was in the heart of Fort de France. I was very pleased with this hotel and wished that all of our hotels could be as nice!

The first priority after checking-in was to get something to eat. I wanted t eat cheap and fast, so we went to McDonald's (for which I am unapologetic). With most of the afternoon remaining open to us, we decided to take a walk around the town and head to the supermarket to get water, snacks, etc.

Fort de France is a small town, but it has a lot of hidden beauty on every street. Murals covered walls everywhere we looked, and older French-style buildings made the town feel rather cozy. We walked by the (unfortunately closed) Cathedral of St Louis, but the exterior of the church was quite impressive.

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A pedestrian-only shopping street ran in front of the church and headed towards a small mall where the supermarket was located. There were not many shops inside and much of the space seemed closed, but the supermarket was large and had everything we needed for our stay. The locals living in the city were very... French. They had the haughtiness of Parisians and it felt like we were in France proper, rather than in the Caribbean. Most of the time they were fine, but several interactions were difficult and cold... just like dealing with the French in Paris. I love France very much, but I can't deny their attitude about speaking English leaves a lot to be desired. This island was full-on French, in both good and bad ways.

Leaving the mall, we wandered aimlessly throughout the town, admiring the art and architecture. Each new street had something to offer. This city truly embraced street art in a big way, which we both appreciated. Many of the shops and restaurants were closed, so we didn't do much besides walk around. We wound our way back to the main park in town and then walked over to the harbor so we could admire the views over the water and the beauty of the island.

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The most impressive stop that we had during our stroll through the city was at the library, the Bibliothèque Schœlcher. It was built in the 1880s and the building was quite beautiful from the outside. We had walked by the library on our way in from the ferry, but now we had time to go inside. It was a small, one-room library, but it was amazing! Bookshelves lined the four walls and there was a second-story walkway with more bookshelves as well. The ceiling was particularly beautiful, with wood carvings and the names of various authors carved into the wood.
Outside the library was a ruined pedestal where a statue of the Empress Josephine, wife of Emperor Napoleon I, one stood. The statue was commissioned by Emperor Napoleon III and had famously stood in the park and, at some point, lost its head. The statue was eventually torn down in the wake of the George Floyd protests, when there was a wave of anti-colonialism sweeping the islands. My love of Napoleon made me sad to not see the statue, but I also understand and sympathize with those who tore it down.

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It was early evening by this time and we both thought it would be nice to have a drink or two somewhere. Unfortunately, this proved more difficult than expected. None of the bars or restaurants were open, except for some rather crappy-looking places. Outside our hotel, along the main walkway next to the large park, were several food stalls serving a variety of different foods and drinks. Only a few of them were open, but there was one serving cocktails and another had crepes. Marnie went to order crepes and I ordered us cocktails. The woman working at the stall was... rather rude and they didn't have either of the drinks I wanted, so I skipped a drink for myself and got Marnie her drinks. I got myself a sugar crepe and we settled down at a table in the park to eat.

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Overall, the afternoon in Fort de France was very pleasant and we were both happy to be there – we both wished we could stay in the hotel for longer than one night as well! We spent some time sitting in the park and chatting before finally returning to the hotel after the sun had set. I spent some time in the evening working and then reading, before taking a refreshing shower. I finally crawled into bed around 23:00 and quickly drifted off to sleep.

Vive la France!!

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Marnie and I both decided to have a relaxing morning at the hotel today before checking out at noon. We had the entire day to enjoy Fort de France before catching our ferry at 22:00 in the evening. I spent much of the morning working, and then arguing with FedEx over a gross error in a billing for my recent shipment of documents to the Embassy of Vietnam in Washington DC. Not an exciting morning, but it was productive.

At noon, Marnie and I left our bags at reception and went out to get some lunch. We found a tiny cafe nearby that was serving what looked to be a good menu, so we stopped in to get a bite to eat. Sadly, none of the breakfast items were still available and they didn't have any coffee, but their lunch menu was quite good. When we finished eating, we went out in search of coffee, but this proved incredible elusive in Fort de France.

We tried to visit the Cathedral of St Louis, but it was completely closed. We ventured down another pedestrian-only street that had several restaurants and shops. What made this street unique was the colorful painting done all over the street: it was bright and vibrant and cheerful. It was a very pleasant stroll, even in the insane heat of the day.

