Running north from Bequia, we spent a quick night in Rodney Bay, St Lucia, and then made the 25-mile hop to St. Anne in Martinique. We had stopped in Martinique for an uninspiring and very hot day last spring, but we were looking forward to exploring the island more thoroughly on our return. We arrived in St. Anne and waited until the morning to go ashore and check in. Ironically, the French Islands have the easiest check-in process in the Eastern Caribbean and, after some of the Monty Python bureaucracies we have encountered, this is a welcome change. When we went ashore we immediately stumbled into the village market and were struck by the friendly people, abundance of produce, and the ever-present pain au chocolate. What a delightful change! Everyone greeted us with a smile and were genuinely interested in assisting us with either directions or showing us their local wares.
We decided to rent a car and set off for the Jardin de Balata, which was a magnificent tour de force of one man with a vision. He felt that a garden should be planted the same way a painter composes a work of art and that the final product must “speak” to you. We strolled through the grounds and then set out on a tour of the island, returning late in the day after covering most of the East coast of Martinique. We availed ourselves of the car and the fabulous shopping opportunities and did some serious provisioning, loading up on wine, pate, sausage, and fruit.
Jardin de Balata: The garden was begun in 1982 by horticulturist Jean-Philippe Thoze and opened to the public in 1986. It is set on former farmland with picturesque views of the Pitons du Carbet. Today the garden contains about 3,000 varieties of tropical plants from around the world, including 300 types of palm trees.
One of the joys of this trip is the super friends that we have met along the way. Last names are rarely exchanged and everyone becomes known by their boat name, hence we have become the “Rafikis”. Accompanied by La Jeannoise, 4 Coconuts, and Del Max, we ventured off on foot to Les Salines Beach, one of the nicest beaches this side of the Bahamas, for an awesome day of swimming, soccer, frisbee and a super lunch on the water. It felt like we were playing hooky (we were) and the camaraderie and surf made for a great day.
Kathryn, ever the Chevalier, desperately wanted to go horseback riding along the beach so we took advantage of the car and arranged for a ride along the East coast of the island. We took along Max and Tristan from La Jeannoise, and set out for a two hour excursion through the surf and the rocky coast of a designated nature park. After the two hours I was quite happy to finally get off the horse, however, both of you enjoyed the day and Kathryn was still smiling three days later.
We had a short visit in Fort de France before pushing north to St. Pierre which is a quaint fishing village on the Northwest part of the island. Anchoring 100 yards from shore, a full moon illuminating the quaint French village with a towering volcano rising into the night as a backdrop, is really quite idyllic. This small town, not far from the birthplace of Josephine Bonaparte, is as old as Canada, and in the mid 1700s was a thriving cosmopolitan community with thirty thousand inhabitants. It is hard to imagine looking at the sleepy little village today, however, it still retains the old world charm that speaks to its lineage.
The hike up Mount Pelé was sporty and while the trail was well defined and maintained, it took us five hours at a respectable pace. All of us were balancing on wobbly legs when we finally reached the car, exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. Alex has become our mountain goat and instead of protesting vociferously about our regular excursions, she now leads the pack. Hiking has become one of our favourite ways to explore the islands and you both have become strong and resilient, indulging your parents crazy (Alex say ridiculous…) ideas.
What a difference a serviceable boat, healthy father, and open schedule makes. We had a wonderful time in Martinique and were very unmotivated to leave. In fact our planned three-day stop stretched into eight, and we could have happily spent several months exploring this fabulous island.