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Heading back to the shopping mall, we continued our quest for coffee (unsuccessfully), but Marnie did find some earrings at a small stand that she bought. We continued walking around the town to admire the unique buildings, weaving around the small streets. Needing a respite from the heat, we ducked into a Haagen Dazs to get some ice cream. They had an ice cream and coffee shake... thing that I ordered, which was refreshing, but it didn't satisfy my coffee craving.

Braving the heat and humidity once again, we walked across the main city park to the exterior of the Fort St Louis. There was a small market and music being played in the park, so we made our way through that to have a look as we walked. The opening hours for the fort were a bit wonky and we were unable to tour around inside, but we could still get some good views from the outside. It is a huge fortress built for the defense of the city and island during the early colonial days. There were some ruins of old stone buildings adjacent to the fort in the park as well.

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Our final activity in the city was a stroll along the waterfront so we could better see the surrounding areas. It was a pretty walk, but the heat began to wear us down quite quickly. Seeking refuge in the shade (though not “deep shade” as out friend Lotta would call it), we got some relief from the sun before heading back into town.

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We grabbed some dinner for take away and returned to our hotel, where we ate in the small lobby area. The woman running the place was very kind to let us hang out there for the last few hours before the ferry. Marnie wanted to get another crepe, so we went back to the food stall across the street in the park. It was noticeably cooler by this point, so we spent some time outside before returning once again to the hotel. The final hour was spent reading and charging our phones.

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At 20:30, we made the walk back to the ferry terminal and found the check-in process far better than the one on Dominica. We were pulled aside so a security officer could check Marnie's bag, but this then allowed us to skip to the head of the check-in line. The ferry was only 40 minutes late this time: it was supposed to depart at 22:15 and it left at 22:55. I had arranged to have a taxi meet us at the next ferry terminal, so I emailed them that the ferry had finally departed.

Prior to departure, Marnie and I watched as they loaded the luggage onto the ferry. All of the bags were on wheeled pallets and we loaded onto the boat using a forklift. The first driver was clearly inexperienced because he nearly dropped the first pallet of bags twice before the entire thing wheeled into the boarding stairs (which was the only thing preventing them from falling into the water). The driver was unable to do much better with the second pallet. I had to turn away because it was stressing me out, but a new driver quickly took over and got everything safely loaded.

The journey from Martinique to St Lucia took 90 minutes and was choppier than the first ferry. I struggled to stay awake during the voyage as it was getting so late. Marnie woke me up as we approached the harbor in the town of Castries; we rushed to the exit door so we could be first through passport control. Once we docked, it took them another 20 minutes or so before they let us disembark.

Getting through passport control was, again, easy, but the customs check had a very long line. Almost everyone on the ferry was returning to St Lucia with bags and bags of goods purchased in Martinique: foods, electronics, snacks, and even dish soap. The customs agents were thoroughly searching each of the bags (and some passengers had several bags each). When it was our turn, we were simply asked a few questions and then allowed to proceed without having our bags checked. Huzzah! I was now in my 112th country: St Lucia!

The taxi driver was waiting for us outside and we were soon on the road to our hotel. We were not staying in the town of Castries, where the ferry arrived, but 20-minutes north in Rodney Bay. Given our late arrival, we had figured that prearranging a taxi was the best option. The driver was very nice and told us some about the island of St Lucia.

We arrived at the hotel faster than expected, around 01:30, and were quickly checked-in so we could get to our room. The resort was a large compound with a restaurant and three pools. One of the night staff escorted us to our room, which was very nice. There was a very large bedroom with two queen-sized beds and a huge bathroom. While not as nice as the hotel in Martinique, this one was quite good.

...That is until the drama of the air-con began right before we went to bed. It had been set to 16 C when we arrived in the room, which is far too cold for either of us, so we had set it to 24 C, aiming the fan towards my bed for the night. Oddly, the air-con began to turn itself off and then back on, changing the temperature and fan settings... all on its own. The remote was sitting on the bedside table when this happened the first time. We tried changing all of the various settings, but the damned thing would not stay turned on. I had one of the night staff come take a look at it, but he was unable to fix it either. We figured out that it would stay on when set to 16 C, so we decided to just leave it there for the night.

Less than an hour after we fell asleep, the fucking air-con reset itself again: the temperature remained at 16 C, but the fan was oscillating again and the fan was turned all the way up to the strongest setting. We tried to change it, but it turned off by itself again. It was maddening and we were both very frustrated. We could not get it to work and had to suffer through the night without air-con. It was the worst night's sleep either of us had on the entire trip.

Posted by Glichez 23:05 Archived in Martinique

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